Archive for August, 2008

Why Eggs Are The Perfect Weeknight Meal

Eggs in the Carton

Unassuming eggs are key to an easy and perfect weeknight supper

Eggs are not usually an item on our weekly dinner menu, but I was recently inspired by the New York Times series of “recipes for health” featuring egg dishes. After several weeks of doing a weekly egg dish, I don’t know why I didn’t start it sooner. Eggs are cheap, quick to prepare, filling without being heavy, and lend themselves to a variety of flavors. They are, in a nutshell, the perfect weeknight meal.

When I first started reading the series, I was especially struck by the frittata recipes. While the definitions of frittata vary, I have always understood it to be a type of omelet that is started on the stove, finished in the oven, and served in large, satisfying wedges.

I had seen countless frittatas cooked on the FoodNetwork, but I had never actually cooked one myself. But after looking up frittata recipes on Epicurious and seeing the alluring combination of ingredients—ricotta, parmesan, eggs, basil—I couldn’t resist. After I had cooked my first frittata, my second and third quickly followed. I was in frittata heaven.

Here is my variation on this fritatta recipe, which I found on Epicurious and was taken from True Tuscan. And by the way, I don’t make it with the high-quality ricotta cheese the recipe describes—I just make it with the ordinary stuff you buy at the grocery store. I like to serve it with a green salad and a fresh baguette.

Weeknight Frittata With Shallots, Mushrooms, and Basil

Weeknight Frittata With Shallots, Mushrooms, and Basil


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Is The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Really Unfit For Kids?


Help! Save your children from peanut butter and jelly!

According to this Washington Post article, the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had every day for lunch growing up is unacceptable fare, unfit for the lunch box. Or so say some of the parents profiled in the piece, which explores how parents have a high level of anxiety around what they pack their kids for lunch.

But wait a minute—since when did peanut butter and jelly become unacceptable food for kids?

I don’t have kids, and I don’t have friends with school-age children, but I do follow the debate around childhood nutrition (especially how it contributes to childhood obesity). Even with my knowledge of the controversy around kids and food, I surprised (and fascinated) at the level of guilt parents felt about what they pack their kids for lunch.

The article half jokes that the unattainable dream of the anxious parent is to “pack a scrumptious meal made solely of green vegetables and whole grains sculpted into the shape of a rabbit and laid out in a toxin- and commercial-free container made from recycled milk jugs.” It even quotes parents who give their kids elaborately constructed bento boxes for lunch. And while that’s nice, most people I know don’t have the time or money to construct a daily bento box for themselves, let alone their kids.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I pretty much had the same thing for lunch throughout my childhood (yes, that’s right, from elementary school to high school): a peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit, crackers, and a dessert item (that’s right—horror of horrors—there were oreos in my lunch box!). Occasionally I would branch out to the ham or turkey sandwich, at some point I started adding jam to my peanut butter sandwiches, and there was a period in high school where I ate a lot of yogurt, but that was the general menu.

I that things are different now, and that the increased marketing of unhealthy food items to kids has made food a loaded battle ground for lots of families. And because I don’t have kids, part of me wonders if I can even talk about this subject. After all, I don’t have to deal day-in and day-out with the stress and responsibility of feeding a family.

But I just can’t shake the feeling that giving your kid a peanut butter sandwich for lunch is fine, and it’s not going to condemn them to a life of being overweight and unable to appreciate food. After all, despite my steady childhood diet of peanut butter sandwiches, I turned out to be pretty healthy and a total foodie.

In any event, I really hope that when I do have kids, I don’t shun the PB&J, one of America’s great culinary traditions. After all, I still have them for lunch sometimes, and they taste every bit as good as when I was in elementary school.

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Exorcising Your Inner Closet Demons (or, How To Clean Your Closet)


Time to face the closet demons.

It’s almost fall, and you know what that means—it’s time to pack up your bathing suits and summer shorts and bring out the long pants and wool jackets that will stand up to the colder evenings. Here in DC, I am savoring the feeling of actually being a little chilly in the mornings—or, at the very least, I can step outside my apartment without being hit by a sweltering heat wave that ruins my makeup before I get down the block.

But it can be challenging to face those winter clothes that have been languishing away at the back of your closet. Especially when you realize that you don’t actually wear half of the clothes in your “winter wardrobe” and you’re only holding onto them for strange, unjustifiable emotional reasons like “I wore it on my first date with my boyfriend,” or “it was a gift from my mother and I can’t throw it out,” or “I’m going to fit back into those pants after I lose ten pounds—honest, this is the year!”

Thankfully, one of my coworkers gave me a copy of September’s Body+Soul magazine, which has a no-nonsense article on how to get over the emotional hang-ups that come between you and a clean closet. The magazine is an offering from the Martha Stewart empire that looks at wellness, cooking, and lifestyle tips for the middle-class hippie set.

The article has six tips that will help you let go of your useless-but-highly-sentimental clothing items and turn your closet from memory lane into a functioning wardrobe.

Six Tips For Cleaning Out Your Closet and Exorcising Your Inner Closet Demons:

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August Test Product of the Month: Homemade Vinegar Window Cleaner

Window Cleaning Solutions

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Window Spray vs. Homemade Vinegar-Water Window Cleaner

Since people seemed to get a kick out of last month’s Test Product (baking soda and vinegar), I decided to see what other homemade cleaning products I could test around the apartment. In my online research, I came across this web site that recommends using a solution of equal parts vinegar and water to clean windows and glass. Intrigued, I decided to test it against Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Window Spray, which I mostly bought for the retro packaging, claim that it only uses “naturally occurring” ingredients, and promised lemon-verbena scent.

I tested both products on our bathroom mirror, which hasn’t been cleaned for the last week, and our bedroom mirror, which hasn’t been cleaned since god-knows-when and was covered in a film of gray dust.
How did the vinegar-water solution hold up?

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Sometimes A Cupcake Is Just a Cupcake, Not A Subversive Feminist “Statement”

Cupcake, courtesy of Wikipedia

A ModernDomestic regular sent me this Jezebel post, which was responding to a Guardian article that asked if domesticity could ever be a subversive, feminist act.

I was actually surprised that this article even made it by The Guardian editors, given the fact that this “debate” has been going on since at least I was in high school back in the 1990s. In my view, women have been dealing with this tension between their love of old-style domesticity, and their guilt that this makes them “bad feminist,” for at least the past decade. Bust Magazine has been covering the rise of feminist knitting circles and other feminist domestic pursuits since it was started in 1993; the first Stitch ‘n Bitch was published in 2003; and Martha Stewart has been embodying the duel role of 1950’s-style domestic goddess and modern feminist business tycoon since her magazine was first published in 1990. I just assumed that everyone had come to terms with the fact that some women just like to make cupcakes, second-wave feminist critique of homemaking be damned.

The Guardian article lays out all the usual concerns about the domesticity vs. feminism debate: can real feminists embrace the homemaking duties that the second-wave feminists condemned as the shackles of gender roles? Is interest in domesticity just an act of rebellion against old-school feminists who rejected domesticity as “unfeminist? Can domesticity ever be subversive, given that women share a disproportionate amount of housework?

Thank God Jezebel points out not all cupcake baking is “subversive.”

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Wine-Themed Wedding Cake

A couple of weeks ago, Wonktheplank and I attended the lovely wedding of his cousin-in-law. I was excited to go to the wedding, but not only because it was a chance to see friends and because I had heard that it was going to be quite the shin-dig. No, I was excited about the wedding cake.


(I only wish I had gotten a photo before they took the little bride and groom figure off!)

Wedding cakes are one of those fantasy items that I just love to drool over, but since I haven’t been to many weddings, I haven’t often had the opportunity. As you can see, this cake was just lovely—the yellow cake layers were covered in simple white frosting and decorated with grape leaves (the wedding had a wine theme, hence the grape leaves). The only thing I would have changed was the cherry-flavored filling, as I am not a fan of cherry fillings in general. However, that is entirely a matter of personal taste and doesn’t reflect on the cake one bit.

I have to say, after spending so much time and effort making my last two cakes, it was nice to sit down to a piece of cake that I didn’t have a deep emotional/financial investment in. Of course, it was far prettier and polished than anything I could make on my own, but sometimes it’s nice to be around a cake that’s so far out of your league. If anything, it serves as an inspiration to aspiring cake-bakers like myself.

More photos of the illustrious Wine-Themed Wedding Cake.

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Restorative Salmon Salad

As some of you know, I just spent last week at a convention for work, living off hotel food and working twelve hours a day. As often happens at a convention, you sort of turn to food to manage the fact that you’re incredibly stressed out and exhausted—and my goodness if they don’t provide you with an abundance of things to eat, and eat, and eat. I knew it was bad when I had a huge plate of food for lunch on Friday, followed by dessert, followed by two enormous cookies for an afternoon “snack.”

Needless to say, when I finally got back to DC, I was ready to make a light, restorative, vegetable-filled dish that would make me feel like less of a human balloon. And after days of room service, I desperately wanted to make something on my own and get back into the kitchen. So I created this salad out of what we had in the fridge and a couple things I picked up at the grocery store (namely, the salmon and asparagus).

I chose the salmon and almonds for the salad because they’re both sources of good fat, and the mixture of vegetables is satisfying without being heavy. This sounds like a finicky recipe because you have to cook three separate elements (the asparagus, the corn, and the salmon), but I actually found it very east to cook, as each thing only takes a few minutes.

I offer up this recipe to anyone in need of a restorative meal. I only hope that you need recovery from something more fun that work-related travel.

Recipe for Restorative Salmon Salad

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August Book Review: Apartment Therapy Presents

These days, it seems you can’t turn on the TV or pick up a magazine without being bombarded with decorating advice—often involving things like “Tuscan” wall treatments, “French country” stencils, “zen” water features, or something else that makes me wonder if the secret goal of the TV decorating industry is to turn our homes into themed hotel rooms.

In a world run amuck with questionable decorating advice, it does the soul good to stop by the Apartment Therapy blog,
one of my very favorite online interior decorating and design resources. Unlike the decorating TV shows with their teams of carpenters, or magazine articles featuring million-dollar lofts, Apartment Therapy focuses on design and decorating solutions for real people in real homes, on real budgets.

So when I found out that the Apartment Therapy team had a new book out called Apartment Therapy Presents, I had to pick it up. The book is a compendium of one of the blogs’ best features—virtual “house tours.” The tours consist of photos of well-designed, but real homes, as well as a short interview with the home owners.

For avid readers of Apartment Therapy, Apartment Therapy Presents won’t give you a lot of new information
—as far as I could tell, all the homes featured in the book were also featured as house tours or contest entries on the blog. But for people like me, who have only been reading the blog for the last year or so, it’s nice to have the house tours collected into one volume, especially as it includes some homes that I hadn’t seen before.
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Washington Post Throws Itself at ModernDomestic Readership

For those of you who don’t live in DC and don’t closely follow the gossip about the Washington Posts’ decline, I doubt that you paid attention to the scathing remarks the Post received about their recent sensational and completely unnecessary 13 part front-page series, “Who Killed Chandra Levy,” that was clearly a move to drum up readership.

However, I wonder that there wasn’t more outrage from readers about a similar, 11 part series in the Home and Garden section called “Organizing the Attic.” Clearly a ploy to win over the ModernDomestic audience.

And guess what, it worked! Well, I mean, I did read the whole thing, despite the questionable journalistic value, even for the Post’s Home and Garden section.

The series follows Liz Seymour, deputy editor of The Washington Post Home Section, as she takes on the Herculean task of cleaning out her attic that has become a dumping ground/cesspool for every unused item in the house. She even hires a professional organizer to help her out with the project because she’s so overwhelmed.

While I like organizing articles like these because they satisfy my voyeuristic urge to sneak into other people’s homes and judge them (let’s be serious people, isn’t that why we love the decorating shows? Because we can judge?), it also got me revved up to tackle parts of the apartment that need organizing (like, um, the bathroom, where I still have makeup that I got five years ago and is probably going to turn into acid any minute now).

And it made me think, yet again, that living in a consumer-oriented culture like ours just makes it too easy to accumulate crap. WonkthePlank and I try to be good about throwing things out and not cluttering up the apartment, but this is because we live in a one bedroom apartment and we’re already short on closet space. And we still have places in the apartment that could use a good decluttering session.

Following Seymore as she tackled the mounds of stuff in her attic—from old apartment leases to holiday decorations to table linens—made me that much more committed to only buying things that we’ll really use in the apartment, and regularly combing through and getting rid of what we don’t need.

Otherwise, who knows—maybe in ten years I’ll have enough stuff that I can write a series called “Organizing Under the Bed.”

Hmmm, I wonder if the Post will be in need of a new organizing series by then . . .

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The Real DC Controversy: Buttercream Frosting

I didn’t mention this in the buttercream entry, but my own mixed feelings about buttercreams reminded me that, for several years, buttercream has been quite the source of controversy in the nation’s capital.

The culprit is DC bakery CakeLove, which was created by the semi-famous lawyer-turned-baker Warren Brown. CakeLove started out as a single bakery and now has several bakery/cafes in the DC area. Its success launched Brown’s culinary career on a tide of cake layers, filling, and buttercream, eventually landing him a spot on HGTV’s lineup of celebrity chefs.

CakeLove founded its reputation on making cakes the old fashioned way—with butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and no preservatives or artificial flavors. Brown is a devotee of buttercream frosting, and the bakery has developed an array of flavors, from chocolate to toffee.

From conversations I’ve had with local DCites and from my online media perusals, I’ve found that CakeLove is a subject fraught with controversy that rivals that of the Barack-Hillary primary campaign. Some people love CakeLove with a passion, but others think their cakes are dry, the buttercream is oily and tasteless, and that the whole thing is a media sensation founded on slick marketing.

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