Thursday, December 29, 2011

Resolving to do Better

Got your resolutions ready for tomorrow night when people ask? They will, you know. It is THE New Year's Eve question, right after --who are you going to kiss?

You have decided not to make any?

Hey, I get it. You're thinking of all the ones you made in the past and didn't keep. All the goals you set but didn't reach...the marathon you were going to run, the book you were going to read every week, the Zen level of organization you were going to achieve...


But let's talk about this. Even if you didn't achieve all you hoped to in years past, you made a start, an effort, you probably gave it a good try for a while. The problem may have been that the goal was unrealistic or that you didn't get encouragement.


So without beating ourselves up, what are some worthwhile goals that we might set and be successful in coming close to, if not being able to completely mark them off our list?

Most people would like to tackle the Big 3: Fitness, Fix-up, and Finance.

Americans spend about 35 billion dollars a year on weight loss. Anyone you talk to, will talk about getting their homes, closets, and garages organized. Lots of people need to get their finances in order, get out of debt and save.

Think how much your life would improve if you could have more energy, find your car keys, and pay your bills on time. Pretty enticing fantasy, isn't it? Let's take it down a notch. Instead of tackling all those problems at once, let's work on a simpler thing--learning. This January first, resolve to LEARN new strategies for change. Work on improving in these areas, by learning from the experts.  If you are like me and didn't learn financial responsibility or healthy eating habits at home, you are going to need to fill the gap (I call it "mothering myself") with good advice from experts in the areas you hope to succeed in. If you don't have anyone in your real life to mentor you along the way, you can do what I've done and choose from the most successful people around to help you. It is why successful people write books and maintain share their knowledge.

Here are some people and/or websites to get you started:

Finance: Dave Ramsey

Organization: The Fly Lady

Self Education: Open Culture

Fitness: Fitness Partner
             Look Great Naked  (Do you love it?)

Baby step your way to change. Dave Ramsey and Fly Lady both us the "baby step" concept to help you get started. You don't have to feel out of control when shopping or eating. You don't have to lament over the education you didn't get. It doesn't cost you anything to get your house in order.

Change is possible...

Start small...

moving slowly toward a goal is better than standing still in defeat...


The only real failure is giving up. There is power in momentum, so start moving in the direction you want to go. Where would you be now if you had started last year?

Where can you be a year from now, if you start today? 

Even slightly better is...BETTER.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mr. Suitcase Dishes up Some Fun in Savannah

Every traveler knows that one of the joys of visiting a different city is savoring the local cuisine. The REAL foodies among you may want to take that love of travel and food one step further by enrolling in a cooking class taught by a local chef. While Madame Owner was recently visiting The Food Maven in Savannah, they did just that. It was the highlight of the week.

The Food Maven in her element!
Chef Darin Sehnert teaches at the Mansion on Foryth Park's 700 Cooking School. The Housewife and The Food Maven took his Stewing and Braising class in which that most illustrious dish of all dishes (okay, French beef stew) Boeuf bourguignon, with celery root mashed potatoes, and braised leeks were on the schedule. The chef covered some essential kitchen basics such as proper use of a knife as well as how to select a good one, some culinary definitions, and a little kitchen science. There's a reason you salt the food when cooking instead of at the table! Participation is encouraged and Chef Darin handles the session with a delightful combination of expertise and humor. Since you are more likely to learn and retain more information when you are relaxed and having fun, it is a great teaching combo. Who knew we were all cutting onions wrong all these years?   

Their class was comprised of 8 students and the facilities were posh yet comfortable. You will enjoy this class whether you are a diehard foodie like the Food Maven, a sometimes foodie, like Madame Owner, or just someone who loves food but has no idea how it magically ends up on your plate. You'll want to spend a little time wondering around if you attend. The chocolate brown, orange, and leopard print decor made The Housewife and The Food Maven's mouths water long before they got to the kitchen. 

Chef Darin is amiable and tolerant. He wasn't even put off by My Owner and her friend taking frequent pictures and cracking jokes. They did however refrain from speaking in their Julia Child voices during the class, something they had planned on beforehand. (This dish is practically synonymous with the Grand Dame of cooking) After all the cutting and chopping, while the stew was being made the chef called Madame Housewife over to do the flambe. She held the pan while the chef poured in the brandy and lit it creating a surprising amount of heat and flame. She'd been expecting a small flame within the pan, so it was a bit of a shock, as was the fact that the Food Maven didn't get a photo. Never fear. The Food Maven (and friend extraordinaire) asked Chef Darin if MO could do it again so she could document the moment.  He agreed and the scene was repeated. 

There is something delicious about a man who lets you play with fire in his kitchen!

 Madame Housewife may not try this at home, but if you are so inclined, here's the how-to: Cooking/ How to Flambe.

After the meal was finished, the wine was poured and the posse of "chefs" sat down together to dine. Friendly chatter surrounded the table until the first bit was taken. 

Madame Housewife and the chef
It took a few minutes for everyone to recover from the culinary nirvana they had entered. There is something social about preparing a meal together and at least for a few moments this little band of cuisine minded travelers shared something nearly familial: the ecstasy of creating and enjoying scrumptiously divine dishes. 

grapefruit granita and shortbread cookies
Dessert featured a clean and light grapefruit granita with home made shortbread cookies. The perfect citrusy foil for the heavy meal. 

Traveling to Savannah and want to cook with Chef Darin? Here's the info:

The Mansion Cooking School Programs

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Housewife's Rules for Being a Good Houseguest

Make them happy to see you arrive...
Last week I was relaxing and renewing my spirit in The Food Maven's Haven. I needed it and am better for it. I returned home to a family that was grateful to see me, a clean house, and a husband who couldn't wait to take me to dinner and tell me how much he missed me. (I have got to get away more often.) While I WAS away however I was busy trying to be  a good guest in someone else's home. The next time you get invited to stay with someone there are some rules you need to adhere to. First let's cover the basics of decent behavior:

  • Bring a gift (I took The Food Maven my home-made body cream and home grown Italian seasoning).
  • Keep all of your things in whatever space, no matter how big or small, you have been allotted for your stay. 
  • Whatever you use you should replace, in my case it was a bottle of Jack Daniels.
  • Be flexible. When in Rome...Eat what they eat, drink what they drink, adjust your schedule to theirs.
  • Bring something to do on your own so your gracious host can get a few minutes of privacy to do things they need. No one wants to entertain you constantly. 
  • Help out! Get yourself in the kitchen and help with the dishes. 
  • Leave everything the way you found it, or better. I like to clean my guest room if there is one for the next person. It is one less thing for your host to do. 
  • Bring everything you think you will need unless you've been otherwise informed. 
  • Hand written thank-you-notes are in order within a week of your return home. 
Now those are a good start and can be found in one form or another in any etiquette book, but I have a few things to add:
  • Come prepared to be entertaining and interesting. If your hosts are the serious type brush up on your current events. If their favorite topic is celebrity gossip then scan the latest magazines to catch up on recent celebrity marriages and divorces. Small children? WHY are you staying there? 
  • Do not show up with a list of things you have to eat, drink, or DO while you are there. 
  • Have a favorite drink recipe to share. It doesn't have to be alcohol; you can whip up your best hot cocoa or chai to impress everyone. It allows you to pitch in without destroying the kitchen and taking up room in the fridge with the ingredients for an entire meal.
  • You are not at home. No one wants to see you floss your teeth or clip you toenails in the living room. (If you think no one would do that, you are wrong.)
  • Be flexible (again, I know). If you are set in your ways and demanding then STAY HOME.
  • Be nice to pets. If the dog doesn't like you, you will not be invited back. 
Follow these rules and not only will you be invited back but they'll actually look forward to your return. They may even cry at the airport instead of doing a happy dance. 
...and sad to see you go.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Books, Travel, and One Really Bad Tattoo

Books and travel are the perfect combination. It takes the proper set of circumstances however to pull it off to its best effect. I often drag along a book which only ends up being used as a prop for discrete people watching if there is too much going on. I've only ever finished one book at the beach (The Life of Pi) because I am so easily distracted by the unusual tattoos people choose to get (I once saw one that said RIP Grandma and Grandpa over an inky version of a really bad Olan Mills photo. It covered the girl's entire back. I doubt her boyfriend thought it was sexy.). I see people reading in airports. I have no idea how they can do that. I'm busy making up secret shady business deals for the men in suits I see, imagining the decor of the homes of well dressed women, and picking out children who could be cast in a remake of The Exorcist. 

 I have a lot of book lists. Some are written on paper, some are in my head, some are tangible ones in stacks here and there around the house. I have books that mean to get to "someday" and  books that I feel obligated to read because they were given to me by someone with an expectation of a future discussion. Then I have books that I will read when the time is right.

This week the time was right for one I'd been holding since 1994.

While I am indulging myself this week at The Food Maven's Haven I am reading one such book, Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil. What? You've read it? Please don't tell me what happens. I've been steering clear of the movie too lo these many years, so be a dear and don't ruin it for me. I am currently avoiding The Help and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for exactly the same reason. I do wish they wouldn't make the books I'm trying to get to into movies without consulting me first. I've got a few ideas for some books I have read that NEED to be movie-fied. Another list.

This week has turned out to be the perfect combination of going out and staying in, leaving me plenty of time to indulge my literary habit. Last night Mr. Maven came in after having dinner at The Pink House then it was mentioned in my book this morning. Street names and landmarks seep into your consciousness when you haven't only run across them on jaunts but when they are woven into a story.

It's fun to read The Firm in Memphis, Gone With the Wind in Atlanta, and Confederacy of Dunces or The Pelican Brief in New Orleans. Don't even get me started about Bridget Jone's Diary in London or The Da Vinci Code in Rome.

The only thing better than curling up at home with a good book, may be curling up away from home with one.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Killing Spiders and Insulting Boyfriends: The Housewife Arrives

I'm currently sitting in the home of my dear friend ( accidentally typed fiend just then, but it isn't true) and fellow blogger, The Food Maven, ready to enjoy the second full day of my week long visit with her. I'm in my pajamas. It is almost noon. I am very happy.  Here's what we've done so far: Annoy her husband by laughing loudly and often (He's working extra hours this week, we don't know why). Annoyed her children by making snarky comments about them and reliving some of their more entertaining childhood moments. Cooked (okay, she cooks I ask questions and wash dishes), had chocolate martinis, had lunch with a blogging friend of hers who tried to explain code to us. (I mean CODE people, really?) We look smarter than we are. I hope. No wait, it should be the other way around...I think.

Last year when I was here the older daughter was dating a boy named Austin. Since I have arrived this time I've met the younger daughter's current boyfriend. The other night after dinner we were in the kitchen and I saw a very big spider crawling across the floor.

I screamed "SPIDER!" because that's what I do at my house and then call for a male member of my household to come and kill it. Yes, I could kill it myself but if I'm going to do that what is the point of being married?

I then saw that younger daughter's boyfriend was on his way out the door and not being able to recall his name but knowing NOT to call him Austin, I did what any genteel Southern woman would do...

I screamed "Hey you! Man, boy person, come BACK there's a spider!" from my perch atop the bar stool where I was now crouched, lest this be one of those arachnids with the power to jump 7 feet and attack at will.

My friend looks at me and says "Oh for crying out loud." and promptly and calmly stepped on it. The crunch under her foot didn't even bother her.

Oh. Well, yes that is another way to handle it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Eastern Wisdom Meets Western Science

Turmeric, ginger, peppercorns
Western medicine sends us off to the cold/flu aisle at the drugstore for something full of ingredients we can't pronounce when we don't feel well. Eastern tradition tells us we might be better off in the spice aisle at the grocery. 

 Right before my daughter's wedding she came down with a dreadful cold. My friend, and fellow blogger The Food Maven sent me a recipe for a cure. It seems her mother was traveling in Ireland and was in a pub with a cold (her, not the pub). The owner, a man from India, suggested a spoonful of turmeric and honey. Mommy Maven followed the advice and was all better the next day! My daughter got better so I never did make it. Earlier this week I was feeling a bit under the weather myself and decided to try it out, but you know I had to do some research first.

I came across many variations on several websites, they all seem to differ slightly. I liked one posted by blogger Arun Shanbhag, who remembers his grandmother making this for him.

I prefer to cook it on the stove
Here is the link to his blog post: Turmeric Milk: Soothing Elixir, in which he explains the history and science behind this potion. I changed a couple of things. I'm a firm believer in the power of green tea (Read about the health benefits here) so I made power packed infusion (1 family size tea bag to 1/4 C. water) to mix the turmeric in instead of water. I didn't have fresh ginger on hand but I did have some of the dried/candied sort, and I used coconut milk because dairy products are known to increase mucus production, something we are trying to lessen, and have other negative side effects for many. In an update on his site Arun added this comment: "Scientists have demonstrated that when curcumin is ingested along with a peppercorn extract, the ability of our body to absorb and utilize curcumin increases dramatically, up to 2000%. "

I made a cup complete with peppercorns and took it at bedtime. I woke up feeling much better, and yes--energized! So I'm a convert. The dried ingredients premixed would make a great gift for a friend who's suffering from a cold. The fact that it's home made and wasn't concocted by a pharmaceutical company is comforting in its own way. Here's my version but the internet is full of ways to tweak it; find one that you like.

The Housewife's Recipe:

1/4 C of very strong green tea
1/2 ts turmeric
Power it up with peppercorns! Delicious!

1 ts candied ginger
1 ts honey
a few peppercorns, whole
a mug of coconut milk

Dissolve turmeric in hot green tea, add to milk with ginger, honey, and peppercorns and stir over medium heat until hot. Let sit for 5 minutes before drinking.

Cheers to your health!

*Of course if you have a fever or cough that doesn't go away you should see a doctor.