Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

Man and Wife Making a Pizza

 

I once made one of those big lists where I wrote down everything I want to achieve in this lifetime. Chief among my goals were things like buy a house, write a book, and touch soil on every continent. Also on the list:  Master pizza crust. Dreams come in all sizes. Sometimes they’re even gluten-free.

The truth is, when you live in New York City, there’s no real need to master pizza crust because you can buy the best possible version of it on your street corner.

So last Friday night we did. Sorta.

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I really wanted to recreate a pizza from our favorite place–the Spicy Soppressata from Milkflower–because it was way too cold to schlep across town and order it in the restaurant. Plus, I was already in my pajama pants, and once those are on there’s no turning back. You know what I’m talking about.

I was all prepared to make my own dough, but the idea of getting out the stand mixer and waiting for yeast to rise sounded like more work than I was willing to put in. When Vin offered to pick up some dough from the pizza shop around the corner, I thought it was a grand idea. If you’ve never done this before DO IT NOW. Call your local pizza parlor and ask if you can buy some of their uncooked dough. It’s the best three bucks you’ll ever spend. And while I’m living in this area, it’s safe to say that “master pizza crust” is no longer on the big bucket list, freeing up some hours to work on the book and travel the world. Time is money, people.

Amazingly, even with someone else’s homemade dough, I struggled while transforming it into a worthy crust. I have this great pizza stone and I still don’t know the best way to use it. Do you preheat it? Coat it with oil? Sprinkle it with cornmeal? I posed all these questions to my husband, not because he’s a native New Yorker and is thus expected to understand the seminal rules of pizza-making, but because I’m weird and stubborn about looking things up on the internet and wanted to talk it out instead. One other thing you should know about me– I’m terrible with following instructions and prefer to “wing it”, almost always to my own detriment.

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J: “Hey Vin, are we supposed to preheat this stone, or what?”

V: “Why are you asking me this? Look it up online.”

I skimmed something quickly and learned that the stone should be pre-heated for 30 minutes at the highest possible temperature. But once that phase was complete, I still felt confused about how to get the dough and the sauce and all the toppings on without burning ourselves silly on the hot pan. At the pizza shop they have one of those wooden planks to transfer the pan from the oven to the counter. I don’t have that kind of set-up.

J: “Hey Vin, how are we supposed to get this dough on the pan? Do we take the pan out of the oven? What happens if the pan cools– will the whole thing not work right? Do we put oil on it?”

V: “I have no idea.”

J: “Too late.”

V: “What do you mean too late?”

J” It’s too late. I already put oil on it.  I sorta dropped a piece of cheese on it too.”

V: “On purpose?”

J: “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Impulsively, I’d opened the oven door and drizzled olive oil on the pizza stone. But then I was left with the dilemma of how to spread the oil evenly on a pan that was already screaming hot. I couldn’t use a spatula or a paper towel– plastic and paper would surely melt. And so, for reasons I still can’t explain or justify, I picked up a thick piece of mozzarella and used it to spread the oil around the pan. It obviously started to melt immediately after I touched it to the pan, so in a moment of panic and (in my opinion) quick reflexes– I flung the molten cheese onto the kitchen counter.

My husband looked at me like our whole life together was a huge mistake.

Okay, so coating the pan with oil and cheese was not the way to go. Got it. So I took the pan out of the oven and wiped down the grease with a paper towel. Then I rolled the dough onto the stone, loaded up the toppings and popped the pizza in the oven. We were back in business.

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Ten minutes later, I had more questions.

J: “How do I know when this thing is done? Isn’t the crust supposed to be brown and kind of crusty?”

V: “From now on, I’m going to consider all of your cooking questions rhetorical.”

J: “That’s just rude.”

V: “Hey, when it comes to food, I can tell you how much mayo to put on a mayo sandwich, and I can tell you if the filling in a Twinkie is still fresh, but that’s about it. You asking me cooking questions is like me asking you how to move midi regions over as entire blocks and not in individual notes.”

J: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

V: “Exactly.”

 

Anyway, this delicious pizza is brought to you by Vinny’s sarcasm and my poor judgment.  Mangia.

 

Hot Soppressata, Smoked Mozzarella and Sweet Honey Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 pizza crust (homemade, frozen or bought uncooked from pizza shop)
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 hot soppressata sausage (sliced very thin)
  • 1 cup smoked mozzarella
  • cup mozzarella or parmesan
  • 1 cup caramelized shallots or onions
  • honey, basil, oregano, red chili flakes

Directions

Slice shallots or onions thin, then cook them over low heat with butter or olive oil to caramelize. Season with a bit of kosher or sea salt.
Once pizza stone is hot, roll dough onto the pan and layer with tomato sauce, soppressata, cheese and shallots. If you can’t find hot soppressata, sprinkle red chili flakes on pie to add heat.
Bake until crust is brown and cheese is melted. Drizzle with honey, oregano and a little sea salt.

Vin: “Do you want to save this piece of cheese on the counter? Put it in some kind of museum?”

 

 

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The Bachelor Recap: Much Bali-hoo

 

Oooooh, so close! We’re almost at the end of the season, so it’s time for the bachelor to look to producers to plan, fund and organize an amazingly romantic getaway for his three girlfriends. I bet Farmer Chris never imagined he would have so much in common with Hugh Hefner. The gang has flown all the way to balmy Bali, and I just don’t know how he’s gonna whittle the final three down to two in this location. It’s so romantic that we’re four minutes into the program and I’ve already fallen in love with the bellhop, a breadfruit tree and three naughty monkeys. This is going to be a tough week for him.

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I’ll be honest and say that I don’t find this Chris fella particularly compelling. Different strokes for different folks, but clean-cut, small-town farmer boy is definitely not my type. Clearly I prefer long-haired hipsters with 5-day stubble and the physique of a pencil. Although, I think he is very sincere and really does hope to find a long-term partner from this process. With only 500 people in his hometown, he actually seems like the kind of person who could genuinely benefit from a weird dating system like this. The guys from L.A. and Chicago never really needed a hand meeting women, but this guy does. Let’s help him out!

Bali is a stunning place, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the women were slightly disappointed about being filmed in a tropical climate. I grew up on an island, and didn’t date until I was almost 20. Coincidence? I think not!

Anyway, I’m sure these chicks have stylists on hand to tame their frizz and wipe down their flop sweat, so I’m not so worried about them. Let’s see how the episode unfolded…

 

DATE #1: Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn is super cute and has a good sense of humor, but I still find myself hoping she doesn’t lay on too much charm because if I hear this guy laugh again it will be too soon. Call me shallow, but an annoying laugh is a deal-breaker for me, and this guy’s chuckle makes my ears wince in discomfort. They’re in the middle of a rainforest and I find myself distracted by how sweaty they both are. First they check out some temples, then approach a lady with a banana stand. Chris is given a banana to hold, which sends flying monkeys coming toward him from every direction. They are running up his arms and back, canvassing his body for the forbidden fruit, which is basically a metaphor for the entire premise of this show. Kaitlyn even says she admires the monkey and the way it goes after what it wants. She wishes she could be more like that monkey.

Then the fun and games are over and they have a serious talk over dinner. He sorta gives her a hard time about not “letting her guard down” and she apologizes for it. This makes no sense to me. You’ve known this person a few weeks, he’s still openly dating other people, and you’re apologizing for not being vulnerable enough? Sounds pretty reasonable to me!

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Fantasy Suite time: There’s an outdoor bathtub filled with rose petals shaped into a giant heart. Kaitlyn’s down with it. Good for you, hon. Get yours.

 

DATE #2: Whitney

Whitney is a pretty, blonde fertility nurse from Chicago with a very memorable speaking voice. She’s worked hard to get a good job she’s passionate about, which makes me like her very much, but also think she’s not going to be the best fit for a guy who lives in the middle of nowhere.

They are sailing away on a private boat that looks like the pirate ship from Goonies. I would love a fantasy date like that, but every time Vin and I have been on a boat together he’s spent the whole time vomiting over the railing. Life is not a fairy tale, little girls. Take note.

Whit just described this process as a “rollercoaster of emotions”, which is my least favorite phrase in the history of the earth, so -1 point there. Chris just said that Bali is a “beautiful place to fall in love”. I’d add that Bali is an easy place to fall in love, and it’s a joint that he and his future lady love will likely never have access to again. That’s why they should start sending these people to Taco Bell, or some kind of all-you-can-eat country buffet in his hometown. See how easy it is to fall in love there.

They jump into the water and she exclaims that she is head over heels in love with him, to which he replies a sincere, “Thank you.” What a dream come true!

Next scene: They’re all showered up, and having a serious talk over dinner. This is actually the most realistic conversation I’ve ever seen on this show. They have a frank discussion about the future of her job, and what she’d have to give up by moving to his hometown. He levels with her, and tells her that his town is “very small”, and is very clear in explaining that there is nothing to do there, and if you want to do something (like work), you’ll be driving somewhere else. This would have driven me right up from the table and onto the next plane to JFK. But Whit is in it to win it, and tells him that if she’s chosen, she’s prepared to quit her job, leave awesome Chicago and move to his tiny farm town to start making some babies. I have never seen a man grin so wide. I think she might have just sealed the deal.

Fantasy suite- yup, yup. Another bathtub, this one candelit and full of bubbles. Can someone please sneak into my apartment and set this up for me? I know I only have a stand-up shower, but I’m sure you’re creative enough to work with it.

 

DATE #3:  Becca

From a body-language perspective, Becca is the least compatible with Chris. She is the only contestant who, upon greeting him, does not jump into his arms and wrap her legs around his back. This is because Becca is a virgin. I actually think this girl is the best fit for him, because she grew up in a small town in Louisiana and has a quiet, wholesome charm that a lot of men would be very smitten by. Whatever happens, this girl has great hair and unbelievable teeth, so I’m not that worried about her romantic future.

There’s a soundbite of Chris indicating that it’s “Time to get to know one another on another level”, which is code for “time to have some fun without our pants on.” Becca is going to use this evening to explain that she plans to have fun with her pants on until marriage. Let’s see how he handles it!

They’re sitting side by side, and she drops the bomb: The V-Bomb. He looks sooooooo uncomfortable. He is tongue-tied. He respects that, of course. But he’s uncomfortable. Visibly. She says his response was perfect. I really, really hope she didn’t have sex with him in that fantasy suite behind the sheer curtains. Because if he sleeps with her after revealing she was a virgin on TV and then dumps her in public days later, that would be unforgivable.

She ends up staying in the suite, and the next morning they’re both confused about what happens next as Becca is the logical one who tells Chris that she’d want to date for a while before leaving her whole life behind and moving to his hometown. I don’t know why logic is always viewed as suspicious behavior on this show.

 

ROSE CEREMONY THROWDOWN

The women are wearing traditional Balinese gear which consists of frizz-taming updos and many layers of brightly colored fabric. Chris is dressed like the beefy farmboy version of the karate kid.

And then he drops the boom. He asks Becca to step away with him. The other two titter, trying not to sound catty. They predict he’s having a little chat with Becca the Virgin before sending her home. Kaitlyn looks pretty confident about their future and says so. (oh girl, this is gonna hurt).

WRONGOLA! They come back minutes later, holding hands. Now they’re sweating for real. Your uptight hairdos can’t save you now.

Kaitlyn –the fun, sassy one– is being sent home. She was open and vulnerable, and now she has to face the humiliating back-of-the-cab cry. As he tries to explain why he’s letting her go, a rooster crows in the background. She looks so crestfallen and sad. So does he.

Don’t worry Kaitlyn. You’re going to be okay, and you’ll probably be chosen as the next Bachelorette.

Rise when the rooster crows.

Go out there and take the world by the bananas.

 

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My Love Letter to Boyhood…and Texas.

 

I didn’t stay up to find out, but I heard Boyhood didn’t win last night. It was the only movie I saw last year, so I really wanted it to take home Best Picture.

But that’s obviously not the only reason I was rooting for Boyhood. And I’m guessing anybody else who loves Texas had their fingers crossed too.

I saw the movie a few months ago, and knew about the 12-year filming process going in. But what I didn’t know beforehand was that the movie was shot all over Texas, in locations with which I am intimately familiar. The setting wasn’t mentioned upfront, but I could tell it by the landscape and some of the dialogue. Once “dang” gets tossed in a script, the geography gets narrowed down pretty quickly.

I loved every minute of Boyhood. If you haven’t seen it or heard that much about it, this movie is a subtle, slowly moving tribute to childhood, parenthood and life itself.  The opening scene is simply a little boy lying in the grass with his hand tucked under his head, staring at the vastness of the sky. There are no major plot twists or story arcs, just quiet, carefully strung vignettes that mark the confusion and clumsiness of being alive. Some people complained that it was long and boring, but I never wanted it to end.

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me in line

If you’ve read here a while, you’re well aware that I grew up in Texas. Like other traitors before me, I moved to New York City at 22 and haven’t looked back except to wax nostalgia on this blog. I’ve visited family back home once or twice a year for the past 15, and while New York is unquestionably where I belong as an adult, Texas is where I feel wistful and dreamy because I lived there as a child. It is still a culture I belong to, and a place that feels like home even when I’m gone for months at a time. Its dialect narrates my internal voice, and it’s something I can slip on and off as easily as an old shoe. Texas is my brace and my anchor, and visiting there almost always brings me to gentle tears.

I romanticize Texas because I no longer live there. If I were still a resident, I wouldn’t dream backward about long flat roads and big open skies, and I wouldn’t feel a dull heartache when seeing these images on a movie screen in New York City. You can’t look back with fondness on something you’re still in the middle of, and it’s impossible to long for a space you continue to occupy.

I would have been equally touched by Boyhood had it been filmed in California or Ohio or Seattle, but watching two kids navigate the sweetness, confusion and wonder of childhood in the landscape where I endured all of that myself was a visceral experience. It left me thinking about the way places can stomp themselves into your soul, not because they were the most beautiful or interesting, but simply because you were there. How a certain song can open the dam to a flood of memories both good and bad, not because the song itself is so great, but because it played softly in the background as you fumbled your way through that first awkward kiss.

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Three weeks after watching Boyhood—the trigger for all my nostalgic navel-gazing– my husband and I took a week-long road trip through the Texas hill country. We drove all around the prettiest part of the state visiting my relatives and old haunts before eventually landing in the Houston area. The route was basically the one covered in the movie. Sometimes life shakes out that way.

It was exciting to have my Queens-born husband along for this trip, because I got to share more of my history with him by shaping it with physical context. We drove all around my college campus in Austin, my grandparents’ small town, the horseback riding camp where I spent eight glorious summers. I found myself highlighting silly things, like places where I got my hair cut and where I used to grab breakfast tacos. They weren’t spots that would ever show up in a travel guide or a list of recommended sights. These places weren’t notable to anyone but myself, and pointing them out to my traveling companion was the verbal equivalent of scribbling “I was here” on a bathroom wall.

As my husband drove, I snapped pictures and day-dreamed while memorizing the terrain outside my window. We rambled through miles and miles of flat brown nothing, past dry ground peppered with oak trees, their winter branches bald and curved like arthritic fingers. We took the highway through bigger cities, where billboards towered like giants and state flags the size of bedsheets rippled and swayed over car dealerships. We drove through tiny towns and stopped at roadside cafes where women called each other ‘sweetheart’ and wore rhinestones on the back pockets of their jeans. If I still lived in Texas, none of this would have registered as memorable. If I’d stayed, I probably wouldn’t have noticed these things at all.

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But after living 15 years outside of this scenery, the sights and smells and tastes of it make me warm. These are some of the things I remember about my life during the earliest part of it, the years when I didn’t know myself very well yet, and still had so much more of this world to see. As someone who was raised there, it is hard for me to separate the novelty of the place from my own experiences, and I would probably feel the same fondness for any place, had I grown up there.

It occurs to me sometimes that maybe Texas is not extraordinary at all. I’m certain there are other places with sunsets that light the sky on fire and people who are gracious beyond reason. Maybe the mild winters really don’t annul those blistering summers. Maybe I don’t even like okra, but have been conditioned to love it because nothing ever tastes as good as the things your grandmother rolled in cornmeal. Maybe some places are only special because our memories are stitched to them.

I didn’t think much about my home state until I moved away from it. I never referred to myself as a Texan until I came to New York. I guess it’s a natural condition to only reflect on something once it’s over. Only an adult can feel sentimental about childhood because he’s already surpassed it. Children don’t have the luxury to understand it really was just a phase.

Watching Boyhood was like poking my head out the passenger side window as my husband drove through Texas, watching a familiar world rush by me in a blur. It was like reading a wonderful book and being able to mentally insert myself into the story because the setting was my own backyard. But mostly it felt like lying in cool grass and looking up at the bright open sky, the place I still go when I need to look ahead and imagine, but is just as easily accessed when I want to look back and remember.

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<me at summer camp in Wimberley, Texas, late ’80s>

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<me outside my old summer camp in Wimberley, Dec. 2014>

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About Therapist Confidentiality…and Compassion

 

If you’re familiar at all with the therapeutic process, you’re well aware that the number one rule is confidentiality. When a client sees me for treatment, what they share with me is sacred. I can’t reveal any of their identifying information. I’m obligated by law to keep my trap shut. Their stories are not mine to share.

If I’m being honest though, there are times when I wish they were. But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. I’d be an unforgivable unethical jerk to turn my clients’ stories into a book. (But trust me, they’d make an amazing one.)

I hear fascinating stuff in sessions. People lead very interesting lives in this town; far more interesting than mine. Many people have also been through some extremely hard, extraordinarily painful situations. I find myself feeling moved, inspired, surprised, and humbled at least a dozen times a day. And my clients and I laugh so loud and often people strolling the hallway must wonder what in the world goes on behind my office door.

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So yeah, on occasion, I have the shameful wish that I could be more open about who my clients are, what they’ve been through, how they’re changing and what they’re feeling. It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself when you’re listening to someone else.

I became a more compassionate person when I became a therapist. I had no choice. It’s the foundation of the job.

And sometimes I think if other people heard what I have the privilege to hear, the world would be a more compassionate place.

I have a job where I meet and learn intimate details about people that are, by and large, vastly different from myself. I meet people who think and behave differently than I do. People who come from environments that feel like foreign countries to me, even if they’re only a few subway stops away. People whose interests, choices, behaviors, personalities and backgrounds are completely opposite of my own.

In my personal life, how often do I connect with people who are vastly different from myself? Not very.

Isn’t that what makes Humans of New York so beloved? He plucks the average person off the street, takes their photo and passes them the mic to briefly share their story. And even when their story involves something society generally disapproves of (ie: crime, drug use), there are floods of comments showing compassion, support, encouragement and understanding. A lot of people see a junkie on the corner. Brandon (of HONY) sees a whole person with many different facets, who is hiding behind a mountain of pain.  And once he shares that on his site, other people are able to see that too.

I’m fortunate to have a job that pushes me to find the good in everyone.

And the great news is that you don’t have to be a therapist to do this.

You can simply choose to.

 

 

I’m writing this today as part of the initiative to find 1,000 bloggers to write about compassion today so we can flood the internet with good. You can find other stories about compassion by searching #1000speak on twitter.

Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.

 

 

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Too Old to Blog

 

I had a few alternative titles in mind for this post including:

“I am not a millennial.”

” 35+ is the new 22. TRUST ME. I’m your elder.”

“Damn. I really can’t relate to GIRLS at all.”

“The Oddball on Your Facebook Wall”.

But seriously, I wonder: Am I too old to blog? Is it silly for a girl woman of a certain age to share her thoughts in what is essentially an online journal? Is it sad? Weird? Awkward? Boring?

 

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Is this blogging thing too hip for crotchety Gen-Xrs? Is mine a voice that resonates with anyone?

I ask myself this because blogging or otherwise, I find myself fitting into a strange, small segment of the populace.

I am a woman over the age of 35. Married. No children.

If you fit into this funny little niche, give me a call sometime. We’ll compare notes on eye creams and bemoan the uncertainties that accompany advanced maternal age.

Most women my age are mothers. I have no statistical evidence here, but I feel fairly comfortable stating it as fact. And it’s not that I can’t relate to women with children. Nearly all of my close friends are mothers, and I never feel like there’s some great divide that keeps us from having funny, meaningful, enjoyable conversations. With real friends, there will always be something to connect to, even after the circumstances that once bound you change.

But when it comes to feeling a connection to someone else’s blog, essays, or personal writing, I do feel like a basic overlap in lifestyles is somewhat essential. When we read about others’ experiences, what we really want to do is connect to something that reminds us of ourselves. People are a little self-centered, aren’t they? Fiction is another realm altogether, but when it comes to personal, first-person writing, if you don’t find yourself thinking, “She took the words right out of my mouth” every now and then, the writing probably doesn’t resonate all that deeply. I haven’t found a lot of blogs written by people my age that aren’t associated with parenting in some way, so I have a hard time connecting to them. Our lifestyles are too different.  Mothers: Did you find yourself fascinated by sleep training years before you became a mom? I didn’t think so.

So then I find myself occasionally tuning into blogs written by women younger than me, who are either single or married, without kids. It probably isn’t even true, but it often feels that the bulk of blogs out there are written by women in their early to mid 20s. At this point in my life, it can be hard for me to relate to the 20-something experience. I remember it fondly, but it also feels really far away. I’m also not sure that someone in their early 20s would find anything compelling in the content on my blog.

So I wonder…where are the other bloggers in their mid to late 30s without kids? Am I really that much of an oddball? If you know of anyone who fits in my niche, I’d certainly love to know about them. I still get a kick out of reading all kinds of blogs, but it’d be nice to find a few new ones that echo some of my own experiences.

And since I was the one to throw it out there, I’ll go ahead and answer my own question.

I’m a better writer at 37 than I was at 22. I’m less self-conscious, and more trusting of my own voice. I know myself better, and think more interesting thoughts. I censor myself less and challenge myself more. And at the end of the day, I have weightier life experiences to reflect on and write about.

So, no. I don’t think I’m too old to blog.

But I’m definitely too old for crop tops.

 

 

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Last Friday Night

 

Hey! It’s Fashion Week in New York City! Know what relevance this event has in my life?

None! Bupkus! Nunca! No soy fashionista!

I mean, I’m not a total mess. I always make sure my pants fit and I’m not running around town in khakis and a tophat or anything, but the actual fashion scene is not one that I have ever been a part of.

But the food scene. That’s a scene I can get in on. Although, sometimes that’s pretty out of my league too.

Friday night Vin and I went out to dinner with our friend Zach, who used to live here but now lives in DC. Now this guy is a food connoissuer. He’s the kind of guy who roasts bone marrow in his home kitchen and breaks his wrist swirling wine after the waiter does his first pour. He can pick up on on notes and essences and knows all the right words to describe food like “astringent” or “gamy”. The cool part is that none of this comes off as remotely pretentious; he’s simply a guy who really knows about food and truly enjoys a sublime meal.

We knew we had to pick a good place for a palate of his pedigree.

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The first time we went to this particular restaurant it was located inside an old diner car. I ordered a spanish omelette, and when it arrived it had some kind of weird black gook mixed in among the potatoes.

“What’s this black stuff?” I asked the waiter.

“Oh, that’s brains.” I sent it back and asked for the brainless version. Save the jokes, please.

That restaurant closed when they lost their lease, and was replaced by two separate restaurants– one during the day and another at night. The day version is inside a classroom of an old school, which has since been converted to a museum that also serves as a dance club. You eat at kiddie’s desks and order off a chalkboard menu. New York City, man.

We went to the nighttime steakhouse, which is located inside an old auto-body warehouse. It’s an open kitchen, so you can watch the chefs sear filet mignon and furiously whisk pan sauces. You can also see your dinner swimming right around the cooks’ ankles, as there’s a fresh trout tank running along the bottom of the bar.

We ordered stuff like beef tartare with raw egg, foie gras gnocchi and a way too expensive bottle of wine. I reminded myself not to gasp at the prices and simply enjoy the atmosphere, my company and an exceptionally interesting meal. I also reminded myself not to think about the fact that my dinner had oxygen in its gills only ten minutes before being laid to rest on a mound of butter-braised cabbage.

Saving for a house is a real bitch in this town, marked by hand-wringing and sacrifices at every corner. But if you can’t go out and enjoy a pretentious meal every once in a while then why even bother trying to stay?

 

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V-day D-day: A Complete and Thorough Guide to Maintaining Long-Term Love and Achieving Sexual Awkardness

 

My friend Kim is about to spend her first Valentine’s day with her boyfriend. As such, they are swapping extravagant presents–he’s bought her theater tickets and she is gifting him a new guitar. I know this because she asked Vin to help her pick out a good one.

“Aren’t they adorable?” I said later to my husband.

“They’re super sweet,” Vin replied. Then we locked eyes and smirked before he said exactly what we were both thinking.

“Rookies.”

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Year One:

Our first Valentine’s day together was 50 years ago. Vin had recently quit his job and was spending three months driving around the country just for fun. I was pretty busy in my new life as a ski bum/cocktail waitress. It’s safe to say we both miss our 20s.

I lived in Denver at the time, so we were in a long-distance relationship. Interesting things happen during long-distance relationships. You drag your ass to the post office to mail care packages and love letters. Nights are spent making kissy noises into the receiver during three-hour phone calls (“You hang up first”, “No, YOU hang up first!) and days are filled with flirty texts and moony day-dreaming.  If you and your partner ever find yourself in a slump, I highly recommend one of you skips town and rents an apartment across the country.

We decided to meet in one of my favorite cities– Santa Fe, New Mexico. I arrived at the Ramada Inn hours before he did (because some things never change) and transformed our dingy quarters into a cartoonish love den by littering the room with dozens of hand-crafted paper hearts and pink streamers. He brought chocolates and cookies and sparkly new jewelry. I don’t remember what I wore, but I’m pretty sure it involved lace and rubber bands.  It ended up being an incredibly exciting and romantic weekend, filled with sugar, smooches, and roasted green chiles.

 

Year Two:

I’m not sure how or why fondue became the archetype for a romantic meal for two, but I decided to pull out all the stops and melt everything in my apartment for V-Day 2.o.  I lived alone this year, and took the liberty of shoving all my living room furniture against the wall so I could create a picnic spread for me and my man. I rolled out a deep pink blanket, and scattered a bunch of girly pillows around so I could lean seductively while dripping hot gruyere onto my chin.

We started with a full cheese course before diving headfirst into a bucket of melted chocolate, booze and heavy cream. The first few tastes were heaven, and just like I had planned, by the last few bites we couldn’t keep our hands to ourselves. We were like savages–a tangle of arms and hands clawing all over each other as we both fought over who got to murder the bathroom first.

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Year Three:

Back in New York and living with roommates,  I transformed my teeny bedroom on the Upper West Side into a charming Italian cafe. I brought in a small round table and covered it in linen and tiny white candles. I turned off all the lights and served filet mignon and fettuccine alfredo while Stevie Wonder played softly in the background. It was a great meal, but steak should never be served in one’s bedroom. Once your sheets and curtains smell like beef, the evening goes downhill fast.

 

Years Four through Six:

It was around this time that gifts became more perfunctory than predictable. These were the years when Vinny started gifting me All-Clad pans for holidays. His mother thought it marked the beginning of the end, but I felt like things were just getting good. My man knew me better. Flowers last about a week. Stainless steel is forever.

 

Years Seven through Ten:

Dinner? Flowers? Chocolate? Sex? Did we even exchange cards? Who the hell remembers?

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Year 11

This year, we’re double-dating with one of our favorite couples, Jen and Jackie. We’ll share a healthy vegan meal and end the night with John Hughes movies. Don’t tell Vin but I’m planning to blindfold him after dinner and drag him through the snow for a midnight viewing of Fifty Shades of Gray. Who says romance is dead?

Whatever you guys are up to for Valentine’s Day, please make sure you read this list of warnings about recreating scenes from this weekend’s sexy blockbuster. If you’re too lazy to click on this link, the gist is that you should always keep the key to your handcuffs handy and think twice before locking anything to your genitals.  I would also add “avoid dairy” to that list.

And please: take my word for it and never fill a bathtub with an entire bottle of baby oil expecting magically sexy things to happen. Not only will you clog your drain something awful, but your hair will never have any volume again and at least one of you will end up with a head injury.

Happy Valentine’s Day Lovahs!

 

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The End of the Whole 30: What Happens Now

 

We did it! We made it a full 30 days of whole foods with no cheating. I’m really glad I stuck it through to the end so I could share some genuine results.

My last whole30 update included a lot of whining and bitching. I was NOT feeling this program toward the end of it, and was having a really hard time seeing the point in doing it.

I have no idea what changed. Oh wait– yes I do. Vinny came home.

Here comes some Valentine’s week sap for you, but a big source of my moodiness that third week of the Whole 30 was not so much about what I was or wasn’t eating, but the fact that my husband was out of town and I missed him terribly. He came back from his trip, and suddenly my mood wasn’t so edgy anymore. Funny how that works.

Anyway, last Tuesday wrapped up the Whole 30 for us, and we were both hesitant about what came on Day 31. Well, not me. I knew exactly what came on Day 31. COFFFFFFEEEEEEEEEE. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la YAY!!!!

me and big tea

The next morning I was so excited I woke up early, before my alarm. I whirred up some beans in the grinder– good stuff from Dean & Deluca Vin had put in my Christmas stocking– and mentally prepared myself for one of the greatest mornings of my life. I added the flourishes that had been banned during the Whole30– half & half and some turbinado sugar– consciously using less than I usually do.

And then I sat down, turned on the Today Show, and started drinking.

And I felt NUTS.

Not good nuts. Bad nuts- like those weird Brazil nuts everyone purposely leaves in the bottom of the can after all the cashews and almonds have been picked out. The caffeine and the sugar rushed through me and I felt an intense, almost immediate high. It was 6:30 in the morning and I was bouncing off the walls. I was singing in the shower like Mariah Carey. My hands were shaking and my heart was racing. I’d had plenty of caffeine in the form of black tea throughout the Whole30, but I’d had no sugar in 30 days, so the minute it hit my blood stream it felt like my circulatory system was hosting a rave. I’d eaten a protein-rich breakfast in hopes of preventing a feeling like this, but to no avail.

Predictably, hours later at work, I crashed. Really, really hard. Around 11 am I felt absolutely starved, and the first thing that hit my brain was that I really wanted carbs. I hadn’t felt that way in a month, and it felt awful. Later into the work day, I was more sluggish and fatigued than I remember ever feeling before. My eyes were so heavy I could barely keep them open. I had a mild headache too. Coffee with light sugar and milk was the only non-compliant thing I’d had all day, and the result was terrible. I have to say, this was the most eye-opening experience of the whole thing. Now I understood why I was doing it in the first place.

For the record, this is totally not how you’re supposed to reintroduce foods following a whole 30. You’re supposed to do it very slowly, and very methodically, adding different foods one at a time so that you can see which of them you’re sensitive to. Clearly, like everyone else, I have a strong reaction to sugar. And that’s what will change the most in our diets following this experience. The way we incorporate sweets into our lives.

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First of all–and we’ll see how long this actually lasts– but we’re going to start treating desserts like real treats as opposed to nightly habits. I’m knocking out white sugar, and replacing it with unrefined sweeteners like coconut sugar, maple syrup and sucanat. Same goes with flour. Out goes the white stuff, and in its place will be ground oats and nuts. I baked something this weekend from the Oh She Glows cookbook, replacing all refined stuff with healthier alternatives, and they were terrific, so this isn’t something I see being difficult.

I will also make a real conscious effort to make all lunches an equal balance of carbs, fat and protein. The lunches I made throughout the whole 30 (usually a combination of baked, boiled or grilled chicken with roasted sweet potatoes, kale or avocado) kept us satisfied and full until dinner, without bloating or fatigue in the afternoon. Lunches will be pretty plain, but they’ll do their job and get us through without crashing in the afternoons.

At the end of the day, this will probably be my last Whole30 experience. I think I’ve learned enough from it that I don’t need to do it again. In fact, we had our first meal out after Whole 30 on Saturday night, and we both ordered meals that were totally compliant, so something must have stuck. Vin would probably eat this way for the rest of his life if I kept up with the cooking (PS: not happening). He really loves it, and notes feeling physically awesome. Aside from the coffee with milk and sugar (which I now drink decaf, with coconut sugar and soy milk), I can see a lot of our meals still being clean. At the same time, life is short and doughnuts are spectacular.

Let’s not get crazy– I still love to cook and eat, and I have no plans to eliminate any food permanently from my diet. Except for capers and olives, but trust me…that’s no sacrifice.

 

 

 

 

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Home, Home on the Brain: Our Down Payment Saving Strategy

 

This past year has been all about SAVING MONEY. Because when you’re house-hunting in New York City, you need a whole lot of it.

I feel squeamish sharing the actual number in our joint savings right now, but we’ve both been pleasantly surprised by how much we’ve been able to stash away over the past year and a half or so. We got hitched in 2012 and went on three big trips in our first year of marriage (no regrets there!), so we really began saving in earnest in 2013.

We’re not extreme cheapskates and reusing toilet paper or anything nutty like that, but we’ve definitely made some good changes that were actually pretty simple, so I figured they were worth sharing here.

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Our general saving strategy:

We fall under the DINK category (double-income/ no kids) which puts us in a great position to save. Certain aspects of our lifestyle are also conducive to saving– we’re blessed with small appetites and below-market rent, and neither of us drinks (much) or smokes. We have no debt or student loans, we live within our means, we’re in good health, and we’re in a stage of our lives where we just have a very low overhead. We work very hard, and feel lucky that we are able to save.

We used to just split most of the bills down the middle and each put $500 in savings each month. A few months ago, we switched it around, and it seems to be working much better. Vin pays all bills (rent, all insurance, cable, cell phones). Food and most house-related purchases come out of my checking account but almost every dollar I make goes directly into our joint savings. Seeing the number go up and up in our savings has made cutting back in lots of ways not as difficult.

Here are some of the ways we’re keeping more of our cash:

 

FOOD:

-I cook homemade 95% of the time. Grocery shopping, food prepping and cooking takes more time and energy than ordering in/eating out, but for me, the cost savings and health benefits are well worth it. Almost all lunches are brought to work.

-If we’re not cooking at home, we’re actually going out. In a city built on Seamless, Vin and I never order takeout. If we’re going to skip cooking at home, we are going to have a real restaurant experience. I realize this is easier for us to stick to because we don’t have zeee babeez.

- I buy and make food that can streeeeeetch. Every Sunday I boil one whole organic chicken with tons of garlic, ginger, salt and pepper. I use the leftover broth for soups and other dishes, and whatever’s left gets frozen for another time. The chicken is used throughout the next few days on salads, sandwiches, in enchiladas, in soups or plain with avocado on top. I make my own almond milk, and am planning to dehydrate the pulp to make almond flour (that stuff is EXPENSIVE). Other cheap ingredients that give you more bang for your buck are lentils, dried beans, and cornmeal (for polenta, making crusts, cornbread).

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-Speaking of soups– start making ‘em! I end up making two simple soups a week with the broth leftover from my boiled chicken. I bought two Thermos food jars and we take them to work a few times a week. It makes packing lunch super simple, and very cost effective. You can make a ton of soup out of really cheap ingredients and freeze leftover portions.

-Reduced impulse buys– I really have been trying to stick to a list when grocery shopping, and making sure I buy ingredients that can be used in several meals over the week. I stopped buying $2 seltzer waters at work and just drink from the tap during the day, and Vin has cut out his hot cocoa runs (we’ll see what happens when he’s off the Whole30 though:).

-I always eat and cook fruits and veggies in order of when they’ll spoil-  Quick-to-wilt stuff like spinach, fresh herbs, lettuces, and berries get eaten early in the week, while hardier stuff like butternut squash, sweet potatoes and kale are eaten toward the end because they keep longer. I’ve been throwing out much less uneaten produce, which makes me feel good.

 

ENTERTAINMENT

-I just say ‘No’ a lot more often. If concert or movie tickets are thrown around for something that I’m not THAT into, I’m not going. I’ll always pony up for something I’m dying to do or see, but if I’m feeling “meh” about it, I’d rather hold onto the cash.

-We choose cheap thrills. If Vin and I want to get out of the house, we go out to a coffee shop instead of a restaurant. We can stay much longer and spend much less. It’s easy to hang out with friends and not spend a lot of money- take a walk with a cup of coffee. Done!

-We put a general moratorium on travel- This is admittedly one of the hardest rules to follow because we love to travel. I flew to Texas twice last year to visit family, but we had no other big trips in 2014. Vin’s recent trip to LA was a bargain because he flew on off times and stayed with a friend.

-We’re smarter about when we travel- We wanted to do something special for our anniversary, so we booked one night at a cool hotel in upstate New York- only a two-hour drive away. This hotel has a two-night minimum for weekend nights, so we booked Sunday night only, which was considerably cheaper. We drove up early Sunday and drove back Monday evening, which also helped us avoid traffic!

-We’ve been going potluck when entertaining. I love, love, love to entertain, but it definitely gets expensive. My birthday was a (free) picnic at Central Park, and our other hosting this past year was potluck. Our friends are generous and good cooks so it’s worked out well.

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SHOPPING HABITS

-I’ve stopped buying things just because they’re cheaper. This is hard for me, because I love a bargain. But I’ve started buying things I really want instead of settling for the cheapest option, with the assurance that because they’re higher quality I won’t have to replace them anytime soon. I’m finally subscribing to the notion of quality over quantity.

-I buy things that allow me to use other things better.  I always thought I had nothing to wear, but the real problem was that I didn’t have the right shoes to wear with my clothes! I recently bought three pairs of shoes from Zappos– short black boots, tall flat blat boots and black sneakers. These three pairs of shoes have effectively made me feel like I tripled my wardrobe because they go with everything! I’ve worn the boots exhaustively since purchasing them. (except when I’m wearing snow boots of course).

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-Replace items only when absolutely necessary. Unless it is unusable, falling-apart-at-the-seams or dangerous, nothing in this house is getting replaced until we move. I have wanted a new couch for years but refuse to buy one until we own our own place. Our car is 15 years old, and we’re not getting a new one until this one crumbles into pieces or bursts into flames. My computer is slow as molasses and the bottom is literally falling off, but it still works so it’s sticking around much longer.

-I barter or swap when able. My expensive hairdryer conked out last year. Rather than cough up the money to replace it, I reached out to my friend Crystal, who works as a beauty editor. I offered to take her out to dinner in exchange for a new dryer. The dryer she brought me was valued at $200, but I only ended up spending $45 and had a nice evening with a friend! My girlfriends are quick to swap books and household items too.

-Before you call the handyman, Youtube it. My husband’s kind of amazing. Anytime something breaks– the washer, the AC in his car, the flatscreen TV-  he hops on Youtube and makes an attempt to fix or replace something himself.  We’ve saved hundreds of dollars this way. My brother remodeled his entire house on his own from watching youtube videos!

-Just keep it simple. Don’t buy things unless you really, truly need them and will use them several times a week. How many handbags does one person need? How many lipsticks?

 

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

-Give glass a second life. I almost never buy new glass products, because it’s so easy to repurpose glass containers. Once the last bit of jam has been swiped onto toast, that little glass jar will be used for carrying smoothies to work. My favorite thing to upcycle are the glass candle holders from Bath and Body Works. Once the wick is gone and there’s only a bit more wax in the bottom, stick it in your freezer. After it hardens, take a knife and break up the wax until it falls out in large chunks. A little Palmolive and a sponge, and the whole thing wipes perfectly clean. I use them for candy dishes, flower vases, to corral loose jewelry, and to house my next candle.

-Make your own cleaning products. Scour Pinterest for homemade cleaning supply recipes. Most require stuff that’s super cheap, non-toxic and already in your home like vinegar and lemons. I still make my own homemade laundry detergent and haven’t bought a bottle of Tide in a year and a half. I bought the supplies for 10 bucks in early 2013, and still haven’t had to buy any new ones!!

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-We use every last drop, then we add water and make it go even further. When we buy toiletries and other household or beauty products,  I’m not buying a new one until every single drop of product is gone. One great way to use up that last bit of lipstick or concealer that gets buried in the tube is to scrape it out with a toothpick and pack it into a contact lens case. It’s great to have that tiny makeup compact for travel or your work drawer for quick touch-ups.

 

And because I’m always looking for new tips for saving, please share your best advice for keeping more of your cash! Add it to the comments, or share on my FB page.

 

 

 

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An Update on our House Hunting and How We’ll Become Millionaires in Six Months

 

You didn’t click on that thinking I had the solution to getting rich, did you?  Oh, bless your heart. You did.

Sorry, I should have been more clear. I am looking for tips on how to become a millionaire in six months. Because most of the time, Vin and I feel like that’s what needs to happen in order to buy a decent-looking property in a safe, convenient neighborhood in New York City.

Sorry if this title was misleading. This post is really just an update on our housing situation. This past year has been all about saving for our first home purchase. We talk about it incessantly. Zillow and Street Easy are the new Facebook, refreshed constantly. I pin images of pristine white kitchens and he dreams of a covered place to park his car.  I allow myself to dream too…about how much easier this process would be ANYWHERE BUT HERE. Vinny never has those dreams. That man is a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. His heels are dug into the concrete and they’re never leaving.

DSC_0739Cell phone right hand + hot beverage left hand = True New York style

So here we are. Still in our garden-level apartment in Queens, collecting nickels and crossing our fingers that rubbing enough of them against one another will scrabble together a down-payment for a house. This is another area where Vin is standing firm– we are buying a house, not a condo or co-op. It must be in New York City– not Jersey or Westchester or Connecticut or Long Island. And the kind of house we buy must accommodate more than one-family, so we can have tenants rent out the other floor and help us pay off the mortgage. It’s actually a really smart plan, and a great way to invest.

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<For non- NYC folks, these are the types of houses we’re interested in buying. Nothing flashy. Almost always attached, with two or three separate apartments inside. It’s the kind of house Vin grew up in, with all three floors occupied by family. But we want strangers so we can take their money. Yay!!  >

There are only a few problems. Multi- family houses are plentiful, stunning, and in immaculate condition in a few beautiful areas of Brooklyn like Cobble Hill, Park Slope and Fort Greene. Hooray, right?! But don’t throw any confetti our way- they are almost always several million dollars. I don’t know if you have gleaned this from me and Vin by reading this blog, but…we do not have several million dollars or a down payment befitting such a purchase. That’s some Sarah Jessica Parker shit.

We’d love a multi-family home in Queens, but we’re having trouble finding any in areas we’d consider living, or would have an easy time finding renters.  The neighborhood where we live now offers almost nothing. No one’s selling. The few who are are charging an absolute fortune or accepting only cash offers. CASH OFFERS! Who are these people that can give cash offers on a freakin’ house?!!

DSC_1349Perchance to dream–our ultimate NYC abode. We would rather live in one of these babies than a mansion anywhere else. The Brooklyn brownstone. Siiiiiiiiiigh.

And then there are the old-school brownstones in the “still up and coming” neighborhoods of Brooklyn. They are listed with hyperbole like “You can’t find prices like this anymore!” next to a soul-crushing number like $900,000.

Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx are not on the table. We’d be open to Harlem, but are probably already priced out of that area.

Anyway, Vin and I took another step yesterday and attended our very first open house. Actually we found one open house on Zillow, and there just happened to be about five other open houses going on at the same time in that area. That area was Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

I believe the term they use for people like us is gentrifiers.

The first house we stumbled on by accident was absolutely beautiful. It was completely restored with exposed brick and pretty mantles and an enormous basement. The third house we ended up seeing was shown by the same well-known realty company and was in equally great condition. Still, they were both so modern and polished (and uh, expensive), and we’ve always kind of hoped for something with a bit of character, something we can really pour our own personalities into.

Enter House #2. Holy shit was this place a dump. The minute I walked in, I felt afraid for my own safety. The walls, the ceilings, the stairs, the floors– they all looked one big sneeze away from completely caving in. Walls and floors were rotting. The ceiling looked craggly and loose, like cottage cheese. It had clearly been neglected for over a decade and had likely housed a gang of squatters.

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This was the only redeeming quality of the house. Oh, I’m a sucker for these. But seriously, that was it. I’m not spending $800,000 for a money pit with one pretty feature.

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There was crap everywhere. Boxes of crap. Piles of crap. Just unexplainable crap. You can’t see it in this picture, but there was an enormous family-sized can of creamed corn just hanging out in the corner. So much for home staging.

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 This was taped to a door in the renter’s basement apartment. I don’t…I just…I don’t know anymore.  All I can say is, I could actually picture someone dying in this house, so our hunt continues.

And we’ve only just begun…

Wish us luck.

Give us strength.

Send us money.

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About Jenn.


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Kindly ignore the "food/friends/fun" part on the top of this page. It no longer describes this blog; I just don't know how to change it. Pretend it says something more accurate like "Stories of my Life", or "For a good time, read Jenn". About Me: I'm a 30-something Texan who moved to New York, became a therapist, and married a guy named Vinny from Queens. I delight in observing the world around me, and write about it here.

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