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Design and other ephemera

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Earlier today I found myself joking over Twitter that being stalked by Talbots ads was making me feel old, and I felt myself reaching for my metaphorical bottle of Manic Panic (my favorite accessory in 1997).

There was once a time when dressing in anything other than torn, black clothing items was completely unimaginable to me, and my ultimate short term goal was the realization of perfectly bleached out locks with black roots, ala Kim Gordon or Debby Harry.

Oh, to be a pretty young thing at a liberal arts college in the aftermath of Grunge.

I can distinctly remember Christmas my senior year, when my mom, trying to gently nudge me in the direction of this scary thing called “adulthood,” gifted to me a pair of Banana Republic pleated front wool trousers. I could barely contain my disgust at these pants, both from an aesthetic point of view (really, who could blame me–pleated front trousers?), but also for what they signified–a reminder from a parental figure that the era in which I could acceptably dress like a refugee from a Hole video was quickly drawing near. Not welcomed news. I feigned interest in the pants as best I could and relegated them to the back of my closet the moment my mother’s back was turned.

Fast forward to today, and my closet resembles that of any other respectable, semi-happening urban 30-something on a limited budget. Simple shift dresses and laid-back boho chic blouses vie for space among classic black pants from yes, Banana Republic, and I could not be any less bothered by this fact.

It’s merely an indicator of the Circle of Life, vol 2: Personal Aesthetics. Nor am I particularly unique within this phenomenon. We all grow up; our clothing choices reflect that.

Now am I saying that I am proud of the fact that I surfer over to Talbots the other day in a vain attempt to find some decent 100 degree weather pants? No, lord no, I am not. In fact, I thoroughly expect my 1.5 readers to mock me for this revelation, and I silently curse the internet for reminding me of my time on that site through those damned personalized banner ads that now seem all the rage (*shakes fist at internet*)

But what I am proud of is that age and the modicum of wisdom I have gained from over the past 15 years or so have taught me to separate the personal from the sartorial. Sometimes a pair of pants is just a pair of pants, not a symbol of our relationship to society or our rejection of the mainstream. Sometimes you just want to cover your lower half with fabric that makes your ass look okay, and that doesn’t raise any red flags at work.

Call it rebellion against adolescent knee-jerk non-conformity. It’s definitely a form of self expression my 30-something self can get behind.



A couple of days ago when I mentioned one ingredient banana ice cream, did you immediately think “Now that sounds way too good to be true.”

So did I. And guess what? We were right!

The dessert, which calls for peeling, slicing and freezing bananas, and then blending them until they resemble the dish’s name sake, does not, in any way, evoke the pleasures of good old-fashioned frozen cream, milk and sugar. Really, it just tasted like frozen bananas. I added crystalized ginger to mine, which just made me wish I was eating ginger ice cream. There’s only so much we can ask of our non-fat, no-sugar dessert replacements.

I also suppose that as somebody who hates bananas, I was doomed to dislike the fruits of this experiment from the start. Perhaps that also makes me an unfair critic.

What I do know, is that making and tasting this dish reinforced my philosophy about eating and indulgence.

That is, that it’s always best to eat a simple, balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods, and that when you’re looking for something on the sweet side, limit the number of indulgences you allow yourself, and when you do, do it right.

Go for the good stuff.

If you want ice cream, eat ice cream. As a purist, I think that things like this are always best homemade, but as somebody who doesn’t have an ice cream maker, I get that homemade isn’t always possible. Still, if you’re typically going about things in a generally healthy and low-fat manner, the occasional bowl of real ice cream isn’t going to hurt you (unless there’s a medical condition or a food sensitivity going on). And if you’re like me, you’re going to enjoy it way more than some bowl of mushy, frozen fruit. So just eat the ice cream already.

I’m on a weird cooking kick these days. It seems counter-intuitive. As we slouch into another wet, sticky, languid DC summer, the idea of bonding with my oven should make me run to the arms of my air conditioner.

Instead, my thoughts are occupied with charming vignettes of domesticity–homemade confections birthed from vintage stoneware, retro aprons, a cat encircling my feet as I work.


Especially because I do not have a cat.

Since Sunday my inventory of culinary conquests has included two loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread, a batch of soft vegan ginger cookies and Jean Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman’s recipe for halibut, served with green beans and sticky rice (my addition, not theirs). That’s a whole lotta cooking for a gal who often passes weeks without meaningful interaction with her stove top, let alone her oven.

Not that I don’t cook, or that I don’t enjoy it when I do. I have long history with the kitchen, beginning with helping my mom prepare dinner for our family and sometimes guests, crossing over into college where I regularly cooked for an audience of 100 hungry vegans through the campus co-op system, and even a brief stint as a chef in a cafe in Boulder, Colorado (brunch shift–not a recommended first pro cooking gig).

Apart from the occasional flirtation with winter stews,  my regular culinary ambitions don’t extend far. Think warm grain salads mixed with veggies, stuffed sandwiches on the panini press, some simple pastas and whatever my friends at Amy’s Kitchen have frozen and shipped to my local Whole Foods.

In short, I’ve gotten lazy.

This week, I have made attempts to change that.

Preparing savory foods is rarely an endeavor I find particularly daunting. In fact, I tend to cook savory dishes with the abandon of a seven year old boy at recess. Stuff gets thrown in the pot at random, and by the handful. Pans are jostled, their contents flipped in the air with a slick flick of the wrist in a move I often perform for the sheer pleasure of feeling like a total kitchen badass. Maybe it’s simply because I have always cooked these types of dishes, and they are therefore what I am comfortable producing, but savory cooking allows for a level experimentation that I truly enjoy. Throw something in a sauce, taste, and adjust complimentary ingredients accordingly.

But baking. My, that’s another story altogether.

While I baked cookies and muffins as a kid, my completely clichéd and predictable adolescent fat/carbohydrate phobia brought that to a halt. For years, I barely touched the stuff, let alone prepared it.

Last night’s encounter with soft vegan ginger cookies reminded me just how pronounced the differences between cooking and baking are, mainly because baking affords fewer opportunities to course correct. I suspect that experienced bakers can sample cookie dough and know what to do when the dry components overwhelm the wet, and your unbaked cookies refuse to do anything but sit in soft crumbs in the bowl. I however, seem to lack that level of culinary confidence. If the bowl of combined wet ingredients have already mixed with the dry, can I add more of one of the wet ingredients, or will that throw the recipe off? Do I instead need to start over?

You get the drift.

I’ve never baked from Joy the Baker, but I admire her aesthetic and her writing style, so I decided to trust her. I soldiered on. In the end, my cookies came out okay. A bit dry and rock-like, but the ginger flavor was nice. I froze many of them, some were deposited in the kitchen at work, and the rest will be offered up at book club. It’s perverse, but they really do go better with milk. I suppose next time, I should tackle something a little less challenging. It’s probably not wise to attempt a vegan dessert on one’s first baking out in I-don’t-know-how-long.

At least I have plenty of left over crystalized ginger, which will be quite pleasant, I have decided, mixed into this intriguing little number.

More on that experiment later.

The soundtrack to this post was provided by Gillian Welch’s Revival.

Apartment Therapy features a new post on alcove beds today, thus triggering my decades-old fascination with cozy sleeping spaces. Several years ago I contemplated renting a friend’s apartment specifically because he had converted his french-doored closet into a sleeping space, and I desperately wanted a closet bed of my own. Even now that I’m pretty much content in  my current space, I often long for a cozier sleeping arrangement. Given my non-existent carpentry skills, this corner set up was the best I can do.

Apartment Therapy and Behr are running a contest to celebrate exceptional uses of color in home design. It’s an idea that I am all for…sort of.

One of the joys of reading Apartment Therapy is enjoying the photos of strangers’ homes while praising and critiquing their design choices. Sometimes it’s even about stealing these choices and appropriating them as your own.

Last week I crossed a small task off a personal to-do list that’s been crumpled up in a far corner of my mind for way too long. I visited the Monarch paint store in Chevy Chase and had my way with their wall of Benjamin Moore paint chips. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it had it’s way with me. I left the store with close to two dozen chips of varying shades of wheat and teal stashed in my purse, unsure that any of them would eventually prove satisfactory selections for my long-overdue apartment painting project.

And to be honest, I am still not terribly sure. Even after  spending some time narrowing the choices down to a mere eight chips, and even after taping them to the wall above my bed where I gaze at them several times a day, I still can’t fully commit. They all have the quality of looking just right and perfectly terrible all at once. Many vary by just the slightest variation of shade, and I am beginning to think that it’s all too much–too many variations, too many options, too  many ways I can screw this up even if my painting technique is perfect, which let’s face it, it won’t be.

What I need are photos of apartments similar to mine that have been painted with these colors so I can get a feel for how they would look when bathing all four walls of my main living space, potentially clashing with my new dining chairs and competing for attention with my art collection. Which is where the Apartment Therapy/Behr contest could have come in handy. It could have required contestants to list the exact name of the paint  they used in the room  they entered. I realize this would create a logistical challenge as not all of the paint would be from Behr, but in an ideal world it wouldn’t matter. In an ideal world people would tell you the names of the paint they chose when decorating their homes–anything to demystify  the process for those of us who have yet to take the plunge.

Instead, I am left to gaze furtively at the chips taped to my walls, willing the winning vision to materialize in my mind so I can finally gain a little clarity on this one small decision.

I’m having company this weekend. Perhaps my visitors can decide for me.

On March 14, two seemingly unrelated but much anticipated events will herald the advent of a new and much better season–clocks will “spring forward,” and Target’s collaboration with Liberty of London will debut in stores and online. I meanwhile, will be seated at my laptop, credit card in hand, in giddy anticipation of bedecking my home in as many of these elegant, splashy, beaux arts-inspired florals as possible. Bold words coming from a non-floral sorta gal, but my relationship with Liberty dates further back than my current decorating sensibility. Like my other life-long loves such as Blondie and decrepit British convertibles, this fascination was instilled in me during childhood by my mother, who fashioned many a sundress for me out of their fabrics, and would later go on to produce countless quilts composed mainly of their patterns. In fact, when the company decided to no longer sell fabric to U.S. stores,  dear mom began to stockpile, her guest room closet eventually coming to serve as a secret reserve of the stuff.

So it seems that my love of Liberty may in fact be genetic, or at the very least, conditioned from a very young age. While most floral patterns give me severe flashbacks to the insipid Laura Ashely dresses I wore for special occasions in the mid-80s, Liberty’s embody a slightly edgy,  mod aesthetic that I find uplifting, and even a little subversive. They look as if Mary Quant somehow got her hands on Victorian pen and ink drawings, and went crazy filling them in with as many crazy colors she could get her hands on.

So it seems strange to me that my life is basically Liberty-free at this point, but I suppose it’s for lack of access rather  than enthusiasm. I have, from time to time, contemplated having one of their patterns tattooed somewhere on my body, which seems a little um, extreme.

Instead, I will seize this opportunity to stock up on as many bowls and pillowcases as possible.

Over the past year or so (really, since I moved into this apartment I am so obsessed with perfecting), a reality has begun to dawn on my thick little mind. I need to marry a carpenter. I cannot count how many  times a week I think of something I’d like built for my apartment, and how often I am forced to abandon said idea when I remember that my own woodworking skills never evolved past the cutting board I made my mom in Industrial Arts class in the 7th grade (although to be fair, it was a pretty cool cutting board). But marrying a carpenter would solve this problem. I’d have an in-house expert in the wooden arts who, out of love and fidelity to yours truely, would have no choice, but to cater to these whims.

Say for instance, if I were suddenly taken with the notion of buying a bunch of antique wooden crates from vendors on Ebay, and having them incorporated into the design and construction of a dresser, that would be no problem. Like, if I wanted the sides of each box, the sides with the cool writing to serve as the front of each drawer, that would be a completely feasible request.

Alas, I am not married to a carpenter, so instead I must identify other options for said crates. I’m thinking they might live in my kitchen and dedicate themselves to a life of housing recyclables.

And since I am single, my dream of carpenter nuptials is still viable. It’s not like a have an accountant or a lawyer sharing my abode who I’d have to ditch.