19 December 2009

Fancy a Cuppa?

Not really a tea drinker?

No, really, I promise. You'll want some of this special concoction.

Two lumps with that tea? I thought so.

Brought to you by Cake Wrecks, an hilarious site (and now book) about just how wrong cake decorating can go.

The site was brought to my attention by my writer friend JJ, who has been to the end of the internet, and lived to tell about it. Share the love and visit her site, jjustkidding.com. Tell her I sent you!

18 December 2009

Desert Dessert

Last night I dreamed that I consulted a doctor for my ear infections. In waking life, my daughter is currently afflicted with an ear infection; mine are just fine, thank you very much. In any event, this dream doctor informed me that my ear infections were caused by excessive sugar consumption. Hmmm. Even in my sleep I could concede that there might be something to the insinuation that I could cut back on my sugar intake. I did, I'll confess, consume the better part of a bag of marshmallows over the last six days. Whipped corn syrup not being a super healthy snack.

But come on, it's Christmastime! So here's what I'll be making for dessert Christmas Eve: Sticky Toffee Pudding.

That particular recipe comes courtesy of Beginish restaurant in Dingle, a gorgeous (if unfortunately named) little fishing town in southwest Ireland. Here's what sunset in Dingle looked like in 2007:

The first time I had this dessert was, in fact, in Ireland. I wasn't sure what to expect, having no previous knowledge of sticky toffee pudding. Rather than the semi-liquid spoontreat I expected, this was actually more of a rich dense cake (pudding being Britspeak for any dessert.) Super sweet and gooey, it was just as sticky as promised, and served warm, swimming in hot caramel sauce. Yum to the power of yum!

Halfway through the dish, however, the eu- in my -phoria turned to dys- as I pulled something odd and fibrous out of my mouth. I inspected the offending article as discreetly as possible. What on earth is it? I wondered. Animal, vegetable or mineral? It looked suspiciously like, well, cloth. Had a stray piece of paper towel drifted into my pudding? I spooned through the dish in search of more clues; more stringy mysteriousness confronted me. What if a dirty rag fell in? I called the waiter over and asked her to explain the mystery. She was as perplexed as I and my stomach began to tighten with ever-increasingly gross ideas of what non-food I'd just consumed. Back to the kitchen went my delicious dessert. Admittedly, I was sad to see it go, offensive alien object or no. Have I mentioned it was delicious?

When the waiter returned, she explained that sticky toffee pudding is made with dates.

, I said.

, she said and pivoted away wearing one of those looks I have since learned to recognize as roughly translating to "Stupid bloody American". But, really, who would have imagined a sun-wizened, little desert-dwelling date turning up in damp, dreary Dublin?

Which brings me to another one of my long-pondered anachronisms: why do we dress our Christmases solely in Charles Dickens-wear? Who decided that the holiday must exist perpetually frozen in late-19th century England? Did the Limeys somehow get a copyright on holiday traditions? Was there a giant contest, like to chose the Olympic host city, and England won? I bet Israel was pissed, seeing as without it's most famous resident, one Jesus H. Christ, there wouldn't have been a Christmas at all.

Consequently, drifts of snow, velvet-clad, be-bonnetted carolers, holly and ivy have emerged as the indisputable backdrop items we've come to expect each December. But none of those things bear any relation to where lots of us live. Even more importantly, it would seem, the Victorian Christmas has absolutely zilch to do with the birth of the lil' baby Jesus.

Shouldn't all those "Keep the Christ in Christmas" people -- you know the ones, who get offended when someone wishes them a benign but Christ-less Happy Holidays, who feel the shorthand "Xmas" shortchanges Our Lord of his due respect -- shouldn't they be decorating their front lawns with palm trees and camels? Sifting sand, instead of snow, across their mantles? Instead of stockings on the chimney, why aren't they hanging sandals from tent poles? When they don their gay apparel, why isn't it a caftan?

Maybe the answer to this conundrum lies in yet another conundrum (turning this post into a veritable turducken of quandries) that has long bedeviled me: why do cinema Jesuses inevitably have British accents? Even when the movie is entirely made by and starring non-British actors, The Son of God gets himself a plummy Eton accent. What the who? On top of everywhere else, have the Brits totally colonized Christianity, too?

To that end I propose sticky toffee pudding for everyone this holiday. Let the dessert serve as a bridge -- gently wresting the yule free of the iron grip of the British Isles. Thanks to the humble date, we can restore the holiday to a more appropriate motif.

17 December 2009

Photo Finish Friday: A Very Vegas Christmas

Tropicana Hotel, Las Vegas, 1999

14 December 2009

12 December 2009

Who Me, a Wet Blanket?

Much to my utter delight, it has been bucketing rain all night. That's about as seasonal as it gets wintertimes in SoCal, and I'm enjoying it to the hilt. The only bad news is that in my inability to ever complete a single task, I left a container of Christmas decorations outside to be ruined by the rain. No biggee -- despite my earlier virtuous declarations of avoiding clutter and consumerism and keeping my decorations to a bare, green, natural minimum -- I had too many. Yes, I admit it. Four giant plastic containers full. At least what got soaked and mildewed (because, naturally, it took me a week to bring them in for a post-mortem) wasn't homemade or sentimentally valuable. A little paring down never hurt anyone.

Let's focus our attention now on winter, beginning with my new banner photo. The gorgeous winter idyll pictured above was taken by Mr. Sybarite's goddaughter in Washington, while snowboarding (now that's skills,right?) Thanks for the permission to bedeck my blog with your art, Muirenn!

So far this Christmas season seems to be a tale of good intentions on my part, without follow through. Talk about a wet blanket: we've got no Christmas tree (though the smell alone makes me inordinately happy) no lights yet (though they make Mr Sybarite inordinately happy) no whipping up batches of matzoh toffee (we celebrate Hanukkah, too)

Latkes chez Sybarites December 2009

or dark chocolate cherry pistachio bark, no nights of Bing crooning carols while we sip egg nog spiked with Bourbon (ah, Bourbon, how I've missed you!) Too tired. Too many dishes to wash and floors to sweep and sleep to catch up on. Too many bills to pay and not enough time to even catch a fake snowfall at the schmancy outdoor mall.

What kind of holiday season am I running here?

Please pardon me while I turn this post into a pep talk. Could I perhaps stop feeling sorry for myself for not having enough long, uninterrupted stretches of leisure time in which to persue the holiday activities that bring me joy? Viva, joy! It is time to rally and rustle up some Christmas spirit. That means you, Christmas cards waiting to be written, eggnog pound cake waiting to be baked, fires waiting to be lit, mulled wine and apple cider waiting to be simmered.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and this year, at least, her name is La Sybarite. So the economy is grim. So what? So I won't get my one big Christmas wish of a pajama-clad family big-screen movie marathon. (The new flat screen tv will just have to wait a little longer. )Let's give 2009 a Viking funeral and light this Tannenbaum til she burns to the ground.

Bunni making strange with Santa, 2009

08 December 2009

Photo finish Friday: Mermaid Edition

I don't believe I've had the chance yet to tell you that I'm way into mermaids. One of my many obsessions, and a subset of my Affinity for All Things Nautical.

I love this second image so much I'm actually contemplating it as a tattoo. Minus the bags under the mermaid's eyes. I guess steering tiny galleons is tiring work.

04 December 2009

Photo Finish Friday: For Your Eyes Only

In honor of the birthdays of two dear Sagittarius friends, today's photo comes from my 30th birthday. The evening was a James Bond soiree, and some of my friends and I offered musical interludes. From left to right: Manuela (from Moonraker) sang You Only Live Twice ; Violetta Van der Minke did Goldfinger; Mr. Osaka, our piano accompanist; Carlotta Gee (Spanish-Irish pirate queen) gave us Diamonds are Forever ; and Kamma Sutra sang Nobody Does it Better.

Happy Birthday, Carlotta and Kamma - hope it's An All Time High!

03 December 2009

Life, Only Prettier

David La Chapelle's House at the End of The World courtesy antimonide.com

I started this blog with a nebulous goal. My Master's program in writing had ended, leaving me in need of a project to make me feel like a writer. As a new mom, staying at home, I wanted a way to keep my brain sharp. A blog seemed as good a place as any for thoughts not related to, or covered by, spit up.

I wanted my blog to be topical, interesting and well-conceived, but I didn't really have a focus for it. All too aware of my tendencies toward entropy, I forged blindly ahead anyway. I'll figure it out as I go, I thought. Eventually, a theme will present itself.

Good thing I went ahead anyway, because six months on I still am not entirely sure what this blog is supposed to be about. Style, not limited to fashion. Design, not limited to decorating. Beauty and food and - this is where it gets muddy - ideas.

If pressed, I'd have to say the blog is a reflection of what goes on in my mind. Not a diary - though I've kept one since I was 15 - because I'm too private for that. I'm distinctly uncomfortable publicly airing the anxieties, insecurities, heartaches and whining that have filled those pages since my sophomore year English teacher assigned a daily journal for homework (Thank you, Mr. Mallen!) Instead, I wanted to make a concerted effort to write about the things that elevate me, make me happy, make me feel good about myself and my place in the world and offer proof that I am living the life, being the person I've long wanted.

In short, I needed to project an idealized image of myself; not necessarily so other people would buy it, but so that I would.

I needed that because, at the risk of being Captain Obvious, becoming a mom is a radical metamorphosis. It begins with the colonization of one's body at gestation, and I'd be surprised if it ever ends. From the moment I knew I was pregnant, my view of myself, of this package I've existed in the last 34 years - changed drastically. Ever since, I have been moving away from object decorated for visual consumption and oriented towards self-gratification to vessel and workhorse in service of Someone Else. As the same time, I went from college instructor to housewife/mom, from wage-earner to coupon collector, from discussions of race and ethnicity to multiple rounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider. That's enough of an 180 degree revolution to inflict whiplash. Is it any wonder I wanted to write my own version of who I was?

It has been brought to my attention, however, that in omitting my hardships, I'm alienating a certain number of readers. People like blogs that invite the reader into their intimate world, especially when warts and all are included. Or so I've been told. I can believe that. I know all too well how painful it is to peer longingly into a vision of someone's life that seems so much prettier than my own, and what an enormous relief it is to discover they, too, suffer from the same afflictions mere mortals do.

Which brings me to this article in today's NY Times. Valerie Boyer is my latest hero for proposing legislation in France that would force photoshopped, retouched images to be labeled as such. Her two teen-aged daughter's struggle to live up to the impossible beauty ideals splayed across billboards and inside magazines goaded her to action. I am 100% behind ending the oppressive practice of telling women they should look like something that it is physically impossible to be.

And yet, isn't this blog retouched? Is it not a softer, back-lit, idealized image of my own life? Yes, reader. Yes it is.

Consider this post my disclaimer.