In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Panamanian Pandemonium: House tour!

You may recall Alison (one L? two? too hard to keep straight), my gorgeous former roommate then tenant now ex-pat diplomat about town in Panama. When she isn't swanning around glamorously at embassy parties and taking weekends off to surf, our girl is decorating. Check her out!

This table was like $5,000. So worth it, according to me. She painted the walls blue. And observe the plant -- it's a sprouted coconut! Rug is folded over on the edge like all the chic girls do. (see: Meg's Marvelous Maison). The black trunk is from the Panamanian version of Craigslist, apparently. The chairs were apparently terrible pleather or something and she had them recovered -- a total of $250. I gotta get me some Panamanian reupholstering. The art over the couch needs framing but its a cool pdf blow up thing she got. I think it is a camel.

On the book shelf near the dining table, upper right hand cubby, is a fabulous book that I gave her called the South American Gentleman's Companion -- food and drink from all around central and South America, written in the 1950s by some airline execs. It's the second copy that has passed through my hands (the first I gave to my cousin Dan when he was also assigned in the foreign service to South America... They are pretty rare and I keep giving them away. dammit.

She's got some accessorizing to do... but still: supah, all the way around, n'est ce pas? Vaya, Alison. (or Allison, whichever it is. I think one L). I can't wait to go down there for a weekend.

and check her out! 5 mile run in 89 degree weather.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Brendas, Show me some LOVE!

breaking update: HGTV design star has yet to get in touch about casting me for the show! I am peeved and verging on petulant, as you can clearly see above. I hide my pain behind a giant parka and an enigmatic smile. It's easier to bear if I surround myself with friends.

These are my Brendas, minus one or two or six. "Brenda" began 20 years ago as an insult -- you'd say "OK, Brenda" if someone was being difficult. It was synonymous with "settle down bitch. it's all good." It gradually morphed into being a term of endearment, and it can get very confusing for listeners when we are talking amongst ourselves. "So then Brenda opened up the Cakebread and Brenda was like, that is so good how much does it cost? and Brenda said, oh, I've got it. Don't worry." It is a highly contextual term meriting linguistic study.


I once did tequila and 7-Up shots with Shannon Doherty, the original Brenda. She was nicer than I expected.


over at Apartment Therapy they are accepting nominations for an award for the 5 best design blogs called the "Homies." Because my 6 readers are extremely loyal and know these things are TOTALLY rigged ;) ... they are instructed to copy the following on their clipboard:

Name: How To Run Your Life*


and head on over to the following link. You may have to register to be a commenter. The entry requirements are very lax; you'll make it. Let the adulation commence!

while you are there you should also nominate better after, little green notebook, ...Young house love is once again mopping up the competition. They are gorgeous, in love, with a new baby and they have impeccable taste plus deals from Lowe or whatever. Sigh.

Anyway, maybe if you vote for me those Design Star casting agents will GET OFF THEIR BUTTS and call already.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How to Weather Valentines Day with Great Aplomb

Throw an awesome all-grrl party -- I'm speaking to the ladies (and the lady-hearted) here. Gentlemen, I will give you some alternatives toward the bottom (which involve an awesome all dude party.) Step 1: Invite all the women you know (single or not, straight or not) to a cocktail party at your house/apartment/underpass on Feb 13 -- a Sunday. Sunday night parties are the best because they are low stress, you aren't competing with "date night" god help me, and people long to be distracted from the threat of work the next day. They will be grateful. It should begin at 6:30 and plan to go until 9:30 or 10.

Step 2: Instruct them -- this is imperative, pay attention -- to bring a bouquet of flowers. The flowers should be a single variety -- that is, all roses or tulips or daisies. And they should be all white or all pink. Your invitation will explain that the flowers will all be gathered together and everyone will be invited to make their own mixed bouquet as they head out the door -- so everyone at the party wakes up on Monday morning, the dreaded Valentine's Day, to a bouquet of flowers from people who love them. Good, huh? Before they arrive put out every pitcher and bowl filled with water and those little flower packets you have on a table. When the guests come in they should just open the bouquets (untie, no plastic wrappings etc) and plop the flowers in the water. Have on hand cellophane if you can find it (your florist might be willing to part with it), colored tissue paper, twine and/or ribbon, and a few pairs of scissors or snippers.

Step 3: Serve a single cocktail with pitchers made in advance. Should be pink. Or serve rose champagne. I love Gruet blanc de noir, which is out of New Mexico and retails for about $14 a bottle.

Step 4: Make the menu all finger foods - sushi would be good, and easy. You can get decent sushi most anyplace these days so you don't have a lot of prep work. Get some great chips (pita, tortilla, good crackers) and make hot dips (artichoke and crab) or individual mac&cheese (with truffles! or lobster! depends on the number of guests). Put out everything all at once and let the girls graze.

Step 5: For dessert, buy a bunch of Whitman samplers or those awful heart-shaped candy boxes they sell at the drug store (which I secretly adore) and leave them open around the room, with an "eat me" sign and tiny little bowls perched next to each one, so your guests can take one bite and put the rest aside if they've inadvertently gotten one of those hideous orange cremes.

Step 6: Before the party, set your computer up with Grooveshark (a free Internet jukebox with literally every song known to man on it) and create a party play list that is heavy on Abba, Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce, and Diana Ross. Maybe some Gloria Gaynor.

Step 7: With drinks flowing freely (you should be walking around filling their glasses as they talk... quiet as a mouse) and food available on every surface not covered with flowers, watch the magic happen. Women, separated from men, are wondrously flirtatious creatures and friendships will be founded that you would never imagine.

Step 8: When your first guest makes a move to put on her coat, grab her by the hand and walk her to the flowers and help make that first bouquet. Everyone else will get the picture. I did this at a party and it was such a delight seeing how carefully my friends chose and composed their bouquets. Artists, every one of them.

Step 9: Wake up on Valentines Day to GUSHING emailed love notes from all the women present who will have awoken themselves to flowers at their bedside, gifted to them by every other woman at the party. You can't be down on Valentines Day after that.

Valentine's Day Party: The He-Man Version

Admit it. Valentine's Day sucks for you too.

Step 1: Don't invite women. Put sports on the TV, on mute, and blast Lynrd Skynrd or whatever it is men like.

Step 2. Tell your guests to bring a six-pack of the most expensive/exotic/delicious beer they know. They will all be assembling customized 6 packs to take home at the end of the night with what is left over. You should lay in a case or two of good beer just to round things out.

Step 3: Fire up the grill. If funds allow, buy a bunch of steaks and bust out the A-1. Men like to stand around a fire and they like to eat steak. You can call it a "Beef Steak" on the invitation. My friend Tom Cull once drove from DC to, like, Tennessee for a Beef Steak -- all guys -- and I've always been intrigued with the notion.

If steak is out of the budget (before you discard the notion, consider flat iron, usually about $8 a lb and very tender) load the grill with bratwurst or other good sausage (NOT HILLSHIRE FARMS. I just accidentally had one and its more like I don't know what than sausage. Potted meat? Overly artificial tasting) and serve it with mustard and good rolls (warmed on the grill) . If you don't have a grill or outdoor space, a good beef chili will do it. Chips and salsa and guacamole will round out the menu. Men like brownies so make those for dessert (Make them from scratch. It's no more difficult than a mix, I promise) or buy a couple of iced chocolate cakes.

Step 4: Slice the steak (or not). Eat with your hands, drink beer or bourbon. Eat cake. And on the way out the door, have everyone choose 6 beers from the the assemblage on the table. And they can sit in their apartments and drink on Feb. 14, because no one wants to be out that night. It's awful, all those couples trying so hard to live up to the day.
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU to get clever and decide to merge your all-grrls party with an all-boys party across the hall in the hopes of creating a few hook ups. Absolutely against the spirit.
Throw parties, report back.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

For anyone at home scoring...

Progress on my new life resolutions (yesterday's edition)
1. Made bed (check)
2. Read newspaper (check)
3. Appointment TV only (Nate Berkus, who had Jamie Oliver on. Fantastic)(check)
4. 30 Minutes of Arabic (I can say excuse me are you American? Do you speak English? A little. Pretty much right where I have always been, but lesson 2 comes tomorrow. I've decided to stagger language lessons and violin playing.) (check)
5. Swam (1000 yards) (check)
6. Spent no money (check)
7. Had three meals at the table (slow-cooked oatmeal, homemade tabouli, and pappardelle with my beef ragu. The boyfriend said it was the best thing I have ever made. And I make a lot of great stuff. My carb-averse friend Meg had 2 servings. You really must follow the recipe in an earlier post.) (check)
8. Applied for Design Star (yay)
9. Researched a story for Flavor
10. Was not a slave to e-mail

361 days to go!

Monday, January 3, 2011


I totally applied. Join me!

HGTV DESIGN STAR is seeking a new crop of interior decorators or designers, design enthusiasts, builders, architects and artists for Season 6! Are you the next Design Star?

Here is your chance to win your own series on HGTV! What we're looking for: •Extensive design knowledge •Personality that pops •Passion for design •Lots of energy and enthusiasm •A clear and unique design perspective

Please email the following to •2 recent photos of yourself •Examples of your work •Contact information •Resume *DIY-ers are welcome!

For more information please visit our website

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How to Make an EXCELLENT meat sauce for pasta and I am not even Italian

It requires a bit of time but not much effort. There are many pasta sauces of course and at least as many pasta shapes as sauces. But this one I just learned to make and it was frightfully easy and is magically delicious and seems terribly complicated to the people you will serve it to, who might grab you buy the ankles to shake you until that Italian grandmother you've clearly hidden in your cloaks fall out. But she won't, because the Italian grandmother is you.My sister's Sicilian-American husband devoured it (the sauce, not the grandmother).

I based it on this recipe from Food & Wine, but made a few tweaks that improved it greatly, no offense to F&W.

Step 1.


-3 carrots, 3 celery stalks, a largish sweet onion, a clove or two of garlic. Chop all that up. The French call it mirepoix, the Italians soffrito. It's a useful and delicious base for soups and sauces and stews of all kinds, and this is the first place my recipe diverges from Food and Wine.

-2.5 lbs veal shoulder roast. Get humanely raised veal (raised for 6 weeks anyway). If you can't stomach the veal -- and you should because it's tasty as hell, and it did get to frolic in the fields and drink its mother's milk for a while before being dispatched for your dinner (but it was going to be dispatched anyway. Veal is the byproduct of the dairy industry, so if you're not a vegan, you're partly responsible. Just eat the veal. But make sure it's from a responsible farm that gives it a good, if short, life.) -- you can also do it with pork shoulder or beef shoulder or a mix. I couldn't get veal today, so I'm using beef. I think it will have a stronger taste.

-2 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes. Toss their juice and chop up the tomatoes.

-1.5 teaspoons each ground coriander and ground fennel.

-1 1/2 cups dry red wine

- 1/2 c heavy cream (diversion 2)

-a tablespoon or so of tomato paste (diversion 3)

-the rind of a parmesan cheese wedge (diversion 4)

-a sprig of fresh rosemary

- olive oil, a little flour

Step 2
Chop the meat up into cubes -- about one inch. dredge them in flour then brown them in a hot pan with a little olive oil. Don't crowd the meat in the pan -- you want it to brown not steam. So do it in two batches if necessary.

Step 3
Take the meat out and park it on a plate. Lower the heat to medium. Add a tablespoon more olive oil and throw the veggies in. Stir them every once in a while and let them cook for 5 minutes. They should not brown. Add the tomatoes and the spices and cook another 5 minutes. Now add the wine and let the whole mess reduce. The wine should be reduced to about 1/3 a cup.

Now add the chicken broth, sprig of rosemary, the meat and the tomato paste*. Toss in the parmesan cheese rind. Let it simmer for 2 hours, at least, till the meat falls easily into shreds. Stir it every once in a while so it doesn't burn, like it did with my mom's crappy thin bottom pots and electric burners. When the meat is done, fish it out of the pot and shred it by hand (I used 2 forks actually), tossing out any unmelted fat. Add the shredded meat back into the pot, swirl in the heavy cream, let it cook for 5 minutes more. Take out the cheese rind and throw away. It's done!

Step 4
Cook pappardelle according to the package directions -- a pound will easily serve 8 people with this sauce and fresh parmesan grated over the top. Pappardelle is a requirement -- the sauce sticks to it and makes it wonderful and you'll be very happy. The end. Report back.

(* open up the tomato paste can on both ends, push out the column of paste with one of the ends, take what you want, wrap and freeze the rest. You can divide it into discs and freeze them individually and use them in future pasta sauces or soups without having to defrost the whole mess.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Thrilled to Report...

Having shed the Hill like snakeskin, I am THRILLED to report I have accepted a job as the editor of Flavor, a glossy, gorgeous regional food magazine that covers the farms, vineyards, food artisans and restaurants that support them between the Blue Ridge mountains and the Chesapeake Bay.
It's a dream job for me. As loyal readers will know, I have a long devotion to the magazine as an art form (I hoard them, it seems). I'm a writer, a periodically professional and a devoted amateur cook, and a passionate supporter of local food and small farms. They are better for humans and animals alike, better for the environment, better for local economies and, best of all, better for producing tasty food. There's nothing like asparagus cut that morning from a 10-year old patch, or a strawberry picked that afternoon, or blueberries or blackberries or morels found in the dried leaves on shady hillsides where oak trees and wild grape vines meet... you get the picture.

I grew up within that food culture, more or less. My mom had a healthy garden patch and a frequently delivered lecture about vine-ripened Jersey tomatoes versus hothouse ones ("not worth eating") and every summer we spent many a Saturday picking blackberries from a thicket behind our swim club, then making jam and ice cream and eating them basically by the buckets.

Before refrigeration, highways, trucking, jets, before we all became accustomed to commanding whatever we want, whenever we want it at pitifully cheap prices -- before globalization, I guess -- people had a different relationship with their food.

Blackberries meant it was July, the middle of summer, and there were festivals and jams and shortcakes -- a race to devour and preserve enough before the season ended. Blackberries were a celebration. Now we expect them whenever we want them, and what we get is often blackberry-like, but not the same thing. Sometimes, in July, you'll pick up the real article at a roadside stand -- the smaller the berry the better -- and you remember -- oh, THIS is what a blackberry is. But then it's winter and you want some on your french toast, so you get a clear plastic quart and they are big and purple don't remember what you are missing until the following July.

I don't mean to bag on globalization and economic development, and I myself adore jet travel and can appreciate that it's summer in South America right now... but still. I can't help but think we've lost something-- the anticipatory joy of an impending crop -- by being able to get whatever we want, whenever we want it.

(Side note -- the first gift my boyfriend ever gave me was a gallon-sized freezer bag of blackberries his father had picked that summer. I nearly passed out from joy, and knew I had met my match. For more about what blackberries mean to him, check this out:

I met Flavor's publisher -- the dynamic Melissa Harris -- at an Outstanding in the Field dinner in Middleburg in September 2009. She was wearing a bright yellow vintage dress. I, being from Palm Beach, am one person who understands that particular aesthetic choice. I complimented her on it, and we got to talking, and she told me about Flavor, and I became consumed by profound jealousy: How come that's not my job?

And now, through a few tortuous twists of fate, it is.

And Friend us on Facebook!/FlavorCapitalFoodshed

and look for the Jan/Feb issue on newstands shortly. You'll know it by the cover picture of the Inn at Little Washington's chocolate souffle and chocolate creme brulee. There's a great article on Jefferson Vineyards -- I brought their Cabernet Franc to New Year's Eve dinner and it is wonderful.

I can't believe this gets to be my job.

Happy, Happy New Year!