29 November 2011

The Sound of Christmas

When I was little and Christmas time came rolling into our home, one of our yearly traditions was watching a recorded VHS of Julie Andrews's TV special "The Sounds of Christmas" from 1987. We watched it over and over, slowly wearing out the film rewinding and replaying our favorite songs, and even watching the commercials.  There was an awesome one for Columbian Coffee where a gallery of statues came to life... this was before CGI.

What was this awesome thirty minute special all about? Glad you asked.  The wonderfully talented Julie Andrews narrates her journey and sings throughout Salzberg, Austria at Christmas. It's like a bunch of music videos strung together as a story.  Guests include The King's Singers, Placedo Domingo, and John Denver doing all kinds of beautiful/ funny performances-- from Julie stumbling into a rehearsal between Mozart (Denver) and his "musicians" (King's Singers) to attending a fairytale ball at a grand mansion.  It's beautiful and lovely and reminds me of being home at Christmas as a kid, not to mention my inspiration for some day spending Christmas in Austria... and tracing my roots.

Sidebar: I'm assuming you know who John Denver is... "Sunshine on My Shoulders" folk singer who died when he flew into a mountain. I was just thinking last night it's sad that he isn't still alive.  He does a great skiing number in the special and I wanted so bad to see it again.  Placedo Domingo is a famous tenor (The Three Tenors ring a bell?)-- of course, this was before he was one of the Three but he was still ever so famous.  And now The King's Singers. They're an acapella group from England that perform all kinds of musical styles from classical to pop to folk to sound FX. My parents knew one of the originals.  It was they who first introduced me to the Beatles, Paul Simon, and U2. No joke.  If you know who they are we need to be besties... like yesterday. Everyone (including my husband) look at me funny when I talk about The King's Singers.

Thoughts of this special are so bittersweet for two reasons: Julie Andrews can no longer sing (get choked up thinking about it) and our recording was accidentally taped over many years ago and it nearly broke my mom's heart.  She loves Julie-- her favorite actress, singer, talent-- and Placedo, and John Denver, and TKS. This was a favorite special of hers.  We got a DVD copy (by that I mean a worn VHS recorded onto DVD) a couple years ago with NO commercials.  Still-- it was a blessing to get our hands on a copy.

And then something happened. I went on YouTube this afternoon and some amazing human being with excellent taste and an affinity for technology uploaded the whole show with commercials!!!  I'm listening/ watching it AT. THIS. MOMENT. And the quality is pretty good for a 1987 recording.  So grateful.  I hope you look it up and have the patience to get through commercials and a few recording flubs because it's just awesome.  Of course you might watch it and think I'm a total dork... and that's okay too.  It's not going to be everyone's taste. I'm just happy I can look it up in my favorites any time I want.  What a great way to kick off the Christmas season.

24 November 2011

Thanksgiving (non)Tradition

When most people think of their ideal Thanksgiving holiday, this iconic Norman Rockwell painting comes to mind:

A large smiling family gathered round a well-dressed table stocked with an abundance of Thanksgiving staples, Mom's good china, a giant turkey at the center, and none of that conversational awkwardness that tends to happen when you see family you haven't seen since the last Rockwellian Thanksgiving. I always picture an overcast sky causing a light fall of snow just through the window-- Christmastime on the cusp of turkey and stuffing.  It seems like such a Midwestern ideal, and not a bad one at that.

But we all know the holidays are nothing like Norman Rockwell depicted-- perhaps it was his own idyllic hope captured on canvas.  Some traditions have a few of us going out for dinner (done that before actually) or to the movies; some of us have the large families with an over abundance of yummies while others just watch the game; some work and some travel.  There's roasted turkey, grilled turkey, smoked turkey, fried turkey, tofurkey, and ham. My point is, we all enjoy our own unique traditions at the holidays and this year was my first step in a new direction.  

You see, I practically grew up spending Thanksgiving inside that legendary painting.  Large family? Check. Tons of good food? Check. Roasted turkey: Double Check.  Everyone laughing and getting along: Triple Check.  It was a nice way to spend the holidays for the last 26 years, but now that Michael and I are in LA, traveling home isn't always an option every year. This was that year.

So in true Jamie & Michael style, we didn't plan.  I mentioned in the previous post that we were going to cook a big meal... not so much. We decided not to spend the money on a huge feast we'd be eating for weeks and instead on Lou Malnati's Chicago deep dish and sight seeing.  This was a much better plan. To sum up (ha!  I've never summed up in my life).... FIRST, I picked up a mini pumpkin pie to keep tradition semi-alive.  Then we headed to Hollywood & Highland: home of the Chinese Theater, Kodak Theater, Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum, and lots of crazy  interesting people dressed in costume.  

We ate brunch at the Disney Soda Fountain and Souvenir Shop (or something like that) where I passed up the opportunity to buy MUPPET THEMED NAILPOLISH by OPI!!!  Yes, I turned down the shimmery pink "Meep Meep Meep" (Beaker for those not obsessed with Jim Henson's furry friends) and the all glitter "Rainbow Connection" but I had just gotten an 18 pc mini set-- I was trying to exercise control.  Do yourself a favor and look for them online.... then buy a bottle for me.

Michael finally got the chance to see this:

This is the Chinese Theater in case you weren't sure... O_o

Most people don't know how much I LOVE wax museums.  Like really L-O-V-E them. They're a visual feast plus I L-O-V-E the horror movie "House of Wax" (the Vincent Price version, not the crappy gore fest of a remake). I also really like cemeteries but that's irrelevant.

Marlene Dietrich at Madam Tussaud's.  

Once we'd walked around the outdoor mall next to the Kodak Theater-- and yes there were stores open during the day!-- and did the wax museum, we headed back to our 'hood, picked up caffeine (Starbucks), and came home.  Having only had 3 hours of sleep last night, it was nice to take the day slow, get in some sight seeing, then come HOME.  That's what Thanksgiving is really about anyway, right? And what's "home?" Family of course.  And wherever Michael and the cats are, I am home.  

So we chowed down our turkey pizza, I made some cocoa and we savored a little pie. Now it's time to relax, Black Friday shop on Amazon, play some video games, and get some sleep.  We've got another tradition coming up tomorrow: decorating our place for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving.  It's been around since I was born and I don't think that one will ever change-- it's a fave.

Whatever your traditions may be, I hope you enjoyed a joyous holiday with the ones you love (even if you couldn't see ALL of them).  Happy Thanksgiving ❤

16 November 2011

"Creep" Covers

I love love love music. A lot.  The more the merrier.  It's fun to discover new bands, rekindle affairs with old ones, and discover new old bands.  As I continue to grow in my marriage, I also continue to grow in my tastes, as my husband has different tastes than me and grew up listening to all the music I couldn't because of parental warnings (another blog for another day).

And so, I got this idea for a post about great songs by great bands covered by other artists.  I'll post the original, then 2 different covers I like of the same song, and you can decide which is better.  Or determine that I have horrible taste (which would NEVER happen).

The first song is "Creep" by Radiohead. Though I am not a die hard fan of the band (honestly, I don't get most of their music), "Creep" has always been a favorite since I first heard it on the radio in high school.  It's a sexy sexy song.  Here's the original:

I hope you're ready for two more versions!

There are a TON of covers for "Creep" but I chose two from two very different artists with completely opposite styles... even from Radiohead.

Next: Ingrid Michaelson. Although iTunes considers her "pop," Ingrid has a folky alternative sound not heard much on popular radio these days.  I must warn you: this is going to sound VERY different.

And finally: the Matteo DiMarr remix.  I heard this on SiriusXM's BPM station and loved it.  I think because I am all about the melody and lyrics of the original. The entire mix is 7:26 minutes so you may need to skip through the intro and get to the actual song part around 1:50.  It's a really cool mix though.

Which do you like?  Do you like either of them?

13 November 2011

Gnocchi with Squash and Kale

Though I have my fair share of duds and flubs in the kitchen, this past Saturday night I made one of the yummiest main dishes.  Goodness it was delicious!  It's technically vegetarian if you're the kind of vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy, but no matter what your tastes, the gnocchi was fantastic-- and this was my first time making that type of pasta. No, I didn't do it homemade, but it gives you (me) a sense of accomplishment when cooking successfully with a new ingredient.

Okay, enough bragging, let's get down to business.  This recipe is courtesy of Food Network Magazine, October 2011 issue.  It's also low calorie, only 438 per serving and it serves four (or two if you split it up for lunch and dinner....).    Best part-- it takes 35 min to cook, has simple ingredients, and is EASY.

Butternut Squash and Kale are great vegetables with tons of benefits, but there never seems to be a lot of recipes out there that don't involve tools I don't have (i.e. an immersion blender, food processor, mandolin). When I stumbled upon this recipe I had to try it.  Kale is normally so bitter that it's hard to work with but the nutrients are worth it. I will admit though, peeling the squash HARD when you don't have sharp knives.

Isn't it beautiful? Bon appetit!

Gnocchi with Squash and Kale

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
1-1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth or water (I used the broth)
1 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped (about 8 cups)
1 17.5 oz package potato gnocchi
3/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

1. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring, until slightly soft and golden, about 8 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, sage, red pepper flakes, and 1 tsp of salt (or a pinch). Cook until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.
3. Preheat broiler. Add the chicken broth to the skillet. When it starts to simmer, stir in the kale and cook until it wilts slightly, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the gnocchi, stirring to coat. Cover and cook until the gnocchi are just tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in 1/4 cup parmesan and the remaining 1 Tbsp butter. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan.
5. Transfer to broiler and cook until golden and bubbly, about 3 minutes.

Hodge Podge Cooking Tips:

  • I followed the recipe exactly, excluding doing a pinch of salt over the tsp.  I'm not a salt person.  All the flavors work and I really wouldn't change a thing.
  • The complications I found were the use of the broiler and covering the pan.  I used my 12-inch skillet which I don't have a cover for.  Would that stop me? Never!  I used foil to cover almost the entire thing-- it worked the same way.  I really do need a lid for that pan though...
  • Also, the skillet is not ovenproof.  I hate when recipes tell you that you need to do stove and oven cooking with one pan-- you don't!  I cooked everything in the skillet first then transferred it to my stoneware dish.
  • I was concerned about putting the dish in the broiler under my oven, not to mention I don't think it would've fit.  Instead, I heated the oven to 475 (though next time I'll just crank it all the way to 500 degrees) and put the dish in for about 6 or 7 minutes... until bubbly.
  • Finally, I highly recommend Food Network Magazine.  Though it has its fair share of complicated recipes with obscure ingredients, there are plenty of gems, as well as great advice.  Well worth a subscription.

Current Favorites: November 2011

I'm going to make this short and sweet.

First up: my lovely nails I did for my witch costume. I've got 5 coats of various polish which made them last... well... till now.  
-Sally Hansen Double Duty Strengthening Base & Top Coat (2 for 1!)
-Gleek Out lime glittery green polish from Sephora by OPI
-Uh-oh Roll Down the Window olive green polish by OPI

Smashbox Photo Finish Color Correcting Primer
The one I use is on the right since my face has extra redness.  A great primer is a miracle worker when it comes to an even complexion. These run $16 at Sephora. 

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords for iPad.
Confession time: I have this game on DS, PS3, and Xbox360.  Am I obsessed? Maybe.  Basically it's all about matching gems to do everything, from fighting Ogres and Ghouls to researching spells and seizing kingdoms.  As it involves no actual gaming skills whatsoever it's a perfect game for me.  And the iPad edition has another storyline and more creatures to fight, capture, and glean spells from.  
100% worth the $6.99.

What would a Nov. current favorites post be without coffee?  As you should know (I say 'should' because I'm positive everyone's world revolves around the SB special drinks calendar like mind does), the holiday bevvies are out and with it my absolute favorite drink-- even more so than the Pumpkin Spices Latte (gasp!).
Gingerbread Lattes taste like the holidays-- like what Granny's house must smell like when you travel over the river and through the woods in your horse drawn carriage as the snow silently falls around you, icing the trees.
Did a coffee drink just make me sound poetic?  You bet your ass it did.

The Village Bakery and Cafe
I could eat here every day.  It's a block from my apartment, the baked goods are excellent, but even more so, the entrees are fantastic.  They make just about everything homemade, and offer vegan options with free range and organic ingredients thrown in for good measure. 
What should you try?  Well, my fave pastries are the Fighting Cake (a small yellow cake soaked with almond flavor) and the Berry Bar with lemon. Hubby loves the Donut Muffin. Meal wise, my husband loves their Chipotle Chicken Sandwich while I'm partial to the Cream of Butternut Squash Soup and Chicken Salad sandwich.  But you must must MUST order Thanksgiving on a Bun at least once (and grab extra napkins).

"A Very She & Him Christmas" by She & Him
A collaboration between Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, this album provides classic Christmas tunes with the deep vocals and lazy sound of Zooey yet still modern thanks to Ward's sweet guitar. I guess the best way to describe the sound is... cheerfully melancholic.  The reverse roles "Baby It's Cold Outside" is fast and fun, "Little Saint Nick" is a nice retro throw back to the Beach Boys, while "The Christmas Song" is slow, soft, and makes you want to curl up next to a fire with a cup of cocoa and watch the snow fall.  I'm a fan.

And how could I not toss a bit of Thanksgiving love your way? The Food Network mag (and shows and website) are a wealth of up-to-date information for all your turkey, side dish, and pie baking needs.  This issue has a mini booklet of 50 pie recipes!  Score!
Just don't read it when you're hungry.

08 November 2011


A few weeks ago, while traversing our new mall in Glendale, hubby and I made a fateful turn into my new fave store: Lush.  I'd heard of their hand-made, all-natural products from a friend and thought: "What the hell?"  I'm always searching for great skin and hair care products.

I'm hooked.

This is a company all about organic, natural, environmentally friendly, economically helpful products, and there's no testing on animals.  Plus they give samples.  FREE SAMPLES! If you want to get on my good side, give me free stuff.  Lush and I are now BFFs.
I guess a little explanation is necessary.  These are skin and hair care products, not cosmetics.  The soaps and clays are sold by weight so you can get as much or as little as you want-- which is perfect when trying new things (be bold people!).  The employees know their stuff, are nice, and will tempt  help you figure out what's great for YOU.  Being the genius readers that you are, you've  noticed I have photos and will explain the products hubby and I tried (yes, my amazing husband was excited for great skin products too-- he's awesome).  Lush isn't everywhere but they ship.

Here's everything we got in its healthy glory.  The classy clear plastic containers, as well as the tiny black ones, are for samples and cut pieces of soap.

 Up first: Angels on Bare Skin cleanser/exfoliator.
Notice how it looks like clay?  That's what some of their stuff is like. Grab a little piece and add water to get the consistency you like then clean your face.  This particular cleanser is great for oily skin. And I have to say, our skin has never looked better! (don't you love the seeds?) 

On to moisturizers!
Imperialis, Skin Shangri La (spelling? who cares), and Fair Trade Foot Lotion.  These are all very nice, especially the foot lotion because it's instantly soothing AND can be used on other parts of the body. Even though I was assured the other 2 face moisturizers have no oil and are perfect for oily skin, they still made my face greasy.  I feel lied to!  Thus I'm still on the hunt for a perfect moisturizer, but they have tons of different kinds so try a few for yourself.

Ocean Salt Scrub
OMG I love this stuff so much!  Obviously it's for exfoliating and scrubbing away dead skin cells all over that sexy body of yours (but only use 3 times a week on your face).  It's got salt, lemon, lime... and VODKA!  Warning: do not attempt to eat/drink.  Since it smells like a cocktail, taking a shower is way more fun!

Charity Pot Lotion
Unlike the moisturizers, this is not greasy and very pleasant on the skin. Highly recommend.

All materials to make the lotion are donated and Lush pays for the packaging.  The pot is $21 (as you can see you get a ton) and ALL (that's right, every last penny) proceeds go to the charity named on the lid.  As Lush donates to multiple charities, you can choose the one closest to your heart.  I chose the equine rescue in honor of my aunt's efforts to rescue and raise horses.  Plus I love furry animals.

So how do you know this stuff is legit?  Because they stick the face of the one who made it on every container along with his/her name, that's how.  Reggie made my Ocean Salt scrub-- thanks Reg!-- but he's not allowed to look at me in the shower.  That shit's private.

And finally the AMAZE-balls hair products that I will forever use...
I have fine, natural blond hair with no volume; as such, I am forever changing volumizing shampoos that never seem to do what they're supposed to.  Until now.
I use what we in the "Lush Club" (told you we were BFFs) call the Big Daddy combo. In the shower I blend some Daddy-O shampoo for blonds with Big salt shampoo for flat hair and scrub away.  My hair has never been blonder, softer, or looked better in my life.  Enjoy the photos.

It's violet (remember on that primary school color wheel that purple and yellow are compliments?!  Me either but it's true).

Big shampoo on the left.  On the right we have the Marilyn moisturizing hair treatment for blonds made to enrich color and aptly named after one Marilyn Monroe.

Here's the result!  I realize if you've never seen me before you have nothing to compare my hair to, but you have to admit my non-dyed locks look pretty spectacular (humbly speaking of course).

It's me! (I just threw this in for good measure)

The moral of my story is to give Lush a try if you're in the market for a change in beauty regime.  Great company, great products, great YOU!