Sunday, December 26, 2010

When Shopping is Hilarious

Surely you're familiar with Craigslist. 

Sorry, I won't call you Shirley. 

But I assume that if you are reading a blog, then you also know a little about Craigslist...about the interwebs in general.

I've been shopping for furniture on Craigslist lately, and let me tell you, there is some interesting stuff out there.  Well, like egg chairs.

Just thought that here, while I describe some interesting things available through internet shopping, that I should include photos of the egg chairs we encountered.

Yes, there are unique pieces of furniture on Craigslist. But perhaps even more unique are the descriptions of those things. As I've been furniture shopping, I've collected a few of my favorite for you to enjoy. 

First are just the outright creative spellings:

inn table
(I guess this is just to be used at Motel 6 and places like that)

chester drawers
(Were these Chester's? Why did he give them up? Where dose he put his clothes? Is Chester a nudist all of a sudden?)

dinning table
(Perhaps this is a table that creates a lot of noise? Can a din become dinning?)

8 foot long table with centerr leaf and 4 natching chairs. "Gorgeous table and chairs"
(I feel like a pirate posted this. Arrrr, matey, you might find a centerrrr leaf! Not sure how the chairs natch, but I'd like to see that in action. And why do they put quotations around the final description? Are they joking? What a funny pirate!)

Quaint, Boxxy Electric Blue Coffee Table
(When something isn't triple-x, it's only borderline naughty. So this is clearly just a slightly raunchy table. PG-13 perhaps.)

(What? No. No.)

There is also some pretty offensive grammar on Craigslist. Much of it is just plain sad, but some of it makes the furniture itself a bit confusing:

Wood table. In very well condition.
(This table is resigned to its condition. Very well.)

Beautiful Black Kids Bedroom Suite by Ashley, The Jaidyn!
(I don't like to see racist furniture sets. Why can't ugly anglo children use this suite?)

But my favorite favorite descriptions on Craigslist are the ones that really make your mind's eye dance. Before I click on the link to see what they look like, I like to imagine what these pieces must be!

chandelier (Carved deer design)

Long, Boxy Purple Coffee Table

odd train station stand

Unique 6 Foot Tall Lamp In Shape of Elegant Lady
(I'm sure we all watched A Christmas Story yesterday, so we can really picture this one.)

But folks, this last one takes the cake. I cannot even prepare you for such verbal artistry. I want one of these for sure:

Coffee Table Fish Tank: innovate, liquid luxury... truly art in motion. Ever-changing aquatic habitat readily creates a relaxing atmosphere while offering everyday utility.

Awesome. Just flat-out awesome. 

And that's what I have to give you today. 

While I sit back and giggle over these truly tempting household items, I'm going to brainstorm about 2011 and how to approach shopping again. I have a few ideas. 

I'm playing with a plan to keep from accumulating too much in my tiny closets. I also don't want to go so hog wild that I need to take on a second job. 

And anyway, I'd like to save enough spending money for Craigslist items like those above. I'd hate to have to pass on the next Coffee Table Fish Tank!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmix

I'm not trying to take the Christ out of Christmas with this blog title. I'm just letting y'all know that there was a remix of the Alfajores incident in my kitchen this Christmas Eve.

And let me tell you, the learning curve is sharp. Alfajores, you will not conquer this woman. Besides, she has not been shopping for basically a full year now. That's a big chunk of feminine identity not being fulfilled for 358 days. Though that doesn't really seem to matter very much on a happy day like today.

Still, alfajores, you will not, not, not take successful baking feelings from me!

Take that!

The recipe was too dry before. This time I attacked it with a tad bit extra butter and plenty of The Captain. (Maybe I did The Leg while I was mixing, and maybe I didn't. Some things in my kitchen shall remain confidential.)

Last time the dough was a big freakin' brick after chilling in the fridge. The only thing chillin' this time was me, listening to Florence and The Machine and feeling like Wonder Woman as I pressed out a million tiny angels, bells, and other shapes.

Well, like Wonder Woman but with a magic potholder rather than a magic lasso. And with not quite the same waistline. But I bet Wonder Woman didn't eat cookies, so whatever.

It's Christmas, a season of giving and of no calories ;)

Last time the dulce de leche squished out everywhere, and the coconut failed to help said squishing.

This time I kept the cajeta (dulce de leche) in the fridge prior to assembly (okay, so something besides the baker was chilling, sorry).

I also chopped the coconut with some flour for a nice, fluffy, powdery finish...something that could absorb gooey caramel-like stuff and prevent cookie messes.

I know this is not the season to pat oneself on the back or really be self-centered in any way, but I'm going to say that this was a rather genius move. Autographs after the show, ladies and gents.

Yes! Yes! Little gooey men with much less drippage! Yes!

(The neighbors probably wondered what all my happy hollering was about. I like to make a good impression on the new neighborhood!)

When it comes down to it, folks, making alfajores with shapes is just a bit overly complicated. Even if you keep the cajeta really really cold, and even if you sprinkle the coconut powder on top before making the sandwich, there still might be some drippage.

I recommend doing the customary circular cookies for great success.

Even though these little guys turned out pretty cute.

So there ya go, folks, success in the kitchen. And now they are being eaten by the family here in Spring, TX without any gagging or sad faces, so I think we have appropriately spread some Latin American holiday cheer through these yummy shortbread-like creations. 

And now I'm off to partake in the holiday cheer. Thanks for the support on these, and I hope y'all have a very merry Christmas!

And please check in tomorrow for a discussion: What On Earth Comes Next? How do I end this experiment...or perhaps carry it into the next year in some way?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Doctor. Doctor. Doctor.

Did I mention that Brendon and I had a list of desires for when we went on our honeymoon? Hey--get your mind out of the gutter! I'm talking about items we hoped to purchase

Obviously I didn't plan on purchasing anything, faithfulness to this experiment being forefront in my mind. Ahem. Anyway, Brendon listed a "man purse" among his wants.

But Brendon being Brendon, he was not attracted to the shiny new leather goods in the fancy shops of Buenos Aires. No, his heart fluttered at the sight of this old, beat up doctor's bag.

We were at the tail end of the Sunday flea market in Montevideo, Uruguay. All kinds of crazy trinkets were being packed up by hopeful hawkers getting ready to turn in for the evening. From Montevideo license plates (we may have bought some of those) to weird assortments of antique tools, it captured my dear Life Partner's attention like only a Latin American flea market can.

Then he lugged that big ol' thing back to Argentina and ultimately over the border to the US. Along the way he tried to clean it up, thoroughly stinking up our hotel room in Uruguay in the process and most certainly disturbing the housekeeping staff with both the odor of our room and the blackened washcloths strewn about.

Crazy American honeymooners, eating our alfajores at midnight and messing up our linens!

It was my sincerest desire to make the bag beautiful for him while he was away offshore. Of course, like a good wifey wife, I decided not to shirk my feminine household duties (ha ha ha...) by taking so much time to polish up an old bag. I subcontracted the project to the local gurus at Austin Shoe Hospital.

They are freakin' brilliant. Look at how they cleaned this baby up. They also replaced the worn out handle, and as a finishing touch they added a shoulder strap.  They are the Beethoven of bag repair, for sure.

There ya go, folks, another lovely acquisition made possible by refurbishing something old. Why is that so satisfying? It's not like we saved money or anything--cleaning it and adding handle/strap probably cost as much as some of the posh new bags we saw in BA.

I blame the story behind it. It's fun to have something with a little meaning. "This is the bag that made awful leather polish fumes in our hotel room during our honeymoon. Isn't that romantic?"

It's also definitely a reflection of how Brendon sees things. And people, too. Just with a little more insight into their potential than most folks might notice.

Okay, don't let me get too squishy here. I can't make grand sweeping conclusions about life every time I encounter clothes/accessories with significance! Let me end the post in saying I am really delighted about this doctor's bag because now every time Brendon wears it, I'll think of this scene. That, my friends, is a life-changing belly laugh for sure.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Magic Carpet Ride

So my mom got married this weekend. It was really sweet to have close family and friends around to witness the chaplain saying those "man & wife" words to seal the deal.

Even sweeter, they went out dancing afterwards. That's how they met in the first place. I could say all kinds of stuff about Mom or Raymond being swept off their feet or about the dance we call life, but I'll leave the tender cheeseball sentiments to the chaplain. He was good at that, and appropriately so. I think we were all pretty much feeling this: Way to go, Mom!

Life changes abounded this weekend. Mom got married, I bought some rugs (clearly of the same significance, Shannon...come on, now).

The little Clark casita grew up by way of a couple of amazing Craigslist purchases! Careful, the rest of this post might be punctuated only by exclamation marks!

I have been watching Craigslist Austin for Persian-style rugs ever since we moved in. Yes, the little gold fluffy rug from Anthro has graced the living room with superb character for a couple months now, but in my heart of hearts I knew it was destined for a terrible accident with some food or drink interaction with gravity. And I knew I would lose control and cry in that moment. Perhaps even expel the poor perpetrator from the house, and what if it turned out to be Brendon? 

I knew the rug belonged in a bedroom (safe from spills) and that something with more forgiving colors and patterns should be in the living room.

But Austin Craigslist is just a bit different from Houston. Austin buyers grab up the great posts faster than I can even look at them. So no used carpets have been obtained. And I did want used carpets, considering the goal was to own something that wouldn't make me violent if ruined or even slightly tainted.

Enter Houston's more humble Craigslist and the great posting I found Saturday morning before heading into Spring for the wedding. Omg. Persian-style rugs.

The young couple in Humble just moved back to the US and were allowed a shipping container to carry their stuff. Apparently they loaded up on the rugs they bought at fabulous prices in Kuwait.

These 2 rugs were so soft. Their colors were perfect. Their design was perfect. I eagerly brought them home and introduced them to the living room and hallway, where they made fast friends with our silly old couch and that funky bathroom tile.

I can't wait for Brendon to see. I think he might have been worried for my propensity to bring home bright yellow flowers on all prints after the Anthro towels and rug entered our lives. His love for cool geometry should most certainly be satisfied with these.

And yet again I'm struck by how much fun it can be to buy stuff for the house. I can't even wear these things, but I am on more of a high from these rugs than I think I was when I bought those perfect jeans from Urban Outfitters all those years ago. More so even than when I found those boots at DSW last year (now featured in November's Real Simple, over a year later, thank you very much! Though they are for chubby calves. Pardon, "athletic" calves. But we know what that means).

So while I'm looking forward to January 1st and all the freedom it offers, I'm kind of wondering if it could possibly be as satisfying as these are.

I'm typing this sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living, by the way. I almost slept out here, just to be close to the carpet. Yes, it smells wonderful. And I am not embarrassed to admit any of this. Exclamation!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pretentious Scarves

Nichole and I had meant to sign up for a cooking class. Not too unfortunately, it ended up being more of a meal presented to us rather than a hands-on sort of thing.

That's right, no cooking in this cooking class. And in retrospect, probably not too much class, either.

I blame it on a few articles of clothing. Specifically, a couple of pretentious scarves.

See, we were at a fancy table with some other attendees, but unlike us, this was not their first rodeo. They knew all about wine and wine pairings and were not afraid to talk about it.

Now the 2 ladies next to me were actually pretty fun. I noticed right away that my neighbor at the table had an amazing diamond ring & I expressed my admiration.

"Oh, thanks, I just had it reset," she told me. I snapped a picture as she continued, "It helped make the divorce a little easier."

Ah, okay then, I bet it did. That's one amazing ring. Resetting an engagement ring seems like a healthy way to deal with divorce. We clinked glasses in a bonding female moment, and I did not mention that I only just got married and was quite happy about it.

The couple across from us captured my eye, too. Probably in their late 60s, they were all kinds of yacht perfection in their sweaters and casual confidence in flatware use (Nichole and I were intimidated by the 5 forks at our place settings).

They engaged the wine teacher guy in a little conversation about the complexities of the current glass. Ah, yes, of course they were British. I would not have wanted to hear any other accent come out of those classy mouths.

Then came the Pretentious Scarves. These ladies made Nichole want to throw her wine at them (except that would have been wasteful). They talked about themselves all night as they adjusted and readjusted their gigantic, tribal-looking scarves.

They're the kind of folks you unfortunately encounter a little too often in Austin, and I don't know if I can properly describe it. I'm sure I am one of them sometimes.

But they are a little too proud of Keep Austin Weird and seem to look down on everyone else. If you're not wearing hemp and haven't recently exfoliated with whole grain oatmeal flaxseed organic soap in a hot spring, then you pretty much excuse me while I pour some apple juice into my Prius as fuel so I can get to the animal shelter where I volunteer reading books to blind pomeranians.

Yes, they've been to Bordeaux--"It's beautiful!"--yes, they love that $20 cheese used in our appetizer and all its fancy packaging--"It's beautiful!"--yes, they are the people that interrupt the wine guy all night to try to say that they too can taste the lemon crusted custard notes in that particular wine.

Yeah, you guessed it, it was beautiful.

I'm telling you about these other Non-Cooking Class people because I think it was my intimidation by, fascination of, irritation with, or just plain distraction by them that prevented me from noticing what I myself was doing. And that was: drinking the wine placed before me. All of it. Every last glass.

Never been to Bordeaux. But we hear it's beautiful.

Of course I tried to pay attention to the flavors, the bouquet or whatever, that each glass offered. How could one not try to taste all the wine notes with Pretentious Scarves boasting about how beautiful their retreat in southern Italy had been last year? Holy cow they reminded me of this scene in LA Story.

Quite funny. So my story here has a twist of lemon to it, too. Because we left our lovely, elegant dinner and ended up at Lala's. A diviest of dive bars, Lala's is made to always look like Christmas inside. It smells kinda bad, the folks there are all a little crusty, and it's within walking distance of my house.

I don't really know how or why we chose to go there. Perhaps it was to balance out the Fancy we'd been inundated with at our dinner. Perhaps we wanted to finish out the lemon crusted custard with a proper glass of cheap wine, served in a tumbler. I think we just wanted to be loud without being stared at.

Nichole had the presence of mind to call her husband, the awesome Clay, and have him come pick her up.

He also kindly dropped me at my house, where I managed to drop my own scarf on the lawn. Nichole delivered it to me at the front door a few minutes later, having seen it out there in the grass. I'd like to think of it as a symbol for the evening--of our leaving the stemware of Central Market's cooking school for the mason jar Bloody Mary's of Lala's.

Stay classy, ladies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where Outfits Don't Matter (With This One Exception)

Take a look at this handsome fellow. Ralph Lauren sunnies? Check. Banana Republic sweater? Check. Authentic Argentine alpaca scarf? Check check check.

Eight-year-old wrinkly pants with the hole in the knee? Check. Check, dammit. Aw, did his wife not "lose" those in the move?

Oh, well. Not that it should matter anyway, because I think Brendon's always attractive. 

And also because outfits are even less an issue when we're in Las Cruces. For some reason, the world takes on a different pace, attitude, and appearance in that little pocket of New Mexico. I love it. It's where we can go with the slightest regard for packing, because as long as we go with some super casual basic layers and a big ol' hunger for tons of green chile, we're ready. There's no second thought for what to wear.

Except for this time. Brendon's brother graduated with another handful of degrees & managed to do so with such honors that the university had to make a special robe for him. So now that I've gone on about how silly it is to painstakingly put together an outfit in my favorite little town, let me prove myself wrong. Look how awesome it was that Jay had a special outfit in this sea of graduates:

Um...can you find the guy with highest honors? Yeah, I thought so!

Anyway, special outfits were soon discarded and we moved past Jay's academic endeavors to enjoy his automotive ones. Specifically, the old 4-Runner he's been tinkering with this past year and a half.

We went for a drive, first on the paved roads and then out into the dirt and scrub of the desert. The truck was kinda dirty to begin with, but after a few minutes in the sun and wind we'd been through just as much dust as it apparently had.

Again, you don't get dressy when you go to the desert.

Scout ran around in the very back, Nancy and I took the "Prom Queen" seats, and the brothers took the front. Jay, a true lover of boxed wine, drove us past his favorite intersection:

What a fun ride. Just rolling around the hilly roads (and the bumpy semi-roads), commenting on the changes, and enjoying all the familiar stuff.

We even got to take in the view from the future Nate Francis Boulevard:

Wow. Time sure does march on. And we move right along with it...but somehow, the desert seems to just stay the same. Beautiful, quiet, and familiar.

The Darker Side of Alfajores

Must give credit where credit is due. Last Thursday evening, a very strange event came to pass. Shannon spent time in her kitchen. No, not eating over the kitchen sink (at midnight), not making her regular morning coffee, but actually cooking.

You might think this to be nothing worth reporting, but that's because I teased with you tales of a cheesecake before. Understand, dear audience (both of you), that cooking is not my usual Thursday night activity. But I got inspired.

By karaoke.

My best photo of Clay (onstage) and Nichole, ever

When Happy Hour on Friday turns into Crazy Karaoke Night, it's very inspiring. And after howling at a smattering of Austin's public with Clay/Nichole and another fabulous couple, I was inspired.

Inspired to clean up my dance habits so as not to collect so many bruises, but also inspired to make cookies for the fabulous couple's upcoming Christmas party, which I would miss while in New Mexico to see the in-laws.

I could see from their mad skills at the karaoke mic that it would be a holiday gathering of the shindiggiest proportions. I wanted to sweetly express my regrets--via cookies--and asked that they tell me their favorites.

Peanut butter and snickerdoodle. Respectable cookie preferences; sign of a cool couple for sure.

Which brings me to Thursday Night. The night where snickerdoodles, double peanut blossoms, and alfajores were born in the Clark Kitchen.

Wait a second, Shannon, what on earth does this post have to do with not buying clothes? Can't you write to a prompt? Can't you stay on topic?

Okay, heckler inside my head, here you go: I wore an apron. And not a beautiful new one from Anthro, despite my lusting, but the sweet one given by my mom a few years back. I did accessorize it with our new potholders, but I think they were a necessary addition to the kitchen and do not count as articles of clothing.

My, my. Isn't she a vision?

So yeah. I probably don't need to explain my desire to make alfajores, not after my previous sonnet-like references.

But I've never made peanut blossoms before, and I really wanted to do the double version to make the peanut butter cookies extra awesome. I mean, it was going to be an awesome party given by awesome people.

So double peanut blossoms--I can't share a recipe for those; I scrawled it on a napkin from somewhere and followed that. But basically it's a peanut butter cookie recipe. Instead of pressing the cookies with a fork before baking, you bake them as little dough balls. Then you shove a Reese's pb cup on top straight out of the oven and let them cool. Fancy.

Brendon was kind enough to sample these. Verdict: yummy.

Also attempted the Snickerdoodles for the first time, thanks, Real Simple. Of course I didn't have cream of tartar in our tiny pantry (who does? why?), but just tossed out that and the baking soda and used 2 tsps of baking powder instead. I think it worked.

Snickerdoodles + super fancy recipe napkin

But enough of that. I'm here to tell you about the alfajores. The mother of all cookies. The alpha, if you will.

The cookies that will most likely induce cussing, tears, and drinking.

While I'll be kind and include the recipe for you, I'm going to tell you how they're really done.

Step 1: Strategize.

You will need to do a lot of research and planning for these cookies, so be sure to eat as many of them whenever encountered. Yes, eat them at 3 in the morning after drinking too much Malbec, yes, eat them at breakfast when included in the buffet. Yes, eat them from the boxes you brought back to the US. Then fantasize about producing them en masse a la Betty Crocker from your own kitchen, and feel so inspired that you purchase the ingredients and plan to bring these delicious souvenirs to your in-laws the second weekend in December.

Step 2: Abandon the recipe when it abandons you.

It tells you to chill the dough in the fridge, so you oblige by waking up too early Thursday morning to mix it up and letting that dough chill while you're at work. All it does is become a hard, cold ball of unworkable pain, and that hurts your feelings.

You do your best to warm it back up to the point of being rollout-able, but at that point it's just a crumbly, warm mess. Your husband raises his eyebrows from the other room at your creative use of a few words.

The recipe told you to add a "few drops" of milk in case of crumbliness. You've added a swimming pool's worth of the only white liquid in your fridge (Almond Breeze) and are now feeling rather crumbly yourself. Luckily there is a bottle of Cabernet available. You partake.

Step 3: Create an army to win the baking battle.

Once your dough has drunk the milk and you have drunk the wine, you'll find both it and yourself to be feeling more flexible. Take out your Christmas cookie cutters to press out an army and forest. 

You have made both men and trees, which will momentarily make you feel high and mighty. Revel in this hubris, for it will get you through the next step.

Step 4: Maintain your dignity with the help of coconut.

It never occurred to you that the coconut on the sides of these sandwich cookies was helping to hold in the creamy dulce de leche in the middle. You suddenly hate dulce de leche for its creamy, gooey properties.

Luckily you've abandoned the recipe at this point and did not make this caramel-like center yourself; it's coming from an e-z squeeze bottle. You wonder briefly when they'll make wine in an e-z squeeze bottle, take another swig of the latter, and continue to watch the filling of your once-beautiful alfajor spill down the sides of your tree like a bloody mess.

Can you call a cookie a douchebag? I'm here to tell you that yes, yes you can.
But the wine makes you creative (and pretty and smart, as we all know) and you figure out how to carefully spread the dulce de leche with a knife, sprinkle coconut around the edges, then make the sandwich. This prevents the unattractive oozing that following the recipe's sandwich-making instructions causes.

This also means that you have one gross-looking tree that you get to sample. Because you'd never give an ugly cookie as a gift, and by this point you kinda want to bite something.

Step 5: Package with class, because you have no idea if other people will like them.

Seriously, you should go to great lengths to make these boxes of cookies look awesome. That way people will be smiling when they consider eating the wrapping instead of the cookie in their mouth.

Actually, just enjoy the wrapping itself, because the successful feeling you'll have only extends as far as your cookies will travel. While you'll get the alfajores safely delivered to your in-laws in New Mexico, the double peanut blossoms and snickerdoodles will never actually make it to the Christmas party and you'll feel silly about spending a blog post writing about them.

But no matter. Clearly feeling silly shouldn't prevent an admirable endeavor.

And I'm thankful that Brendon and his family produced enough "Mmm!" sounds while eating the alfajores to assure me that they, too, were enjoying those damn cookies perhaps as much as I do. 

Perhaps that will be enough to encourage me to try these again. I mean, I still have another bottle of wine in the kitchen, so I'm set, right?