Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Life's a Party!
My grandmother, the late, great Gaga, used to say that it was vitally important to choose your New Year's Eve activities well. However you started the year was how you were destined to end it.

I wish I could say that Gaga was right - it would make life so much easier! But the year that started with the all-night rave at the L.A. Coliseum was my most sober. The year that started with the 5:00 A.M. hike in Topanga Canyon was my unhealthiest. So, there goes that theory.

Looking back, the New Years I've enjoyed the most (perhaps because they are the ones that I remember most clearly!) have involved a small and close group of family and friends, a bottle of Nicolas Feuillate Rose, and a card game or two. I'll be following this successful formula tonight.

Friends, may you all have a very happy and healthy 2013!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Navel Gazing and Whale Watching

If only.
Our local paper announced the beginning of whale watching season this week, and for one completely self-absorbed and horrifying moment, I thought it was talking about me. As the season of plenty slowly rolls along like Violet Beauregarde, I'm assessing the damage. Luckily, the New Year, and its accompanying health frenzy, is almost here. Two weeks of wheatgrass shots and 5 mile jaunts through the park should get rid of the holiday pounds.

But back to whale watching. Yesterday afternoon, I excitedly booked tickets for (sing it with me) a three hour tour, a three hour tour. The sales rep warned me that under no circumstances would the trip would be cancelled due to rain. "Sure, not a problem," I cheerfully concurred as I looked outside at the clear blue skies.

This morning, I woke up to the sound of rain hitting my window. I stood on the balcony and stared up at the darkened sky like a confused turkey. Firmly in denial, I brightly assured the Merry Husband that the clouds would clear ("You know, like Florida!), and drove through the flooded streets to the Redondo Beach Marina. We walked up to the deserted boat. ("I'm sure they'll be here any minute!") We waited.

I finally called the sales rep.  "I'm sooo sorry," she explained. "We cancelled due to rain. I thought I had gotten in touch with everyone. Come over to Polly's Diner on the other side of the marina and I'll give you two free vouchers for another day."

The Merry Husband and I rejoiced at the sudden and fortuitous change in company policy. After collecting our vouchers, we tucked into delicious plates of Polly's chorizo and eggs.

Dear readers, I wish I could share with you photos of me spotting a whale, me petting a whale, me becoming   BFFs with a whale. Sadly, today was not that day. Instead, here are some dark and stormy photos of the marina.

Polly's on the Pier
I hope that your weekend is going according to plan.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Dear Readers,

Thank you for your comments, encouragement, and kindness these last few months. I have enjoyed peeking into your fabulous lives, and I sincerely hope you've had some fun poking around in my little corner of the blogosphere.

This Christmas will be a bittersweet one for my family: bitter because it will be our first one without my father who died in August, sweet because we will focus on the joy of my soon to be four-year-old niece.

My dad wasn't much of a drinker, but he always looked forward to this punch my sister would make every Christmas morning.

Milk Punch 
(Makes 6 cocktails)

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces brandy
4 ounces bourbon
1 egg white (optional)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Grated nutmeg

Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is boiling.  Let simmer until the mixture is clear, about 8 minutes.  Pour into a jar and cool.  Refrigerate until cold.

Combine the syrup, milk, cream, alcohol, egg white, and vanilla in a large pitcher.  Stir well, or, if you have a lid, shake.  Serve in old-fashioned glasses and sprinkle each cocktail with some nutmeg.

Note: If you don't have time to make a simple syrup, don't despair. Just make sure the water is really, really cold, throw all the ingredients except the nutmeg together, and stir well.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2013 Color of the Year: Emerald Green

Every December, the oracles of Pantone LLC emerge from their shadowy offices in New Jersey just long enough to declare the next Color of the Year. So as 2012 comes to a close, we say goodbye to Tangerine Tango and hello to Emerald Green.  Expect the hue to be plastered on everything from new cars to toaster ovens. Pantone promises that Emerald will "enhance our sense of well-being, balance, and harmony." That's a lot of pressure to put on a color, but Emerald seems up to the task. Lilly Pulitzer has already incorporated the shade into three of its newest prints.

Lilly Pulitzer Crown Jewels print
Of course, some retailers have been singing the praises of Emerald all along.

The 75.47 ct. Hooker Emerald, in a brooch designed by
Tiffany & Co.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Longest Night

Burn a bayberry candle at the close of the year, and you'll have good luck in the next.  As the saying goes, "bayberry candle burned to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket." Opinions differ on the optimal evening to light the wick - some say Christmas Eve, others say New Year's Eve.  But with the fiscal cliff fast approaching and the Mayan End of Times looming, it hardly seems prudent to wait much longer.  The winter solstice is as good an excuse as any for a candle-lit dinner. 

The Bee Man Candle Company

Good night, and good luck!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Keep or Return? Decisions, decisions...

Every year in mid-November, I have a Diana Vreeland moment.  "Merry Wife," I say to myself, "Why don't you...make homemade and thoughtful Christmas gifts for all your coworkers?"

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to foist cheese straws or bath bombs on my lovely colleagues, who frankly would prefer Starbucks gift cards. Luckily for them, I invariably procrastinate until the last possible moment come to my senses and rush around the Del Amo mall like a madwoman the evening before everyone is scheduled to go on vacation.

This year I rush-ordered bracelets for the women in my office from Banana Republic.  I ordered an extra one for myself, and am now having second thoughts.

Here's the photo from the website.

Banana Republic Leather Lock Bracelet
And here it is on me.

I expected it to be somehow bolder. Chunky and cuff-like. This feels more like a watch without the dial.

Well, I suppose something should be thinner than expected during the holidays.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monogram Mondays at Lilly Pulitzer - Madison Avenue

Lilly Pulitzer NYC print
Some things just go together: gin and tonic, peanut butter and jelly, Lilly Pulitzer and monograms.  Indeed, it is the rare Lilly lover who isn't so enamored of her own initials that she hasn't branded every available surface with them.

So I expect that Lilly Pulitzer's new monogramming service at its Madison Avenue shop will be hugely popular. And, joy of joys, on Mondays, the shop will monogram one purchase for free! No word on when this promotion will end, so call the friendly and helpful sales staff today at (212) 744-4620.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Saturday Morning in the South Bay

The errands were ordinary enough: a trip to the dry-cleaner and a pit-stop for coffee.  But the scenery was nothing short of extraordinary.

Mirlo Gate Lodge Tower
on the border of Torrance and Palos Verdes

A statue of King Neptune in the parking
lot of Malaga Cove Plaza, Palos Verdes

Yellow Vase Cafe,
Malaga Cove Plaza

Resident peafowl

View from Via Del Monte

Torrance Beach

Redondo Beach

Friday, December 14, 2012

Public Service Announcement: Brooks Brothers Clearance

Today through December 16th, save up to 70% on selected sale items.

This morning, I did a little Christmas shopping for myself and picked up this Sea Island cotton twinset.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Sweater Only a Mom Could Love

Oh, the humiliation.
I have a confession to make: I am a huge QVC fan.  At the end of excruciatingly bad weekdays, I flop onto the bed with the Merry Dog, down a dry martini, and watch the overly-animated QVC hosts talk up the pros of heat-treated topaz rings, 15" Dell laptop computers, and patent-pending cellulite creams.

It's all television gold, but my favorite segments are devoted to the Christmas sweaters created by the evil geniuses at Quacker Factory.  By any sartorial standard, these sweaters are just...awful.  In fact, they are so awful that, out of concern for your precious eyeballs, I'm not even going to provide a link to them, lest you be tempted to gaze upon their blinding glory.  Google at your own risk.   

But my reptile brain is entranced by these horrid little sweaters. Is it the gaudy flash of red and green rhinestones? (Sequined evergreen trees! Bedazzled candy canes! LED reindeer noses!) Or maybe the earnest testimonials of call-in guests who gush about their Quaker Factory sweaters of Christmases past and present? ("You won't see yourself coming and going in one of these sweaters!")

I don't know.  I do know, however, that I am not alone in this sick obsession with the Ugly Christmas Sweater.

Over the past several years, the U.C.S. competition has become a popular Yuletide event. In the beginning, it was easy fun.  Raid your mom's closet, grab at random one of the many, many (why, Lord, so many?) red scratchy cotton-acrylic blend crewnecks with seasonally-appropriate 3D appliques, and you were good for at least third place. 

But the competition this year is fierce. Several of my friends have remarked upon the difficulty of obtaining a truly ugly U.C.S.  Previously reliable sources (e.g. Aaardvark's in Redondo Beach) sold all the "good" ones weeks ago to hyper-prepared hipsters. Many a party-goer is resorting to embellishing a not-ugly-enough U.C.S with holiday pins or puffy-paint pens. Is this cheating, or at the very least, not in keeping with the found object spirit of the competition?  Purists say yes.   But you'd be surprised how low people will stoop when a bottle of Bailey's is on the line.    

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Five O'Clock Teaspoon

In 2009, Tiffany & Co. broke the hearts of many a blue box loyalist when it discontinued, seemingly overnight, much of its china and flatware.  Gone were the Audubon china pattern and the best dessert plate ever.

Gone, too, were Tiffany's 1960s-chic Bamboo flatware, its scalloped Wave Edge pattern designed in 1884, and its elaborate Olympian, whose every piece depicted a different scene from Greek mythology.  And with them vanished many of the more obscure pieces, like the five o'clock teaspoon.

So, I was surprised and thrilled (thrilled!) this weekend to see that Tiffany is again offering an "afternoon teaspoon" in several of its remaining silver patterns.  We Americans now get our caffeine fixes in 16, 20, and (shudder) 30-ounce paper buckets cups, but there was a time when we drank from delicate porcelain cups so thin that they were almost translucent.   A regular teaspoon would overpower such a cup, so a slightly smaller spoon was needed.

Generally speaking, a teaspoon is 6 inches long, give or take a quarter of an inch.  A five o'clock teaspoon is typically between 5 1/4 and 5 1/2 inches.  This may not seem like much of a difference until you see the two together.  For illustration, below are three Tiffany spoons: an 6 1/8-inch Olympian teaspoon, a 5 3/8-inch Faneuil five o'clock teaspoon, and a 4-inch Chrysanthemum demitasse spoon.

Here, the Olympian and Faneuil spoons are shown with a Belleek teacup produced between 1891 and 1926.  You can see that the Olympian looks much too big.

Now, if only Tiffany would bring back the berry spoon...


It seems I spoke too soon.  Tiffany has broken my heart once again.  Yesterday, I emailed the good people at the customer service department to find out the exact sizes of the Faneuil spoons listed as "afternoon teaspoon" and "coffee spoon" on their website.  The response was prompt, but disappointing.  Sadly, the afternoon teaspoon is a mere 4 1/2 inches long.  The coffee spoon is a teensy 4 inches.

What this tells me is that Tiffany is passing off an after-dinner coffee spoon as five o'clock teaspoon, and a demitasse spoon as a coffee spoon.  So much for buying shiny new five o'clock teaspoons in happy blue boxes!  Looks like I'll still be trawling eBay.  \sigh

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Speaking of Brits...

I finally got around to seeing the latest installment of the James Bond franchise, Skyfall.  It would have been completely unremarkable except for these two scene-stealers: the insanely gorgeous French-Cambodian-Chinese actress, Bérénice Lim Marlohe

and this little guy by Royal Doulton, tragically sold out everywhere.

Jack, as he's known, sat on M's desk throughout much of the movie.  Turns out, he has a refined pedigree - in the 1940s, Royal Doulton made "Churchill" bulldogs as patriotic symbols.

Perhaps the original was a bit more charming, but this time around Jack has his own James Bond intro.

If you are in love, fear not.  Like James Bond, Jack will be back - in February 2013.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Royal Babies and Electro Birthdays

I heard the wonderful news this morning that Will & Kate are expecting a baby.  I am beyond excited.  Yes, yes, it's wonderful news for the happy and beautiful couple.  But more importantly, this commemorative china!

Now don't get me wrong, I adore Kate, but I spend more time thinking about the House of Pies than about the House of Windsor.  I do, however, appreciate a family that documents all its major milestones in porcelain.  My favorite source for these fancy yet tacky souvenirs is the Royal Collection Shop.  Over the years, I've bought more plates, tankards, and bric-a-brac emblazoned with shiny crowns and shiny faces than I care to admit.  In the mornings, I often get a caffeine-fueled ego boost from this cup. 

Long may I reign.

I never got around to buying a Royal Wedding plate because I was too busy blowing the budget on getting ready for our own distinctly non-U wedding in June.  I do wish, though, that I had snagged this one.

Plate by KK Outlet
In other news, today is the 20th birthday of the text message.  In case you were wondering, the very first text read simply, "Merry Christmas."  I am tempted to wax poetic on the decline of good manners, fountain pens, and carrier pigeons, but I'll spare you.  Instead, I will leave you with this text message from a gentler time.

A Rainy Morning in Windemere

Wishing for a vacation day, a good book, and hot cup of cocoa...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mario Batali Bistro Clogs

My dad was half-Japanese, and growing up, my sister and I always removed our shoes before walking into the house.  Now I'm married to a Chinese guy, so the tradition continues.  It never occurred to me that walking around barefoot in the kitchen might pose any problems.  Then two weeks ago, I dropped my box of food processor blades and spent the next 4 hours in the ER waiting for someone to stitch up my right toe.

Suddenly, kitchen clogs sounded like a really good idea.

After reading way too many message board discussions about the pros and cons of Dansko and Sanitas clogs, I decided to go with the much, much cheaper Crocs favored by the chef Mario Batali, seen here in all his fashionable glory:

Yes, I am now the proud owner of obnoxious orange kitchen clogs.

They are hideous, but I love them!  It's impossible for me not to feel cheerful and energetic when I look down at them, which is exactly what I need first thing in the morning.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving with all the (Christmas) Trimmings

Last year, I didn't decorate for Christmas.  The Merry Husband and I spent the holidays in Brooklyn, and it seemed silly to put up decorations if we weren't even going to be in town.  I, of course, regretted the decision and have been itching for a do-over for eleven months.  So yesterday, MH hauled out the tree for me, and I put on the album my parents always played while decking the halls.

It just wouldn't be Christmas without hearing Tammy Wynette's "(If This is What You Call a Merry Christmas) We Must be Having One."

My tree has seen better days, and I think this year may be its last.  It's always been a bit of a Charlie Brown tree, skinny and sparse, but yesterday, no amount of floofing its plastic branches seemed to help.

Nevertheless, I was happy to see my favorite ornaments again, like my Radko hula girl and the miniature Belleek plates from my sister.

As I dug through the decorations, I came across a small embroidered tablecloth that I bought in July at the Long Beach flea market.  It is just about the right size for my side table.

I filled a bowl with circa 1960 German ball ornaments I found at Alpine Village in Torrance.

Diana Vreeland once said that a little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika.  Well, here's our big heapin' spoonful - the jackalope head that MH just *had* to have when we saw it last October at the Indian Trading Post in Calumet, Oklahoma.

I love vintage and retro Christmas decorations, and am currently on the lookout for a candle carousel similar to this one:

I'd be thrilled to find some vintage bubble lights like these too.

What are your favorite decorations?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On the Road: The Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road."
~Jack Kerouac
The Mojave Desert
On Wednesday, the Merry Husband and I packed up the Subaru and drove up Highway 395 through deserts and forests, valleys and mountains.  The highway bisects little frontier towns like Lone Pine, Independence, Bishop, and Bridgeport.  I half expected to see the ghosts of Jack Kerouac and his Dharma Bums eating slices of apple pie in road-side diners or hitchhiking to the next outpost of civilization.

Lone Pine

Kerouac and his friends used these towns as base camps for their hikes through the Sierra mountains.

At 14,505 feet, Mt. Whitney (left) is the highest peak in the Lower 48.
We sped past Manzanar, where over 100,000 Japanese Americans (including several of my aunts and uncles) were interned during World War II.  

A watchtower at Manzanar.
We had a lovely lunch at Whiskey Creek in Bishop, and stopped to admire the view at Lake Crowley.  Then, all at once, we were surrounded by trees.

We took a detour to Mammoth Lakes, where the ski slopes were packed.

And another to Silver Lake, where it seemed we were the only people in the world.

Finally, we arrived in Incline Village, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, just before sunset.

In Los Angeles, it's so easy to forget just how close and accessible the wild places are.  Today at lunch, the Merry Husband and I wondered why we don't go to the National Parks more often.  I think Big Sur is calling.

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