Mar 17 2013

Something I Love

Oh, Bittercube Bitters. I love you.

We have great friends.Two firmly in that great category are Kim & Kyle. They’re great for lots of reasons, they have similar views on wanting to go just about anywhere, they’re wildly talented, and they have killer taste. For the holidays this year they surprised us with a fantastic holiday card and a spot-on perfect gift, a sample of Bittercube Bitters.


These small batch bitters are the brainchildren of two midwesterners. One worked at the Violet Hour in our fair Chicago while his partner’s rooted in Minneapolis. They spent a year perfecting and concocting and, while it’s hardly accurate, I love the idea of potions brewing and steam rising as they worked on a batch.

It seems like we’re usually known for our beer, and we do that really well, but it’s nice to see we can make any booze better. There are bitters to make an IPA pop, plenty of interesting things to work into something ginny. The package includes a slew of ideas to make a cocktail party feel like an imperative.

For the purported end of the world on December 12, we hosted a pizza party for our playgroup. And to drink we set up “The Bitter End” cocktail station. To be fair, the 25+ kids running around made for a less-than-cocktail party vibe (yes, the tags I had on hand are offensively large, I know). But we did our best.

bitterend - Version 2

Last night we had Kim & Kyle over to eat & talk, and toasted friendship with a Bittercube-personalized gin & tonic. This morning we were off to a surprise birthday brunch. Our gift? A sampler pack of Bittercube bitters.

Mar 15 2013

Design+Copy=True Love

I’m starting a blog collaboration over at Spitfiregirl Design. And I’m so stinkin’ excited. Heidi & I have been working together for almost a year and it’s been heaven. She’s delightful and does such beautiful work. When she shows up in my inbox with a project I say yes. Immediately.

So we’ll be talking about how design & copy work together, how we work together, and exploring some other things important to both of us.

Best part? I write words and Heidi makes totally gorgeous nuggets of awesome like the one below.

Click on it to read the post that’s starting it all. Now, seriously, click on it now.

darlingness by Spitfiregirl

Mar 13 2013

Sweet (Some)day

How cute is this? A wee little hand snagging a treat while my back is turned photographing ingredients.

Photo1 2


Monday was not a day baking was going to happen. Until about 11 Sunday night I assumed I’d be unable to make it into Design Cloud.

And so, when 9 am rolled around and  I rolled into work, I was baked goodsless, a way I hate to be. I promised to make amends today.

We meet on Wednesdays in the morning to survey the creative freedom landscape and I thought having something to tempt the masses might be nice. There is usually a decent crowd just processing their coffee so I thought something breakfast-y would be a good match.

I started where I often start, at 101 Cookbooks. I came upon this recipe for donut muffins and stopped. Donut muffins? YES. The critical element in the baking is nutmeg, the critical element to replicate donut goodness is the cinnamon sugar coating.

But, well, there wasn’t really a recipe. There was talk of one and description of mixing things but not 1/2 cup of this and 1 tsp of that.

Google brought up this, which mentioned nutmeg, so off I went. usually has a large review pool and I found this.

The recipe is here. I use unsalted butter. And I stress about what percentage of milk to use. We have whole for the kid. Skim for my coffee/Brett’s cereal obsession. Both seem extreme. My solution was to splash both into a measuring cup at the same time till I got 1/2 a cup. Real professional.

Here’s a before & after the cinnamon sugar coating.
Both were tasty. But that coating was an extra dash of awesome.
Photo1 4

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

And for the top:

  • 1/4 cup margarine, melted (again, mama uses unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 24 mini-muffin cups.
2. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup margarine, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, then mix in the baking powder and flour until just combined. Fill the prepared mini muffin cups about half full.
3. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are lightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. While muffins are baking, place 1/4 cup of melted margarine in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of sugar with the cinnamon. Remove muffins from their cups, dip each muffin in the melted margarine, and roll in the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Let cool and serve.



Mar 8 2013

One from the Archives: Thailand


A winding, winding road leads up Doi Suthep, a mountain just west of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. So winding in fact that as we rode in our little car back in 2008 we passed a motorbike with a woman sporadically puking off the back.

At the top is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a Buddhist complex dating from the 1380s. Some folks complain the chedi lost its charm when it was outfitted in gold. Me? I dig it.

I swear, if you stand still long enough in Thailand you will either have a picture of the “Jazz King” hung on you OR you will be gilded within an inch of your life. it must be in the constitution.

Mar 6 2013

Sweet Monday

This week I dug into my easy wins with a modified version of this recipe. (Psst. I ignore all her optionals and do white chocolate and dried cherries. Details are below.) This was supposed to be easy because I needed to make two separate batches.

Aside from Sweet Monday at Design Cloud, I was jazzed to bake to support the Sugar Beet Co-op‘s film screening as part of the One Earth Food Festival. My dears at the Beet, Cheryl & Jenny, were putting together a luncheon. As a proud co-op member (and general helper outer) I said I’d bring something.

And that something went horribly awry. Underdone in the center and a nearly scorched earth diorama on the edges. I wound up carving out cooked-enough pieces and sending Brett to deliver the sad, sweet shrapnel.

I was flummoxed. I screw all kinds of things up in my daily life. This recipe is not one of those things. When we bought the house and redid the kitchen, we got a double oven specifically so that I could use the top oven for baking (less energy, just kind of sounds cool). The top oven has consistently not done a great job with baking at temp or on time. I’ve been setting it 5º higher and baking for a few minutes longer, both of which did me heaps of not much here.

After the CopperTop was up for an hour in the wee hours and I was up again at the crack of dawn feverishly packing my brown sugar, I demanded redemption. Replaced the baking powder and soda. Used the larger oven in our double oven. Let the eggs reach room temperature. If baking is like science, a scientist should tweak one thing at a time. But even if it is, I am not and I went to tweaking town. It still took about 15 minutes longer than it should’ve. And the edges were still dancing way too close to crispy. But there was no shrapnel.

And the best part is that I caught an express train so I arrived with still warm treats to tempt. And tempt they did, crispy edges and all.


Tempted? Assuming you don’t screw them up as much as me, they’re worth it.

Oatmeal Blondies with White Chocolate and Dried Cherry

  • 1 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • chocolate chips (optional)
  • raisins (optional)
  • chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until thoroughly mixed and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract until well mixed, and mix in salt, baking soda, baking powder, flour, rolled oats, plus other junk. Mix well to moisten all ingredients, and spread into the prepared baking pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before cutting into bars.

**Clearly step 3 is full of crap. I baked those beasts for a hundred hours. Raw in the middle. Burned on the edges. I felt shame.
***Clearly the next logical step is for me to get the oven (ovens?) checked. Sigh.

Mar 4 2013

On Words: A Love Letter

For National Grammar Day, I am thinking about my lifelong love affair with words. Not commas or semicolons, true, but without words where would grammar be?

As a kid, I remember thinking Gallagher’s bit on English was re-vo-lu-tion-ary. Perhaps this, from George Carlin, is more apropos now, even though it came out the year I was born and even though jumbo shrimp is played out.

My dear friend and go-do-it evangelist Jill recently tweeted some love to Visual Thesaurus, a site I shared with her because of our mutual love affair with words. Visual Thesaurus creates relationships between words via a word map. On a snowy drive home last week I was thinking about these relationships between words. The connection between, yet ultimately different usefulness, of a word like irritate versus a word like annoy is what make me love language. I dig a site like Visual Thesaurus because it, well, visualizes those relationships and lets me wander from a word to its next door neighbor, then down the street to a different part of speech to see what’s up in that ‘hood.

And those connections and differences, whether subtle or not, got me thinking about etymology. I recognize and appreciate that the origin is not the whole story. Evolution and use matter oh so much too. But I believe, here, in the creation story. The creation of a word.

Perhaps because English is such a never-returned-cuppa-sugar language, learning about from whence a word came matters to me. Knowing that Shakespear coined over 500 words or that there is a collective sigh when the OED awards YOLO for the American word of 2012 while the British get the delightful omnishambles makes me a-flutter. Or contemplating why they added OMG so quickly but it took so damn long to add substitute teacher. I love the OED’s Twitter feed, which crowdsources (though it’s not a word in the OED) wordy stuff, looking to see if its nerdling followers have some insight into an origin.

When I taught, it was about exploring a word like algebra with my world history students and noting how obvious it is that such a word, exploring mathematics, comes to us from Arabic, from a culture rooted in math & science while English danced with the Dark Ages (and helps explain Arabic numerals to kids who didn’t realize they were using them). Or just what makes an atheist different from an agnostic when we talked about religion. The roots mattered. They explained. (And yes, we talked about words that didn’t start with -A-.)

Now, it’s about my everyday writing life. This blog, my work, emails, and Facebook and Twitter. Despite how digital it all is, I’m still firmly rooted in words. I work to explain to clients why a word shift or change or a tense choice impacts the message, that what we’re building is meaning through words and that those words matter.

And, sure, it’s about as dorky as you can get. I respect that. But I’ve come to realize my love of language isn’t all that different from what I’m looking for in my relationships with real, live people. I’m looking for backstory. I love knowing a word’s story in the same way I love knowing why a friend reacts the way they do to a compliment, or why a particular partner is oh-so-right for a friend based on who they were before they met. Backstory is the backbone, the history I am privileged to get to learn. It makes me a better friend a better partner, and I think a better writer. I want to know the story behind the people or ideas I write for with the same urgency I want to know the backstory of a word I want to use to talk about them. Perhaps it’s over-therapied of me to draw out how that search for insight into the people I know and love could, and would, also inform my obsessive relationship with etymology. But, well, that’s my backstory and I’m sticking to it.

So, happy National Grammar Day. Whether you avoid the words or dive straight into the deep end, may you find meaning and connection and whatever else it is you’re looking for.  And, in looking to see what other etymology resources are out there, I found this. Enjoy!

Mar 1 2013

Something I Love

Oh, Neskat hair clippies, I love you!

At about 8 or 9 months, Lo’s hair had grown long enough in the front that she was looking a bit too Eddie Furlong for my taste. Girl needed some help. But how to help? Hair accessories seem safe, right? Not always.

There began a dull ache of a struggle in the back of my parenting brain that I know is just the first of many. It’s been articulated by many before me, and probably better. In short, raising a girl is awesome. I know it is going to be awesome. I am ready to both model (when I can) and talk about (when I can) how to embrace being a girl, and then a woman, while not kowtowing to being precious. I struggle with that teeter totter between a level of girly that feels empowered and the level of girlie that feels overly twee.

I’m not a clothing fascist. I can get behind pink, my heistation is more that I don’t think her little coppertop looks great in pale pinks. I love me some owls. And something scroll-y in French? Sold.

I certainly don’t want -Juicy- on her butt, at least until she can clearly articulate to me an argument that makes it make sense. For now, I don’t love -princess- or -diva- or other sassified crap on her clothing. It’s just not me. And with our lack of royal blood and my inability to carry a tune both in her DNA, it’s probably not her either. I felt pretty good about the clothing choices I was making and now…now I needed to figure out hair.

Enter Neskat, an etsy store that I lurve.

These delicious clippies are just the right twee, and two we own at Chez Argyle. Contrast stitching, felt, wool, delightfully intricate for being so tiny. Autumnal leaves, charming birds, and embroidered lovelies abound.

Easy to put on, not easy to fall off during roly poly play, the San Francisco-based etsy shop is doing it right.

And the best part? Apparently when I put the clips in Loie’s hair from the first time on, I said “BOOP!” right as it clipped it in. And now, my precocious little parrot doesn’t know the word barrette. She only knows that every morning she gets a boop in her hair. Yup, a boop. Just the right amount of twee for me.