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December 30, 2011

New Mac City

I got totally spoiled this holiday season: a face-shaking electric toothbrush, the full set of Harry Potter movies on blu-ray, a cutting board with my precious stand mixer on it...

While I was in New York I also got myself a little something--or rather, several little somethings.

I've been really unhappy with the way colors turn out on my macs. They're dull and pastel-y and not at all like the vibrant hues I see in cookbooks that inspire mac attacks. I figured there was no place better than New York to satisfy my colorz needs.

A google search led me to New York Cake in Midtown Manhattan, which reviewers gushed was a baking paradise, even if the customer service was a bit lacking. True on both accounts, I discovered. They had entire walls devoted to cookie cutters, and something magical called disco dust in every shade imaginable. The same was true of their coloring selection, which was available in airbrush, gel or powder form.

There was also a cat roaming the aisles.

I nabbed seven shades in hues of green, yellow, pink, purple and red, and also found several flavorings (lime, coffee, pomegranate, cassis) to add to my basket.

Then I spied something too good to be true: PRINCESS FLAVOR. I can only imagine the awesome and promise to report back once I've concocted something.

The store is conveniently located a hop, skip and a jump from Maison du Macaron, so of course after my shopping trip I had to stop there (purely for research purposes). They had about a gazillion flavors, of which I sampled cranberry, cassis, caramel and lavender nougat. They were pretty good. Not Ladurée caliber, but decent.

Speaking of Ladurée, you know there's no was no way I was going to pass up a trip there (or several) when I was in the same zip code. Last Friday I waited in line for an hour for a chance to taste the yum flown directly from Paris each morning. A box of six cost $20, which is totally exorbitant but totally worth it, especially when given as a hostess gift to a lass who had never tasted such glory in her life. Regardez:

This is what Ladurée does to people from Nina Graham on Vimeo.

December 28, 2011

Christmas in World Cities Tour: Year 2

Christmas in New York from Nina Graham on Vimeo.

Last year Paris, this year New York. Christmas is just more magical for this Jewish lass when celebrated in Culture Capitals.

This fall I got the travel itch real bad, not having left the Midwest since returning from France in May. When combined with a week-and-a-half off from work, a cheap ticket on Sun Country and free lodging from friends and their wealthy relatives, there was really no stopping me from heading to the Big Apple.

My gal pals and I spent the day feasting and lounging in our schmance-city Upper-West-Side penthouse, skipping around Central Park, gazing upon the sparkly oddities in the Bergdorf Goodman windows and dropping 'bows in a crush of tourists at Rockefeller Center. It was just the bestest.

Next year: somewhere warm?

November 28, 2011

VIDEO: Let's make some frickin' macarons!

My good buddy Krastin over at Style Pistol recently treated herself to a fancy pants HD camera. Last Sunday, whilst the snow was still glistening on the ground, she came over to try out her new toy on my macs. I then spliced and diced the resulting footage during the long holiday weekend. Movie-making is such fun!

In this clip I'm making rosemary-chocolate macarons. I chopped up a bit of rosemary into the almond-sugar mixture (that's what that green lump is going into the pastry bag at the 2:25 mark), and then whipped up a bit of rosemary ganache* for a filling while the shells were drying.

Of course, the batch I'm making in this video turned out to be my worst batch ever. Like, worse than the lemon ones I tried making on a paper bag. I was coming off of the high of making a lavender batch the day before that was absolutely perfect in terms of execution and yum factor, and I thought I was invincible. Now I know that pride comes before the epic mac fail.

I didn't whip the eggs quite stiff enough, and as a result my batter was far runnier than it should have been. They came out of the oven so flat and sticky that I had to scrape off little chunks of them to give them a taste. I was so disappointed with myself and upset that the moment Krastin left I started up a whole 'nother batch just to prove to myself that I could do this. It turned out a little better-- at least take-to-work-able-- but nowhere near as great as my lavender beauts.

And that, my friends, was enough to allow me to reclaim my life. I made nine batches that fateful week (lemon, raspberry, pistachio, speculoos, cinnamon-fig, lavender, pumpkin and chocolate rosemary x 2), ranging wildly in beauty but all top notch in delish. Now I can slow down to only one or two per week, to make room for such things as, you know, making dinner. Last weekend there was barely anything to eat in the house besides powdered sugar.

I leave you with the proof that the rosemary-chocolate macs, unattractive though they were, did not go unappreciated by my fine coworkers in the ticketing department:

Artwork by Kate:

That unicorn is farting sparkles, guys. Success.

*Rosemary Ganache Recipe (via Martha Stewart):

Place 9 oz chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl (or the top half of a double boiler). Warm 1 cup cream with a rosemary sprig in small saucepan over low heat. Bring just to a boil. Strain cream over chocolate. (I kept the rosemary in for a stronger flavor). Cover bowl tightly with foil; let sit about 5 minutes. Stir to melt all chocolate. To warm ganache, place bowl over a small pan of warm water to keep chocolate thin enough to spoon. (Do not keep chocolate over boiling hot water, or it may break and look as if it has separated.) The ganache may be made 1 day ahead and rewarmed in the microwave.

November 20, 2011

Sigh... young amour...

One of the most fascinating things about being Facebook friends with a gaggle of French teenagers is how publicly, emphatically, and dramatically they declare their love.

[All exhibits have been translated from French; I tried to preserve the original punctuation (or lack thereof)]

Exhibit A: 

"When I am in his arms I feel like the world stops and I fear nothing! It's next to him that I find my comfort every day passing shows me that I really love him and that I found the best! <3<3" 

"I love you my princess!"

Exhibit B:

"My heart, thank you for everything you do every day for me nobody has ever done that for me it's for that that I am forever grateful for you. I LOVE YOU MORE THAN EVERYTHING MY LOVE. It's truly you the woman of my life, I have no doubts I love you my dear. <3 <3"

"Bah, I only do what a girl in love is capable of doing. And you, thank you for these eight months of total happiness ;$ You are truly a love there is but you who can comfort me and give me back my smile when I have a morale of zero for all my heart :) I love you more than everything and above everything :$ My baby <3 <3"

Exhibit C:

"Hihi my Angel, you are far, very far from me and the absence of your presence by my side is unbearable, I want you, your hands, your mouth, smelling your odor, but what I miss the most are you kisses so sweet and warm. My Heart belongs to you and my life I offer you...<3 [Name] I love you and will always love you <3..."

"I met you, I was 15. Today I'm 18. Soon three years of Love, Three years of High and of Low but I love you and you love me, that's all that counts. I discovered in You someone who who is worth the pain, a marvelous person, who has always listened and who still searches for all the ways to make me happy. I love you, you marked my heart forever..."


November 16, 2011

Mac Attack Part Three: My only love sprung from my only love

What does Neenuh love most in the World of Treats? Macarons, obvi. Speculoos, clearly.

What happens when you put them together? Mouth bliss. Duh.

The speculoos macs were my worst, technically. I forgot to add the pinch of salt when I was beating my egg whites, and I didn't quite beat them long enough to become stiff. Then I made the fatal error of reading a gazillion macaron blogs and decided to use someone else's "fail proof" method rather than my own and baked them at 300F for 18 minutes rather than my regular 325 for 10.

Rule No. 1 of macarons: Once you finds what works with your oven, STICK WITH IT.

My shells, which I'd flavored with a teaspoon of vanilla extract and sprinkled speculoos cookie dust over, were cracked and hollow. The slightest breeze would make them crumble. Shame. But, failure as they were execution-wise, several (including the Dude) have deemed them the best, taste-wise. And wow, did they smell good. Ever gone into an ice cream shop where they make their own waffle cones? Yeah. Like that.

I spread them with speculoos paste and felt the world slip away as I took my first bite. These fall under the Must Make Repeatedly category. You can get your own speculoos paste and cookies under the label Biscoff here in America. The paste can usually be found near your peanut butters, jams and other spreads.

Next up was cinnamon-fig. I put a teaspoon of ground cinnamon in my almond meal-confectioners' sugar mixture in Step 1 and used my brand new pastry bag to pipe them out. These were probably my best, technically. At least the first round was. Since I only have the one Silpat, I must wait up to an hour and a half between piping my first and second rounds (you have to wait for the cookies to set, then bake, then cool). My second batches almost always have the problem of sticky middles, whether I refrigerate the batter between rounds or leave it out. If I had another Silpat I could pipe them out simultaneously and there would only be a 10 minute lag between oven time.

November 14, 2011

Mac-lovin' Part Two: Pistachio with Salted Caramel

Now that I know I can make you, sweet sweet macarons, I never want to stop.

On Sunday I made some raspberry numbers and filled them with leftover lemon curd, raspberry jam and Nutella. They were such a hit at work that I decided to make even more last night.

I've learned some good lessons since I was a novice mac-er way back on Saturday, and I thought I'd share them, along with some pictures of the process I neglected to snap the first time around and  clearer, numbered directions. Oh and also: I'm more than happy to share the bounty in keeping with my goal to avoid the Marriage 15, so if you live in the Twin Cities and would like to be a member of Neenuh's Test Kitchen, give me a hoot and/or holler.

Star-Crossed-Roommate-of-Yore took me to Trader Joe's after work, where I purchased almond meal, a small bag of unsalted, shelled pistachios and a jar of salted caramel sauce. Eventually I'd like to make my own caramel, but Manda convinced me to only experiment on one treat at a time.

1. Grind a 1/2 cup of pistachios along with 2/3 cup almond meal and 1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar in your own Little Food Processor That Could and set aside. Having the pre-ground almond meal was way easier and better than grinding my own. Highly recommended.

2. Whip three egg whites and a pinch of salt until they are just getting stiff, and then add 3 Tbs ultrafine sugar one tsp at a time, beating well after each addition. The whites are ready when they hold a stiff peak, as above. Look at the fine point on my peak, you guys. LOOK AT IT! Pride.

3. I added eight drops of green food coloring and three drops of yellow to make a minty green, and then stirred it up in a frenzy to make sure the color was evenly incorporated. Whipped egg whites make an interesting noise when you stir them in a frenzy with a spatula. Highly recommended.

4. Add in your almond meal mixture from step one and fold in with a metal spoon. It may take about a minute to get it all mixed in.

It should look like this when it's ready; all molteny.

5. Pour your batter into a piping bag or, if you don't have one, place a baggie in a cup with the ends folded over and pour it in there. Seal the top of your baggie and cut a small corner in the tip.

6. Pipe out your macs evenly on a lined baking sheet. I like making minis, because A. it yields much more happiness in the world, B. they're perfectly bite-sized and C. they're really frakking cute.

7. Let the macs rest for up to an hour to dry, until they're not wet, sticky or tacky when tested with a finger. Last night was the first time I was patient enough to follow this step. They do get there. Preheat your oven to 325 F.

If you want to sprinkle anything onto your macs, now is the time. I tried to be all fancy and I bought some smoked sea salt to put on these guys. Turns out smoked sea salt smells (and probably tastes) like fire. Not in a good way. So instead I sprinkled a tiny bit of kosher salt on about half of them. It really brings out the flavor of the pistachios and the caramel.

8. Bake them for about 10 minutes, turning the baking sheet once midway. Let them cool on the baking sheet. This is where impatience has also gotten the best of me in the past. Giving them time to cool completely ups the chance you're going to be able to get the whole cookie off the pan without leaving any sticky middles behind.

9. Spread the inside of one shell with caramel and then sandwich together with a shell of a similar size. My caramel sauce was really runny, so I put these guys in the freezer to set for a little bit before moving them to the fridge to sleep.

I learned yesterday when I brought my raspberry ones to work that if you let them sit out they're going to get very crumbly. Keeping them in the fridge seems to make them chewier.

10. Share, if you're so inclined. My coworkers are going to love me today.

What flavor should I try next?

November 13, 2011

Holy merde I made French macarons

Sew a dress. Frame two friends' paintings of The Dude and me. Create a photo book of my life in France. Re-finish my dining room table.  Repair my sunglasses. This is a partial list of my Short-Term Life Goals.

Yesterday I got to cross one off the list: Make French macarons from scratch.

Reader, this is big. If you see me in person anytime in the next seven months please give me a high five. I will be still be riding the high of successful macaron making.

I used the recipe from the book Macarons: Chic and Delicious French Treats by Annie Rigg, gifted to me by one Anna Dubs for my nups. It is supposed to yield 40 shells (for 20 filled macarons). It calls for:
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2/3 cups ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup egg whites (about three eggs)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons caster/superfine sugar
My local Lunds didn't carry ground almonds, so I got a bag of natural, unsalted almonds from the bulk section and ground them down with a food processor. I think you'll get better results using store-bought ground almonds, as my little-food-processor-that-could was only able to get a semi-fine grind on. Also, if you have to grind your own nuts try to find some of the blanched variety-- my batter ended up with little brown flecks from the almond skin.

Once you've got your almonds all nice and grindy, add the confectioners' sugar to the food processor and blend for 30 seconds, until thoroughly combined.

Next up is the egg whites. Make sure your eggs are room temperature. Some websites I've read recommend using older eggs, as they're less liquidy. I, however, read those post-baking and thus used fresh ones from the store and they turned out fine. So follow your heart on that one. The most important thing is to be extra, super, freakishly careful not to let any of the yolk mar your separated whites, for then they will fail to fluff up properly and you may as well just stop pretending that you can make macarons.

Tip your unadulterated egg whites into a very clean and dry mixing bowl. Again, if there is a trace of grease or other fatty ick in your bowl you're going to have issues. BE VIGILANT! This was an opportunity for me to bust out my Precious, but you can use a regular mixing bowl with hand mixers and it should work juuuuuuust fahn.

Add the salt, and using a standing mixer or a hand beater, beat until they can only just hold a stiff peak (I know what you're thinking, and no she did not say that).

Continue to whisk at a medium speed while adding the caster/superfine sugar a teaspoonful at a time, mixing well between each addition to ensure the sugar is thoroughly incorporated. When all the sugar has been added it will look white and glossy, like a proper meringue.

This is the point where you would add any flavoring or food coloring you want in the shells. I decided to make lemon macs, so I squeezed in 20 drops of yellow food coloring and the grated zest of one lemon. I kept losing my grip on the lemon as I grated it over the bowl and it plopped into my meringue more times than I care to admit. Don't do that. Grate your lemon over a separate bowl, like a civilized cookstress. Mix thoroughly to make sure the color is even.

Next, fold the ground sugar and almond mixture into the meringue until it is thoroughly incorporated and smooth. The book says to use a metal spoon and I obeyed. When it's ready, it should drop from the spoon in, "a smooth molten mass."

Now, according to our Macy's registry, someone has purchased us the Martha Stewart Collection Pastry Decorating Set we registered for, but I have seen neither its hide nor its hair. Mystery guest, I can haz now please so I don't have to use plastic baggies as piping bags? Thanky muchly.

That said, if you must use a baggie, don't do what I did in the above picture (hold the baggie open with one hand as I spooned the mixture in with the other). In my second round of baggie-filling I wised up and stabilized the baggie in a cup with the top folded over, and then just poured the mixture in. I then sealed the baggie shut, which had I done the first time it would have 'sploded all over my phalanges. Much mo' easier.

Pipe the batter in evenly sized rounds-- about 2 inches across-- onto a lined baking sheet. Without a nozzle on my little baggie I ended up with some interesting circle approximations on my Silpat. And then this happened:

So, the book says to line the baking sheet with parchment paper, and the accompanying photo shows said paper of the brown variety. Which must mean you could just as easily use a brown paper bag, right? WRONG. I only have one Silpat, so I thought I was getting creative. I was just getting very stupid. Don't do this.

Give the bottom of your baking sheet a sharp thwack on the work surface to eradicate any air bubbles that may have formed. Let them rest from 15 minutes up to an hour to set and form a dry shell. They should not be sticky, tacky or wet when you test them with your fingertip. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 F.

Bake them in the middle of a preheated oven, one sheet at a time, for 10 minutes, until the tops are crisp and the bottoms dry. My Silpat beauties looked the way they were supposed to, with smooth, shiny tops and little frills around the edges.

My paper bag reject ones, however, were a total disaster. Cracked, flat, sticky disaster. Oy. Straight to the gaping maw of Mr. Garbage.

While I let the cookies cool, I whipped up some lemon curd with the leftover yolks, because that's just how I roll. Here's the recipe:
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup caster/superfine sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of one unwaxed lemon
Place all of the ingredients into a medium-sized heatproof bowl (or the top half of a double boiler) set over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the curd has thickened and will coat the back of a spoon. This will take about 15 minutes (or double that, if you're me). Transfer to a bowl and cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap so it doesn't form a skin. Refrigerate until needed.

When my shells were cooled I spread them with lemon curd and then sandwiched them together. Note how some of my shells have gaping holes in the inside from where the insides stuck to the baking sheet as I tried to pull them off. Apparently that's a sign of over-mixing. 

Et voilà. Beautiful and delicious lemon macs to impress your friends, scorn your enemies and in general make the world a better place. Applause is welcome and appreciated.

November 11, 2011

A Night at the Opera: Coupon Code for Silent Night Included Below!

On Thursday I had my first experience at the opera, and I think I'm hooked. The sets! The costumes! The drama! Those piercing high notes that fill the entire auditorium! Chills!

The video doesn't do it justice, but oh my goodness... hearing her exquisite voice heard live was just beyond. I was completely and totally enthralled, in awe, entranced, etc.

I've always wanted to go to the opera, and when I saw this season's lineup at the Minnesota Opera one in particular stood out to me: Silent Night. It was inspired by the film Joyeuse Nöel, which depicts the true story of French, Scottish and German soldiers who called a truce on Christmas Eve 1914. They exchanged provisions, sang Christmas carols and buried their dead, only to have to continue trying to kill their now-humanized "enemy" once the truce was over.

Before the show we had a short chat with the composer and librettist, who called WWI, "the stupidest war ever." The 20th Century had been going so well, and WWI tipped off a series of events that led to so much hate and destruction. When I had my French history class in Paris in 2006, one of our field trips was to Verdun, where hundreds of thousands of French and German soldiers died during an 11-month battle. You can still see the tips of bayonets poking up through the grass in a chilling reminder of all the wasted lives whose remains were below.

The opera drives home the tragic futility of war... once these men got to know one another as decent humans, with loved ones at home and so much to live for, rather than the enemy, how could they go on with the senseless killing?

If you've never been to an opera before, I think Silent Night is the perfect first taste. To help you get there, the Minnesota Opera has generously offered Francey Pantsers an incredible deal to see this Tuesday's performance for $20. Go. Seriously. You will not regret it.

The fine print: Limit up to 4 seats regularly priced $50- $110. Online: Enter blog20 and click “Add Coupon”. You will see your savings applied. Do not complete order if coupon does not load. Service charges and other restrictions may apply. Offer valid for the 11/15 performance only. Offer expires 11/15.  For additional information call the Ticket Office at 612-333-6669, M-F, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

November 7, 2011

Dec. 2: The day I join the 21st Century

Ever since I returned from France I've had an unsettled feeling I haven't experienced since my freshman year of college. I was what felt like the last holdout among my peers who had yet to purchase a cellphone. I looked on forlornly as my cooler, more technologically adept peers joyfully entered the names and digits of all their new buddies in their gleaming Motorolas.

Finally, when I started an internship in downtown Minneapolis at the start of my sophomore year I was feeling very dangerous about not having an immediately accessible phone that I could use to alert loved ones that I was about to die (which is usually the first thing that happens when you venture downtown), so I caved.

For the past few months I've been feeling similarly very dangerous about being armed with nothing but my dumbphone. My little brother and I were on a cross-metro journey to a friend's party on Saturday and got lost not once, not twice, but thrice. We were millimeters away from getting dead by all the crazies lurking on the side of the roads just waiting for victims like us. We would have never been in such a situation if we'd had a smartphone with GPS by our sides.

Luckily for me, the contract to which my three-year-old flip phone is attached will expire come Dec. 2. And then, my friends, I jump on the Dude's family plan and get the smartest of smartphones: the iPhone 4S.

I will immediately start doing such things as:
  • Actually looking at something interesting during the inevitable lull in conversation that is cue for everyone to start staring at their phones for five minutes. Currently all I can do is whip out my flippy and start punching it randomly while making "boop boop boop" noises and muttering, "Hmm... interesting."
  • Taking photos of garbage with really cool photo filters on Instagram and pretending it's art.
  • Checking in EVERYWHERE. My bed. My bus. My cube. My coworker's cube. The locker room. The yoga room. EVERYWHERE.
  • Mocking everyone who doesn't yet have a smartphone. "What is that??? A FLIP phone?! I haven't seen one of those in DAYS!"

October 30, 2011

This is funny in French

An appropriate response would be, "Hee hee hee, hon hon hon."

October 19, 2011

This is what yoga class sounds like

Breathe in. Breathe out. Make an ocean with your breathing. Mouth breathe as loud as you can. You’re safe here. Welcome to Vinshnasyna Level 1.

Breathe in. Table top. Breathe out, unfurling your stress like little tendrils on the newborn wind. Breathe in, cat. Breathe out, cow. Chattarandeeda vashnisha. You guys are beautiful.

Let’s cycle through your vishansynas. Downward facing dog. Kick your right leg up. Three legged dog. Writhing cat. Starfish. Half-dead pigeon. Press into the Earth. Listen to your body. Remember to breathe. Your smile could make Gandhi cry.

Now lie on your back. Close your eyes with intention. When thoughts pass through you, greet them but do not invite them in for tea. Let them roll off you like a gentle wave of patchouli-scented bliss. When you’re ready, bring yourself to a seated position, hands at heart center. Thank yourself for spending your time in such a kind way.


October 17, 2011

I think I just invented Cookie Pictionary

I am the newly minted chair of my office's Holiday Party Planning Committee. I was crowned last week, thrust into this all-important role that could build coworker morale to its very peak or dash it to tiny smithereens. The weight of what lies before me hangs on my shoulders like a mass of tangled holiday lights. The fates have spoken, and I will answer the jingly call of my duty or die trying! By my troth, this two-to-two-and-a-half-hour event will be my legacy.

Not be to be dramatic or anything.

Upon receiving my assignment my head immediately filled with a jumble of awesome and best-ever ideas. And then I learned my budget, and I had to scale back to pretty cool and definitely-not-awful ideas. The best so far?  
Image via here.
Cookie Pictionary.

The idea was conceived as a part of a non-athletic holiday obstacle course/relay. There would be a bucket full of holiday-themed words/phrases, like "reindeer" or "seasonal affective disorder." The contestant will pull one from the bucket and decorate a cookie to convey this word/phrase. As soon as a teammate of the contestant has guessed the word/phrase correctly, the contestant would consume the cookie and then have to sing a song whilst plagued by cookie dry mouth.

What other definitely-not-awful ideas do you have to make this the best Office Holiday Party known to man or beast?

October 16, 2011

Happiness Graph

This past week my coworker introduced to me the concept of the Happiness Graph, which she learned about from one of our guest conductors. At the end of each day, you rate your overall state on a scale from one to five, and you document the factors that contributed to it. Over time you can graph your feelings, and learn some interesting things about yourself. Maybe you're happiest when you've talked to your mother. Maybe you're saddest when it's sunny outside.

My coworker has been doing this for a few years, and was surprised to learn that she's most unhappy during the time between Christmas and New Years, when she has nothing to do and this feels unaccomplished. The conductor, who was back this week, told us he learned that being in a relationship has absolutely no bearing on how he feels-- when he's with someone he's a 3.8. When he's not: 3.8.

I've been feeling pretty badly about myself for the past couple of weeks, which I can mostly peg to an obsession with the series Breaking Bad. When I start a new series I race to finish it as soon as I can, gorging on episode after episode in a race to be the valedictorian of couch potato-ing. So for the past few weeks, instead of making a good dinner or going to the gym or cleaning the apartment, I was parked on the couch. I spent the work day in a haze, counting down the minutes before I could watch another ep. I felt awful after each round, so upset at all the time I'd wasted, but eventually my obsessive consumption had a different goal: I had to finish watching so I could be free.

I finally finished yesterday afternoon, and since then my life has been awesome. I did laundry. I'm back at the gym. Dude and I went to a concert and then paid homage to the new frozen yogurt joint in the hood. I ran into my buddy Merch at a yoga class and had a lovely time with her afterwards at the neighborhood tea shop. I read the Sunday paper. I made a delicious dinner and enjoyed it with Dude and my Star-Crossed Roommate of Yore. I'm blogging again. Post-Breaking Bad, my life has been a solid 4. Maybe a 4.3.

I feel pretty confident that I know what it takes to make me happy, but how long until another must-see show comes along and ruins my life?

October 1, 2011

Our marriage in a nutshell

Me: You should get up. My parents are going to be here soon.
Dude: (groggily) What time is it?
Me: 8:41.
Dude: Give me 10 more minutes.
Me: Actually, it's 9:00.
Dude: No it's not.
Me: Yes it is.
Dude: (rolling over) I know your tricks...

September 29, 2011

Thus ends the Best Year Ever

L'shanah tova, Francey Pantsers!

Today is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and all us tribelings spent the day ringing in 5772 with apples and honey, some shofar tooting, lots of singin' and prayin' (and maybe a little schmooze or a kvetch), etc.

I've got high hopes for '72, but I doubt any year could top the one I just had. Here's just a sampling of all the awesome:
The last few months have been very change-y for me, with a new address, new job, and new marital status. I think that will be the theme of 5772: Settling Down Now that My Ya-Yas are Spent. 

Wishing a year of peace for you, my friends. And plenty of Force G.

September 25, 2011


One year ago today I arrived in Paris, eyes still a bit wet from a soggy goodbye to the Dude, back aching from carrying seven months' worth of duds and tummy grumbling for my first pain au chocolat made with 75% butter (as God intended).

Two days later I headed to the Gare de Lyon so I could hop a train to a little town in Burgundy that French people (even Burgundians) had never heard of: Digoin. It was an overcast, drizzly afternoon when I alighted from the train and spotted the petite Prof d'Anglais who was tasked with meeting me.

Just like that, all my confidence in my language abilities deflated like a soufflé gone wrong and I found myself completely incapable of speaking coherently in my second language. She asked me if my trip had gone well and I answered, "Saturday." When she asked me what I liked to eat for breakfast I told her I needed some toilet paper and a towel.

She took me to the supermarket, where I was at a loss to distinguish between brands I wasn't familiar with. I picked up some laundry detergent and to be sure I was getting what I thought I was, I asked the cashier, "This for big people, for adults also?" The baby on the label had thrown me off. I tried to pay with my American debit card and it wouldn't go through, the first evidence that the town's grocery stores were bent on making my life difficult.

The professor took me back to the school's apartments and unlocked the door with a flourish, exclaiming, "Welcome to your HUGE apartment!" The walls in my 10' x 10' cell were a bright cerulean blue and it smelled like burnt dust. I glanced around with horror at the prison-issue wool blanket and the gray desk and furniture with bright teal trim. I gave her the biggest American smile that I could muster. Trying to be industrious, I began to unpack, but unwisely reached first for the portraits of my family and my Dude and dissolved into long, ugly sobs.

Once I had arranged my affairs it was still only 7:00 or so, and I was at a loss for what to do to fill my evening. With no phone and no internet I felt completely cut off from the world, and began to wonder if I had made a colossal mistake.

 Year-Ago-Neenuh had no idea how much of a not-mistake she was making. Happy France-a-versary.

August 30, 2011

Longtime paint admirer, first-time painter

Paint, man. Who knew? I mean, I guess I've read other places about the transformative power of enhanced wall shades, but this weekend I LIVED it.

We don't have internet at the new place and I don't have a lot of time at this here local coffee shop, so instead of pontificating I'll let you gaze in awe at the pictoral documentation of my new love affair with Messrs Behr and Valspar.

Bedroom before. (Please note the bomb quilt courtesy of a dear family friend in honor of our nups.)

Bedroom after. (Please note how well the colors of our kebaba work with the quilt.)

Bathroom before. (Please note how this yellow color induces thoughts of vomit and hospitals.)

Bathroom after. (Please note how much more Dude likes doing his hairs when he is not reminded of puke.)

Living room before. (Please note our adorable chimney.)

Living room after. (Please note how perfectly my bouquet fits into the nook in said chimney.)

Another view of the living room.
I'll wait to show you the kitchen/dining room pictures until we've eradicated every last smudge of the color I imagine was marketed "Where Happy Goes to Die."

August 23, 2011

Well on my way to cube butt

In the past few weeks my eating habits have dramatically changed. When I was unemployed I typically had "brunch" of a fried egg on an English muffin at 10:30 or so, a handful of soynuts in the afternoon, and dinner of spaghetti with tomatoes, basil and olive oil or a bowlful of edamame. I also tried to take a 20-30 minute walk at least once a day.

Since I've started working I've had breakfast at 7 a.m. and am starving by the time 10:00 rolls around. I'm starving again at noon, feel like I'm about to nod off from 2-3:30, starving once more at 3:30, and start grazing as soon as I plop back on my couch at 6:00. It doesn't help that I've been fraternizing in restaurants and bars all over St. Paul, and chowing down on chips and fries like it's my job. I'm tired all the time and I've gone from the low end of my "normal" weight range to its very peak. In two weeks.

Obvi, I'm doing this wrong and need to adjust my habits to my new lifestyle.

Exercise will be a big piece of it, once we move and enroll in the neighborhood gym. My new health insurance gives me a break on gym membership if I go at least three times a week, which is a grand incentive to get ovah there. I'm thinking that increased exercise will also give me the energy I've been missing. One thing I've started this week that seems to work really well is bringing my breakfast to work and eating it here at 9:00 or so, which precludes the need for the morning snack. I've also begun telling my tummy, "You're full of lies! You're just bored!" when it starts to grumble in earnest.

Do you have any other tips to boost energy and sate rabid workday hunger so as to avoid the flattened derriere so popular with today's office workers? 

August 21, 2011

Non-criminal paint chip use

"At least we know that we can take as many of these as we want," the MIL told me as we browsed Lowe's paint chip selection. We definitely abused that privilege a few months ago when we were stuffing dozens of purple, pink, green and gray selections into our bags for use as escort cards.

But we were actually there for a legit reason this time-- Dude and I are moving into our cozy little abode this week, where everything is adorable but for the putrid yellow gracing the walls. I've never done much, decoration-wise, to anyplace I've ever lived. My apartments are always a jumbled mish-mash of others' cast-offs and it's never really bothered me. But religiously reading my friend Molly's home design blog and hearing of my other friends' Adventures in Home Ownership have convinced me that puke yellow just will not DO.

It's impossible to get an accurate photo of the colors, but we're looking at shades of gray-green for the living room and dining room/kitchen, with a crazy bright red for the bathroom and possibly an accent wall in the bedroom.

We have so much beautiful wall art from the wedding... it needs an equally beautiful backdrop.

August 20, 2011

Excuse the dust

As with most other transitions in my life, my shift from unemployed bride-to-be to married breadwinner has struck me wordless. (Perhaps you will recall my three-week writer's block drought when I eased from globe-trotting gallivanter to unemployed bride-to-be this May-June.) Once again, my current life bears little resemblance to what it was but a few weeks ago-- the crafting-maniac-emotional-wreck-thin-for-no-good-reason Neenuh of yore is now perpetually-tired-and-slightly-plump-working-gal.

My transitions aren't quite complete; I still need to officially change my name in various places and move into an apartment with the Dude in a week. Once that's all settled my life could be pretty static for awhile... years, even. I don't anticipate many changes until we decide to add to our family.

Dude says we're not allowed to procreate until we can keep a plant alive for a year, so that could be awhile.

Please excuse the dust as I try to figure out what Neenuh G likes to write about.

August 11, 2011

I'll be you today tomorrow

The roommate and I have equal but opposite problems with our clothes. My pants are often too long where hers are too short. Sometimes her sleeves don't quite cover her wrists and the tail of the shirt hovers dangerously high on her torso, while I swim in sleeves and have shirts that seem to go on for days (my body goes from shoulders to hips in short order).

We discovered the kismet of our body issues last night while preparing for a clothing swap we're hosting. I discarded a pair of too-long Hudson jeans that I've been trying to make work (unsuccessfully) for years that ended up being the best-fitting pair that have ever graced her booty. She countered with a beautiful navy silk Banana Republic dress that she's worn but a handful of times because it's way too short on her lady long legs, but fit mine like a dream. I pranced around in that thing for a good 20 minutes.

The two of us have been blending our wardrobes all week long. Manders, who rarely dons dresses, has been sporting my frocks (with leggings under them) to the rave reviews and astonishment of her colleagues. "They don't know what to DO with me!" she exclaimed. My new coworkers don't know any better than to think I'm all class with the addition of Manders' skirts, belts and blazers (with the sleeves rolled up).

I keep seeing her glamazon around in my duds and then insist on wearing them the next day. I get a bit disappointed in my un-limby-ness, but it's all good.

Don't get me wrong; I'm over the moon to be living in the same city as the Dude next month, but gee... if only he were my dress size.

August 9, 2011

Neither here nor there

As I filled out a sheaf of paperwork at my new job today, I realized there's a lot of major details in my life that are fuzzy. What's my name? Where do I live? Am I the head of household? Who do I want to give incentive to off me?

If you ask the first question of different governmental agencies you'll get different answers. The Social Security Administration knows I'm Neenuh G, but according to my driver's license and my bank I'm still Neenuh P-P. I'm waiting to get a new license until I move to my new address, and I'm waiting to tell my bank I've been nupped until I have an ID to prove it.

All my new benefits providers want to know where to find me, so I put down the address of my current abode--the home of my lovely star-crossed roommate-- but had to add a sticky note on each form warning that in three weeks' time that will no longer be chez moi.

There's a whole new set of boxes to check for marrieds. Dude and I didn't really discuss if we're going to be married filed jointly or married filed separately. I suppose in the spirit of joining two hearts into one we should do the same with our tax returns, right? 

Then I went through the icky mental process of deciding who gets to cash in on my big bucks life insurance policy if I get dead. The Dude is the first beneficiary, obvi, but one has to choose secondary beneficiaries just in case the first gets dead as well. Isn't this the basic premise of several murder mysteries? And Glensheen Mansion?

August 7, 2011

Wedding Vendor Reviews Part 1: The Duds

My Dress: David's Bridal lace cap-sleeved trumpet with keyhole back and sash in ivory.
Photo by Ali Haupt
My Shoes: David's Bridal Maribelle shoes in watermelon

Photo by Ali Haupt
Review: I went to David's Bridal in Oregon a few weeks after getting engaged. I wasn't intending to buy anything; it was just a trip to see what style looked good on my body. Since I knew I didn't want to go strapless, my options were narrowed considerably. This was the third dress I tried on, and it was abundantly clear that it was THE dress. The price was also several thousand dollars less than what Say Yes to the Dress had led me to expect to pay. David's is no Kleinfeld's, but I received pretty good treatment while there. 4 stars.

Alterations: Carole Bruns in Uptown

Review: My alterations (hem, bra cups, taking in the sides, bustle) were about $50 less here than they would have been at David's. I also really liked supporting a local, independent business. You may have to call to check on your dress, but they got mine back to me within two weeks and were very good about letting me try it on as many times as I wanted to. 4.5 stars.
My hairpieces: Birdcage veil borrowed from Molly, feather and fabric flower fascinator fashioned by the MIL and me.

Photo by Ali Haupt

My jewels: My grandmother's pearl necklace, gold and pearl earrings, both borrowed from my aunt Mary Ellen.

Photo by Ali Haupt
Review: I had my eye on an $80 birdcage veil-feather combo at David's, but this was much more economical. The two ended up working perfectly with the style of my dress. Crafting triumphs over all! I also really loved wearing family jewels-- I tried to incorporate elements throughout the wedding that paid tribute to my dearly departed grandparents. 80 stars.

Bridesmaid Dresses: Flutter Boutique in Uptown
Laurel was in Cynthia Rowley "8013" in Bordeaux Duchess Satin
Anna was in Jenny Yoo "Lucy" in Garnet Shantung
Aleta was in Priscilla of Boston "1507" in Watermelon Satin Yoryu
Amanda was in Simple Silhouettes "Buttercup" in Aubergine Shantung

Photo by Ali Haupt
Review: This was another unexpectedly fast trip-- we were in and out of there in about an hour. I had told the ladies I wanted them to choose their own dresses, and at that point I was thinking pomegranate as a color. They each ended up with a dress from a different designer, which meant different color palettes. We ordered two in purple and two in pink and I think the result was gorgeous. The staff was very professional and gave us our own private room to frolic around in as we decided on dresses. Word to the wise: if you're between sizes, go bigger. We learned from experience it's much easier to take in a dress than to let it out. 5 stars.

Maid of Honor dress: My fabulous Aunt Wendy sewed this using a Simplicity pattern

Photo by Ali Haupt
Review: Gorgeous!  10 billion stars!

The Tuxes: Bills Toggery in Shakopee Savvi Formal Wear Grey Kingston with ties and pocket squares in sangria or dark watermelon for the groomsmen and dads, ivory for the groom.

Photo by Ali Haupt
Review: Another great experience with a local company. We got the groom's tux free with the rental of five others, and they brought down their price to match what we would have gotten at a Savvi shop. They had a very fast turn-around when Dude needed his cuffs lengthened a smidge, and they assured us that had we had any wardrobe malfunctions on the day-of they could have swooped in and saved the day (a service which, thankfully, we didn't need). 5 stars. 

Flower Girl Dresses: David's Bridal
Abbie was in a bubble hem crinkle chiffon and charmeuse dress in lapis with a watermelon hair flower
Emma was in a plum satin tea-length ballgown with a watermelon sash
Libby was in a short cotton dress with ruching details in lapis with a watermelon hairband
Ellie was in a short cotton sateen strapless dress (that we added straps to) in lapis with a watermelon hairband

Photo by Ali Haupt
Review: We had a much better experience getting Abbie's dress at the David's in Duluth and Emma's in Richfield than getting Ellie's and Libby's in Roseville. At the latter we had good service trying dresses on, but then my dear aunt stood at the register for what felt like forever trying to get the dresses rung up and the appropriate discounts applied. 3 stars.

Rings: Security Jeweler's in Duluth
My ring is a flat-face white gold band
Matt's is a two-tone yellow and white gold band

Photo by Ali Haupt
Review: Owner Jack Seiler is a family friend and just a lovely man. He offers impeccable service and gives you all the information you need to help you decide. He engraved our rings with our initials and wedding dates for free. Highly, highly recommended. 5 stars.

Coming up in Part 2: Reviews of our dessert, DJ, draping and photography vendors