Last year I wrote about how the pandemic put the brakes on my son’s birthday party. At the time, no one understood the virus and the world was prettty much closed down. On the bright side, it gave us pleny of time to craft a Gotham City out of giant cardboard boxes, a homemade Joker pinata, a comic strip photo window and so much more.
Fast forward one year, and we not only understand the virus, but vaccines are being distributed. So we created a socially-distanced party outdoors with masks. Was it awkward? The mask-on/mask-off situation is always difficult to navigate, especially when food is being served. But you only turn seven once!
Hamilton was happy to destroy his art project…because candy. It’s intoxicating, that excitement when the pinata bursts and kids scramble in desperation to grab all they can.
Part of the decor? An autograhed image by the best Batman in film history: Mr. Michael Keaton. This was pulled from my husband’s arsenal.
Stick a pile of high-stakes candy (no Smarties allowed! I’m talking Pop Rocks and 100 Grand bars!) in the middle, and play some dice. The kids get very cutthroat.
Roll a 1: Take 1
Roll a 2: Take 2
Roll a 3: Take one from someone
Roll a 4: Give one to someone
Rol a 5: Put one back in the pile
Roll a 6: Skip a turn and reverse order
The Gotham City Arcade featured a Pac-Man machine!
Batman villain Poison Ivy greeted guests, and the sign redirected guests to the back yard, to avoid having people in the house.
Instead of cake, the birthday boy wanted Rice Krispies Treats. So why not keep with the black and yellow theme, build it into a tower and feature Batman and Robin?
Kids love exclusivity, so no adults were allowed in the Bat cave! It was cool and dark inside, with a bat signal projected onto the wall.
Only brave children dare drink the Joker Juice, which could turn people EVIL!
Spring is in the air, and I don’t care if it’s that old “fool’s spring” – the warm snap in March that makes daffodils bloom and gullible people dry clean their coats. I know Virginia winters, and we could very well be hit with snow in a week. But I don’t care. I blow past that unending stack of dirty dishes and into the backyard. I’m out there digging and watching the earth wake up until well after dark, when I get dragged in by the ear.
You wouldn’t believe all I’ve been able to do with repurposed materials. I used discarded slate from my neighbors’ roofs to stack up an elegant fire pit. I used extra slate and discarded pavers in the alleys to build pathways in the yard. It’s a mosaic-like hodge podge of marble (from broken kitchen countertops), concrete (from broken up hardscaping) and slabs of shale from my sister-in-law’s property in Pennsylvania.
The last time I had written was during the holidays. I spent many winter weekends hosting cooking marathons; the oven belting out serving after serving of comfort food, so that our freezer will be nice and stacked with homemade goodness. That’s what a second freezer really is: an excuse to turn your home into a food factory.
I liken winter cook-a-thons to saving for a sunny day, rather than a rainy day. You hunker down in bleak weather to cook ahead for sunnier times, when you’d rather be outside. Toss a few frozen goodies into your beach bag, and it will be delicious by the time you hit that salt air.
Not posting here hasn’t been for a lack of writing. I’ve been writing full time for a law firm (fascinating stuff, actually) and still have the privilege of being the lifestyle blogger for Ladles and Linens. Not to mention freelancing for North of the James! All pistons are firing right now, and it feels good.
But before spring is in full swing, before we’re all vaccinated and swinging from the rafters, I’d love to catch you up. Since entertaining and traveling is still taboo, I’ve mostly written about food. Much of it comforting, all of it delicious.
I finally tackled cocoa bombs! This was one of the pandemic must-do activities, and I fashioned mine after Terry’s Chocolate Orange. For those who haven’t tried orange and chocolate together, it’s a sublime combinaton!
I’ve been learning to make guilt-free goodies. Well, not entirely guilt-free. But I sweeten this chocolate coconut bark with honey, and these peanut butter cups are made with less sugar. Yet both are addictive! Both also use a bit of coconut oil, which not only has antioxidants and provides immune support, but it’s manna for your hair and skin.
I love pie, but if I had a choice between sweet and savory, I always go for savory. My husband finally fired up the new pizza oven he built, and we spent at least six hours making Middle-Eastern spinach pies, meat pies, cheese pies, zaatar pies and egg pies. We had a whole team on the case, and hours later, we had stacks of freezer bags filled. We passed them out to ecstatic family members.
I’d also like to think that I cast a wide net of relief, as I wrote about five foods that people traditionally believe are unhealthy, but are actually good for you! This is the reverse of the usual article, which tends to list “health foods” that are secretly bad for you.
Speaking of “bad for you,” I had to cover some classics for the Super Bowl spread. Buffalo wings, when done right, are life. And I think potato skins are underappreciated, considering the myriad ways you can slather them with sin.
I teach people how to build an epic bowl of ramen, using whatever you have in your home. People have plenty sitting around to keep their bowl interesting, and ful of color. The same goes for grain bowls, which are even more versatile. I also teach people how to make congee, a comforting breakfast porridge from China. This simple crock pot recipe only uses five ingredients, and fills your home with the scent of warm ginger.
I think we’re caught up for now. Hopefully this content-rich post makes up for my absence. This is always my favorite place to write; free from editors, free from overthinking on SEO algortithms – just a place to celebrate the good life.
While I love good food, I’m looking forward to opening this blog back up to all the other topics I’ve covered, from travel to fashion to parties. Especially the parties, and I plan to make up for lost time! As we are all beginning to get vaccinated, I can feel the world opening back up. Or is just that my spring fever?
Let’s start with the obvious. Things are weird. The coziness of a crowded house party, with steamed up windows and people laughing over hot toddies…it’s a thing of the past. And the future. Coziness is in short supply. Right now people are huddled under heat lamps on the sidewalk just to enjoy their favorite sandwich. They’re still attempting happy hours on Zoom, which are sterile at best. This year Christmas cheer is more of a private affair, with smaller groups staying as local as possible, or as local as their families will deem acceptble before making trouble.
I can’t get caught up in feeling sorry for myself. Being annoyed that your favorite sushi bar changed their hours is a First World Problem. To quote the deadpan Kourtney Kardashian “Kim, there’s people that are dying.” I also can’t get caught up in the excitement for 2021. When the clock srikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, COVID will still be here.
Are there things to look forwward to? Sure. We’ll once again be restored with a competent administration and vaccines will extend to every corner of the population. Knowing this helps me accept the current weirdness of it all. We can acknowledge how hard this year has been, but still make the most of what we do have, no matter how small.
Like carbs! It’s a common joy, only reviled by people on the outside. Deep down, no one really wants the side salad. It’s sweater weather and perfect for hiding our little food babies we nurse thoughout the holidays. Because if you can’t indulge now, then when can you? Everyone loves potatoes and everyone loves pancakes. Put the two together and you have latkes! We tried this comfort food, and we like. The possibilities for toppings are endless too. Mazel!
Just because you’re not squeezing yourself into a seqined cocktail dress, doesn’t mean your drinks have to suffer. Drink your red wine out of decadent stemware – it will give your sweatsuit more polish. Even better, shake up a new festive cocktail. We are faced with a lot of sameness these days, and a fizzy drink with a sprig of rosemary on top will give you a hint at the holiday glamour that lies ahead. Ahead as in next year. Don’t pout, I doubt your feet miss those stilettos.
While we’re making cocktails more meaningful, why not take hot cocoa next level? Hot cocoa bombs are making the rounds and I’m here for it. In fact, I’m going to learn how to make them. In the meantime, there are so many ways to enjoy hot cocoa, beyond tearing open the packet and pouring it into hot water. Lucky Charms marshmallows, candy cane stirrers and a myriad of different spices and essential oils can complement the chocolate in exciting ways.
Count your blessings. If you’re reading this, you weren’t one of the 1.71 million people who have succumbed to COVID-19. You’ll be around to see Kamala next month. Working from home may not be ideal, but you get to spend more time with your pets, your kids and the home you’re spending so much on. You experience less gas stations, packed freeways, cubicles, flouorescent lighting and soul-extinguishing coffee.
Christmas will be different, but differen’t doesn’t mean bad. Happy holidays and may your new year be 2021!
I have a girlfriend with an affinity for “witchy” friends. She and the girls in her circle are a touch hippie. They tie dye clothes in their backyards, have a penchant for handmade soaps and scented candles and hell if they don’t have crystals on their windowsills.
As we are over nine months into a global pandemic, most of us have had to deal with a COVID birthday. My girlfriend is not one to let a birthday go by uncelebrated. There are two things she loves to do on this occasion: Eat at a hot new restaurant and meet with psychics. Or get her palm read. Something witchy. When COVID hit, a chic restaurant was out of the question, as girlfrinds who are semi-isolated would have to gather indoors, sans masks.
However, she didn’t see why COVID should have to deprive her of a witchy good time. We gathered in her backyard, Adirondack chairs spaced six feet apart around a roaring fire. We ordered take-out from Laura Lee’s and tucked into a decadent chocolate cake.
I brought marshmallows for the fire and goodie bags to keep things festive. And a book about Salem to stay on theme. But the highlight of the night was the tarot card reading with Maria Badillo of The Witches Altar. She could not have been more acommodating to our safety practices. She wore a mask, and gave a tarot reading on the far side of a large table, for social distancing. To accommodate all anxiety levels at this time, The Witches Altar also does tarot readings via Zoom. We’re glad Maria came in person. She pulled candles out of her bag along with the cards, and took time to explain the spread to each of us.
As we sat around the fire sipping peanut butter whiskey and pretending not to eavesdrop on our friends’ readings, I marveled at how strange it all felt. The faces were familiar, but socializing in peron felt new. The rythm of life has changed quite a bit thanks to COVID, but it also helps you to better appreciate things, like witchy little gatherings under the stars. Nights when you and your friends carry on almost as if there weren’t a global pandemic. It’s the best way to be reminded that our circumstances are only temporary, and that better days are ahead.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s a determined optimism in trying times, or the joy that comes from a new political era on the hoizon. But Christmas has come a lot earlier this year. It’s as if they’re skipping over Thanksgiving entirely. Houses are lit up, and a station has begun playing holiday tunes 24/7, three weeks before the turkeys are even trotted out. I get that Thanksgiving is an overrated holiday, but this eagerness for Santa blows over the last of this beautiful, fleeting autumn.
The leaves are still gold and the weather hasn’t gone cruel, so let’s not get all tangled up in tinsel just yet. Here are some ways to enjoy the glorious last days of autumn, and be in the moment. And yes, these suggestions are all food-based.
Do you, like me, feel that a turkey dinner is… basic? This doesn’t apply to mashed potatoes. Nothing can touch mashed potatoes. But turkey? It works well in deli but there’s a reason we don’t cook that bird all year. It’s not that good. Switch things up. You can support local businesses by ordering through them, because they will most certainly be struggling though an economicaly nuclear winter. Or just switch up a boring staple with a delightfully warming dish, like coconut curry butternut squash soup.
You’re going to see lot of pumpkin pie from November to January. What if I told you there was a chewy, gooey, sweet and salty alternative to the same ol’ same ol’, and you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now? What if you end up hating me for telling you about it because it’s so deliciously addictive?
Speaking of sweets, you may have a wealth of leftover Halloween candy sitting in your home. There are so many ways to repurpose it, whether for a homemade advent calendar or a way to sweeten up your gingerbread house. Find great ideas right here.
Working from home with kids in virtual school can breed chaos; more dishes, too much noise, lots of juggling. The last thing you want to do is spend more time in the kitchen. Healthy doesn’t have to mean time-consuming. Apples are still in season. Grab them in bulk and make them three ways; a meal, a dessert and a snack. And parents, I’m thinking of you too. This fresh apple cocktail will help you recover from those endless Zoom meetings.
Speaking of easy meals, how about one chicken, three ways? Chicken is only boring if you A) boil it or B) Don’t treat it like the blank slate that it is. Seasoning can bring out the best in a bird. Variety is the spice of life, and one full-sized chicken will provide three distinct dishes. That being said, healthy proteins aren’t always animal-based. This tasty, freeze-ahead staple will be a miracle in a pinch. Throw in the slow-cooker, ignore, then pack it up for later, when you are in need of guilt-free prepared food.
When it gets cold outside, you can treat yourself to crock pot cocktails. This recipe for pumpkin-spiced hot cocoa is a creamy, soul-affirming dose of self care. Pour into a big mug and curl up with a book.
The extended warm weather this season has produced bumper crops of produce, sometimes too much for us to know what do do with. Have no fear. The thought of wasting food is equally repugnant to me, so here’s some smart, sustainable options for what to do with all that produce.
Pumpkins are the symbol of fall, used more as decor than food, because its contents tend to be a little plain. Without pumpkin spice, pumpkins would be over. But there are other gourds in the patch. Read on for some gourd greatness.
Savor the deliciousness of harvest time, and the last of the rainbow of falling leaves. It’s going to be a long winter, so enjoy autumn while it lasts.
I’ve been preaching positivity in 2020 because it’s been proven that the ability to adapt is a key component of happiness. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that adaptation is necessary. I don’t need to go down the litany of examples of how things have changed. We can all feel it.
I’ve been relatively quiet about the fact that 2020 has been a good year for me. I’m mindful of the people who have contracted COVID-19, including my own friends and family. There have been over a million deaths around the world. Almost a quarter of the fatalities have been in America alone, surpassing all other countries and showing no signs of slowing down.
For all the quality time I’ve had with my family, all the outdoor adventures and gobbling up everything in my Netflix queue, the old world started haunting me. I had embraced the fact that most of my favorite places were closed and that traveling would have to wait, but that’s when I believed people would follow CDC guidelines and squash this thing, like so many countries have been doing. I thought that like me, people couldn’t wait to escape the summer heat in a dark movie theater, or jump on a plane to explore a place they’s never seen. Come Ocober, I’m here thinking, “No? Just me?”
Make no mistake, I’m still out and about. I don’t live in fear because I follow CDC guidelines. But working from home while my son is home-schooling is tough. Even with a teacher for a husband. Even though he’s suportive and very involved. It’s just not ideal.
I also miss my friends. I miss spas. I miss going to spas with my friends, which explains these photos. In January, when we were just beginning to hear whisperings of the coronavirus in the news, my friends and I luxuriated in a plush resort in Virginia. There was a steaming, heated pool that was reminiscent of the Blue Lagoon in Reykjkavic. There were elaborate dinners, Chamagne toasts and beauty treatments.
But also? My friend Sarah signed us up for archery and axe throwing because, well, you’d just have to know her. She once said that she liked camping because it’s a “shock to your senses” – as if that’s ever a positive. One of the things that made this spa trip special, was that she invited two other girls that I hadn’t met. Having moved to Richmond from Los Angeles a few years ago, I relish meeting new people. The more I meet, the better I’m able to curate a nice social circle. It’s hard to put in the work when you’re a working mother with some serious hobbies. The girls were sweet, and we clicked as if we were in junior high. Coronavirus swept in soon after, putting a halt to new friendships. There’s just a placeholder for now, in the form of social media.
Even friends I’ve had for decades are circling a small orbit in a galaxy, far far away. Before coronavirus, I just called it the suburbs. So, I’m mourning the milestones I didn’t celebrate with them. I’m mourning that trip to Charleston and Savannah that our family never took. I’m mourning the new friends I haven’t yet gotten to know . I’m mourning Obama. I’m mourning eucalyptus steam rooms and deep tissue massages.
I look back on that weekend in January, where the four of us weren’t moms, or wives, or attorneys or writers. We were women. Innocently jumping on luggage carts and taking ridiculous photos. Laughing the way you do before you realize that a gobal pandemic is going to sweep in and change the world as we know it.
These photos are a reminder that eventually, things will get better. You have photos like this too. Take a good look, and feel free to mourn with me. But never lose sight of the fact that these photos are also glimpses into our collective future. Whatever we used to do, we will do again. I’m not sure when, but we’ll get there.
One of the gifts of this pandemic is seeing “influencers” being replaced by hilarious TikTok videos. People need to laugh. Overly-edited selfies of girls on boats feels tone deaf at the moment.
Right now, the country is fighting for social justice, and rallying against an increasingly fascist White House. Influencers, already teetering on shaky ground for the shameless pursuit of followers and fame, seem out of place in today’s America.
Let’s put a hold on diet teas that cause gastrointestinal disasters. It’s not as fun watching high-end make-up tutorials when, if you aren’t one of the 40 million who are unemployed, are likely working from home anyway.
Let this time be a refresh, to focus on things that enrich our lives. Things that make us happy, and things that make a difference.
There are hilarious memes dedicated to the slow descent into madness for 2020. But if my previous posts have told you anything, it’s that I’m fighting the negativity tooth and nail. Instead of feeling helpless about the state our country is in, I get up and go to Black Lives Mater protests. I sign petitions and I registered to vote by mail. I turn my grief into action.
I miss entertaining and traveling. But I’m using the extra time to brush up on home projects, because life is giving me the world’s longest weekend. I built a slate fire pit and a curving, slate sidewalk leading up to it. I wallpapered the stair risers. I explored new parks with my six year-old and was able to binge watch everything in my queue. Highly recommended: Fleabag.
Here are some other things you can do to make the most of the current situation:
When life hands you peaches…. Get outside for fresh air in an orchard and pick them. It’s perfect for social distancing. If you don’t live near a farm where you can pick your own, hit up the market. Peaches will never be more juicy or wallet-friendly than they are right now in season, and delicious things can be made with them.
The kids need to have a little fun too. Integrate literature and food by making real-life green eggs and ham!
This winter, when news of the pandemic hit, it was nature that saved us. As if sensing our pain, she saved us from sleet and frigid temperatures. Like magic, winter was mild and spring came early, allowing us to get outside. My husband took up fishing, and with it, the exploration of unvisited state parks and local fishing spots. It meant days in the sun, leisurely picnics and fresh fish! Nothing beats my husband’s fried bass with Thai chili and tamarind sauce. Nothing.
Most pools are closed, but it isn’t the only way to make a splash. Research the best places to take a dip, whether an old quarry or local lake. If you’re not land-locked, get to the coast. Well and Good even has a guide that lists the best natural places to swim in every state. To make the most of it, go prepared. Pack river shoes to avoid broken glass or questionable surfaces. Bring water to stay hydrated. Come with friends, because there’s safety in numbers. Since you’ll be far from civilization, pack great food and stir up a fresh summer sangria. These will likely be the best days of your summer.
It’s true that the pandemic isn’t over, but neither is summer. This season can be fleeting, which is why we need to stop and savor the little things. Instead of frozen sugar water, get creative with homemade popsicles. Arnold Palmer, strawberry and basil and cappuccino are among the surprising flavor combinations. Have fun with it!
Perhaps most importantly, don’t let helplessness take over. It’s easy during a pandemic to feel down, especially with the relentless news cycle spitting out one treacherous act after another. It’s healthy to shut it out in small doses, but be sure to stay informed. The only way to beat helplessness is to be part of the solution. Register to vote by mail, march with protesters for Black Lives Matter, sign petitions fighting against corrupt government practices, then rest and regroup as needed.
Blink and it will be fall. There will new things to look forward to. Until then, take care of yourself.
My Etsy page is finally here. It sounds like “artichoke hearts,” but is darker, more romantic. It’s inspired by the cult classic Art to Choke Hearts, by Henry Rollins. I’m talking obscure 1986 Black Flag Henry Rollins.
But I digress. This feels like kismet. Right as COVID-19 was taking hold, I came across two brown grocery bags filled to the brim with costume jewelry. They sat glittering next to trash bins in my back alley as I walked my dog. Strangely, this discovery took place just days after I began dressing up ordinary flea market paintings with jewels.
While I’m proud to have accomplished this while in quarantine, I have a feeling it’s a lot like writing. The art is the easy part; selling is quite another. So I’m putting it out there. Feel free to peruse. Feel free to share. A lot of my work is mixed media, where I’ve adorned paintings and prints with jewels and curiosities, elevating the pieces and giving them texture. Some are funny, some are ethereal. But all of them are for sale.
While we’re still self-distancing, some businesses are taking baby steps towards normalcy. It’s opening us up to cultural experiences we may have never had. Get creative in a conscious way, and restless people from quarantine will jump at the opportunity!
Richmonders who had never been to the symphony are hiring Ellen Cockerham Riccio to play violin in their backyards from a safe distance. She’s the Second Principal Violinist in the Richmond Symphony, and during this quarantine, has transformed into The Backyard Violinist. The Driveway Drag Show has been doing house calls for people who have never made it into the city for a proper performance. The main entertainer, Michelle Livigne has even found herself playing for a Christian family at a remote cabin sitting on 600 acres of land.
When I found out that Checkpoint One was open for private tours, our family was in. I’ve always found horses to be majestic. They have a quiet dignity that’s untouchable. Checkpoint One is a special refuge, offering non-riding equine therapy with trained specialists.
It’s one thing to stand at the fence and hope a horse ambles up to you. It’s quite another thing to be led inside for an intimate session. “Horses radiate their heartbeats, and humans adapt to the slower and more consistent heartbeat of the horse. It lowers our stress levels and blood pressure,” explains Kristin Fitzgerald. As co-founder of Checkpoint One and certified life coach, she and her team help people with PTS (post traumatic stress), and ERES (Emergency Responders Exhaust Syndrome). In fact, anyone feeling overtaxed and stressed can unwind at this rustic hideaway, where even yoga classes are offered to help heal the community.
Our favorite horse was George, (pictured top). He’s a nuzzling, cuddling beast that likes to lay his regal head upon your shoulder. There were two wild mustangs brought in from Nevada. They were “gentled in” as opposed to being broken in, so they learned not to fear humans, but without the use of force or pain. Shadow (pictured above), is a horse who recently had an eye removed. She’s adapting well, but it won’t stop your nurturing instinct from coming out in full force. There’s a sweet donkey that loves to get close and smell everything on you (including your face). We brushed them to help shed their winter coats. The animals felt itchy and you could tell they were grateful for the attention.
We were grateful too. We’ve been in quarantine since March. To be able to drive to this lush hilltop in Doswell and soak up the sun, and to be so intimate with animals that innately calm us – it was a memorable afternoon. Its close enough to the city so that it’s not a hassle, and far enough so that it feels like an escape. It’s special enough to make you feel like all that isolating was worth the wait.
I love the water. So much so, that I am willing to do an activity that involves the word redneck. Kids around the world have been pulled out of school, kept in their homes and are enduring a strange new reality. But we don’t have to feel sorry for them. Not if we’re being creative. Not if we’re allowing them outside, letting them explore and getting them covered in scrapes and bruises, just like a kid should be. I refuse to let the wonder of childhood sink into a pit of video game addiction.
Well, whatever winter we had (it gets weirder every year) has passed. Spring fever is in full boom and Memorial Day is right around the corner. With beaches and pools closed, it’s time to make a Redneck Riviera in the yard. Fill up a big kiddie pool, fire up these new-fangled Slip and Slides with squirting fountains, and plug in the sprinkler. Et voila!
Prepare to have the sound of your yard filled with giggles and screeches. Prepare to have neighbors slow down to smile at the sight. Prepare sandwiches, because running around in the sun all day will bring on a preternatural hunger. Keep a basket of sunscreen and insect stray nearby. Lay out a giant blanket for them to rest on, and in full sun so they don’t get the shivers. And of course, play some great music.
As for you, feel free to soak up the sun, shake up a summer cocktail, catch up on required reading (Vogue!) and ignore them in general. You deserve the break as much as they do.