{Open House}

15 Sep
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When we spotted this drawing on our nightly Zillow search, I laughed to my husband “This is the one!” (I was only kind of kidding.)

As many of you know, last spring we bought a new house. Well, new to us, because in truth it was an old house that needed some love. What can I say? We fell hard for the charming block and beautiful light, so we didn’t mind taking on a significant project.

And already we’ve done a great deal. Some improvements, like refinished warm grey floors and crisp white paint *everywhere*, have made a real impact, while others, like seismic retrofitting and new systems throughout, have proven important albeit decidedly less thrilling. Like when friends come over, I don’t show them our brand new electrical panels. (I leave that to my husband. Sigh.)

It’s a sweet, comfortable home, and not at all formal like our San Francisco flat with its Edwardian details and extravagantly high ceilings. But for this time in our life as a young family, it feels juuuust right.

So very much remains to be done. (Truly. The list gives me heart palpitations.) But already there are some places in the house that make me smile every time I happen by.

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The view from my daughter’s bed where we frequently convene for early morning snuggles. I may have fallen in love with the trees on our block before I even set foot in the house.

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A peek upstairs into the second floor hall and my son’s nursery. The glossy railing painted in (appropriately) Farrow & Ball “Railings” turned out more deep navy than dark bronze as advertised, a happy accident. The new Thomas O’Brien “Vendome” sconce (one of a pair) really anchors the style we’re embracing in this home: casual. california. ease.

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Having private outdoor space feels impossibly luxurious after 15 years of San Francisco apartment living. Somebody pinch me (and bring me a glass of rosé).

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The entry makes it plain that we are sentimental fools: a flea market demilune I painted myself (badly, with Annie Sloane Chalk Paint in “French Linen,” if you must know), fresh blooms from our garden, an antique lamp I adored so much my husband had it rewired for me, and a photo booth snapshot from the early days of our courtship. Awwwwww.

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This vignette is all about my husband: an antique French buffet he selected on his own (I know!) which we currently use as a bar, topped with books about New York, California and Bruce Springsteen (his past, present and FOREVER, in that order), with a map of his hometown hanging above. (I take full responsibility for the orchid.)

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The future site of my writing desk. (Insert heart Emojis here.)

My Fall 2014 Reading List

13 Sep
my kind of saturday morning

my kind of saturday morning

Before falling back in love with reading, I fell in love with a bookstore. I know it’s old-fashioned to go to brick-and-mortar bookstores, but scanning the bestseller list on your Kindle will never replace the pleasure of quietly roaming the stacks and chatting with shop owners about their current favorites. (I even secretly love the crisp, untouched paper smell.) I’ve been a dork for books since FOREVER.

And the moment I walked into A Great Good Place for Books, I knew it would be my jam. The owner, Kathleen, is incredibly knowledgeable about contemporary fiction and it shows in the impeccably curated collection she packs into her cozy little shop. She’s also super intuitive with her recommendations, so much so that I will literally buy anything she suggests.

Oh, and there are always cookies.

Anyway, this terrific bookstore helped me rediscover a passion for reading lost amidst the diapers and exhaustion of the past three years. My bedside table now sports a proper stack of books to be read that do not begin with “What To Expect” nor are they authored by “whisperers” of any kind. Here are the books Priss & Vinegar is digging into this fall:

  • “Fourth of July Creek” by Smith Henderson. This novel could be a downright bummer given that the social worker protagonist works with abused and neglected children, but Henderson’s prose is so achingly beautiful that it’s worth sticking through the ugly bits. Kathleen compared the world of this novel to the film “Winter’s Bone”, an allusion I find very apt.
  • “This is Where I Leave You” by Johnathan Tropper. Apparently this book was kind of a big deal a looooong time ago. I plainly missed it and am trying desperately to catch up before the feature film is released later this month. (Because Tina Fey. Of course.)
  • “The Untold” by Courtney Collins. A debut novel like “Fourth of July Creek”, there’s something special about being with an author from the beginning. This female-driven adventure through the Australian frontier has drawn comparisons to Cormac McCarthy (though Kathleen insists Collins is even better) and Charles Portis’ “True Grit.”
  • “If I Stay” by by Gayle Forman. “Twilight”, “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” have proven that YA books merit grown-up attention. (I also think they make superb palate cleansers after darker, more substantial novels.)
  • “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. I have read as well as listened to “The Last Lecture” on audiobook many, many times, and each pass reveals a new and remarkable insight: the value of character, how to raise capable (not coddled) children, the virtue of having big dreams, and what personal excellence really means. I dare you to read (or listen) to this without being utterly inspired.

A Realistic Menu Plan For Very Busy Families

9 Sep

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: culinary inspiration strikes one weekend, sending you headlong into a colossal farmers’ market/Whole Foods/Costco binge, leading to one magnificent, time-consuming, kitchen-destroying family meal. (After which you run out of steam and eat takeout for the rest of the week.) The End.

My family and I were majorly stuck in this cycle, wasting a lot of food and feeling icky from not eating as wholesomely as we should. My market purchases invariably lacked any kind of cohesion, as I shopped without a proper list, and when I did return home the recipes I gravitated towards were often too ambitious to pull off with bored, hungry children whining in the background.

Feeding a family is hard work, even for people like me who adore cooking. Actually, ESPECIALLY for those people because they have minutes rather than hours for prep and frequently have to reign in the spices and esoteric ingredients to suit the tastes of persnickety toddlers. Enter Priss & Vinegar’s approach to meal planning, which will get your family on track to wholesome, at-home eating and is sustainable from week-to-week with only a modicum of effort.

  • Above All Else, Be Realistic. Only you can know your tolerance (and availability) for prep work and clean-up, as well as your family’s weekly habits. In my household, this means only planning meals Monday through Thursday as we frequently dine out on weekends and enjoy picking up a Roli Roti roast chicken at the farmers’ market for Sunday supper. I also factor in when I have childcare scheduled, whether my husband will be traveling for work, and our social obligations.
Steak tagliata and polenta is a family favorite in our household.

Steak tagliata with polenta is a family favorite in our household.

  • Make One Meal For Everyone. (Really.) A lot of parents think this means kids have to get with the program and start eating grown-up food. I consider it more of a compromise where my kids step up their game to include some “green things” and my husband and I content ourselves with Weelicious cheesy turkey meatballs sometimes (which are, truth be told, pretty flipping delicious).
  • Have “Theme” Days. Every week in our home features a pizza night and a taco night. The details change from week to week — a busy week might mean using a pre-made organic cornmeal Viccolo pizza crust or leftover tagliata meat for steak tacos, while a less scheduled week might give way to homemade pizza crust or grilled baja fish tacos. But the predictability of knowing each week that two days are already roughly planned out keeps you from reinventing the wheel every week. And is any food more versatile and dynamic than pizza and tacos?
Pucks o' pizza sauce.

Pucks o’ pizza sauce.

  • Double Your Efforts. Having an extra refrigerator in the garage of our new home has changed.my.life. If you are lucky enough to have the storage space, double recipes and mise en place items whenever you can. Freezing thoughtfully can also streamline your cooking routine. I made a large batch of one of those kids’ hidden vegetable pizza sauces I always swore I’d never make (Ha!) and then froze individual portions in a muffin tin. Each week on pizza night, I only have to defrost a puck or two of pizza sauce and dinner is halfway done. Boom.
My tiny sous chef in action.

My sous chef slaving away in the kitchen.

  • Involve The Kids. I’ve written before about involving children in the kitchen, not only because it’s brilliantly educational but also because it buys parents extra cooking time. At three years old, my daughter can measure and pour ingredients, whisk or stir on the countertop, cut soft foods with a butter knife, and fetch items from the pantry. At this rate she’ll be a proper sous by her fifth birthday.

 

To note, these are real pictures of my real family cooking and eating real food. This is an actual family’s life and not a styled photo shoot. That authenticity means something to me (other than that I am an atrocious photographer), and hopefully it means something to you, too.

Okay, Fall: Let’s Do This

8 Sep

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It took me precisely one week beyond Labor Day to mourn the end of summer. September couldn’t stop me from continuing to wear my favorite white linen blazer, consuming blackberries by the fistful, and planning dinner menus revolving entirely around our backyard grill. I live in California — aren’t we supposed to live perpetual summer anyway?

But then I happened upon the most perfectly oversized ecru grandpa sweater (at Lululemon. For reals, y’all.) and took the children to a football game at our charming local high school, fall nipping at my defiantly sandaled heels. When my daughter (predictably) fell ill after returning to school for a scant two days, it was undeniable: fall is happening.

So I’m embracing the changing seasons as an opportunity to follow through with my Yosemite resolutions. I came away from that experience with some big ideas for my family, my home, and (always the hardest priority to honor) myself. I subsequently spent much of August establishing best practices in the Priss & Vinegar household. I’ve been reading actual literature (which is like rediscovering a long-lost friend), planning proper family menus, and trying my darndest to embrace the virtues of early rising. My husband and I are also teeing up phase two of our home remodel, streamlining our household management, and prioritizing our respective careers. In every way, we’re ready to just go for it.

This week at Priss & Vinegar I’ll be digging in to all the details: low-maintenance family menu planning, the fall reading list I’m *so* excited about, and (this is for you, Leigh!) a tour of some of my favorite spots in the new house so far. Oh, and I’m sure mixed in there somewhere will be some Ray Rice-related outrage and general gushing about another royal baby. (Like, if it’s a girl, will she be born wearing L.K. Bennett wedges?) Like I said: let’s do this, fall.

 

Reality Check, Yosemite-Style

11 Aug

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Last week was my birthday. To celebrate the occasion, I went on the most challenging hike of my life. And it was awesome.

In recent years, I’ve marked my birthday with elegant dinners, indulgent spa visits, and nursing newborns (twice, because I have terrific timing). But this year, I wanted — and frankly, needed — something a little more dramatic. It’s been an overwhelming time, between moving to the suburbs and settling into mothering two busy little humans. Weeks have bled into one another unremarkably, and by the end of each day I’m utterly spent. I’ve found myself drifting toward escapes like scanning my Instagram feed and endlessly shopping throw pillows on One Kings Lane instead of digging in to what’s actually happening, like my kids playing right in front of me. I used to count reading and cooking among my chief pleasures, but lately there’s been a lot of TV and takeout.

Call this a drift toward bad habits, call it a rut, call it whatever you like. It wasn’t headed anywhere good, and my birthday — my lucky number at that — seemed an opportunity to right the ship.

And what better place to regain one’s perspective than Yosemite, a place to bear witness to the awesome magnitude of nature and push the limits of your physical ability. (And escape the reach of most mobile telephone providers.) It turns out that some pretty special thinking happens during a hike — resolutions about how to live purposefully, metaphors between the way you approach a hike and the way you approach life — so much so that I feel like I could write an entire volume of corny hiking truisms. Being outside, being quiet, and surrounding yourself with nature at its grandest? It’s the ultimate reality check.

I know I’m veering into dangerously cheesy territory, but being in Yosemite meant something to me. I will be forever grateful to my husband for planning such a special trip and to my in-laws for tending the animals (that would be the children) so diligently while we were away. I feel more focused, energized and purposeful than I have in ages. Aaaand I’m already dreaming about a return trip to hike Half Dome and debating how soon we can take the kids along, too…

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