So you appear well-raised

Author: mannersandmerlot Page 2 of 4

Money Matters

Money seems to be the last thing people want to talk about in polite society. You don’t want to offend anyone. It’s considered gauche to ask someone how much their possessions cost.

Can I get real here for a minute? It’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine when people talk about money. Now I don’t mean talking salaries and such with girlfriends or networking groups, because studies have shown that that’s helpful when salary negotiations come up. Also, that seems to be the appropriate setting. No. I’m talking about something TOTALLY different.

Look, whatever you spend on something is what you spend. I’m not in your pockets unless you’re asking for something out of mine. That being said, don’t worry about what I spend on things. I’m a bargain shopper. On my grave will likely be the words, “I have a coupon for that!” Because I rarely pay full price for anything. But even if I overpaid by a bajillion dollars for every single thing I own, it’s not anyone’s business.

I hope everyone is out there spending within their means. Sure, I would love a YSL bag. But the $3k+ price tag won’t cut it for me. I see plenty of my friends and associates with them. It’s not my business how they got them. They could have been gifts. They could have robbed a liquor store. They could have saved for it. Regardless, I like the bag and I’ll tell them that and say no more. Because how they obtained said bag has nothing to do with me.

What really blows my mind is how people will make flippant comments where you have to defend your spending. Story time. I was planning my son’s first birthday party. I knew it was going to be a big one. I knew I’d be going as “all out” as my funds would allow. Someone asked me about what I was doing, so I shared my plans. Their response was something to the effect of, “That’s so much! I would have just had some hamburgers and hotdogs at the house and invited a few people over to watch him smash a cake.” Ummmm, ok. There’s nothing wrong with that plan, but it wasn’t what I was doing and I shouldn’t have been put in a position where I had to defend what I was spending money on.

Money is one of those contentious topics one should be careful when speaking about. What I deem important, someone else may not. It’s just not my business what is a “must” line item in your budget where that same thing may be discretionary spending in mine. More and more, as people are prioritizing self-care, that may show up in very different ways. Spa, shopping, books, social events. Whatever it is, it’s theirs. Unless someone makes your budget part of theirs, do me a favor and “don’t care.”

The Not-So-Secret Life of Pets

Let me just start by saying that I believe animals are cuddly and cute and great companions. They can enrich your life and make you happy. But we have to talk about just how chummy you want me to get with your four-legged friend.

Your animals are YOURS. YOU decided to have them. Personally, I’m not a pet person. I had pets when I was a kid. They were fun and I enjoyed them, but as an adult, I’d rather not. Too much responsibility and all that jazz.

So if you’re one of those super-adults who can care for themselves and a pet, hats off to you. But what I’m here to talk about is me and your animals coexisting.

Recently, there was a huge news story about people taking their dogs onto the campus of Howard University in DC and letting them use the bathroom in the grass and just being general nuisances to the students there. The students, staff, and faculty expressed displeasure and requested the dog-walking on their campus to cease. The dog walkers got upset. They couldn’t fathom why someone would have a problem with the presence of their beloved canines. Here’s why I think they were wrong . . .

As I said, your pets are YOURS. You have them because YOU love them. Forcing others to love them or even exist with them is obnoxious. Look, if I come to your house, fair game. That’s you and Fido’s domain. I’m a guest. If there’s pet hair flying everywhere, while I can wish you would clean that up and pray that you never volunteer to make anything for a potluck, it’s not my business.

What IS my business is if I’m in a public space and you, convinced that your 150 lb Saint Bernard is a cuddly lap dog, let him run loose and he comes barreling toward me, while you’re busy yelling, “It’s ok. He won’t hurt you. He’s just a puppy.” That ain’t no damn puppy! YOU find him harmless and endearing. I don’t know him or you.

And it’s not just dogs. Cats too. My neighbors have what is called an “outdoor cat.” I say it that way because I’ve never in my life heard of that shit. I was always taught that strays lived outside and if something was yours, you kept it inside and protected it. So imagine my surprise when I saw this cat, hanging around my suburban neighborhood, weaving in and out of various gardens, using the whole world as his bathroom. And THEN I saw my neighbors take him in and let him out. He was theirs. Again, that was their cat, not mine. But there he was, sunning himself among my zinnias.

Please don’t mistake me for an animal hater. I fully believe that anyone who is cruel or neglectful toward animals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But you have to understand that this is not a black and white issue – you don’t either love or hate pets. Gray areas. Nuance. There are cultures that actually think of animals as unclean. There are people that are allergic to pet dander. And then, there are people that are genuinely afraid of cats or dogs. In all these scenarios, forcing someone to deal with your furry friend is truly wrong. You enjoy them in your space and spaces for pets and let the rest of us live.

Mulled Wine: A Toasty Way to Get Tipsy

Now that the temperature has decided to be VERY fall-like, I’m hibernating. And you’ll only get me to come out with the promise of wine. Mulled wine, specifically.

There are tons of mulled wine recipes out there. Personally, I don’t like mine all that sweet. And I like to throw in a little brandy at the end, for that extra something special. I’m aware that not everyone keeps these ingredients on hand (unless you bake – I don’t). But it’s worth it to get them now so you can have mulled wine until the weather warms up. You can do this on the stovetop or in your crockpot. I like the Crockpot option because I throw everything in and go tend to something else and slowly, the house starts to smell all warm and spicy.

Here’s what you’ll need:

-Red Wine – cheap, dry. The quantity will depend on how many people you’ll serve. One bottle could be good for 2 to 4 people.
-Cinnamon sticks – no you may NOT use the powder here. Your finished product will be slimy and muddy. Invest in the sticks. 
-Whole star anise
-An orange
-Whole cardamom pods
-Apple cider
-Optional sweetener if you must

1. Pour wine into the pot or Crockpot. Heat very slowly, so keep it low.
2. Throw in 1 cinnamon stick for each bottle of wine you use.
3. Slice up your orange and throw that in. Half an orange should be good unless you are using many bottles of wine. And in that case, use more orange. There’s no exact science to this.
4. Throw in just a FEW star anise and cardamom pods. We’re going for subtlety here.
5. Pour in half a cup of cider for each person you’ll be serving.
6. Let it get warm and then taste. Does it need anything? You can add sugar or honey at this point if you need to.
7. Add brandy to individual mugs just as you are about to pour in the mulled wine. The quantity will depend on what type of drinker you’re serving.

If you’re trying to be cute, and you should ALWAYS be trying to be cute, garnish with a slice of orange and a cinnamon stick.

Bonus: Story time. This one time, I was at a winery and they had mulled wine. I was excited! That excitement DIED as soon as I tasted my drink. It was overly sweet AND the only spice they used was cloves. My entire mouth went numb. That wasn’t delightful. If you do decide to use cloves, 1 or 2. Seriously. Numbing someone’s mouth isn’t the objective here.

Party Up: Part 2 – Setting the Tone

After you’ve decided to have a party and figured out the major logistics like guest list and date, you need to set the tone. So how is that done? There are several different components to the tone.

  1. Music – You know how certain songs hype you up and others calm you down? Well, consider that when picking a playlist. I would say to steer clear of using an artist more than twice. This way it’s not repetitive. Also, don’t use any songs over 4 minutes. If there is a song you like, and it’s longer, see if there is a shorter version. Also, make sure to have enough music. If your party is supposed to be 4 hours, have 6 hours of music. This way, even if folks linger, you’re all set. Lastly, the volume. If you want to keep voices down, keep the volume down. Though, with more people, you’ll have to raise the volume. You don’t want to cause folks to have to yell over the music. It’s a delicate balance.
  2. Lighting – Fluorescent lighting is ugly. Fluorescent lighting is ugly. Fluorescent lighting is ugly. It’s harsh and really doesn’t make anyone look good. Opt for yellowish or pinkish lights. They soften everyone and the pictures come out better. Also, candles are great for a nice glow. Just be sure to put them put of people’s way.
  3. Scent – Most parties have food. No, all parties have food (if it doesn’t, it’s a meeting and those are reserved for work). Food has scents. But I still like my home to smell nice. Go for earthy, warm, inviting smells. I’d say to avoid food smells like cinnamon. Unless, of course, you’re actually having a dessert party – and then it just works. You can use candles or the scented oil plug-ins; whatever is safest for your guests.

These three components help to set the tone for a party. They help to indicate the vibe, so to speak. Of course, those are three very broad factors. There’s a lot of room to get it right (and also, to get it wrong). The best thing I can tell you is to set your house up for your guests early and then go outside for 5 minutes. Come back in. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Those things will be what your guests experience. If it’s pleasing to you, awesome. If not, tweak things for a more delightful guest experience.

Next, we’ll talk about food!

Weight a Minute . . . .

Feet standing on a scale

Old people are great. They regale you with stories of yesteryear and they just have so much knowledge. My grandma is always filled with these amazing tales of DC in the 50’s and 60’s. I learn a lot from her.

Old people are also brutally honest. My grandma, with all her sage wisdom and cautionary tales, has a fault: She loves to remind people of how much weight they gained. She’s done this as long as I’ve known her. And apparently, as long as my mom has known her. I suppose it’s her “thing.”

I don’t know about you, but when my jeans are tight or something that used to fit great just doesn’t, I know I gained weight. And since I can’t easily take that weight off as easily as I took off the snug jeans before I see my grandmother, I’d appreciate her not telling me about my growing ass. Anyone who doesn’t wear a wardrobe of primarily stretchy Lycra could tell you about non-scale body changes. As I said, you know when something fits differently.

Life happens. Cupcakes and champagne happen. Kids happen. Depression happens. Dodging your personal trainer’s calls happens. I’m not saying health isn’t important. It is. But I sincerely doubt anyone who could make such a callous comment was very worried about your health. They’re worried about your appearance. And I can’t go around chiding people for wearing white after Labor Day, you can’t go around talking about someone’s newly-touching thighs.

I’m here to say – once and for all – commenting on anyone’s body is rude. Whether they lost or gained weight, they don’t need to hear it from you. If you simply MUST say something, you know what you can say? “You look great!” That’s it. Don’t expand upon it. Don’t draw it out. Just say that and move on.

Fixating upon someone’s appearance as it relates to weight can make them feel self-conscious. Even if you are telling them they lost weight, this makes people think you were thinking something about their previous appearance.

Also, stop calling people “skinny”. So I don’t personally know how hurtful this is, but my very small friends have told me that they really don’t like the jokes about their perceived lack of appetite or small frame. While it may be more acceptable in society to be smaller vs. larger, ridiculing someone for being small is a jerk move.

Now I know old people will say, “You’re being too sensitive.” In fact, my grandmother did say this. Look, someone’s lack of emotional intelligence isn’t your issue. And don’t make it your issue. But just know that if someone makes a comment to you over the holidays about your spreading hips, please feel free to let them know that they are being rude, making you uncomfortable, and you don’t have to take it.

Too Close For Comfort

Let me start by saying that I’m a touchy-feely person. I love nothing more than a genuine hug or to be close to someone. The one caveat is: that’s with people I KNOW. When it comes to strangers, distance is the name of the game.

There are cultural norms that guide how close we stand when we talk to someone. We’ve all encountered a close talker. It’s awkward and off-putting. Personally, I lose focus on the conversation at hand because I’m so worried about this person hanging out on my tonsils. I’m aware that, in some cultures, this is perfectly acceptable. Know your audience. If I were in a country with a culture of close-talking, I’d just deal with it. I’m not ignorant. But, on a daily basis, I’m in America. Dealing with Americans.

Getting even more personal, let’s talk about touch. When a stranger touches me or my child, uninvited, I get angry. There is typically nothing about my body language that communicates to a stranger to touch me. NOTHING. And definitely not anything my child is doing, other than being stinkin’ adorable. That being said, at least once a week, one of us is getting touched. Being that I have zero desire to touch a stranger, I can’t understand why one would choose to touch me. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid touching someone because I think it’s rude. But not everyone lives by the “keep your hands to yourself” credo. And that’s where we run into an issue.

In the United States, we tend to stand about 4 feet from one another when we talk to those we don’t know. Stand any closer, and someone is likely uncomfortable. Also, and it should go without saying, but I’ll say it – personal space is a thing. We typically have a bubble of anywhere from 3 to 6 feet in non-crowded situations. When you pop that bubble of personal space, everyone feels weird, whether that be standing too close or actually physically touching someone.

There have been recent studies about how often people wash their hands after using the bathroom. I’ve gotta tell ya, things aren’t looking so great. Because of that, I’m even more put off by people touching me. The numbers don’t lie. And even more than that, my eyes don’t. I have seen women just sprinkle their fingertips with a little water – NO SOAP – and head out of the restroom. Or they just don’t wash them at all. Gross. And these people are likely the same ones who sign up to make everything for a potluck and always want to shake someone’s hand. Ugh!

Given the straight facts and what I’ve seen with my own two eyes, give me my personal space and I will DEFINITELY grant you yours.

Braised Short Ribs (With red wine!!!)

Braised short ribs are one of those meals for which there is no short cut. They won’t appear on any “Easy Weeknight Meals” or “30-Minute Meals” or whatever easy-way-out, quick dinner lists you might find. And honestly, that’s ok.

There are few meals to which I’d devote this much time. This recipe looks intense. That’s because it is. If I had to give this a difficulty rating, I’d say it was damn near expert level.

Fresh herbs always make anything better, and this recipe is chock-full of them! Braised short ribs with a delicious sauce over mashed potatoes is an impressive meal. I wouldn’t just make it for anyone. They’d have to be deserving foodies who would appreciate the different flavors and the wine I’d pair with it.

You’ll Need:

5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 750 ml bottle dry red wine (preferably Cabernet Sauvignon)
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
8 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs oregano
2 sprigs rosemary
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
4 cups low-salt beef stock

To Do:
Preheat oven to 350°. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 Tbsp. drippings from pot.

Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.

Cook until short ribs are tender, 2–2½ hours. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls over mashed potatoes with sauce spooned over.

Party Up: Part I – Party Prep

There’s a lot I can say about parties, from the prep to the conversations, to the food and drink. So I’ll be doing a series of posts about parties and will tackle a different aspect of throwing a party in each post. I’ll focus on the house party and entertaining at home, but most advice would be great for any type of party you’re throwing.

First up – party prep! That’s broad. I get that. Let me break it down:

  1. Decide on a date. Saturdays seem to work better. You have all day to get things ready for your guests coming that evening. Plus, most people are free on Saturdays and you’ll have higher attendance. Pick a date about 5 weeks away and you’ll have enough time to get the word out to your friends.
  2. Who’s who? Determine how many people you want to come to your affair. Is it a cocktail party? Is it a dinner party? A house party? Will you do the cooking or will it be potluck? Once you figure out what kind of party to have, you can make a list of invitees. You know your friends better than I do, but I typically invite more people than I actually want to have because sometimes even 5 weeks out isn’t enough time to snag a spot on someone’s schedule.
  3. The grub. I’ll say more on this later, but for now, I want you to think about some of your favorite foods. What are your favorite things to cook? What can you make lots of easily? Or, if you’re not the type to cook, what can you order ahead of time that can heat well for a party?
  4. Spaced out. Where will everyone sit? People tend to migrate toward where the food is, so make sure there’s ample seating around the good stuff.
  5. Drink, drank, drunk. What are your guests to drink? In subsequent posts, I’ll provide some ideas for big batch cocktails and some wine pairings that do well at parties. Definitely don’t depend on your guests to provide all the drinks, because you never know what you’ll end up with.

Once you have these details nailed down, you’re well on your way to having a party! Next up: Setting the tone.

Brownie Pudding

Those who know me know I’m not really a fan of chocolate. I know, I know. A woman who doesn’t love chocolate – an oddity. But this brownie pudding is delightful! It’s not an easily whipped up recipe, but what I can promise is that it’s worth all the work you’ll put into it. I’d definitely save this for something special.

You’ll need:

2 sticks of unsalted butter (plus extra for buttering your baking dish)

4 large eggs at room temperature

2 cups of sugar

3/4 cup of GOOD cocoa powder

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

1 tablespoon of your favorite liquor (optional)

Toasted nuts

What you’ll need to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a 2-quart oval baking dish. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
  2. In an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes. You want it to be very thick and light yellow. Meanwhile, sift the cocoa powder and flour together and set aside.
  3. When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla seeds, liquor, and cocoa powder/flour mixture. Mix only to combine – DO NOT OVERMIX! Pour in your cooled butter and continue to mix until everything is combined.
  4. Pour everything into the oval dish and place it in a larger ban-marie (tub of water that will come halfway up the side of your brownie dish. Look, I told you this wasn’t easy. But do this because it’s worth it.) Bake for 1 hour, taking care not to overbake. The center will look undone.
  5. Get fancy and sprinkle toasted nuts on the top. I’m a fan of pecans, but you can use almonds or walnuts.

Mind-blowing, huh? So of course we have to pair something with this. Because this dessert is so decadent and so delicious, I’d go all out with the wine. Something bubbly. You can go with Champagne, if you’d like. But I’m going out on a limb here. Hear me out: Almond Sparkling Wine. I get mine from Trader Joe’s for a mere $6 a bottle. It’s crisp and effervescent, which we expect of anything bubbly. But this is different. This has an extra layer of “oooh la la” by having an unmistakable amaretto taste. It’s subtle, but you won’t miss it. This is my pick for the brownie pudding because, together, it feels so damn decadent! Treat yo self.

Pairs Well With Life: Amicone

I was introduced to Amicone by a lady that worked in the wine section at my local Whole Foods. She loved her job and routinely tried the wines so she could tell her customers about them. She no longer works there and I miss her. This lady loved her job and it showed. She really put me on to some amazing wines.

One wine that was introduced to me was Amicone. It’s a smooth, every day red. You don’t have to pair it with anything. I know people think, “Red – steak,” and normally, they’d be right. But not this one. It’s too light for that. This is a “juicy” wine, bursting with notes of raspberries and cherries. That’s not to say this is sweet, because it isn’t.

This is a wine that can be enjoyed on its own. Pair it with life. But if you must pair it with food, keep it to things that have a smokey flavor, like grilled meat.

Amicone is a great wine to have on hand, should you have anyone stop by or you just want something smooth and red after a long day.

I think this wine is mostly found at Whole Foods. I have yet to see it anywhere else. Amicone is typically under $20, with it being $13-$17 most of the time.

So try it and let me know what you think!

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