Cinderella Inspired


{Cinderella for Grown-ups by gourmetstylegirl

 I’ll be the first to admit it: Cinderella never really did it for me. Not only was she way too passive, but I never bought into the idea that one so confined and brutalized could also remain so charming and positive. On my one free night out, instead of hitting up the ball, I’d have hit up the local constabulary – dress and all! – to see just what could be done about my living situation. Down with stepmothers! Up with minimum wage and keys to my own bedroom!

Plus, as all brunette girls of the late ’90s will attest, Belle is where it’s at. The reading? The sassy attitude? The bravery? YES. Plus, Gaston. Ick. Way to be a model for not succumbing to peer pressure, B.

All that said… and I do totally mean what I said…I’m still utterly, completely swept up in the Cinderella madness that’s everywhere right now. Oh to have worked on that marketing and PR campaign! Swoon. From  Lily James’ premiere dress to the many designer interpretations of the glass slipper, I am like a small child on Christmas waiting for this film to come out. Kudos, Disney PR, because heads up: I’M 30. And I’m STILL REALLY EXCITED.

Have courage

{Cindy’s new motto – I love it!}

There are also ways to embed a little Cindy flair into your daily life, whether you’re 3 or 30 – from a floaty tulle skirt that adds whimsy, to a little sparkle on your nails, to those sunglasses that are just the right amount of retro, in a nod to the original animated feature’s 1950 release date. I’m also swooning over that ear cuff. I’d like to think this updated Cindy might just have enough sass to rock an ear cuff…and if she won’t, then we know Belle definitely would!

Are you going to see the movie?

PS – more Cinderella-inspired looks – and other fun! – on Pinterest!

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Scotch Cocktails



{The Selkirk Sparkler}

Some say that a Scotsman is only a good as his whiskey. Being a Scottish lady, there are some things I still can’t get behind, and drinking Scotch neat is one of them. It must be the intermingled Irish, but I’d rather a glass of champagne or a Guinness any day!

As part of our Burns Night celebration, we wanted to appeal to all tastebuds. Ergo, two cocktails in celebration of all things Scotchy.

The Bobby Burns is a strong, medicinal drink. As the boys said, it’s a drink to put hair on your chest. For those who’d rather a fizz in the mouth than hair on the chests (like we lassies), the Selkirk Sparkler proved to be the perfect party drink. My goal was to take a classic whiskey sour and liven it up a little bit, and boy did we! Though for a lively night of any variety, either of these drinks will do just dandily.

The Bobby Burns

2 ounces Scotch

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1 dash Angostura bitters

2 dashes Benedictine or brandy


The Selkirk Sparkler

2 ounces whiskey

3 ounces sour mix





Burns Night 2015

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I’m about to out myself as big nerd. Which is probably too not much of a secret anyway, but I think publicizing your themed dinner party in honor of a long-dead Scottish poet is right up there with wearing a Boy Scout uniform as an adult (DAD!) or admitting that you still read Anne of Green Gables every now and again. Ahem. But we’re fine with that. And we’re fine with it – nay, we celebrate this weirdness! – because people all over the world celebrate Burns Night every year. And this year, we did, too.

For the uninitiated, Burns Night is a big ol’ Scottish dinner party celebrated on or ’round about every January 25th in honor of Robert Burns’s birthday. Burns was a poet, scholar, soldier, true Scotsman and all around good guy – except when he was being lascivious and womanizing. But let’s leave that part out for now.

A true Burns Night must consist of just a very few things, namely, haggis, whiskey and readings by the Scotch Bard himself. However, when you read about what Haggis entails, you are far, FAR less likely to want to eat or cook it. Enter, the vegetarian version, which is basically a tasty stuffing that is reminiscent of Thanksgiving. We also added some kale. We need greens, people!

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In addition to haggis, there are a few other must-haves for any good Burns Night:

Bangers – sweet Scottish sausages

Clapshot – mixture of mashed potatoes and turnips

Cranachan – a raspberry, cream and granola parfait

Millionaire’s Shortbread – caramel, chocolate, shortbread goodness!

We asked our guests to wear their traditional family tartans, if they were able. The Davis Clan tartan is a gorgeous red plaid shot through with gold, while Nathan’s family is French-Canadian, so he decided his clan tartan would be from the noble house of J. Crew. My sweet friend of Chinese descent didn’t have a clan tartan either, so she wore her best Burberry plaid! From bow ties to scarves, it was hilarious to see what everyone deemed worthy of a clan tartan.

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After a first round of whiskey cocktails, the running order begins!

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First, you must process in the haggis. Yes, you read that correctly – process. As in, parade it around the house.  We did it to the tunes of the Red Hot Chili Pipers ( and yes, you also read that correctly…) Then, someone is supposed to slash it open with a saber. Since we, uh, didn’t have any spare sabers lying around, we settled on a nice big kitchen knife.

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While the slashing happens, someone must address the haggis with the classic reading called, rather uncreatively, the “Address to a Haggis.” My gorgeous friend Joya performed admirably, even reading it in Scotch Gaelic!

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After the address and the chairwoman’s welcome, the night descends into readings of Burns’ poetry, prayers and songs. We also played cards (spoons!), drank whiskey cocktails and sang Auld Lang Syne to cap off the night. It was a strange, historical and hilarious night for everyone whether we are Scottish or not.

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Three cheers for Robert Burns!

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Have you ever celebrated Burns Night? Would you be into it? Tell me, tell me!

Kitchen Smackdown: real cooking vs. Blue Apron

retro cook

Something insidious has started creeping its way through San Francisco lately. It’s like a zombie that is one part Sanda Lee and two parts millennial entitlement, and WORSE, it just keeps coming back.

Whenever I mention cooking or a recipe (which I do often) people get this weird look in their eyes and say, “Hey, you like cooking – have you tried Blue Apron?”

And then I slap myself in the forehead and look for something to stab myself in the eye with. The more simultaneous I can do these things, the better.

Here’s what I say inside my head: WHY. Oh why!! Would I ever pay exorbitant prices AND punch Mother Earth in the face by having boxes and plastic and crap shipped to my house every week, just so I can have my hand held while I cook a medium-to-ick looking recipe OR a recipe so easy that absolutely anyone could make it? Yes, you’re correct, I DO love cooking. So why would I outsource it?

Here’s what I say out loud: Yeah, I think I’ve heard of Blue Apron. What is it again?

I keep looking for a reason, any reason at all, that someone might think Blue Apron is better than cooking at home. And what I’ve realized is that people fall somewhere in the range between uninformed to lazy, with pit stops to confused, overwhelmed and under-confident in between. So once and for all, I’d like to publicly declare that yes, of course I’ve heard of Blue Apron, and no I do not use it. Because there is no earthly reason for me to or you to buy into the myths that Blue Apron is perpetuating on us all.apron

Myth #1 – Blue Apron is inexpensive. While it may be cheaper than going out to dinner, it’s definitely not cheaper than cooking for yourself. We spend about $120 per week on groceries, which results in an average of 17 meals for two people every week. We shave a few off to account  for the periodic catered lunch, a dinner date night out, and the days I prioritize sleep over food and content myself with office snacks. Trail mix for breakfast, anyone?

That’s 32 meals total, bringing our average price per meal per person to $3.75. That price is pretty spendy when you think about one slice of avocado toast, my preferred breakfast, but it’s downright miraculous when you think about how much you’d pay for thai peanut noodles, roast chicken for two, or a slice of chocolate espresso pie at a restaurant. Blue Apron costs $10 per person per meal. That’s an extra $6.25 per person over cooking for yourself. If you added up that $6.25 and applied it to 32 meals per week, the average amount we cook, you are either saving or spending an extra $200 every week. That means that if you use it every week, Blue Apron costs you $10,400 every year. So you could use Blue Apron for two years, or in the same span of time buy a new car or have a down payment on a house.  When you look at it that way, the choice seems like…well, not much of a choice.

Home cooking 1, Blue Apron, 0.

Myth #2 – Blue Apron isn’t wasteful because you have the exact right amount of ingredients. I hear you. It’s annoying to see lemons wasting away at the bottom of a fridge, or those herbs rotting in the corner because you only needed a little snippet. Composting what should have been eaten makes me cringe. Except the one thing that makes me cringe more – trash. While I have to applaud Blue Apron for making their packaging recyclable and compostable, how many people are actually recycling properly? How many people just trash everything? How many people even know that a plastic ziploc bag has a half life of 4,000 years? Better to buy in bulk, fill up those reusable containers, and shop the local farmers markets.

The other thing that can prevent food waste is planning ahead! Like this week’s menu, full of overlaps and ingredient crossover. If you group foods together in your menu plan, you’ll have just enough and no extra. And if you do have extra, see if you can get creative and make a meal out of what you have on hand. That’s how we learn. My best friend’s mom calls this buffalo cooking. As the Native Americans used the whole buffalo, use all of what you have. It’s better for the earth and better for your wallet.

Home cooking 2, Blue Apron 0.

Myth #3 – Blue Apron is so fast and easy! I don’t know how to cook without them. Okay, I just plain call bullshit on this one. With Blue Apron, you still have to cook. It still takes about 30-35 minutes. And you still have to know the basics: boiling, chopping, searing, broiling. You know what else only takes 35 minutes and is pretty easy? Shakshuka, Apple Dijon Grilled Cheese, Lemon Ricotta Pasta, and Tuscan Stuffed Chicken. And with an abundance of amazing food bloggers out there helping to make cooking easy and fun, there is no reason why cooking with Blue Apron is easier than cooking with Deb from Smitten Kitchen or cooking with Lindsay from Pinch of Yum.

Home cooking 3, Blue Apron 0.

Myth #4 – I don’t have time to go to the grocery store! I’m so busy! Here in San Francisco, we live in an economy of self. An econoME, if you will. You can have your groceries delivered, your laundry picked up, your car driven for you and hell, someone will even PARK for you. We have become disconnected from those everyday things that make us human. Not that parking makes you human. In fact, looking for parking in this town makes you less human and more animal. Angry, angry beast.

But to wash your own clothes helps you understand how much water you use. To bike around town makes you appreciate where you live because you’ll really see it. Also, it saves you from becoming a savage parking beast. To buy your own food means you’re connecting with local farmers at a farmers’ market, appreciating vegetables and what it takes to grow them. Washing the dirt off a carrot instead of ripping it out of a plastic package connects you to something deeply real.

Also, you probably need to read this.

Home cooking 4, Blue Apron 0.

I know this is getting very on the verge of food pretentiousness, which we don’t like (I really don’t!) but I also know that every single one of us deserves great food, without paying an extra $10k every year for it.

We also deserve to make the best, most informed choices we can. If every once of us said no to packaging and plastic, and yes to reduce, reuse, recycle, the world would be better off.

We also deserve the chance to cook and eat real food, and to experience the full cycle of cooking and eating and how it connects us to our humanity.

And there is no delivery service for that.

Disappointed Julia

Julia is disappointed in you! Don’t make her stick you with that thermometer!

Weekly Menu: March 1


This week’s menu planning is brought to you by gratitude – for being back in quasi-warm California after a week in the arctic chill of NYC! New York, you are a beautiful yet frosty wench.

Because it’s been so brisk outside, this is a week of healthy comfort food. These recipes were chosen because there is nice overlap between many of them, so by the end of the week you should have used up everything, especially the fresh sage, parsley, and lemons, those weird hangers-on that usually languish and die at the bottoms of refrigerators. This is why we menu plan.

Another thing to remember as you’re cooking this week – don’t be scared to make substitutions! If you’d rather make the meatballs with ground beef, go for it. If you don’t have a red onion, use a yellow one. Would rather spinach instead of kale? Totally fine. People often get scared to deviate from the recipe, but that’s how we learn!

Plus, if it looks and smells great when you’re done, you’ll likely still have something delicious for dinner.

I wish you a week of happy cooking and even happier eating!


Sunday – Lemon Rosemary Chicken Noodle Soup

Monday – Turkey Saltimboca Meatballs

Tuesday – Winter Panzanella

Wednesday – Zuppa Toscana

Thursday – Leftovers! Clean out those fridges!

Friday – Pan-seared halibut and warm bean salad

Saturday – Date night! Take someone you love out to dinner!

Grocery List:


Lemons – 3

Fresh rosemary – 1 sprig


Carrots – large bag!

Bag of white onions


Fresh sage

Fingerling potatoes (the tiny ones!) – small bag

Butternut squash – 1 squash or a pre-peeled packet from TJ’s

Brussel sprouts – 1/2 lb, or pre-quartered in a package from TJ’s

Parsley – 1 bunch

Head of cauliflower


Small bag of orzo

Loaf of fresh bread – leave it out the night before making panzanella to get crusty!

Hot Italian sausage – 1 lb

Small pack of pancetta

Boneless skinless chicken thighs – 1 lb

Ground turkey – 1 lb

Halibut or cod filets – as many as you need

Jarred red peppers

Cannellini beans

Almond flour, if trying to be gluten free. The meatballs call for it, but you can just use regular flour if you’d like…

Half and half – 1/2 pint

Milk – 1 pint

*As always, this list omits things like chicken stock, olive oil, and spices that the average home cook has on hand. Double check before you shop!

Peanut Sauce + Soba Noodle Stir Fry

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This dish bears more than a passing resemblance to this. In fact, if I were to give this post a subtitle, it would be called, The Pad Thai That Isn’t Even Pad Thai But I Don’t Know What To Call It, Take 2.

But since we revisit this dish ALLLLLL the time, I thought it would be nice to pop in and write about some of the ways we’ve tweaked this dish to make it even more delicious:

Start with the same creamy sauce, with all the peanutty goodness you can handle, but with a fun new twist – cashews. I ran out of peanuts one day and happened to have chili lime cashews on hand, so into the food processor they went and wowza. Mind. Blown. I also started using half almond butter, half peanut butter as the base of the sauce and it hits the spot always.

Next upgrade: be gone rice noodles that stick together and constantly misbehave! Don’t let the door hit you on your way back to the paddy. Now, we use buckwheat soba noodles and they add a heartiness that, frankly, rocks.

In addition to (or sometimes instead of) julienne carrots, add some lightly sautéed julienne bell peppers. I also mandolin slice a zucchini and it gives the whole dish another texture, but can be slurped and twirled just like the noodles. Finish it off with a really healthy handful of cilantro and you have a gorgeous, colorful dish that is reliably tasty, impresses guests, and will make you want to lick the bowl because it’s so good.

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For the peanut Sauce 

. 1/2 cup of almond butter OR 1/4 cup each almond butter and peanut butter. Up to you. The almond butter only makes this dish a little sweeter, while the peanut butter adds back in a little balance.

. 1/2 cup of soy sauce

. 4 cloves of garlic

. 1/4 cup of honey

. 1.5 tablespoons of rice vinegar

. 1 tablespoon of red chile powder

. 1/2 tablespoon of chopped fresh ginger

. The juice of 1 lime

. Small handful of Trader Joe’s chili lime cashews

Stir Fry

. 1 large zucchini

. 2 bell peppers, any color you like (I like orange, red or yellow)

. 8 oz buckwheat soba noodles

. 1/2 lb. protein of your choice

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1. In a large, pre-heated cast iron skillet, lightly pan fry your chicken, shrimp, or whatever protein you’ve chosen. Sometimes we make this with chicken for a big dinner, other times we go veg and keep things on the lighter side.

2. As your protein cooks, put the water on to boil; then julienne bell peppers, mandolin slice zucchini, peel garlic. If you have time, start measuring sauce ingredients and putting them into a food processor. The hardest part of this recipe is that sauce assembly takes awhile because of measuring.

3. Put the noodles into the pot; finish up the sauce assembly and press go!

4. Once your protein is cooked, set it aside (or put it into the oven to keep it warm) and place the peppers into the skillet. Cook to the desired doneness (I like them mostly cooked, but with a tiny bit of bite left, so about five minutes of sauté) and then add the zucchini ‘noodles’ for about a minute.

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5. Add 1/4 cup sauce, protein, noodles, and stir! Add more peanut sauce on top if you’d like, and a nice handful of cilantro on top.


All photos for this post by Nathan!

Grilled Cheese for Grown-ups

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When I was a little kid, there was nothing better than lunch at my grandma’s house: grilled cheese, tomato soup and a dill pickle. To this day, her sandwiches are the gold standard for what makes a grilled cheese great. First, you start with whole wheat bread, always. Grandma was a nurse and my parents are adorable, PBS-loving suburban hippies – white bread is akin to cocaine in my family. Probably worse. They’d probably rather you live the Bohemian life and try cocaine than eat the evil known as Wonder Bread. There will also be an extra circle in hell reserved for you if you bought that white bread at a Wal-Mart.

Grandma always cut thick slabs of sharp cheddar, and then, being the good student of Julia that she was, buttered the heck out of both sides. It sizzled in a nonstick pan for what seemed like an unreasonably long amount of time to a small child (i.e., about 10 minutes). Once it achieved a crunch to rival “that scene” from Chef, it was sliced on the diagonal and served with Campbell’s tomato soup and a giant spear of dill pickle on the side. If we’d been especially well behaved, we would get to wash it all down with a very small mug of root beer. My grandma is no drill sergeant, but she also isn’t the warm and cuddly type of grandma who just doles out the root beer for funsies. NAY, you had to earn that root beer by not pinching your brother. Some days I was more successful with this than others.

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Yesterday was a foggy day in SF (is there any other kind?) and I’ve been fighting off the same dang cold for four days in a row. A classic grilled cheese lunch seemed to be exactly what the nurse ordered, but with a slightly grown-up twist:

First, whole wheat bread, always. We like Dave’s Killer Bread, but any sprouted wheat will do. Then, instead of classic cheddar, I spread a medium layer of La Delice de Bourgogne on one side. It’s a rich triple cream French cheese that spreads like buttah, I tell you. Atop the La Delice, I layered very thin slices of Dubliner (a cheese so good I could eat it by the pound), parmesan gouda (a hybrid cheese from Trader Joe’s that is both confusing and confusingly delicious), and topped the whole thing off with a thin deli slice of pepper jack. Because I’m just crazy like that. And also because we’ve been entertaining a lot lately, and we have a lot of leftover cheese nubbins congregating in the back of the fridge. If we’re not careful, they’re going to unionize and start making demands.

Good student of Julia that I am, I buttered the heck out of both sides. And then it went into a pre-heated cast iron on medium-low for approximately 10 minutes, until the middle was melty and the outside had that perfect crunch.

We ate it with a steaming bowl of roasted red pepper and tomato bisque, and a side of pickles.

My grandma isn’t quite strong enough to wield a skillet and whip up a grilled cheese anymore. In fact, I’m not sure that she remembers our lunches or teaching me to cook innumerable things, a thought that makes me sad.

But I know if she were able to transport herself to my kitchen in San Francisco, she’d have eaten that lunch with a big smile on her face. Because as Julia once said, “I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.”

And cooking something my grandma taught me makes a simple grilled cheese sandwich one of the loveliest things I know how to cook.



. Two slices of whole wheat bread

. 2 ounces each of La Delice, Dubliner, Parmesan Gouda

. 1 slice of pepper jack cheese

. A few pats of butter

(This makes one sandwich)


1. Pre-heat a cast iron skillet on low. The trick is to get the skillet to a nice temp so it’s not still heating while you’re cooking.

2. Spread La Delice on one side, then layer up the other cheeses however you like.

3. Lay the pepper jack on top, then close the sandwich.

4. Butter one side well, then place the sandwich butter-side down in the pan. It should meet the skillet with a nice sizzle. While it’s cooking, butter the other side.

5. After about three minutes, flip it.

6. Keep checking to assess for meltiness in the middle and crispness on the outsides. If the sides are browning before the cheese is melting, turn down the skillet. You should see the cheese start to ooze out the sides when it’s done.

7. Cut on the diagonal and serve with a soup and salty garnish of your choosing. A classy glass of lunch wine wouldn’t be totally out of order either. After all, Grandma loves a nice chardonnay almost as much as she likes a good grilled cheese.


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All photos in this post by Nathan!

Refrigerator Pickles

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It’s New Year’s Eve! Either the dumbest or most festive occasion of the year depending on who you ask. I, myself, am torn betwixt the two. If I have something fun planned, then I am all aboard the New Year’s Eve train. If I have nothing fun planned and am pouting, then this holiday barely justifies as such and it’s free to leave the station while I cry on the platform and the smoke swirls around me in a way that is deeply wistful and Dr. Zhivago-esque.

Thankfully for everyone around me, this New Year’s Eve is going to be a fun and fancy dinner party with friends, cards, games, topped off with a champagne toast at our neighborhood pub! In honor of dinner parties any time of year, I thought it would be fun to share my go-to hostess gift and party must-have: pickles. I know, I know, here we go with the pickling again. But this recipe couldn’t be easier and if you need a quick addition to a charcuterie platter, or just something sweet and homemade to bring to the host, this recipe is for you. If you have five minutes then you can have pickles.

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. 1/4 cup white vinegar

. 8-10 persian cucumbers, depending on size

. 2 cloves of garlic, minced or whole. Minced gives a stronger garlic flavor, while whole cloves are more subtle.

. 2 t. dill, fresh or dried (I find dried to be simplest, though purists might be annoyed with the shortcut)

. 1/2 t. salt

. Optional: 1 t. minced jalapeño, to make those pickles spice-aayyy!


1. Thinly slice your cucumbers and stack them in a jar.

2. Pour the vinegar over the top. It will seem like not nearly enough, but somehow, it is. Trust, my child.

3. Add garlic, salt, dill, then close the jar and shake it up! Leave in the fridge for at least four hours, but up to overnight before serving. If you can remember, flip the jar a few times, to make sure the brine is evenly distributed.

These will keep for about a week and they are beyond. Make them now.

PS – these make an excellent addition to dirty martinis. Call me crazy if you must, but there is something about a homemade pickle slice that compliments a cocktail onion in a gin martini in a way that if I’m wrong I don’t wanna be right, right? Right.

Festive Dipped Pretzels

black and whites

I need to be honest with you – this post feels like a bit of a sham. It’s like when a popular blogger advises using cake mix to make “the perfect birthday treat!”, or “reveals” that frozen french fries are how she makes her frites so very photo-worthy. Look at me, I’m Sandra Lee. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things – because who doesn’t enjoy a festive Funfetti cake from time to time? (or yearly, no matter how old you get, ahem) – but let’s not get on a high horse about it cowboy!

So please note, I am on a very low horse about all this. It’s like one of those tiny ponies you can’t believe exist, but which totally do. (Nathan, are you reading this? If we can’t have a dog, I want a miniature horse!)

Do you want to make the perfect Christmas treat NO COOKING REQUIRED?! Do you want to create something gorgeous that takes very little skill or effort? Do you want to impress your friends and feel secretly smug? Then have I got a recipe for you!



. 12 ounces of whatever type of dipping flavor you like! This year, we used semi-sweet chocolate chips, white baking chocolate, and peanut butter chips.

. Large bag of pretzel rods, wherever you can find them! I find that sourcing pretzel rods is one of the hardest parts of this recipe because dang these bad boys are difficult to find. We used Snyder’s of Hanover and they weren’t even broken when we bought them. Kudos to you, neighborhood grocery store!

. Holiday-themed sprinkles and toppings of your choice! We like sprinkles and colored sugar, but mini-M’n’Ms, tiny chocolate chips and mini marshmallows would also be fun!

gold swirl pretzels


1. Assemble all the ingredients and lay out a workspace: we cover the table and countertops in waxed paper so we have plenty of room for drying.

2. Coarsely chop the chocolate into small chunks. No chopping needed if you’re just using chocolate chips.

3. Lay either your white or dark chocolate in the top of a double boiler and turn the heat to medium-low. The water should never boil, or touch the bottom of the pan on top. This is especially true for white chocolate (which is not actually chocolate) and peanut butter. They have a much lower heat point, so just stay on low and be patient.

You can also melt your chips in the microwave, but I’ve found that method to be faster in the short term and more cumbersome in the long term. Chocolate on a double boiler will keep it’s consistency for however long this project takes.

4. Once the chocolate is liquid, you can start dipping! Depending on the depth of your pot, you can physically dip the pretzel or you may end up spooning it on and smoothing out with a spatula. Either way works.

5. Roll in toppings or sprinkle them on before the chocolate sets. This year, we also did a lot of striping and swirling, which, now that I type it, makes it sound like we were at an old timey church hall dance instead of just hanging in the kitchen. Decorate however works for you. My favorites are the chocolate peanut butter swirl with gold sprinkles. Like Reba says, FANCY.

6. Lay them out on the waxed paper to dry. Let them set overnight, just to make sure they’re good to go.


Manners over Culture

Manners over Culture

Do you make people take their shoes off in your house? Unless you live in a Japanese temple, you shouldn’t get to do this. I HATE taking off my shoes just to go in the house. I slide all over the floor, I know my outfit is ruined, and I will spend the rest of my time in your home worrying about how we’ll safely escape in case of fire, because we’ll be those idiots who ended up barefoot in the front yard. I am in no way related to Honey Boo-Boo, so standing barefoot in your yard is not something that appeals to me.

And yet. If you invite me into your house and ask me to take off my shoes, I will.

“Manners cost you nothing; ignorance can cost you everything.”

I love this quote because it’s so true! And if I could modify it slightly, I’d say that manners cost you nothing, but mean everything. Good manners trump everything else.

While this wild and crazy idea of manners being important is true no matter where you are – family holidays come to mind, ahem – I notice that it’s especially important while traveling.

Part of why we travel – or at least, part of why I travel – is to lose myself and gain a little bit of the world. If you could somehow carry home the sophistication of the French, the wry humour of the Brits, the hospitality of the Singaporeans, and the sheer joie de vivre of the Tanzanians, well…wouldn’t you?

Yet, what I see so often when I’m abroad are people very stubbornly clinging to their own culture, despite the fact that they’re in a new place, and their home culture doesn’t hold much water.

For example, in France it’s considered basic good manners to say hello to a shop proprietor as soon as you enter, and to thank them upon leaving, even if all you did was browse around. Same goes for entering and exiting a city bus, and leaving a restaurant or museum.

In America, we don’t place as much importance on the hello/goodbye ritual, and it’s rare when someone actually calls out, “Thank you!” to the driver of our local Muni bus before she pushes through the melee, myself included. It’s not our culture in America to do all of this greeting and thanking all day long. Perhaps it should be, but it isn’t. So when Americans catch French shop owners rolling their eyes and giving icy replies in French, though you heard them speaking English just moments ago, it’s not because they’re rude, it’s because YOU ARE. You didn’t say hello, you didn’t abide by the good manners of the country you’re visiting.

In certain Asian countries, it’s considered rude or invasive to look someone in the eye for an extended period of time. In America, sustained eye contact is good manners and part of a respectful culture. In those particular Asian countries, it’s very bad manners, invasive and rude, and so, I look away, even though it makes me feel awkward.

When I was traveling in Tanzania, my friend and I were invited for a family dinner in someone’s home. Being the eco-pretentious 23 year old I was, I was proudly vegetarian with no flexibility. Until they brought out the beef stew they’d spent all day making in honor of our visit. It was not within my culture to eat meat, but good manners mandated that I eat, smile, and say thank you, I’d love more! 

It can feel uncomfortable or inauthentic to give way on your own culture, but the savvy traveler knows that manners trump culture every single time. Researching a bit about the manners and culture of the country you’re visiting, and being observant of the locals around you can help you fit in and travel more seamlessly. Remember, nobody likes The Ugly American and nobody wants to be one either. If you can’t stand the smoking, stay out of France. If you can’t handle the meat, stay out of the East African’s kitchen. It’s pretty simple.

This also, I think, applies here in the states. We live in a neighborhood with a very strong immigrant population and part of the culture of that population entails a lot of shoving to be first, to get in front, to get ahead. Because I’m in my own country and intimately familiar with my own culture, I feel no remorse about looking the shovers in the eye and firmly moving myself back to where I was in line.

And while I do, I’m always thankful I have my shoes on.