Sweetness and Snark: Working With What You’ve Got

My hair in its natural, albeit helped by bumble&bumble, state.
My hair in its natural, albeit helped by bumble&bumble, state.

Last week, I had the brilliant idea that I’d write this post on my Keratin Express blowout. I was really happy with the way my bangs turned out and you know, I’m super happy with how my very expensive full-head Keratin Express treatment ended up. But then it occurred to me that there was simply no way for me to do a full-on review of my hair without really talking about the politics of black hair. Particularly, black women’s hair. It’s not something to be waded into lightly–it’s a subject freighted with meaning and controversy, debate over culture and self-loathing and aspirations towards unattainable standards of beauty. There are songs about it. During the 2012 Olympics in London, Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas’ hair made as many headlines as her feats of strength on the balance beam, something that still makes me sad.

So, before I dig into this review, let me say that the things I choose to do with my hair are not because I don’t love what my hair looks like in its natural state, because I do. If I still lived in California, or anywhere the sun shines for more than two weeks a year, I’d wear my hair curly on the daily. I spent a week in Hawaii last summer and didn’t even pack my flat iron. But that was because I knew it was going to be warm and my hair would dry quickly (even if it was raining, the climate in Hawaii interacts with my hair more like a diffuser would than the finger in a light socket effect I get at home)  without first being  misted on in 50 degree temperatures while I stood in the rain. I take the bus and walk almost everywhere, and the rain is not my friend. A few winters ago, I experimented with wearing my hair curly in winter and after applying enough product for it to stay put, I looked like a 3-year-old had given me a really poorly executed finger wave. I lean heavily on my flat iron, Oribe hairspray, and I wear my hair in a high bun until I’ve reached my final commute destination.

In November, I saw a photo of my girl crush Kerry Washington rocking a set of amazing bangs and decided that my fivehead could use a stylish cover and decided that it was time for a bit of a change. But because I have been relaxer-free for seven years and have curly hair (and you cannot have curly bangs because hello, that is a serious folicular crime), I needed to make some tough choices.

So with the encouragement of my wonderful hair stylist Geraldine, I decided to get a Keratin Express treatment. The Express treatment differs from the long form one in that

Before (left, with just my bangs having received the Keratin Express Treatment) and After (right, with a full Keratin Express Treatment)
Before (left, with just my bangs having received the Keratin Express Treatment) and After (right, with a full Keratin Express Treatment)

it’s less permanent and doesn’t last nearly as long (10-12 weeks versus several months to a year). The Express treatment doesn’t include the formaldehyde that makes everyone balk at the thought of it, and, perhaps most importantly, the Express treatment is about a third of the price (mine was $90 for the full head, vs. a $300 starting price tag for the full treatment). With the Keratin Express treatment, I get the hair flexibility that I’ve dreamed of since my mom stopped doing my hair way back when. My curly hair still exists, but when I want to rock my Kerry Washington bangs with (somewhat) wreckless abandon, that’s an option, too. And the product is by no means some kind of miracle–my hair is still somewhat at the mercy of the weather and I still experience a fair amount of dryness. The big difference, as you can see at the right, shine and frizz. On the left side of the picture, my only my bangs had received the Keratin Express Treatment. They’re super shiny (and this is about 10 weeks old!) The rest of my hair is sort of fuzzy and dull in comparison. The picture on the right shows less fuzzy and more shiny hair. It’s a win in my book.

As women, no matter the color, we’re always inclined to fight against what we already have in an effort to make something new, and what we believe is preferable. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered the trick is not to get rid of what you’ve got–but enhance what you already have. The Keratin Express wasn’t cheap, and it probably isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of those rare beauty finds that does the trick of convincing me that I do actually have a great head of hair. If only there was a product that did the same for freckles…

If you’re in the Seattle area, you can get the Keratin Express Treatment at Gene Juarez Salon and Spa.

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Snark: Storming the Bastille

On Sunday afternoon, I joined two friends at Ballard’s Bastille Cafe and Bar. It is a restaurant I’ve wanted to try for a while, but for whatever reason haven’t been able to swing it. The brunch menu is the sort of deal that sets my Francophile in Seattle heart a flutter–French Toast and French 75s.

An image of the menu at Bastille
Wise Words from Julia Child

When we arrived, it was like we’d walked into the episode of Portlandia where a new brunch spot has opened and all the local Portlandians have set up beach chairs outside the doors in order to score a table. As we joined the long line of quietly impatient yuppies, I wondered if maybe the beach chair idea might not have been half bad. And as much as I love brunch, I’m always somewhat leery of places where the lines are crazy long. There’s a restaurant in my neighborhood called Toulouse Petit, and while I love, love, love their happy hour and dinner, Toulouse Petit doesn’t take brunch reservations and you have to wait in almost comically long lines to nab a seat. I love mimosas as much as the next person, but at the end of the day, it’s just brunch, right? What on earth could be so special about it?

Turns out–everything, quite a lot.

French Toast at Bastille
The Holy Grail of French Toast

For reasons I don’t really understand, I cannot make French Toast on my own. It turns out burnt or underdone, and almost always totally hideous and slightly inedible. I can make souffles, gumbo, madeleines…almost anything else. Just not French Toast. And I order it any time I am given the option to do so. I’ve had every version possible–cinnamon bread, brioche, baguettes, etc. Bastille’s version was Baklava stuffed Challah French Toast served with a Cherry and Cognac syrup and dusted with cocoa nib powdered sugar. I also ordered a side of bacon because, why not. It was sinfully good, the kind of dish you wish you could make at home but know that it would only be a sad ghost of the original. I washed the decadent breakfast dish down with not one, but two French 75s. If you know me, you know that my love for French 75s is almost as boundless as my love for French Toast. On the occasion that I find a restaurant or bar that has one on the menu, they’re either too Gin-y or too Champers-y. Bastille’s was neither. It was perfect. It didn’t taste like booze at all and was light and refreshing and basically perfect.

Bastille itself pays quiet but not too kitschy homage to all things Parisian–it’s got dark wood, frosted glass panels between booths, subway tiles, and exposed iron beams like the ones you see inside the Metro in Paris. Though we had brunch, I took a peak at the whole menu online when I got home–it’s a delightful mixture of French standbys (moules-frites) made with locally sourced ingredients (Taylor Shellfish Farms). It was very, very good. The crowd was a mixture of yuppies, hipsters, families, and original Ballard residents. Despite my initial snark about yuppies in line, it was one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever seen in Seattle.

So next time someone suggests brunch, maybe I won’t frown so hard and will instead get my beach chair (and checkbook) ready.
Bastille Seattle
5307 Ballard Avenue Northwest
Seattle, WA 98107
206-453-5014

French 75 (Gin, Sparkling Wine, Lemon)
French 75 (Gin, Sparkling Wine, Lemon)

Friday Five: Beauty Edition

I am a late bloomer in the world of makeup–I didn’t start wearing eye shadow until a couple years ago, and I bought my first concealer last month. I still routinely leave my house without any makeup at all because, you know, I’m incredibly lazy sometimes and also Nigel Barker isn’t really that concerned about what my face looks like when he needs to heed nature’s call. In spite of, or maybe because of, my late start, I am fascinated by the ritual of applying makeup and do so even though every time my mother sees me she tells me I am wearing too much of it.

I have quite a collection of makeup now, but these five products are ones I go back to again and again.

The Final Countdown
The Final Countdown

5. MAC Paint Pot in Indianwood

I usually apply this with my ring finger and use it as a base for other colors (MAC Gleam or MAC Woodwinked work really well), but it’s also good on its own and has amazing staying power.

MAC Cosmetics, $18.50

4. Bobbi Brown Blush in #2 Washed Rose

I learned about this through the Twitter account for the show Scandal’s makeup artist. Kerry Washington/Olivia Pope wears this color and it is amazing. I’m medium skin tone and it’s a nice, natural wash of color on my face, a natural flush. I wore it to have dinner with my mom and she told me it made me look like I was glowing.

Bobbi Brown, $25

3. Lancome Artliner in Noir

I have been wearing this liquid liner for about seven years now, and even though many, many people have suggested other brands, I can’t switch. The applicator feels like a pen and makes me feel like I’m doing calligraphy on my eyes, which oddly enough, really appeals to me. I’ve also never had any trouble with this giving me too thick a line, a problem I’ve had with other liquid liners I’ve tried.

Lancome Cosmetics, $30

2. Maybelline Baby Lips Lip Balm  in #15 Cherry Me 

I hated the name of this product for a really long time and it put me off buying it because I wasn’t sure a 28-year-old woman should be near something called “Baby Lips.” Alas, it is AMAZING. I wore it to the Bobbi Brown counter a couple weeks ago and one of the makeup artists complimented me on the color. I bought it shortly after discovering Clinique’s Chubby Stick in Chunky Cherry and now realize that Cherry Me is a really great dupe at a fraction of the price. Super hydrating as well!

Maybelline, $3.99 

1. Maybelline Volum’Express The Rocket Mascara in Very Black

All of the things on this list are must-haves for me, but Maybelline’s new Rocket Mascara is basically a must-wear.  Though I do go for walks with Nigel sans makeup, if I’m running errands, I’ll usually throw on a bit of mascara, and this particular product makes my nubster eyelashes look fabulous and thick, with no clumps and without making my lashes feel brittle.

Maybelline, $7.99

Julia Child for the 9-to-5er: Coq Au Vin

I have lived in Seattle off and on for the past 15 years, but this winter has really gotten to me. I’m not sure if it was the fact that my doctor told me I was seriously Vitamin D deficient or if the taste of sunshine I got in California during my family vacation to Disneyland in January simply made me acutely aware of just how much I missed the sun. Either way, I really, really miss it. And I know Punxsutawney Phil claims that spring is just around the corner, but I’m not totally convinced. So I’ve decided to try to embrace the unyielding grey Seattleness and indulge in a few dishes that I won’t be able to make in the summer simply because my air conditioning-free apartment is not the place for adventures with my oven.

Coq Au Vin
Cooking with Vino

One of my favorite comfort foods is coq au vin. Don’t let the name or the fact that it’s French fool you into believing that it’s something fancy and difficult to make. It’s not. It’s a stew of chicken, mushrooms, onions, and red wine (vin). And it is damn good.  Depending on how long your commute is or what time you’re comfortable with eating dinner, the adapted recipe below could work as a weeknight meal. Or, if you have some extra time on a Sunday for some serious mise-en-place, try the full recipe from Julia Child.

While I countdown the days until I might catch a glimpse of that giant yellow orb in the sky once more, I’ll be devouring a few servings of this hearty French classic. Because if I can’t get warmth from outside, I’ll do a little warming from within.

Coq Au Vin

PBS Fresh Tastes Blog

Ingredients

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon
  • 3 lbs chicken breasts and legs, skin on (two breasts and two drumsticks)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 10 oz sliced mushrooms
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp salt (or, to taste)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Fry the bacon over medium heat in a dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot. After it’s fried, remove the bacon and place on paper towels to drain. Once cool, chop bacon and set aside. Keep the bacon grease in the pot.
  3. Turn heat to high and place chicken, skin-side down in the pot. Sear chicken until golden brown on both sides, about eight minutes. Then, add the onions, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary. Continue sautéing until the onions begin to soften, about six minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth and red wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. After 30 minutes, carefully remove the chicken from the pot and place in an oven-safe dish. Keep chicken warm in the oven while you work on the sauce.
  6. Stir the flour and butter (butter should melt instantly in the pot) into the red wine sauce. Bring back up to a boil and stir constantly—-sauce should be begin to thicken. Add mushrooms, chopped bacon, salt and pepper and continue cooking for 10-12 minutes. Keep in mind that the sauce will also thicken up a bit when it cools.
  7. Place chicken back in sauce and serve with roasted potatoes, noodles or a big green salad.

Yield: 4 servings

Sweetness: Bark(er)Box

I have a dog. He’s small, just eight-ish pounds (depending on how many table scraps I’ve fed him), and his name is Nigel Barker (yep). My mom got him the summer after I graduated from college as a companion for her second child, Isabel the Chihuahua. But Nigel was really mine from day 1. I named him after the only good thing about America’s Next Top Model, and when I had a kind of serious surgery the same summer that he joined my family, he sat at my feet keeping a sharp puppy eye on me the entire time I was laid up. He immediately took to sleeping next to me, usually behind me near the small of my back, like a tiny, fur covered hot water bottle. After college, I moved around a bunch, and as much as I wanted to take Mr. Barker with me and away from his BFF Isabel, I knew that the mid-2os life I led was not right for him.  About three years ago, I took full possession of him, and he has become my partner-in-crime and many, many times, the sight of his almost violently wagging tail when I come home from a long day at work is the bright spot of my day.

Meet Nigel Barker
Meet Nigel Barker

I will freely admit that I spoil him. He has come to work with me on occasion. I dress him up on holidays. He owns a Dogs for Obama handkerchief. He has more coats than I do, he sleeps in the bed with me, and I’ve surrendered my best throw pillows to him. So when I read about BarkBox, I was thrilled–another way to show Mr. Barker how much I love him.

BarkBox iPhone app
Perhaps the best home screen, ever.

BarkBox is a monthly subscription service similar to Birchbox. You select your dog’s size and a monthly plan, month-to-month, three months, or six months. Bonus: BarkBox donates a portion of each box sold to pupsters in need. Who can argue with that?

I chose month-to-month because Nigel is notoriously finicky about his toys and I didn’t want to waste money on things that would end up in odd corners of my bedroom. The iPhone app (left) is pretty perfect in terms of user experience. I love the little touch of including my dog’s name as well as mine, and the reviewing experience is pretty seamless as well. Like Birchbox, you can purchase items from the box directly from the app, and I didn’t have any problems with that, either. But now for the meat and potatoes–er, kibbles and bits.

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The Love of My Life

I woke up in a wretched mood this morning. I lay in my bed listening to my tiny dog snore like a 300-pound human, and wondered how it was that I managed to always be single on Valentine’s Day. I turned on Robyn’s bittersweet anthem to sad singletonhood, “Dancing On My Own,” and contemplated how long I could stay in bed before the dog would need to be fed and I’d need to check my work mail.

The only photograph I have from that day in Pa-ris.
The only photograph I have from that day in Pa-ris.

And then I realized that maybe I don’t have a human man to love (I have a canine male to love who takes up a good chunk of my attention), and I have a lot of wonderful things happening in my life that I am supremely grateful for. And I’m seeing the love of my life in two months. Not a man, not even technically a living thing. But a city. Paris.

This will not devolve into a blog post in the vein of that show on TLC about women who are in love with inanimate objects (I am crazy, but not that crazy). But it will detail a decade-long love affair with a city.

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Julia Child for the 9-to-5er: Sole Meuniere

Last week, I had a box of Moose Munch and a handful of Haribo gummy colas for dinner. I’d had a long day at work and delivery pizza was out of the question (I’m pretty sure all of the delivery dudes know me by now and this is a problem), and there was very little in my kitchen that could make a square meal. As I watched The Bachelor and wondered just how many people Tierra almost murdered before she was cast as this season’s villain, I made a belated New Year’s resolution: cook more.

Sole meuniere ingredients
Mise-en-place is tres important, mes amies.

I love to cook. My kitchen is filled with encyclopedic cookbooks, I have a stand mixer, a deep fat fryer, a crock pot, and a small army of Le Creuset cookware. But between the holidays and travel, I got out of the habit of buying actual groceries and fell back into some bad culinary ways. The simple act of cooking usually makes my days a bit brighter–as a child, I wasn’t allowed to watch any Saturday morning cartoons (this is a topic for another post), so I subsisted on a steady diet of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, with the occasional episode of “Yan Can Cook” thrown in. From my first disastrous attempt at cooking rice (I was 8, my mom was sick, and I decided to throw rice in a pot with some water and turn it on high. Guess how that turned out.) to my very successful chocolate souffles, I find solace in the fact that unlike many areas of life, if I stick to a recipe, I’ll get an amazing result in the end.

But if work is busy, I easily fall into a not so great habit of not cooking, and relying heavily upon takeout and delivery. This isn’t great for my waistline or my pocketbook, nor is it great for the spirit. Cooking is a great creative outlet that also yields immediate results…and I know that’s the kind of thing we all need after a tough day at work. So, as I try to get back to cooking regularly, I’ve been leaning heavily on a series of recipes that require minimal prep time or that feature ingredients easily picked up on your way home from work.

My first is a quick and easy adaptation of sole meuniere. Sole meuniere, oyster, and a good wine were the first things Julia Child consumed upon arrival in France, and in a New York Times interview, she described that meal as “an opening up of the soul and spirit for me.” It may sound silly, and a little trite, but this brightly flavored, easily prepared, and slightly decadent dish might just do a little opening of the soul and spirit in your kitchen.

Bon appetit!

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The Friday Five: Getting Through the Work Week Edition

I’m not gonna lie, I’m still kind of getting used to the post-holiday schedule (I mean, everyone in America is basically on some kind of reduced schedule from Thanksgiving until the week after New Year’s), and work has been a bit stressful this week. So these are the things that kept me calm(ish), sane(ish), and happy this week!

5. Buzzfeed’s “23 Songs That Make The World Your Personal Catwalk”

Last week, Buzzfeed published this amazing playlist of songs that make you feel like you’re walking down a catwalk. And even though stomping my way up a rain slick aisle on a Seattle city bus is pretty far from a catwalk at fashion week in Paris, I’ve got my commute version of Coco Rocha going strong. You better werq.

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