04 December 2011

Finding Festive Spirit in an Empty Space

The garland has been hung; the candles have been lit; I've added a touch of sparkle to every room in the house; and, another re-organizing project has been completed amidst this year's Christmas decorating.

Hello readers and fellow bloggers, I have returned from many months of juggling a blossoming business and attending to a handful of house guests . . . just in time to reorganize my entire house for the holidays.

I am - as you might have guessed - one of those people that do not walk away from a project until it's completed, even if that means skipping meals and turning off my DROID for the day, and this project was no different. I didn't let my focus be deterred until that last pretend present was perfectly placed underneath the tree.

However, I was fortunate enough to have my wonderful Grandmother (see Blog #2) here to help welcome the always daunting task of putting up my 7.5 ft. Christmas tree. She encouraged me to enjoy the act of decorating by putting up the tree one evening and waiting to finish the rest of the ornamenting the next day. It was because of her calming presence, and most likely her promise of a martini at Mastro's, that for the first time, I left a project unfinished for the night.

The next day, I sadly said goodbye to Grandma as she walked through the doors at John Wayne Airport, and then, hurried home to complete my unfinished project . . . and another project I hadn't planned on.

I cannot be the only one who feels like every year I take down those plastic bins filled with festive tchotchkies and wonder why the place from whence that stuff came in that land of lost things couldn't be a little more organized? I will have to admit, it feels a bit like Christmas just peeking inside those boxes of mysterious holiday objects, because you never know what you might find - especially if you like to hit the "after-holiday sales," and end up stuffing those items into storage until next year. Kinda fun? Yes. But the uncertainty of it all makes this OCDite dread decorating every year.

So this year, on Day 2 of putting up holiday party decor, I decided to completely reorganize my entire storage closet (which is like a small room, I might add) before any of those empty bins went back in.

Tip: Reorganize the space where you store your holiday trinkets BEFORE you put it away, or just reorganize any space to make room for more of whatever may come.

There is now plenty of space to neatly tuck away my collection of trees and nutcrackers when the holidays are passed, and adequate shelving left for any gifts I get that may fall within the "regift" category . . . if I did that, which I don't . . . unless I truly know that someone else would appreciate it more than I. Why wouldn't I want it to have its best home?

Anyway, I gave my OCD a full workout today, filling 2 city garbage bins with old Halloween costumes (like it will ever be appropriate for me to be a fairy again), random shoe boxes (I don't understand why I insist on keeping those? It's not like I ever return anything?), my rollerblades (do people still do that?), and boxes of business cards from like 2003.

It felt good to free myself of those items I'd left behind, and while I gazed into all the now open storage space, I smiled. Kind of like the past year of my life, I've walked away from those things and people that no longer suit me, and have made room for new moments and opportunities. The occurrences of 2011 have changed me and led me down a road that finally feels right. This year, I gave myself the gift of going in a different direction. I encourage you readers to make space for those memorable moments, too, and enjoy the holidays!

Festooned in our fur and what I like to call "happy fat" to make myself feel better, from my first year as a food writer, we thank you for reading.

Photography by Ralph Palumbo Photography~ralphpalumbo.com

Happy Holidays!

31 August 2011

An Apparel Affair

"Be faithful to your own taste, because nothing you really like is ever out of style."
~ from Billy Baldwin Decorates

It is the end of August. August is a month I long for every year. By June I've already started saving money and making appointments in my calendar for that last full month of summer. This is not because I'm anxious for its predictable warmth or ready to join my European friends on their annual vacations; it is because it is the moment when the fabulous fall clothing lines begin hitting the stores. Leather, cashmere, wool and fur - for me, seeing the familiar textiles of fall reinvented each year parallels the pleasure of finding new ingredients to play with in my kitchen.

Just so you can begin to understand the strangeness of my outfit obsession, I need to explain that it's not just buying new clothes, it's an adventure in seeking out those pieces that speak to me and fit my style as if they were made for me. It becomes a physical necessity for me to purchase or I will have dreams about it until I do. Fashion is exciting - it's art which I can proudly display as a visual expression of me.

So to kick off this season's tour of textiles, I joined my girls on our bi-annual outing to the world's greatest outlet mall: The Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon, California. Every time we make the morning trek towards Palm Springs to this mile-long mall, there are new stores! Like a magnetic force I cannot pull away from, finding quality pieces at this outlet's prices, is like winning the lottery. There is something about that perfect print or a trendy pleated trouser that provokes an excitement within me similar to that of being handed my first Cabbage Patch Kid when I was 5. (Octavia Roberts - according to her certificate - just like the skirts and shoes I've treasured like trophies throughout my life, is now happily settled in a plastic storage bin for a fun future unveiling.)

My admiration for these items is not because I am materialistic, but because I can remember the feeling each item sparked within me upon discovering it for the first time. So, this is the advice I'm going to pass on to those of my friends who may want a little help in the wardrobe department:

Tip for choosing the right ensemble for you: find and pick apparel that makes you smile or reminds you of yourself.

Some may disagree with my philosophy, but if you put someone in something that they're not comfortable in just because it's trendy, they'll just look uncomfortable. An outfit that causes you to exude confidence - whether it is last season or now - will make you appear confident. Yes, there are some standard rules that apply to picking your wardrobe, like pick something that flatters your own figure or choose colors that enhance your particular skin tones, but aside from following the basics, wear what makes you feel good.

I like to wear clothes that are different. As I do with the design of my home, my favorite way to intrigue is to juxtapose opposites. On our outlet excursion, I chose two Diane Von Furstenberg separates (my favorite prints ever - she is a genius!): the tops is a bold pattern in a loose and flowing form while the bottoms are basic black, tight and high waisted (obsessed with this fit right now as long as it's figure flattering). And I'd like to share a special thank you to my shopping sister Deann for giving me her $50 DVF gift card, because she saw the look in my eye when I found this outfit.

For retro prints and fits, shop Diane Von Furstenberg.

The other outfit I picked was an unexpected pairing of an active-wear striped tank with a skirt suited for power lunching. When the weather gets warmer, I plan to add an edgy jacket to make my work wear more interesting.

Theory is a great store for basics

The girls like to laugh at me, because I tend to steer them into the designer stores, but I need to explain that it is because I honestly create a connection to my clothes. Am I a little neurotic about picking and choosing my wardrobe? Yes. But didn't you expect that? I want to feel like me and look like me in my clothes. My favorite statement to hear from my friends when we're shopping is, "this one looks like you." I am proud that I have a style of my own that's recognizable whether it is in tune with the trends or not, it makes me smile, and I hope that I can inspire you to find a few new fall garments (or maybe summer since it's all on sale right now!) that make you smile.

And don't forget to accessorize! Your attire isn't complete without properly paired shoes.

My MARNI heels - bringing the 70s back with these powerful pumps.

Happy outfitting!

05 August 2011

Summer: Months for Musing & Sushi Making

A whirlwind of joy, a journey home and juggling new clients and fantastic visitors have been the composition of my July. Although, I have missed my readers and fellow bloggers during my month of vacation, I have so much to share from my month of musing that I don't know where to begin! It seems only appropriate for this OCDite to begin at the beginning and tell my summer stories in chronological order, right? So, here is a tale of entertaining my friends before my July journey began.

Readers, I hope you enjoyed my last entry on the "joy of cooking" and maybe even tried my easy tequila chicken recipe, but I know for some, that the thought of cooking only stirs up fear rather than delicious food. So this post is for those of you who love to throw a party, but don't want to do the cooking yourself. This OCDite has discovered a way to satisfy and impress your guests without having to lift a finger in the kitchen!

Tip: Hire a private chef (much more reasonably priced than you might think). Chef Andi Therrien, a personal chef and sushi making master, uses her skills to engage guests in preparing the food, so you don't have to!

Chef Andi Therrien and I showing off my roll
 Now for most, this concept of no cooking makes for super simple planning and gratifying results as a happy host. However, as you've been reading my thoughts for the past few months, you readers may have already guessed that nothing is simple - although, always fabulous - on this OCDite's turf. I just can't plan anything without striving to perfect the details. So, in the timeline below, I will show you the process of how I accomplish the perfect party.

OCDite Party Timeline
  •  Pre-party shopping: I like to shop around for the best deals, and more importantly, the most perfect items. After this particular party, I am now a member at Marakai Market, an Asian-inspired grocery and marketplace in Costa Mesa. Although, Mitsua (one of my favorite and first experiences with Asian markets) has a beautiful selection of food, Marakai stocks its shelves with the other items you might need: Japanese-style bamboo flip flops (a polite and fun way to tell my guests to take their shoes off), printed fans for placeholders and Japanese paper doll bookmarks which I used for name tags.

The perfect party accessories can make a memorable statement

  • Party Set-up: As I finish my make-up, I run through my mental list: 1) light the candles, 2) sweep one last time, 3) finish attaching name tags to the placeholders, and 4) arrange the table and decorations to suit a photo shoot for the cover of Real Simple magazine, because you never know . . .
  • Pre-party Meditation: I use the time while I'm blow-drying my hair to breathe myself out of OCDite crazy time and into relaxed hostess with the mostess.
  • Party Time: Personally greet every guest, and make them feel comfortable (open a bottle of wine, and everyone is happy). Then, and only then, indulge in the experience with your guests, but try not to show your freak-out when someone spills soy sauce on your Peroba wood table.

Beautifully prepared, delicious food is the heart of any party

  • Post-party Cleanup & Calm: By the time I go to bed, it's 3 am, but the dishes are clean, the kitchen is sparkling, the floors are now free of fish roe, and the table linens are washed, dried, and folded neatly back in the linen closet from whence they came. Before sleep, relish in the success of your party, engrain in your mind the smiles and discoveries and even the spills which are now also a memory of the night. And then, pass out.
If you're interested in hosting your own sushi-party, I can't say enough about the memorable experience we had with Chef Andi Therrien. Email her at: chef.andit@gmail.com for your next party.

Fun and festive - a themed party is something everyone will enjoy.
 Happy Hosting!

29 June 2011

Interpretations from a Compulsive Kitchen: Part II

“I don’t think any day is worth living without thinking about what you’re going to eat next at all times.”
~Nora Ephron on Gourmet.com

Miss Ephron must be reading my mind. She must have grown up in a family of fantastic cooks, like me. I’m constantly consumed by thoughts of food – what to eat, what to cook, what I can serve for my next dinner party, and I know this love of food has been passed down to me from my food-loving ancestors. It’s in my blood. Eating and cooking is the heart and soul of my family, and so we’ve always spent most of our time gathering in the kitchen.

The view beyond my own kitchen window still lacks that chic, cozy sectional and soothing trickling waterfall, but I have been spending most mornings enjoying my coffee under my new lantern-ornamented umbrella. (Had to have a neighbor help me put the umbrella up, but now it’s not going anywhere.) I have surpassed my pining over decorating my yard and am dying to relax with a little cooking in my kitchen once more.

I can’t begin anything in my kitchen unless it begins as a shiny, spotless thing of beauty. I never go to bed or leave the house until the dishes are clean. I disinfect my countertops and cooking surfaces at least 10 times per day. To me, a dirty kitchen probably produces dirty food. My kitchen always smells a hint like lavender. It is the one space in my house where I feel the most Zen (that is, until I get my “Zen den” in my backyard completed), and it’s appropriately, the most immaculate room in the house. I mean, it really does sparkle.

When I bought my fixer-upper home nearly 2 years ago, I spent the most time (and also the most money) on building a beautiful kitchen. Although small (not really a 2-butt kitchen as my Grandma would say), I knew it would suit me perfectly with the right design. I filled every inch of space with solid cherry cabinetry, and fit a small pantry around my refrigerator which is always overflowing with pita chips and pasta. My glass tile backsplash is a mixture of colors of the ocean, and just knowing that my countertops are made from a naturally antimicrobial surface – quartz – calms my germophobe mind. And you can’t miss my lion-head cookie jar in the corner which reminds me of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia and brings a smile to all who enter.

So now that I’ve set the scene, let me share with you my slightly neurotic interpretation of an average cooking experience with this OCDite.

I turn on some moving music, crank open my window to let the bay breeze in, and step into the zone of my culinary form. I take my time. It’s always a personal journey for me – an expression of me on a plate. I’m methodical about the organization of my kitchen prep. I read the recipe multiple times before I even get out the ingredients so that I can feel the flow of the tasty treat that awaits my craftsmanship. Many of my recipes are derived from old family recipes, which I’ve tweaked to fit my taste buds today. So I try to imagine my relatives going through the same processes. Food makes me feel free and connects me to my family. Revisiting these old recipes always feels like having a conversation with the generations before me.

A very unglamorous me whipping up
pasta and squash blossoms in my own kitchen

I start by prepping all of the ingredients the recipe requests as well as those items that I think will add even more deliciousness to the dish (I add garlic and herbs to almost everything). I’m like an Iron Chef – or at least I like to pretend I am – while I’m chopping veggies, herbs and proteins with my Wusthöf Santoku knife. I then, carefully line each element up in multi-colored silicon bowls in order of use according to the directions just like they do for the celebrity chefs on the Food Network, and get ready to cook! I feel prepared – ready to make my way through the recipe, because I have precisely prepped. However, due to this meticulous method of prep, a Rachael Ray 30-minute meal, does not hit the table in 30 minutes at my house. I love you, Rachael, but 30-minute meals are at least 60-minute meals for this OCDite.

Tip for conceiving successful cuisine: Organize your ingredients before you begin cooking. Why? Why not! If the components are systematically laid out and ready to go, you will have so much more room for creative seasoning, sauce adjustments and enjoying the creative cooking process itself. Precise preparation will lead to a more relaxed and fun cooking environment, and possibly room for sipping wine while you stir.

I am a firm believer that good tools are essential to more fully enjoying the art of cooking. Once you feel the difference, you’ll start putting money aside to stock your cupboards with quality tools. Here are some of my favorites:

1)      Wusthöf Santoku knife (mentioned above) You don’t need an entire knife set, all you need is one good knife, and this is it.
2)     Le Creuset’s enameled cast iron French oven Can’t seem to cook both your veggies and your meat together without burning one? This heavy-duty everything pot, makes it nearly impossible to burn anything. And all of Le Creuset’s products can go from stove-top to oven seamlessly.
3)     Zojirushi rice cooker This under-credited appliance is great for busy people. It cooks rice, steams veggies, cooks protein and even cake perfectly, and all you have to do is push a button.

So have I convinced any of you to get in the kitchen and cook tonight? I’ll make it a little easier and provide you with an impressive, healthy summer dinner dish. I submitted this recipe to the Claremont, South Dakota United Methodist Church cookbook (hands down, the best cookbook I own next to The Joy of Cooking – all of the Claremont women seem to have been born for the kitchen).

Margarita-Braised Chicken Thighs
with citrus-scented jasmine rice
½ cup flour
1 T. paprika
2 tsp. garlic powder
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
½ tsp. salt
1 T. olive oil
1 C. thinly sliced sweet onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 C. dried tropical fruit
1 C. orange juice
½ C. tequila (can substitute chicken broth, but it’s just not as fun)
1 lime, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro or parsley

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine first 3 ingredients in a small baking dish. Sprinkle chicken with salt; dredge chicken in flour mixture. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned but not cooked through. Transfer chicken to an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Add onion to same skillet the chicken was cooked in; cook 3 minutes. Add garlic to pan, and sauté 1 minute. Combine fruit, juice, and tequila in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave on HIGH 2 minutes. Pour fruit mixture into pan with onions; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned, yummy bits. Cook 1 minute. Pour onion & juice mixture over chicken; top with lime slices. Bake at 400° for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve chicken on a bed of citrus-scented jasmine rice, and sprinkle with fresh herbs.

*Note: 2 chicken thighs and approximately 1/3 of cup of the fruit mixture is only 350 calories!

Citrus-scented Jasmine Rice
1 C. long-grain jasmine rice
2 ½ cups chicken broth
2 limes or sweet oranges
2 T. butter
Salt, to taste
¾ C. scallions, sliced
½ C. fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

Add chicken broth, butter, salt and zest and juice of 2 limes (or 1 orange) to a medium saucepan that has been coated with non-stick cooking spray and bring to a boil. Stir in jasmine rice. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook approximately 15 minutes. OR, throw all of the ingredients into your Zojirushi rice cooker, and push the rice button. It will cook itself perfectly. Remove from heat, and add the scallions and fresh herbs. Stir to combine.

Thank you, Kitchen, you served me well yet again, and remain my favorite space for combating the day’s compulsions. And thank you, Readers, for taking this culinary tour with me.

Bon a petit!

09 June 2011

Dreaming in Desire: My Quest for a Stylish Outdoor Sanctuary

Comfy cushions, ethnic patterned pillows, rustic round tables, cocktails spread about on shiny trays - all lit with an eclectic mix of cleverly hung candle lanterns from above. This is the vision that I have been mentally mulling over when I go to sleep at night. I have rethought the furniture arrangement several times and I have changed color schemes enough to have made it around variations of the color wheel twice. I want it to be the ultimate outdoor lounge space. I have also begun envisioning the great nights the girls and I will have in my new haute hippy lounge. It's like the space was made for this.

The outdoor space this OCDite desires: (www.westelm.com)

And it doesn't help that I'm constantly surrounded by my own space now. I love my space - I've made it my home, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. But now that I am also working out of my home, it is much harder to escape my wandering analytical eye of interior design. I want it all to be perfect, to appear precisely like the image in my head. I think I get these decorating compulsions from my Mom. Mom still rearranges her furniture so often that I don't think it has ever been the same on two occasions when I return home for a visit.

I'm sure we have all thought about the things we desire while we reach for sleep each night, but for an OCDite, these kinds of desires to organize or redesign or calculate or shop can plague our minds until we can no longer think about anything else. I know it sounds odd, and probably rather crazy, that outdoor patio furniture can have that much of an effect on my thoughts, but that's the way it works. And in addition, it seems that every website right now is torturing me with that seasonal wave of advertisements for outdoor spaces. This is also why I cannot go shopping without buying something (see Dad - there is a valid reason), because there is always something that can make my wardrobe a little closer to complete.

My urge to want to complete this project so that I can live my summer months in the outdoors has been so strong that Part II of Interpretations from a Compulsive Kitchen has been put on hold. How can I cook and look out my flower-box kitchen window through the orchids into the space which is now empty, just waiting to be filled with furniture and fun times?! I cannot.

So, I had to do something. And that is my advice to the OCDites of the world for this post.

Tip: Deal with the desires of your painstakingly powerful mind by taking action on a level that provides a reasonable amount of satisfaction - enough to "get you by." 

As a girl on a budget, I had to settle for an outdoor umbrella and a few mini lanterns to hang from its rungs. This, by the way, is a great idea which I saw a couple of years ago in a magazine. Hanging mini lanterns from an outdoor umbrella instantly makes the space warm and inviting, and it's inexpensive. So my backyard is now cozy enough for me for those nights when I'd rather be inspired by the tranquility of the outdoors, but sorry girls, you'll have to wait another year before my Zen den is open for cocktail hour.

Summer is coming, so let's move life outdoors! I would love to hear if any of you have recommendations of your favorite places to get quality, reasonably priced outdoor furniture and accessories and how you're decorating your spaces. Please share! All of this mental interior design is keeping me from dreaming about frolicking through fields of flowers and learning to fly.

And don't forget to check out my WEEKLY READER page for my latest article written for LOCALE Magazine!

**photos courtesy of westelm.com and potterybarn.com where I purchased these items

22 May 2011

Interpretations from a Compulsive Kitchen: Part I

Now that I've eaten my way through the leftover Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne (a delectable fish preparation from Miss Julia Child), Ragu Casserole (my Great Aunt's recipe), and meatloaf (courtesy of William Sonoma), which were all accrued during Grandma's visit in March, it is time again to start soothing my soul by cooking up some summer favorites.

There's something so satisfying about cooking at home, and with all of the recent food blogging assignments I've been sent on for the magazine, it sounds even more pleasing - to chop, to stir to flavor layer delicious culinary compositions of my own. Instant gratification and one of the best releases from my manic mind.

But before my dishes can come together, the ingredients have to be chosen. And as you might imagine, an OCDite's creations are compiled carefully with choice produce and herbs (I started my own herb garden last year, so I could be sure I was getting the freshest every time!). Quality ingredients - if you live in a climate where they're readily available - are like the difference between cashmere and wool. Both will do the trick, but if you want to truly indulge, then "go big or go home."

I recommend checking out the local farmers markets first. They are popping up everywhere in Southern California. I gravitate to the market at the OC Fair Grounds (Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), because it's close, which boasts the best eggs, true artisanal dark German bread and fresh, raw almonds amongst the beautiful bounty of fresh produce. And if you reside in my home state of South Dakota, stop by the nearest Hutterite colony. Their produce and meat is grown with care and tradition, and is always delicious.

Onions and artichokes at the Fairground Farmers Market
Be creative with what's in season: Sautee or stuff these beautiful Squash Blossoms
And who can resist a beautiful beet! Boil them (with the stems on so they keep their color) and eat them cold or hot in salads or soups.
It is hard to resist picking up everything displayed on the market tables, but of course, I always go prepared with a list. As much as I would like to be one of those spontaneous cooks that can meander their way through the market, stumble upon the most impressive artichoke you've ever seen and make a menu on the spot using that ingredient, I am just not that person. It probably takes me as long to come up with what I'm serving as it does to actually cook the dish.

After flipping through my favorite cookbooks or those that I constructed myself during my first month of vacation (seven 2-inch binders of recipes, equipped with color-coded tabs, sheet protectors and creatively cut scrapbook-like pages - thank you - I am impressed by it, too), I make my choice, and set out to scribble an organized list of what I need - or I used to, until recently. A couple of months ago, I discovered one of the most intuitive apps (not an appetizer, but a phone application) and a dream for an OCDite like me, called Out of Milk. Out of Milk, an app after my own heart, allows you to make multiple shopping lists for different stores or different occasions, you can check off the items as you go as well as keep tabs of what's in your spice rack, and it's free! It's unbelievable, and for an OCDite whose mind is always "on," it is comforting to know that I can immediately add a thought or an item to my multitude of lists and not freak out about not being able to instantly jot it down because I'm worried I'll forget about it, and then my future list will be incomplete. This app eases so many obsessive moments for me that I can't begin to thank the inventor enough, but thank you!

Furnished with my virtual list tucked away in my Furla, I make my rounds to these varietal grocers:

  • For truly sustainable seafood: Santa Monica Seafood
  • For hard to find, quality ingredients: Bristol Farms
  • For meat and cheeses: The Meat House
  • For spices in quantities large or small and addictive, homemade snacks: Henry's Market
  • For savory simmering sauces if you don't have the time to make your own: William Sonoma
  • For a more elegant meal and a bright spot in your day, pick up a bundle of fresh flowers: Every Bloomin' Thing
Round up an assemblage of farm fresh goods, and bring them home to admire. Throw a few in a bowl to decorate your countertop, and put the rest in bags or bowls of water after cleaning. I place my lettuces, herbs and tomatoes in Ziploc bags with a paper towel or two, and my other veggies like carrots, celery and radishes get thrown into a container of icy cold water for long-lasting freshness and to keep them crisp. Why not get the most out of your harvest?

So, until Part II from my rather compulsive kitchen, make your virtual lists, do your shopping and let it be fun! Explore the variety of eats available at your local grocers. Next time, we'll travel through my OCDite mind in prepping and cooking mode, and I'll leave you with a recipe that will allow you to be playful and adventurous, and it will not be something baked. Baking requires precision, and if you don't get the measurements perfect, it can be a little too disastrous for this disorder.

And don't forget to take one last look at the Jacarandas while you're out perusing the produce - their purple blooms will be gone soon!


06 May 2011

Surfing on Cloud California

Sand-covered Rainbows (the flip flops) and breaths of ocean air with the beach as a consistent backdrop, rock concerts down the street, photo shoots, al fresco brunching, too many farmers' markets to choose from (fyi, local readers: the one at the OC Fairgrounds has the best farm-fresh, brown eggs anywhere and food truck Thursdays!), Cinco de Mayo celebrations and a multitude of monthly birthday events - this is my life in the now world-famous OC. Actually, this is an accurate description of my schedule last week. Yes, most of the time I have to take a step back and pinch myself and wonder how the heck I made my home in this desirable destination; Southern California can be like living on Cloud 9 . . . but sometimes it can all add up to too much stimulation for this OCDite. I'm like my cat Ice who becomes over stimulated by too much attention and runs under the bed. Mine is a similar reaction, but obviously a different escape route.

As I was enjoying my frothy espresso and spinach quichette with a friend at breakfast a couple days ago, I blurted out, "if I don't get a pair of wide-leg Chloe pants, I might die." We were flipping through the latest issue of Riviera Magazine and having our usual fashion discussion, but I surprised my friend and myself with the seriousness of my statement. When did I reach the point of desiring $750 pants?! I am definitely becoming a product of Californication. I am just surrounded by too many beautiful things, and now as a "starving artist," I can't afford those kinds of wishes but the temptation is unavoidable with Hollywood right around the corner.

Out on assignments for the magazine, I feel like I'm entering another dimension of local life. I carry a leather journal depicting a vintage Orange County emblem on the outside and map on the inside for jotting down my serendipitous occurrences. I meet people who have become success stories in their fields. I meet people who have reached a place in their career where they can confidently portray contentment, and everything they do is important. I taste fantastic food, shake hands with notable neighbors and observe beautiful photo shoots. How can I not be mesmerized, intimidated and inspired by my environment? 

My book of musings

As an OCDite, it is nearly impossible to restrain myself from fulfilling what can become a physical desire to be the best. My goal is to reach the same reputation with my writing in this county as I have with my sparkling marble floors! It's like everything else, when we OCDites get something brewing in our brains, we have to take some course of action to settle the steam. For me, I either have to harbor in my house for days or produce a packed schedule of daily duties to fill my time and appease my urges. As long as I have projects with which to focus my compulsive behavior, I should remain on the semi-sane side and credit-card-debt free. So that's what I do, I schedule my life, which is becoming more fulfilling everyday.

Tip for Soothing compulsions and sharpening your energy: find a place to release and remain in control, because the powers of obsession should not be stifled.

Remaining in control: In the past few years, it has even become necessary for me, as on OCDite, to calendar my life. I commit to everything, because I don't want to miss out on any chance encounter of life's little inspirations, so I'm constantly calendaring. I calendar your average events like birthdays and dental appointments and dinners, but I also calendar things like "weed my garden" and "get oj light bulbs apples big Fijis and kitty food." (This is a direct appointment pulled from my Google calendar on April 27, and I know my friend Ali is laughing her ass off right now, because she had access to my calendar when we worked together. It's ok - I've come to terms with it.) Is it because I'm getting older and can't remember all of these random obligations? Is it because I try to experience too much - nope, it's because I'm an OCDite. Does anyone else do this? I'd love to hear that this might not be another obsession unique to just me.

Find a place to release: So where do I go to get away from the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? Sometimes I just want to lose myself - only for a moment - in a crowd - particularly the pulsing crowd of a concert, which is what I did last week when I joined a friend at the Hollywood Music Box to see Airborne Toxic Event perform. This release was long overdue.

Airborne Toxic Event from the balcony at the Music Box in Hollywood, April 28, 2011

 This is my escape route, the kind of stimulation that soothes my soul so that I can return to my life in the surf and sun. Who, where or what relieves your erratic behavior?

20 April 2011

Adventures in Foodie Land

I just got out of the shower and was mid-way through my 32 step regimen that follows my daily cleansing when my DROID started buzzing off the countertop. I dropped the towel from my head to answer. It was the editor and publisher of the magazine for which I've been writing. Like last week and the week before, he was calling to see if I'd cover a foodie-related event at the last minute for their website blog posts (what am I going to wear?! I was going to prep for Friday's interview? Is there something else I was planning to do? I'm sure there was . . .).

Now, continuing to work with this magazine is a dream, and I also love food more than most. However, for an OCDite, these spur of the moment decisions make me instantly break out in a sweat. "Of course - where are you sending me this time?" was my reply, because I do really love to do it. I've had the opportunity to cover 4 events in the past couple of weeks, and not only do I love free food, but I am feeling more and more like a part of a community - the writers community. I may have a heart attack from the mental stress of dropping everything and taking my day or night in a different direction than originally planned, but I am loving every minute of the challenge to manage my disorder and jump back into what makes my mind tick.

So, for this week's post, I'd like to share one of the pieces for which I've been rearranging my routine. For my fellow OCDites - this is proof that spontaneity can be done. And I will admit, every minute is an adventure in the world of juggling constant compulsions. I will be posting future write-ups on my Facebook page and alerting you Tweeters on Twitter. Happy Reading!

The Beat Goes on until Your Food is Gone
CULINARYsound at Shorebreak Hotel’s Zimzala Restaurant and Bar
500 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92648
April 20, 2011 
Written by Kristal Docter for LOCALE Magazine
Just around the corner from the most famous street in HB filled with straight-billed surfers and nearly-naked beach babes, sits the newly constructed “surfer chic” Shorebreak Hotel and Zimzala Restaurant and Bar – hosts to a unique concept coined CULINARYsound. Different than anything you’ll find in north or south county, CULINARYsound connects food, music, art, shopping and lounging in one locale. The organization’s mantra and our theme for the night, “because food tastes better with music,” intrigued me enough to see what the buzz was all about.

Me, CULINARYsound creator Randy Mello and wife Tammy Mello

“We’re bringing you the best of both worlds – food and music. A chef prepares a plate of food the same way a DJ prepares to play the next track. We’re serving good eats and sexy beats,” said CULINARYsound creator Randy Mello.
Still slightly uncertain of what I was in for, I grabbed a glass of chardonnay from the hosted wine bar and headed into the Uth Pop-up Shop for a little eye candy, because there is nothing that makes me feel more at home than shopping. As a centerpiece for tonight’s shop, a live art installation was in progress. Artist David Borgatta of Creative Alliance blended and brushed a palette of vibrant colors onto canvas while a crowd quickly formed around him. The rest of the room had been transformed into a gallery, showcasing Borgatta’s beach-inspired work and other shop specialties were scattered across the tables. I perused through kitschy vinyl wallets, handmade bracelets, Japan relief posters and cleverly labeled candles which I had to purchase! All of the items are made by local designers and artists, so I felt extra supportive about my purchase. I was starting to feel it – the CULINARYsound vibe.
  After filling my shopping fix, I joined Mello who was gathering the group of attending foodies and professionals around his guest table for a feast with new friends. Mello exudes an energy that is intoxicating and difficult to describe in words. His passion for this philanthropic culinary concept pulls you in like a magnet. He invited us all to join hands and thank whoever brought us all together to experience this mash-up of sensory stimulation. Where else can you eat, sleep, shop and lounge to tasty tunes and live art installations?
Speaking of tasty (now we’re getting somewhere!), as the beats boomed on in the background, Mello ordered the table several dishes from the CULINARYsound exclusive menu – invented by Chef de cuisine Roy Hendrickson. Keeping CULINARYsound partners in mind, each item is infused with one of the brands involved with the event. Mello calls this “brandships,” fusing brands and friendships and creating a family of partnerships. Tonight, we were presented with dishes (as well as visually stimulating table-top installations) containing FUZE® Infuzed Beverages and Blue Moon beer.
Working our way down the very reasonably priced menu as Deejay Cocoe moved through his set, we started with the Duck Confit Sliders, spread with just enough FUZE® blueberry-raspberry jam and skewered with a pickle on top. Sweet and savory, I could have eaten two plates, but was trying to be polite. Just as I was eyeing the 2nd plate of unfinished sliders, and hoping I was one of the few who thinks duck is delicious, the next course came: a beautifully constructed butter lettuce salad like I have never tasted. Added to the traditional mix-ins like goat cheese, toasted almonds and fruit topping were pretty little pearls of FUZE® strawberry-raspberry caviar that popped in my mouth. I hope they put this item on the regular Zimzala menu, because it will please veggies, vegans (without the cheese) as well as carnivores like me.
The music appropriately begins to wind down as our next dish arrives: a bowl of buttery clams in a Blue Moon broth. Lightly dusted with herbs and served with crusty-grilled bread for double-dipping, this soupy sensation reminded me of summers by the sea.
And finally, what’s a meal without dessert? How about a house-made Banana Colada FUZE® truffle that bursts when bitten? Yum!
With a purchase in my Birkin, a satisfied appetite and a new group of friends, I would say this night has been music to my ears – and, in this case, all of my other senses, too!
Make your reservations and come check out CULINARYsound every other Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. - 11 p.m. in Zimzala Restaurant and Bar at the Shorebreak Hotel. At May 4th's event, CULINARYsound welcomes new partners Groceries Apparel, producer of organic garments, and Invisible Children, activists who are devoted to helping children in Uganda. CULINARYsound's "feel good kitchen concept" will be donating proceeds to participating local charities. I will be donating by dancing in my chair and devouring more duck sliders. Bon Appétit!

10 April 2011

"Gettin' Ready, 'Cause Here I Come!"

So what do you think of My So Called OCD Life's new look? (Thank you, my secret graphic Guru.) Do I look like a writer to you? Is the look more intriguing? Do you think I am still portraying a somewhat professional appearance? Do the images provoke a sense of wonderment and fun? Do I look like I have OCD?!!

For the past couple of months, I have been captivated by the conceptualization of putting together logos, looks and language to promote myself as a budding freelance writer (never expected to still be "budding" past the age of 30, but here I am). Maybe it's my obsession with creating a visionary brand for myself and evolving into the writer I've always dreamed of becoming (get ready readers, someday I will own a beaded eyeglass lanyard, and I can't wait!); maybe I really am on the verge of crazy (or finally success!); or, maybe I'd just like to get more of a rise out of my readers (that is most certainly a hint). Whatever my motivation, I'm "gettin' ready" to make an impact in the competitive world of composing, and thought I needed (and was also advised) to "writer-ize" my image.

As you might imagine, I can be critical and yes, obsessive, about the impression I portray to the circuit I surround myself with and now to the world of writers and the readers who follow them. I don't think anyone loves to see themselves in photographs. I would guess that approximately 3 times a year, I somehow come up with a photo of myself that I can proudly display, but that's about it. It's not that I'm insecure about my looks - I just take terrible photographs! The photo shoot that produced my site's new images was no exception. There is a reason one image is so small you can't really make out my face.

So I thought, what better event to test out my image but the launch party for the newest issue of the magazine I'm writing for?! After a day spent stuffing my face with other bloggers at a food blogging event where we learned more about the biology of seafood sourcing than I really ever wanted to know, putting together an outfit for my "coming out" event was not at the top of my to-do list, or I should say want-to-do list.

First of all, as an OCDite, it takes me probably twice as long as your average female to get ready for an event like this . . . or any event for that matter. I know that some of my friends are laughing at this, because they've watched my process, but I'm sure others of you - hello, fellow OCDites - can relate and have your own processes to share, but that will be saved for a future post of its own. 

So how can you possibly prepare or decide how you want to be perceived when the brand is essentially yourself? I can and have accomplished a lot of big and small things in my life: surviving my first piano recital, crossing the Girl Scout bridge to Cadette level, graduating college with high honors, moving across the country with no real plan - just a dream (sometimes I think I'm still dreaming), and most recently managing the accounts for a multi-million dollar venture capital firm, but I have never excelled at self-promotion. I move forward on the basis of accomplishments and hard work - that's what you're taught when your Dad is one of the greatest farmers in the country. (It is true!) Endorsing me is just not something I feel completely comfortable with. It takes my OCD to a whole new level. Sometimes I think I really may have a heart attack or stop breathing, because I may not have made the right choice. It is enough of a challenge to keep calm and carry on when the discussion involves a group topic, but I struggle to keep it together when the subject is me. Maybe I should heed the advice of my mentors and "hang in there, kiddo," and luck will come to me? How do you know?! 

Pushing the mania of my disorder's mental debates aside, I decided to pull it all together with the leather jacket and hat you see to create a little mystery to pair with my madness. I thought they both seemed appropriate as well as items I in which I am extremely comfortable. Yes, we're still talking about and have been talking about my "coming out" outfit for the party and for the prefacing photo shoot intended to improve my image. Image is important! 

Well, I most certainly stood out at the magazine launch party in the crowd of perfectly painted faces, college students out for what seemed to be another Thirsty Thursday party and wannabe Brit band mates (you should have seen these 2 - they looked like twins and possibly brothers of Russell Brand - it was entertaining.) But someone told me, while I was simultaneously taking a sip of my cocktail and savoring a moment in my mind about the energy exerted for this magazine which I am now representing (yay!), that I "looked like a writer," and that was all I needed to hear.

So what do you think?

30 March 2011

'Tis the Season to Cleanse!

Is it that time already? Is the season of renewal and purification already upon us? Yes, folks, I was reminded by a recent writing assignment on this very subject, that time of year which propels us OCDites into panic - Spring Cleaning is here!

Where does an OCDite begin when presented with about as daunting a task as can be imagined? All of us are particular in the act of tackling the spring transformation, but some of us feel the need to perform each task with a sense of perfection which leads to either: 1) having floors that sparkle every day of the week (that's me!); or, 2) avoiding the task altogether because it's just too exhausting (which are my fellow OCDites who have those closets for which you can't open the door, because wrapping paper, Christmas decorations and Halloween costumes will all come tumbling out!) Whichever version of OCD you are, Spring Cleaning is necessary nourishment for our disorder. We have to wipe away the messes, so we can focus on fresh starts. With this post, I hope to help you through this annual dilemma with my past frustrations and a couple of tips, because I am the Queen of Clean. Have you been to my house lately? Impressive, if I do say so myself.

So, before I begin, there is one thing I have to admit: I hired someone about 6 years ago who cleans my house every 2 weeks. Now, before retracting the admiration you felt from the thought of my daily sparkling floors, I have to make it clear that I do clean . . . everyday - that's what many of us OCDites live to do. For some of us, it can even be relaxing. But, allow me to explain the severity with which I scrub and sterilize every surface in my house, starting with a picture of my weapons for combating chaos.

Figure 1: My dedicated Cleaning Cabinet

The thing is with us OCDites, the job has to be done flawlessly. When we clean a toilet, we do not forget the tiny cracks beneath the toilet seat hinges or the knobs around the base (I have been known to even take the toilet seat off with a screwdriver to clean); we clean that toilet until you could literally have a cocktail party on it. Has anyone ever seen that episode of Cougar Town where Courtney Cox actually hosts cocktail parties in her new sparkling bathroom?! Well, I could certainly relate and watched with wonder.

Upon recognizing my cleaning fixation and after forfeiting too much fun in my 20s (I spent entire weekends disinfecting my house instead of accepting invitations to go shopping, the beach or happy hours),  Flora was sent to me like an angel from . . . wherever you believe your angels to come from . . . and I was finally introduced to the idea of cleansing myself of cleaning!! That's right, I provide you with Tip #1 to Cleanse yourself from Cleaning. Or at least cut down on the time you currently spend cleaning. Handing over the reins of removing dirt and dust from my life was difficult, but it was also a relief. The presence of Flora's magic every other week makes life more manageable. We OCDites live with 5,000 other daily compulsions, so don't be afraid to release some of the responsibility of keeping a fresh space to the "other cleaning professionals."

So, now turning your attention back to Spring Cleaning - organization with its own season! Now that you you've delegated the dirt, you can focus your neurotic needs on coordinating the clutter before summer.

Tip #2: I try to trick myself into making it fun by visualizing the end result with my items displayed in all of the glory they deserve. The best part about organizing is it is one of those acts that anyone can do, and it provides instant gratification. By using containers, bins and other storage items that are also stimulating to the senses, organizing can be enjoyable. The Container Store's Fabric Storage Boxes are amazing!

Figure 2: My Shoe and Handbag Closet ~
It's a vision of beauty.

Tip #3: Lay out a realistic schedule for the entire month of April. As determined as you are to organize the contents of the garage in one day, it's just not going to happen, and you'll be frustrated when it doesn't. So, plan one item to conquer each weekend during the month of April and the thought of Spring Cleaning may not feel so daunting.

Tip #4: Give things away! If you haven't worn, used or played it within the last year (unless it holds significant sentimental value), give it to someone who will!

And finally, I'd like to share a few cleaning product pleasers that I will never live without again.
  • William Sonoma's French Lavender Countertop Spray: with essential oils, this surface cleaner soothes your senses like a spa, but really, you're spraying today's crumbs off the countertops!
  • Fabuloso: What makes my floors sparkle? Fabuloso! A miracle worker introduced to me by Flora, this all-purpose cleaner cleanses everything from floors to windows and also has a light lavender scent!
  • Distilled white vinegar: A product you're sure to already have in your pantry, I mix this item with water and use it to Swiffer my wood floors and disinfect my wool rugs!
Spring has sprung, but don't let it spring you into a cleaning frenzy. Envision the immaculate and tranquil space you will transform for yourself and your loved ones. And please comment with cleaning product suggestions and share your own stories. Let's help each other avoid further fiascos and get through this season together!

Happy Cleansing!

20 March 2011

My Permanent Playlist

An Ode to the 90s ~

I can't remember a time when I didn't think so intensely about the world around me. My Mom reminds me that before I was old enough to recall or old enough to be capable of doing so, I would throw fits of rage if I colored outside the lines that brought Kermit the Frog or Rainbow Brite to life in my coloring books. I remember spending hours combing Rocker and Western Fun Barbies' hair and wondering why my Mom couldn't make my ponytail perfect, too!

When I was 6 or 7, my brother sliced his foot open on a bull horn behind our farm. I attempted to be calm as I left him holding his bleeding foot, but as I pedaled my bike as fast as Strawbery Shortcake would take me to get help from Grandma, I think I had my first experience with the severe anxiety that OCD can harvest. I envisioned conclusions to that incident that were completely unrealistic (thankfully, he didn't even need stitches), but I couldn't get the thoughts to leave my head until I knew he was okay.

As I blossomed into the awkward stage that is junior high, my teachers, family and friends called me a perfectionist, and I proudly accepted the compliment and still do. I had the most systematic Trapper Keeper in school, color-coded by class subject and highlighted by my Nelson Twins folder (remember their song"(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection"-it's okay to admit you're singing it out loud to yourself right now, because it was a great song). Shopping for school supplies, for me, was like winning the lottery. I couldn't wait to fill my backpack with the tools that would organize my education. 

While I reached this floundering age of double digits, I began to become acutely aware that this wasn't how everyone else walked the world. Discovering my disorder upon entering the 90s made it a decade that I will forever and permanently identify as my decade of discovery.

So, as an Ode to the decade of the 90s; an Ode to my favorite 90s show My So-Called Life for which my blog title was inspired (Angela Chase - played by Claire Danes - thank you for making quirky cool!); and an Ode to the music of the 90s, because the power of music was unveiled to me in this decade as a space to recharge and evolve, I am sharing with you 25 songs from my 90s Playlist. I encourage my fellow OCDites to be inspired by this post - ponder the first memories you had of your disorder, and create your own playlists for those times when you need a moment.

Music brings my mind quiet moments. Just looking at this old
pic of a dear friend and me at a music festival produces pure zen.

The songs that brought me solace and serenity then and now (in alphabetical order, of course):

  1. Afghan Whigs "Crazy"
  2. Better Than Ezra "Good"
  3. Big Head Todd and the Monsters "Bittersweet"
  4. Blind Melon "No Rain"
  5. Bush "Glycerine"
  6. Collective Soul "The World I Know"
  7. Concrete Blonde "Joey"
  8. The Cranberries "Linger"
  9. The Crash Test Dummies "God Shuffled His Feet"
  10. Depeche Mode "Enjoy the Silence"
  11. Enigma "Sadeness (Part I)"
  12. Green Day "When I Come Around"
  13. Mazzy Star "Fade Into You"
  14. Morphine "Buena"
  15. Nine Inch Nails "Closer"
  16. The Primitive Radio Gods "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand"
  17. Radiohead "Creep"
  18. The Smashing Pumpkins "Mayonaise"
  19. Spacehog "In the Meantime"
  20. Temple of the Dog "Hunger Strike"
  21. Toad the Wet Sprocket "Crazy Life"
  22. The Toadies "Possum Kingdom"
  23. Tori Amos "Cornflake Girl"
  24. Veruca Salt "Shutterbug"
  25. Weezer "The Good Life"