Monthly Archives: October 2014

Book Club Discussion: The Miniaturist

28th October 2014

If you’re reading this, my hope is that you’ve read The Miniaturist and are ready to have a little chat about how crazy this novel was.  Here are my thoughts.  I’d love to read yours so please comment below.

Grab a glass and let's discuss The Miniaturist!

Grab a glass and let’s discuss The Miniaturist!

First, I had no idea it would be so scandalous (Jack Philips and Johanne! What?!).   There were so many plot twists and surprises along the way, making it almost impossible to put down every night.  But, the biggest question I was left with was about the Miniaturist herself.  There was only that brief explanation in the end, when Nella meets her father that semi explains her role but was she really just a meddler and a stalker or did she actually have psychic or prophetic abilities?  I mean, did the dog really have a red mark on his head or did Nella imagine that?  And, if it did, how in the world could the miniaturist have known that?  Anyone care to explain?

Beyond the mysterious nature of the novel, I was moved by Burton’s perspective on the social pressures that faced all of the characters.  No one was immune, least of all, the rich. Amsterdam in 1686 was dramatically different than the Amsterdam I visited in 2003 but I can picture the same architecture and intertwining canals giving way to an unfriendly and rigorous lifestyle, especially for women (Jews–Anne Frank..?).  What a treacherous way to live your life, huh?   If Marin had lived in present day, happiness would have been a real possibility for her and Otto.  Alas, that’s the point of the story; to transport us to a place and time where things were so different from what we are used to, yet somehow mirror many of the same predicaments that we all face today.  I’m sure this book speaks to everyone differently, so please, if you have anything to share, comment below!

I also find it inspiring that the author is only one year older than me and somehow produced a novel that is compelling, historically rich and suspenseful.  It makes me proud of what women of my generation are contributing to the literary world and hopeful that we will give generations after us plenty of thought-provoking material to keep them thinking and evolving in big ways.

Thanks for joining in and stay tuned for the November selection of the Happy Handful book club!

From Denmark, With Love

27th October 2014

Long Distance Love (3)

Last weekend, I had the extraordinary pleasure of seeing one of my oldest and closest friends, Regina, who now lives in Denmark with her fabulously handsome and kind-hearted great dane husband, Martin.  They traveled to Austin to celebrate their one year anniversary because the actual wedding took place in a Copenhagen courthouse and the circumstances did not allow them to gather loved ones around them for the ceremony.  The last few years have been a whirlwind of immigration red tape obstacles that can only be described as a nightmare.  Spending great lengths of time thousands of miles apart, planning and hoping for a future that was full of uncertainties, their love remained strong and their resolve to make it work paid off.  They are now both proud citizens of Denmark.  They live in bustling Copenhagen and are embarking on everything that marriage promises to be.  Their joy in being together is beyond palpable. Honestly, it took me by surprise.  I went to the party prepared to meet Martin and let him know just how lucky he is to have Regina in his life and to give him the “you better be good to her” speech but almost instantly, I realized this was an absurd thing to say to someone like him.  He knows.  At the risk of sounding completely mushy, I have to say, it is a love that is inspirational and amazing to behold. 

I also had the good fortune of sitting at a table full of Danes which was obviously the best seat in the house.  They were open, kind, joyful and incredibly fun. It reminded me of why I love to travel… the people.  And as hard as it was to get out of my comfort zone (I’m usually in pajamas by 9:00 PM), I was so happy to have been there to share the night with old friends and new friends who reminded me that we’re all a part of the same great big family and that love, not money, is what really makes the world go round. 

So, skål to Regina and Martin!  May your troubles be short and your love always strong and free.  Your invitation to Copenhagen is not taken lightly.  We just hope you’re ready when the Tripodi’s come knocking on your door! 

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Sad to see these two return to Denmark but looking forward to their next visit!

Regina is a freelance marketing consultant and gifted artist. Check out her work here. For more on Martin’s musical background and performances, stay tuned!

Easy Weeknight Dinner: Iron Boosting Picadillo

22nd October 2014

This hearty meal is simple and goes well with a variety of side dishes. Feeling carb loaded lately?  Ditch the sides and eat it by itself or on a bed of fresh spinach. Loaded with fiber, iron and protein… plus, it’s gluten free!

Picadillo is a Spanish dish similar to hash that is made with ground beef, tomatoes and a variety of other ingredients. The picadillo I grew up with had potatoes, raisins, carrots and was always served with white rice. No matter how you choose to modify this recipe, the satisfying feeling will be the same. 

Picadillo is a Spanish dish similar to hash that is made with ground beef, tomatoes and a variety of other ingredients. The picadillo I grew up with had potatoes, raisins, carrots and was always served with white rice. No matter how you choose to modify this recipe, the satisfying feeling will be the same.

Ingredients 

1/2 medium yellow onion – chopped

1 clove garlic – minced

1 lb lean ground beef 

1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes

2.5 cups cooked lentils
(Trader Joe’s sells cooked and ready-to-serve lentils in the produce section.  So easy!)

Small bunch of your favorite herbs such as rosemary, oregano, or thyme tied with kitchen twine. 

herbs

I added fresh oregano and rosemary from our yard. These are hearty plants that last forever and need almost no maintenance.

I added fresh oregano and rosemary from our yard. These are hearty plants that last forever and need almost no maintenance.

Make it 

With your stove at medium high, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven

Toss in onions and stir frequently until soft 

Add garlic and season with salt and pepper 

Add ground beef and season again to your liking

beef and onions

Stir in diced tomatoes, herbs and lentils

I added fresh oregano and rosemary from our yard. These are hearty plants that last forever and need almost no maintenance.

Change temp to low, cover and let simmer for 5 minutes

At this point you can either serve it immediately or turn off heat and leave covered for up to an hour.  When ready to serve, just turn the stove back on medium/low heat for about five minutes and spoon over a bed of basmati rice, couscous, mashed potatoes (shepherd’s pie anyone?), or pasta. 

Bon Appetit!

Bon appetit!

T-shirt + chic bag + necklace = Dressed for Three Occasions!

19th October 2014

Rachel here! I am super excited for my collaboration with Happy Handful!  I’m here to watch the trends so you don’t have to and report the latest dish directly from the fabulous Blue Elephant in Austin, Texas!  It’s my mission to help you forge ahead fashionably through busy meetings, play dates, real dates, grocery runs, happy hours, and everything in between. 
Where Austin's fashion needs are met!

Where Austin’s fashion needs are more than met!

Now, let’s talk about taking three apparel pieces to three separate occasions.  When I think of easy ways for busy women to come up with quick and cute outfits for multiple occasions, I immediately go for basic “foundation” pieces that can be layered upon for an easy, yet updated look.  In short, look like you planned your outfit, when really, you did a grab-and-dash from your closet to your car, coffee and baby in tow (I know I am not alone, here!).  Fringe and boho are still trending this into winter, and based on Fashion Week, they will continue on through the spring and summer seasons.  A key piece that every busy woman needs in their wardrobe right now is a kimono– be it flowy and romantic, or cozy and knit.   

For this post, I chose an easy fit, super soft Alternative Apparel t-shirt in dark grey ($32) as my foundation for three separate looks.  This is a top that could easily take you from yoga to a nicer dinner out in Austin with some simple layering, plus the easy fit and v-neck are flattering on just about everyone.  Next, I brought in a silver fringed statement necklace ($40).  Statement jewelry is a great way to fancy up an otherwise simple outfit (although I recommend a smaller, shorter version of this necklace for moms with tiny, grabby hands around their necks, like I have!)  Lastly, a versatile everyday bag is a MUST.  I chose to include this classic and simple hobo bag in navy ($50) for its neutral, yet slightly unique, color and it’s size plus strap.  It could act as your purse, but also your pseudo-diaper bag or briefcase in a pinch.  It also comes with a separate leopard zipper pouch that could act as your “going out” clutch if you were running from work to a dinner, like we are prone to do. 

gamedayglamour
My first look would be PERFECT for game day tailgating and game watching– check the burnt orange infinity scarf!  I am obsessed with infinity scarves in general.  Tie a scarf?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  Pair it with your favorite boyfriend jeans for a comfy, laid back daytime look.
casuallycool
The second look, paired with jeans could go from shopping, to brunching, to catching a band at Stubbs and back.  Paired with a pencil skirt and stacked heel ankle boots, you could take this from the office to happy hour in a snap.  
feelinhot
Layer look number three with your favorite black skinnies and heels if you have a hot date in the works, or channel Stevie Nicks and wear it with a long, flowy black maxi skirt.  Cue the drama with a smoky eye and red lip.  
Wanna know how to get hot makeup + hair in five minutes flat?  Stay tuned to the blog!  
There you have it ladies, three easy ways to look great with very minimal effort.  If you have learned anything, learn to layer.  A good general rule to follow when putting an outfit together is to wear three pieces.  Today, I am wearing boyfriend jeans and a sweater tank, layered with 1) aztec print blazer, 2) gold statement watch, 3) southwest pendant necklace…get my drift?  Okay!!  Now go look fabulous in five!!!
XOXO
Rach
 
For even more ideas and inspiration you can follow Blue Elephant on Instagram and Facebook.   

seven household toxins that can harm your pet

15th October 2014

We all love our pets and we want them to be safe, healthy and happy, right? They’re a part of our family, after all.  Well, there are several surprisingly dangerous items in and around your home right now that could be harmful to your pet.  I caught up with Dr. Brent Rains from Westlake Animal Hospital to find out more about the hidden dangers that every pet owner should know about. 

Make your home safe for you pet by keeping toxins out of reach.

Make your home safe for your pet by keeping toxins out of reach.

1. CHOCOLATE
You’ve all heard this one before. What you may not know is that where toxicity is concerned, all chocolate is not created equal.  So, what’s a panicked dog owner to do when you find a missing Hershey bar or the brownie pan you left on the counter has been licked clean while you were sleeping?  That depends on two major factors: the size of your dog and the concentration of cocoa in the chocolate. 

The four types of chocolate from lightest to darkest. Darker chocolate is more harmful to dogs.

The four types of chocolate from lightest to darkest. Bakers chocolate is the most harmful to dogs.

Food products with high concentrations of cocoa such as bakers chocolate are significantly more dangerous than those with a lower concentration, like milk chocolate.  Likewise, it will take a larger volume of chocolate to have an effect on a medium or large dog than on small breeds.  Larger breeds may simply develop gastrointestinal symptoms (followed by remorse) and recover on their own, while toy and small breeds like chihuahuas might have more severe reactions.  In any case, here’s what to look for and what to do.

Signs and symptoms of chocolate toxicity in dogs: 

  • vomiting
  • hyperactivity (cocoa is a stimulant)
  • panting
  • tremors

If your dog has ingested any chocolate and you begin to see any of the above symptoms, immediately call your veterinarian and take your dog in for evaluation.  The most likely scenario in these cases is that your doctor will induce vomiting to get the chocolate out of your dog’s stomach. If the dog’s symptoms are severe, hospitalization and further supportive care may be required.  This situation is rarely fatal if treated, so make sure you act fast to help ensure your dog makes a full recovery. 

2. XYLITOL
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in many prepared foods labeled “sugar-free” such as chewing gum, cookies, candy and even nasal spray. Dentists recommend it because it helps cut down on bacteria in the mouth and does not harm teeth like regular sugar.  Xylitol has many health benefits for humans, but has been shown to be very dangerous for dogs.  It causes drastic drops in blood glucose and liver damage. 

Take extra precautions with all foods containing Xylitol.

Take extra precautions with all foods containing Xylitol.

Symptoms to look for:

  • lethargy
  • vomiting

If your dog has ingested Xylitol, he will likely require hospitalization and detoxification therapy as prescribed by your doctor.  This is not something you can wait on, so call right away if you think your dog has gotten into any product containing Xylitol.

Other foods that are toxic to dogs include grapes, raisins, onions and garlic, so keep those our of your pet’s reach at all times. 

3. SAGO PALMS
What you should know: All parts of the plant are toxic and can cause liver damage.

Symptoms: 

  • vomiting
  • lethargy

Call your vet right away if your dog displays any of these symptoms and has chewed on or eaten any part of a sago palm.  These plants are very common in the Austin area, so learn to recognize them and keep your dog from investigating them too closely. 

4. LILIES
A lovely perennial flower that may help brighten up your home, but don’t let your cat munch on them.  Lilies are highly toxic to cats and cause kidney damage.

Symptoms:

  • vomiting
  • lethargy

For both sago palm and lily ingestion in either dogs or cats, hospitalization and detox therapy may be required.

Toxic Plants

5. HUMAN MEDICATION
If you have kids, you are probably pretty careful about where you store your prescription medication, but over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can be just as dangerous to your pets.  Cats are especially sensitive to high doses of NSAIDs, which cause liver and kidney toxicity.  Usually, ingestion of these requires hospitalization for both dogs and cats. If you’re not sure about a specific human drug your pet may have ingested, the best thing to do is to call a pet poison hotline immediately.  Tell them which drug your pet ingested and how much.  They frequently have more detailed information pertaining to each specific medication and can guide you in communicating the problem to your veterinarian. 

As a side note, I should mention that pets medication should also be stored in a safe place. Even drugs that were prescribed to your pet can be harmful if an incorrect dose is ingested. 

6. RAT POISON
This seems like a no-brainer, but there is something important you may not think of if your dog or cat comes in contact with rat poison.  ALWAYS bring the package of rat poison to your veterinarian.  There are three very different types of rat poison and all three affect entirely different organ systems and functions.  They will either attack the body’s blood clotting mechanism, neurological function, or kidney function.  Your doctor may not know how to best treat your pet if he or she does not know which of the three types of poisons is involved. 

Symptoms:

  • vomiting
  • tremors
  • lethargy
  • bleeding

7. ANTIFREEZE
Did you know antifreeze is sweet tasting?  Well, dogs love sweets, so be sure keep this product in a sealed container and out of reach.  Consuming antifreeze causes kidney damage and also requires hospitalization. 

It’s a lot of information, but if you only remember one thing, it’s this website and phone number: ASPCA ANIMAL POISON CONTROL (OPEN 24/7) 888-426-4435

Always keep this number where you can find it.

Always keep this number where you can find it.

Of course, you should always be in touch with your veterinarian if your dog becomes sick or has ingested anything that might be toxic.  If you live in Austin and this happens after hours, there are several emergency hospitals available.  Here are the three I can personally recommend: 

South Austin: 512-899-0955 (Central Texas Veterinary Specialty Hospital)
Round Rock: 512-961-5200 (Central Texas Veterinary Specialty Hospital)
Central/East: 512-331-6121 (Austin Vet Hospital)

I hope your pet never gets into anything toxic, but if this does happen, be sure to call poison control as well as your veterinarian and be prepared to provide as much information as possible to give your furry friend the best chance for a full and speedy recovery. 

 

 

MUST ATTEND this fall: Art Night East

6th October 2014

Art enthusiasts, rejoice! EAST is almost here!

Art enthusiasts, rejoice! EAST is almost here!

Hello art lovers! Art Educator, Catherine here… 

Welcome to my inaugural post for Happy Handful! Whether you are an art veteran or an art rookie, I hope you will enjoy exploring the Austin art scene with me and maybe even learn a thing or two!

Fall is upon us (finally!), and the city is buzzing with one of the most anticipated art events of the year: EAST (East Austin Studio Tour). Mark your calendars for November 15-16 and 22-23. This two weekend-long art extravaganza is a dizzying array of openings, talks, tours and demonstrations. Even if you dedicate every waking moment of these four days, it will be impossible to see everything packed into this magnificent celebration of local artists. Already overwhelmed? Don’t worry, I’ll give you tips on how to expertly navigate your way through EAST in a later post. BUT, if I’ve wet your appetite you can learn more here.

So, why even bring up EAST? Well, tickets just went on sale for its kickoff party, Art Night EAST, and it is well worth the $55 price tag. Happy Handful is all about getting the most out of life when you are pulled in 100 different directions. If this is you, then this party is right up your alley, next to the bushes you’ve been meaning to trim. The best part–our friends over at Art Alliance Austin have done all the hard work for us! They picked out the hot spots to visit like Big Medium, MASS Gallery, GrayDUCK, and Co-Lab Projects; they invited Austin’s gourmet geniuses Launderette, Sa-Ten, Eden East, Hillside Farmacy and Mettle; AND there will be booze to keep the festive vibe at a maximum and the stuffy art talk at a minimum. To top it off, they will do the driving! Chartered buses will take you from place to place. All for $55!?!? Seem too good to be true? It will be if you don’t buy your tickets soon. I predict this event will sell out, and I predict it will happen fast!

That’s all for now, folks! Stay tuned for more on EAST and other not-to-miss happenings this fall! In the meantime, leave a comment letting me know what your favorite art events are and what inspires you about them. I’d love to hear about it! 

The Mighty Mollete

2nd October 2014

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A lightly toasted roll (bolillo is the proper word) smothered with refried beans, melted cheese and fresh pico. What could be better? These little vessels of deliciousness have all the makings of a perfect comfort food. Traditionally, they are prepared as a breakfast food in Mexico, but trust me, you will do well to make them for lunch, dinner and everything in between. If you’re fortunate enough to have HEB nearby, you will find fresh baked bolillos for 20 cents a piece. Mexican bakeries should also be a safe bet and worth the trip. This bread alone is perfection. If you don’t have access to the real deal, a hoagie-like variety will do the trick. It’s also an easy and inexpensive meal to prepare in large quantities so if you ever have a horde of people to feed, you’ll thank me for this. I recently made a little over a dozen of these suckers for a group of 5 hungry landscapers who were working on our property. It took about 15 minutes for them to clear the tray. When I asked my husband if he thought I made enough he said “It’s not like you could ever make enough.” Need I say more?

 

Ingredients
Quantities will vary depending on how many mouths you’re wanting to feed but calculate two molletes per person.

6 Bolillos or white subway sandwich type rolls (because this is not the time to worry about whole grains, people)
1 lb shredded monterrey jack or mozzarella cheese
2 14oz cans whole black beans
5 ripe roma or plum tomatoes
2 green serrano (or jalapeno) peppers
1/3 cup of cilantro
1/2 white onion
1 lime
olive oil

Make it
You can prep the pico and refried beans ahead of time and keep refrigerated. Pico will stay beautiful if refrigerated up to an hour but will remain fresh and perfectly edible for up to a day in advance.

Refried beans:
In a skillet, over medium high heat, heat 2 tbsp olive oil
Drain most of the water from your cans of beans and add them to your skillet
With a potato masher, mash your beans until they resemble chunky peanut butter and are easy to spread
Add salt to taste, turn of heat and set aside or refrigerate for later

Pico de Gallo:
Chop tomatoes, onion, serranos and cilantro and add to medium bowl
Add the juice of one lime
Add 1/4 tsp salt and mix all ingredients together
TASTE IT
Add more salt to taste
Refrigerate until you are ready to serve

Showtime:
Slice the bolillos in half with a serrated knife (so as not to damage the precious insides)
Dig out a small portion of bread from each half and line them up on a foil-lined baking sheet (Leave about a 1/2 inch of bread on each one)
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Bake them for 2-3 minutes — just enough time to ever so slightly toast the bread — and remove from oven
Using a spatula, spread about 1/4 cup of beans onto each bolillo half
Lovingly sprinkle a handful of shredded cheese on each one and return to the oven for 4-5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and is slightly golden…

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That’s it! Ring the dinner bell and let everyone add pico to their dish as desired. If it’s an informal gathering or you’re serving them outside you don’t even need plates. Just hand out some napkins and the mollete will hold everything in place!

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What are some comfort foods you remember from your childhood? Do you still make them or have you modified them in any way? I’d love to hear about it!