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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. 

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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. 

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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.
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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.  
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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.   

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!

Four MORE ways to prepare a young child for a new sibling

28th September 2014

I shared my own experience of preparing Liam for the arrival of our second child, Owen in this post. However, if your children will be closer than three years apart, the following tips may be more helpful. My good friend, Laura Rugh has graciously shared her mommy wisdom on this crazy transition. Thanks Laura! 

1. Having a gift from new baby to give to big sister or brother.

Our pediatrician recommended this and it was a sweet moment in the hospital when the girls first met. Our daughter still refers to the bunny as her sister’s gift to her. It helped her to feel special and was a “peace offering” of sorts from the new baby.

2. Keep the routine the same for first child as much as possible.

Keep the school drop-off, naps and meal times as close to normal as you can. Throw in some special “dates” alone with Mommy  and/or Daddy to get frozen yogurt or whatever gets them excited. Bedtime routines are particularly important to maintain in the first few months with a new baby in the house.

3. Let go of high expectations that your child will love his or her new sibling.

Honestly, she or he may completely ignore the new baby for a while and even act distant toward you. Try not to take it personal and to let them have their space to adjust in her own way. Never pressure them to help if they don’t want to and give them some space until they feel more comfortable participating.

4. Don’t be surprised if your oldest child regresses.

You could experience trouble with potty training or your child may all of a sudden act like a baby (ie. put a pacifier in their mouth). This is totally normal and again just a way that they are learning how to deal with a new sibling and baby around. It’s also a way that they are seeking attention since new baby seems to get a lot of it, especially at first! Be patient and give lots of grace to your first child since it is a major transition. They will come around! (Here is where the special “date nights” helped!).

If you could only see what went on behind the scenes during this photo session. Slightly less than idyllic.

If you could only see what went on behind the scenes during this photo session. Slightly less than idyllic. Photo by Mariel Leonard Garza.

October Book Selection

26th September 2014

The  Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton

“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…”

Perfect for getting hyped up for Halloween! This October we will dive into a historical mystery novel. The Miniaturist promises to deliver drama and whodunit secrets galore. Read a review from the Washington Post here. Now you’re excited too, right? Me too.

Get started anytime and join us on Happy Handful for a recap and discussion on Tuesday, October 28 at 8:00 CST.

 

A book club! Why not?

21st September 2014

alejandroescamilla-book

Here’s the problem. I love books. The bookstore is a dangerous place for me to roam and there is a serious stack of “to be read” books on my shelf… and nightstand. I can’t help it. I recently read The Fault in Our Stars in about two and a half days. I lost a lot of sleep but it was worth it. But, reading has always been a very personal thing for me. I’ve never spent a lot of time discussing what I’ve read with anyone. So, I thought, why not move in a different direction and start to share these books and experiences with people who also love books or maybe haven’t made a whole lot of time for reading but want to start again? Besides, Oprah doesn’t get to write the book on book clubs, right?

We’ll select one book each month and if you’re willing to come along, we can discuss our thoughts on what we’ve read at the end. Since we’re just starting out, I’ll pick the first one but it would be great to get suggestions. I’ll try not to pick anything that’s too long or too heavy in subject matter — we all have our hands full, remember? The idea here is to disengage from our busy lives for a little while and let a book take us someplace new. NO PRESSURE. Let’s just get going and see what happens!