Things to Think About (Or Real Estate and Stuff)

I’m back from Michigan… again.

I’ve made the trek to the Mitten State twice in the last eight weeks.

This last trip included a meeting with an estate planning attorney, four separate roof replacement estimates, a wedding, a baseball game, and meals with my parents (separately, of course).

See?

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Front row at Comerica Park with my papa.

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Papa showing the contractors his fancy gutter guards.

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My brilliant stepsister getting married in Ted Baker…. (I’m thrilled I was there.)

For some reason, I don’t have any pictures of my dinner (and staycation) at Ann Arbor’s Weber Boutique Inn with my mummy, but you get the idea….

I’m grateful I can get away to take care of my parents’ affairs, but I have mixed feelings every time I board the plane to return to LA.

I’ve been in California for nearly 18 years, and while it feels like home, I often question my decision to remain here.

I’m not ostensibly using my film degree(s) at present, which was the entire reason for moving to Southern California in the first place. I do have a strong support system in LA that I lack in my home state, but is that really a reason to stay?

That’s not to say that I don’t have a few truly wonderful friends in Michigan, but I have a much larger network here. I know it’s not about the number of friends you have; the depth of the relationship counts, and my Michigan friends are, without a doubt, made of amazing, but…

I’ve spent the better part of two decades building a life in LA, and it’s hard to think about saying goodbye to it.

Among other concerns, I often wonder what I’d do for money if left Southern California.

I’ve always wanted to renovate and flip houses — a much more attainable goal in a state where you can buy a house for less than the downpayment on a modest (read: small) house in LA, so there is that possibility.

For example…

This house in East Lansing is listed for $187,000.

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I die for these trees. (Photo credit: Zillow)

It has great bones, and a lot of renovation potential.

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Just look at the hardwood floors! (Photo credit: Zillow)

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While the cabinets and floor have to go, that light fixture is midcentury, retro fabulous. (Photo credit: Zillow)

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That bathtub is absolutely midcentury amazing, but the rest could use some help. (Photo credit: Zillow)

So now that you’ve seen an example of a house in my dad’s neighborhood, how about one in mine?

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This is listed at $1,175,00. (Photo Credit: Zillow)

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Yes, really… $1,175,000. (Photo credit: Zillow)

I’m not saying either house is move-in ready, but you get the idea….

So, anyway, I’m not sure what to do with my life. I just know I’m thinking about things I hadn’t considered five — or even ONE year ago.

Everything has changed since my dad was diagnosed with dementia and my mom with Parkinson’s….

Whatever happens, and wherever I go, I know I’m lucky to have these little nuggies by my side.

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They are stinky, and they are EVERYTHING.

Okay, that’s all for now.

I’m going to snuggle with the big dog babies before placing some sort of self-indulgent LA food delivery order.

I may as well do all of the So-Cal things while I still live here… however long that is.

Birthday Party Playlist Part 3 (Or Passenger Side Memories)

As I continue to perfect my birthday party playlist, it’s time to talk about the great friend taking me to my birthday concert tomorrow… and the people I’ve known the longest in the world. They’re all amazing people, and we’ve spent endless hours in each other’s cars.

So here it goes…

Wilco’s Passenger Side is for Susan. It’s for our mutual love of the band and all the times we have seen them together live. It’s for being my concert buddy for all these years. For all the music we’ve shared. For accepting my Thanksgiving dinner invitation back when I was just a stranger in a Beverly Glen parking lot. For never letting me down. For never letting me off the hook. For knowing my grandparents and why I miss them so much. For sharing her critter stories. For her generous heart and her big, bold laugh. For inviting me to her wedding where I got to see her father walk her down the aisle just one year before I heard her beautiful tribute at his memorial. And for being my driver to Wilco, Dylan, and My Morning Jacket tomorrow night. I can’t wait for the show!!!

Barry White’s What Am I Going to Do With You is for Becky. It’s for being my very first Pi Phi friend. It’s for that road trip we took to Madison where we listened to his baritone the entire way. It’s for our talks about book sales that turned into so much more. It’s for dancing to the Beastie Boys together in our bathrobes. It’s for reading our course packs aloud when we were sick of studying and drawing all over each other’s arms out of boredom. It’s for that summer we just got fat instead of studying for physics. It’s for laughing at me for resting my head on piles of dirty laundry during all-nighters. It’s for flying me back home for her wedding. It’s for her mom’s photography that still hangs in my bathroom. It’s for being by my side when I did the boldest, most bat shit crazy thing of my entire life – and for not talking me out of it. It’s for seeing what I saw that weekend.

And now?

My absolute oldest friends in the world… my middle school crew.

U2’s Party Girl is for Chris. It’s for introducing me to U2 in the first place. It’s for becoming my friend at Bloc Camp when we bonded over a game of spoons and a mutual love of Twin Peaks. I owe him 100 apologies and 1000 thank yous, and I love him all the more for never asking for either. It’s for listening for hours back when we were 12. It’s for never judging. It’s for always standing by my side – no matter what. It’s for working harder than everyone around him and making things happen. It’s for seeing his dad get up to give a toast at his wedding and knowing how much that meant. It’s for always driving back when I was the last to get my license. It’s for calling me out on my crap when I need it. And it’s for always believing in me.


Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll is for Kristy. It’s for knowing my story so well it only takes a single word to explain what might take a lifetime to explain to someone else. It’s for being strong enough to cry back when I couldn’t do the same. It’s for asking me to be in her wedding and not hating me for being a bad bridesmaid. It’s for being so different from me and loving me anyway. It’s for the snow days we knew about the night before – the ones where she overheard her dad calling off classes during finals. It’s for our mutual love of Severyn shirts. It’s for our boating safety classes, our road trip to Andrea’s wedding, and it’s for that buffalo chicken dip recipe. Mmmm…

The Indigo Girls’ Romeo and Juliet is for Andrea. It’s for the ski trip we took to Boyne – the one where we played the song so many times her little sister nearly jumped out the window of a snow-covered sedan. It’s for our love of Laura Palmer. It’s for driving me to high school dances with her headlights off and always taking the Andrea way around our hometown. It’s for the clay pots she made up at my cottage and the time we spent playing cards at hers. It’s for the pig roast at her wedding reception and the carefree way she let the waves of Lake Michigan lap at her wedding dress without a care in the world. It’s for our talks about books, boys, and babies. It’s for being patient with me. It’s for her kindness. It’s for the way we can always pick up where we left off no matter how much time passes between conversations. And it’s for her loyalty.

Jay-Z and Panjabi MC’s Beware is for Adrienne who also turns 35 tomorrow. It’s for the 24 birthdays that have passed since we first met. It’s for our talks about ambition, handbags, and unmet expectations. It’s for taking me skiing with her family when we were 15. It’s for all the years our dads coached our sports teams together and parked those ridiculous turbo diesels next to each other. It’s for laughing over the newspaper protecting the trunks of those precious cars from our cleats. It’s for 6 am swimming practice together. It’s for that San Diego trip where we blasted the Chamillionaire and the laughing fits we had over card games at my cottage. It’s for the trips we took to Amoeba Records. It’s for the music we’ve introduced to each other. It’s for her bachelorette party in Vegas where we all got bruises on our ankles from that poll pole. For our talks over fancy sushi.

For our 30th birthday we spent together at Supper in the East Village.

30th birthday party goers on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Aren’t our necklaces amazing?

And for being my birthday buddy for life. Happy (almost) Birthday, Adrienne!!!

#chieftainsforever

If you wanna know what else is on that playlist, check out the industry stories here and the Michigan stories here.

Lemon Cupcakes for the Critics and the Crazies (Or How to Make Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Filling)

My grandmother is a perfectionist. She can make a perfect pie and find fault with it. She’ll be serving slices to guests while grumbling about some perceived imperfection no one else notices. I’m the same, really. I can’t write, cook, paint, draw, or do an arm balance without thinking about how I could improve it next time. Or how it doesn’t measure up. I am capable of criticizing anything I do. (Obviously, the disease runs in the family.)

When my mother asked me to make my grandmother’s birthday cupcakes this year, I knew I would have to practice first. There would be no trying a new recipe on nana’s birthday.

My grandmother loves lemon, so I decided to make lemon cupcakes with a lemon curd filling. On my first attempt, I frosted them with a seven-minute meringue frosting but decided it was too sweet.

If I’m being honest, I kinda hate seven-minute frosting.

After some deliberation, I finally settled on a lemon cream cheese frosting instead. I was initially afraid that would be too much lemon, which is why I tried the meringue first, but a slight hint of lemon flavor in the frosting was the perfect way to tie it all together.

Here’s my nana with my creation, sitting beside my uncle who is being strange.

My gene pool is rife with crazy, so I fit right in.

My grandma told me they were the best cupcakes she had ever eaten, so I guess my practice paid off. Even I was slightly pleased with myself for once.

The recipe is below.

Lemon Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

2 ½ C flour
½ tsp salt
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¾ C sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 ¼ C whole milk
2 T lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375. Place cupcake liners in pans.

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing to blend after each addition. Add vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Add half of the flour mixture, followed by the milk, and the remaining half of the dry ingredients, mixing to blend after each addition.

Add lemon zest and mix to blend.

Transfer batter to cupcake liners and bake at 375 for 16-18 minutes, or until the tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Lemon Curd Filling

3 T cornstarch
1 C cold water
1/2 C sugar
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 T cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 T lemon zest
4 T lemon juice

Whisk cornstarch into 1/3 cup of water. Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and whisk in the remaining 2/3 C of water. Add the sugar and cook over medium heat, until the mixture bubbles and thickens to a gel-like consistency, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low.

Stir a few tablespoons of the hot cornstarch mixture into the slightly beaten egg yolks, a few drops at a time, whisking constantly. (This will prevent the yolks from cooking.) Whisk the yolk mixture into the remaining cornstarch mixture and cook over low heat, about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in cubes of butter until they are melted. Next, add lemon zest and juice, whisking to blend. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Note: this makes too much filling for 24 cupcakes, so I might make 2/3 of the recipe next time. The original recipe is from foodess. I modified it slightly.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

2, 8 oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
½ C butter, room temperature
2-3 C powdered sugar
2 T lemon juice (or 1 tsp of pure lemon extract)

Cream butter and cream cheese. Mix in vanilla. Add 2 C of powdered sugar and add remaining powdered sugar by ¼ cupfuls until you reach the desired consistency. Add 2 T of lemon juice. Chill the frosting until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

After the cupcakes have cooled and the curd has thickened, transfer the curd to a pastry bag (or a freezer bag with a corner cut off). You can either inject the lemon curd into the cupcake directly or you can remove some of the cake with the end of a straw to make more room for the curd. (I prefer the latter approach. I usually poke the cupcake a few times with a straw to remove some cake from the center.)

After you have filled the cupcakes, frost, and serve.

Yum.

The Path to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions and Sour Candy Pumpkins (Or I Finally Write My Foodie Pen Pal Post)

I missed Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day because I was traveling, and I must admit I feel guilty about it.

Like, I had a dream about it on vacation, guilty.

So anyway, this is my last Foodie Pen Pal post for a while. I’m taking a break from the blogger food exchange program. Partly because I’m sick of the Hollywood post office, and partly because the reveal day always seems to fall at a crazy time for me.

Last month, Hollie Jones from Not Skinny… Healthy sent me a package complete with great goodies, which makes me feel even worse about my delayed post, frankly. It was such a fabulous box full of potential, that I intended to write a stellar post about the fun I had with the contents.

But as the saying goes, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”

See, I packed my computer, fully intending to write on vacation. And then I got so caught up in crying in the woods where we spread my Grandpa’s ashes, dancing on the deck with my family, and baking my Grandmother’s birthday cupcakes that I just couldn’t focus on my Foodie Pen Pal post. Or my blog. At all.

OK, enough excuses.

Let’s get down to the goodies. Here they are.

Opening my September Foodie Pen Pal package made me smile. And gave me lots of ideas.

Hollie included sour pumpkins, and we all know sour candies are one of my many weaknesses. I managed to save enough that I can put them out for Halloween, which is nothing short of miraculous, frankly. She also sent candied pecans that I used for this French toast, and dried pineapple that I used to garnish my pina colada cupcakes. I haven’t cracked open the pistachios yet, but the package is the perfect size to pop in my purse for one of my famous low blood sugar meltdown moments.

I promise I’m posting the pina colada cupcake recipe this week.

For real this time.

Even though I’m taking a break from Foodie Pen Pals, you should check it out. You can read more about it here if you’re interested in participating.

Don’t Give Up (Or Sometimes It’s OK to Vandalize the Kinkos Bathroom)

So I really want to wallow in self-pity today, but I’m not going to do it. I’m back in LA after a trip to Michigan, and now I’m experiencing some sort of post travel hangover.

You know, the kind that makes you want to get in the car again?

To go somewhere. Anywhere. Just so you don’t have to be in your own home facing your life again.

Because I kind of resemble a responsible adult, I’m not allowing myself to do that any more than I’m going to be all gloomy today.

See, my mother’s siblings and I went back to Michigan to celebrate my grandmother’s 86th birthday last week. While it was wonderful to be with my family, my grandfather passed away the day before her birthday two years ago, so the annual trip is always a bit bittersweet. I’ve allowed myself some time to be sad — and to celebrate with my family — and now it’s time to get back to business. This means blogging, setting calls, dusting around the TV, and other sorts of tedious activities. Well, not that blogging is totally tedious. I quite like it, actually.

I just find it hard to be all perky and witty when I’m not feeling it, but I guess life is about doing things even when you’re not feeling it sometimes. It’s about swinging at another pitch when your arms are aching. Getting out of bed when your heart is breaking. Walking another mile when your blisters burst two miles back. It’s about not giving up.

And sometimes, when you aren’t sure you can stand it another moment, someone else gives you the motivation.

I came across this graffiti in the Kinkos bathroom when I was having a bad day, and I was sort of glad someone had defaced the place with a Sharpie because I needed motivation. I also needed the reminder today when I wanted to crawl back in bed with the third Hunger Games book and avoid my life.

So, I’m going to be an adult today.

This means I’m going to turn off sad songs by The xx and blast the Billy Ocean so I can write my long overdue Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Post. I’m going to be an adult today.

Hell, I might even dust.

My Food’s From Michigan! (Or It’s Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day!)

The cool thing about Foodie Pen Pals is that you often discover new food. It’s easy to get into an unimaginative rut (even when you blog about food), and FPP really helps to shake things up. I love receiving items that are unique to other areas of the country. This month I received a package from Meghan at Run With Meg. And Meghan happens to live in Michigan.

OK, so, what’s the big deal with Michigan? Well, I’m from Michigan. And as college football season kicks off, I get beyond crazy homesick for the homeland – and for the changing leaves. SO, when I got a package with a return address not far from my family cottage I got all weepy and homesick and whatnot. I mean, my family cottage isn’t just a house on a lake. It’s the house my family built with their actual hands and hammers and stuff. Plus, I designed the addition to the original structure like I was Mike Brady or something. It isn’t just a place. It’s a part of my family. It’s where I went to clear my head in college. Where my family comes together. And where we spread my Bumpa’s ashes last fall.

Maybe this view doesn’t make you want to weep, but I almost can’t look at it without crying. This is my Walden. Or something.

So, anyway, enough of this morose business. Let’s talk about things that make me happy. Like peanut butter. And jelly. Specifically, the peanut butter and jelly I received from Meghan. Now, let me be clear: this wasn’t just any peanut butter and jelly — it was cappuccino peanut butter — and a ginger fruit jelly. I don’t think you know how much I love cappuccino. Or ginger. Or a PBJ for that matter, so this was some seriously inspired stuff Meghan sent me. And don’t get me started on the dried Michigan cherries! (LOVE.)

Plus there was this amazing dog wearing sunglasses in the package! Um, awesome!

I haven’t tried the lemon drops yet, but I’m sure I’ll love them for real, because I adore sour candies.

This hip dog and I are excited to eat the lemon drops.

If you want to sign up for Foodie Pen Pals, you can do so here. It’s all kinds of awesome.

Birthday Boys Like Bacon (Or How to Make Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf)

Today I went to Beverly Hills to meet my new birthday buddy, Connor. He arrived five weeks early (on my birthday!), and he’s just the most adorable little guy ever. I did some research on visiting new moms, and found this helpful post on etiquette for dropping off food and visiting and whatnot

See, most of my friends with kids don’t live in LA, so the whole visiting thing is new to me and I didn’t want to mess it up.

We went the hang out all afternoon route instead of the drive by food delivery route, and we had a great time. I learned all kinds of things about preemies today. Up until now my only experience with preemies looked something like this.

My first Cabbage Patch Kid Preemie Upton Xavier (or something) had these elephant overalls and bad orthopedic shoes but much better hair. Photo Courtesy of Fran’s House of Dolls and Toys.

I didn’t have brothers and sisters, but I did have nine of Cabbage Patch Kids. It turns out they taught me nothing about babies, though.

Who knew?

So, anyway, I wanted to bring over food instead of just showing up with a gift because new parents don’t have time for showering and sleeping let alone cooking.

I made bacon wrapped meatloaf because I know Connor’s parents like it, and because it’s the sort of dish you can reheat and it still tastes delicious. I brought the meatloaf over in bowl form and did the bacon swaddling at their place. (See? I learned a new word today. Swaddling.)

Here’s the dinner situation in its traveling state.

I have slightly modified the meatloaf recipe from Two Dudes, One Pan. I know the chefs behind the cookbook well. They started out with a catering business and now have two incredibly successful restaurants in LA. (I actually used to help them out with parties back in their catering days.) It’s a fun cookbook with a lot of personality. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s totally worth checking out.

One of the best things about the meatloaf recipe (aside from the bit where the meat is wrapped in other tasty meat) is that it calls for bread crumbs instead of bread slices. It skips that whole step where you have to soak milk in bread.

I haaaaated meatloaf as a kid, but this recipe converted me, and now I’m like born again for meatloaf. Oh, and if you’re ever in LA, you can check out the chefs in action at Animal or Son of a Gun.

So, here’s how you make it.

Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf

2 pounds of ground beef (I use 20% fat)
1 pound of ground pork
1 C onion, finely diced
¾ C panko bread crumbs
2 large eggs
1 C ketchup (I like Trader Joe’s organic)
1/3 C whole milk
½ C Italian parsley, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp Tabasco (or Tapatio)
1 tsp cayenne pepper

6-8 slices of bacon

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Place all of the ingredients except the bacon in a large mixing bowl. Mix the ingredients with your hands until they are thoroughly mixed. (It’s kind of fun – trust me.)

Set a piece of plastic wrap on your counter or work surface. Lay the bacon strips on the plastic wrap. Place your meat mixture on top of the bacon strips and form a loaf with your hands. Use the edges of the plastic wrap to fold the bacon around the loaf.

Transfer the bacon-wrapped loaf onto the baking pan and flip it over so that it is bacon side up. Remove the plastic wrap.

Here’s the meatloaf all wrapped in bacon. Mmm.

Bake until the loaf is firm, and the bacon has started to brown, about 50-60 minutes. If you prefer your bacon to be crispy, turn on the broiler for about 3 minutes, but keep an eye on it because this can be a quick process.

Allow the meatloaf to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

I wish I had a better photo of the final dish, but we were so hungry we tore into that beast so fast I sort of forgot to take a photo.