Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sausage Making (And Other Italian Things To Do On A Saturday Afternoon)

Upon returning to my grandparents' house after my cousin's bridal shower a few weeks ago, I discovered that my grandfather was not in his armchair watching the Yankees or People's Court as I expected. Instead, he was in the second kitchen making sausage from scratch.

Note my mix of fascination and fear.
There are a couple of things I should probably explain about that statement.

Second Kitchen: All Italians have a second kitchen. It's a given. Just like quick tempers, last names with more vowels than necessary, a penchant for talking with our hands, and Catholicism. This literally means that there is an entire spare kitchen in the basement--kind of like the main kitchen's understudy--usually filled with appliances collected after various relatives' kitchen remodeling. Why do Italians have a second kitchen? I'm not totally positive, but here are my best guesses.
     1. Italians take a great deal of pride in their homes, and a second kitchen ensures that the main kitchen will always look spotless in case neighbors stop by.
     2. Marinara and olive oil are essential ingredients in the Italian diet. Both are extremely messy and splattery and stain-y during the cooking process.
     3. Four burners are simply not enough. If Italians have four guests, they must make enough food for at least 25 starving men. Minimum.

Making Sausage From Scratch: I don't eat sausage, so I'm probably the worst person to describe this process, but here goes. To make sausage, you need pork butts from Canada. Why pork butts? I don't know. What's wrong with American pork butts? I don't know. What I do know is that you bring your butt or butts to the second kitchen and chop away, removing the fat. Mix in various spices, and then put the mixture into the grinder, which clamps onto the 1970s kitchen table that is a preparation surface only. No chairs surround it. After attaching a length of empty intestines to the grinder's spigot, turn the handle, mincing the meat and forcing it into the intestine. Eat immediately or freeze. But if you still want to eat sausage after reading this description, I'm impressed.

So of course when I saw the ridiculousness/wonderfulness/irony of this moment, I had to capture it. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Game of Thrones: The Exhibition...and Me!


I never would have thought those words would come out of my mouth. More often, Time Warner is referenced with phrases like, "highway robbery," "terrible service," "my DVR hates me," and/or, "if only we could get FIOS."

But yesterday, Time Warner came through in a major way. I heard horror stories about waiting seven hours in line to enter the free Game of Thrones exhibit, and I saw this amusing but terrifying video on the subject.

I wasn't expecting much when I strolled by the scene of the chaos ten minutes before the doors opened yesterday. As instructed, I brought my current Time Warner bill, and happily sidestepped the regular line in favor of the much shorter customer line. After my bill was validated and checked against my ID, the lovely people wranglers signed me up for a reserved visit for two at 6pm.

When I returned, the line had snaked its way down that looooong Fifth Avenue block and turned the corner at 6th Avenue. Feeling sort of guilty, I breezed past all the hopefuls, checked in with a people wrangler, and entered the Seven Kingdoms!

I'll let the photos below speak for themselves, but basically, the space was set up with museum-style tableaux of character groupings with costumes and props from the show, as well as bite-sized overviews of each family's turbulent history. Visitors could also play a very brief game of archery in the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and...drumroll, please!...get their pictures taken on the Iron Throne itself! I can't say it would have been worth hours of waiting, but sliding in on the Time Warner fast track was more than worthwhile!

 Exterior calm

Interior chaos

Rob Stark's map

Info and family history

Ned's head


Jon Snow and the Wildlings
Some visitors felt the need to come in costume. Like the lady who is trying to get out of my shot. She was wearing sandals. In 35-degree weather. That's dedication.

Iron Throne photo shoot!

And I'll leave you with this uplifting saying by Arya....

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How to Throw a Real Housewives Bridal Shower

As we all know, I love reality TV. Conveniently, my sister does, too. (Sorry to throw you under the bus, sis! Or the Gorga motor home.) So I thought that centering the bridal shower thrown by her bridesmaids—as opposed to the bridal shower thrown by her aunts—on Bravo’s Real Housewives series would put an entertaining and unique spin on the event.

I really wanted to establish the theme from the get-go, and luckily, I have a dear friend who just happens to be a genius designer. You can check her out at!

Do you spy Ramona Singer’s Pinot Grigio?

Since I had already asked my friend to alter the Real Housewives of Orange County logo to become “The Real Housewife of Ontario County,” I used the same design to create envelope seals through Vistaprint with awesome discounts from RetailMeNot.

We chose the second floor of an adorable ice cream parlor that overlooks the lake for a homey and contemporary feel. For subtle Housewives décor, my computer savvy cousin created some one-of-a-kind tabletop images of my sister’s face in Real Housewives scenes using the FaceInHole website. Luckily, my sister had a plethora of expressive Facebook pictures to choose from. Here she is as Teresa right before her infamous table flip:

Of course, no Housewives themed party would be complete without some hot Housewives singles! I found and downloaded the following: 

“Revelation” by Gretchen (OC)
“On Display” by Melissa (NJ)
“I’m Real” by Simon (NY)
“Close to You” by Danielle (NJ)
“Can’t Control” by Jo (OC)
“Tardy for the Party” by Kim (ATL)
“Money Can’t Buy You Class” and “Chic C’est la Vie” by Countess Luann (NY).

I quietly had this playlist on a loop in the background, so that only the most dedicated Housewives fans noticed—and loved!—it.

The managers of the ice cream parlor were phenomenal. They let us bring in our own snacks and drinks as long as we purchased our entrees from them. Where did we get ideas for snacks? Bethenny Frankel’s website!!! Unfortunately, the website seems to have become less easily searchable, but I can vouch for her sangria and Mock-A-Mole (guacamole)!

Since I had just taken a Wilton cake decorating class at Michael’s (which I highly recommend), I made cupcakes. Again, thanks to my cousin’s techno-handiwork, we put together these Housewives cupcake picks. The Milania cupcakes are my favorite. Sweet and sour at the same time.

You can't throw a shower without some sort of game, right? I wanted to make it accessible to those who didn’t watch the show and exciting for those who did, so we developed a series of multiple choice questions about the series and handed each guest a question to ask my sister, thus putting her in the hot seat instead of them. Here are some of the questions we used:

What did Teresa famously call Danielle while screaming at her?
Prostitution whore

Which housewife has Slade NOT dated?

What did Bethenny name her daughter?

If she got a certain number of questions correct, she would win the grand prize—an autographed bottle of Ramona Pinot Grigio! How did I come across the autograph, you wonder? Well, I just happen to have an amazing friend who got it for me at an official signing in NYC!

We also played a more traditional shower game with questions about my sister’s life—a stylized version of True or False—and the game winner received a bottle of Skinnygirl Margarita.

For one of my gifts, I couldn’t resist doing a play on the Bravo logo! I found the logo on Bravo’s website, altered the lettering from "BRAVO" to my sister's future last name, reversed the image in Photoshop, printed it out on T-shirt transfer paper from Staples, and ironed it on to a cute sweatshirt that I picked up at Target. That way, she had something to wear while getting her hair and makeup done on her wedding day. It came out great! 
(It's actually easier than I just made it sound. I promise.)

Some other guests really got into the Housewives spirit, giving my sister themed baskets, like this Italian/cooking/Teresa Guidice basket that included her cookbook.

If you've ever thrown any kind of party, you know that every little thing tends to add up to more than you probably want to spend. And although the Housewives have money to burn, I certainly do not. The bridesmaids and I were definitely working within a strict budget, and I learned that if you're willing to put in some time and imagination, you can create a shower that is affordable, personal, and unique! 

P.S. Hire me, Andy Cohen! ;)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In Defense of Reality TV

It's a hard knock life for reality TV. People looo-ooo-ooove to trash talk this allegedly trashy brand of TV, and they love to trash talk the people who watch it.

But I’m here to admit to the world that I LOVE REALITY TV AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT.

In some ways, I feel as though I should be in hiding. Or in a support group. Reality TV does seem like the ditzy cheerleader of daily programming, and it’s as addictive as Doritos. But to counter those who oppose my one true love, I would like to submit this highly technical and fact-based statement:


And here are the reasons why…

1. It teaches you stuff.
            I never knew what geoduck was before Top Chef, did you?

2. Life is unscripted.
            Scripted TV shows imitate natural dialogue and speech patterns—so why not skip the middleman and listen to the real thing? Sure, there’s some prompting from producers in reality TV, but there is also a surplus of spontaneity. TLC producers can encourage Honey Boo Boo to say, “You’d betta redneckognize!” but they could never have predicted the endearing moment in which she accidentally sneezed two snot rockets out of her nose, covered her face with her hands, and sat there in silence for a full 70 seconds, unsure what to do next. Oh Honey Boo Boo, you made me love you.

3. It opens your world.
            I knew that there were women in the world who were connected to the mob, but I could never have imagined what they did while their husbands were “away” until I saw Mob Wives. I know there are people who drink too much and spray tan and hook up with juicehead guidos, but I could never have envisioned it until I saw Jersey Shore. I know there are people who sell antique pistols that have been family heirlooms since the American Revolution to finance their gambling habits, but I didn’t realize how sad and desperate they actually are until I saw Pawn Stars

4. It helps you live vicariously through others.
            I will never live in a villa on the South of France, but when I watch House Hunters International, I can feel the sun on my face as I enjoy wine and cheese on the veranda with an ex-pat family of four who wanted a change of lifestyle so they moved to France, where the wife teaches yoga nearby, the husband works remotely in the home office that was one of their must-haves, and their two adorable little girls go to French school and learn to say cute things like, "Mamá!" and "Papá!"

5. It provides (often negative) examples of conflict resolution.
            Thanks to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, I now know that as tempting as it may be, you should neither tell people to STFU nor send a cease and desist letter. Friends don't sue friends. (Except when they do.)

6. It gives you tons of supplemental reading material.
            I don’t love watching The Bachelor. (Sorry, Chris Harrison!) But I do love reading show recaps on Vulture and EW and discussing them with my friends. If you haven’t read them (and you should), they are lengthy, informative, and pithy weekly show descriptions so detailed that they often require rereading to pick up on all the hilarious allusions and inside jokes. In short, they are written as if your super smart gay BFF is commenting on the show as you’re watching together.

And a big welcome back to you, Sean Lowe! You're looking as buff and rosy-hued as ever. I suppose a few months relaxing at home in Dallas—or, even better, in your niece's giant pink princess playhouse emporium—would soothe anyone's broken heart. (And of course, never underestimate the healing power of schadenfreude.) Though Sean's pecs, lats, delts, and biceps have clearly lost the will to cover themselves after getting dumped by Emily, the newly-minted Bachelor refuses to let this slow down his pre-‘journey’ training regimen. ‘I know it's going to be physically exhausting,’ says Shirted Confessional Sean, while Sweaty Shirtless Sean towels off after a set of bicep curls. 'I might go through that same heartache that I experienced with Emily.'”

7. Schadenfreude
            Sometimes it really does feel good to laugh at someone else’s misfortune. When The Situation headbutts a wall while drunk on Jersey Shore, or Tierra cries her black mascara into a KISS-like frenzy on on The Bachelor, or Kourtney or Khloe or Kim start a kollection of klothing at Kmart (a store they would’ve previously never set an orange toe in) on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, it takes you out of your own world. It makes you forget that you’re collecting unemployment even though you have a master’s degree.

8. You can learn new skills.
            As a result of watching Sweet Genius, Income Property, Hoarders, and Shark Tank, I am now a chef, an interior designer/handyman, a professional organizer, and an entrepreneur. Just try me.

9. It reassures you that you can handle life’s difficulties.
            Regardless of circumstances, many reality shows have feel-good endings that demonstrate a dynamic change in the central character…or they show us how dumb you look when you make the same boneheaded mistakes over and over again. If, like Deena from Jersey Shore, you have a few too many cocktails and get thrown in the drunk tank, your parents will come to your rescue; although they may yell at you, they will always love you. Just look at the lesson she learned, "I was just trying to dance on the street. Clearly you can't do that, and I actually got in trouble for not using sidewalks. ... That was my charge. So now I know: Don't dance in the street." Happy Meatball Day, Deena!

10. It instills a can-do attitude.
            You’re obviously more intelligent than anyone on these programs, so reality TV makes you feel that if those morons can star in their own shows and become rich and famous, so can you. It’s the American way. So relax, drink it in, and thank your lucky DVRs that you live in a country where anyone--and I mean anyone--can become a star.