Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A lady's guide to basic cooking

My mother and I making grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches
Alright.  Since when did cooking become such an impossible, insurmountable task?  I do most of my own cooking at school (primarily because I’m convinced the cafeteria is doing a social experiment as to how much slop they can feed us before we protest), and for me cooking, to use popular jargon, ‘ain’t no big thing.’  Whenever someone finds out that I do 90% of my own cooking, however, they’re quite often stunned.  Sometimes they’re baffled as to where I’m getting my supplies, but more often than not such people are confused as to how I found the time and where I got my skills.

And I know that this reaction is not limited to my isolated, stuck-in-the-armpit-of-nowhere college.  More and more people seem to have gotten the impression that cooking for oneself or others will only end in frustration and food that never looks as good as it does in the cookbook.  One can argue as to where this perspective developed, though I would say it probably stemmed from the twin evils of Martha Stewart and fast food, with the former setting unreasonably high standards for cooking (and table setting, and floral arrangements…) and the latter making it possible to get food that tastes good (but will one day contribute to your coronary embolism) easily. 
Blame aside, however, I would like to enlighten the world at large:  It is perfectly possible to make good, reasonably complex food without attending chef school, setting oneself on fire, spending a fortune on supplies, or taking forever.  Indeed, in some cases one may need nothing but a hotpot or a toaster to get the job done. 
So, allow me to impart a few basic things about cooking:
1.        Before you go out and buy a bunch of pricey ingredients, consider what you’re getting and how often it will be used, and measure that against how long it will last.  As per example, rice, eggs, and milk are all good staples that will either last quite awhile, can be cooked in many ways, or will likely be consumed promptly.  Waste not, want not.  Also note that with the help of spices (which rarely, if ever, go bad) one can put a multitude of spins on a single dish. 

2.       When cooking it is alright to improvise. Unless one is attempting to make a soufflĂ© or some other temperamental pastry dish, the odds are good that you can screw around with the recipe and make it fit your tastes without destroying it completely.  For myself I’m very fond of doing this with packaged food, where I toss out flavor packets and ignore directions with impunity. 

3.       And the reason I can do the above is practice.  In one’s first forays into cooking, one may very well wreck it or turn out a less than perfect dish, even if you follow directions to the letter.  This, however, is not a reason to give up.    This is the reason to try again and figure out where things went wrong, and correct for them. 

4.       Make sure to do your research and play to your own tastes.  Watch cooking tutorials online, ask your friends and relatives for tips/recipes, read up on techniques, and make sure you’re learning how to cook things that interest you.  Don’t force yourself to learn a recipe because you feel everyone should know it.  Instead, cook what you want, no matter how supposedly weird or difficult it appears to be.  Notably, to help you in this endeavor, I will be recording and uploading a series of my own cooking tutorials, covering ‘simple but delicious’ foods that are easily made on the fly.

5.       Finally, feel free to make up your own recipes.  Take what you learn from all your experiments (successful and otherwise) and cobble it together to do something totally new.  This is the essential fun of cooking; making something that is entirely one’s own.
The sandwich that was the result of the above cooking session

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Ladies of Boardwalk Empire

Lauren, today's writer and a gal of great class and wit
I present to you our first guest article, written by my good friend Lauren!  Enjoy!
            ~ Victoria

Long before the acclaim of baggy pants and backwards caps, criminals wore casual wear that would make your boyfriend’s prom tuxedo look like a suit from Target. The characters of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire recreate the feel of the Roaring Twenties, in both its classy and perilous nature. The plot follows crooked Atlantic County treasurer Eunuch “Nucky” Thompson, played brilliantly by Steve Buscemi, in his rocky personal life and his corrupt political life. His interactions with several characters, included non-fictional criminals such as Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), and Al Capone (Stephen Graham), along with the sub plots that revolve around fictional characters like Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), and James Darmody (Michael Pitt) weave together a wonderful story that brings fact and fiction to a nice balance. Here at Definition of a Lady, I hope to provide you with personal inspiration, for both your couture and your character, through this wonderful show’s first season.

Let’s take a look at the fashion of our female characters, to start with. First, we will check out possibly the most fashionable of our choices: Lucy Danziger.  Played by the stunning Paz de la Huerta, she is Nucky Thompson’s former mistress and former dancer, with an eye for money and fame.

Though she certainly is not a prude, Lucy always manages to pull off tastefully flirty (and high-fashion) outfits, complete with eye-catching fur and a hat. She may expose her shoulders or play up her cleavage, but her dress still leaves something to the imagination.

In another scene, Lucy pulls off minimal jewelry, favoring her natural beauty over overdressing. Ladies, I know we are always tempted to wear dozens of bracelets and find the wackiest, chunkiest necklaces we can imagine, but sometimes less is more. Though we certainly don’t want to emulate Lucy’s empty-headed, gold-digging attitude, we can still appreciate how she doesn’t dress like one. You do not want someone to look at you and assume the worst.

Another powerful feminine presence in the series is Margaret Schroeder, a woman whose abusive husband was murdered at Nucky’s request, and who ends up falling for her husband’s killer. Margaret is a hard-working, lower-class Irish immigrant who finds herself suddenly in the lap of luxury. Her style evolves from simple to elegant over the course of the season.

Margaret always knows how to wear a hat, and though statement hats have fallen out of fashion in the recent years, icons such as Kate Middleton (now known as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) have been bringing the style back. Margaret is also known for wearing more conservative, but stylish clothes, once again proving that baring it all isn’t the best way to convince someone of your merits.

More importantly than Margaret’s wardrobe, however, is her strong will. In an era where women’s rights were beginning to blossom, Margaret represents the woman beside the great man, struggling to make her voice heard also. Though she clashes with Nucky in several aspects—her contraceptive methods being one—he seems to treat her with respect not seen given to most other women in the show. Furthermore, Margaret must deal with the timeless problem of losing faith once introduced to the high life. As the show illustrates, many people are corrupted by greed—but it always seems to especially effect the people who had nothing. You do not want to forget your roots once that big check lands in your lap, but sometimes it can hard to. Gratitude and kindness are virtues that should be kept and you’ll just have to watch Season 2 to see if Margaret succumbs to greed, or keeps her motherly sweetness.

The bottom line is, ladies, dress like every day is important, and don’t dress like you’re a piece of meat. The key to being a lady is respect in yourself and from others, and how you act and what you wear should reflect that belief. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Building a support system

So you have your ideal ladies and a real lady to show you the ropes.  What’s the next step?  Funny you should ask, because the next step is establishing a good old fashioned bunch of girl friends who will stand you in good stead no matter what happens.  These girls are your support system, there to help you through whatever gets thrown your way.  These are the gals you call when you have to figure out if you should date a fellow, and they’re the ones you confer with over tea when you decide to dump him and move on to greener pastures.  You have lunch together (and dinner, and possibly a slumber party, followed by breakfast, followed by lunch AGAIN…) as often as you can, and no matter how much time you spend together, you never get sick of them.  These are your girls, your compadres, sisters from another mister, and all other such terms that denote a coterie of the best friends imaginable. 
My support system in action :D
To some degree, dear reader, you probably already have a support system in place.  Rare is the girl who has absolutely no friends.  The key to creating a support system is making sure you have friends who are friends with each other, thus providing mutual support.  Remember, these are the girls who are willing to protect you and help you no matter what, and for some events it remains a fact that you need more than one person to deal with it.  When it comes to celebrating birthdays or chasing off unwelcome male attention, groups are always better.  Satellite friends are also important (individuals who don’t belong to your core group), but having that central base is vital. 
As you go about assessing your support system and how you will manage it, it’s also a prime time to remove the toxic friends from your life.  And trust me, you probably have one or two.  We all know these people, the unpleasant individuals who you can’t seem to get rid of even though they contribute nothing but misery and/or petty cruelty to your life.  These people sow nothing but discord and trouble, and as such need to be evicted from your life pronto.  This is also the time to get rid of one’s frenemies (which differ from toxic friends in that toxic friends still pretend they’re your friend, while frenemies are decidedly unpleasant and antagonistic, but you just can’t get rid of them), and if there are any girls hanging around you who are a less than respected companions, it’s probably better to send them on their way to find better suited friends of their own. 
At long last, you’ve completed the four most crucial steps of becoming a lady.  You’ve built a strong foundation of friends, advisors, and have gained insight into yourself.  Now that you have the ‘skeleton’ of being a lady in place, it’s time to flesh it out with skills, manners, intelligence, and style.  So stay tuned for ensuing articles on the many and varied ways that will help you become a lady.
Humbly yours, Victoria
P.S.  If you have any specific questions about being a lady, feel free to email me at countesscrow@gmail.com, at which point I will answer your question and post both question and answer (your name will be omitted) to the blog as part of Definition of a Lady’s advice column.