by Borderstan.com April 30, 2013 at 11:00 am 2,604 1 Comment

"Sofa"

Sofa for sale. Actually it’s an Ektorp. (Maggie Barron)

From Maggie Barron. You can reach her at maggie[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on Twitter @rookerysf.

This morning, we said goodbye to our old faithful Ikea sofa, Ektorp. It was the first major piece of furniture that Jesse and I bought together ($200 on Craigslist). It carried us through countless dinner parties, overnight guests, episodes of “30 Rock,” and, yes, a few nights of comfort after some big arguments.

In its place, we have a beautiful Room & Board York sofa bed. It’s the first piece of new, non-Ikea furniture that we’ve ever owned. It’s also the first time I’ve been able to choose the fabric! How far we’ve come!

I posted Ektorp on Craigslist yesterday, after trying to get it to stand up straight for a couple of photos (its slipcover never wanted to fit quite right). I wrote the standard pitch (no cats, no smoking, clean…) but what I wanted to say was, “This couch is awesome and it will be your friend.”

I feared that might drive away the more normal inquiries, though. The photo didn’t quite do it justice. Or maybe it did, which made me feel worse. Had my couch always been so… schlumpy?

Responses came immediately, several from young women who had just moved in with their boyfriends. Ektorp would be their first joint couch, too. It seemed fitting.

Sarah and John ended up buying it — I think I was touched by how excited they were to get their first big piece of furniture, how they thoughtfully tested the cushions, how they tried to make the “big” decision together in a serious way. Jesse and I probably looked exactly the same to the Craigslist people who sold us the couch more than three years ago.

“This couch is really nice,” Sarah said, which made me feel sorry for the times I’d made fun of Ektorp for being old and outdated.

I am not a sentimental person. I can be ruthless about culling and getting rid of items that have outlived their usefulness. They are just things, I say. And yet, I have to admit that I am sad to say goodbye to our Ikea couch.

Maybe that’s because it feels like I’ve returned Ektorp to some sort of cosmic communal pool of furniture that city residents share. The one that’s part of the cycle of 20-something life, love, and real estate that makes our cities hum. The one that I (thankfully) don’t need to be a part of anymore.

I just got an email from Sarah, with a tiny picture of Ektorp settled in its new digs:

We got the couch in! Thanks for all your help, and hope you are enjoying the new one. This post appeared first at Barron’s blog, Rookery.

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by Borderstan.com March 26, 2013 at 9:00 am 10 Comments

From Maggie Barron. You can reach her at maggie[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on Twitter @rookerysf.

"moratorium"

Pick the moratorium you want to support. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Jeez, what do you have to do to get something banned around here? Bans and moratoria are falling on tough times. There’s the defeat of the large soda ban in New York City. Protests against the nudity ban in San Francisco (yes, public nudity was perfectly legal there until two months ago).

And now, closer to home, the proposed moratorium on U Street liquor licenses meets an icy reception at a recent neighborhood listening session.

People don’t like banning things. It seems so final. So severe. No nudity in public places — not just “let’s reduce the relative amount of nudity.” So harsh. Even a moratorium sounds draconian. Five years? Where will I be in five years? Will alcohol even be legal in five years? No one knows for sure.

That’s why I’ve come up with a list of proposed moratoriums that I think could actually pass with flying colors. Nothing too restrictive, just those things that we’ve had enough of. See what you think:

The following eight things, in three categories, shall be prohibited for a period of no less than five years from today.

Food and Drink

  1. Beet and goat cheese salads: Yes, they are delicious. But there’s no other way to make beets taste good? And if there isn’t, can you serve us something else? It’s been on your menu for ten years…
  2. The word “artisanal.” After years of abuse, the privilege of using “artisanal” to describe a food, craft or other noun shall be revoked until further notice. To be honest, the blanket use of the term (artisanal croutons, artisanal gelato) is kind of making us foodies sound like jerks.
  3. Cocktails costing more than $10. A few places that make really nice cocktails have now made it acceptable for everyone to start charging $12+ for a drink. The other night I ordered what appeared to be a Greyhound except the bartender repeatedly slapped a single basil leaf between his palms and then delicately placed it on top. So I basically paid a $2 premium to have my basil spanked. No more!

Fashion

  1. Wearing Uggs in public. Yes, I know they are warm. So are Snuggies and Russian ushankas, but no one wears those outside. This is DC, not Siberia. (And while we’re talking about comfortable clothing that should be severely curtailed, I second Dafna Steinberg’s piece on yoga pants).
  2. Wearing bicycle helmets without buckling the chin strap. Nothing better conveys the message, “I care about my safety, but in a weirdly ambivalent way,” than not buckling your helmet strap. I see these people way more often than I’d expect. Do they not realize this defeats the purpose of a helmet and yet still gives them helmet hair, so it’s really the worst of every possible option?

Social Media

  1. The phrase “retweets are not endorsements” on Twitter profiles. Is there anyone who says “You know what? My retweets are endorsements! Every single one!” No. So let’s all agree to ditch the disclaimer. (P.S. we also know that you are tweeting your own views and not those of your employer… but disclaimers don’t actually mean you can’t get in trouble, FYI)
  2. Facebook status updates that tell me how much you have recently exercised. All updates such as “8.5 miler today — feeling great!” shall be immediately banned until further notice.
  3. Complaints about “spoilers” because you haven’t watched a popular show yet. The entire internet does not have to be quiet until you catch up on your DVR. Sorry.

I really think I’m on to something here. Enforcement may be an issue, though…

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by Borderstan.com March 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm 3 Comments

"Matzah"

Making matzah nalls. (Maggie Barron)

From Maggie Barron. You can reach her at maggie[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on Twitter @rookerysf.

It’s really hard to take an appetizing photo of a matzah ball.

Maybe that’s because the better a matzah ball tastes, the worse it photographs. Light, fluffy matzah balls are uneven and lumpy-looking. Smooth, spherical ones may look nice, but they have a taste and texture that give matzah balls a bad name.

I didn’t realize I had such strong opinions on the topic, but in writing this post, I learned that my family’s matzah ball technique (circa 1950, Springfield, NJ) contradicts the instructions in many recipes, including from some of New York’s famous delis. Therein lies its strength.

In fact, when I look at other recipes, I feel like I am not even making the same dish. Your matzah ball should never sink. They don’t need oil. They don’t need seltzer. (I don’t think seltzer fizz does anything to make them lighter — it’s basically just adding water.) They don’t need baking powder. (This would count as leavening, and so couldn’t be used at Passover, no?)

Most importantly, they are not difficult and should not be cause for stress, failure or familial kvetching (leave that to the other aspects of Passover).

Matzah Ball Tips

Good matzah balls are actually pretty simple as long as you remember the following:

  • Separate your eggs and beat the whites separately. This will get the egg whites really fluffy and create light, airy matzah balls (no seltzer or leavening necessary).
  • Don’t smush! Use the lightest touch you can to mix and mold the matzah balls, to preserve as many air bubbles as possible.
  • There is no substitute for schmaltz. Yes, that’s rendered chicken fat. If you make your matzah balls with chicken fat rather than oil, they will be far and above any you have ever tasted.

Fortunately getting schmaltz isn’t so hard. If you’re making matzah balls, you’re most likely making chicken stock, too. Just scrape off the fat that rises to the surface of the stock (you’ll see an obvious layer of it after refrigerating the broth overnight — it becomes solid when it’s cold). Ta da. You can also render your own from chicken pieces, but the stock route is easier and, well, more appetizing.

Making Matzah Balls

Ingredients

This recipe makes about 8 matzah balls. 

  • 4 fresh eggs, carefully separated. Bring them to room temperature ahead of time for fluffier egg whites.
  • 1 teaspoon kosher (or other coarse) salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 2 teaspoons grated onion (about 1/2 an onion)
  • 2 tablespoons chicken fat (schmaltz)
  • 3/4 cup matzah meal (you can buy it or make your own by finely grinding matzah in a food processor)

Directions

  1. If you’re making your own matzah meal, finely grind matzah (I used about 4 pieces) in a food processor. I had been buying matzah and matzah meal separately for years — who knew that they are the exact same thing? Measure the meal to make sure you have the right amount (3/4 cup).
  2. Combine egg yolks, salt, pepper, onion and schmaltz in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Don’t overdo it or the whites will start to look dry and break apart, and they’ll eventually deflate.
  4. A little bit at a time, alternate adding the matzah meal and the egg whites to the egg yolk mixture. Start by adding some matzah meal. Fold in with a spatula. Add some egg whites. Fold. Repeat until all the ingredients are combined, ending with egg whites. Important: It is important to do this with the least amount of stirring and smushing as you can, so that you keep the fluffiness of the egg whites.
  5. As you do this, you are going to think, “Wow, this is not working. These are never going to combine.” But eventually they do. You are not going to end up with a homogenous, smooth mixture. That’s good. You just want to make sure you don’t have dry spots of matzah meal or large clouds of egg white left.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  7. Bring your chicken stock to a gentle boil. Use a large pot as the matzah balls need room to expand while they cook.
  8. Wet your fingers and gently shape a golf-ball sized portion of batter. You do not need to pack it tightly — it will hold together in the broth on its own. You’re not going for perfection here. Remember, photogenic = bad. Just loosely form the ball and wet your fingers again if it starts to stick to your hands.
  9. Gently drop the ball into the boiling broth, then repeat step seven and eight with the remaining batter. If you’ve done your job right so far, the ball should float. If it sinks, it may be that you have mixed your batter too much and deflated the egg whites. If this happens, don’t despair. They will still taste delicious, even if they are not as fluffy as you would like.
  10. As they boil, resist the urge to stir or poke them for the first couple of minutes. Poking them too soon will cause them to break apart. Just let them bob around and do their thing until they solidify a bit.
  11. After two minutes or so, start to gently turn them with a wooden spoon every couple of minutes to keep them moving. Let them boil for about 20 minutes.
  12. At this point they are ready to serve, or you can store them in the chicken broth and reheat to serve whenever you are ready.

Serve at Passover, or any other time that calls for comfort food. Bask in the glory of a matzah ball well done.

This post first appeared in rookery

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by Borderstan.com March 12, 2013 at 9:00 am 0

From Maggie Barron. You can reach her at maggie[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on Twitter @rookerysf.

"Share"

Where are “MY” crayons? (Luis Gomez Photos)

I graduated from kindergarten about 25 years ago, yet I still struggle with its central lesson: sharing.

Back in the day, I looked around at the runny-nosed kids mashing together different play-dough colors, breaking the crayons in half and leaving the caps off the glue sticks. “Ownership…” my five-year-old brain thought, “means having all of the crayons.” And thus a little capitalist was born.

A quarter century later, and my way of thinking is showing signs of age. Today, the mark of a savvy city-dweller isn’t how much they own, but how much they can get away with not owning. It’s no longer a virtue to own a car you only use on weekends, or camping equipment you only use once a year.

There’s certainly a lot of sharing going on in DC. We have the best bike sharing system in the country, and are one of the top 5 cities for car sharing. You can share office space, kitchen space, tools with your neighbor – pretty much anything you can think of you can borrow or rent from someone else in DC. As The Atlantic recently put it, collective ownership is “less a fleeting fad and more an essential piece of how we’ll live in an increasingly dense, urbanized world.”

It’s been hard for me to wrap my head around, which is especially embarrassing because my husband actually works for a peer-to-peer car sharing company. As he talks about trust, community-building and cost-savings, I am secretly thinking to myself “Wait, is someone going to be touching my stuff?”

Is there hope for people like me? The truth is, I want to be the kind of person who likes to share. I agree that it uses resources more efficiently, is more economical and provides an opportunity to meet new people, many of whom have probably evolved from their play-dough mashing days.

I am trying to take baby steps. Recently we rented a neighbor’s car for a few hours, and the whole time I felt oddly transgressive, as if I had borrowed it without asking. “They are really just giving us their car? We could be weirdos!” I said. “But we’re not,” answered my husband. But we could be, I thought.

We have also signed on to DogVacay, a website that matches people who need dog sitters with others willing to host – sort of the “Airbnb for dogs.” Our first hosting experience, for a shar-pei mix named Howard Zinn, was similar to babysitting for a stranger’s child for five days, and about as much fun. (Howard wasn’t so much into being a member of the sharing economy as he was into drooling and chewing on socks.) It did pay almost $200, though. So mixed success.

But I am going to persevere. While I think that in many cases “sharing” is a misnomer for this new trend (many of the services are really “renting” or “paying someone to do something for you,” which is slightly different), in small doses it might even be good for me. As long as I can still keep my own crayons.

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