Tuesday, October 17, 2017

High Schoolers Make Me Feel Old

At a certain level, I understand that I am, in fact, middle-aged. I'm slightly over a year away from being 50. I have hot flashes and night sweats. I have to be reminded that 1990 was more than 25 years ago. The music that was popular when I was in high school is now played on the "oldies" station. I'm not young any more.

But I forget that fact often. First, because I have young children, and the parents of my children's classmates are mostly in their 20s. So I look around me and some part of my brain tells me, "Gee, they're all 25, so I must be 25, too!" Second, because I'm low-maintenance enough that I only look in the mirror twice a day (when I brush my teeth), so I forget that's really what I look like and I just remember how I looked back when I was in my 20s and 30s when I spent a lot more time in front of the mirror.

But what reminds me that I'm old is spending time with high school kids.

My new job is working at a high school, so I've spent the past month and a half with about 175 high school freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. These kids are ages 14-18. Not one of them was born in the 20th century.

Think about that for a second.

I have socks older than these kids. I have CDs older than these kids (not that any of them knows what a CD is). I have spices older than these kids.

Right now, I'm costuming a play they're doing that's set in 1995. This is ancient history to them. This show is to them what Grease was to me when I was in high school. And you know what the really sad thing is? I had to Google what high school kids wore in 1995 because I was already 5 years out of college and in the working world by then. I AM TOO OLD TO HELP THEM WITH THEIR 1995 COSTUMES BECAUSE I WAS ALREADY OLD AND UNCOOL IN 1995.

Another thing that makes me realize I'm old when I'm around them is that I wear an awful lot more clothes than they do. It's been warm for October, but there are still days when it's cool enough that I wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Not so these teenagers. Shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, flip flops...even items of clothing that I also own aren't made of nearly so much fabric. Their t-shirts have lower necklines, skimpier sleeves, and shorter hems. Their shorts are shorter and tighter than what I wore at their age, never mind now. Even the boys wear clothes that boys when I was in high school would only have worn to gym class.

Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with it. I've only seen one outfit that set off my INAPPROPRIATE!!! meter (a see-through crop top worn over a bra...I saw a young lady wearing it first thing in the morning and then didn't see her again all day, which makes me wonder if it also pinged the INAPPROPRIATE!!! meter of someone with more authority than I). But it is a very significant difference that makes me especially aware of my age.

It's not a bad thing to be aware of my age, though. Because another difference that I notice is their desperate need to be cool, to be liked, to be the same as everyone else. Even in the most confident teenager, there's an awareness of the opinion of others. And there's a sensitivity to the opinion of others.

It makes me appreciate how much, over the years, I've come to develop a certain amount of "I-don't-care-ness." I don't bother to wear my hair in a trendy, high-maintenance style because I don't care to. I wear it in a style that I like, and if anyone else dislikes it, well, I don't really care. The opinion of others matters so much less to me than it did when I was young. I do what I like and I shrug off the opinions of strangers and even acquaintances.

I do care about the opinions of friends, but even my friends are defined differently than they were when I was young. The friends I have now are friends not of chance and opportunity, but of choice and experience. My friends have been tested over time and have passed the test. The friends that are still with me in my middle age are those who have proven themselves to be reliable and faithful and true. They are no longer just the people who happened to sit next to me in homeroom or math or band. Some of them ARE the people who happened to sit next to me in homeroom or math or band, but they're still friends because they've chosen to be - and because I've continued to choose them. They're no longer the fickle friends of my youth.

So being around high schoolers makes me feel old. And I like it.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

What to Do with a Pound (or Two) of Ground Beef

There are certain proteins that I always have on hand in my fridge or freezer: chicken breasts, pork chops, and ground beef. My go-to recipes for pork and chicken are usually "marinate it using a packaged mix then grill it or throw it in the oven," and my go-to recipes for ground beef are usually tacos or shepherd's pie (yeah, I know it's really cottage pie when it's made with beef, but I've been calling it shepherd's pie for almost 50 years so I'm not about to change now).

But sometimes I want to try something a little different with that pound or two of beef that I just pulled out of the freezer. It has to be a recipe that calls for crumbled beef, since I'm usually thawing it last minute and it's really difficult to quick-thaw ground beef in the microwave without accidentally cooking the outer parts before the center thaws. And it has to be something that doesn't require unusual ingredients that I don't usually have on hand or that I won't use in any other recipes.

Here are some of the most interesting ground beef recipes I found - some that I've tried, and some that I haven't, so please feel free to add a comment if you've used any of these recipes!

Impossible Cheeseburger Pie
This recipe is similar to my shepherd's pie, but with a Bisquick pastry instead of mashed potatoes holding it all together.

1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, chopped (or 1 cup frozen onion)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Bisquick baking mix
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Brown beef and onion in a skillet over medium heat; drain. Stir in salt. Spray a 9-inch glass pie plate with cooking spray and spread meat in plate. Sprinkle with cheese. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients and pour into pie plate. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes.

Hamburger Hashbrown Casserole
This is one of the recipes I've tried, and both my kids and my husband really liked it. I don't generally keep frozen hashbrowns on hand, but I don't mind buying a small package for this recipe, since they'd happily eat it often enough to use the package up pretty quickly.

1 small onion, diced (or 1/2 cup frozen)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground beef
4 cups frozen hashbrowns (shredded or cubed)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk
1-1/2 cups shredded cheese
salt and pepper

Saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add the ground beef and cook until well browned. Drain fat. Spread into a large baking dish, add the remaining ingredients, and mix together well. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Taco Salad
This variation of taco salad relies on canned ingredients to make your life easier.

1 lb lean ground beef
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Dash pepper
Romaine or iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
3-4 green onions, sliced (optional)
2 cups shredded cheese
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 can black olives (whole or sliced)
1 bottle Ranch dressing
Tortilla chips, slightly crushed

Brown the ground beef in a large skillet. Drain fat, then mix in spices. In a large serving bowl, arrange (or mix together) all remaining ingredients except dressing and chips. Immediately before serving, add dressing and chips and toss together to coat.

Cheesy Pasta and Beef (Crock Pot)
Anything I can toss in the crock pot and forget is good by me.

1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
2 (8 oz) cans tomato sauce
1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
1 lb penne pasta
2 cups shredded cheddar

Brown and drain ground beef, then transfer to crock pot. Stir in all remaining ingredients except pasta and cheese. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Cook pasta per package directions, and stir in cooked pasta just before serving. Top each serving with shredded cheese.

Crock Pot Bolognese
This recipe takes a bit of prep time, but it's so fantastic that it's worth it. And since I nearly always have onions, carrots, and celery on hand, there's no need for an extra grocery store run.

1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
5 garlic cloves, minced (or 5 tsp minced garlic)
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (or diced)
2 celery stalks, chopped (may be omitted)
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
pinch nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine (may be omitted, or substitute a splash of red wine vinegar)

Combine all ingredients in crock pot and stir until well mixed. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours (or on high for 3-4 hours), stirring every hour or so. Serve over pasta.

Mexican Lasagna (Crock Pot)
This was another surprising hit with my family. The recipe is pretty huge, however, so feel free to halve it if you don't want a lot of leftovers. I also found the cream cheese to be a bit heavy, so feel free to cut back on that (or even omit it).

2 16 oz jars salsa
2 envelopes taco mix
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
14 oz can refried beans
16 oz uncooked lasagna noodles
1 lb ground beef
1 cup water
2 cups frozen corn
2 small cans sliced olives
2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 cups shredded cheddar

Mix 1 Tbsp taco mix with cream cheese, sour cream, and beans, and set aside. Combine the cheeses and set aside. Brown and drain ground beef, then stir in remaining taco mix and water and simmer for 5 minutes. Add just enough salsa to the crock pot to prevent noodles from sticking, then cover with noodles (breaking as needed to fit). Add layers as follows: 1/3 of the bean mixture, 1/3 of the meat, 1/3 of the corn, 1/4 of the olives, 1/4 of the cheese, 1/4 of the salsa. Cover with another layer of noodles. Repeat twice, ending with noodle layer. Pour remaining salsa on top. Reserve remaining cheese and olives. Cover and cook on high for 3-1/2 to 4 hours. A few minutes before serving, top with reserved cheese and olives.

Sloppy Joe Dogs
I know, it sounds kind of disgusting at first...but the more you think about it, the yummier it gets.

1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 lbs ground beef
1 (6-oz) can tomato paste
1 garlic clove, minced (or 1 tsp minced garlic)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup Dr. Pepper (or other cola)
1/2 cup water
salt and red pepper flakes
hot dog buns

Saute onions in oil over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Add ground beef and cook until completely browned. Drain fat. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes, until mixture thickens and darkens. Stir in Dr. Pepper and water and cook, stirring constantly, 6-8 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from heat. Add salt and red pepper to taste. Serve on hotdog buns with a side of coleslaw.

Red Bean Chili
Lighten up on the spices if your family has delicate palates, but a nice bowl of chili is always a delicious fall meal that will warm you to your toes! I like it served with tortilla chips, over rice, or as a baked potato topping!

2 lbs ground beef
1 large onion, chopped (or 1 cup frozen onion)
2 (15-oz) cans kidney beans
1 (12 oz) can tomato juice
1 (10-2/4 oz) can condensed tomato soup
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

In a Dutch oven, cook ground beef and onion until beef is completely browned. Drain fat. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Garnish with chopped onion, if desired.

To make in the crock pot, place browned beef and onion in crock pot and stir in remaining ingredients, then cover and cook on high for 5 hours.

Beef Stroganoff

This is an easy version of the classic dish. And I won't tell if you use canned mushrooms.

2 Tbsp butter
8 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 large onion, chopped (or 1 cup frozen onion)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or 2 tsp minced garlic)
1 lb ground beef
1-1/2 cups beef broth
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sour cream
Cooked egg noodles

Cook mushrooms, onion, and garlic in butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender. Remove from heat and set aside. Brown and drain the ground beef. Stir in 1 cup of the beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper. Heat to boiling. Whisk flour into remaining 1/2 cup broth and stir into beef. Add mushroom mixture and return to boiling. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Serve over egg noodles.

Baked Bean Casserole
This recipe is a good balance of prepared ingredients (canned pork and beans and bottled BBQ sauce) and fresh ingredients (onion, bell pepper, and bacon!).

1-1/2 lbs ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped (or 1/2 cup frozen onion)
1 bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
2 (16-oz) cans pork and beans
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp spicy brown mustard
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp brown sugar
6 to 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (pre-cooked bacon is fine)

In a large saucepan, brown the ground beef with the onion and pepper. Add all remaining ingredients except bacon. Simmer for 5 minutes, then pour into a 9x13 pan sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle with bacon. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tony, the New Benny

When I was a little girl, one of the highlights of going to the A&P with my mom was getting to visit with Benny. Benny was my favorite bag boy. Well, he wasn't really a bag boy; he was more like a bag man. Benny was probably in his 30s. But Benny was...different. Back in the 70s, we would have described him as "retarded." Today, we would call him "special needs" or "developmentally delayed." Probably a more accurate description than either of those terms would be the word "simple." Benny was simple.

Benny's world was a simple place. His life revolved around his home and his work, and he loved them both. He loved his job at the supermarket, because he got to talk to people all day. More importantly, he got to help people all day. Not only did Benny bag everyone's groceries as carefully and quickly as possible, but he would gladly run to replace a leaking bag of flour or a dented can of soup, or grab a forgotten loaf of bread or gallon of milk. He always offered to help carry groceries to the car for the elderly folks or moms with small babies. He was unfailingly polite to everyone he served, never forgetting to say, "Have a nice day!" or "See you again soon!" or "Thanks for shopping with us!"

Benny's constant cheerfulness was contagious. Even as a small child, I noticed that people in line who seemed grumpy and impatient would relax and smile back when they reached the register and Benny greeted them with a smile. He was a genuinely happy person, and you couldn't help but be happy when you were around him. Benny's gift was spreading joy to everyone he met. He turned even an ordinary trip to the store into a joyous experience.

Yesterday, I went to a different grocery store than the one I usually shop at, and as I neared the register, I noticed that the bag boy was a young man of about 18 who appeared to be special needs. He was rocking back and forth slightly and flapping his hands by his sides as he waited for the cashier to start ringing in my items. But as I caught his eye, he gave me a big smile, held up a flyer that said, "WE'RE HIRING!", and announced to me, "You can get a job here, like me!" I smiled back and asked if he liked working there. He nodded enthusiastically and proudly tapped his nametag, which said "TONY - 2 YEARS". I laughed and said, "I guess you do, if you've worked here for two years already!" Tony informed me, "I like working here, but I like my days off, too. I have the day off tomorrow, and my brother and I are going to spend the day together!" I asked what they were going to do, and he furrowed his brow for a moment and said, "I don't know yet," but then his face brightened and he added, "But whatever it is, I'll get to do it with my brother!" As I collected my things, I told him that I hoped he had good weather for his adventures the next day, and he grinned and told me, "Oh, we sure will! Have a REALLY good day!"

I left the store with a smile on my face that lasted for the rest of the day. What a gift it is to encounter rays of sunshine like Benny and Tony. On the surface, they may seem like they don't have as much to contribute to the world as a doctor or an engineer or an astronaut. Benny and Tony are not the kind of people who are ever going to cure cancer, or discover a new source of renewable energy, or pilot a spaceship to another planet. They're not going to change the world with some new discovery or invention. But they make the world a better place just by being in it. They make the world a happier place for everyone they meet.

I'm glad to see that Tony is the new Benny. The world could use a lot more of them.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Top Fifteen "Words of the Day"

I begin most days by asking my Alexa to play the daily "flash briefing," a combination of news reports from CNN, BBC, and Fox news, the weather report for the day in my area, and - my favorite part of the briefing - the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day. I enjoy the WotD for a number of reasons, including: 1) it opens with a great jazz lick, 2) it's narrated (and, I believe, written) by a high school friend of mine, Peter Sokolowski (excellent article about Peter's podcasts here), 3) it provides fascinating etymology and background information on each word as well as quotes from literature and newspaper articles using the word in its proper context, and 4) the words themselves are fascinating and unusual without being obscure or archaic. Here are a few of my favorites from the past few months. (The complete M-W entry is linked for each word, and you can click here to request the daily WotD email.)

Vituperate (October 5): "to criticize or censure severely or abusively; to use harsh condemnatory language." Suggested synonyms include "berate" and "revile", but to me, "vituperate" carries even stronger implications of ongoing condemnation and even moral outrage. I also just like the sound of it. That sharp consonants are just begging to be spit out in disdain.

Salubrious (October 3): "favorable to or promoting health or well-being." Another word that's especially fun to say (especially if you really lean on that "yoooooo" syllable in the middle), "salubrious" has a hint of elegance and almost arrogance, as if the person enjoying the salubrious experience feels himself better than the person to whom he is speaking.

Amanuensis (September 18): "one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript." I remember reading this word in some novel or other when I was quite young, and I also remember impressing a new employer when he overheard me describing myself as his amanuensis. (Since he was not a native English speaker, I was impressed right back that at his familiarity with the word.)

Scrupulous (September 5): "having moral integrity : acting in strict regard for what is considered right or proper; punctiliously exact: painstaking." Most of us are familiar with the words "unscrupulous" and "scruple," but we rarely "scrupulous," which comes from the same root. I like this word because you can figure out the meaning easily even if you've never heard it before.

Bifurcate (August 14): "to divide or cause to divide into two branches or parts." Some may think of this as an unnecessarily fancy word for a very simple concept, but I like its descriptive elegance. I also like its use for non-physical division, such as a word whose use over time has extended to have two different meanings (as in the example of the word "secretary" given in the M-W entry).

Yawp (July 16): "to make a raucous noise: squawk; clamor, complain." I'm a great fan of onomatopoeia, and "yawp" certainly qualifies. If "blah, blah, blah" refers to someone droning on meaninglessly, "yawp, yawp, yawp" would be a good description for someone squawking on meaninglessly and loudly.

Turpitude (July 8): "inherent baseness: depravity." I don't believe I've ever heard this word used outside of the phrase "moral turpitude." In fact, both quotes offered by the M-W entry use the phrase. With a bit of googling, I was able to find "turpitude" not preceded by "moral" in a 1798 court decision called Farmer v. Russell: "In this case the plaintiff does not come into Coirrt with clean hands; he alleges his own turpitude, and is indictable for his fraud."

Dithyramb (July 2): "a usually short poem in an inspired wild irregular strain; a statement or writing in an exalted or enthusiastic vein." The word "dithyramb" sounds so buttoned-up and scholarly and Latin-root-y, but it carries with it a certain exuberance and rebelliousness that is totally at odds with the traditional, conservative image of a scholar or poet.

Argy-bargy (June 25): "a lively discussion: argument, dispute." I love this word because it implies some ridiculousness in the argument, as exemplified in the quote referenced by M-W, given by a reporter for The Daily Telegraph in April 2017: "I would object to the leaders' debates much less if they took place only on the radio. Then there wouldn't be all the argy-bargy about who stands where, wearing what."

Squinny (June 9): "to look or peer with eyes partly closed: squint." Another great and useful word I'd never heard before, it's difficult to ascertain the meaning of "squinny" without context, but once you know the definition, it's easy to remember. The next time someone gives you the side-eye, tell them to stop squinnying at you.

Concatenate (May 27): "to link together in a series or chain". Like "squinny," although it may be difficult to figure out the meaning of "concatenate" without context, the definition is fairly easy to remember. Also, it's fun to say, and it's even more fun to say in its noun form, "concatenation".

Lanuginous (May 9): "covered with down or fine soft hair". This may not be one of the more useful words on this list, but I do like that English has a word for this concept. Parents, particularly expectant mothers, may recognize the noun form "lanugo" from having been warned by an obstetrician that babies (especially premature babies) can be born with a covering of downy hair.

Tatterdemalion (April 19): "ragged or disreputable in appearance; being in a decayed state or condition: dilapidated." The word is practically visual onomatopoeia. I can imagine a mother or a housekeeper shaking her head in disdain at the state of some youngster's clothes or bedroom. It's a very Dickensian word that I can imagine being used to describe Fagin or Bill Sykes. My own children have been known to appear somewhat tatterdemalion on occasion. I consider it a sign of a healthy childhood.

Gimcrack (April 4): "a showy object of little use or value: gewgaw." I love how many different words English has for this item: gimcrack, gewgaw, geegaw, tchotchke (technically Yiddish but commonly used by English speakers), knick-knack, dustcatcher, trinket, etc. Whatever it is, we all have plenty of them, so it seems apropos that we also have plenty of words to describe them.

If you found these words interesting, check out the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day archives!

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Halloween Cocktails

There are plenty of crazy Halloween cocktails that give off smoke and are bizarre colors and have creepy garnishes. For me, that's the kind of thing you have at a restaurant, or at someone else's party. But I'm too lazy and too cheap to buy 16 different ingredients that I'll never use again just to make a flashy-looking cocktail that rarely tastes as good as it looks. So instead, these are some fun and just slightly unusual spooky-themed cocktails that call for very few unusual ingredients. All of the following cocktails can be made with these ingredients:

  • vodka
  • whipped cream vodka
  • green apple vodka
  • vanilla vodka (or vodka and Tuaca)
  • blue curacao
  • orange liqueur (triple sec, Contreau, Grand Marnier)
  • dark rum
  • dry vermouth
  • tequila
  • coffee liqueur
  • Midori
  • Chambord
  • red wine
  • grenadine
  • sour mix
  • pineapple juice
  • cranberry juice
  • optional: cran-grape or grape juice
  • lemon juice
  • lime juice
  • half and half
  • whipped cream
  • Sprite or 7-Up
  • ginger beer
  • simple syrup or superfine sugar
  • vanilla extract
  • optional: red gel food coloring or decorator frosting, various colors of sanding sugar, black raspberries, gummy worms, grated chocolate, gummy bats, black licorice

Candy Corn Martini
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1-1/2 oz whipped cream vodka, 3 oz sour mix, and 2 oz pineapple juice, and shake until well chilled, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Carefully pour in 1/2 oz grenadine so it settles at the bottom of the glass. Top with whipped cream.

Purple People Eater
Rim a chilled red wine glass (or lowball glass) with purple sanding sugar and return to the freezer to chill. In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1-1/2 parts vodka with 1 part each blue curacao, sour mix, grenadine, and cranberry juice (you can also use cran-grape or straight grape juice for a darker color, if you don't mind the difference in flavor). Fill the prepared glass with ice and strain into the glass.

Vampire's Kiss
Rim a martini glass with red gel food coloring or red decorator frosting. Add a few drips down the edge of the glass. Chill the glass in the freezer until ready to serve. In a shaker of ice, combine 1-1/2 oz each vodka and orange liqueur, 1 teaspoon superfine sugar or a splash of simple syrup, and 3/4 oz lemon juice. Shake well and strain into prepared glass.

Black Devil Martini

Rim a martini glass with red or orange sanding sugar and return to the freezer. Combine 2 oz dark rum with 1/2 oz dry vermouth and pour into the prepared glass. If desired, garnish with black raspberries on a toothpick.

Oogie Boogie
Rim a cocktail glass with black (or green) sanding sugar and return to the freezer. In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1-1/2 oz each green apple vodka and sour mix. Shake until chilled then pour into the prepared glass and top with Sprite or 7-Up. Garnish with a gummy worm, if desired. 

Black Goblin
Rim a rocks glass with grated chocolate and/or orange sanding sugar and return to the freezer. In a cocktail shaker of ice, combine equal parts tequila, coffee liqueur, and half and half, plus a few drops of vanilla extract and a punch of sugar or simple syrup. Fill the prepared glass with ice and pour over. Serve with a straw.

Devil's Margarita
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1-1/2 oz tequila, 3/4 oz lime juice, and 3/4 oz simple syrup. Shake until well chilled and pour into a margarita or martini glass. Lay a spoon in the glass at a 45-degree angle with the back of the spoon facing up, and carefully pour red wine onto the back of the spoon so it drizzles into the glass, until there is about 1/4" of wine on the surface.

Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice. Add 1 oz vodka and 1/2 oz each Midori, Chambord, blue curacao, and 2 oz sour mix. Carefully add 1-1/2 oz cranberry juice so it floats on top (you can also stir it in for a creepy color change).

Black Sun
Fill a highball or Collins glass with ice and add 3/4 oz Cointreau and 1-1/2 oz dark rum. Top with cola and stir gently. Garnish with an orange wedge, if desired.

Dark Spooky
Fill a highball glass with ice and add 1/2 cup ginger beer and 2 teaspoons lime juice. Turn a metal spoon upside-down and carefully pour 3 tbsp dark rum onto the spoon so it drizzles into the drink. Garnish with a lime wedge and a gummy bat, if desired.

Liquefied Ghost Martini
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine equal parts vanilla vodka (or vodka and Tuaca), simple syrup, half and half, and Sprite or 7-Up. Shake until chilled and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with black licorice, if desired.

Drink all these cocktails in good health - if you can, mwah hah hah hah!!!

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Following Fall Fashions

I love checking out fashion trends, although generally the "high-end" trends are a bit too out there - and too expensive! - for me to follow within my own wardrobe. But there are definitely ways to follow the current fashion trends without breaking the budget or breaking out of your personal comfort zone.

The fashion magazine Elle posted an article about fall 2017 fashion trends back in August. Here are some of the items from their list, along with my suggestions of how to incorporate these trends into your own wardrobe.

Power Red
According to Elle, many designers are featuring monochromatic vivid red outfits, including suits, coats, boots, and separates. The look above, by Oscar de la Renta, will set you back $2,390 for the blouse and $1,090 for the pants.

But for less than $20, you can get these cute red skinny jeans from Macy's. Pair them with this double-layered georgette top for $18 from JC Penney and these red suede booties from DSW for $40, and you've got yourself some Red Power!

Vintage-Inspired Furs
These coats look like they could have come directly out of your (fashion-conscious) grandmother's closet. Long, elegant fur coats are everywhere this season. The genuine fur coat above easily costs in the 5-figure range.
Check out this gorgeous full-length faux fur coat from Burlington Coat Factory at only $120! Just as beautiful as the designer version, no animals were harmed, and you've got several thousand dollars left in your pocket.

Glitterati Boots
Silver spangled slouchy boots, sparkly turquoise booties, and black stiletto boots studded with rhinestone flowers are all on the fashion list for fall 2017. These elegant knee-high silver boots with black toe caps from Chanel carry a $1,575 price tag.

Pop into DSW and pick up these silver sequined booties for a cool $50, or these silver sock booties from Target for $38. Or if you're willing to pay a little more, how about these turquoise open-toed boots from Macy's for $119?

Western Front
Frontier and western styled wear featuring cowhide, leather fringe, and brightly colored Southwestern prints are everywhere this season. I couldn't find a price on this Ashley Williams cowhide jacket, but her "puffy" fabric version goes for $355, so probably triple that price for the new leather version.

Get your own Southwestern flavor with this printed cardigan with fringed front for $47 from Boot Barn, or go a little more fancy with this fringe-trimmed cropped suede jacket from Neiman Marcus for $86. And wear either one over this basic white Western shirt with black piping from WalMart for $35.

70s Plaid
It worked for your mom's couch; now it's working for everything from suits to jackets to gowns. This Bottega plaid wool trench coat will probably cost you $2500 or more.

Save your money and spend just $70 on this beautiful and classic tartan plaid coat from Chadwicks of Boston. For even less, pick up this short plaid skirt from J Crew for $37 or this longer one (also from Chadwicks of Boston) for $45.

Broad Shoulders
Although not quite as squared-off as the giant Dallas and Dynasty power suits of the 80s, designers are showing jackets and coats with broad shoulders that extend past the natural line of the shoulder. The black-and-white version here, from Marques Almeida, will cost you almost $1,500.
Fortunately, the stores don't seem to be showing any jackets with shoulders quite as extreme as on the runway, but this pretty cranberry jacket from Express for $77 will let you have a more reasonable version of the trend at a much more reasonable price.

Not just stockings, but mesh shirts and other accents, combined with both casual and dressed-up looks. I don't know the price of the fishnet shirt in the Phillip Lim ensemble above, but considering that the mesh bralet on his site was $363, I certainly won't be buying one.

You can get a pair of fishnet tights at a party store for $7, but if you want them to last for more than a wearing or two, I'd splurge on micro fishnet tights from Target for $10, or these larger-patterned ones for $13 from H&M. (You can also pick up a mesh crop top at H&M for $10.)

Couch Florals
If your mom didn't have a plaid couch in the 70s, she had a floral one. You'll recognize the floral patterns in dresses, shirts, gowns, and even suits this season. The Delpozo design above costs well over $4,000, based on the price of a similar but simpler floral print gown in their collection.

Florals are super-easy to find right now, including this lovely fit-and-flare dress from Dress Barn for $54. Wear this floral tank from WalMart for $10 under a cardigan or a jacket for an instant floral infusion. Or pop on this printed maxi-shell from Nordstrom Rack for $27 on top of your outfit for a wash of floral bliss.

Mid-Length Skirts
Designers are showing lots of soft, floaty, flared skirts ending well below the knee, paired with gladiator sandals, boots, and heels. Based on the prices of Carolina Herrera's collection at Saks, the outfit above probably goes for between $2,500 and $3,000.

This soft wrap skirt from The Gap is only $34, and this fleece skirt (also from The Gap) is $42. If you like the lacy look of the skirt above, try this crocheted A-line skirt from Macy's for $60.

Buttoned Up

Buttons, buttons, everywhere! Not just functional ones, but as details on skirts, dresses, and gowns. The gown above, by Rosie Assoulin, would easily be priced at $5,000-$6,000 or more.

You can get your button fix for much less with this split-sleeve maxi shirt dress from Bloomingdale's for $54, or this cute denim button-up pencil skirt for $58 from Macy's.

Chocolate Brown

Another great monochromatic trend, this warm brown is likely to suit a few more people than the vivid scarlet that's also in fashion at the moment. The Tod's boots above cost $1,265 at Saks, so I shudder to think what the complete outfit must cost.

You can easily put together your own version for a fraction of the cost, by swinging over to WalMart and picking up this stretchy pencil skirt for $13, this long-sleeved scoop neck t-shirt for $10, and these slouchy microsuede boots for $27.

Wide Belts/Belted Coats
Paired with dresses, jackets, coats, and separates, wide belts in self or contrasting colors are being used to define the waist. A Nina Ricci dress similar to the one shown above is priced at $4,690 at Farfetch.
You can either pick up a wide belt to wear with some outfits you already own (The Gap has this one for $26 or get a fancy braided one from LL Bean for $35), or pick up this belted fit and flare dress at Macy's for $50 or this belted shirtdress at Banana Republic for $46, or this

Russian Doll
Gorgeously colorful embroidery, often on a black or dark background, is appearing on pieces such as boots, coats, jackets, and dresses. The Naeem Khan look above goes for a minimum of $3,000 and likely significantly more.

This similarly embroidered sheath dress is only $27 at Macy's, and this tunic or dress (depending on how tall and/or brave you are) is $48 at Forever 21.

Formal Velvet
Gowns in solid-color velvet are popular this season, mostly in jewel tones and relatively simple styles. Alberta Ferretti's gowns, such as the yellow velvet pictured above, are priced anywhere from $2,000 to well over $6,000.

Believe it or not, you can pick up this plunging burgundy velvet side slit gown for $132 at Sears! If you're a little less daring, go with this cranberry velvet, open back gown with side slit for $76 at Nordstrom.

So now that you know what the trends are and how to follow them on a budget, get out there and get trendy!

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