Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Holiday in England & Scotland, in List Form

Is there anything as dreary as the end of a lovely vacation? I'm back from another gorgeous trip to the UK, and feeling glum. It's just not as easy getting out of bed in the morning, when you know nobody is going to say, "Alight here for Piccadilly Circus!" in an English accent.

England--or as I like to think of it, the homeland. You know how Jewish kids do Birthright, and African Americans take heritage trips? I don't mean to offend anyone, but personally, I like to wander the scarves section of Liberty London. It's an uplifting experience. I pay homage to my ancestral roots.

Stevie and I flew to London, took the train to Edinburgh, motored through Fort William and Glen Coe, tootled around the Isle of Skye for a few days, ferried down to Loch Lomond, met up with Stephen's family in Northumberland, and went back through London for the finish. Two-odd weeks in total, and many adventures had. I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow, but I do love writing lists.

400 meters of Hadrian's wall, and a Roman fort
8 cheeses sampled before 10 a.m. at Neal's Yard Dairy
5 new frocks (Topshop, Cath Kidston, Portobello Road market)
4 sticky toffee puddings
4 Scottish B&Bs that all served the same breakfast (eggs, sausages, rashers, tomatoes, mushrooms)
4 filming locations (Harry Potter, James Bond, Braveheart, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves)
3 major London sites (Tower of London, Cutty Sark, Greenwich Prime Meridian)
3 afternoon teas (The Cadogan, Fortnum & Mason, and a small shop in Northumberland)
3 posh department stores (Liberty, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason)
3 castles (Edinburgh, Stirling, Eilean Donan)
2 plays (Jeeves & Wooster Perfect Nonsense, King Lear)
2 historic markets (Borough Market, Portobello Road)
2 cheap street scarves
2 sturdy native ponies
1 Scotch distillery (Talisker)
1 very wet boat trip (where we saw a few soggy seals and no puffins at all, but made friends with a zany Frenchman and some St Andrews students)
1 birthday party for a 90-year-old gran
1 book shop that might just be my new favorite in the whole world (Barter Books)
1 needle-toothed puppy hanging out under the breakfast table (she liked the taste of Stephen!) 
Numerous highland cows standing in the road
Countless black-faced sheep
Ensemble cast of friends, family, and elderly British relatives

And just because I'm an English major, how about a few selected quotations?

Scottish boat captain: "Do I spy a midgy in here?"

Boat hand: "Where are you from, then?"
Becky: "California."
Boat hand: "California?! But you're too quiet to be American!"
Becky, indicating Stephen: "Well, he's English."

Castle guide, taking photo: "How well do you know the young lady?"
Stephen: "Er, pretty well, I suppose?"
Castle guide: "Go on, let's have one with a kiss, then!"

Musketeer re-enactor: "You had to light it using a bit of rope, and make sure to keep the gunpowder dry. Fortunately, it rarely rains in Scotland. The rainy season is just from January through December .... But if it was raining, there was another option. You could put a dagger on the end of the musket, and use it as a bayonet. Gunpowder costs money. Stabbing is free. Stabbing will always be the more popular option in Scotland."

Barney the Beefeater on Mel Gibson: "Now I loved Braveheart. It was a great film. Just not the most historically accurate. The portcullis at Traitors' Gate weighed XX tons. It took 30 men to lift it. Or, one Australian!"

Stephen, tasting hogget: "What was that bready thing, again?"
Becky: "You mean the sweetbreads?"
Stephen: "Yeah. What was that?"
Becky: "You didn't know what that was when you ordered?"
Stephen: "No. What was it?"
Becky: "Oh gosh."

I want to go back. And I want a scone.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What to Eat in San Francisco, 2014 Edition

Big news, guys, big news.

7x7 has released this year's Big Eat! 100 things to eat in SF before you die!! Ah!!! Commence foodie freakout.

Last year I made it through 20 of the 100. Not my best work. I blogged about this awesome mac and cheese, the finer points of a sardine chip, and life-saving super burritos. Let's review some other highlights, shall we?

I give you the reuben at the Bar Tartine sandwich shop. With award-winning bread and some serious pastrami, it's everything you've hoped and dreamed. 

A dozen Sweetwater oysters courtesy of Hog Island Oyster Co. So sweet, so clean, so San Francisco.  

I continue to feel that Farina is overpriced--I mean, if you're going to be "rustic Italian," do you have to have such an outrageous wine list? But for what it's worth, the mandilli al pesto is simply outstanding. One big handkerchief of fresh pasta folded around a slurry of fresh herbs. Green glop never tasted so good. 

Art's Cafe is a no-frills, no-fuss neighborhood joint in the Sunset. There are some interesting Asian-American tangents on the menu, but the claim to fame is the hashbrown sandwich, filled with cheddar, sausage, spinach, mushrooms, or whatever you like. Organic? Probably not. Delicious? Heck yeah! Hangover, cured.

One of the best things to happen to me this year is that my friend Mary Z moved two blocks away from Brenda's French Soul Food. We now get biscuits to go whenever we like. We eat them on her roof and laugh at all the schmucks waiting for a table. Feel free to die of jealousy.

For this year's list, I was thrilled to see some personal favorites make the cut. Let the record show that I fell in love with the chicken liver paté at Starbelly even before it was famous, and Pizzeria D, Boxing Room, Marlowe, and Kokkari are old friends. Others were good reminders: Still haven't made it out of the city to do Koi Palace, and I can't believe I haven't tried the veggie tacos at Gracias Madre yet. I also appreciated the nod to the current toast trend with Trouble Coffee, going to need to hit that soon. We'll do our best this year. 

Foodies of 'frisco, on your mark, get set, go!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Shopaholic's Detox, in 6 Steps

Happy January, dear readers! How are those resolutions coming? I'm sure you're all hard at work on your fitness goals, and more power to you. I've been seeing a lot of new faces at my spin studio and on my jog route around the neighborhood. Get it, girl!

Speaking personally, however, I've been thinking about finances. I'd really love to experience a year where I don't break out in a cold sweat every time I open my credit card bill. There's a distinct possibility I overdid it in December. Well, let's be honest. I overdo it every December. Duffett Christmas is not exactly an understated affair. I love shopping for my big family and my geek-chic boyfriend, sending yummy cheeses to his family in England, and giving lots of little prezzies to coworkers and friends. And then you're on a roll, so why stop there? And suddenly it's January, and you're still shopping . . . but for yourself.

Enough is enough. Even the most diehard of shopaholics needs a reality check now and then. Here's what's working for me.

Step 1: Put down the credit card until March

I know it sounds harsh. Are you sitting on your hands? I'm sitting on my hands. There are so many tempting post-Christmas sales. But the truth is, I already hit my favorites up in Portland with my mom (Anthro, Lulu), and it's really not a good use of my time or money to continue obsessing my way through picked-over racks. More to the point, I have more than enough fabulous Christmas presents to console me. I'm calling out the January shopping hunt for what it is--a compulsion. Stop it. Put down the credit card. We'll do it together.

Step 2: Hit unsubscribe

It's time to clear out your virtual inbox. Take a look at the marketing emails you've been getting, and cut loose anything that you don't actually care about. That menswear boutique where I bought my brother's Christmas sweater? I don't need to hear from you every day. It's not you, it's me. Thanks so much, bye bye!

Step 3: Create a shopping folder

This was a coup for me. I created a filter, so all of those charming little missives from Hautelook, Rue La La, and others get cached in one place. When I'm opening and reading them every day, I'm much more inclined to impulse buy. But this way, I actually make the decision when I want to look at stuff. When the inclination inevitably hits, I can still "go shopping" in my folder.

Step 4: Put a pin in it

I'm fully aware that Pinterest has already crossed over to the dark side when it comes to partnering with e-retailers, but I still think that I can work it to my advantage. For me, Pinterest is where excel spreadsheets meet online shopping, and those are two of my favorite things! Feeling like you'll just die if you don't get that lion-headed soup bowl from Sur la Table? Pin it. See if you still feel the same way in a week. My guess is that you won't. But by pinning it, at least you'll feel secure that your prey hasn't vanished into the underbrush.

Step 5: Stack your catalogs to read later

This one's a tip from my friend Malavika. Stack all your catalogs, and wait until your credit card bill arrives before you open them. It really puts a damper on the buying spirit. This is going to be a deep breath for me. I love print catalogs. I love them so hard. When the J.Crew catalog arrives, I pour myself a glass of wine, I tell my boyfriend he's not allowed to talk to me, and I sink into a magical world of pin stripes, pencil skirts, and perfect pony tails. We all have our guilty pleasures.

Step 6: Focus on experiences, not stuff

I'm having a battle of wills against a fur-trimmed anorak right now, and I won't lie to you. I want it. I want it bad. It's defeated all of my defenses: I've wanted it for several months, so it's not an impulse purchase, and the price just got slashed in half, so this is likely the best deal of the year. The only thing that's seeing me through is the thought that I'm going to Scotland in June, and I'd really like to actually be able to do stuff when I get there. Think about your travel plans, summer adventures, classes you've been wanting to take, new experiences you've been wanting to try. Aren't all of those more important than a coat you're going to wear for maybe the next 6 weeks?

Okay, so I might still cave and buy the anorak. To err is human, to look and feel fabulous is divine. But the point stands. Stay strong. Fight the good fight. To quote the Cub Scouts (who probably never have these problems), "Do your best!" And J.Crew, darling, I'll see you in March.

Do you cut back on shopping after the holidays? How do you do it?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Challenge: Super Burrito to the Rescue

Any real San Franciscan can tell you that for the best tacos in the city, you go to La Taqueria, but for the best burritos, you have to go to El Farolito. Neither one is a classy joint. But El Farolito is by far the less classy of the two.

And now I give you a photo of my brother Jason eating a super carne asada, number 75 on 7x7's Big Eat. Look! An authentic bearded hipster eating an authentic Mexican burrito!

Jason! Jason! How is it? 


The finer points of an El Farolito burrito: It's hefty. You'll need both hands. The tortilla is magnificently, tooth-sinkingly soft. And then there are all kinds of big glops of things inside. Plenty of cream, and cheese, and red flecks of salsa and chile floating around. You'll encounter the occasional slice of buttery avocado. Please note: We're not talking carefully balanced. Stephen was annoyed that all his steak landed on one side, and all his beans to the other. "Smush it! Re-smush it!" we advised. In the realm of big beefy burritos, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Picture overhead lighting, questionably clean linoleum tables, the finest jams Mexican radio can provide, and a line of chatty twenty-somethings pushing eagerly through the door.

My personal recommendation: It's best to go when you're incredibly famished or incredibly drunk or, preferably, both.

Monday, September 9, 2013

7 Unsung Achievements of Recent Grad Life

Hey guys, guess what? It's coming up on 5 years since I was in college! What's that you say? I look too young and fabulous to be in my upper 20s? I know. That's what I tell myself every morning while I'm brushing my teeth.

I don't know if you've been on a little website called Facebook lately, but there seems to be a bit of gloating going on. I feel like my newsfeed is jam-packed with grad school announcements and wedding photos (and we all know the babies are coming). If you're into the whole overachieving at life thing, that's cool. But can I just say, there are some things that I'm really proud of from the past 5 years that nobody seems to be talking about. Here's my list of achievements as a recent grad. If you've tackled any of these and lived to see the other side, allow me to be the first to say: I applaud you.

1.) You took an unpaid internship, made yourself indispensable, and clawed your way into a job.

I did this with a publishing job, but my favorite example is actually my brother Jason. He was on a team of interns for a television studio in New York. One of the producers called all of the interns in for a meeting. They needed some footage of empty city streets, and had arranged for someone to ride around on a garbage truck at 5 in the morning. Did anybody want to do it? All of the interns shuffled their feet. Except for Jason. He stepped forward, raised his hand, and said, "I want to do it. I want to ride the garbage truck." A few months later, when the internship ended, guess who landed himself a job. Jason, you're awesome. Also, that's going to be a great scene in the movie of your life. (Cut to Jason, bearded and bespectacled, hanging off a garbage truck with one elbow, camera in hand, grinning in the grey morning light. For soundtrack, I'm thinking something along the lines of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.")

2.) You decided not to go to medical school, law school, or business school. 

If medicine, law, or business are things that you're actually passionate about and have always dreamed of doing since you were 6 years old, that's awesome, and all the more power to you. I'm sure you're working very hard, and I sincerely believe you deserve all of the cheerleading that your family and friends are doing for you. (You took the GMAT! You got into Harvard! You graduated! You got your residency! Woo!) Personally, if I had become a management consultant, I know my 6-year-old self would be really disappointed. She would think it was way cooler to make cookbooks. On my better days, I still tend to agree with her.

3.) You got laid off, you dusted yourself off, and you got another job.

Getting laid off last year was the hardest time I've ever gone through in my life. Let me amend that by saying I fully recognize that means I've led a very privileged life up until now. I was born with the kind of brain that excels at standardized testing, I had the good fortune to get into incredible schools, and I have a family that could afford them. But can I just say, getting laid off is a bitch. There are many not-fun things that I won't enumerate, but honestly, the worst was the tailspin of self doubt. I would panic at cocktail parties that someone would ask, "What do you do?" It had never seemed like such an existential question before. And while there are many artful answers: "I'm freelancing!" or "I'm an editor!" or "I'm between jobs at the moment!" I couldn't stomach any of them. In my heart of hearts, I knew them and felt them to be a sham. I would have to say, "Nothing." I do nothing. I felt like I had to get a job immediately, just to prove to everyone that this was some kind of horrible mistake, that I wasn't really meant to be this worthless person. Of course I did get another job and got back on the horse. Also, my friend Karen and I now have a really great screenplay idea for a rom com about self-loathing unemployed girls. So there's always that.

4.) You pay your own bills and you bought your own car.

This is a hard one, and I know we're not all there yet. So many of my friends and fellow graduates are still living, at least partially, off a parent-funded credit card. Seriously, no judgment. The economy is the pits, and things don't always go as we planned, hoped, or dreamed. But can I just say, I bought myself a car, and it may be a hot freaking mess, but you know what my favorite part about it is? I paid for it myself.

5.) You made a real-life friend outside of your college network.

I remember the first friend I made who wasn't a Stanford kid (or a work friend, who don't really count). It was really exciting. It was my friend Carlie from my French class, and we're still friends, and she's super cool. When we exchanged phone numbers and last names and everything, I remember thinking, oh my God, this is really happening. I texted like ten of my Stanford friends, and was like, "Guys, I made a non-Stanford friend!" And they were all like, "That's awesome!!"

6.) You moved in with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

If your mom is anything like mine, she might not have been thrilled about this. (My mom's a really polite and diplomatic person, so it wasn't a big deal, but I knew.) But going on 5 years now, Stephen is still the best roommate I've ever had. If you're making the same decision, and no one's said it yet, I want to tell you: That's wonderful. I hope you're kind to each other, I hope you still make time for your own friends and interests, and I hope you have a blast. Incidentally, I also hope that when people start asking you how soon you're getting married, you tell them to take a long walk off a short dock.

7.) You learned something new, not because you had to, but just because you love it.

My French class is the best part of my week. No contest. I have no good reason for spending my time, money, and effort on it, and I love it so very, very much.

What have you achieved since graduation that you're quietly, privately proud of?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Citizen's Band: Serious Mac

Can we talk about mac and cheese for a second?

At the number two spot on the 7x7's Big Eat, Citizen's Band is throwing it down with a crispy slab o' macaroni, ooey gooey cheese sauce, and a golden pile of onion rings on top. It's like the pinnacle of mac-and-cheese achievement. It's enough to make your heart stop (almost literally).

This upscale diner (whatever that means) is very hipster and buried in the nether regions of SoMa. They're also serving up burgers, poutine, and fried chicken, as well as the obligatory kale salad, if you're feeling repentant. But please don't repent. Just go big and go for the mac.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Stock Photos of Babies

So I have a new job! At a parenting website! Which is both really great and means that I spend a lot of time looking at stock photos of babies. (I've also learned a number of things about pregnancy that I think most people would rather never know, but let's not get into that.)

It turns out that people take really crazy photos of their families. I'd like to take a moment and present to you some of the more disturbing trends in lifestyle photography that I've become aware of. Let's go by order of life event, shall we?

Wreck the Dress

After you get married, you have yet another photo session that shows you destroying your expensive wedding gown. I don't get it. I think it's either a ploy by wedding photographers to keep the cash flow moving in the off season, or a compulsion by new brides who are suddenly faced with the fact that they're no longer the center of attention.

Birth Announcements

I don't know what about pregnancy inspires people to hold up signs and take photos of themselves. It's a boy! It's a girl! Look, my husband's holding the sign! Look, my toddler's holding the sign! Look, we spelled out the gender of the baby in face paint on my belly! There's the occasional giggle, but for the most part, please hold the cheese.

Naked Bumps

Maybe I just wasn't raised in that kind of family. When I was 10 years old and my mom was pregnant, she didn't waltz around topless with her other children draped on her. (She did teach me how to carry two full grocery bags up a set of stairs. For a third-grader, that's pretty good!)

Cake Smash

Did you know that people dress their 1-year-old babies up in precious outfits and then prod them to shove cake in their faces? It's true. And it's alive and well on Pinterest.

Toddler Outfits

I hope you're all familiar with Quinoa's work on Pinterest. If you're not, prepare yourself to waste half an hour and then click here. I love. But the best part about it is that there are people who are sincerely dressing up their 2- to 4-year-old girls like Vogue pixies and encouraging them to stand on stumps while they find the right Instagram filter. If you have the time and can afford the inevitable therapy bills, I say go for it. I'm actually kind of enjoying this one.

Have you seen any photos lately that made you stop and think--wait, what?!!