Thursday, December 16, 2010

Muse Help: Office Redecorating

One FM reader writes:
Alright my favorite muses, I have a query for you. These are tough economic times, so instead of holiday bonuses, the CEO of my company is giving everyone $250 to spend on our office environment. We can buy anything we want that will make us happier in our workplace: misc computer software, a rug, a new chair, a new lamp, oversized map of California, whatevs. I know: perfect muse project, right?

I am much more practical than aesthetically
minded, hence why I wouldn't mind some inspiration!

On the one hand, awesome that you get to redecorate your office! On the other hand, we would probably prefer $250 in cash...but whatev.
The Muses definitely believe in being practical (except when it comes to high heels) but you can easily be practical and fill your office with beauty.

We would suggest:
  • lighting
  • art
  • organizing items
One of the Muses' Lovers is of the firm belief that overhead industrial lighting makes people anxious (the Muses don't need any help there!). He thinks that soft lighting around a room makes a world of a difference. We agree! That said - we suggest either a tall lamp to stand beside your desk or a lamp to sit on the desk. Pottery Barn has a great tutorial on picking workspace lighting.

You could go modern with something from IKEA

LjusÄs Salbo


or go vintage and grab an amaaaazing Edison lamp (so hot right now!)

Instead of just hanging a giant map of California, try honoring your home state with some cool art.

Lastly, get organized! Check out some Muse suggestion about great filing options. BUT if you have some extra bucks to spend, buy a Franklin Covey planning systems. Oh. My. Goodness. One little Muse would just die without its amazing ability to organize the 10,003 tasks that need to be done. This is not a calendar. Say it with me, "Franklin Covey is not a calendar." It is an organizing system. See basic how-tos here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

New Product Review: L’Oreal Infallible Never Fail Lipcolour

There are so many new products out there it is hard to tell what's great and what's a dud. Which is why the Muses compiled a big list of great products for you not too long ago.

Add this one to the list girls! It is Muse tested and approved!

L’Oreal Infallible Never Fail Lipcolour

This product lives up to its claims. Beautiful lip color that lasts for hours and hours. While you are jamming down Luna Bars and lattes and politely dabbing your lips after lunch meetings it stays in place! Maybe more importantly, it will hold beautiful color through glasses of wine, dinner... and a little smooching. Also, it comes with a moisturizing stick that keeps your lips soft and nourished.

Go. Buy. Now.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Muse Quick Trick: Save that Manicure!

Can we get a raise of hands from our girls who love getting manicures?

Can we get a raise of hands from our ladies who are saddened when the lovely manicure only lasts 4 days? ...or 3 days if you don’t have a dishwasher. That’s right girls, raise those chipped fingernails.

We feel ya girls, we feel ya. We all want to touch up, but who has bottles of "You Don’t Know Jacques" laying around? The Muses are here to tell you that you can keep those nails in tip top shape longer. You’ll feel adorable for more than 4 days and you won’t feel like you’re wasting your money on manicures that don’t last...

The Trick: After about 2-3 days or whenever you notice the manicure is wearing, slap on a coat of clear polish, making sure to really cover the ends. It lacquers everything back in place and keeps the polish from chipping off. You can do this every couple days. The color will last 2-3 times as long.

Now go treat yourself to a manicure and give it a try!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Finding a City Hat

Let’s get something straight. Both your Muses are City Girls. We like to be surrounded by 101 good restaurant choices, we get jazzed by the hustle generated by crowds of people, we enjoy walking to our fave coffee shops and gelaterias, and we love public transit (well, one of us does, the other tolerates it). But even City Girls need to get some space every now and again. Which is why the pretty little West Coast Muse headed out of the big City with a couple good friends so they could all try to catch their breath and get some space.

Originally the plan was to become one with nature and hike around. But seriously, who can do that all day? So instead the three ladies became one with the Outlets and rejoiced in the glory of creation via vineyard hopping. People never think of enjoying the fall colors in Napa, but they are spectacular! And so California!

On this little excursion, one of the lovely adventurers mentioned she wanted to find a great hat. Maybe like the typical driver’s cap. An adorable hat seems like something every City Girl should have....very Mary Tyler Moore-esque. Here are some great options for a ladies stylish city hat that could be worn window shopping downtown, out to dinner, to the cigar bar...or even if you venture outside of the sometimes-suffocating City.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Girl's Gotta Stay Organized

Let's talk about the office. Seriously, can we do away with those black plastic-y or fake woodgrain in-out boxes? ::cringe:: But the real issue is file folders. Manilla folders are great for huge filing projects that are stored away, hidden for no eyes to see. But the bland folders (or worse yet, those primary color folders that remind us of a kindergarten classroom) just will not do for desktop filing.

So here is the Muse Round-Up of Cute, Stylish File Folders.


Mod Chic (one little Muse just bought these...thank you, purchasing card)

Check out these great finds from Etsy. Visit Tabitha's shop and use the code "muse" to get $1 off anything in her gorgeous collection!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sukkah Decorating Inspirations

I am celebrating Sukkot this year and would love some Freelance Muse suggestions for how to decorate a Sukkah! Some friends that are coming have a lot of leftover paint from when they painted their apartment that they are happy to donate to the cause, and I have a whole bunch of awesome African cloth that we can hang. I'm still trying to figure out the lighting situation. My architect friend camps a lot, so I know she has at least two camping lanterns (I know, because I gave them to her for her birthday!). Any other inspiration? Still not sure how to get my hands on branches, since my town isn't exactly replete with trees.. Maybe bamboo mats instead.... Hmm....

Let's explain first what Sukkot is (besides a favorite Muse-y holiday!) This is so not a kosher description but we're going to go with it anyway - Sukkot is basically Jewish Thanksgiving. It's a seven dayfeast where people celebrate the harvest. Like any Jewish holiday, you eat and drink a lot. Wait wait, we missed a key step. You eat and drink a lot in a SUKKAH.

Now what is a sukkah you ask? Families build small huts in their back yards (enclosed on three sides and topped with branches) and they enjoy their feasts there. Some people even sleep in the sukkahs.

So how does one decorate such a place?

Lighting: You are totally right, girl. Lighting is key, especially if you are celebrating at night. Globe lights would be fantastic and easy to find. You could pick those up at a local hardware or party supply store.

Or, like you suggested, lanterns. Terrain (the home goods store run by Anthropologie) has some great and fairly inexpensive lanterns. Marshall's and Ross also always have great items like this.

Linens: You can decorate sooo easily with some great napkins. One option is to grab some great fall fabric and make your own napkins. That is a fairly simple project -
check out some DIY instructions from Skip to My Lou.

OR, if you are going to buy, World Market always has fabulous table linens and then, of course, there is Williams-Sonoma.

Wandering Vines Napkins

Frouffy Extras
: Ok the Mu
ses do NOT like stupid knick-knacks that clutter your house a
nd overflow your storage bins but seriously, Terrain has some awesome, classy extras that the M
uses can't get enough of.

How fantastic are these pumpkins?

Another great idea is to make some decorations out of things that are edible (read: reusable, not wasteful, or space consuming).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

LEFTOVER HELP: Cottage Cheese

Dear Muses,

I have 1/2 of a 16 oz container of cottage cheese that I don't know what to do with. Used the first 8 oz for a broccoli cheese cornbread, but I digress.

I tasted a little bit plain and it was OK, but hoping you muses could help me out with something to liven it up a bit.

Confounded by Cottage Cheese in California

Firstly, are you talking about the Broccoli Cheese Cornbread from Down Home with the Neelys? Was that good? Looked Delish! Pat and Gina so know what they are doing, but I digress.

Sister there is soooo much you can do with cottage cheese. It is one of our FAVES. One little Muses has been known to eat it straight out of the container (that actually happened yesterday morning when the granola ran out). One option is to totally transform it into something else. Check out savory Cottage Cheese Pancakes. Or the cinnamon buns we’ve talked about before.

But cottage cheese is also pretty good in it’s normal form.

Some things to try

  • Cottage Cheese drizzled with honey. Top with toasted almonds* for a healthy (quick) breakfast.
*Please toast the almonds. Don’t just go throwing raw almonds on things people!

  • Make a piece of whole grain toast, top with some cottage cheese, sprinkle with salt, some tomatoes slices, more salt, and a little pepper. Voila!

  • You can also make pretty good smoothies with cottage cheese, fruit (fresh or frozen), and a touch of honey. Throw it in the blender...or give it a zip with an immersion blender and you are good to go.

Your Muses.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oat Bran Brownies: a nutritionally neutral snack

Recently, one little muse has been eating a lot of chocolate... A LOT of chocolate! When the jeans start to get a little snug and one resigns oneself to wearing only dresses, you know you have a problem - the chocolate eating has gotten a little out of hand.

One solution might be to just eat apples and carrots every time a craving hits. However, the Muses aren't about to tell you to abandon yourself to eating tofu salad everyday for lunch. No, no, when all you want to eat are Peanut M&Ms, but all you should eat is dry whole grain toast, the best thing to do is SYNERGIZE.

Welcome - whole grain brownies.

Chocolate - good for the soul. Whole grains - good for the waist line. Now, the Muses don't have any scientific proof to back up our claims here. But basic logic would say that if whole grains quicken the digestion process then eating whole grain chocolate would give you the experience of savoring delectable chocolate without making it stick. Right? Right. Our science-y friends that can disprove this theory can go read another blog and keep eating grass. The rest of you, stay with us. The Muses have created a whole grain brownie recipe that will not disappoint your discerning palates.

Oat bran in this recipe gives the brownies a really great texture that is a little meatier. These are really fantastic, a little sweet with the perfect bite, and a pinch of salt. Mmmm, give 'em a try!

Oat Bran - Almond Brownies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened + 2 tablespoons (divided)
2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup dutch-process cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup oat bran
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup slivered almonds
2-3 teaspoons sea salt


Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper

Melt butter and sugar together in microwave until sugar is mainly dissolved (do not allow to bubble).

Add cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder and vanilla, stir to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, until combined.

Mix in oat bran and flour mixing until incorporated, then fold in chocolate chips. Spread batter into prepared pan.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle batter with slivered almonds, then brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake brownies for 25-35 minutes.

Let cool - enjoy without regret.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Heirloom Ice Cream Maker and Limoncello Poppy Seed Gelato

My grandmother-in-law was a collector. That woman collected everything - antique furniture, china, vintage costume jewelry. Though I never met GiGi, I have greatly benefited from her. It's hard to say what my favorite thing she gave me is; the mink coat is awesome, then there's the turquoise ring I wear constantly, or the vintage red clutch, (I'd like to say my favorite thing was my amazing father-in-law who in turn gave me my dashing husband, but he would think that's cheesy so I won't say it). One way or another, the gift currently getting the most use is the ice cream maker.

This is no ordinary ice cream maker. No Cuisinart here. GiGi's ice cream maker is the real deal, the same thing I used while working in a professional kitchen. There is no bowl that needs to be stuffed precariously between the peas and ice cube trays in the freezer for 3 days before it can be used. This sucker has a metal bowl that is refrigerated by an internal compressor. It spits out luscious ice creams and sorbets in 15-20 minutes and you can just keep on spinning the flavors one after another, back to back to back. And that's exactly what I've been doing.

I have been making tons of flavors from David Lebovitz's AMAZING book, The Perfect Scoop. If you are into ice cream making, you need this book. Anything you could ever imagine, and then some, is in this book. Anything except Limoncello Poppy Seed Gelato, a flavor that the Muse team knew needed to be created. This is a Freelance Muses original recipe. And come to find out, GiGi's dessert of choice was always anything lemon... perfect.

*paired here with Earl Grey Ice Cream

Limoncello Poppy Seed Gelato

3 cups half and half, divided
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 lemons, unsprayed
4 tablespoons limoncello
3-4 tablespoons poppy seeds
several tablespoons milk

The evening before making ice cream, place poppy seeds in enough milk to cover, let stand over night. (This step can be skipped in a time crunch)

Combine 2 cups of half and half, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat until mixture begins to steam and sugar is completely dissolved.

In a separate bowl, blend cornstarch and remaining half and half; add the half and half a few tablespoons at a time to ensure there are no lumps. Add cornstarch slurry to the pot. Cook, stirring, until it starts to thicken and barely reaches a boil, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and stir for 5 minutes or until thick.

Immediately strain the mixture through a fine sieve to stop any lumps. Add the zest of 2 lemons, limoncello, and 2-3 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Chill over an ice bath. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Drain any remaining milk from poppy seeds. Once gelato is frozen, remove from machine and stir in poppy seeds.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vinaigrette – big word, small effort

Let’s face it – salads often get the shaft.

If you’re preparing a meal – whether it be for your beau, your in-laws or just the run-of-the-mill weekday dinner for husband and kiddos – salads offer a great, easy option for the mandatory green side dish. After all, you can purchase bagged lettuce, pre-chopped carrots and a few grape tomatoes that require no cutting or slicing and voila! Instant side dish. Just set out the array of bottled salad dressings from your refridgerator and there you go.

[insert record scratch here] Hold the phone. Bottled salad dressing? Come on ladies – you can do so much better than that, and with very little effort. Take that salad from snooze to new, from banal to badass, from commonplace to commanding. All you need is a homemade vinaigrette. And no, it’s not hard.

To make a vinaigrette, you really only need four essential components:
1) an oil
2) an acid
3) a sweet
4) an emulsifier (which is just a big fancy word for an agent that emulsifies, or combines two unlike ingredients into one, be it a blender, food processor, immersion blender or your arm and a whisk)

*photo thanks to tipnut

With the above components, you can make a supreme accompaniment for any type of salad, according to any kind of palette.

For a summery, classic Italian vinaigrette:
Extra virgin olive oil (your oil)
Fresh-squeezed lemon juice (your acid)
Honey (your sweet)
Food processor

Pour the lemon juice and honey into your food processor; turn it on, and while the blade is whirling pour in the olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper and you’re done.

For a Tuscan Italian variation, substitute balsamic vinegar for the lemon juice.

Let’s say you want to make a vinaigrette for a salad to accompany a Tex-Mex meal. Try:
Vegetable oil
Lime juice
Food processor (or whatever you have – blender, immersion blender, etc. If you’re using your arm and a whisk, just do the same thing – pour the oil in while you stir vigorously. This is what emulsifies the oil and acid).

Add salt, pepper, cilantro and maybe a touch of cumin. Done.

Asian on the menu for tonight, you say?
A combo of sesame seed oil and canola oil (sesame seed oil is too strong to stand alone)
Orange juice/soy sauce mixture
Little bit of sugar

Combine as instructed above, and maybe add a little bit of fresh grated ginger (or the powdered kind you find on the spice rack), too.

See? Simple. Because one half of this Muse team doesn’t do complicated. No need to peform Cirque du Soleil type theatrics in the kitchen when you can impress with home-prepared simple ingredients and not a mass corporate manufacturer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mother-In-Law of the Bride: Help!

To the Muses Via Text: Can you look for a dress for me for this wedding? I just don't want to pay 500 bucks for a dress and I can't seem to not get frustrated when I look online!! Either 3X or 24-26.

Ok, ok, scoot your chair back, take your hand off the mouse and take a deep breath. Trying to find a decent online retailer is like rumaging through those racks of unorganized clothes at Ross to find the perfect sundress. It can be done, but is not for the faint of heart. The Muses are gonna help you skip all that and just hand you what you want on a silver platter.

We will give you a couple rules so you don't get stuck in the MOB trap.

Rule Number 1: Do not google "mother of the bride dress." This is only going to give you David's Bridal and random boutiques in cities you've never heard of. AND if you tack the word "wedding" onto anything, the price doubles. You can find a beautiful dress for this wedding, and it doesn't have to be labeled "mother of the bride".

Rule Number 2: When looking online, do not be scared away from dresses that have 20 year-old women in them. Just cause you're a momma doesn't mean you have to wear beige and long sleeves.

Rule Number 3: Do not wear a sack. Let's find something great that helps give shape. You need a defined waist and lovely flowing skirt.

Rule Number 4: If you are worried about showing your arms, please sweet gracious Jesus, do not wear a jacket. Suit coats are for the office not a classy party. If you need something to cover up a bit, lets do a lovely detailed sweater, bolero or wrap.

Now, let's see what we can find using our ground rules!


From Kiyonna

When in doubt, Nordstrom

Or Dillards (beware: they have some of those hideous jackets on here, just say no to the chiffon suit coat...uh, cringe)

Girl, these are some great options. Now you just gotta find the dynamite, yet practical...oh screw practicality ...dynamite shoes to match.

PS. We found a load of coupon codes here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Petite Vanilla Bean Scone Remix

Occasionally while standing in the line at Starbucks, one's lover says "Oh, I could really go for some of those petite vanilla scones but why are they covered in that icing?" And he might get them anyway and comment on how they are basically sugar cookies and not breakfast. But he may also mention how lovely the little specks of vanilla bean mixed into the dough are (he, of course, wouldn't use the word "lovely").

At this point a little baker muses' mind is racing trying to figure out how she could create an appropriate-for-breakfast scone with that delicate speckling of vanilla essence. Of course, she would be maintaining perfect composure while her mind is racing on this task. One cannot give away too soon that they are working through such a thought. A good muse can act perfectly indifferent on a given topic until perfection is achieved and the beautiful finish product is revealed. (It makes us appear much more competent...which keeps everyone coming back for more).

Better-Than-Starbucks Petite Vanilla Bean Scones
*these are more dense and less sweet than the Starbucks version - created for one cherished lover's palette.

  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup cold heavy cream
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 oz. cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter for finishing
  • 3 tablespoons raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the insides. Add this to the cream, mix and let sit while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in cold butter with a pastry blender or two knives. Add the eggs to the heavy cream and beat slightly to break up the eggs and distribute the delicious vanilla specks. Add to the dry ingredients and mix just until blended.

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface. Pat or roll the dough into an even square about 3/4" to 1" thick. Cut into 9 squares and then cut in half diagonally to make triangles. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.

Brush the scones with melted butter and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden brown.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Engagement Party Gift Ideas

alternate title: Let the Wedding Season Begin!

Dear Muses,

My boyfriend and I are going to an engagement party this weekend for some mutual friends who finally got engaged. I say "finally" because homeboy has been dragging his feet for four years and finally found the cajones to pop the question. There is no theme to the party and no set date for the wedding. What should I bring as a gift?


Clueless in Clarendon

Dear Clueless,

Never fear, never fear - the Muses are here!

These sorts of parties are usually more to oohhh and aahhh over the ring and to celebrate; you don't need to expect a huge gift-opening ceremony. Gifts aren't required nor expected at engagement parties, but bringing a little something is always fun to show your friends tangibly that you are excited for them. You might try one of these.

Wine - you can never go wrong taking wine to a party. Since it is an engagement party, you could also grab a bottle of bubbly. But be aware - they'll probably get lots of wine, and you'll never get a thank you note because chances are, they'll never know who brought which bottle.

As a joke, hard liquor and a flask for him, and wedding planning tools for her

Pretty thank you cards (Crane & Co or Kate Spade- gor-geous stationery) and a book of stamps - they'll need lots of those in the near future!

Home Depot gift cards - particularly if they're going in on a new home together

Anthropologie has beautiful aprons, measuring spoons, cookbooks and dish towels (a running friend gave these to me and they're SO cute!!)

Terrarium Supply Kit with a glass jar and how-to book

Regardless of which gift you decide to go with, have fun celebrating the happy couple! They'll appreciate your presence, and will take it as a sign that they can depend on your friendship and support throughout the wedding-planning process.


The Muses