Category Archives: DIY

DIY nails: Better from afar

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A few days ago, I began my journey into DIY nail art.

It was a mess for sure and I realized that I wasn’t cut out for — well, tape cutouts. This time around, I decided that my next move into DIY nail art would be all free-hand. I paint. I draw. I doodle. I’m surely capable of holding a brush.

It doesn’t look that bad, right? From far away, I’m damn proud of myself. But up close, this is still a crazy mess.

What these photos fail to show is the texture of my manicure. Each finger has SO MANY air bubbles that it seems like I tried to give my nails a grainy texture on purpose. How do people get rid of these blasted things? I rolled my polish instead of shaking it. I used quality OPI products. Is it just because there are so many damn layers on my nails?

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Martha, Martha, Martha… Oh how I can’t stand her!!

Martha. Freaking. Stewart.

First, she lures me in with super-cute homemade decorations that are both sleek and shut-the-front door simple.  Like, how could you not have thought of that yourself decades ago?  Then, the siren beckons even more when the directions don’t betray that simplicity.  Like, yes, even your 5-year-old neighbor can do this.  The nail in the coffin is when you’ve already invested time and money over the course of a weekend and the “end product,” if you can really call it that, looks like something Martha wipes her ass with.

Damn you, Martha Freaking Stewart!

I had an inspired idea to make Halloween decorations out of papier-mâché and a quick, cursory look on the Internet reveals that not only has everyone else already thought of it, Martha has perfected it.  An obligatory roll of the eye.  Of course she has.  As much as I want to, I can’t hate her.  She puts together some pretty sick designs.

All the above needed was balloons, tissue paper, and wheat paste, a mixture of flour and water.  First of all, wheat paste is gross — clumpy, messy, smelly, fast to dry and a pain to clean.  Second, orange tissue paper is harder to find than you’d imagine.  Third, I don’t know why I thought papier-mâché would be fast and easy.  It’s not like I’d ever done it before on my own and unsupervised by an adult who brought all the materials and pre-prepped my work area.  First balloon took 30 minutes.

After an appropriate lapse of time…10 orange balloons hanging from a line.  The next day, I pop the first balloon and it shrivels up and dies.  What the hell?!  The second balloon does much better.  I’m reassured.  But it’s fleeting.  One by one, down the line I go, and it’s Russian roulette which balloon survives to live another mâché-d day.

happy not knowing what's to come

not so lucky

The Survivors

Out of the seven survivors, just one looks Martha-esque.  The rest don’t look like they’ll be able to stand more poking, prodding and cutting to become jack-os.  Now, after two days and $20, I’m aborting original plan.  Their new lot in life will reflect my inner-crafty feelings — gory lanterns with blood splatter and drips.  Have you thought of that one yet, Martha?!

Battle Royale: Who likes gross-looking tarts?

Nothing like the holidays to bring out the cut-throat competitive spirit. There was record-breaking turnout for UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies holiday party. With stiff competition, I entered my awesome Kahlua brownies topped with pepitas.

Scrumptuous. Chewy. Salty. Goodness.

There were two categories—(1.) cakes and pies and (2.) cookies, brownies and bars. Plus, there was an overall best international dessert entry.

In my category, third place went to… “Winter Wonderland Cookies.”

Second place went to… I forget. Not important.

First place, and the winner of a $20 gift card to Trader Joe’s, an apron and measuring spoons, went to… not me.


The judges were bought.

I was already thinking about how to graciously accept my prize. Such a wasted effort! Not even an honorable mention!!

I was honestly going to use my dessert contest win as reparation for the Justin Bieber door fiasco. Just desserts.

Perhaps if I had stressed the Kahlua in my brownies, I might have fared better. They were just listed as “Brownies with pepitas.”

Anyway, some blah-looking chocolate-topped tart ended up taking first place. Unimpressed. Full disclosure: I haven’t tasted it yet. I’m waiting a few hours when I’m no longer busting at the seams with cakes and pies and cookies so I can give a legitimate, unbiased approach to the winner (she says with a curled lip sneer). I’ll give it my fair evaluation and come back with my vote and we shall see whether or not I was hornswoggled.

PHOTO: A plate of my pepitas-topped brownies with some weird-looking (and apparently winning) chocolate tart.

There’s no sunshine without Justin Bieber

I’ve been at my current job for less than a year, which means this is the first time participating in the winter festivities. There are some interesting competitions around these parts. A dessert contest, which I’ve entered. Something about a holiday sock contest and a door-decorating contest.

In the past, IDEA has had some “out there” ideas. This is all hearsay and, again, it all comes from the people who worked on it… so I have no idea if what they say is pure nonsense, the undisputed truth or something in the middle.

What I have been told is that IDEA comes up with the best doors and always manages to come up short to some cutesy kumbaya-esque motif. For example, the year they put a three-dimensional dragon on the door as some homage to imagination and fantasy, like Santa Claus. ??? *shoulder shrug* Or the time they put up a collage of Los Angeles. ??? *Never got info on that theme.*

I decided 2010 would be the year that our door would blow them all out of the water. And our hard work would be rewarded with, at least, an honorable mention.

Armed with a great theme for the year’s holiday party—international traditions—I came up with an amazing concept. We would utilize all FOUR doors that face the hallway and my theme would be carried across each.

Justin Bieber Saves Christmas!

And Chanukkah!

And Kwanzaa!

And Winter Solstice!

It seemed perfect to me. If the judges reward sticking to the theme, we’d do that by putting a whole bunch of nick nacks from around the world. Who can say “no” to Spain’s Christmas Log?

If the judges wanted cute, someone has to like Justin Bieber, right? Or else how do you explain that maddness!?!

If the judges wanted international, The Bieb’s Canadian.

If the judges wanted some kumbaya b.s., then I’m sure we could have thrown a little of that too.

Here are a few of the other doors around Moore Hall that were decorated:

I don’t know which door will win. What I do know is that, properly executed, Justin Bieber could have rocked it out. Yes… could. With hectic schedules, late-in-the-game planning and other December calamity, my dream was never fully realized. Christmas will fall this year, so will Chanukkah and Kwanzaa and there will be no sunshine on winter solstice. Why? Because the Bieb wasn’t there to save us.

PHOTOS: Justin doing his thing on a bike; Christmas log from Spain; handful of decorative doors in UCLA’s Graduate School of Educatin & Information Studies

South African Epicuriosity, Part 2

Last month, I launched this miniseries of posts where I tackled some of the great eats I had along the road from Johannesburg to Cape Town, from Nelspruit to Polokwane and back again. My first attempt was an entree that failed miserably to stand up to its inspiration.

Up next, breakfast!

Feta French Toast

LOCATION: The Health Path, 41 Victoria Ave., Hout Bay, Western Cape

DATE: Monday, June 14, 2010 and Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BACKGROUND: Before heading out to Constantia for some wine-tasting, we figured we’d go for a quick breakfast. It was getting late and a coffee shop seemed just the perfect fit. We were walking by this place and decided to go inside. At first it seemed a waste of time. Yes, there were cool organic, green-living things to buy but in terms of sustenance it seemed to just have coffees and teas… ugh, and protein bars or something equally gross. Luckily, hiding in plain sight was a dry erase board with the day’s specials. Among them, French Toast.

WHY SO YUMMY: French Toast is usually divine. How can you go wrong with bread and syrup? This meal used thick slices of raisin loaf, topped it with feta cheese and organic agave syrup! But they went a step further. This was a health shop, remember. Served on the side of my french toast and a little garnish on top — sprouts and sliced tomatoes! It was REALLY good and if you couldn’t tell by now by the dates above, it was worth a second trip. Oh, and the coffe was delish too. If you’re ever in this bay tucked outside Cape Town, check them out. I can’t promise you’ll be greeted with the best French Toast ever, but you may find something equally interesting.

WHAT I DID: Well, if I’m going to attempt organic feta french toast, obviously my first trip is Whole Foods. I found some Sprouted Wheat Cinnamon Raisin bread for the base and agave nectar for the syrup. What I didn’t find was that amazing feta cheese. I improvised with your standard $4.50 goat cheese. A touch of nutmeg here, some egg whites there… and VOILA! My masterpiece:

I must say I was impressed with this. A definite improvement over that disastrous fondue. I still need to work on my plating techniques. Perhaps a nice white plate next time to make the food pop. As any good Iron Chef will tell you, plating is worth 25 percent.

PHOTOS (from top): The original Feta French Toast from The Health Plan (credit: MexiCAN #2); My version is slightly underwhelming but delicious. It could even become a staple of my kitchen repertoire (credit: me).

South African Epicuriosity, Part 1

There has yet to be a place I’ve visited where I’m not stunned by the wonderful food available. At times, I’m greeted with a cornucopia of delicacies at every step of the journey from couture restaurants to rickety street vendors. Other times, the jewels of the palate must be actively sought out. Keeping the tradition alive, my two trips to South Africa were epicurean feasts.

Sure these people love their meats. A HUGE steak of I-don’t-know-what game animal served with a side of boerewors sausage? Or would you prefer a shepard’s-pie-like bobotie and some biltong?

But this is also the land of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten, some pretty amazing seafood, and to wash it all down? Pinotage, what else?

This miniseries of posts will explore my culinary ability to duplicate some of the best dishes I had during this latest trip to South Africa. Some were simple salads. Others were complicated entrees. All were far beyond my skill level. Contributing is MexiCAN #2, whose obsession with taking food photos, provides some of the “before” shots.

Without further ado…

Tomato and Garbanzo Fondue

Location: Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg Vineyards, Constantia, Cape Town

Date: Monday, June 14, 2010

BACKGROUND: This was the perfect comfort meal. This dark and dreary day that had seen calamitous rain the entire morning was also the day we decided it would be a good idea to rent a car, I mean “hire a car” and drive to Constantia for some wine-tasting since our previously planned wine-and-bike tour in Stellenbosch was rained out. After a hectic morning of staying in my left-hand lane and sampling some South African wine, we arrived at Steenberg with every intention of eating from their tapas menu. Alas, we arrived too early and had to settle for the regular lunch. A blessing in disguise…

WHY SO YUMMY: It was a tomato and garbanzo fondue over a bed of perfectly cooked couscous. I mean PERFECTLY COOKED. I’ve never tasted couscous like this. It was a complete epiphany… like my whole life I thought couscous tasted one way and then I ate this and realized just how wrong I had been. The whole thing was drizzled with this yogurt sauce and topped with fresh herbs. DELISH!

WHAT I DID: Well, I kinda completely forgot about the yogurt and the green stuff. And I had no clue what a “fondue” was in any context other than molten cheese or chocolate. My approach was simple: Grab a can of garbanzos, rinse and dump them in a pan with some tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Add some seasoning. And what of my couscous? Well, it was cooked and that was its only similarity to the South African meal.

Of course it looked better on a plate the night I made it, but I only have photos from my lunch the day after. I swear it looked better!

PHOTOS: (top) My Tomato and Garbanzo Fondue at Constantia vineyard (Credit: MexiCAN #2); (from left) My concoction looking rather sad in tupperware (Credit: Me); looking even worse for wear after eating (Credit: Me)

my dream undelivered

I started a new job and lost all track of personal time. For the last three weeks, I’ve done nothing but live around my schedule, my commute and my growing list of DVRed shows. That’s when I realized to my horror that i had not updated this bad boy in a very long time. I won’t bore you with details that are super old. So, here are some highlights:

I will say that I did run in that Great Race last weekend. Just the 5k. But no embarrassment here. There was a sizeable group that came in after me. Plus entire races were going on at the same time so I could easily blend in and pant as if I just crossed the 1/2 marathon finish. Whatever, I still got a medal.

I booked my domestic South Africa flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. It was a little over $240… not bad, considering the circumstances. To date, this little vacation has cost me almost $3,500!! And I’m not done… still looking for some cheapo accomodations in CT. And let’s not forget my discretionary funds once there. Pinotage and Castle!!

I also have in my possession the cutest bald terra cotta dinosaur. Soon, it will magically grow a luscious and thick green grass fro. My very first chia pet! That’s a weekend project. Poor thing has been sitting in a box on my dresser for weeks.

…and speaking of my dresser, I realized that I never uploaded photos of my finished product. That’s a major faux pas on my end. I’ll put that on my to-do list for this weekend. Right after cleaning my room and dusting the dresser, take photos.

Now that I seem to have settled in a routine at work, I hope to be much more consistent about this. It’s just not cool to be so tardy.

The universe is trying to teach me patience

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the stars just won’t align in your favor. The finishing touches on my room makeover are on hold because I couldn’t find drawer pulls in the right size. Makeshift furniture is acting like a T.V. stand. Clothes are packed up in suitcases. Milk crate provide convenient storage.

I placed an order online and was waiting for them to arrive… any day now… to pull the look together. That’s until I got this email:

Thank you for your recent order. Part of your order has already been shipped to you and is on its way. However, due to the popularity of the items that you ordered, part of your order is currently out of stock and is backordered. As soon as we get your items from the manufacturer we will ship it out to you immediately.

Due to the popularity??? How can my items be popular??? No one carries that size! If they did, then I wouldn’t have been forced to pay more to special order them. If they were popular, they would have been in stock at Lowe’s or Home Depot or any other cabinet store I called.

Why I oughta…. ((muttering under my breath))

What’s worse is they’re shipping seven. Seven! 7!! They had seven in stock and I need eight. I have to wait on ONE backordered pull before I can finish that dresser, that room, that project. umm… lame.

The Devil lives in the 1/2-inch details

Well, just like the title of this post suggests, I am living in my own personal DIY hell. Let’s put aside the fact that my once all-powerful purple color is disappointing me and turning out a wonderfully bright, vibrant shade of pink. I have nothing against pink (fuchsia, even). Those who know me know I love pink. The brighter the better. I’ve even worn my fair share of bright pink bridesmaid dress (which I loved). The problem is that I wanted PURPLE. Enough of that…

Here’s the main problem: My 40-year-old dresser is so old and stubborn that it refuses to cooperate in any attempt to bring it into the 21st century. First, it gives me grief on the color. Now, it’s the hardware.

When I dreamed of reinventing this behemoth, I wanted a bright, sleek purple color with similarly sleek polished chrome hardware. Is that too much to ask for? Apparently so… The standard for drawer pulls is 3″ and mine are 3.5″. I’ve been to Home Depot and Lowes. They have very nice pulls in stock that are either 3″ or 4″, but nothing in the middle. I even considered special ordering them, but the size doesn’t exist in their catalog. I did, however, find one design in 3.5″. Not only do I not know how much they cost (I’ll need eight!), but it’s a far cry from what I envisioned.

Wanted this

May settle for this

Of course another option would be to cover the holes and drill new 3″ ones. Doable, yes, but way above my skill level. Either way I doubt this project will be done before the new year… bummer.

Look at these ugly things. They’ll be stuck on my purple dresser until I find a permanent solution.

Is there a cooler color in the world???

Many, many months ago, I saw this commercial and got totally inspired by the “after” purple project (around 19 seconds). It just so happens that I have a very old dresser (at least 4 decades) that needs some sprucing.