Category Archives: Good stuff

Mighty Life List

Not too shabby. #lakelove #nofilter

I remember when Maggie Mason first wrote about her “Mighty Life List,” lo those many years ago. Since then, especially as she started powering through the list, I’ve started my own version many times, but I never got around to finishing it. I finally did it, which means I get to start by crossing off item number one: Finish The List! One thing I love about Maggie’s approach is that it both encourages big thinking and a focus on the joys of day-to-day life. I tried to get a good mix of things in here–as she once said, these are the things I’d be bummed not to have done by the time I take my grand exit, as well as the things I’d be shocked not to have done. There’s a healthy dose of stuff I’m a little scared of, too, because I need to push myself. Do you have a List? If it’s online I’d love to see it. Maggie hosts an invitation-only event as well as a more public camp centered around “getting good at life,” and I hope I can get myself to one of them someday.

I’ll keep the list on a static page and cross things off (and post about them) as I go.

And so, without further ado, my list:

Finish the list
Learn to dive
Do cartwheels or backflips down a long carpeted hallway
Stay in an over-water bungalow
Have real family pictures taken (hopefully to be repeated every couple years!)
Read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe out loud to the kids
Have a swing hanging from a huge tree
Find a great pair of brown boots that are actually comfortable
Learn how to do something cute with my hair
Own a huge, worn Persian rug
Make a quilt out of B’s old dress shirts
Write a children’s book
Find some form of exercise that doesn’t make me miserable, and stick with it
Run a 5K
Start drawing again, and get better at it
Get portraits painted of each family member
Buy a country place and fix it up the way we want
Have a bunk room
Learn to apply liquid eyeliner
Pull a Miss Rumphius (make the world a more beautiful place; she planted Lupin seeds)
Own a big Paul Ferney painting
Frame the painting we bought in Paris that time
Get an invite to Mighty Summit (and go)
Hang chandeliers in the trees
Try something really scary (hang-gliding? zip-line?)
Find my signature style
Pitch and sell that DB profile I’ve had floating around for all those years
Get caught up on photo books for 2009-current, plus each year for each kid
Lie out on a clear night to watch the Perseid meteor showers
Overhaul my wardrobe to focus on fewer, better pieces
Blog weekly (for at least 3 months)
Take ballet classes
See the pyramids and cruise the Nile in a felucca
Find a way for Tuck to sit in a backhoe or excavator for a while and pretend to drive
Host a pop-up dinner party
Surprise B with a weekend trip
Found Flaimfest
Eat Bahn Mi in Vietnam
Knit a sweater
Crochet a hat
Learn to pitch
Develop visible abs
Find a cause, volunteer, make a difference
Eat at The French Laundry
Identify all the countries and their capitols on a map (per 9th grade geography)
Learn to make 10 great cocktails
Go on a trip with just Bridge, no kids or husbands!
Eat shave ice in Hawaii
Take my mom on a spa vacation
Go to a wedding in India (and wear a sari)
Write something for Lucky Peach
Throw 10 amazing parties
Get B, T & E all speaking French
Get the T&L chairs reupholstered
Manage a major renovation project
Go to a really fancy Fancy Dress ball in a fabulous period costume
Have a gallery show
Perfect the Julia Child wrist flip omelette technique
Start a cottage industry
Take a knife skills class
Bake and frost a cake
Take a painting class (oil or watercolor)
Own a house with perfect nooks and crannies
Go to Helsinki
Find a scale model staircase in an antique shop and buy it
Go to grad school (public health?)
Paint a room charcoal gray
Learn to play cello
Learn to play piano
Introduce Ellie to Betsy, Tacy & Tib
Go shopping in Istanbul
Wear more colors
Make cheese
Dance (competently) with Ben
Swim a solid number of laps (research how many that would be)
Go back to Argentina, and take a tango class
Charter a boat for a cruise in the Greek islands with our friends
Learn to sculpt
Know Paris, London, SF like I know NYC
Go to 10 art openings
Invent something brilliant
Live in France for at least a couple months
Start a business
Grow a beanpole teepee covered in vines
Further the cause of education around birth and pregnancy (midwives, etc.)
Figure out how to wear lipstick without looking crazy
Throw a huge party for our tenth anniversary (at the lake??)
Make a fort with the kids
Learn how to french braid (so that it actually looks ok)
Plant a garden and remember to water and weed
Grow lemons
Host 5 tasting parties (fruit, cheese, prosecco, chocolate, ??)
Take each kid on a solo trip (and have them do the same w B)
See the Mexican end of the monarch butterfly migration
Act in a play or sing in a choir again
Take the kids on volunteer trips to do community service (a la my Mexico trips in HS)
Speak conversational Italian
Throw an amazing birthday party
Spend summers in France or on the Lake
Figure out what I want to be when I grow up

Around the house

I’m still plugging away at the apartment, and the dining room, especially, is really coming together. As a refresher, this is where we were back in the spring: furnished, but the old doors (which barely worked) were fogged over, and really needed to be replaced.


Happily, our landlords agreed to do it–major upgrade. I bought a million yards of zigzag fabric and took it to a seamstress to have sewn into curtains while we were traveling in May. She….did it. Badly. They’re too short, barely matched, and slightly crooked. Still, at least it’s some pattern and color in the room. I just try not to look too closely, and I learned lots of valuable lessons for next time (I’d never done anything like this before).


I’ve also been trying to get some art up on the walls, and it’s turned out to mostly be the products of Tuck’s (adorable) art class! The teacher is a genius and only puts out 2 colors of paint at a time, so the paintings don’t get muddy and brown, and you can usually get something pretty great-looking out of each class. My favorite so far is this fuschia/orange creation (currently not in place, since the glass in the cheap Target frame IMPLODED the other day, yikes).


I found kid’s art frames at Target that I hung over the entry bench–they open like books so it’s easy to swap out the art, and there a pocket for storing extra pieces! Genius. I’ve seen similar things at Pottery Barn kids but these were $14.99, so… (Not the greatest quality, but I’m not too worried!)




Finally, a couple life-improvers I got back in…June? but never posted about. I read the Dinner: A Love Story cookbook in one day when it first came out, and one of the many, many wonderful ideas contained therein was a chalkboard decal where Jenny lists out the menu and activities for the coming week. I found my own, a super-simple one that took 2 minutes to install, and invested in both a chalk pen (for the static events) and really nice chalk (for the week’s menu/etc.). It has really helped me get better about meal planning and thinking things through in advance:


I also bought a clip-it strip, like the ones we used at Fortune for posting layouts. It’s also what most diners use for orders–there are ceramic beads inside so when you push a paper up, it stays, but then you can pull down gently to take it back out. Genius. That went in the hall to hold papers, invitations, etc.


I love this house very, very much. Noisy upstairs neighbors aside, it’s been a very happy-making place. Lots of open sky around us, spacious rooms where we can spread out, and tons of great light. I’m very grateful. Next on the docket: An old oriental rug for the living room. Stay tuned!

Well, hello!

I thought I’d log in to make sure I still had a blog out there somewhere. Turns out it’s still here! Shocking. I can’t promise thrice-weekly updates but I would like to get back to something more frequent than every three months.

It feels like forever since the holidays–a lot has changed around here, about which more in a moment–but I guess Christmas was only a month ago. Tom joined us again, and cooked basically every meal while he was here. It was bliss. Among our projects:

Carnitas, per The Homesick Texan, as published by Smitten Kitchen:

Carnitas, 3.5 hours in. Browning stage.
After 3.5 hours of braising, during the brown-in-their-own-fat stage

Carnitas results: Last night's dinner
As tacos

The leftovers were a boon for almost a week–we ate lots more tacos as well as a number of quesadillas, and I think Tom scrambled them into eggs a few times. The citrus juice in the recipe made for a brighter flavor than other batches I’ve made. Definitely one to repeat.

For Christmas Eve, Tom made duck confit.

3 duck legs getting ready to be quick-confited for Christmas Eve dinner.

Those three magret legs rendered TWO CUPS of fat. I have so much duck fat, you guys! I need to start roasting potatoes, stat. Unfortunately we were too excited to eat for me to remember to take any decent photos. Oops. This is the feel of the meal (we had roasted potatoes and a sharp salad with the duck):

Christmas dinner

And then we descended into chaos. We moved, you guys. Mid-January. It was a mad scramble, especially because our babysitter suddenly left us two weeks before. My parents were here for a last-minute visit, and then Ben’s mom came up and saved our butts, and his brother/brother’s girlfriend joined for the day of and were also lifesavers. Man, moving is horrible.

Tuck hated seeing his books packed but he was a very, very, very big fan of the crane that moved the piano:

Running the crane

And now that we’re getting settled in, things like this are happening:

One of my favorite moments ever.

It’s going to be great. And the kitchen is 100% white (not as good as our old one, but better light), so it’s a lot easier to take pictures of, say, the only thing I currently want to eat, that asian-inspired butter lettuce/avocado salad:

Ok, that is a scarily large picture of a grapefruit supreme. But still. You know you wish you were eating that right now.

HOLD THE PHONE, I never wrote up that salad dressing? That will come soon. I promise. It’s too good not to share.

Things I’m loving

Don’t you love it when technology actually solves a problem? Two quick examples (with grainy Instagram pictures) from my daily life lately (and no, I’m not being paid to plug these products!):

1. Command picture hanging “nails” from 3M
We have plaster walls. Most rooms in the apartment have picture rail, so we can hang art from hooks without putting nails in the walls, but the bedrooms and kitchen are exceptions. Hanging art has generally required putting a screw into the molding, which looks terrible and is a pain. I have been using 3M’s Command Strips–which are like velcro with a sticky backing that supposedly removes from the wall without leaving a mark–to hang small frames in a couple places around the house, but when the time came to rearrange the art in the nursery I had some bigger frames that I wanted to use, and I really didn’t want to punch a bunch more holes in the molding. As I stood in the hardware aisle at Target trying to decide whether I could use the Command Hooks (no, they’re for hanging up…I don’t know, dog leashes? A single scarf? They stick out too far for pictures but only hold 5 pounds.) I noticed these:

Genius for plaster walls.

Um. This is genius. There are double-stick strips of the removable sticky stuff, and you use that to attach a metal plate with, essentially, a nailhead sticking out of it. The large one holds up to 8 pounds, the small one up to 5; I weighed my frames on the kitchen scale (…I know) and the heaviest was 4.5 pounds because I have plexiglass in the bigger ones instead of glass. They were super-easy to use. (You do need to put them in place and then let them sit for an hour before you hang the art.) And Ta-Da! Perfect for gallery walls.

Art hung without nails

2. Nail Effects from Sally Hansen
I am terrible at painting my own nails. It’s always a mess. And I hate getting a manicure, because it takes ages and then I ruin it immediately. Anna at DoorSixteen wrote about the nail polish strips a couple times last month and I was intrigued: Strips of actual nail polish (thus, removable at home, unlike a shellack manicure) that are already dry once you put them on (thus, no smudging)? Fascinating. The downside is that there aren’t really any “normal” colors. It’s all crazy patterns or really bright neons or glitter, I guess because they’re about $9/box and who would pay that much to just get nude nails at home? I would. But I’m guessing that’s the reasoning. I got the most muted option, a dull gold, and OMG MY NAILS LOOK GREAT:

Gilded nails: Those Sally Hansen polish strips actually work! Thx to @doorsixteen for the tip.

There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it was fairly easy to put them on once I figured out how to remove the correct backings in the correct order. Also, I didn’t press the edges down firmly enough on my thumbs. But I was able to use half the package and do both hands, since my nails are short, so I’ll try again once they chip. For $4.50 it’s completely worth it and very fun. I want to try the gold glitter, like Anna did, for the holidays.

Welcome to the world, Tucker Flaim!

I am thrilled beyond belief to announce the birth of our son on August 20! Seven pounds, 14 ounces, 21 inches long, with pouty lips and lots of hair. His name is Thomas but we’re calling him Tucker.


We’re home from the hospital and getting to know each other at home. He is an escape artist and hates to have his arms swaddled, so we’re working on keeping him asleep! I’ll try to get back here in the relatively near future but I have a feeling I won’t be cooking much for a few weeks…


Thanks for all the well-wishes this weekend and throughout the pregnancy, all.

CSA Week Four: Fast “cooking” for hot days

Still very green in CSA-land:


-Kale (2 bunches; I traded my cilantro for kale in the swap box: BEST SWAP EVER)
-1 turnip
-1 kohlrabi

It was crazy hot earlier this week, and I wasn’t feeling particularly prone to extended cooking sessions. I still had a handful of cabbage from a previous share, so I just quickly sauteed the peas, added in the cabbage to wilt, dosed them both with a bit of rice vinegar before pulling off the heat, and dressed with sesame oil and soy sauce. I think it took 5 minutes from start to finish, including heating the pan.






We ate the vegetables with Trader Joe’s “Bool gogi” (sic), which wasn’t half bad.

I know this is lackluster, but guys, I’m 8.5 months pregnant. Ben is lucky we’re not eating chinese takeout every night. (We did have that last weekend. It was luscious.) One fast/easy/delicious thing we ate this week was another Trader Joe’s product, their chile/lime chicken burgers. I hate chicken and turkey burgers as a general rule, but we tasted samples of these and they are really good. They come frozen; we grilled them and I mashed avocado with lime, salt and pepper, spread that on top, added pickles, and we were good to go. (Oh, on rolls. Obviously.) I would eat one of those right now, I think, and it’s 8 a.m.

The main news around here is the purchase of….wait for it….A VITAMIX!!! I have a LOT to say on this subject, and will try to get around to saying it early next week. Enjoy the long weekend, happy birthday America, etc.!

Rockywold-Deephaven contest: Please vote for me!

Squam Lake in NH is perhaps my favorite place in the world, and there is a very amazing and wonderful camp there, Rockywold-Deephaven, that we fell in love with last summer. It’s an old school (founded in 1897), rustic place, and I just love it. They are having an Earth Day essay contest to win a stay there this summer, and I’m one of the five finalists!

To win I need to get the most votes between noon on April 28 and noon on May 4. And I need your help, big time: I’m going to be out of the country for more than half of the voting, so it will be harder for me to spread the word towards the end.

Here’s my essay, which had to be fewer than 140 words and answer the the question, “What is one of your best moments or memories in nature?”:

I grew up in Oregon during the bitter battle to save the spotted owls from logging, and when I was 10 I was lucky enough to see the owls in the wild. We hiked deep into the forest, an emerald-green cathedral with a carpet of moss and ferns. When we stopped, the leader handed me a live mouse and I clambered to the end of an enormous fallen tree. I stood, holding the mouse out by its tail, and the owl swooped out of nowhere, so silent I barely registered it until the mouse had vanished. I never forgot that golden-green moment, the speckled owl whooshing past, the trees looming up overhead. I’m grateful that the logging trucks of my childhood–each holding one huge tree–have vanished, but that forest and those owls have held on.

Voting is now!! Please share with as many people as you can. Email it around! I am not ashamed to ask for help, here!

Vote here:

PLEASE vote for me, and please ask your friends to vote? We didn’t think we’d make it to the lake this summer because of preparations for the baby, and it would mean so much to either make one last trip before he’s born, or to go up and relax with him at the tail end of the season. Thank you, thank you, and please excuse the re-posts I will be putting up until the contest ends…

And so you understand why I’m so excited, here are some postcards from our weekend at Deephaven Camp last summer:

Squam 2009

Squam 2009

Squam 2009

Squam 2009

Squam 2009

Squam 2009

Stupidly simple fresh pastries, no work required

This is a lazy thing to post about, but I consider it a public service announcement.

You guys. I don’t know how many of you share my emotions on the subject of pastry, but I bet it’s a high percentage. I can’t get enough of good buttery pastries, mainly of the flaky croissant family, and pain au chocolat, with a good cup of coffee, is just one of those perfect foods. Ages ago I’d read somewhere that Trader Joe’s*, that home of genius food shortcuts, sells a good frozen croissant and pain au chocolat, ready to proof and bake at home. I always forgot to actually buy any, but last week they jumped out at me and I was eager to try them over the weekend.

Then I had an appendicitis scare, spent Friday night and Saturday in the hospital, and didn’t get to eat any real food for a little while. But that’s all in the past now! Everything is fine! I am a medical mystery! And I wanted to reward Ben for his frenzied trip home from a business trip to spend the night in the hospital with me, so before I fell into my own wonderful bed Saturday night I set the pain au chocolat out to proof. I was in no state to find my camera, and I failed to take photos of the little cigar-shaped frozen pastries or their box. Suffice it to say, the box warns that you need to leave four to five INCHES between them on the sheet, before leaving them out overnight to rise. I felt weird leaving them on the counter uncovered, as directed, so I popped the tray in the cold oven for a bit of protection from the elements.

Sure enough, when I woke up Sunday morning, the cigars were crazily puffy:


And after 22 minutes or so in the oven:



Wow, those were so good. REALLY flaky and light, very buttery, nicely bittersweet chocolate. In fact, they’d puffed up so much they were almost hard to eat! BTW, you can add an optional egg wash for added shininess. I forgot, and as you can see mine looked pretty much just like the box.

Here’s what the box looks like (thank you interwebs for filling in here):

Image via Just Insomnia, where the blogger actually met the baker who makes the croissants–apparently he does desserts for places like Dean & Deluca, too. This explains a lot.

*I swear, Trader Joe’s isn’t paying me, even though I’m pretty sure almost every post I tag “good stuff” talks about something from there. I just love them.

Mega-stir fry vegetable explosion

Thanks to everyone for your well-wishes and sweet comments on the last post!

I have definitely noticed a shift in…not tastes, so much as food desires since I got pregnant. Well, in the last few weeks since I started eating again, anyway. I have never been a girl to turn up her nose at things like donuts (and I am famous for my love of fried food), but now I find myself fixating, even if I don’t end up eating the thing in question. I’m also really bothered by the food ads on TV, which for the first time ever are making me want whatever they show–McNuggets, Pepperidge Farm garlic bread, etc. I haven’t followed through, but it’s weird for me to sit on the couch and think, “Chicken Nuggets! Brilliant idea!”

The good news is that I also think “Kale! Best idea EVER!” So things aren’t too out of whack. In fact, the first real meal I cooked once I stopped resorting to premade pizza crusts and extra-simple pasta dishes was a gigantic stir fry. I got the idea in my head, went to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and came home with everything I had spotted that seemed remotely appealing or logical in stir fry. To wit:

Stir fry

Also some beef, which I froze for an hour or so and sliced as thinly as possible before marinating in a new TJ’s discovery:

Stir fry

I had planned to make my own marinade/stiry fry sauce, but I spotted this one and the ingredients were literally exactly the same as what I planned to use: Soy, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, etc. Shortcut time! I found it a bit sweet, in the end, so I’ll cut it with rice vinegar in the future.

As with any stir fry, cutting up all the vegetables is the time-consuming part.

Stir fry

I cooked the beef about 80% first, and then set it aside. Then the vegetables: The general rule is to get your oil hot hot hot, cook your aromatics (garlic, ginger, red pepper) quickly, then add the hardest vegetables, which will require the longest time to cook. I’d been lazy and cut the zucchini a bit thick, so that went in first with the onion, before my very tiny carrot and pepper matchsticks.

Stir fry

Those were next, followed by the peas.

Stir fry

Then the bok choi stems:

Stir fry

Then I added the beef back in to finish cooking, and added in some of the sauce (obviously fresh, not what I’d used to marinate):

Stir fry

And finally the bok choi and napa cabbage, just to wilt for a second.

Stir fry

All done!

Stir fry

Probably about 5 minutes total, but timing varies depending on your stove, vegetables, etc.

We ate it with rice. Actually, I ate it with rice for about three days, because that was quite a bit of stir fry.

Stir fry

Yum. Maybe I should make another batch.

Serious Pie

I just haven’t been cooking, guys. Ben has been super busy and we haven’t had a lot of dinners at home, and when we have I’m afraid I’ve been doing a lot of pizzas (built on crusts from WF, agh) and salads. I keep going to iPhoto looking for something to upload and blog but I’m running on empty, here! (Literally. I think the nutritional balance of the Flaim household has dropped significantly over the past month or two.)

I truly, truly hope to get things back on track soon, but meanwhile how about a slice of pie, made by the genius pie fairies at the Agawam Diner in Rowley, MA up on the North Shore:

Coconut Cream Pie

Oooooh yeah. That’s coconut cream pie, homemade, and the size of my head. Other options included, on Sunday, custard, chocolate cream, chocolate mousse (more like a cake), “squash”, banana cream, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, and enough others that once I’d fixed on coconut cream I sort of tuned out. In the past the crust has been so-so, but this time it was great.

The Agawam Diner is our favorite mid-ramble lunch spot–it’s a classic 50s shiny metal diner with classic diner food (Ben most recently had chicken salad on a buttered and grilled NE-style hot dog bun), service that varies from lovingly gruff to surly, and amazing prices. And pie. Michael Stern reviewed it for Road Food a couple years ago.

Highly recommended.