Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own

I very much WANT to be a stylish woman. That is why The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own by Nina Garcia seemed like the perfect book for me. I watch Project Runway and have long been a fan of Nina Garcia's frank commentary about the designers' work. So I figured she must know what she was talking about, and I borrowed her book from the library. It was indeed SUCH a good book that I stayed in for an entire Saturday evening and read it cover to cover. The advice is straight forward, well researched, and funny. The illustrations by Ruban Toledo are beautiful and inspiring. Ultimately, the book really is like a little bible of fashion. It may just help me become a VERY stylish woman in 2009 (I can't lie, I think I already have a bit of style coming out of '08).

The book is broken into chapters alphabetically by items, with several pages dedicated to history, descriptions of item worn in notable outfits in the past, how-to-wear-it instructions, and illustrations of each item. Not all of the 100 are actually items of fashion. Rather some veer into the decidedly non-clothing, like a BlackBerry and good champagne. I can't say I understand the logic behind these items. I mean, if we are expanding the list into vital things every stylish woman must have, the list might also include things like a fully-funded-annually Roth IRA, the complete volume of Shakespeare's works, and at least one great non-stick skillet. And of course if we start creating a list of all the vital things a fashionable, intelligent, kind, and self sufficient woman must possess, then the book will be well over 100 items, and we might have to categorized some other way than alphabetically. Anyhow, most of the chapters are about clothing and accessories, and I agree with almost all of them.

However, after reading and reviewing the below list, I can tell you there are several items on Nina's list that I do not ever aspire to own or wear, including: Caftans, Cable Knit Sweaters, Espadrilles, Leather Pants, LL Bean Tote, Polo Shirt, and Vans.

Yet things I would like to acquire immediately include Cocktail Rings, Cashmere, Cuff bracelet, Fur, Knee Boots, and almost anything vintage. I went ahead and bolded my below list of items to acquire, in case any of you become millionaires and want to refashion my closet in 2009. I am also proud to say that I own almost every must have from the final chapter (chapter WXYZ), including a nice watch, wide-legged pants, wrap dresses, yoga gear, and a zip up hoodie. The last chapter is by far the easiest to manage! Anything with a zip up hoodie and yoga gear has me sold, although Nina does instruct me NEVER to wear my yoga gear anywhere except yoga class (doh!).

Here are the must-haves listed alphabetically and by chapter:

A: A-line Dress, Animal Print, Ankle Bootie, Aviators

B: Ballet Flat, Bangles, Belts, Bikini, BlackBerry, Black Opaque Tights, Blazer, Boyfriend Cardigan, Brooch

C: Cable-Knit Sweater, Caftan, Camel Coat, Cape, Cashmere Sweater, Charm Bracelet, Clutch, Cocktail Ring, Converse, Cosmetics Bag, Cowboy Boots, Cuff

D, E, F: Denim Jacket, Diamond Studs, Driving Shoe, Espadrilles, Evening Gown, Exotic Skin Bag, Fishnets, Frye Harness Boot, Fur

G, H, I: Gentleman's Hat, Gloves, Havaianas, Hobo Bag, Hoop Earrings, Investment Bag, iPod

J, K, L: Jeans, Jewelry Pouches, Khakis, Knee Boots, Leather Pants, Lingerie, Little Black Dress, Little White Dress, L.L. Bean Tote, Luggage

M, N, O: Mad Money, Man's White Shirt, Mary Janes, Minnetonka Moccasin, Missoni Knit, Monogrammed Stationery, Motorcycle Jacket, Nail Polish, Old Concert T-Shirt, One-Piece Swimsuit

P, Q, R: Pajamas, Peacoat, Pearl Necklace, Pencil Skirt, Perfume, Plain White Tee, Polo Shirt, Pucci, Push-Up Bra, Quality Champagne, Red Lipstick, Robe

S: Safari Jacket, Sandals, Sarong, Signet Ring, Silk Scarf, Slippers, Spanx, Statement Necklace, Stilettos, Striped Sailor Shirt, Suit, Sunhat

T, U, V: Trench, Turquoise and Coral Jewelry, Tuxedo Jacket, Umbrella, Underwear, Valid Passport, Vans, Vintage

W, Y, Z: Watch, Wayfarers, Wellington Boot, Wide-Leg Trousers, Wrap Dress, Yoga Gear, Zippered Hoodie

As Nina says, "There is no ultimate list, as it would go against the very nature of fashion and style, and the frenetic rebelliousness inherent in a truly stylish woman walking down the street wearing that perfectly unexpected mix of color and fabric. Style is dangerously unpredictable...if you are not altering each or some of the items on this list to suit your personal style, you are not playing the style game correctly or for your benefit."

I can tell you that since reading the book, I have looked at every item in my closet, ever item I try on in the dressing room, and every stylish woman I see on the street a little bit differently. I look at it all with a plan, a purpose, and a blueprint for how I can achieve my best look based on classic, tried and true style. Also, my poor husband is fatigued of hearing "Nina Garcia says..." every time we are out in public. Cheers for style.

Now, of course, we all know that style does not equal happiness, and all of these 100 mean nothing without a well developed personality, good work ethic, a sense of kindness, and the loving company of friends and family. But combine these with a with a stylish me in 2009, and I think it is a
shaping up to be a good year.

Happy New Year. Here's to a stylish, happy, and prosperouse us in 2009!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Colorado Christmas cookies.

I dedicate these photos to my family in Colorado and their family cookie exchange happening this Christmas Day. Sam and I are celebrating with family in Virginia today so we can't bring our orange chocolate biscotti or homemade fudge, but we are thinking of you and all of our family in Colorado and Arizona and beyond, and remembering wonderful Christmas holidays spent together. Even as adults, we still find joy in carrying on the traditions of youth, like family cookie decorating. And how can you blame us, with Mom's sugar cookies as light and melt-in-your-mouth delicious as ever, and a rainbow of butter cream frostings to create trees and angels and poinsettias and silver bells. Just don't eat too much of the frosting, or the cookies will look bare!

Sam and Ellen with their favorite tree cookies. Mmmm.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas-worthy Orange Chocolate Biscott

I was into fruit this holiday season, which is odd for me, because I am usually more of a decadent chocolate and butter and cream kind of girl. However, this holiday's baking really focused on fruit and fruit flavors. For one, there was pear pound cake. Then there were these orange chocolate biscotti, which are my new favorite treat for the cookie exchange (of which I attended none this year, but I know there will be cookie exchanges in the future).

I think biscotti are a kind treat to give as a gift, because in addition to being an edible treat, they also suggest afternoon tea with friends or after dinner coffee after a nice meal at home. So, the gift of cookies really becomes the gift of time with friends and family, or a gift of time alone for some quiet reflection over a warming mug of coffee. And when this gift wafts the bright, sweet scent of orange and the bitter, sweet scent of chocolate, well there is no gift better than that.

I should have posted this earlier so you would have had time to bake these up for teacher's gifts and the cookie exchange and hostess gifts at the holiday soirees, however I was tardy with the post. I guess I was too busy handing out mason jars stuffed with homemade biscotti. But at least you still have time to bake them for Christmas morning, if you hurry, and if you have a well stocked pantry or the grocery store is open late. A nice chocolate orange biscotti, a hot cup of coffee, and a full stocking from Santa will go so well together tomorrow morning.

Merry Christmas to all!

Orange-Chocolate Biscotti
from Bon Appetit 2003

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 1 cup pecans, lightly toasted, coarsely chopped
  • 6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, chopped

Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then Grand Marnier and orange peel. Add flour mixture and beat until blended. Stir in pecans and chocolate. Gather dough together; divide in half. Wrap in plastic and freeze 20 minutes to firm.

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Using floured hands, form each dough piece into 14-inch-long, 2 1/2-inch-wide log. Transfer logs to prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until light golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer parchment with logs to rack. Cool 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

Place 1 log on cutting board. Using serrated knife, cut log on diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Stand slices upright on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining log.

Bake biscotti until dry to touch and pale golden, about 30 minutes. Cool completely on rack. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store in airtight container.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

And a partridge in a pear tree.

On one of the first days of Christmas, two of my true loves gave to me... a box of Harry and David pears (without a partridge, or a tree). And they are delicious. What is better than a perfectly ripe pear during the Christmas season? The answer is nothing, except maybe a perfectly baked pear pound cake, top with brandy whipped cream, and shared by friends on a chilly evening after lamb stew.

I remember reading the about Christmas in Little House on the Prairie, when Laura Ingles Wilder and her sisters received Christmas stocking from Santa, including a new tin cup, hard candies, and a bright hued, fragrant orange. I remember that, for Laura, the orange was the ultimate symbol of Christmas luxury and it was savored and enjoyed with ever single nibble. Well, for me, Harry and David pears and like Laura's orange. They are rare, delicious, and the ultimate gesture of hospitality and holiday cheer.

As a child we sometimes had Christmas pears, and they were the one fruit in the house that children were not encourage to help themselves to at will. Rather, they were treasured. My dad would stand at the kitchen counter and slice the supple, delicate pears into thin slices, handing out a slice to one child, another slice to the next, and so on so that we each shared every pear and savored every taste.

As adults, we are now occassionally gifted pears by friends and family. But this year it looked like there would be no pears. Only last week Sam said with a sigh, "Where are my Christmas pears... I guess we won't have pears this season." But the very next day as we arrived home from work, what to our wondering eyes should appear, not one, but TWO boxes of Harry and David pears waiting on our stoop. It was like fate heard Sam's lament last week and overcompensated. We received a box from my sisters Claire and Ellen and another from Sam's Aunt Mary. The stock market may have dipped, but Sam and I felt rich with an abundance of golden pears!

After a few days of ripening, we are delighted to have 16 golden-with-a-blush-of-pink, juicy, sweet pears. The only sad thing is that tomorrow we leave for Virginia, and we have yet to eat all the pears. I am seriously considering taking the box on the plane with me as my personal item to tuck under my seat during the flight. These pears are too good to waste. Now, normally I would not suggest eating these pears any way except for raw and natural and straight from the cutting board as the juice drips down your fingers. Yet through the decadence of abundence, I was able to use a few of these treasured fruits to make a classicly french dessert that reminds me of my own family's Chirstmas in Colorado.

The cake is rich, not too sweet, and very sophisticated for the holidays. Sugar, brandy, and carefully arranged pears on the bottom of the pan mean a carmelized and beautiful presentation when you flipped the dessert "upside down" on your serving platter. I alway, ALWAYS suggest real, lightly sweetened vanilla whiped cream with a touch of brandy as the garnish. Enjoy this as part of your Christmas Eve dessert buffet, or even for brunch on Christmas morning. Above all, relish the opportunity to share such a delicate and delicous treat with those you love.

Quatre-Quarts aux Poires
Pear Pound Cake
from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells, with notations by my father Mike

1/2 cup vanilla sugar*
2-3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered with each quarter cut into 4 slices
2 tablespoons pear brandy or eau-de-vie (water of life! I just can't help myself)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (about 68 degrees is what I use)
2 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup (90grams) plain cake flour

*vanilla sugar split 4 vanilla beans lengthwise, put in sealed container with 4 cups sugar, combine, seal and allow to sit for several weeks (I know this won't help you today, so I just add a little vanilla to the bottom of the pan prior to putting in the sugar and add a bit to the batter.

Heat oven to 325 (165 C). Butter 10.5 spring form pan, sprinkle with 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Arrange pear slices in a circle overlapping slightly. Make it look pretty and sprinkle with 1 tbsp pear brandy

Cream butter and remaining 7 tbsp sugar in a mixer, add eggs one at a time, add flour until just combined, add remaining 1 tbsp brandy.

Spoon batter over pears in thin even layer (don't worry if it doesn't completely cover the pears, it will spread out as it bakes, and worry ruins the cake). Bake until brown and pretty, about 45 minutes

Serve as is or with a dollop of whipped creme fraiche.

Look to heaven and thank the good Lord that you get to eat something so delicious and for the stinky French for doing such great recipes and that your father is such a good guy to type this.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

1932 Draped Wrap and Cape: a (bad) work in progress.

How beautiful is this pattern? Look at those scrunched gloves, and that hat! Look at their perfectly ruby red, pursed lips, and the short curly bobs on these 1930's glams. This Decades of Style pattern just oozes with the elegance, charm, and timelessness that I crave in a vintage pattern. I purchased this patterns months, MONTHS, ago during the blazing hot heat of the Texas summer. I have been patiently waiting for the temperature to drop below 50 to sew it. And based on my adoration of the pattern illustration, I thought I would just love the finished produce. Sadly, things are not working out very well for me and the draped wrap. It is a real shame, because I was so incredibly excited to sew this pattern. It is utterly vintage yet blends so well in a contemporary wardrobe. Plus, I thought, it is loose and drapey, meaning fit shouldn't be an issue. And it is easy to sew. What a dream. NOT.

No matter what I do, I can't seem to make the finished garment fit my body. The shoulder seems are wonky and keep sliding out of place. There are four darts on the shoulder to help the garment wrap delicately over my humerus/clavicle intersection, but they keep riding up to form a stand-up collar on my shoulder. And the front wrap, well, where do I start...? The piece that is supposed to cross the front of my body and gently fold over my left should to wrap gracefully around my neck and be pinned at the shoulder with a brooch, well it is just not cooperating. Not at all. The wrap does not gather loosely and gently, but rather lumps into a huge misshapen drape at my neck, all while leaving my left breast out in the cold I am thinking that the problem is the size of my breasts, and perhaps and the size of my entire body.

In my dismay, I have been reading and rereading the instructions. From the pattern envelope:

Two fabulous patterns are included here -- the draped hip wrap, with a sleeve on one side and a cape treatment on the other, and a hip-length cape that attaches on the inside with the right front of the cape resting over the left shoulder. (The neckline provides a great opportunity to show off your favorite vintage or antique brooch.) Snug-fitting; if you want to wear it over layers, size up a bit.

Choose a fabric with a nice drape, anything from velvet to wool, or possibly a corduroy or fleece. It's a great beginning sewing project, and the finished product can work well with everything from jeans to formal evening wear. With 60" wide fabric, you need from 1.5 to 1.75 yards of both the main fabric and the lining for the cape depending on the size you want to make; you'll need from 1.5 to 1 5/8 yards of main fabric and lining for the wrap.

Oh, wait, in rereading the pattern, here it says "Choose your size carefully. It makes a difference!" That must be where my mistake happened, I choose a size too small. While I went by my high bust measurement, perhaps instead I should have taken into account my full bust. After all, how do you do a Full Bust Adjustment on a wrap? It does look like somebody out there has succeeded in making the pattern fit, however.

To demonstrate the fit issues I am struggling with, I created a photo essay documenting the fit of the garment on my figure. I call the work "How to wear an ill-fitting 1932 Draped Wrap and Cape." See below.

Step one: After putting arm through sleeve, wrap sleeveless side of wrap toward left side. Feel remarkebly hopefully at how well shoulder darts lay across your right shoulder.

Step 2: gracefully wrap excess material from sleeve across front of body, tossing over your left should and wrapping behind neck. Worry about weird shifting of right arm sleeve and unsightly excess material gathering at neckline. Proceed with caution.

Step three: realize the wrap does not lay nicely over shoulder, and further realize that neckline includes gobs of excess fabric with nowhere to go. Stair long and hard at yourself in the mirror, play with options for more than half an hour, and finally decide that nothing about the draping is graceful.

Step four: experience extreme frustration that you do not look like beautiful pattern illustration. Come close to giving up all hope. Contort face in distress.

(Side note: Oddly enough, in trying to keep my face out of the self portrait wrap images, I managed to capture pictures that EXCLUSIVELY highlight my least favorite facial feature, my double chin. Ha. I suppose its karmic retribution for being vain about how I looked in the picture.)

UPDATE: In a fit of creativity today, I think I found a solution. I am converting this wrap into a stole of sorts. From what I can tell from a Google images search, a stole is sort of like a wrapped shawl, sometimes with loose sleeves and sometimes without. Well, I am making this a one-armed stole. Instead of tossing the front of the garment over my shoulder, I will instead gather it and weave it through a (yet to be constructed) fabric loop on the front of the wrap. I will pin a brooch on the loop, and call it a done deal. It will not be as warm as the draped wrap, since more of my neck and chest is showing. And it might not even look very 1932-ish any longer. BUT, my new draped stole does seem to fit my bust and give me a way to wear this expensive piece of wool, and those are good things.

See my smile in comparison to the earlier contortion of distress? I am pleased to find a solution.

Kate's One-armed 1932 Draped Stole: a (better) work in progress.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I have discovered a magical and splendid world...

...and it is called BurdaStyle online and Burda World of Fashion magazine.

Now, I am not 100% clear on exaclty how these two are related, aside from the fact that they both say "Burda" and they are both really cool. However, I can say that both resources offer exceptionally affordable sewing patterns and style. I found the BurdaStyle website via my sister Anne recently and I have download about 20 pring-at-home patterns (for FREE!) in the past few weeks. I also discovered the Burda World of Fashion Plus magazine, and I bought a copy a current copy on Ebay, which is also full of patterns I fantasize about making this December. I am SO EXCITED.

The BurdaStyle website describes itself as "a virtual sewing circle, an open-source hub of ideas, expertise, and amazing patterns you can download and sew at home." What is open source, you may ask? Well, the open source philosophy concerns the sharing of intellectual property, and allowing the public to adapt such intellectual property to their specific needs, without fees or stipulations. Thus at BurdaStyle they have removed the copyright from the patterns, and they are free! The idea is that they give them away on the web to be used as a base for our own design. At BurdaStyle they believe that removing copyrights from the designs will inspire creativity and spawn multiple new designs - and that's wonderful! The designs are beautiful and stylish and very of-the-moment hip. Look at this dress and this apron and this robe, as a few examples.

Burda World of Fashion magazine is a European publication that has been in publication for almost 60 years. In 1949 Aenne Burda founded her own fashion printing and publishing company in the town of Offenburg, located in south-west Germany. The first issue of her "burda fashion" magazine appeared in 1950. Each monthly issue presents 50 new garments, many fashion and styling tips as well as a detachable supplement with the relevant comprehensive instructions and sewing pattern pieces. In other words, the magazine gives you all of the style advice AND patterns you need to knock out a perfeclty customized, hand made, ultra chic wardrobe. For example this skirt and this dress and this jacket and this coat.

Both images posted here are from Burda Style, and FREE to anyone with a printer. You just print page by page and tape it all together to create a stunning pattern on your kitchen table. Plus, the site is starting to link to fabric stores carrying the particular fabric featured with a pattern, so you can recreate the stylish looks without searching high and low for a look alike. It's brilliant!

As the website says, "BurdaStyle is a celebration of the handmade and the heartfelt, the individual and idiosyncratic things we make ourselves, and is intended as a platform for experts and beginners alike." I will be at my sewing machine for the rest of the week putting my findings from both resouces into practice. I would love to see what Burda creations others have made, or links to the items you would like to create.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Who's the real turkey here?









* many apologies to Blake, who is the only family member not pictured here. I choose an inopportune moment to create these portraits - as we were serving Thanksgiving dinner - and he was no doubt at the REAL turkey digging in! :)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Goed eten, goed drinken, goede vrienden. And of course Happy Thanksgiving!

Goed eten, goed drinken, goede vrienden! Or in English - good eating, good drinking, and good company- in Amsterdam of course. And Happy Thanksgiving as well. Last Thanksgiving Sam and I took a train from Paris to Amsterdam and wander out of the train station and into an amazing Indonesian restaurant. We consumed the feast of many courses that you see here, and while it was not a traditional Thanksgiving, the colorful variety of dishes and exotic flavors somehow felt just right. There were hard boiled eggs in curry sauce, marinated kabops, saffron rice, veritable slaw, all types of meat and spices, and of course beer and the excellent company of my new husband. It was the feast of Thanksgiving, international style, and I had so much to be thankful for!

I remember our first day in Amsterdam because I felt completely at ease as soon as I stepped off the train at Centraal Station. First, we ate a snack out of the automat, how cool!?!? The automat includes rows and rows of doors, each with a warm and tasty food treat behind the window. You pop in your money, like a vending machine, the door opens, you grab your sandwich and enjoy. We did not understand the language, so we choose a Kipburger at random. We ended up with a chicken sandwich, although for all we knew it could have been a pickled herring sandwich. There was no telling until we bit in. I don't know if it was the novelty of the automat, our hunger, or just a good fast food sandwich, but the FEBO kipburger was a perfect introduction to Amsterdam.

Second, I immediately felt at ease because people everywhere were talking, loudly. We had just taken the train in from Paris, and the truth is that people do not talk loudly in Paris. Rather, they talk very, very quietly. And as a noisy American, quite talking is very intimidating. Don't get me wrong, I love, and I mean LOVE, Paris. It is beautiful, cultured, beautiful, diverse, beautiful, hospitable, beautiful, historic, and oh, did I mention beautiful? But Paris is refined, which means I was always on my best behavior. And it can take a lot out of a girl to always keep her voice low and her posture straight. Yet the moment I stepped into Amsterdam I knew it was time to relax, which made our Indonesian dinner all the more delicious. Who cared if I ate a curried egg with the rice in one large bite, or laughed out loud, or needed help pronouncing the dessert item I wanted off the menu? Nobody cared. It was Amsterdam, and I was thankful to be at ease in a friedly ethnic restaurant with the one I love.

Happy Thanksgiving to you today. I hope your day is filled with love, laughter, good food, and best of all lasting memories.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My honey's favorite mug.

You know those little things in life that just make you happy? They are the little tiny items in your life that might go unnoticed by anybody else, but they mean so much to you. They are the items that, if a stranger walked into your abode and was asked to identify your ten favorite possessions, they would pass these up in a heartbeat. Yet they are important. They are the possessions that make you smile. That make you feel like you are behaving the way your personality is meant behave. The items that make you feel like YOU!

Well, this monster mug is one of them in our house. It belongs to my honey Sam, and I have a matching mug in orange with a two-eyed monster that I sip out of too. Now that the weather is getting chilly and we are sipping chai tea in the morning to wake up and mint tea in the evening to fall asleep, this little guy is a big part of our lives. He makes me smile, and he goes just as well with a piece of cake and dessert coffee as he does with eggs, bacon, and toast. Just don't try to sneak a piece of his bacon or a bite of his cake, or the mug might attack!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My grocery store...has changed!

I have been known to wander around the grocery store with a look of perplexity and confusion, but these times are usually limited to moments when a recipe calls for an odd and obscure ingredient (...What is adobo sauce anyway?). Unfortunately, as of late, every trip to the grocery store has been thwarted with confusion and utter perplexity. I wish I could say that this state is brought on by a fervor of cooking new and complex recipes, but really it is only because my grocery store recently remodeled and rearranged. Now, even a trip to pick up milk, eggs, and cereal feels like runny through a labyrinth of canned and dry goods. I have even begun to wonder if these grocery trips are slowly contributing to premature wrinkles between my eyes from furrowing my brow at at my shopping list as I aimlessly wonder each and every new aisle.

The things is, I love grocery shopping. Seriously, I even do it for fun. When most people would put "grocery shopping" on their list of weekend chores, I put it at the tip top of my list of weekend social activities. I am a very lucky girl, because I live mere moment away from a haven of grocery delight called Central Market. Central Market is a meca for the aspiring foodie. I just love everything about the store, from the handwritten signs in the produce department, to the especially the friendly employees in green striped aprons wandering the aisles to answer any and every question you might have as you shop. Their sole purpose is to help shoppers get what they need. If you need to know the best red wine vinegar for the price, they know! Ask them which bread is ideal for tomorrow nights pineapple bread pudding, they know! And you can even ask them what adobo sauce actually is, and if they do not know they will pull out giant text book and look it up for you! They are amazing.

Central Market was also offering "weigh and tag your own produce" long before other grocery stores caught on to the concept. I love being able to squeeze, prod and poke each and every tomato before I bag it up and take it home. And it also means that when a recipe calls for 13.5 oz. of rhubarb, well, I can weigh out exactly 12 oz. all by myself. There is such a sense of independence and a connection with my food. And Central Market even has their own store brand, Central Market Organics, that makes the whole upscale grocery shopping about as cost effective as gets, and its ORGANIC to boot. That's a pretty sweet deal.

I am so in love with the grocery store that even in this time of perplexity and confusion, when rearranged aisles and relocated product foil my attempts a "quick trip to the store," I still cannot entertain shopping anywhere else. The remodels leaves me confused, it makes grocery shopping take at least twice as long, and it may be contributing to premature wrinkles, but hey, if I look on the bright side, this means I get to be in one of my favorite places for twice as long as usual!

p.s. Just to prove how great the store is, I snapped a few low quality camera phone images of some of the AMAZING Central Market produce. Look at these veggies! The crazy green one is Romanesco, also known as Italian broccoli. I have no idea what it tastes like, but it is beautiful and looks like it belongs in the floral department rather than an aisle where people buy tomatoes and apples and bright orange cauliflower.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cupcakes for Claire - a chocolate welcome.

I can't help but feel that it is so vastly unjust that those of us that love chocolate cupcakes the most are saddle with a metabolism that prefers spinach salad.

Don't these cupcakes look delicious? They were. I baked them earlier this year when my sister Claire visited, and we commenced eating our way through spring break. I realize with some amusement and a tinge of regret, that this trip is probably part of the reason I am now strictly following a new "healthy lifestyle change" (aka diet) that unfortunately excludes cupcakes. Well, technically the thin and fit nutritionists of the world would have me believe that I can indulge in a chocolate cupcake sometimes, but only if I only indulge once a month, and only if my indulgence consists of only a few bites, preferably with the frosting scraped off. To that I reply, bah humbug. I would rather not have any cupcake than settle for a titillating crumb of a cupcake. It would be a crime to let one of these beauties go partially uneaten in the name of good health and skinny jeans.

So, today, while I nibble on carrot sticks and plan a dinner of black bean soup, I make a plea to those of you that are NOT on a diet, please bake these cupcakes. And if you do, please eat one for me (the WHOLE thing).

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cupcakes - from Cupcake Bakeshop
14 regular cupcakes / 375 degree oven

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temp
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temp
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoons vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined.
4. Measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into a small sized bowl and whisk to combine.
5. Measure out the milk and vanilla and stir to combine
6. Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar and beat to combine. Add about a half of the milk/vanilla and beat to combine. Continue adding, alternating between dry and wet and finishing with the dry.
7. Scoop batter into cupcake cups about 2/3’s full. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake cupcakes for about 22-25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Note: I try to use the best quality cocoa I can find. It makes a huge difference. Also, this cupcake recipe is the kind that will result in a flat cupcake (not domed). One thing you must be careful of is over-filling the cupcake paper. If the cake continues to rise and has no where to go and will one over flow and two start to sink back on itself as it doesn’t have the structure to hold the excess batter up. So, stick to 2/3’s full and don’t be tempted (as I was) to squeeze that last bit of batter into one of the papers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brown butter... worth the calories.

The new season of Bravo's Top Chef started last night, but I am still thinking about seasons from days of yore. Actually, I am thinking about one particular season, with one particular chef, who makes one particular dish that has been on my mind for days. This is because last week I attended a cooking class with a 2007 Top Chef contestant Tre Wilcox. I can now vouch from experience, and not just reality TV hype, that Tre is a good cook. And while he didn't even come close to winning, I wonder if maybe he would have if he had served the judges what we ate, which is brown butter with pomegranates!

I am brand new to the world of brown butter, but after once taste I am willing to shout from the rooftops that brown butter is a beautiful food. The words alone sound beautiful when you say it out loud, with the b noise rolling off the tongue softly and gently. The butter itself sound beautiful during preparation as it cracks and pops in the pan on its way to golden brown. And it smells absolutely intoxicating as it cooks, sort of earthy and toasted, with slight caramel tease of a scent wafting into the nostrils. And brown butter, oh brown butter, the way it tastes is utterly divine. It coats the palette with the rich flavor that butter provides, but the browning gives it a depth, a complexity, and that little something else flavor that you can never pinpoint, but that makes every bite a dream.

The entire menu was delicious, but the pomegranate brown butter remains my favorite. Look at everything we ate:

Seared Sea Scallops and Bacon-Scallion Risotto with Pomegranate Brown Butter
served with Nottingham 2006 Pinot Noir, Central Coast

Grilled Swordfish with Celery 3 Ways and Bernaise Sauce
served with Quarry Road 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand

Lobster BLT with Fresh Avocado
served with Gordo 2007 Monastrell, Spain

Strawberry-Rhubarb Soup with Vanilla Foam and Sweet Basil

Tre spend quite a bit of time talking about his philosophy of food, and the importance of balancing flavor, texture, and the five tastes in cooking. He explained the the addition of both pomegranate juice and lemon juice in the brown butter is vital to keeping the flavor of the dish fresh. When the palate consumes a very rich food, like a butter sauce, fat molecules coat the tongue and can block the full flavor of later bites. By including an acid in the sauce, even in a very small quantity like a teaspoon of lemon, the recipe retains a palate cleansing quality. The small amount of acid will activate the saliva glands in your mouth with each bite, essentially "rinsing" your mouth of the lingering fat molecules as you swallow. When this happens, it primes your tongue to retaste the next bite with maximum taste bud exposure, allowing the flavors to taste as bold, delicious, and memorable as the first bite. This was the kind of insight into cooking that I crave, and eating his dish as he spoke, I was able to recognize the palate cleansing effect in the sauce with eat bite. I guarentee you, this dish NEVER diminished in flavor, and it remains a very memorable meal.

Seared Sea Scallops and Bacon-Scallion Risotto with Pomegranate Brown Butter
by Chef Tre Wilcox

4 oz. unsalted butter
1/4 cup yellow onion diced small
3/4 cup carnanoli rice
5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp apple smoked bacon - small diced and cooked to a crisp
1/4 cup finely chopped scallion
salt and pepper to taste

Pomegranate Brown Butter:
4 oz. unsalted butter
3 tbsp pomegranate juice
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
salt to taste

Sea Scallops:
6 each U-10 Diver Sea Scallops - muscles removed
Grapeseed oil
salt to taste

For the risotto: Melt butter slowly in heavy bottom stockpot, saute onions over medium high heat for three minutes. Add rice and toast for three to four minutes. Begin adding chicken stock a cup at a time, stirring constantly. After last cup of stock has cooked away, finish risotto with cream, cheese, butter, bacon, and scallion. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
* Note: Tre gave us the hint that it is ok to prep risotto ahead of time by cooking the rice to about 80% doneness, or 4 out of 5 cups stock, then pull and cool on a sheet pan. Right before serving finish with HOT stock, cream, butter, etc. and serve immediately. This way if you are serving for a dinner party (or if you work in a restaurant) you will be able to prep the hard part, and finish fresh for dinner in a few minutes while you sear scallops.

For the Pomegranate Brown Butter: Brown butter over medium high heat. When butter is browned strain through fine mesh strainer to remove milk solids. Cool slightly, then mix with remaining ingredients and season with salt. Keep warm until serving.

For the Scallops: Using hot pan, sear scallops in grape seed oil until cooked to desired temperature. Serve immediately.
* Note: Tre went into detail about his searing technique. He heats the pan and oil until very hot, then places the scallop into the pan to cook for about 1 minute, or until golden and crisp. This becomes his presentation side. He then removes the pan from heat, flips the scallop and lets it rest in the pan until it has reached a warm all the way through. By removing it from direct heat midway through the cooking, you will not overcook the scallop.

Plating: In the bottom of a small bowl, place a spoonful of the risotto. Spoon pomegranate brown butter around the risotto. Top with one seared sea scallop and garnish with a chervil sprig. Serve.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Butterick 9765: The progression of fit II

I can't resist, I had to give you all a sneak peak of the Butterick 9765 in muslin form, because I am really excited about the progress of my adjustments. As you may have read, I completed my first full bust adjustment on this dress bodice, and it worked! Additionally, I have been working with my skilled sewing instructor Lovita to rearrange the darting for maximum flattery. You can see all the details in the photos. These are not the best photos, but they do give you a good idea of the shape and style of the dress.

First and perhaps most excitingly, we modified the pleating at the shoulders, and instead of the box pleat called for in the original pattern, we shifted the pleating into two inside-sweeping pleats that drape the fabric toward my center. I think the results are immensely flattering. The box pleat pulled the fabric into a poof in my armpit, but the new pleats create soft folds of fabric toward my center. Don't you think I look thinner already? We mimicked the shoulder pleating on the skirt as well to pull the pleats toward the center. This way I maintain the skirt fullness without the poofing bulk of a box pleat.

There are still several areas to fix. I am going to shorten the bodice by an inch or so to bring it up to my faux natural waist (as you can see I don't actually have a waist in the tradition sense of a narrow point on my trunk, but I do my best to mimic having one!). The skirt will also be shortened, a lot! And of course, I need sleeves. The pattern calls for boring sleeves, but I want to reinvent into a youthful cap sleeve of some kind. And of course the dress will needed shortened by many inches. I think I will keep it just below the knees for comfort and vintage flair.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My first Full Bust Adjustment.

My first FBA,with a touch of wide waist adjustment thrown in for good measure.

There are many important firsts in a lady's life, her first kiss, her first car, her first job out of college, and of course her first full bust adjustment. Yes folks, I am in fact putting my first successful full bust adjustment - or FBA abbreviated - on the short yet honorable list of important "firsts" in this girl's life.

That is because the FBA is perhaps the most empowering and transformational thing to come along since the advent of oral birth control! I am free now to engage in free love among patterns. I am enlightened to test the waters of fit, find out what I like and don't like, and run wanton and without inhibition with any pattern catalog, knowing that I am safe to pursue any sewing project without major consequence. Oh it feels good to be liberated.

I want each of you to feel liberated too. Now, I am sure I am committing some major copyright crime, but nonetheless, I am posting the bible of fit's FBA instructions so you can see just what to do yourself. The images are from Palmer/Pletsch Fit for Real People book, which is amazing! Please send your own success stories and images my way, I can't wait to see what you modify to fit your shape and style.