It happens that this year the sisters and I are hosting a Cookies & Cocktails party. I am so excited for the event and am making sure to plan ahead. The party is going to be a holiday cookie exchange party. In an effort to be prepared, I have set out to test some cookies that I deem worthy to have my name on for the exchange.
As much as I love sweets, I cannot say that I love cookies. In fact, I am quite picky about which cookies I will actually eat. Maybe it is something that came with age and wisdom, but if I am going to scarf down a few hundred calories it better be worth it. Well these puppies are worth it.
To start the tests, I chose a few select recipes from the December 2012 Donna Hay magazine that I have on my iPad. I have wanted to make some of these cookies for quite some time and what better than a to test for a cookie exchange party?
Now I have to say, I am a stickler for the rules and followed the recipe to a T. I even measured my ingredients by weight which is a bit more precise than just using measuring cups. Look at my fancy scale? It was a Christmas present a few years back and I love it!
For this recipe, the final product, according to the recipe, were beautiful sandwich cookies. Albeit beautiful, the sweetness scale was off the charts. They were so sweet that it hurt my teeth. I had a few other taste testers and they too agreed that the cookie was just too sweet. There just seemed to be to be too much frosting and even when I barely added any to the center, the sweetness factor over the edge. The cookies were divine on their own, but I wanted to incorporate the Peppermint Cream as it really made the cookies feel like they were made for the holidays.
I loved the taste of the frosting but felt it needed to be added in moderation. The cookies in and of themselves were really delicious. Chocolate cookies with chocolate chunks, who could resist?
I had an idea to just serve one cookie but to dilute the frosting to a glaze and just to add a little to the top. Success!
Here is my version of the recipe, give them a try and let me know what you think.
Chocolate Chocolate Cookies With a Peppermint Glaze
(adapted from Donna Hay)
150g butter, softened
1/2 cup (90g) brown sugar (can substitute granulated sugar with a teaspoon of molasses)
1/2 cup (175g) golden syrup, Karo Syrup
1 1/2 cups (225g) all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 cup (25g) cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
pinch of salt
200g dark chocolate, chopped (you can always roughly chop up chocolate chips)
2 1/2 cups (400g) confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
4-6 tablespoons milk
Place butter, brown sugar, and Karo syrup in an electric mixer and mix until pale and creamy, about 4 minutes. Sift in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and pinch of salt and mix until a dough forms. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator and for about 30 minutes or until firm.
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Take dough out of the refrigerator and roll into 1 inch balls. Place balls o baking trays lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Make sure to leave plenty of room as the cookies will spread out. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the tops are cracked. Allow to cool on wire racks.
To make the Peppermint Cream, place the confectioner's sugar, peppermint extract, and milk in an electric mixer and mix until smooth. If you icing is too think add more milk one tablespoon at a time until you get to your desired consistency. Using a spoon, drizzle icing over each cookie in a crisscross manner. Optional: top with crushed candy canes. Allow icing to firm before serving, about 10 minutes.
You may remember back in early 2010 that I decided to do a Lucky Dozen challenge. The challenge was to wear only 10 items of clothing with a different outfit each day for an entire month. Upon completion of the challenge I looked at my closet and wardrobe with a new perspective. Why did I have so many items of clothing? When was the last time I actually wore some of the pieces? Did I look good or feel comfortable in each piece? Have I ever worn that piece or will I ever wear it again?
It was with this new vigor that I transformed, paired down, and organized my wardrobe and I have never looked back. I stopped buying impulse pieces of clothing because "It is on sale!". I only own pieces of clothing that fit well, are untattered, and I can mix and match and know my outfit looks tailored.
I have spoken with a lot of people regarding this transformative wardrobe. In fact, I was limited on time in the morning and aimlessly through some clothes on to meet a friend for breakfast. When I told her as much you said, "You rolled out of bed and look great and are wearing pearls!" (Oh what a difference a little accessorizing can make.) I knew I looked presentable because I do not own schleppy pieces of clothing and everything I own can be worn with every other piece and looks presentable.
When you have a wardrobe that you know looks tailored and fits you correctly it is hard not to look anything but presentable.
I have been talking about helping my friend do a wardrobe overhaul and have been offering advice to start. I figured this was the best forum to write down some tricks of the the trade.
1. Does it fit?
You may have pieces of clothing that range from size 2 to size 12. It does not matter the size on the label, the question is does the piece fit you? If the answer is no, get rid of it. "But my 7 jeans are so cute and I might fit them again some day!" Well if that is the case, when you are a smaller size, and congrats to that, you can then reward yourself with buying new pieces to replace your now too big jeans in your closet. If you are actively trying to lose weight, then I say keep one inspiration item that you want to fit into. All else that does not fit on this exact day needs to go. Once you start letting items go you will see that it becomes easier to let go and accept what you have. Donate, sell, or trash items that do not fit.
2. What condition is it in?
Congrats, you have successfully gotten rid of items of clothing that do not fit. Now, if you have shirts with pit stains, pants with tattered hemlines that are beyond repair, or sweaters that are barely hanging on, it is time to let them go. Even if you think no one can see that missing button on your shirt, trust me, they can. Not only will people notice the small blemishes, but if you know they are there you will project that wherever you are. "Look at me, I have on a shirt that I am hoping you do not notice has a small spaghetti sauce stain from a dinner two years ago!" Have you ever seen someone who keep tugging and adjusting their clothing? It is noticeable. When clothes fit and are well taken care, they will just fall on your shoulders and be an extension of you. You want to present the best version of yourself at all times. If you have pants that are too long and have roughed up hems, if you can have them tailored and repaired, by all means do so. If there are beyond repair, it is time to replace them. Donate or trash those pieces of clothing.
3. Have I worn this piece in the last year?
Now you see that gold sequined dress you bought for that possible event but you have never worn it? Is this piece even in style anymore? Does it represent the style you want to project and feel comfortable in? I once bought this beautiful red bohemian dress in my travels and it hung in my closet for years. It hurt me to finally let it go, but I will say there has not been one day that I thought, "I wish I had that red dress." Nothing else in my wardrobe is bohemian. If fact, I dress quite the opposite. Yes, it was a souvenir of a great trip, but guess what, that is what stories and pictures are for. I will always have the memory of the time I spent there. Once you cut out the pieces you never wear, never will wear, or are just plain out of date, you will find that you true clothing style will present itself. Those items are taking up precious space in your closet that was mean for something greater.
4. What is my style?
Hopefully now that you have discarded the hindrances in your closet you will begin to truly see your style. Are you a free spirit and feel most comfortable in bohemian type clothing? Do you enjoy the ironic hipster style? Do you tend towards things that are classics and timeless? Whatever your style, stick with that. Be your true self and upon being yourself you will exude confidence. It is with this renewed sense of self that you will be guided to buy/keep styles of clothing that true say "Me!"
5. What colors look best on you?
There are thousands of resources to determine what colors look best with your skin, hair, and eyes. Once you have found what colors look best on you, narrow it down to about 4 in your color spectrum and buy pieces in those colors. I highly suggest making sure you have neutrals in there. If you find that you love red but it does nothing for your skin tone, just know that you can always have small pops of color displayed trough accessories. I look awful in yellow and yet love that bright canary color. I chose to have a yellow belt and yellow ballet flats that I will sport with a soft navy blue sweater and tailored jeans. The navy blue goes well with my skin and hair and yet I can still wear a bit of the canary yellow. Just know that your foundation pieces should be in your color spectrum.
6. Do I own the basics?
There are so many resources out that that state the basics you need for a wardrobe. For simplicity sake I have listed them below. If you hate wearing skirts, then substitute for different color or fabric pants than ones you already have. The basics include:
Three different color/texture/style blouses. I highly suggest having a button-up shirt as this is a classic and can be worn in so many different genres.
Two pair of pants/trousers (Whenever I hear the word "trousers" I think of English people. Just me?)
A pair of jeans that fit well (I have two, one for with heels and one to be worn with flats.)
An outerwear coat
If you want more of a perspective on what I mean, check out my posts about the Lucky Dozen HERE and HERE.
I am known for wearing pearls. In fact I have a go-to pearl necklace I am wearing right now. They are classic and go with everything I own. I also have a go-to ring and pair of earrings. What you chose to accessorize with sets the tone for your outfit. Wear a plain black dress with a string of pearls and studded earrings and you are ready for a client meeting. Pair that same black dress with a long draped,edgy-spiked necklace, zebra print heels, and a black leather jacket and you are ready for a rock concert. Combing different accessories is where you can go wild, but I suggest limiting the number of pieces you own to a single jewelry box. Like I mentioned previously, my clothes are classic colors and cuts and I add my pops of color through my accessories. Feel free to do the same.
* A neighbor of mine has a clothing swap party every year. You may think of doing the same. You never know, you might trade a piece of clothing for a new fabulous piece that will be perfect for your new capsule wardrobe. Just remember, if it does not fit, is tattered, is not in your color, is not your style, then it is not for you. I have gone to this party several times and brought 10 pieces and left with one. I just new that my old clothes were finding a new home. The last party I attended I happen to snag a great blue purse that is perfect for going out.
I hope these tips and tricks help you to consolidate and organize you wardrobe and style. Enjoy!
Sometimes a good dinner does not have to be that difficult. Don't judge and I promise I will not judge you for the same, but if you find yourself shopping at Trader Joe's and they have a marinated steak that just needs to be grilled, you are totally allowed to take credit for cooking it and making a wonderful meal.
So it went for my chimchurri marinated steak dinner. The meat was already marinaded, I just needed to make sure that it was grilled to perfection. I decided to serve the steak alongside some roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts topped with bacon and rosemary. Roasted vegetables is also kind of cheating as they are so easy to make and yet taste so good. (Look at how worn that pan is? You can tell it has made some pretty amazing dishes over the years.)
The veggies turned out well, but I am tweaking the recipe for next time. I am going to keep the oven at 400-450 degrees and let the veggies get a little bit crispier. I had turned the oven down to 375 and it just wasn't as crispy as I would have liked. Also, my brother-in-law was here for this meal and he suggested cutting the potatoes down more to create more surfaces to get crispy. I am going to keep that in mind.
The meal was rounded off with some very nice H3 cabernet sauvignon. I like to think of the dinner as French bistro. (No, my sister does not have a decanter. Yes we "decanted" the wine into a pitcher. Hey, necessity is the mother of invention.)
Oh, and did I mention, I also made French Apple Pie with the flakiest pie crust.
This pie and crust recipe has been a family tradition since I was in elementary school. For a fund raiser the school had families submit good old fashion home cooking recipes and a giant cookbook was made. To this day my mother still has the cookbook and I am pretty sure all of us have called dibs on it for when she wants to part with it. In fact, the crust recipe was submitted by my fourth grade teacher as it was her grandmother's recipe. (It is honestly the best crust you will ever taste. If you want it, just let me know.)
And why yes, that is an Emile Henry baking dish from William's Sonoma that my sister bought me as a lovely present. Isn't it gorgeous? This is the beginning of a beautiful pie relationship.
Hope you can enjoy a lovely French bistro meal for yourself, I know I did.
For a while now I have thoroughly enjoyed talking about high tea, reading about high tea, and of course going to experience it. Now as you might have guessed, being in Orange County does not offer me the expansive selection one might have to chose from for going to high tea as opposed to say London. I did not let me location dissuade me and instead set my fingers in motion to begin my research.
With the lovely invent of the internet, I went to work researching places to have high tea in Orange County and was not disappointed. A few months back my sisters and I took tea at the Pelican Hill Resort. I must say, the lavender colored tea was really quite delicious and the food, despite looking like just little bites to each, turned out to be gorgeous little appetizers stacked on a tiered plate which were quite filling. We had a great time and this little experience only whetted my appetite to try others as well.
On a side note, I also went and tried the lovely Paris In A Cup tea house in Orange and was quite impressed. I am going to go back there soon so hopefully you will see a blog post for Paris In A Cup by early 2015.
One of the tea places that had alluded me for a while now was The Ritz Carlton located in Laguna Niguel (or northern Dana Point for the locals). I had attempted to have tea here several times only to be rebuffed due to the fact that reservations are made well in advance and always were booked when I had thought to inquire. This time was different. I called months in advance and secured the reservations. I have to say, sometimes booking in advance on heightens your anticipation.
Arriving at The Ritz we were first greeted with this gorgeous display of vased-flowers and I knew I would enjoy the afternoon.
When we were first seated we were offered a glass of champagne, complimentary with the teas service, and were given the option to add fresh juice to make the champagne a mimosa. I know this is completely against how the French feel regarding their champagne, but I did end up adding the amber nectar and was not disappointed.
Our waitress, Elizabeth, and her right-hand, Kara, were both extremely friendly and helpful. Elizabeth gave us the history and flavor profile of each of the Mighty Leaf teas offered as well as let us smell the tea before making out selections.
I next glanced over the menu at the Raya Restaurant to see what my tea had in store. Every item looked amazing and I was glad that I have saved my appetite so that I could enjoy a taste of each and everyone.
One thing that is really nice about going to an establishment such as The Ritz is that the truly care about the experience of each and every guest. When I was making the reservation for tea I informed them that one person in the party was a vegetarian and did not eat eggs. They were so accommodating and altered some of their dishes so that she too could enjoy each pre-tested and selected flavor for the tea dishes.
Each of us was given our own pot of tea and gorgeous tea strainer. One thing I will say is that I drink quite of bit of water and tea. That being said, with the excellent service offered I was never in want of more tea. This was unlike the tea service at Pelican Hill in which the tea was on a separate cart in which only the waitress poured more and there were quite a few times my cup was empty and no waitress to be found. Another striking disparity is that when we had tea at Pelican Hill there were three of us gathered at what I can only call a glorified side table. At The Ritz, the tables were spacious and not once did I have to worry about setting my teacup down and knocking something else over.
A picture I did not take was of the view. We were lucky enough to be seated right against the window and were overlooking the Pacific Ocean, more specifically Salt Creek. I guess growing up down here you take the ocean's beauty for granted and have hundreds of pictures that at some point you stop taking them and just sit and observe. I will try to take a picture next time for you.
By the close of our meal and tea, we had not noticed how much time had past as we were enjoying the bites, tea, and each other's company.
My favorite dessert was the Coffee Cream Puff as seen above on the far right.
In all, I had a really lovely time and would not mind going back again...soon! I hope you get a chance to try tea at The Ritz. I am glad I did.
I would like to say that every month I look at my goals I set for the year and evaluate, but that would be lying. I look and evaluate when they come to mind. As you may remember from my post here, I wanted to start doing things that I enjoyed more. Spending time and energy on me. I had really neglected this goal until I decided to through a blind wine tasting party.
(photo credit everyAugust)
Why a blind wine tasting? I have had the privilege to take some very educational classes around certain wine regions. I cannot count the number of times I have watched Bottle Shock or Somm (both are highly recommended). When it comes to weekend get aways or short trips, you can bet that usually entails a trip to Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, or Napa for wine tasting. This last trip to Italy, the one thing I wanted to do was a Vespa wine tour through Tuscany. Guess what, that was the highlight of my trip. All of these surmounting ideas has to culminate into one grand idea and that is I love studying and drinking wine.
What better way to improve on my wine identification skills than to taste blind? Once I had decided to through the gathering, emails were sent out and RSVPs were sent in. Whoa, this is a bonafide party, I thought, and immediately came up with a game plan.
I wanted to try new wine and at the same time see if I could identify some wine that I had come to love. My idea was to have three bottles of wine I loved and might cost a bit more, compare that to three wines of the same varietal and region that were the Kirkland brand. I wanted to establish if 1) I could identify the wines I loved without seeing the label, 2) if I could identify the grape varietal in the Kirkland wines, and 3) which wines did I actually like best.
Next came the selection of wines and how to disguise them. I ended up using thick wrapping paper to cover the labels, I removed the top foil (after the above picture was taken) and glued numbers to each bottle. As I wanted to also enjoy the "blind" tasting portion, I mixed the bottles around before I numbered them so that even I could not tell which bottle was which.
(photo credit everyAugust)
Guests arrived and appetizers were served. Mixtures of conversation and laughter permeated my home and that was all before the wine drinking even began. Each guest was then presented wit a pad of paper, a pen, and we discussed criteria and a rating system before we began.
Note: I actually had a spittoon bucket on the table so people had the option to taste and then discard if they so chose.
It was great seeing how people reacted to each wine. I had two guests that had complete opposite taste which was quite hilarious to watch. Another guest was not a huge wine drinker but found a wine she actually enjoyed and planned on purchasing once the event was over.
(photo credit everyAugust)
All in all, i was really glad that the party came together and that I had so much fun while learning and testing my wine identification skills. I will say, the #1 wine voted that evening was unanimous and is sold exclusively through Trader Joe's. Should I tell you what it was? It was the Dynamic Red Table Wine sold for $8.99 (in CA). Talk about a steal!
As for 2nd though 6th place, that was quite contentious but what does that matter? Each person's wine taste is different and does not have to be the same. Buy the wine you like and enjoy and forget the rest. Price tags do not matter. Our #1 wine was one of the least expensive served. Did I mention it was a screw-top? Great wine for picnics!
Whether throwing a blind wine tasting party or a Harry Potter movie marathon, life is meant to be enjoyed with good friends.
I admit that I get stuck in the time-suck know as Pinterest. It is hard not to with so many inspiring photos out there to see, sort, and keep for later. One of the Pinterest board I have is titled "Get In My Closet". Here I collect pictures of ensembles that I would love to wear or mimic one day.
With the changing of the weather, finally, from summer to fall I feel like it is time to change my wardrobe as well. Colors change from bright and vibrant to more muted and rusty. Layers are added, textures are mixed, and accessories are a must.
Here are some of my fall inspirations that I hope to rock in the future.