Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: Lessons from Madame Chic

Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in ParisLessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris by Jennifer L. Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book while looking for inspiration for the 10-item wardrobe or capsule wardrobe as Jennifer Scott terms it. I have to admit I actually went and bought the book and have since loaned it out to a few friends and family members.

Jennifer Scott went to study abroad in Paris while she was in college and the experience forever changed her day-to-day life. In the book she details how her host family, specifically the mother whom she calls Madame Chic, lived their daily lives through fashion, fine food, and friends. Jennifer inspired me to think better and do better. To wear those things that accentuate who you are and to discard the rest. I admit after finishing this book I purged my closet and gave 5 bags of clothes to the Goodwill that no longer fit, were less than flattering, or I had just never worn. (My closet is quite Spartan now.) In fact, I have not bought a single piece of clothing since reading the book and am appreciating the wardrobe I have now. I have since been setting the table every night for dinner with my nice napkins and dinnerware. Appreciating those mundane daily tasks that I never knew I loved. Just sitting down and sipping my tea in the morning for my quiet time can really make my day.

In a way this book did remind me a bit of Mireielle Guilano's book "French Women Don't Get Fat" in that you are challenged to enjoy the little pleasures in life, not over indulge, but to just make a mental note of those things each day.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book and how much it effected my life. I would recommend this book to any woman to just stop and think about this life you are living and the quality involved.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Traditions

Remembering family.  We had the traditional Christmas brunch with my mother which included the following...

Baked eggs in Canadian Bacon cups, my Nana Sally's potatoes topped with corn flakes, and Nana Sally Orange Cranberry bread.  Of course there was tea and fruit cups as well.  These were staples for Christmas brunch and we kept up the tradition.

Later that night I made my homemade marinara sauce with my homemade meatballs (of course spicy sausage was included).  These were traditions on my father's side as my grandmother made the best sauce and meatballs usually with a big bowl of pasta.  My middle sister made these great stuffed shells Florentine style and the oldest sister made a great spinach and pomegranate salad and cooked up the spicy sausage separately   Dessert was tiramisu and Spumoni ice cream.  All paired with wine and laughter.  

These traditions always make the holidays feel more special.  Hope you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wine Tasting in Solvang

That is right folks, I went on another wine tasting trip.  This time the sisters and I and a few others stayed in the quaint town of Solvang.  And by quaint I mean awesome.  EveryAugust and I drove up early Saturday morning as we both had parties Friday night.  As we strode into town I was agape and giddy as a school girl.  Have you ever seen Solvang?  The small town is straight out of Denmark with classic Danish foods, buildings, and of course tons of windmills.

For some time now I have wanted to go to Denmark, specifically Copenhagen and I will someday.  Solvang was just enough to wet my appetite even more.  We walked around town taking pictures and laughing and I even went into a few tourist shops which I usually detest.

There was a park that had carolers and fun decorations for "Julefest".  The town felt magical, inviting, and buzzing with energy.  Why I had not been there before I cannot say.  Apparently we went as a family when I was really young but who can remember that!?

Of course we then went wine tasting and had a great time.  We went to a few repeats, but discovered a new one we all really liked.  In fact we liked it so much we ended up staying there for quite some time and making friends.  The winery was called Demetria Estate.  Nice wines and fabulous staff.  We made friends with Steven who informed us we were voted best table of the day.  We laughed, drank, and ate yummy snacks and just had a lovely time.

Dinner was had at Full of Life Flatbreads.  Just out the complimentary starter.  So good.

Believe it or not, I ordered the Cavalo Nero Salad aka Kale Salad (I wanted the Sunday Supper but apparently that is only served on Sunday.  Go figure).  I have to say, this salad was so good that EveryAugust ordered it after having her salad.  Did I mention there were red and golden beets in it too?  I am a sucker when it comes to beets.

Sunday morning we walked downtown and had breakfast at Solvang Restaurant. 
So of course when in "Denmark" one must eat a traditional Danish pancake, also known as aebleskivers.  I am not going to lie, they were delicious!

Upon parting I knew I would be back soon and I will.  I love you Solvang!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Week 14 Donna Hay: Autumn Feast

I found out Saturday that some extended family and out of town friends were going to be coming over for dinner.  I volunteered to make a Donna Hay meal as it would be fun entertaining and I needed to check another one off of my list.  Upon review of the meals I had left, hoe could I not chose Autumn Feast considering the season outside.

The table was set and dinner as served.

The Menu:

pancetta with blue cheese and pear
Best laid plans would have been pears with this salad, but alas dessert called for figs which I am sad to say are not in season right now.  I opted to have the pears go with dessert and used a black apple to the starter salad.  The pancetta was cooked under the broiler which made clean up a cinch and was no time to cook at all.  The flavors blended well and the mixture of textures was perfect.

garlic roast lamb cutlets on a bed of roasted potatoes and zucchini

lemon butter pan spinach
What could be easier than roasting dinner?  A quick chop of the potatoes and zucchini, pop them in the oven.  Brown the lamb then toss that on the veggies in the roasting pan topped with a delicious honey-mustard and mint dressing.  Everything came out cooked perfectly, and again that honey-mustard combination was a hit.  The only snafu was I called several places for lamb cutlet but was unsuccessful.  I ended up buying a rack of lamb and separating out the pieces.  I think next time I may try to order the meat so that there are thicker pieces.  The spinach side, how can you go wrong with spinach and lemon?  Next time I need to keep the spinach pan on low to keep hot for serving and needed to make much more as I could have had the whole serving myself!

fig pie
So you may notice something missing in the picture.  You see, this was my sister's piece that she was sitting and enjoying and then happened to remember I needed a picture.  I guess that meant she liked it?  I did too.  Not too sweet at all.  As I mentioned earlier this was suppose to be a fig pie but there were no figs available to I morphed dessert into a pear tart.  I modified Donna's shortcrust recipe by adding less flour and butter and adding a dash of sugar and vanilla.  I tossed the pears in about a tablespoon of sugar before baking and topped with honey just before serving.  I felt it was the perfect sweetness and my guest loved it.  Again the brother-in-law declared the meal "Perfect!" and said I must make it again soon.

Another great Donna Hay!  Hope you enjoyed the pictures by everyAugust.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Lucky Dozen

So this post has been a long time in coming.  In late September I had one of those moments when I hated ever piece of clothing I owned and stared gape-mouthed at my closet loathing everything.  It was then that I remembered an old article from years past in the magazine Lucky.

The article showed how with 11 articles of clothing (accessories, jewelry, and shoes was not included) you could make 31 different ensembles for the month.  After looking at my budget and realizing that purchasing said 11 articles of clothing not was out of the question, I took it upon myself to chose the Lucky Dozen from my current wardrobe.  I sent my sister a challenge to do it with me (thank goodness for sisters) and I was set for the month of October.  I altered the Lucky Dozen challenge a bit in that the outfits chosen would be worn Monday - Friday and the weekend could be whatever we felt like.  I have a hard time wearing dresses and skirts on the weekends when jeans are of so comfortable.

So here was my Lucky Dozen from my wardrobe.
(L to R, Top to Bottom): Pink Silk Blouse : Nordstrom, Grey A-line Skirt : Khols, White Button Down : Gap, Jeans : Kut From the Kloth (Nordstrom), Black Sheath Dress : Old Navy (old dress from my sister), Grey Boyfriend Blazer : Gap, Grey Slacks : Gap, Black Cardigan : J Crew, Khaki Skirt : from my sister, Purple Blouse : Norsdstrom, Orange Sweater Turtleneck : Banana Republic

I went about assigning a number to each piece of clothing.  My sister had the genius idea to fold note cards in half, cut a slit in the center, and label a number and stick it on each corresponding hanger. (See, this is why you need other people.)  Here is an example ensemble:

Day 1:

1. I put together outfits I never would have thought of and ended up getting a lot of compliments during the week.  I guess my wardrobe was a bit better than the previously thought humdrum of clothing.
2. Time saver.  I cannot express to you enough how much time and energy the Lucky Dozen was each morning.  The biggest time consumer in the morning for me is choosing what I am going to wear.  With the Lucky Dozen I just chose a day on the list the night before and knew what I was going to wear.  Somehow knowing what I was going to wear and knowing the look would have the "put-together-look" I love took such a weight off of my mind.
3. I discovered that the khaki skirt was not up to scruff for me and I needed to donate it when I was done (I did).  The grey jacket is great quality, color, and style, but I need to have it taken in and tailored a bit for me.  The purple silk top is great, but I just didn't love how it looked in some of the looks and I am questioning how often I would wear it and if I should keep it in my closet.
4. I really liked this experiment.  So much so that I am doing it again for November with some altered pieces.

I am not saying I am a completely changed person, but after getting the book "Lessons From Madam Chic" wear the author Jennifer Scott talks about French fashion and how French women have a 10-piece wardrobe for each season I did go into my closet and got rid of 5 bags of clothing that were either too big, too worn out, did not fit me correctly, or just made me feel frumpy, and donated them.  Needless to say, my closet miraculously now has room to breath and choosing my outfits has become a heck of a lot easier.  Okay, and the compliments I get aren't bad either.  Hope you are inspired to step up your wardrobe and create new outfits you never imagined before.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review: Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon GreatnessEat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book because I had read "Ultramarathon Man" by Dean Karnazes and also "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall and enjoyed both. This book also told the story from the voice of an ultra runner but and had some fun running stories and gave a little insight to the thoughts and workers of an elite athlete. Although I did enjoy reading this book I interpreted it as non-emotive information rather than a book written from passion. Not to say Scott is not a passionate guy, I just think his passion is running and not writing. He chose the title "Eat and Run" to talk about how he chooses the vegan lifestyle and is still a top performer in the running world. I felt that the "Eat" part of the title felt like an afterthought of the book with bits and pieces added in to make the book differ from Dean's ultra book. Most chapters talked about running and then had a recipe at the very end. I guess I did not feel the unity of eat AND run as the title implied.

But overall if you enjoy books on running I think you will like this one. My favorite line was when his friend Dusty informed him that he had just stepped on a rattlesnake unbeknownst to Scott as he was in the zone and gunning for the victory. Now that is concentrated dedication.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Wild by Cherly Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have noticed a theme in my life being that feeling of being trapped and just wanting to through some clothes into a backpack and just take off and see where the road takes me. If you can sympathize with me then you too will love this book.

Written during the time of the O.J. Simpson trial and grunge music, at the age of 26, Cheryl finalized her divorce to her college sweetheart, knelt goodbye at her mother's grave, and said goodbye to Minnesota for the last time in order to endeavor the famed Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Had she ever backpacked before? Nope. Any kind of experience of day hike? Nope. Had she even worn hiking boots before? You guessed it, no. Despite her lack of experience, Cheryl managed a solo hike and survive the 1,100 miles from the California/Mexico border to the Oregon/Washington border.

Her memoir details adventures of rattle snakes, to charging Texas Long Horn Bulls, to only having 2 cents in her pockets and miles to go before the possibility of new food all while dealing with personal turmoil. Through her sojourn, Cheryl not only set out on the Pacific Crest Trail, but also in life. One cannot help but to self-reflect and philosophize when you have just the trees, God, and yourself. Through her commentary I could not help but to cheer her on when she lost her one pair of hiking boots and continued in duct-taped sandals. There were times I wanted to strangle her for hitch hiking to get around obstacles in which she put herself in some questionable situations. I also might have screamed when she recounted a night with the frogs. The book in and of itself felt like a journey.

All throughout the book I was enraptured and couldn't wait to see what was around the next bend, and especially if she made it. The only bad part about this book is I found myself consulting the PCT guides and now I need to go buy a backpack and some hiking shoes. Would I recommend this book. I think so.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Week 13 Donna Hay: Easy Italian

I finally made another Donna Hay meal.  I know, I know, I am behind schedule but sometimes life just gets busy and stressful and you find yourself grinding your teeth and waking up with headaches.  I know you have been there too.

So this past Saturday I finally made time.  I woke up early and created a whole To Do list and went for it.  I am always amazed at how much can be accomplished with a simple checkoff list.  On to the meal itself.

Don't let the title "Easy Italian" fool you, there was no pasta to be had here. It was a meat and potatoes kind of meal in which my guests were huge fans.

Parmesan Wafer Salad 

Starters are quickly becoming my favorite course.  This was a perfectly textured salad.  Softness from the creamy goat cheese, crunch from the homemade parmesan crisps, and a combination by the thinly sliced apples (thanks mandolin).  The salty from the parmesan combined with the sweet dribbles of balsamic vinegar were perfect.  Not to mention the gorgeous presentation.  The crisps can be made ahead of time and that is what I am planning on doing for my next dinner party.

Veal with Olives and Pine Nuts

Crispy Roast Potatoes 

Before I even sat down my brother-in-law was already asking me for the remainder of the potatoes.  I know you cannot tell from the picture but these potatoes were as light as air.  I skinned a baking potato that was pretty starchy and tossed in a very light layer of olive oil.  Baked in the over for about 45 minutes then I turned the oven off and let them stay in there until dinner was ready.  I was expecting them to be a little more dense, but I loved the way these came out.  The steaks were beef and not veal.  The grocery had only one choice for veal which was very expensive and the meat did not look great so beef it was.  Tossed in flour and then cooked on high for a minute each side.  Perfect.  The dressing was merely chopped parsley, pine nuts, and lemon juice.  My brother-in-law and I had the same idea that next time use a chimichurri sauce which of course would make it Argentinian.  This sauce was still good mind you and the crunch was nice and the parsley refreshing. Of course there is always the taste of beef that speaks for itself here which I think is why Donna did an understated sauce which came out great.

Roasted Peach Bruschetta
Baked crispy bread with peaches and melty vanilla frozen yogurt.  Do I need to say more?  Again, the textures were key according to my guest.  They liked the crunch from the bread paired with the soft peaches and yogurt.  For me, I think next time I want to get a little smaller piece of bread as dessert seemed huge to me.  Flavors were there and simple to make.

In closing, the meal was cinch to make and tasted great.  Scores for this meal were between 8 and 10.  (Yes, my brother-in-law gave it a 10.  I think the potatoes pushed him over the edge.)  On to the next one.  In the immortal words of Julia Child, Bon App├ętit!

(All photo credit: my sister;  everyAugust)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Week 12 Donna Hay: Asian Feast

Please forgive me.  It has been forever since I have posted about Donna Hay which is not to say that I have not made any.  Okay, I have only made one meal and that was a few weeks ago and unfortunately I made it when my photographers were not around.  Sorry no pictures.

So scheduling a family dinner has not been working out and I had been itching to make another Donna Hay meal and decided to just make it.  I was feeling something easy and with chicken as I had some left over from when I made my pulled chicken alla Kelsey Nixon.  This menu came from the beginning of the book and was a snap to make.  (Plus I had most of the ingredients.)  Truth be told, dessert was made on a separate night because the dough was not cold enough for the cookies and I was a bit full.  Now for the menu.

Sesame Salt Sugar Snap Peas 
Snap peas were a breeze to put together and fool proof.  Plus, snap peas are amazing just off the vine so you really cannot mess this one up.
Wok-Fried Salt and Pepper Chicken 
Just a slight spice on cooked chicken pieces.  Not the most flavorful main dish.  Next time I need to add a bit more spice.  Also, this dish had broccoli mixed in which happens to be my least favorite vegetable of all times, but with some red peppers it is almost tolerable.  Needless to say my vegetarian sister like it.

Peanut and Coriander Noodles 
I am not going to lie, I used only 1/4 cup of peanuts as opposed to the 1 cup the recipe called for because 1) 1 cup was way too much and 2) I am not a peanut fan.  Any other nut I love, just not particularly found of George Washington Carver's crowning glory nut. (My mother made me read his biography when I was younger which I loved and never forgot it.)  The noodles were good and of course the coriander or what we call in the states, cilantro, was fabulous.  The noodle dish needed another kick as well.  Maybe a little more acid with the noodles next time and tossed in with a bit of vegetables.

Coconut and Lime Ice-Cream Sandwiches
This recipe called for vanilla biscuit cookies which could be found at the grocery store.  Perhaps Australian grocery stores have the lovely morsels, but here in the States our grocery stores like to have cupcakes at the ready.  One thing I love about Donna's books is every so often she will have asterisks next to ingredients which means you can turn to the back of the book and find a quick and simple recipe to make the ingredient yourself.  I was in luck as there was an asterisk next to the cookies and in the back of the book was a really simple recipe.  Bad news, the recipe was so simple and delicious I can see myself whipping some up on a whim and making dozens of them!  I mean how can you go wrong with vanilla and coconut ice cream sandwiches. 

In summary, a bit of tweaking is needed for my taste buds, but the meal was definitely satisfying, pretty healthy, and something I am going to play around with in the future.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Think About It Thursday

"Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly." - Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Think About It Thursday

"In the best of times Nina could embrace the mysteries of her art, finding comfort in the ineffable.  "Did you know that the human voice is the only pure instrument?" she wrote one of her brothers.  "That is has notes no other instrument has?  It's like being between the keys of a piano.  The notes are there, you can sing them, bu they can't be found on any instrument.  That's like me.  I live in between this.  I live in both worlds, the black and the white world.  I am Nina Simone, the star, and I am not here.  I'm a woman.  My secret self is between these worlds."" - Princess Noire by Nadine Cohodas

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My daily goal

I decided that this week I was going to add two new goals to my list.  I was reading an article which discussed political views/skews of the Supreme Court Justices when I realized I did not know all of the justices and their backgrounds.  I made myself a goal for today which entailed learning the names of the justices, order of appointment, whom they were appointed by, and what state they were from.  Interestingly enough, did you know that the justices are from New York, California, New Jersey, and a lone sole from Georgia? Funny how those first two seem to always be at the top.  The two Italian sounding names both come from New Jersey which is known to have a large Italian population.  Well at least Alito sounds Italian to me.  Anyway, I am glad to say that I accomplished my goal and can now sleep tonight.  Tomorrow, the 32 starting Quarterbacks for the NFL.  Listen people, these facts are useful.  Now go out there and learn something new.

An now from memory...

Chief Justice - John G. Roberts, Jr., Bush, New York
Associates   - Antonin Scalia, Regan, New Jersey
                      Anthony M. Kennedy, Regan, California
                      Clarence Thomas, Bush, Georgia
                      Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Clinton, New York
                      Stephen G. Breyer, Clinton, California
                      Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Bush, New Jersey
                      Sonia Sotomayer, Obama, New York
                      Elena Kagen, Obama, New York

P.S.  How did I do?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Think About It Thursday

"Nothing is more despicable than a rich man's scorn for a poor man's longing." - The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: Gold by Chris Cleave

GoldGold by Chris Cleave

Gold, by Chris Cleave, was featured in a magazine I was flipping through around the time of the beginning of the 2012 London Olympics. The story was to be about two competing Olympic cyclists from London themselves. I figured, hey I like cycling and the Olympics, why not read the book.

The main characters featured Zoe, a harsh, self-driven cyclist at the peak of her career, relying on and having no one but herself. This dark-haired, green-eyed beauty hurts everyone around her and can't stop running from the past death of her younger brother. What she lacks for in her personal life accomplishments she makes up for on the track. Juxtapose Kate, the soft-spoken, kind-hearted blond who has chosen a life that includes a loving husband, Jack, and her Star Wars-loving daughter, Sophie, who is struggling with leukemia, and who puts everyone else first before her own needs or wants of Olympic glory. Although naturally gifted at cycling which leads her to be at the same level as her competitor and friend Zoe, her lack of confidence and drive as a competitor hold her back from what was alluded to be her potential.

The book had excerpts from the mind of an Olympic athlete training and competing which made you feel like you were ease dropping on their own personal thoughts which I happen to love. With flashbacks and fast-forwards, Cleave trails a story for you full of surprises and character changes adding depth to each character which each memory depicted. Although the book is described as focusing on two athletes I really felt like the character given the most attention was Zoe with her strong personality while Kate was portrayed as a week doormat most of the time both on and off of the playing field. I found some scenarios in the book implausible given the depictions of the characters making their unexplained behavior appear as more of a grasp at a plot than what seemed right for the character. One thing I enjoyed was the cycling aspects of the book and the details of the bikes and the nuances of the competition. As a side note in case you feel like reading this book, the book was written by and English author and had quite a bit of cursing which I felt was a bit of a fluff filler and unnecessary. As you might have grasped, this was not a page turner for me nor was it a complete waste of time, just another book to check off of my list.

All that to say, just because a book is listed in a magazine you like does not mean that you will like the book but you can always give it a try in case you do find that diamond in the rough.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Think About It Thursday

"The wonderful thing about simplicity is its ability to give us contentment. Do you understand what a freedom this is? To live in contentment means we can opt out of the status race and the maddening pace that is its necessary partner. We can shout ”No!” to the insanity which it chants, ”More, more, more!” We can rest contented in the provision of God." - Richard Foster