Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricanes = Soup

I have been in complete and total denial regarding a certain little meteorologic (is that a word?) sneeze, called Hurricane Sandy.  You have to understand that I have lived in the Philadelphia area my entire life and can count on one hand the instances of REALLY TRULY HORRIBLE WEATHER that we have had.  That does not stop our local newscasters from fear and panic mongering every single time there is something of an event (rain or snow related), on the weather horizon.  This breeds intense apathy, at least for me, so all of the forewarning that has been spewing into everyone's televisions/email/twitter accounts/etc. has completely fallen on deaf ears.  Until yesterday.  When I actually looked on and saw the really big giant ball of crap...headed right for us.  Since I get a D+ for storm preparedness, I decided to make the best of the situation and make soup while I still have electricity.

Enter one Vera Bradley cookbook; a TJ Maxx find that I planned to give as a Christmas gift many years ago, but couldn't bring myself to part with.  I have tried many recipes in this book and they are all incredible.  So, French Mushroom Soup--here we go.

For our mis en place, you will need to gather the following:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs mushrooms (I like crimini--I just buy two pre-wrapped packs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 potato peeled and diced
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 4 cups chicken stock (I like Wegman's Organic that comes in a box)
The following ingredients you will need after the puree phase:
  • 1 package Boursin cheese (yeah, you guessed it--this is the magic ingredient)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chervil (I can never find this, so just use Italian parsley)
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and salt and cook about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes.  Add the potato, celery and chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender. 
Return pureed soup to the saucepan and crumble in the cheese.  (I like my Le Creuset for this since you have to do this in more than two or three batches AND the cast iron keeps the soup warmer for when LAM wants seconds.)  Whisk until cheese is thoroughly melted.  Stir in the lemon juice, chervil (parsley), salt and pepper.  This can be served immediately OR placed into containers and stored in the refrigerator and re-heated.

To go with this, I do a simple salad (spring mix, pear, crumbled gorgonzola, candied walnuts) with balsamic vinaigrette.  The vinaigrette includes the following:
  •  1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Slightly less than a 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey

And voila--instant comfort food.

Stay safe and dry everyone!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Welcome to Charleston, SC

I'm going to back pedal a little bit here since I haven't shared this yet.  One day back in June, I was working at my desk and threw down my pen in frustration.  "We have GOT to get out of here", I said to LAM.  "I need to get on a plane and go SOMEWHERE and be served wine and eat nice dinners and look at art."  See, the problem is that while we actually travel a lot, it's mostly to racetracks where we both work as high performance driving instructors.  While this is usually a whole lot of fun, it is also a whole lot of work.  We get up somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 AM and our feet hit the ground running.  We spend the day coaching students who are trying to kill us at 130 mph and then we drive our car during instructor run groups.  Sometimes, it's horrifyingly hot, other times it's bone-chilling cold.  Also, it rains.  It is ALWAYS work.

This is moi driving up the esses at Watkins Glen International.

So, a destination needed to be found.  Charleston, SC had been on my cuteness radar for some time and neither of us had ever been, so we packed a bag and left on a jet plane.

The Ben Franklin bridge from the air.  Bye-bye Philadelphia.

The hotel that we chose was the Vendue Inn.  It had history, cuteness, great decor (every room is unique and special), free made to order breakfast, free wine and cheese reception, free bicycles for our use and fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies every night.

Front door of the main entrance to the Vendue Inn

Our cute little room

Real honest-to-goodness keys

Daily breakfast


Charleston is well known as a foodie town.  LAM is a well known food philistine.  Give him pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, hold the veggies and he's good.  Anything weird, he does NOT do well.  Our first meal was at East Bay Meeting House.  Oddly enough, it was probably one of the best we had.  Casual, elegant and simple--it was divine.
LAM car watching out the window.

We ate at the famous McCrady's which LAM declared "too weird" for his regular guy palate.
This is what menu fear looks like.

We rode bikes...

Admired the incredible homes and gardens...

Shopped in the preppiest stores on earth--Ben Silver and M. Dumas and Sons...
Window at Ben Silver

Ben Silver interior

I swear the Lily bike parked out front HAD to be a prop.

We came back at the end of the day to chilled towels and fruit scented water...
And a lovely wine and cheese reception...

Each day was enjoy, rinse and repeat.  We never wanted to leave.

Our black English cab eased the pain of the ride back to the airport.

Our cab's name was Horatio!

In summary, we ate, we drank, we walked, we shopped, we bought a piece of art and we fell in love with Charleston.  Until next time...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The grass isn't always greener

Some years back, I decided to buy a pair of Hunter wellies.  I was spending a lot of time in fields with dogs and having to negotiate mud, sheep droppings and all other sorts of detritus that my running shoes just didn't appreciate.  When I started looking at Hunters, I noticed that they were no longer made in Scotland, but in China.  Sigh.  Well, it had to happen.  Then one day I was in a Smith and Hawken (remember them?) and spied an old pair of black Hunters on a shelf.  Because they were a display model, they were a bit salty.  I asked the sales associate if they were for sale and she said that yes, they were, but they were the last pair and she was embarrassed with the way they looked.  They were my size, a perfect fit and when I turned them over, they were...made in Scotland.  The sales associate felt so guilty that she offered them to me for half price.  I couldn't get my credit card out fast enough.

Fast forward to my reading a Summer is a Verb blog post about this very subject.  Allie of prep fame suggested that a suitable alternative to the untouchable outsourced boots was Le Chameau.  Supposedly shaplier, a bit more elegant.  From the photo she posted, they seemed shorter and more streamlined.  Since I enjoy smallness of person, I thought it would be nice if the back of my boots didn't pinch me when I sat down.  Heck, I was game.  Thanks to my new best friend 6pm, I found a black pair that would be a perfect replacement for the now very salty (but still trusty) Hunters.
We waited patiently for the UPS truck. you can see by this side by side comparo, there is not a whole lot of difference and they are EXACTLY the same height.  Yes, the ankles are slender, but so are the Hunters and the calf shaft is thinner in the H's.

This is the side view of the Hunter--you can see there is very little gap behind my knee.
And the side view of the Le Chameau--a big gap.  They are comfortable, but since they pretty much fit the same way, I'm on the fence about keeping them.  Please note, I have NO IDEA how they compare to the new Chinese-made Hunters, so they may be a vast improvement.  Until then, I'll keep my originals.

One last piece of mail related excitement.  I got a gift card in the mail from Thomas Pink!  LAM took one look at this and groaned..."Oh great".  Party, what to do with it?

Perhaps the Rover.

Or the Skate Stripe.  Dunno.  I'm particularly partial to the ones with the embroidered fox.

Or perhaps the Jeremy Jumper in two-ply cashmere...

Or maybe the Hunting Scene scarf...

Until next time...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Citizens of Humanity and other introductions

Right now I am having a serious "d'oh moment".  You know, the kind you have when you realize you could have done something and didn't because you forgot it was there, forgot you owned it, forgot that it existed?  Today is one of those weird indian summer days when it looks gloomy and cool, but the weather forecast promises that it will be perfectly lovely later on.  I hate days like this because I always end up staring at my closet for a good 20 minutes staring at my clothes trying to figure out what to wear that I will not regret later in the day.  It really shouldn't be that hard, because this is what my closet looks like:

Everything is color coordinated, neatly hung and relatively easy to see.  And yet, I still forget what I have in there.  I mentioned in a previous post about pinning things on Pinterest and then pulling out my laptop to get dressed.  That was not tongue-in-cheek.  So, here's today's big regret:  I own these:

A really cool end of season 6 PM find, I am convinced that suede espadrilles are the perfect spring/fall shoe--just perfect for a day like today.  NOT just perfect for staying hidden in their box, so I can forget that I have them, which leads me to my other great revelation.  These WOULD have been perfect with the jeans I wore today.  Let me give you a little background info on that little find.  Last year I was on a mad search for the perfect dark wash skinny crop jean, which led me to these:

The Citizens of Humanity Dani Crop.  Buttery soft, perfect fitting nirvana jeans.  I loved them so much I bought a pair in white:

When it finally dawned on me that I had hit paydirt as far as the COH fit (apparently the designers had my particular body shape in mind when designing them), I figured it was time to hit up ebay for cheap castoffs (I'm not proud) since buying another pair at full price would induce a meltdown and I found these:
The racer skinny.  At least, that's what I think they are.  Perfect fit once I hemmed about four inches off the bottom.  When you are 5' 2" you get REALLY good at hemming--especially jeans since every premium denim manufacturer seems to think that all women are six feet tall.  So, this is what I wore today.  You can just imagine how cute this would have been with the espadrilles...

I'm not sure I've ever introduced the little black and white blob who was trying to take advantage of the photo-op.
This is Nick.  He is a rescued Border Collie who was named after former BMW Formula One driver Nick Heidfeld.  When he's not velcroed to my leg, he is mostly concerned with the wheabouts of his vaaaast collection of toy chickens.  He is a true connoisseur of poultry.

I want to leave you all with one other random thing that has nothing whatsoever to do with closets, jeans, shoes or dogs.  I have found a new wine.  Yup, decided to branch out from my chardonnay loyalties and try something new and I am quite smitten.
Honig Sauvignon Blanc.  It is really quite lovely and it comes in a really cool bottle that has a bumble bee on the label.  I'm not afraid to admit that is the reason I decided to try it.  Please don't judge me.  Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We're baaaaaccckkkkk

We've been away and we're very sorry.  You see, there have been things that needed tending to...such as...squirrels...

It's a very important job you know.

There have been road trips...

And of course, quality Mummy time...

But we're back and we're rested and we have things to share.

For starters, I turned 40.  Not a big deal at all really, except my skin didn't get the memo.  Major problem here is that my skin has hated me since I was 12.  I somehow imagined that miraculously, on my 40th birthday, the madness would stop.  I even went as far as to stop using my phony supermarket Proactiv type stuff and go au-naturel.  BIG MISTAKE.  My teenage years came roaring back with an evil vengeance as if to penalize me for being so bold as to believe that as I slide near middle age I could be lucky enough to be like a regular person.  Oh no, I have the facial lines, gray  highlighted hair, AND the zits.  Thanks.  Thanks a lot.  Well, things go so bad that my husband remarked on newly sprouted youth.  It was time to toss the supermarket products and bring out the big guns.  Here are a couple things I found that work and HOLY CRAP do they work.  I won't bore you with the whole lineup, just the stars of the show:

DDF Brightening Cleanser.  Where has this product been my whole life?  Kinda like a mini-chemical peel every time you cleanse.  My skin was clearer and smoother after just a few uses.

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant.  Crazy expensive for what it is, so I use it sparingly with my Clarisonic.  Worth.  Every.  Penny.

DDF Benzoyl Peroxide Gel and Mario Badescu Buffering Lotion.  These two are the dynamic duo.  The gel has double the BP that is in Proactiv and the supermarket stuff.  It's not for lightweights.  It works (for me anyway).  The Buffering Lotion is the zap that my stubborn jaw line needed.  I tried it on a whim because it's (actually the whole line is) really reasonably priced, so it wasn't a huge gamble.  I'm glad I did.

This last cast member is the icing on the cake.  I've recently fallen in love with Fresh's Citron de Vigne perfume and decided to try this one because of all the accolades I have been reading.  They're not kidding and at $25 a tube, it really SHOULD be great.  Seriously, I tossed all my other lip balms.  Smells fabulous and feels divine.

This is one I haven't tried yet, but it's on the list.  The color reminds me of the old standby Clinique Black Honey, but possibly with a better scent/texture.  I'll keep you posted.  Btw, if Santa is listening, these would make lovely stocking stuffers.

As a footnote, I don't receive compensation from any of these companies for any of this stuff.  I wish.  All photos courtesy of the company websites.  Also thanks to Birchbox for turning me on to DDF, because before it appeared in my boxes, it was not even on the radar.