Spring Purchase Planning

My spending follows a predictable pattern each year. After the excesses of Christmas, there is a stark drop in my shopping come January.  I’m sure it’s like this for most of us.  There’s no clothing to buy after getting Christmas gifts, and there’s less entertaining to do, save for maybe a Super Bowl party.  
But as the calendar starts to tiptoe towards March, and spring issues of fashion magazines hit stands, my attitude of [starvation] turns wildly towards excess. I’m itching to swipe my credit card and freshen up my closet, swapping scratchy winter wool for the brights of spring. 
I like to have a plan of attack for shopping, so I usually think about what I might want for the season before I buy. It helps me keep things in check and ensure I don’t waste money on things I won’t really wear. 

I love this J.Crew popover  in this springy blue. Perfect for tossing on over jeans. 
I also need this ridiculous J.Crew lobster print sweater. I just love it.  

Now that I’m 27 and not 22, my social life involves more Friday night dinners out and casual apartment hangouts, so I’m adjusting my shopping to my reality and losing the bar looks. This Loft lace top will look great with jeans and cute sandals. 
Is J. Crew’s scallop dress too last year? Because I still love it. Now if only I could decide between navy and citrus green!
Spring seems to bring with it a ton of bridal showers, so I’m thinking of investing in this Jessica Simpson dress for its simple elegance. Bonus, it’s navy, apparently a hot color for spring (although I have to ask, can navy ever be “hot?” Doesn’t it just always work?)
Love these Louise et Cie pumps for work. Another pair to add to the collection under my desk.
And also for work, this Banana Republic bright pink pencil skirt is a cheery antidote to how I feel when the alarm rings at 5:40 am. 

I’ve also been obsessed with Lilly’s goofy Skipper Popover for awhile now, but probably have to wait till this shows up on Rue La La. I don’t mind paying Lilly prices, but i can’t justify it on a sweatshirt.


Almond Cake

I’m extremely Italian when it comes to dessert.  I prefer a barely sweetened sfogliatelle or anything with anisette to classic buttercream covered confections.  Italian desserts are perfect with my afternoon tea addiction, and they’re always so much less of a project than those multi-layered things. 
I particularly love this almond cake recipe from (who else?) Gina DePalma. It’s flavored with orange zest, the taste of which immediately brings me back to childhood trips to Bleecker street. We’d pick up my grandmother at her apartment and go to Faicco’s for sausage, and then the nearby pastry shop for sweets.  I always got these little cream puff things that were flavored with orange liqueur.
Try this out; it’s a really nice offering if you have guests over for a casual dinner.  It’s all whisked in one bowl, no mixer need, so it’s fast to put together.  I’m also going to claim it’s healthy, since it’s made with almond flour and olive oil, though I guess technically it’s still a cake. 
Almond Olive Oil Cake, from Gina DePalma
1 cup flour
½ cup almond flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract
Grated zest of ¼ of an orange (or, zest of 1 lemon)
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
For the glaze:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tbsp whole milk
Lemon juice
½ cup sliced almonds, optional toasted
Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9 inch round cake pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt.
Crack the eggs in a large bowl, and whisk lightly. Add sugar and whisk thoroughly for 30 seconds. Add olive oil and mix until mixture lightens in color, about 45 seconds. Finally, whisk in your extracts, zest, and orange juice.
Add dry ingredients and whisk till combined, then whisk another 30 seconds. 
Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake in oven for 30-45 minutes, rotating in the oven halfway through cooking to ensure even doneness.  The cake is done when it springs back when touched and a cake tester comes out clean.  (I usually find that once you start smelling the cake baking, you’re about ¾ way done).
Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then pop it out and place on a baking rack to cool. 
While it cools, make the glaze:
Melt butter in a saucepan until it turns a light tan color. Shut the heat off and let it sit so that it darkens in color. 
While butter cools, whisk together milk and confectioner’s sugar.  Then, slowly whisk in butter and add some lemon juice to cut sweetness. Use your own judgment here, add more or less lemon juice as desired. 
Spread glaze on top of cake, then sprinkle on almond slices. 


Roast Beef

I spent the majority of my childhood as a non-meat eater. I wouldn’t touch any type of pork, beef, or chicken, and the fish varieties I ate were pretty limited. I took a corn muffin for lunch every day, and lived on pasta with butter and cheese or my mom’s tomato sauce nightly for years (clearly, she is a saint for putting up with this!) It’s kind of amazing I wasn’t sickly, though I can assure you I looked completely malnourished. 

I began to eat more variety in high school, and by the time I got to college I was eating fish, chicken, and sausage- everything but red meat. And by the time college was over, I was in love with meatballs, short ribs, and beef stew.  In fact, just the other night, I snacked on octopus and braised goat at a restaurant in NYC.  I am a recovered picky eater, and much better off for it.

My only remaining holdout is steak. I really want to like it, but I just can’t get into it. 

The downside of my longtime meat aversion is that there’s so many recipes and techniques I haven’t gotten around to trying, let alone perfecting.   I’m still trying to duplicate my grandmother’s pot roast, I’ve never had meatloaf, and until this weekend, I also never had roast beef. 

I did a bit of research on cooking roast beef, in terms of time, temperature, and cut, and opted to start with an eye-round roast. It’s from the back leg of the cow, and is a pretty lean cut, which means it’s not the tenderest. The trick is in temperature- you don’t want to let it go past 135 (medium rare) after resting.

Roast Beef, technique from Cooking Light
Serves 4 for dinner, much more if using for sandwiches

2lb eye round roast beef
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Let your roast come to room temperature an hour before cooking. This will help it to cook more evenly (I do this also with roast chicken and turkey). 

Preheat your oven to 475 and line an aluminum baking sheet with foil. 

Brush the roast with olive oil and cover generously with the salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet

Roast at 475 for 20 minutes, turning after the first ten. 

After 20 minutes, turn the temperature down to 300 and let it cook for another 30-40 minutes, until the temperature reads 130. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and let rest ten minutes until the temperature reaches 135. (If you want it rarer, take it out at 120 and rest till 130).

I combined mayo with a little bottled horseradish and served that on the side for dipping.

My husband ate a generous amount of this, but I have to admit I preferred it cold. I refrigerated it overnight and then shaved thin slices off and had them on whole wheat bread with the horseradish mayo and arugula. 

Will last 2-3 days cold in fridge.


Recent Reads, Nonfiction Edition

Lately I've been reading all nonfiction books. I'm going through one of those spells where I can't seem to find a novel that interests me.  Hopefully I'll be back on the next installment with some fun fiction.

State by State, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey
I bought this ages ago and never read it, and recently picked it up.  Fifty notable people each pen an essay about their state, with the goal of “describing America to Americans.” (Anthony Bourdain’s essay absolutely nails New Jersey!!). It’s a fun read, and it’s great because you can just pick a state and read the essay and not feel bad if you don’t read the rest of the book. The appendix has a table of state statistics (crime rates, suicide rates, etc) in the back, which was really interesting. Good read for something a little different. 

Clean by Alejandro Junger
I have absolutely no idea how I got lead to this book, but I was completely fascinated. Dr. Junger is a cardiologist who focuses on the nutritional aspect of health- basically how the things we ingest impact our bodies’ ability to reduce toxins and keep us healthy.  

He created the “Clean” program, a 1-3 week detox that involves lots of juicing, shakes, and no processed foods. You can eat one solid meal of lean protein and vegetables per day, and you juice for your other meals.  It seems extreme, but he shares (of course) tons of stories of patients suffering from all sorts of ailments- stomach, skin, cardiac, etc- and how following his program drastically lessened or eliminated their symptoms completely. 

I didn’t try the program, and have no immediate plans to, but I am fascinated by reading about the results, and just about some of the regular medical information Junger gives. It makes you trust in your own body and want to be good to it.

 I’d love to know if anyone out there has tried this program, and what the results were!

The Church of 80% Sincerity by David Roche
This book is about a concept, not a real church. It’s not even really religious. The author, David Roche, was born with an extreme facial deformity, and the book just details his experiences of learning to love himself and find his own personal worth instead of focusing on his exterior.  The concept of “80% sincerity” is about letting go of perfection and finding grace and love in flaws. Enjoyable, but not amazing, and quite short.  

Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties by Julia Reed
I am obsessed with all things Southern.  I always tell my husband I wish we could pack up and move to Atlanta, but I have far too much New York in me to ever fit in elsewhere.  The South just seems so genteel, classy, elegant, and fun.  But since I can’t live there, I get my fix in books like Reed’s, which is composed of short food writing pieces and essays. Her Southern life comes right through, and while the recipes don’t really appeal to my tri-state area Italian palate, it’s a fun read nonetheless.

Any book suggestions?


Fashion Friday: Signature Style

I saw this post about building a wardrobe of signature pieces over on A Dose of Pretty, and it got me thinking about my own signature pieces.

It’s important to have your own signature look. I think that’s the difference between style and plain old fashion. As I get older, I know more about what I like and what looks good on me.  I don’t recklessly jump into every trend (I probably avoid trends more than I participate in), and I find that I’m spending smarter. I know what will languish in my closet, unloved, and what I will wear over and over again. Today, I’m sharing my must-haves, the things I have now been wearing unrelentingly for years:   

The Jackie Cardigan
I live in cardigans.  The obsession started freshman year of high school, and continues today.

 I find J. Crew’s Jackie to be indispensible.  It’s classic, ¾ sleeved, the perfect length, comes in tons of colors, and holds up well through the wash. I’ve also recently discovered the J.Crew Factory Clare cardigan, which is basically the Jackie at a lower price point.  (Though you can frequently find the Jackie for at least 20% off!).

I always find outfits look better layered, and the Jackie is the perfect, elegant finish to almost anything.

Statement Necklaces
I wear a different statement necklace to work every day. I have a collection of J. Crew beauties that add a little individuality to a pencil skirt and button down combo.  

Frye Boots

I also can’t live without my Frye boots. They are super comfortable, great quality, and the perfect shade of brown. I’ve had to have them resoled and shined up, but they’ve lasted a number of years and they look amazing with every pair of jeans I own. I can’t remember exactly which style they are, but you can’t go wrong with anything Frye makes.

Any friends who read my blog will laugh at this next item, but I bought this Banana Republic dress four years ago and it’s my best purchase ever. I have worn the crap out of this dress. It’s taken me through bachelorette parties, nice dinners out, Atlantic City trips, engagements, family events, and my honeymoon, as in the picture above. It never goes wrong and always looks classy.

Michael Kors Sunglasses

These Michael Kors sunglasses are the best.  I left my original pair on the plane to Hawaii, and the first thing I did when I landed and had Internet access was order a replacement.   

What are your can’t-live-without items? Share below!



Dining Rooms

Mr. B and I started 2014 by feverishly house hunting.  Though we saw lots of great options, we ultimately put it on hold for a few months, as we felt not quite ready to pull the trigger.

But that hasn’t stopped me from obsessively mentally decorating our future home- when we get there, I want to be ready!  I’m particularly excited at the idea of one day having a dining room. Right now, our counter doubles as a bar, and when guests are over, I pull out a folding table.  It’s fun, but crowded. The idea of an entire permanent space devoted to entertaining seems awesome.

Besides, I’m a novice at decorating, and a dining room seems like an easy first project to tackle. There’s not that much furniture and what you need is pretty straightforward: table, chairs, lighting fixture, place to store your china.

I know I want a very traditional, formal dining room, and very “done” looking walls- patterned wallpaper or a decisive color, and some molding.  Here’s my current inspiration for my way off in the future home:

I'm really into the colors in this dining room- they feel fresh and light, yet are grounded by that rich, classic wood table. Definitely some real inspiration here. 

I'm thinking this is the perfect blank canvas- beautiful windows, natural light, tray ceiling, elegant molding, and beautiful floors. How much can you mess up decorating when you start like this?
I love, love, love this traditional, almost colonial scene here. I love a round (or square!) table, and I'm obsessed with the transferware pitcher. 

I love this wallpaper with this molding. It's so finished looking. These were some of my wedding colors, so maybe I'm biased there. 

Finally, I like the idea of a hutch- great for displaying more transferware to match that pitcher!


Fennel and Orange Salad

I love this wintery, refreshing salad as a change of pace from typical mixed greens. It’s my take on the classic Italian combo of fennel and orange- I added arugula to make it a little more “salady. This can be prepared in advance, and dressed just before dinner, plus it’s elegant, making it perfect for a dinner party. 
Fennel and Orange Salad
Serves 4
4 cups arugula
2 blood oranges, peel and membrane removed, sliced horizontally
1 small bulb fennel, very thinly sliced
¼ cup kalamata olives, sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pile arugula on a serving platter or in a bowl.  Arrange fennel on top, then orange slices. Scatter kalamata olives on the top.  Can be refrigerated for an hour or so at this point. (Too much longer and the acid in the orange may break down the arugula). 
Just before serving, dress with a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper to taste.



Shakshuka. Fun to say.  Although if you tell people you’re making it for them, you might be met with some blank stares. 
Shakshuka is a Middle Eastern dish of eggs baked in a tomato sauce. It’s very easy to execute, fairly hands off, and makes a delicious, and slightly unusual, brunch dish.  I used a Food and Wine recipe that adds an Italian spin to the dish.
Shakshuka with Swiss Chard, adapted from Food and Wine
Serves 2, but doubles easily to serve 4
2 cups prepared tomato sauce (I always have homemade sauce in the freezer)
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 package baby bella or white button mushrooms
1/3 cup diced pieces of fresh mozzarella
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped kalamata olives
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350. 
Clean your mushrooms by rubbing them with a paper towel. Remove stems, and cut in quarters. 
Remove Swiss chard leaves from stalks, clean, and chop. Reserve stalks for another use, or mince to include in recipe (I left them out, I don’t love the stalks).
In a large, oven-safe skillet*, sauté mushrooms in olive oil until softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Add in Swiss chard and sauté till wilted.  Pour in your tomato sauce. 
Using a ladle, make four indentations in the piles of chard and sauce. Crack each of the four eggs into each indentation. 
Scatter mozzarella cubes and olives around eggs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and top with Parmesan. Bake for 15 minutes, until whites are set and yolks are runny. Just a heads up, baked eggs, always look really underdone, no matter how long  you bake them for.  
Let stand five minutes, then serve with toast. 
*If you don’ t have an oven safe skillet, you can always spray a baking dish or pie plate with nonstick spray, then pour  your sautéed vegetables and sauce into it and continue with the recipe as directed.  That’s what I did here.


Fashion Friday: Snow Day Style

Snow is piled up here in the Northeast. Surprisingly, I'm not really sick of it, though I am disappointed to be in my office today!  Figured I'd share some snow day style inspiration, depending on what the day holds for you.
If you're in the office:
If you can wear jeans:


If all you have to do is run some errands:
And if you're lucky enough to stay home in your PJs all day:

Whatever your plans, hope everyone has a happy Valentine's Day!


Homemade Lattes

Teleworking in this weather means I'm starting my morning with a deluxe breakfast that includes a homemade latte. I have my best friend Jenn to thank for introducing me to this brilliant idea.

First things first: Lattes at home do require an equipment investment. Jenn and I have the Capresso frothPRO, a small, easy to use device that only costs around $50. It will allow you to froth enough milk for up to two lattes in about two minutes.

But let's go ahead and make some lattes, shall we?

I use Ferrara instant espresso. You can be classier and own a Nespresso, or a stovetop espresso pot, but around here, instant espresso works, since I always have it on hand for baking. And it's really fast if I want a latte while I'm getting ready for work.

For one drink, pour one rounded teaspoon of espresso powder into a mug. Bring water to boil in a teakettle, and fill the mug halfway to two thirds with water. The espresso powder will dissolve instantly.

At this point, you can add some flavor syrup. I usually keep things plain, but this morning I added a tablespoon of ginger-vanilla syrup.

It's simple to make: Combine 1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Once sugar is dissolved, let syrup sit, then refrigerate for a week or two. You obviously want to handle this part of things well in advance of actually making your coffee.

You can vary this up a lot too, adding cinnamon sticks, using different extracts, omitting ginger, etc. Or you can buy flavor syrups, whatever floats your boat.

Now, fill your Capresso to the max froth line with milk. Hit the froth and warm button, and let it spin. In a minute or two, you'll have a cup of delicious, frothy milk, which you can pour into your mug of coffee:

Scoop any extra foam on top of your latte, and enjoy! We both owe Jenn one.


Black Rice Salad

I was flipping through the healthy recipes in January's Bon Appetit, and stopped dead in my tracks at this gorgeous black rice salad on one of the pages. It looked delicious against bright orange squash, green onions, and purple microgreens.  I knew I had to make it for dinner.

I didn't have all the ingredients on hand, so I changed the recipe up significantly. It was the look I was after more than the squash and rice flavor profile. You can click here for the original, or read on for my version.

Fun fact, black rice is loaded with antioxidants, making it not only prettier, but also healthier, than white rice. (another fun fact, white rice is my #1 least favorite food).

Black Rice Salad with Carrot Slaw
1 cup black rice
2 carrots, sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 a head of raddicchio, sliced into thin ribbons
1/4 cup chopped red onion (you could use scallions instead)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare rice according to package directions. Just a heads up, this type of rice can take around 35 minutes.

While rice is cooking, slice your carrots into thin matchsticks and slice the radicchio into thin ribbons. Combine carrots, radicchio, onion, and parsley in a bowl, and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together oils, soy sauce, vinegar, and salt and pepper.

When rice is ready, place in a serving bowl. Combine with carrot mixture, and drizzle with dressing. Serve hot or at room temperature.

To make ahead, you can prepare and refrigerate rice, carrot mix, and vinaigrette separately, and combine just before serving. If you let the rice and carrots sit together for too long, the carrots absorb a little of the black color.



David Leite's Hershey Chocolate Cake

I’m always looking for the perfect chocolate cake recipe. I’ve tried a lot of different ones, but I think this simple Hershey’s Chocolate Cake from Leite’s Culinaria is my favorite, because it uses pantry ingredients and a hand mixer.  I love a cake that can be made spur of the moment when the mood strikes. 
This cake’s got espresso powder in it, which we all know from Ina Garten seriously enhances the flavor of chocolate. The frosting is made with melted butter and confectioner’s sugar, and it’s a lot lighter and better than most frostings.  I haven’t tried to pipe with it, but it’s the perfect thick, creamy consistency for rustic, homey looking swirls.
Because I changed nothing, I’m not going to post the recipe, I’ll just send you right over to David’s blog. Check this out if you need an easy, delicious, classic chocolate layer cake. This one’s perfection, and just in time for Valentine’s Day.


Fashion Friday: Patterned Pants and Plain Sweaters

I love the look of slim patterned ankle pants paired with a plain sweater.  Depending on the material and pattern, it can be a cute weekend outfit or a great work look. 

Some of my faves:


Kale and Grapefruit Salad

My husband is a super picky eater. He won’t eat anything that lives in water, he’s wary of new things, won’t touch berries, can’t stomach eggs- it goes on and on.  One of the few things I've gotten him to into though is kale- and that's only the Tuscan kind, not your curly grocery store kale, and only raw in salad form, not cooked.  Okay though, I’ll take it. 

So we eat a lot of kale salads and I’m always on the hunt for ways to change it up. I saw this grapefruit and avocado salad in a recent issue of Cooking Light, and I had to try it.

Turns out, we can add grapefruit and avocado to Mr. B’s no fly list. 

But if you have a less picky palate, try this salad out. It’s a nice change of pace and a really delicious side dish.  The original recipe calls for hearts of palm and artichokes, I left those out because I had none on hand, but I'm sure they would only improve it.

Kale, Grapefruit, and Avocado Salad, adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 2-4 as a side

2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp lime zest
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch Tuscan kale, cleaned and chopped
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
1 avocado, sliced
1 grapefruit, cut into segments

Whisk first six ingredients together in a bowl.

Combine kale, onion, avocado, and grapefruit in serving bowl. Drizzle dressing over and toss to combine.

With kale salads, I like to let it sit about 15-20 minutes so the dressing can tenderize the kale a little. But you could serve it immediately too.



Workout Wednesday: Can't Skip Leg Day

Okay, I don’t know if Workout Wednesday is going to become a regular feature on this blog, but I’ll post on it occasionally. 
It’s the beginning of a new month, so I’m starting a new workout regimen aimed at un-squishing my thighs.  I like to focus on one area a little heavily each month. 
I’ll be doing four days of workouts a week. Every day involves a little bit of cardio, anywhere between 10-40 minutes, depending on my energy level and what weight training I have planned.
After the cardio, I’ll be doing this “Sexy Leg Challenge” from TribeSports two days a week. I’m working up to fully completing it; I started last night and could only do half the required amount of squats.
I am thinking about trying Jamie Eason’s Live Fit program next, so I plan on using some of her arm workouts for my arm day.   I shockingly developed biceps, so I gotta keep those up. You can find links to her workouts here.

Finally, Heather and I like to do Saturday circuits, which involve 30 minutes on the machines, followed by brunch and lattes at our favorite breakfast café. 
I’m no expert on this topic, but my “before” picture goes down today and we’ll see where I’m at in a month. I need some leg muscles to match my badass new arms.


Favorite Fashion Blogs

I'm completely addicted to blogs. They're the best form of entertainment and inspiration on slow days at work or lazy weekend afternoons. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't know how to cook or get dressed if it wasn't for blogs.

Ivory Lane: If you are a reader of Rachel Parcell’s Pink Peonies blog, you will love Ivory Lane, her sister Emily’s creation. Emily’s style is a little more mature and sophisticated, and her hair is ridiculous. Love it.

Bows and Sequins:  Lots of layered looks for this smiley blogger.  I happen to randomly own a lot of the items she wears, so it’s an inspiration for me to check out cool new ways to style old items. 

Classy Girls Wear Pearls: So this isn’t my first choice for actual fashion inspiration- it’s far too preppy, even for me.  But I’m always blown away by the quality and creativity of the posts. They really capture that New England aesthetic. It's hard to believe it’s done by a girl and her boyfriend, not a team of Ralph Lauren stylists.

Styled Avenue:  I like this Utah based blogger’s edgy take on trends.  Lots of black, leather, and badass shoes, plus the occasional fitness outfit and makeup post.

9 to 5 Chic: You may recognize blogger Anh from her work styling and modeling in Ann Taylor’s fall line last year.  I’m obsessed with her seriously glamorous, decidedly adult style. 

Share your favorite fashion blogs!