November Necessities

It’s officially November (all month long) and it’s time to break out the big three: sweaters, scarves, and coats. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites–perfect for chilly adventures and cozy fun! November Necessities
  • Sweaters: Unsurprisingly, this fall staple is  a personal favorite. I love j.crew’s offerings for consistently well-made products that come in a pleasing array of cuts and colors. Their merino wool options are excellent, as are the cashmere ones.
  • Scarves: Capes are (supposedly) back in style and while I understand the appeal of essentially wearing a blanket, I’m not about to hop on that trend. However, there’s an easy way to get the look without committing to a purchase: get yourself a blanket scarf. You can wrap it around your neck, drape it, and belt it for a chic, slimming, and on-trend look. Fun fact: it’s still a scarf.
  • Coats: Long gone are the days of puffy, marshmallow, coats. Instead, look for fashionable options in classic cuts: pea coats (double breasted and single), robe coats that are sumptuous and stunning, and dress coats that are cut and belted for that classic Kate Middleton style.

 

Happy shopping and be sure to stay warm and stay stylish!

Be Cultured: Let’s Eat Cheese

Put down the Velveeta. Step away from the Kraft singles.

Cheese fraud is a serious crime against your palate, health, and overall well-being.You haven’t been eating real cheese, and it is long past time you were introduced to the good stuff via a cheese plate. It’s possible to rehabilitate and reintroduce yourself to society as a bonafide cheese connoisseur by following a few enlightening cheese suggestions (nay, commandments of biblical proportions).

A cheese plate is a perfect way to reintroduce cheese (the good stuff) to yourself and loved ones. Cheese is impressive–each piece (of real cheese) goes through an aging process, which run the gamut from days, to months, to years. Serving a cheese plate is your way of saying “I know things” while making yourself seem cultured, creative, and clever. Because, let’s face it, once your guests try a pairing of a vintage gouda with a sweet caramel sauce, you’re bound to be a hero.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/cheese

Phase One: The Basics

Let’s say you’re having a small dinner rendezvous with friends. You need to figure out how many people you’re feeding, and when you’re going to bring on the cheese.

  • Suggestions vary, and only you know your crowd, but keep it to around 3-4 oz of cheese per person
  • Decide if this is a pre-dinner cheese course or an after-dinner treat
    • Pre-dinner begs for lighter and savory options, like an herb coated goat cheese
    • Post-dinner is the perfect time for sweet, super-rich and creamy cheeses, like a triple crème goat’s milk brie

Once you know when you’re serving, and who you’re feeding, it’s time to think about what cheeses you’re going to purchase. Your best source is a knowledgeable and local cheese-monger. They can tell you what’s new and exciting, or suggest standby classics that will be an instant hit. A good cheesemonger will also let you sample the cheese, which means you know exactly what you’re getting. Lastly, ask the cheesemonger to slice your wedge of cheese fresh from off the block. This will ensure you get a perfectly ripe (aka not stale) piece of cheese.

Nonetheless, you are an adult (more or less) and can totally manage this all on your own even if you’re lacking a cheesemonger.

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Phase Two: Picking Cheese

  • Pick a theme: U.S. farmstead cheeses? Global cheeses? French or Spanish or Italian Cheese? All cow’s milk or all blue cheese? It’s up to you, but having a plan can be helpful as a guiding principal. However, if you find a cheese that makes you especially happy, there’s nothing stopping you from including it, even if it breaks the theme’s pattern.
  • Try to include a variety of textures and flavors, unless doing a very specific plate that is meant to showcase subtle differences between blues or goat’s milk cheese (not recommended for beginners…)
  • Aim for no less than three cheeses and usually, no more than five
  • Pick from the four main categories of cheese
    • Aged–ie: aged cheddar
    • Soft–ie: camembert
    • Firm–ie:manchego
    • Blue–ie: stilton
  • You can also mix up your cheese selection by the type of milk used
    • Goat
      • IE: the Chabichou du Poitou–a fudgy textured French standout that’s bright with a hint of lemon
    • Cow
      • IE: A comté– similar to Gruyère, is a firm French cheese that has a rich and buttery feel and creamy, nutty taste
    • Sheep
      • IE: The Pecorino Tartufo Riserva–a truffled enriched, aged, Italian cheese that boasts a dense but creamy texture

Cheese plate at Parc

Phase Three: Finding Special Cheeses

The cheese below are exceptional offerings from all over the world. If you’re able to get your hands on any of them, then you are in for a treat.

Note: Shellbark Hollow Farms turn out some exceptional cheese offerings. Their website, found here, is the best resource on where to find and purchase their wares. In particular, the “Sharp 2” is noteworthy.

  • Scharfe Maxx: A cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland. This one is aged 365 days and has a distinct sharp and tangy taste, making it ideal for salty or spicy pairings
  • Vintage Gouda: From Holland, this cow’s milk cheese is a stunner that will appeal to any taste. Aged anywhere from three to five years, it has a subtle sweetness and crumbly texture with a dark amber color.
  • Epoisses de Bourgogne: a cow’s milk cheese by Jacques Hennart from the village Époisses, France. It’s frequently called the most interesting of French cheeses because it has a salty, tangy, sweet and creamy mix of flavors and is exceedingly soft. Napoleon, interestingly enough, was a fan of this particular cheese.
  • Quadrello di Bufala: From the Bergamo province in Italy, made from Buffalo milk (changing it up!. It’s a sweet-but-mild and exceedingly rich mozzarella style cheese.
  • Gorgonzola Dolce: A cow’s milk cheese from Italy, this blue is very soft and spreadable and offers a sweeter, milder, blue cheese flavor that’s ideal for anyone unsure about blue cheese.
  • Pecorino Toscano: a goat’s milk cheese produced in Tuscany. It’s a hard cheese with a delicate flavor that pairs equally well with salty or sweet accompaniments.
  • Capricho de Cabra: A goat’s milk cheese from Spain that’s super flavorful and very creamy
  • Barely Buzzed: a unique espresso and lavender rubbed cheese from Jersey cow milk, made in Utah. It’s a personal favorite and has caramel and butterscotch notes with a full-bodied and creamy texture.
  • Bathed In Victory: A cow’s milk cheese made in Pennsylvania by Doe Run Farm. It’s a buttery and slightly nutty cheese that is made with a beer wash.
  • Purple Haze: this nearly sounds like a strain of something a bit more potent, but it’s a goat cheese from California (that part isn’t a surprise, right?). The cheese is made with a mix of lavender and wild fennel pollen, so it has a distinct taste that’s utterly delicious.

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Phase Four: Accompaniments 

The cheese plate is only half finished by the time you purchase all the cheese. You can’t just stick it on a plate and call it a day! That’s some basic cheese nonsense. What’s missing are accompaniments. In order to take your cheese-on-a-plate to cheese plate mecca, you need to provide accessories to enhance each piece of cheese, and adorn the plate in question.

Your options are as diverse and interesting as the cheese market itself.

  • Bread: you need carbs with cheese, because this plate isn’t about being coy. Nonetheless, this is the simplest addition to any cheese plate.
    • Fresh baguettes (mild enough to go with everything without overshadowing any of the cheeses)
    • Different kinds of crusty bread, sliced into small serving pieces
    • Crackers: they come in a variety of flavors and shapes so you can choose plain multigrain ones, flavored offerings like rosemary, or super crispy-seeded options to mix with a nuttier or sweeter cheese to mix it up
  • Fruit/Vegetables: naturally, you’ll want to pick accordingly, depending on when you serve the cheese plate. Nonetheless, make sure fruit offerings are perfectly ripe.
    • Artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olives, tomatoes
    • Peaches, pears, berries, nectarines need to be perfectly ripe!
    • Apples and grapes are a safe option year-round for finding a good, sweet, addition to the cheese
  • Jams, Preserves, and Pastes: There are savory and sweet jams aplenty that make an ideal pairing to cheese + bread and ultimately elevate the experience.
    • Apple, Apricot, Blackberry, Black Currant, Fig, Huckleberry and more are all perfect jams to accompany a dessert cheese plate
    • Bacon, onion, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, or tomato jams are all game changers on a pre-dinner cheese plate.
    • Chutney, mostarda, spicy mustards, and quince paste are ideal savory accompaniments.
  • Nuts and bolts: Nuts are a great way to enhance cheese, and look beautiful scattered on the plate.
    • Walnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds
    • Marcona almonds are the best option, and are equally at home with sweet and savory options alike. Check our Trader Joes’s rosemary flavored marcona almonds for an addictive addition.
  • Dried Fruits: since it’s difficult to find fresh fruit that’s perfectly ripe year-round (that’s how nature works folks), dried fruit makes a perfect accompaniment.
    • Raisins, dates, apricots, cherries, apples
    • Medjool dates are a game changer
  • Honey and sweets:  Dessert isn’t the same without sugar
    • Different kinds of honey means different flavors on a cheese plate
      • Clover honey + blue cheese
      • Chestnut and Buckwheat honey + grueyere or Parmigiano reggiano
      • Orange blossom honey + soft cheeses, like brie or goats milk
    • Caramel mixed with salty or nutty cheeses (Or anything, really) is exceptional. Pairing it with an aged gouda will blow your mind.
  • Cured Meats: Ideal for a pre-dinner plate, different meats can add a nice touch to a cheese arrangement
    • Prosciutto, salamis, chorizo

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Phase Five: Finishing Touches

Congratulations on nearly completing one of the best things you’ll ever eat. There are just a few important suggestions to remember when you’re making the final move from jumbled ingredients to full presentation.

  • Remove the cheese from the fridge at least an hour before serving. Cheese shouldn’t be served cold and hard, it needs time to soften and breathe prior to eating.
  • Spread the spread: make sure you’re using a plate or board big enough to sufficiently accommodate all the cheese and accessories. If your cheese is arranged too close together, people will inevitably bump into other cheeses while slicing.
  • Keep pungent cheeses farther apart from other pungent cheeses
  • Provide a knife for each individual piece of cheese
  • Put accompaniments intended for specific cheeses next to that cheese
  • Label the cheese! People deserve to know what you’re serving them, so make sure each cheese (and any information about it you’d care to share) is clearly labeled.
  • White wine pairs best with cheese. The acidity doesn’t overpower the cheese like a red wine does. A great cheese can elevate an OK wine, but a crappy cheese can ruin a great bottle of wine. Invest wisely!

Once you find the good stuff, I doubt you’ll ever go back to your pseudo-cheese ways. Cheese plates are a gateway drug into a whole new way of cheesing, steeped in history and culture from all over the world!

PS: If you’re ever in Philadelphia, visit a cheese expert’s restaurant and shop at Taulula’s Daily. Aimee Olexy is a cheese genius. Cheenius?

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Fall back in love

Fall back in love…with Pride and Polka dots and fall fashion. Timing is everything, and naturally new jobs and various obligations make it difficult to spend time on blogging. However, I was able to carve out some time to plan posts, which means that the blog-posting future looks bright! So, without further delay….
The weather in Germany has finally approached fall-like temperatures, which means it is seasonally appropriate to talk about fall favorites: style edition. Think rich colors and texture, fun prints, and new lengths.
Fall back in love

 

-Over-the-knee boots are quickly becoming a new fashion industry staple, and my selections from Tory Burch and Stuart Weitzman are favorites for good reason. The black Weitzman’s are statement-making albeit simple, which makes them ideal for any special outing. Conversely,  the Tory Burch option goes from day to night seamlessly, looking equally at home with skinny jeans or paired with a shorter hem-line.

 

-Flats are a year-round must have, but fall is the best time to experiment with fun colors, prints, and with richer materials. This scalloped offering (see Chloé for perfection) would go with just about anything, while the Stubbs & Wootton smoking slipper variation is a fun take on a classic.

 

-Plaid screams fall (and all things Christmas) but looks fresh when conceptualized as a muted-print coat from Intermix this season. However, there’s still no such thing as too many flannels or button-downs.

 

-Midi-skirts are also increasingly popular. They add a lady-like elegance to any outfit that is both incredibly striking while still modest.

 

-Blazers are a necessity for any person, but these options from J.Crew and T by Alexander Wang are game changers.

 

-Richer colors, from manicures to mini-bags, are also a good investment to match the new fall hues!

 

This fall is set to be a season ripe with fun and opportunity, and has always been my favorite time of the fashion year. There’s nothing better than pulling together an outfit that is simultaneously stylish, cozy, and flattering. Have at it, and stay tuned for more fall-related posts in the very (I promise) near future!

Get Cooking

As a product of my generation, it’s safe to assume that I am dependent on the internet for a lot of information. There is just no substitute for the google machine. Despite the awesome powers of the world wide web, sometimes you really can’t beat the feel and experience of a good, old-fashioned, paper-and-ink, tangible, book. This applies to the heaping piles of  books I’ve read and enjoyed over the years and refuse to get rid of–our movers can testify to the truth in that statement. However, everyone has different taste in literature, so I’m not sure it’s my place to dictate what novels or biographies you should delve into and add to your shelves. Conveniently though, we all do have tastebuds, which means we can all enjoy a good cookbook or twelve. Get Cooking
Cookbooks make a great addition to your recipe repertoire, as well as to stylish bookshelves, counter-tops, and coffee tables everywhere. I picked the books shown above based on certain criteria:
  1. Accessibility: By this I mean you have a fighting chance of finding the ingredients near you. This seems like a low bar to set the standard for cookbooks, but check out The French Laundry Cookbook for a head-scratching experience. Also, the skill-level required to make these recipes is not unrealistic.
  2. Deliciousness: All the books listed offer truly epic recipes on a scale of one to omnomnomnomnomnomnom.
  3. Photography: A good cookbook needs to have pretty pictures, even if you can’t replicate the product perfectly, it’s inspiring to see how beautiful food can look!
  4. Informative: You can learn a lot from these cookbooks. Jason Vale is the master of juices and offers a ton of advice regarding nutrition and overall wellness, while Jose Garces gives a history of Spanish cuisine as well as meal planning advice to appreciate the flavors of various Spanish cultures.
I hope you invest in some of these books, I know I love Garces’s recipe for yuca bread and can’t wait to make all the juice recipes from Vale’s book. Not to mention all the desserts in the Bouchon bakery cookbook! So in the spirit of learning and eating, pick up a book and page through until you land on a picture of something truly wonderful looking, and get cooking!
P.S. Not everything you read on the internet (or in books, admittedly) is true (SURPRISE!), but at least you have a fighting chance of honest writing with cookbooks. An editor, or two, did have to page through those recipes before publication. Plus, let’s be honest, there is no such guarantee with Pinterest recipes.

Shop for a Cause

Multitasking is a habit of mine, and at various times, it applies to cooking, cleaning, working, and shopping. For example, I listened to potential songs for our wedding playlist while cooking, working out, and cleaning. Ta-da! An effective use of my time to accomplish multiple, albeit simple, tasks simultaneously. Magic–I know. I’ve increasingly realized that there’s another way to multi-task to benefit more than your to-do list though, while having a little bit of fun yourself: shopping.
How can this be? To show you, I’ve rounded up pretty awesome products from around the web that are not only enjoyable for you, but also beneficial for various charities. Consider it a win-win for your closet and your conscience.
Shop for a Cause
  • Tory Burch Wrap Bracelets: Casual cool, these bracelets offer a pop of color to any outfit and 100% of the proceeds go to the Tory Burch Foundation, which helps women find economic opportunities in the United States via loans for female small business owners and entrepreneurs, mentoring programs, and education. Kudos to Tory!
  • FEED Bags: While not new, these bags remain a staple in the charitable wardrobe for good reason. In pretty prints, these totes are meant for summer and provide over 50 school meals to children in India and Africa.
  • Warby Parker: In the spirit of another do-good company, TOMS footwear, Warby Parker donates one pair of frames for every purchase, to people in need all over the globe.
  • Wounded Warrior Project: Perhaps this organization is a little nearer and dearer to my heart thanks to the time I spend with military service men and women, but don’t let my bias impede your purchase. Under Armour partnered with WWP to create an activewear clothing line whose proceeds go right to WWP, and to helping wounded US Veterans on the road to recovery.
  • J.Crew: J.Crew currently has two t-shirts that benefit charities, a 100% of proceeds for the Teach for America Tee go to the organization, while 50% of proceeds for the Philippines tee help with disaster relief.
  • Same Sky: Same Sky is an interesting and noteworthy charity that teaches African women artisan skills to become self-sufficient. By teaching these women in sub-saharan Africa various craft skills, Same Sky ensures they earn 15-20x more than their female counterparts in the area. 100% of the proceeds from these bracelets (and there are a lot of options on their website) go back to the women for more jobs and more supplies.
In truth, it’s a very simple way to make sure your choices are good ones in a bigger sense than your wardrobe. So get multi-tasking via shopping and do-gooding!

Nailed It

Sometimes the smallest things make all the difference. Point in case? Nails. I can’t help but notice when someone has neat and colorful nails: they’re eye-catching and can make even the most disheveled moments look a little more polished. Spring and summer are even more fun because there’s the added fun of sandals and pedicures, which are just an excuse to put more amusing colors to use. I rounded up my favorite polishes along with a handy guide (click photo for link) from Cupcakes and Cashmere on how to do the best at-home manicure, which proves useful here in Germany. 
 
mani1_0Nailed It
 
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There is a nearly endless selection of colors and polishes to choose from on the market. To help sort through the good and the bad, I listed what brands I think are the very best, in some colors that I’m excited to wear all spring and summer. 
  • OPI  makes great polishes in terms of formula and colors at a really affordable price. They’re not indestructible, but if well cared for, they’ll last for days. 
  • Deborah Lippmann  makes some of the best colors on the market, and definitely the best selection of sparkly polishes. The sparkly options tend to last longer, but the creme colors don’t have as much staying power. 
  • Esteé Lauder polishes are hyper-pigmented, which means a little bit goes a long way in terms of coats. Their color selection isn’t as expansive, but the formula holds up beautifully over time. 
  • Chanel Le Vernis makes some of the best colors on the market, which is part of the reason they have a cult following. Seriously, go look up discontinued polish colors on amazon.com and you’ll realize Chanel polishers mean business. However, I don’t have as much luck getting these polishes to stay for long, so they’re best suited to wear for that day and night. 
  • YSL polishes come in a smaller selection of beautiful colors at a higher price, but they last. They’re also incredibly easy to apply yourself because the brush is especially easy to use. 
  • Tom Ford hands down the best overall polish in terms of colors and staying power. The collection of colors is very simple: just the best of the basics (think red, dark plum, fuchsia, blush, etc)  you could ever imagine and they last at least five days. I’m debating between this polish and a gel manicure for my wedding because it’s that reliable and that effective. 

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In terms of manicure maintenance you’ll want a strong base coat and an effective top-coat. My favorites are this for the base coat because it helps my nails grow quickly and healthy, and either this or this for my top coat.  Finally, nail-expert Robin Campbell at Laurentius Salon gave me some sage advice when it comes to nails: don’t pick, don’t cut your cuticles unless absolutely necessary, and remember that different polishes hold up differently for different people because the oils in our skin are all different and react with polishes in a variety of ways. So just because Chanel doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t be a sure winner for you and vice versa with Tom Ford.
Now excuse me while I lovingly and obsessively reorganized my polishes in color order! Happy polishing!20140310-100001.jpg

Can’t stop blushing

In keeping with the sunshine fandom and all things spring, there’s one trend that seems hard to ignore for this upcoming season: blush. Light pink? For spring? Groundbreaking, I know. However, the ultra-light, barely-pink, nearly-taupe/white shade that seems to be everywhere now is too pretty to pass up. It pairs with every color too: black, white, blue, tomato red (trust me, it works), brown, and especially gray. It’s a beautiful color that will carry you effortlessly through early spring into late summer.  You can easily break it out in the winter too, paired with darker colors. Can't stop blushing
So get blushing in a big way, with dresses dedicated to the shade, or let it sweeten up an outfit via your bag or shoes. It’s universally flattering so you’re guaranteed to look pretty in pink.