Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Today I Like ... Jane Eyre

I FINALLY got to see the newest adaptation of "Jane Eyre" over the weekend. Can I just take a minute to rant about the current state of our video-watching options? Our Blockbusters have closed, so my options are: Netflix Instant (I cancelled the mailing service during the crazy days), iTunes, Hulu, OnDemand or Redbox. I kept waiting for "Jane Eyre" to pop up on Netflix and it just didn't happen, so I finally broke down and ordered it on OnDemand. #firstworldproblems, #whitewhine. I know, I know.

Anyways, it was a pretty gorgeous, moody, delicate adaptation with a lovely muted palette. Mia Wasikowska just disappears into the role and I think, for my money, that there may never be a sexier Rochester than Michael Fassbender. Hot damn, that man knows a thing or two about close-talking.

Get the Look
Jane Eyre

We can't really get away with the mid-1800s look in modern America, but I think the idea of taking inspiration from Jane Eyre's look and incorporating it into contemporary winter wear. A wool cape over a prim and proper gray dress, with tights and high heeled lace-up boots, helps you weather the gloomy days on the moors (or the sidewalks, as it were).

Mint and gold brocade wallpaper can dress up walls, and is there any better lighting for short winter days than a pewter candelabra? If the days are nice, we can always pack up our writer's chests and step outside to sketch. Sigh. I was born in the wrong time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ever tried to make a cheesecake with about an hour of chill time, then travel three hours? Yeah, it's not the best idea, but I'm here to say it's possible!

For Thanksgiving, I had to scramble to make my bourbon pumpkin cheesecake a few hours before Sean and I hit the road to go to the DC area, about a three-hour drive. I used this recipe from Epicurious, which scared me out of my mind with its recommendations to chill the cheesecake for hours in the pan and hours in the fridge. I had about four hours to make this was a "make it work" moment.

I started by smashing up some graham crackers, adding brown sugar and granulated sugar and melting some butter.

The recipe recommends letting the butter cool, p.s. In the meantime, I buttered springform pan and began preparing the pumpkin mixture.

In a bowl, I mixed 1 1/2 cups of canned pumpkin, three eggs, light brown sugar, vanilla and bourbon. The recipe called for heavy cream, but I didn't have any...every previous cheesecake I've made didn't call for it, so I figured it was okay.

I then mixed the butter into the cracker mix and then pressed it all into the springform pan, pushing the crumbs up the sides. I popped the crust into the freezer until I needed it.

In another bowl, I mixed the dry ingredients for the filling: granulated sugar, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. I FORGOT to add cornstarch...the result was a fluffier, lighter cheesecake texture, but next time, I'll remember it.

I added three packages of cream cheese to the spice mixture, and when that was well-mixed, moved on to adding the wet ingredients.

I added the pumpkin mixture and mixed for a long time until it was smooth. During this time, I preheated the oven to 350.

In another bowl, I whisked 2 cups of sour cream, 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and a tablespoon of bourbon (i actually would go heavier on the bourbon).

I poured the pumpkin mixture into the springform pan and attempted to smooth it over. I then put it in the oven for 50 minutes...keep an eye on it to see when it looks "set" in the middle. Mine started to crack on the outsides — not good. I should have done a water bath, but I just plain forgot.

When the cheesecake was set, I took it out to cool, then spread the sour cream topping on and put it back in the oven for five minutes. After that, you're supposed to let it cool in the pan on a rack for hours, then in the fridge for more hours. But at that point, I was going to be getting in the car in less than 2 hours, so I let it sit on the rack for a little while, then wrapped it in plastic wrap and tin foil and popped it in the freezer.

Ultimately, I packed it in a Bed, Bath and Beyond box full of ice packs and hoped for the best. When we arrived at my in-laws, I put it in the fridge and left it there until I was ready to serve.

Et voila! It was a little lighter than your average cheesecake, but everyone said that was actually a good thing. The bourbon was very subtle, but the pumpkin taste was definitely present. The crust, as always, was the best part. I'm a sucker for a buttery, sugary, graham cracker-y crust.

So, if you learn nothing else from this, know that you can cheat with cheesecake. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Fun

Did you have a lovely Thanksgiving holiday? We had a wonderful weekend, full of family, friends, food and an excitable boxer puppy. 

My in-laws have a four-month-old boxer named Maeve who is pretty precious. Most who know me know that I'm a cat person through and through, but even I was wooed by those puppy dog eyes. Now, if only we could do something about the whole "obeying commands" and "not smelling like a dog" thing. (Don't husband has assured me boxers are part of my future.)

Our Thanksgiving meal consisted of all the usual suspects with a couple of additions: cornbread, made in an antique cast iron corn-imprint pan...

And my bourbon pumpkin cheesecake (more on that to follow).

We skipped Black Friday madness in favor of patronizing the eateries and shops in Old Town Alexandria.

Sean, Katie and I had lunch at Austin Grill. I had delicious steak tacos and a pomegranate sangria margarita. Their dessert menu is displayed in a Viewfinder! How fun is that?

After lunch, we hit all our favorite shops downtown, including Decorium, a super girly store that goes ALL OUT for Christmas (see snow-covered floors above), Red Barn Mercantile, Paper Source and others. I totally forgot I had wanted to visit this new shop, Fifteen Eleven, so I'll have to hit that one next time.

That night, the whole family went to see The Descendants, starring George Clooney. It was really, really wonderful and I keep thinking of little moments from the movie, days later. I laughed and I cried.

On Saturday, my mother-in-law, Sean and I went into DC to eat lunch and go to the The Phillips Collection.  We had a nice outdoor lunch at Darlington House, then had a nice walk through pretty neighborhoods to the museum.

The museum is intimate, well-curated and home to some of the loveliest modern and post-modern works, including Pierre-August Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party," which is bigger than I ever imagined. We went to see a special exhibit of Degas' studies of ballerinas, which I LOVED. My favorite piece we saw, however, was the striped painting above by Gene Davis. I literally gasped! How great would it be to paint a small room or one wall like that?

Anyway, it was a lovely weekend. I hope you all had full and happy Thanksgivings!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Shopping: Dads Who Don't Want 'Stuff'

Dads, in my opinion, are hands-down the hardest people to shop for on the planet. They buy everything they need. They might be into gadgets, but many of them aren't. Let's say they like grilling; they've done it for years and they don't want your newfangled tools. Camping equipment? Who has the time! Power tools? Ugh, what are you going to make me do?

So let's just be honest: Most men probably just want a day without nagging and maybe a great burger. But nonetheless, here are some ideas...

Dad Gifts

Dads love Ken Burns' documentaries, so get him the new one on the Prohibition; get Dad a stylin new sweater he can wear for years; simplify his life with an amazing universal remote; get him a Keurig for the office; if he's a Mac guy, scoop up the new Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson; help him get past the paywall with a New York Times e-subscription; a new belt might be in order to replace the tired braided version; and he's probably behind on the trends and would like to catch up with the "Game of Thrones" series for when the first season finally comes out on DVD.

How about you guys? Have you had any more success shopping for dads? Please share in the comments!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Shopping: Grandparents

If I've learned anything in the past few years, it is that by and large, grandparents don't want "stuff." I think the best gifts for the older folks are experiences, but if you must buy a physical gift, go either a) sentimental or b) useful items that either improve their lives or won't take up much room.

Buy them tickets to see a show at the nearest major could even get them a gift card for Broadway shows! Other great "experiences": movie gift cards, restaurant gift cards, sporting events, dinner cruises or Netflix subscriptions.

Get them some of the gadgets that have made life a little easier in the years that have passed since they last bought similar products. Kitchen gadgets have made great gains; how about a handy Julienne slicer, like this one, from Williams-Sonoma?

Gardeners might enjoy garden labels, like this ceramic set from Terrain.

The whole family can make an appearance in this tidy little desk calendar from Pinhole Press.

And if you think they're ready to make the leap, I think grandparents are prime candidates for e-Readers. They can adjust the font, read as many books as they want and not have any more clutter. Pretty ideal. The Kindle 3G is $149 here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holiday Shopping: The Kiddos

I haven't the first clue of what to buy kids. I'm pretty new to the whole aunt thing, so I definitely come at it from that perspective. Here are some creative items I'd love to buy a niece or nephew or child of a friend (and hey, maybe even you parents among us might find some inspiration...although I bet you'll tell me I shouldn't spend much money on nice stuff for kids!).

Gifts for Kiddos

I have a weakness for overpriced kid stuff, like: a rocking rabbit; an awesome United Colors of Benetton beanie; a mini-sized furry hat; a growth chart; an AMAZING elephant bookshelf; a "Rosebud" sled (ha ha!); Hunter wellies for kids; and a sweet little tree swing, ready to hang.

Holiday Shopping: Your Best Gal Pals

Am I the only one who thinks gal pals are the easiest to shop for? Maybe it's because most girls are essentially magpies: we like anything bright, shiny, sparkly or decorative. I always like to buy a really nice cosmetic product or fancy gloves — the kinds of things we deny ourselves when we're shopping for us. Here's my pics for some great gal pal gifts:

Basically, every color you need for day-to-day, back-to-the-grind neutral make-up. Which is to say, the make-up we wear the most. Laura Mercier palette, $48 at Sephora.

I don't think it's much of a stretch to say primer has changed my life. Change your friend's life for the better! Benefit Primer Kit, $10 at Sephora.

Gal Pal Gifts

Some other ideas: A cute belt, like this bow belt from Madewell; a stack of stylish friendship bracelets (also from Madewell); fancy Butter nail polish, $14 each; comfy socks from Terrain; a super fancy Ibiza round brush for optimal blow-drying success; Ryan Gosling's abs in "Crazy Stupid Love"; and a great make-up brush set from Sephora.