Friday, November 30, 2012

Jams of the Week

TV Jam: "Homeland"

In April, Sean and I watched the premiere of "Homeland" on our flight back from Ireland and from that moment, I knew we were in for it. Our friend Ashleigh took one for the team and subscribed to Showtime, so we've been popping over to her house to have 7-episode marathons and get caught up! Don't tell me anything that happens!!!! It's that good.

Reading Now: "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver

I'm not prepared to call this a jam just yet, mainly because I haven't gotten very far, but my dad got me Barbara Kingsolver's new book, "Flight Behavior," for my birthday. It takes place not far from where I grew up (theoretically...the location is fictional), so that's very intriguing. I find her descriptions and the dialogue are very authentic and familiar. 

Hometown Music Jam: The Last Bison
Sean and I have been keeping up with Bison, now called The Last Bison, for about a year now, but finally got to see them on Wednesday night at 96x's Winter Meltdown. They are absolutely on par with the best multi-instrumentalist folk bands out there, a mix of Decembrists-meets-Edward Sharpe-meets-Carter Family. They hail from Chesapeake, and we couldn't be prouder of them.

Holiday Scent Jam: MELT Winter Pine candle

I'm not a super candle person usually...I don't mind burning one when things seem to be getting a little rank up in here, but I don't burn one every minute of the time I'm at home. I also have a weird hatred of Yankee Candle's jars (i dunno...they're not very classy, in my opinion) and I hate how conspicuous the labeling is on all of their products, so I tend to shy away from them. 

BUT I was really craving that Christmas smell of trees and magic, so I picked up this candle at Target, which is from their collaboration with Nest candles, and it smells lovely. The jar is also super pretty and understated, just clear with an etched Moroccan pattern. I've been burning it every day when I get home and it might have converted me to becoming a Candle person.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce

I'm always looking for ways to spice up the standard chicken breast. I should have known Gwyneth Paltrow would have the answer. The high priestess of living the good life whips up peach bbq sauce to give her chicken a distinctive flavor. I LOVED it...Sean LIKED it; I think he would have preferred less ketchup.

The sauce is pretty easy to make with pantry and freezer staples. Bring a mixture of chopped frozen peaches (thawed), ketchup, lemon juice, garlic cloves and adobo sauce to a boil, then turn the heat down to let it simmer until the peaches are soft.

Once the mixture has cooled a bit, put it in a blender and puree. Marinate the chicken breasts, already sprinkled with salt and pepper, in the puree for 20 minutes (or refrigerated up to 8 hours and turned occasionally). 

Grill the chicken breast on medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes on each side, then brush reserve sauce on the breasts and grill 2 additional minutes. Make sure you saved some sauce to serve with the dish!

I had just enough left to pour over the breasts, and it was delicious. I would actually put in more peaches next time...adobo can be overpowering. Also: this recipe made enough for about two breasts, in my opinion, so I would maybe double it if I have a bigger group or want to save some.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Caramel Apple Cake

As I told you yesterday, when I found out we were having a guest for dinner, I looked at my neglected cookbooks and, like Andy in "Toy Story," took them off the shelf to play. One of them was a favorite — "Baked: Explorations" — which always yields great results, but every damn recipe is time-intensive. I opted to make the Caramel Apple cake (recipe under the jump!) and just so you know, it's meant to create a three-layer 8-inch cake, but I have 9-inch cake pans and I didn't have high hopes we could decimate a 3-layer cake, so I halved the recipe.

This is the kind of cake that is so autumnal, even the spice/flour/sugar/salt mix smells amazing. This calls for ground cloves, cinnamon and allspice and every whiff was magical.

For expediency's sake, I opted to use natural pre-made applesauce rather than make my own. If you make the full recipe, you're gonna need 4 full cups of applesauce, which is the equivalent of 8 of the mini-cups! I added the applesauce to a mixture of butter and egg, alternating the flour mixture with applesauce three times, beginning and finishing with flour mix.

I poured the batter into cake pans that I prepped by first buttering them, then lining the bottom with parchment, which I also buttered. This was a bit intense, but proved perfect to slide the cakes right out with no mess or fuss.

I baked the cakes in an oven preheated to 325 degrees, rotating them halfway through the 40 minutes it took them to bake. 

Meanwhile, I got started on the caramel buttercream, which calls for making an INSANE amount of Baked's caramel sauce. Seriously, I made so much I ended up sending Andi home with a jar of the stuff. First, I heated a mixture of sugar, flour, milk and cream over medium heat, then when that was finished, beat it with butter and vanilla until it was thick frosting. 

To make the caramel sauce, I boiled sugar and corn syrup until it turned a rich caramel color, then moved it quickly off the heat and added butter and cream, stirring fast. 

The resulting caramel sauce, once cooled, went in the frosting and was mixed until I had the perfect icing.

All of this was hunky dory until it came time for cake assembly, when I realized, Oh right, I have no idea how to properly ice a cake. Nightmares!

I started out trying to do that perfect smooth icing and it looked awful. Then I tried to add the caramel swirls, with the marblelized effect, and oh boy, that looked terrible. I ended up just smearing it around in defeat. But! The good news is: the cake tasted great. The one little tweak I would make is perhaps making it a salted caramel was a touch too sweet for my taste.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Maple-Cider Pork Chops with Apples

I'm not sure why, but the Honor Roll Student in me regards a dinner guest as a chance to do extra credit-level work. When Sean decided to invite our friend Andi to dinner, I decided it was the perfect time to make this ideal-for-fall dish I spotted while searching for recipes using cider and maple syrup. 

Food and Wine's Maple-Cider pork chops with apple compote are delicious, but definitely time-consuming, so allot some time to tackle this recipe. Believe me, it's worth it.

First things first, make the marinade about 2 hours before you plan to cook the chops. It's a mixture of cider, maple syrup, light brown sugar, bourbon, bitters (screw the suggestion for Woodland Bitters...who has time to order ingredients like bark and make their own bitters?!), thyme and garlic. Marinate the chops for 2 hours in the fridge.

When it was time to start cooking, I made the glaze, a reduction of cider, maple syrup, bitters and salt and pepper. I set that aside for later. This is the point when your house starts to smell incredible.

But you best believe your house will smell straight-up better than Yankee Candles when you start making the apple compote. In a saucepan, bring apple cider, dark brown sugar, bourbon, 1 tablespoon of butter, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of bitters, 1 cinnamon stick and diced apples to a boil.

Bring the apples to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and let them cook on low while you make the pork chop magic happen. Ideally, they'll get soft, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, salt and pepper your chops and then cook your pork chops in vegetable oil on high heat, browning on both sides before turning the heat down to cook lower and slower. Add the glaze...I ultimately ended up adding a lot and letting it bubble up and caramelize; it was delicious this way. 

When the whole thing is done, plate the pork chops with the compote on top and prepare to taste autumn!

Holiday Home 2012

For the first time in my entire life, we decorated before the calendar even flipped to December! I thought I'd share a few pictures. We have several perennial decorations: the glitter stars from our wedding, the mini tree I bought when I was 22.

But we have some new pieces, too! I've found that I really enjoy buying ornaments on our trips or ornaments with some significance to us. It's interesting because, inevitably, our future grandkids will toss them all out in a box b/c they don't understand the meaning, but whatevs. 

This year, we added this gold harp ornament to the tree, picked up in Ireland. It's made by the Wild Goose Studio, based in Kinsale in County Cork. 

We also added an ornament Sean bought me last year at Yankee Candle's flagship store here in Williamsburg. It's a blue mason jar, just like the ones we collected for our wedding. I love it.

I had an idea to grab one of my new Martha Stewart faux-shagreen boxes from Staples and steady my new bust on top. She has a classical feel that, in this case, reminds me of statues of the Virgin Mary. Normally, she reminds me of ladies from the turn of the century.

You best believe I've also been burning the crap out of my new holiday candle from Nest's line at Target. It smells like Christmas trees and magic!

And of course, I have sparkly stuff stashed all over the rest of the living room, including my Eiffel tower and some ornaments. I love this time of year because it's a good way to sneak a lot of sparkly girlyness into our home!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

 We had the nicest, relaxing long Thanksgiving weekend. We had just enough time to zip up to Alexandria for the actual holiday, where Sean took his mission to wear out Maeve very seriously. She was tuckered out by lunch!

Sean dined on his favorite foods; I had absolutely no time to make anything this year, but did help put together this fig tart.

Then we had a little photo competition to see who could take the best phone picture of Miss Margaret's apple pie, which looked positively like something Jan Van Eyck would paint. And it was delicious to boot!

Sean had to work on Friday, so I only hit one Black Friday sale: the ABC store! Virginia's liquor stores extended their hours and had a deal that once you spent more than $50, your entire purchase was 10 percent off. That was a win!

I lounged around on Saturday and then Sean and I decorated, earlier than we EVER have before, and much more efficiently. I found a spot for my favorite new treasure, a small plaster bust from the Williamsburg Antique Mall. We listened to Christmas music, burned a holiday Nest candle that smelled amazing and when it was all over, settled in for a little treat:

Hot cocoa with Bailey's! So good. I'm so excited to enjoy the holiday season, and I got a LOT of online shopping done, so I'm already half-way finished. Even more time to enjoy with my husband, whose schedule will finally allow me to do much more cooking (so you'll be seeing more food-related posts around here again!). Hope your holiday was just as nice!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gift Guide: Sweet Gifts for the Little Ones

I don't have any kiddos yet, so my kid gift-buying is firmly entrenched in the impractical realm of aunthood. I have a weakness for anything overpriced or unnecessary, so keep that in mind, but I hope you find some inspiration for the kids on your shopping list:

BabyToddler Gifts 2012

  1. The genius Swoop bag spreads way out to become a play surface, then pulls back together when playtime is done. $48 and comes in a huge range of colors!
  2. Make meal times fun with an honest-to-goodness airplane spoon, $29 at J. Crew. (yeah, WAY overpriced...what can I say?)
  3. Bathtime is fun and organized with this whale full of toys by Boon, Inc. $35
  4. The whimsical classic "The Little Prince" now comes in chic pop-up form, $35.
  5. Could anything be better than an indoor escape, like this teepee from Land of Nod? 
  6. I'm kind of in love with this fluffy sheep rocker, $129 at Pottery Barn Kids. 
  7. THIS IS SERIOUSLY OFFENSIVELY EXPENSIVE, but I am in love with it: lightning bolt sweater onesie by Oeuf, $96. Maybe it would be worth it if you frame it later?
  8. Beautiful, colorful magnetic blocks from Tegu, a company committed to making a difference in Honduras. $75 for this set.
  9. Encourage his or her creativity with an easel, $88 at Amazon.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gift Guide: Spoiling Your Grandparents Who Want Nothing

Grandparents are the absolute hardest to shop for, in my opinion. They don't want any more "stuff," but you want to spoil them! With those thoughts in mind, I tend to lean toward either absolutely practical gifts, nostalgic gifts or just-because-it's-nice gifts. Here's some of what I came up with:

Grandparent Gifts
  1. Get them caught up on the newest PBS sensation Downton Abbey.
  2. Add a new fancy necklace to Grandma's jewelry box. I like this classic, but colorful necklace, $38 at Anthropologie.
  3. Bring some classic modernity to her dining table with new napkins, $18 at Terrain.
  4. Give them a flashback to the soda shops of their youth with a chic cake stand, $68 at Terrain.
  5. Spoil Grandpa with locket cuff links, $120 at Red Envelope.
  6. Give the gift of entertainment with a movie theater gift card, Netflix subscription or Hulu.
And, I couldn't find a great picture to illustrate this idea, but help them document the family history for the rest of you by gifting an membership!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gift Guide: Your Sweet Mom or Mom-in-Law

I might be crazy but I think it's easy to come up with ideas for moms because they usually like things that a) make life easier, b) make life prettier or c) make life smell better. Here are just a smattering of ideas while shopping for mom:

Mom Gifts 2012

  1. Even if the nest is a bit emptier these days, I'm sure mom would appreciate some new recipes. Here's some quick after-work cooking ideas, $20 at Anthropologie.
  2. For a mom who has worked to make the garden THE place to be, a lovely new birdhouse, $46 at Leif Shop.
  3. And if mom's plants are mainly inside, make the windowsill a little lovelier with a nickel-plated mister, $20 at Terrain.
  4. For her stocking, slip in a mercury glass ornament in her monogram, $6 at Anthropologie.
  5. Inspire her to start a new hobby or take up an old one with a calligraphy set, $48.
  6. Bring some sass with leopard-print gloves, $68 at Anthro (whoa, I didn't even realize I'd found so many ideas there!).
  7. Treat her to a new scent, like one of the many lovely ones by Tocca.
  8. Score a two-fer by getting her a gorgeous basket made in Africa from a fair trade foundation.
  9. Make it even easier for her to incorporate fresh herbs into her cooking with herb scissors, $16 at Terrain.

I Spy: Gift Ideas Edition

We interrupt the scheduled gift guides to consider an alternative to all the chain store and cyber Monday madness: antiques! Antiques have the potential to make GREAT gifts for some folks. Consider:
  1. They are unique and special.
  2. You can often find an original version of something that's being reproduced now.
  3. It's eco-friendly (reuse and recycle, what what?)
  4. You can support the smallest of small businesses by purchasing antiques.
I popped into the Williamsburg Antiques Mall to illustrate my point. With about 30 minutes to browse, I found these gift ideas to give you some inspiration for unique holiday gifts.

If mom loves eggs, decorating a pretty table and especially decorating for Easter, why not get her a sweet set of antique egg cups? These look perfectly Martha Stewart and were $25 for a set of four. Antique malls are also reliable for candlesticks, teacups and gorgeous cake stands.

The perfect gift for teachers: a brass apple key holder for her classroom, for a super affordable $4.50!

A great gift for newlyweds: vintage Williams Sonoma wood bowl, works as a decorative piece or as a salad bowl. The bowl was from a collection by John McLeod and made in Vermont; it cost $58.50. 

The perfect decoration for dad caves and man caves: a vintage framed print of Old Ironsides for $48.

For decoristas or Anne of Green Gables fans: Anne fans will get the significance of a porcelain foo dog (Spoiler alert: Anne was gifted a pair for her hearth when she got married). Foo dogs are decor classics that can guard a hearth or prowl a bookcase. This one was $50.

Antique trophies make amazing objets d'art, vases, pencil cups, etc. For $95, this one from 1911 was a bit too pricey for my taste, but I think they can be found for much cheaper.

For the little gal in your life who is incredibly responsible and can appreciate old stuff, a vintage dollhouse can be bought WITH furniture for the price of one that comes unassembled in a box. This one was $200...I saw another one for $395.

And for newlyweds, a bright piece of fiesta ware can bring some pop to the china cabinet or tabletop. This pretty turquoise gravy boat is $18.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gift Guide: The Stylish Man in Your Life

Here I present some classy gifts for the classy man in your it your boyfriend who could use a little sophistication, your brother, your dad or your sophisticated pop-pop, there's a bevy of fine manly goods out there these days. Here is but a sampling of ideas to take that man's style to the next level:

Man Gifts

  1. Cocktails like moscow mules look great in copper mugs, which bring some nice bling to your home bar, $90 at Amazon.
  2. Buy him sunglasses that look good on men of all ages, in all eras. Wayfarers, $155.
  3. Keep winter cozy with these reindeer socks, $24 at J.Crew.
  4. Bring Mad Men style to his man cave with these wood coasters, $36 at Leif Shop.
  5. Winter can be warm and stylish in this Tommy Hilfiger chambray puffer vest, $169 at Macy's.
  6. For a very specific hipster-y, bearded dude, there is the bamboo keyboard, $98 at Anthropologie.
  7. If he's been stuffing his toiletries into a plastic bag or a pocket of a backpack, turn it up a notch with a dopp kit, $58 at J.Crew.
  8. What home bar or man cave would be complete without a horned bottle opener? $28 at Anthro.
  9. And if you haven't ponied up for Showtime yet, set aside some hours after you've feasted on Christmas day to catch up on Homeland. It's seriously that good.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gift Guide: Your True Blue Gal Pal

It's hard to believe it's already time to be thinking about Christmas shopping, but I'm a firm believer in getting an early start. With most of us heading out on Friday or logging on a week from today, it's time to start thinking about what to get the folks on our lists. I submit my humble ideas (I've spent all weekend looking for ideas, too!), starting with gift ideas for the lovely gals in our lives.

BFF Gifts

  1. Make her tables sparkle with glitter teaspoons, $38 at Leif Shop.
  2. Not the most exciting gift, but the most useful! The dry shampoo editors and models swear by! Klorane, $18 at
  3. Help her shine all winter with a shimmery loop scarf, $38 at Anthropologie.
  4. The perfect stocking stuffers: high-end ponytail ties, $12 at Anthropologie.
  5. Who doesn't love a great primer? Gift the Tarte primer set, $9 at Sephora.
  6. Rifle Design's Cities calendar is a work of art for 12 months a year, $24 at Anthropologie.
  7. Spice up the average winter day with spotty knee socks, $12 at Madewell.
  8. What's better than a bit of impracticality? Glitter eyeliner, $16 at Sephora.