Monday, March 31, 2014

Gal Pal Day: Painted Pottery, Movies & Burgers

Yesterday, I had the sweetest friend date day with my bestest pal Ashleigh! It was a rainy, icky, blustery day and all of the antique stores were closed, so we spontaneously decided to go to Color Me Mine in Ghent and paint pottery! I've never done that before, believe it or not. I always thought it seemed kind of corny; somehow I got it into my head that everyone paints garden animals or piggy banks and I just had no interest in that. But I've recently seen some of my favorite illustrators creating beautiful painted pieces at similar paint-your-own pottery spots and was intrigued. It was so much fun, and now I'm inspired to do so much more!

The best part? They let you bring your own wine.

We opted to created a marbled effect, so with a little help from the instructor, we drizzled our glaze colors onto a bed of shaving cream, then used the end point of a brush to swirl the colors.

I then dipped each side of my bowl in the shaving cream swirly mess and rinsed the shaving cream off in the sink. Amazingly, the colors stuck once the shaving cream was gone!

Ashleigh decided to make a butter dish and guys, it is going to be Anthropologie-cute.

How gorgeous is that?!

Once you're done, they overglaze the pieces and fire them; they'll be ready for pick-up in 7-10 days. I can't wait to see how they turned out!

 After our pottery adventure, we went to the Naro (a great old movie theater that is legit my favorite thing in Hampton Roads) and saw The Grand Budapest Hotel. It was fun and kooky and beautifully art-directed, bur Rushmore will always be my favorite Wes Anderson movie.

For dinner, we opted to give 80/20 Burger Bar another shot. Both of us have had so-so experiences there in the past, but all of our friends insisted it's the best and we were wrong. I'm glad we did, because this time everything was perfect and delicious! The fried mozzarella is even revelatory (served with alfredo dipping sauce, too...mmmmmm).

We picked two different burgers and types of fries and then shared everything. I ordered the Steel City burger, with pepper jelly, grilled onions and meunster cheese, with a side of house fries smothered in parmesan, garlic and rosemary. Ashleigh got the Heritage, with thick-cut bacon, caramelized onions and gruyere cheese. The burgers ended up tasting quite similar, but I might give the Heritage the edge.

All in all, it was a perfect I'm just dying to see our finished pottery!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Best v.198

Shew lord, I'm behind on blogging. Not only do I have a little weekend trip to Wilmington I haven't even mentioned, but I've been working my butt off. In the between times, I've been insanely addicted to beating this 2048 game. Oh man, it's been crazy. So with that in mind, here's a super-sized Sunday Best of the best links from the past two weeks:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wine Club: Fondue Night

This week, I hosted a Wine Club game night with the Zin Zig wine trivial game. I wanted to make sophisticated game night food and to me, that screams fondue! And what's really better than dipping a bunch of random things in melty gooey goodness? Nothing, I tell you.

I served up three plates of items with dips. First, classic fondue with emmenthaler and gruyere cheeses. To dip, I had a selection of veggies, chicken bites seasoned with herbs de provence, baguette slices, apples and salami.

 For a dessert option, I had hot fudge (no time to make real chocolate fondue!) with banana slices, strawberries and madeleines.

 And I slaved away making Chef Mike Isabella's pepperoni sauce, with gnocchi, cheese and spinach ravioli and baguettes. It was all delicious if I do say so myself!

The game requires bringing bottles of wine to sample that will eventually be concealed, so we didn't have a theme per se, but every bottle was delicious!
  • Little Penguin Pinot Noir: This was a spicy pinot with a little kick, but a great finish. Ashleigh said it's so cheap she couldn't figure out why we haven't been drinking it!
  • Red Diamond Malbec: This was really truly a delicious Malbec...notes of pomegranate, but super smooth and drinkable. This bottle was finished first!
  • Rosemount Estate Shiraz: A great cheap shiraz from Australia with hints of blueberries and oak.
  • Belle Ambiance Red Blend: I couldn't find a site for this one, but let me tell you...I might not be the most sophisticated wine drinker, but I love a good blend and this was scrumptious. It was a little sweet, but had a strong hint of vanilla that I found I really enjoyed. Extremely easy drinking with this one!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Guiness Sliders for St. Pats

 Last night we hosted a Game Night and I knew I had to acknowledge St. Patty's Day in some way, but didn't feel like whipping up mini shepherd's pies or a big pot of stew or — shudder — corned beef and cabbage (which I don't even believe is actually Irish, but that's neither here nor there). I decided instead to make little burger sliders, basted in Guiness.

 It was pretty easy peasy. I brought a mixture of about half a bottle of Guiness, 1/2 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of light brown sugar to a boil and then simmered it until it seemed to reduce and thicken. I think it could have gotten even thicker, but it still did the trick. I made my customary burgers, with chopped onions, salt, pepper, garlic powder and a little thyme, and then grilled them up.

Once the burgers (haha, they look like nuggets here) were done, I basted them with the Guinness concoction and topped them with Irish cheddar. It gave them a nice little somethin' somethin' and reminded me of my favorite meal I ate in all of Ireland: a grass-bed burger with Irish cheddar at Sammy's on the Beach in Inch. What can I say? I'm not always fancy!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Best v.197

Amazing patterned buildings in Burkina Faso.

Happy almost St. Patrick's Day! We hosted a game night tonight and had a short, but sweet visit from my sister-in-law over the weekend so I'm just now sitting down to share my favorite links. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jams of the Week

YouTube Jam: Billy On the Street

I had seen Billy On the Street clips before, but after seeing this trailer for his third season, I basically devoted a day to watching his entire YouTube channel. His manic, in-your-face, subjective style is hilarious and I love when he's obviously judging people to their face. Billy gets to act the way we all wish we could!

Morning Ritual Jam: Iced Chai

My love of chai tea, either hot or cold, is pretty well documented. Only recently did I pick up chai concentrate, which really truly delivers the exact same taste I can get at coffee shops for a fraction of the price AND I'm already imagining all the fun things I can do with it, like make ice cream. 

Music Jam: "Blue Moon" by Beck

I love how Beck disappears for a few years and always reemerges with a completely new vibe for the moment. Sometimes it's funky, Spanish-tinged pop; this time, it's mellow, AM radio-ready simplicity. It reminds me of The National, and of course his earlier work on "Sea Change." I'm digging it.

Cocktail Jam: Pimm's Cup

You know how you have those foods or drinks you've always meant to try, but it's never quite happened? For me, that's the Pimm's Cup. It's a classic British cocktail of summertime, always popping up in British entertainment and novels, but for some reason I rarely see it on menus. I've often paused by the bottles in the alcohol store and considered just buying it, but wanted to know if I even liked it first. I finally spotted it on the menu at Venture last week and the verdict is in: DELICIOUS. Its taste is hard to describe, falling somewhere between hints of molasses and sweet tea. The cucumber garnish is also superb.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wine Club: Fun Labels!

 I've been totally slacking on writing posts lately, most especially falling behind on Wine Club! Our last wine club celebrated fun wine labels and to complement the kooky labels, our hostess Ashleigh made fun-size food. I didn't get shots of the mini meatloafs or mini cheesecakes, but I did manage to snag some pics of the mini buffalo chicken wontons and my fave, the mini chicken caesar salads in bread cups. So cute and perfect!

 Some wontons even had blue cheese!

Fun labels was especially interesting because everyone interpreted it differently! We ended up with:

  • Freakshow Cab: Arguably the most fun of the labels, the Freakshow Cab has rich notes of espresso, melted chocolate and cassis.
  • Honora Vera Garnacha: A grenache from Spain, with ripe cherry color and easy-to-drink notes of fresh ripe berries.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Beef Stir Fry with Snap Peas

One of my dad's go-to meals when I was growing up was stir-fry, but I was never too hip on it. I have never really cared too much for Asian food, but I've started to get over that in the past 8 years. I generally shy away from making any Asian-inspired cuisine at home because so many ingredients are involved that we don't have on hand and wouldn't use often enough to justify buying.

But, stir-fry really isn't that hard, doesn't involve too many crazy ingredients and is a great way to use up veggies! I made my first attempt on Sunday night and I think this might become a frequent meal in our house.

As a guide, I used this recipe from The Pioneer Woman and I highly recommend the sauce recipe. The flavors were great; I think I'm going to start experimenting a lot more with sriracha, marmalades, etc. to keep the dish from becoming boring. First, I chopped up some onions and put them in a bowl with some sugar snap peas.

Then, I combined soy sauce, cooking sherry, brown sugar, ginger (I didn't have minced ginger, so I just used powdered ginger) and cornstarch, which gives the mixture that nice thickness that almost caramelizes in the pan. I quickly covered the steak strips with the liquid and set aside some extra to add at the end. 

One big mistake: I have a wok that we've never gotten around to seasoning (lazy much?) and decided to just use one of my regular pans. Needless to say, once I had sesame oil sizzling in the pan and added the veggies, it was spitting oil EVERYWHERE. The entire kitchen basically needed a scrub-down after that debacle. 

I cooked the peas first, for about 30-40 seconds, then placed them on a plate. I then cooked the steak on really high heat (I honestly could have lowered it) and added the onions long enough to get them just barely cooked. I mixed it all together in the pan, added the remaining sauce and then plated it on top of a bed of jasmine rice.

The meal was delicious and considering I used low-sodium soy sauce and added very little salt, it was relatively healthy-ish. The flavor was wonderful and the serving size was good, too. Definitely putting this in regular rotation for when we have leftover chicken/veggies!

Do you have any excellent stir-fry combos we should try? What's the best stir-fry sauce you've whipped up? I think I have to get serious about seasoning my wok now!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday Best v.196

Amazing vintage glass chandelier/sculpture by artist Joel Otterson

I don't seem to have much to blog about lately, do I? It's probably because I haven't been too adventurous cooking-wise lately, just relying on old favorites, and I haven't been too inventive or creative at home these days. But I've come to believe in quality not quantity when it comes to blogs, and I hope you agree! Here are some favorite links I came across this week:
  • A peek into the home of the tech industry.
  • Watch the U.S. get settled on this handy dandy growth chart.
  • One writer devoted a lot of time trying to find out what happened to Patsey, the character portrayed by Lupita Nyong'o. See what she found.
  • And while we're at it, check out Junior Nyong'o's Instagram. He's America's favorite younger brother of the moment.
  • Stars posed beside their younger selves. Fascinating!
  • Incredible historic photos.
  • Anything can be a meme, including a tweet about a conference call.
  • A peek behind the ancient tradition of gathering honey in Bhutan.
  • An on-the-money True Detective parody.
  • Awesome behind-the-scenes peek into the Oscars from Jennifer Lawrence's BFF.
  • My friend Christi's hilarious story about finding out her marriage was invalid due to paperwork.
  • A teaser for the final season of Mad Men. Sniff sniff! I'll miss it so bad.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fashion Review: Oscars 2014

I gasped once and maybe groaned once. Not what I want from the Oscars. I want people to be insanely glamorous, and if they fail, I want it to be daring as hell or at least epic bad. I blame the age of the stylists: everyone looks safe, and it's accessorizing, styling and fit that separates the best from the worst. Anyways, let's get on to the fashion review!

Best Dressed

From the first moment I saw her step out of her limo and a team surround her to help fluff her skirt, it was love. I'm a diehard Cinderella fan, so Lupita Nyong'o was a slam dunk for me. Add in the fact she actually helped design her Prada gown, with a shade of blue inspired by her hometown of Nairobi, and it's doubly charming. Every time she swayed the skirt, she looked like a princess. The accessorizing was on point, too, except for the headband which might have been a bit much. But it looked sweet, and her speech was so incredibly perfect, I can't fault a thing about it!

The evening's fashions were basically the Battle of the Beige, and I think Cate came out on top in her Armani. I know some people thought her huge earrings were gawdy, but I thought the choice of opal earrings was the kind of unexpected touch I appreciate from Cate. I was a bit disappointed by seemed incredibly safe on her, and it's probably my least favorite of her many amazing Oscar looks.

Jennifer Lawrence needs to call up Dior and figure out why their other brand representative, Charlize Theron, gets all the good stuff. Charlize looked classic, yet modern in this black gown that played with illusion while remaining utterly timeless. She hits it out of the park every year, and my friend Bret pointed out her fit is always perfection. 

Naomi Watts always looks amazing, too, and I deemed her Calvin Klein look "Casual Grace Kelly." This is a great example of the power of styling; Calista Flockhart wore an almost identical dress, but it looked blah. Naomi Watts wore a statement necklace, a geometric clutch and paired with strappy black heels. The best part, in my view, was her casually tossed hair (it reminded me of Kelly on 90210!) and simple red lip. 

Sandra's navy Alexander McQueen gown was a gorgeous shade that looked especially beautiful next to her brown eyes and gorgeous hair. She kept it very simple with this, which is a little daring in itself because I know I would've reached for a blingy necklace. Satin isn't easy to pull off either, and she managed not to look overly prom.

I freakin love the crochet-inspired detail on Portia de Rossi's Naeem Khan. I'm sure many folks hated it, but it was interesting, fit perfectly and was really appropriate for her being there as the date of the host. I love intricate work, so I was all about it.

Olivia Wilde was hands down the best at dressing her new pregnant body at this year's awards circuit. Her black Valentino was super simple, but insanely flattering to the point that I almost couldn't tell she's pregnant! Her winged eyeliner and swingy white earrings gave it a '60s reference and I loved it.

Good, But Not Best

Let's acknowledge J.Law is one of my all-time favorite people, insanely gorgeous and my future best friend. But girlfriend is getting a bad deal from Dior. I don't feel like the fine French folks have given her anything truly amazing since she started working with them. The peplums on this dress seem almost like an afterthought and the gown itself looks like something I could buy at Dillard's right now. I can admire a desire to go simple on a night when everyone expects glamorous dazzle, but then again, I want to be DAZZLED, dammit! She doesn't look bad, she just doesn't look amazing. Also, I want to deduct 4,000 points for her wearing a backwards diamond necklace two years in a row. You have an opportunity to wear basically any jewelry in the world, and you decide to do a repeat? Nope.

Amy's Gucci gown was certainly structurally beautiful, and gave her a nice little sashay when she walked. Her styling was on point, and her hot pink-and-blue earrings were a fun touch. But I couldn't muster more than a "oh, okay" when I saw her appear. She looked so glamorous in American Hustle, and I would've loved to see her just pull out all the stops in some insane vintage Halston or something.

I see no fault with Idina Menzel's Vera Wang gown, which was such an interesting shade of green (kind of mallard duck green?), but it just wasn't enough to merit a "best." I certainly liked it better than her peach performance gown....there was a lot of pale pink and peach, so I'm guessing we're all going to be dressing like pretty, pretty princesses this spring?

Best Dressed Grand Dame

Of all the grand dames at the show (Meryl, Glenn Close, June Squibb, the Real Philomena), I thought Bette Midler took the cake in her exquisitely detailed and fitted Reem Acra gown. Would've liked to see a red lip, but whatevs. I like any time an older lady brings sexy back.


Angelina Jolie's Elie Saab gown felt particularly grand dame-ish to me, like something Marlene Dietrich would've worn during her 60s singing career. It wasn't the worst, but it felt overly mature and more than that, it was sitting very oddly on her chest, making her look sort of super busty in a way I don't think she is. Am I alone in this? 

So last year, Anne wore this exact same shape and when she appeared, I was like, "What is up with this deja vu Oscars?!" I blame Rachel Zoe. Her Gucci was fine, but certainly nothing to write home about or wear to the freakin' biggest night for fashion of the year.

I felt like Jennifer Garner's swingy Oscar de la Renta was kind of daring for her, and had a lot of fun, sparkly movement. The bodice, however, seems a little uninspired and the total effect doesn't photograph terribly well, even if it looked great walking across the stage.

Jessica Biel is the most boring person, and I picture her in beige, so when she shows up wearing beige Chanel, I fall asleep from boredom. TRY A COLOR.

You may recall I wanted Julia to wear slinky red Naeem Khan, so obviously she wore a somewhat frumpy black lace peplum-heavy Givenchy gown. I think she has entered a weird stage in her public life, where she is feeling she has to "dress her age" but doesn't really know what that means. I understand wanting to dress for comfort, but I think she is swinging too far toward the boring side. That said, this isn't awful. Just meh.

Penelope loves to be feminine and romantic, so I'm not surprised she was drawn to this elegantly draped Giambattista Valli gown with a big bow. But from a practical standpoint, the fabric wrapping around looked like a hassle when she was trying to present an award. This just seemed better in theory.


When she's not pregnant, Kerry Washington is usually a fashion MVP. Her new body is clearly messing with her mind, because she has been a hot mess lately. I understand she wants to be comfortable, but a wrinkly satin grey-purple toga, gray satin heels, goth make-up and rat's nest hair doesn't seem overly comfy to me. Olivia Wilde? That lady looked comfy AND great. This Jason Wu is a big misstep.

My husband is in love with Anna Kendrick and he visibly recoiled when he saw her appear in this J. Mendel gown. Twitter was having a field day, calling the center portion "red snowflakes." I actually don't think it's terrible — not by a long shot — but I do think it's probably something that fit better on the runway than the red carpet. Minus the red mid-section cut, the top is very interesting. I also know it was kind of a stretch of her fashion muscles to wear something less safe. Keep swinging the bat, Anna, and better luck next time!

Margot Robbie in this Saint Laurent gown is such a HUGE disappointment. Her role in Wolf of Wall Street was a star-making turn, and she followed up perfectly at the Golden Globes in an amazingly fitted white gown trimmed with green gems. This looks like an ill-fitting black sheet, knotted haphazardly in the back and the biggest sin is her hair and make-up. It's just not a shrewd choice to drastically change your look to the point of being unrecognizable when most people are just learning your name! This has to be the work of a terrible stylist, and that person should be fired.

I know it's terrible to make fun of a pregnant woman, but bear with me. This is truly the worst pregnant dress I have ever seen, ever. This is Elsa Pataky, wife of Chris Hemsworth, and this Elie Saab gown is doing her NO favors, looks incredibly uncomfortable, and reminds me of sparkly sea kelp. Just looking at her makes me feel bloated. Now, turn this into an empire waist and I might be singing a whole different tune, but gathering the waist below her belly just looks so uncomfy!

Is it possible to be best and worst at the same time? Liza stepped out in the kind of off-the-shoulder satin pajamas she's been wearing for 40 years, braless and possibly in orthopedic shoes, with a sassy blue streak and duck lips and I love her for it. It's Liza with a Z, y'all, and she doesn't give two shits what mere mortals think.

Nope, I just can't get on board. And Pharell, your tux jacket doesn't even look like it will fully close. Big nope.

And Whoopi blew my mind a bit with this awful ensemble, which is bad on multiple levels. Not only is it an awful concept, with an awful fit, and the laziest pearl strand tying I've ever seen, but I literally just raked Julia Roberts over the coals for wearing the SAME THING a month ago! I thought maybe she was making a joke, that's how crazy this was! 

So who was your favorite? I'll give honorable mentions to Kristin Chenoweth in gold Roberto Cavalli, Kate Hudson in Atelier Versace and Emma Watson in Vera Wang, but I can't include everybody. Who did you think was the worst of the worst? Tell me in the comments!