Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: "The King’s Curse"

   The King’s Curse
   Phillipa Gregory

The King’s Curse tells the story of Margaret Pole, niece of King Edward IV, guardian to both Arthur Tudor (older brother of King Henry VIII) and King Henry VIII and (some believe) mother to the true heir of the crown of England.  Opening in 1499, during the reign of King Henry VII, Margaret is portrayed as a politically astute, pretty, young woman who does her best to remain anonymous and lives in fear of offending the king.  Spanning more than four decades and providing an in-depth account of Henry VIII’s life, The King’s Curse is fascinating reading!

I don’t know how she does it, but Phillipa Gregory makes English history interesting.  And though she’s written quite a few books about the Tudor era, all are from different first person views showing how the same events uniquely affected her protagonists.  If you liked seeing or reading her most well-know work, The Other Boleyn Girl, you’ll enjoy experiencing The King’s Curse.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Décor: Fireplace Screens

Master Bedroom Fireplace-Before

Master Bedroom Fireplace-After

When we bought our current home, it was in “move in” condition with the exception of my closet (Click here to see the closet post).  Once we started living here, though, we realized two of the fireplaces didn’t have screens.  Because we never light fires, they weren’t critical safety items.  Looks-wise, though, the dining room and master bedroom seemed incomplete.

After measuring the fireplaces (and yes, they were different sizes), I found these screens on  Though I’m sometimes unhappy with on-line purchase, I’m very happy with these screens.  The rooms now look finished and polished!

Dining Room Fireplace-Before
Dining Room Fireplace-After

Monday, November 24, 2014

Travel: Fashion Island

this jewelry store has been at Fashion Island for as long as I can remember

outdoor artwork

the giant fountain

the fountain outside Macy's

the koi pond

Santa's home

the giant live Christmas tree

my new favorite cookie-creme brûlée!

A few years ago, my Friday ”fun day” routine was to attend a 9:00 a.m. yoga class then head over to Fashion Island, eat lunch at my favorite café (always a bowl of tortilla soup, iced tea and a giant cookie-all from Pain du Monde) and then shop a bit.  Fashion Island is Orange County’s premier luxury outdoor shopping center and is located in Newport Beach, California.  Anchored by Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Nordstrom, Fashion Island also has unique independent stores like Gary’s, Modern Romance and The Newport Colony Company and chain stores like Bose and BCBG. 

In addition to shops, Fashion Island is home to some fabulous eateries.  From fast casual restaurants like Wahoo’s Fish Tacos to cafés like Pain du Monde and to fancier restaurants like Rick Bayless’ Red O, Fashion Island offers something to please every palate.

Fashion Island is decorated beautifully-there are numerous fountains, a koi pond and breathtaking seasonal decorations.  Strolling around Fashion Island is the perfect way to spend an afternoon!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cooking And Entertaining: Cheese Plate

This cheese plate had Camembert, apricots, pistachios, Manchego, membrillo
 and crackers.  I did break the unflavored bread rule 
and added homemade
 Cheez It's (click here for the recipe)

About a month ago, a friend and I took a class titled “Building the Perfect Cheese Plate” taught by Adam Centamore.  Adam managed a cheese shop in Cambridge and now manages a wine shop-he’s a foodie and has vast knowledge on wine, cheese, charcuterie, condiments and how to pair them all together.

Taking the class was a great experience, and we learned a lot.  Here are a few of the highlights:
  • If you are serving cheese in courses, start from the mildest in flavor (for example, a goat cheese) and subsequently serve stronger cheeses (blue cheeses are considered the strongest)
  • If serving cheese as the dessert course, serve 1-3 cheeses.  For a wine and cheese party, serve 3-6 cheeses
  • For each cheese, purchase about 1 ounce per person 
  • Use thinner knives with runnier cheeses.  For example, use a thin bladed knife with Brie or Camembert, but use a short thick knife with a hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Remove cheese from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving
  • Serve cheese with unflavored breads like baguettes, water crackers or Italian taralli crackers
  • Eat cheese within one week of purchasing
  • Remove the dark rind from cheese
  • When pairing condiments with cheese, remember “what grows together goes together”
  • Serve lighter foods and wines with milder cheeses and heavier foods and wines with stronger cheeses. 
  • For those of us of who don’t want to think about how to pair cheese, condiments and wine, here is what Adam served to our class:
         1.  Goat cheese with dried apricots and Sauvignon Blanc
         2.  Robiola tre latte (goat, cow and sheep milk cheese) with rose hip preserves
              and white Rioja
         3.  Camembert with apple cider jelly and white Rioja
         4.  Comté with strawberry jam and Nero d’Avola
         5.  Manchego with Membrillo (quince paste) and Nero d’Avola
         6.  Parmigiano-Reggiano with Balsamic vinegar and Douro
         7.  Fourme d’Ambert with dark chocolate and Douro (Yes-dark chocolate! It was
  • Remember-there are no hard rules for pairing wine, cheese and condiments.  Pair what you like!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Four Star Finds: Hair Care Products

Though I’m loyal to my shampoo and conditioner, I always keep an eye out for other hair care products.  So when my favorite blog recommended these products, I decided to give them a try.  I love them!  First, I spray in about 6 pumps of Healthy Sexy Soy Tri-Wheat Leave-In Conditioner all over my damp hair and then about 4 pumps of Oribe Royal Blowout Heat Styling Spray (from the shoulders to the ends) and then dry and style my hair.  The combination leaves my hair soft and frizz-free.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fashion: Zippers

I’ve always liked the vintage sewing machines in the Allsaints window displays, but never thought their store was for me.  On a whim, I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did-their pieces are edgy, somewhat similar to Helmut Lang, but at lower price points.  I love this sweater-it can be worn zipped up as a cowl neck, twisted and then zipped, or worn open and flowing.

I’ve paired it with a basic tank from Banana Republic and zippered skinny jeans from Madewell (I like the idea of echoing the zippers).  Basic boots, an eggplant clutch, cool sunglasses and a shagreen (stingray) bracelet complete the look.

detail shot of clutch, bracelet and zippers on jeans
An interesting note on the bracelet-I bought it only a
week ago (in a Calypso St. Barth store), but when I tried
to find it online, they were sold out.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: "Think Like a Freak"

   Think Like a Freak
   Steven D. Levitt and 
   Stephen J. Dubner

When I read the first Freakonomics book nine years ago, no one was more surprised than me by how much I liked it.  Author Steven Levitt is an economics professor at the University of Chicago, and in Freakonomics, he explores seeming unrelated topics and the relationships they have.  For example, he examines what schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common.

Levitt and Dubner’s second book, Super Freakonomics, is more of the same (and still fascinating reading).  In their third collaboration, Think Like a Freak, they teach the reader their problem solving techniques, while still providing interesting case studies.

If you are interested in human nature and in figuring out how things work, Think Like a Freak is the book for you!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Décor: Converting the Guest Room to Sean’s Room Part 1

The "guest room" bedding 

When we moved from a 4 bedroom suburban home to a 2 bedroom Boston apartment, we combined Sean’s room, the guest room and the office into the spare bedroom.  In the process, I gave away Sean’s double bed and kept the guest room’s queen bed thinking we could better accommodate guests and that Sean would like sleeping in a bigger bed.  While he does like the queen bed, he doesn’t care for the feminine bedding and its accompanying décor.

The last time he visited, he voiced his opinion and asked if we could go to the storage facility to get some of his things-he wanted to turn the guest room into his room.  He also asked me to buy new bedding.  Because we want him to know that even though he doesn’t live with us, our home was still his home, so I immediately bought new bedding.  Here is the result…

Sean's bedding
I think the new bedding is hip, appropriate for a young man and hope he likes it!

The next step will be removing the current wall hangings and hanging/arranging his pictures and mementos on the walls.  To be continued…

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Reviews: "Fury" and "St. Vincent"

   Rated R

In many ways, Fury is similar to Saving Private Ryan.  Both are intense, violent films about World War II; both are not shot in full color; and both are excellent films.  Brad Pitt stars as a battle-hardened tank sergeant whose team is given a suicide mission behind enemy lines.  To provide contrast, Logan Lerman is Norman, a naive clerk typist who unexpectedly becomes the crew’s assistant driver.  Without giving anything away, expect to see humanity at its best and worst.

   St. Vincent
   Rated PG-13

Because Oliver’s single mom, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), works long hours, next-door neighbor Vincent (Bill Murray) becomes his unlikely babysitter.  Although Vincent isn’t a good influence (he hires a “lady of the evening” and gambles and drinks too much), he and Oliver form an unlikely friendship and end up transforming each other into better people.

I went into St. Vincent not knowing what to expect and received so much-an Oscar-caliber performance from Bill Murray, a sweet story that avoided being maudlin and an over-all great film experience.  If you see one movie this season, make sure it’s St. Vincent!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Travel: Italy

Travel: Italy

a beautiful church we discovered while walking around Rome

an amazing street performer

Cacio e pepe pasta

Enjoying cocktails in St. Mark's Square-my bellini cost 30 euros
(about $40)

the view from a water taxi

The first time I went to Italy seven years ago, I was in culture shock.  I mistakenly assumed Italy would be just like Southern California but with better food, art and architecture.  It wasn’t-there are major differences in work/life balance philosophies, attitudes about time and concepts of personal space.  When we went back this year, I was cognizant of these differences and truly able to appreciate Italy.

To better navigate Italy, here are a few of my tips:
  • Embrace the slower pace of life-be prepared to wait in lines and know you must ask for your meal check
  • Enjoy the shopping and barter with street vendors
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • Guard you wallet and purse; pickpockets are ubiquitous
  • Be aware of when the tourist attractions are closed-If possible buy tickets ahead of time for the more popular attractions
  • Eat pasta and gelato and drink wine
  • Take time to enjoy the beauty of Italy-there are many hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered

When in Rome…
  • Splurge on a guided tour of the Vatican-You will bypass lines and gain much more insight and knowledge
  • If it’s affordable, stay in a hotel in the center of town

For Venice
  • Know that everything is expensive in Venice
  • Treat yourself to a gondola ride
  • The seafood in Venice is amazing
  • Enjoy drinks in St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cooking and Entertaining: Pumpkin Muffins

streusel-topped pumpkin muffin
In this previous blog, I wrote about our cooking group.  Initially it began as cooking lessons from a good friend’s mother-in-law, Liz Storm.  During that time, Liz graciously taught us how to cook and shared her best recipes.

Since it's now autumn, I thought I'd share this pumpkin muffin recipe.  I created it from Liz’s pumpkin bread recipe and added a streusel topping.  Both are family favorites!  Just in case you prefer pumpkin bread, I added Liz's Original Pumpkin Bread recipe, too.

the ingredents

prepare the streusel topping

streusel topping

combine the dry ingredients

combine the wet ingredients

add the wet ingredients to the dry

Spoon the topping over the muffins

Pumpkin Muffins
1-1/2 C.  sugar
1-2/3 C.  flour, sifted
1/4 tsp.  baking powder
1 tsp.  baking soda
3/4 tsp.  salt
1 tsp.  cinnamon
1 tsp.  cloves
1 tsp.  nutmeg
1  egg, well beaten
1/2 C.  vegetable oil
1/2 C.  water
1 C.  cooked, mashed pumpkin

Streusel Topping
3/4 C.  sugar
7-1/2 tsp.  flour
1/4 tsp.  cinnamon
4-1/2 tsp. cold butter, cubed

To prepare the streusel topping, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl.  Using a pastry blender, cut the cold butter into the mixture until you have pea-sized pieces of butter.  Set aside in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 325ºF.  Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the egg, oil, water, and pumpkin and beat until well blended.  Scoop the batter into lined cupcake pans.  Top each muffin with 1 heaping teaspoon of streusel mixture.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Makes 15-16 muffins

For Liz’s Original Pumpkin Bread Recipe:
Butter and flour two 7-inch loaf pans-set aside.  Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans, after combining the wet ingredients into the dry.  Pour mixture evenly into both pans and bake 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then remove bread onto a rack.  The recipe can be doubled or tripled and can be frozen beautifully.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Four Star Finds: Scanpan Cookware

Scanpan CTQ Sauté Pan

Even if your cookware is well-seasoned, sometimes you just need a nonstick sauté pan.  I was hesitant to use products containing Teflon [perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)] due to health concerns when PFOA products are heated to extremely high temperatures or when they are scratched.

Scanpan cookware provides a great nonstick cooking option.  Their stainless steel/aluminum products have a patented ceramic-titanium coating, which is scratch-proof and easily releases food.  Even better, Scanpan recently released a line of cookware with stainless steel exteriors, which allow those of us with induction cooktops to use their products.  Live is good!

Note: As always, I do not receive any compensation for endorsing this product