Monday, December 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Big Sister

Today is my big sister's birthday.

My sister was eighteen years old when I was born. She was already away at nursing school.

My sister Margie and Me. I was 4 days old.

Me, at three months.

Being the oldest, my sister, Margery Esther, had the burden of being named after both grandmothers. That's okay, because she was born to be a grandma (four grandchildren and a new one debuting next month!) And really I don't think there's any better suited name for her than "Marge."

Marge is bossy in a loving way. She tells us all what to do and we do it, including my parents. I'm surprised she hasn't taken over the world, but I guess she's content with her own little piece of Western Pennsylvania.

My dad says he knew she was going to be a nurse because, as a child, she showed no real interest in live animals, but any dead creature, she'd be sure and go roll it over and poke at it. I'm not sure how that relates to being a nurse but it's a funny story.

Flower girl at Margie's wedding, 2 years old. That's one of my brothers holding my bouquet.

Margie moved to Savannah right after she was married, where her husband was stationed in the Army. Here I am with her on an Easter visit.

For the first part of my life, my big sister seemed more like a second mom than a sister, especially since her daughter was only three years younger than me.

No, there is no seatbelt on this Jeep. I once fell out the back of it, going up our driveway.

Why did I have this dumb haircut, you may well ask? Well, it's because I insisted that my dad cut my hair just like my brothers'.

Here I am with my niece, Margie's daughter. She's awesome, too. She's my best friend in the whole world, save my husband. Although we have very different personalities, there's no one I trust more or who understands me better (again, except for my husband!). We attended law school at the same time. Here we are at my graduation from law school with Margie and Margie's handsome son (my niece had graduated the day before).

Having two moms was really annoying. But once I had children of my own, things changed. Margie became a sister.

The other thing about Marge is her distinctive Clairol Kindness flippy hairdo. Girl OWNS this hairstyle! Here we are back in the nineties, when Margie and her husband visited us while my husband was in the military and stationed in Monterey, California. Marge even has a special set of rollers that fit handily on the back of her husband's Honda Gold Wing, for cross-country beauty.

I am grateful to my big sister for so many things I cannot begin to name them all. Since I was close in age to my niece, I slept over at my sister's many a time. She and her husband took me along on vacations to the mountains and water-skiing on the river. She helped deliver my oldest son and gave him his first bath (above). Since my husband and I were but poor students when he was born, my sister paid for the doctor. She taught my son to ride a bike and when our car broke down on the way back to college and we couldn't get a hold of our parents, she and her husband came to the rescue. And now that my parents are elderly, she keeps a good eye on them and takes care of the day-to-day things that those of us who live far away do not see.

So, on this day, I wish my lovely, strong, wonderful sister another happy birthday! Love you, Marge! You're the best.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween in a College Town

Saturday, October 31st, after neighborhood Trick-or-Treating was over, our neighbors came over for a cocktail and then we decided to walk down to Campustown to see the Halloween excitement.

We walked through Campus and across the Quad on a beautiful, crisp fall evening. As we passed the Alma Mater statue and approached Campustown, we saw a huge group of students waiting for the lights to change. Once the Walk sign went on, the group charged across the intersection and we raced after them to see what was going on.

What it was was a long parade of Zombies. We followed them down the street.

After a few blocks, they stopped and laid down on the sidewalk. Then Michael Jackson's Thriller began to play on some far away boom box. Here's my iPhone video below. You can't really hear the music, but you'll get the gist.

Zombies on their way, uh, somewhere else.

Other revelers:

Men outside the tobacco shop:
Scooby Doo:

Die Herren in dem Lederhosen!

We had dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant and headed home. Here's how I spent Sunday afternoon:

Happy November!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cashmere Librarian quoted in New York Times!

I've reached the big time now!

Making Shabby Chic, Again

And if you haven't found Rachel's blog yet, please do visit. I used to live right behind the Shabby Chic Santa Monica store and although I don't embrace the look to any great extent, there's something so clean and pretty and comfortable about Rachel Ashwell's aesthetic that I found myself going in every weekend just to soak up all the easy gorgeousness.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn Leaves

My backyard, this morning:

So many leaves already, but so many more to come. In our backyard, we have a Black Cherry, a Weeping Willow (kept pruned so it doesn't become enormous and messy), two Red Buds and two Gingkos. Typically, the Gingko leaves are always the last to fall, and they come down in one fell swoop. One day they are on the tree, and the next it rains Gingko leaves until the tree is suddenly barren. Here's a photo of my husband last fall, looking up at the trees just before the Gingkos (the golden tree, pictured below) dropped. He knows what's coming: Raking and Bagging, Raking and Bagging!

This year we are a bit surprised because the Gingkos are falling steadily, like the rest of the trees. Perhaps brought on by a cool summer and a cool, wet autumn?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Today's Jewelry

I've been really into bracelets lately and since I'm not eager to wade into the 40 Legal Research exams I have sitting here on my desk to grade, I decided to play with my iPhone camera and share my wrist with you.

Today I'm wearing on my wrist:

Hermès H bracelet with red enamel and gold
Two-headed Leopard (?) bracelet from Urban Outfitters, a gift from youngest son
2 Gold and 1 animal-spotted bangles from J.Crew
Seiko stainless-steel and gold watch (Cartier wanna-be)


Signet Ring..actually a class ring from Penn State
Wedding Ring
Black Hills gold ring purchased from Landstrom's in Deadwood, South Dakota

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekly Manicure

I've never been one to schedule regular professional manicures: I either do it myself at home or keep a coat of Sally Hansen Natural Shine Nail Finish on. It's just an indulgence that I haven't been able to bring myself to do.

But now I'm thinking that it would be really nice to have a weekly manicure. I love dark colors on my nails but when I paint them it chips so quickly, so I tend to stick with Essie Mademoiselle. (Even pale nail polish chips on my self-manicures, because I of course use my nails cleaning, gardening, et cetera.) But a regular professional manicure would help with that, wouldn't it?

The issue is not only money but timing. So my question is: who of my blog friends manages to do this weekly, how do you fit it in your schedule, and how does your professional manicure hold up against daily life? Plus it'd be fun to know what your favorite polish colors are, if your nails are long or short, anything else you'd like to share about manicures (or pedicures). C'mon, spill!

Monday, October 5, 2009

October Only

My fellow Illinoisan The Preppy Apron tagged me for some of my favorite things that occur only in October! And so:

1. My Birthday!

My birthday was last Friday so my husband and I determined to celebrate the whole weekend! We drove up to Chicago and stayed at the lovely W LakeShore. We met my son and his girlfriend for dinner at Cafe Spiaggia and then hit the Whiskey Sky for cocktails. Saturday morning, we drove out to West Town to brunch at Jam and then shopping on North Damen. We also travelled to Lincoln Park where we checked out Jayson Home and Garden. Saturday night was champagne cocktails at Pops for Champagne and an amazing dinner at a very cozy French restaurant recommended to me by The Epic: Le Petit Paris! (You must go to Epic's blog and read his description of the restaurant and its very charming and masterful proprietor, Chef Alain. And, if you're near Pops for Champagne, stop into an adorable shop two [or so] doors down called P.O.S.H.)

We were exhausted on Sunday but we managed to make it to the Art Institute to see the new Modern Wing. What a wonderful, if whirlwind, birthday weekend!

2. York Peppermint Batties.

When I was six months old, my parents went to a convention and left me in the care of my eighteen year old sister. She's a very responsible person, but apparently she received a call from a church camp about a hour away asking her to fill in as camp nurse for the week (she was a nursing student at the time). She agreed to go to camp and my three teen-aged brothers agreed to take care of their baby sister! I always had the utmost love and affection from my big brothers and although I have no memory of this particular week, I am sure I thrived under their care. In particular, I am told, my diet was expanded to candy, and I was especially fond of the large-size Peppermint Patty my brothers fed me. "We gave her a few pieces, and she kept wanting more," they proudly told my mom when she returned home. "So finally we just gave her the whole thing!"

Fast forward to present, where my equally indulgent husband buys me bags of Peppermint Patties when he goes grocery shopping. I keep them in the fridge, with the fruit, and I eat them when I get home from work with a cold glass of milk. (Interestingly, I hate the smell of mint: toothpaste, gum, et cetera! I won't let my husband kiss me after he's brushed his teeth.)
In October, York markets Peppermint patties shaped like bats. Now how awesome is that?

3. Poe Readings on Halloween.

A local mansion-cum-conference center offers candlelight Halloween Poe readings (enjoyed with a glass or two of red wine). We've also gone to Poe readings given by grad students in the English building of the University, where it's rumoured a student drowned in the basement pool.

My favorite Poe story is "The Cask of Amontillado." I love that the victim, Fortunato, is wearing motley when he meets his end, and I love that the final sound from Fortunato is "only a jingle of the bells." In pace requiescat!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Checking In, and Honest Scraps!

I hope all my online friends haven't left me. I have great ideas for entries when I'm walking to work (or biking and flashing traffic--haha), but obviously haven't put pen to paper lately.

But I've been busy! I'm teaching cute little first-year law students ("1-Ls") this semester. Last week I saw the tremendous baritone Nathan Gunn perform, accompanied on the piano by his talented wife, Julie. I also attended a local music festival which culminated in a lovely, if rather maudlin, performance by Iron & Wine. I had drinks with my oldest son's roommate and friends who were in town for the festival (older son stayed in Chicago--he has a new girlfriend ;-)), and dinner with younger son. I watched the Steelers lose to the Bears (Wah!).

Other goings-on: Last weekend my husband hosted a guys' absinthe, oyster and cigar party. My girlfriend and I went to a guitar festival and by the time we got back to the house, there were green fairies dancing around my garden and the boys had achieved a wormwood epiphany. (In reality, they were fiercely soapboxing on politics. Yawn.)

Best of all, the beautiful Daily Connoisseur awarded me the Honest Scrap Award! Thus, I shall list 10 honest scrap things about myself. Now, then:

1. I'm not a night person at all and prefer to be in bed by nine, ten at the latest. I don't like this about myself; I think I'd get a lot more done if I could stay up.
2. I'm an indie. I want to do what I want to do and I don't mind doing it alone if no one else wants to join in. Luckily, my husband is usually game except when it comes to dancing. I wish I had someone to dance with!
3. I live to make lists. What would I do without my Filofax and all the ongoing lists within??! It's funny, my younger son is the same way. I am always finding scraps of paper with his lists around the house.
4. My parents and four other siblings are all Republicans; I'm a Democrat. My nieces and nephews, as well as my own children (of course), have *mostly* come over to join me on the left, though.
5. If I am flipping through the channels and a World Wrestling Federation event is on, I'll stop and watch for awhile. I used to know all the wrestlers, but I'm a little rusty now. I wouldn't mind being a professional wrestling announcer, like Mean Gene Okerland. I love yelling "Look at the Carnage!" and "Clothesline!" at appropriate times. I met Stone Cold Steve Austin once.
6. I've collected Halcyon Day enamels, stamps, apples, Match Box cars, matchboxes, and handkerchiefs at some point over the years.
7. I have a birthmark on my lower back that would make a great setting sun in a tattooed beach scene. (But it's not going to happen.)
8. A perfect Friday night includes a Hendricks martini with bagel crisps, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato pesto.
9. The best part of a box of Life Cereal is the "dust" at the bottom.
10. I have perfect eyelashes. No, really. They're awesome.

I wish I was more interesting. Reading this, I realize I'm really just odd. Or let's say "eccentric," shall we? In any case:

Thank you, Daily Connoisseur for honoring me with this award! If you haven't yet met this elegant and erudite blogger, please visit her and introduce yourself!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sense of Smell

This morning, over our first cup of coffee, my husband and I were discussing our favorite smells.


his wife (me!) after she's been out in the sun all day
bacon sizzling
fresh tobacco
the forest after a rain
autumn leaves


my husband (him!) when he first wakes up
my babies
Santa Monica in the spring: jasmine and honeysuckle and sea air
a bookstore

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Riding My Bike to Work in a Skirt and Manolos actually pretty funny. I live just over a mile from work, and when the weather is fine I ride my bike.

I could walk--which I sometimes do. It's a lovely walk through my tree-shaded neighborhood and across campus, and if my timing's right I can walk in with my husband. But then I have to carry my shoes. (I made a couple of cute shoebags for this purpose.) I just won't walk a mile in my Manolos: instead, I wear red leather Born maryjanes (which are cool, I think, in an Olive Oyl sort of way), or red Wellies when it rains, or fluffy Lands End boots when it snows.

I could take public transportation--which I sometimes do. I do have to walk a few blocks to the bus stop but all-in-all it's a nice alternative. The problem is WAITING for the bus. Why is it always late when you're early and early when you're late? And waiting for the bus in the dead of winter on a wind-swept prairie is disheartening, to say the least.

I could drive. But then I would have to pay for parking and gas and wear-and-tear and it seems foolish when I have more economical and environmental options.

So I bike. My bike is a Trek 720 hybrid that I bought years ago when we lived in Monterey for riding through the hills of Fort Ord with my girlfriends. I never bothered to transition it to a city-appropriate bike until finally this summer when I added two folding baskets on the back and replaced the seat with a more comfortable lady-friendly one. It's still not perfect--the gears are such that I could never ride it on hills. And there are other issues:

It's a man's bike, with a horizontal center bar. I intentionally bought it this way because the bike guy said it would be sturdier this way and at the time that was my priority. Now, it just makes it more difficult to wear a skirt. First, it's hard to get on and off gracefully. I've become inured to embarrasment on this front and now I just hike up my skirt (wherever I am) and fling my leg over. (The Elegantologist probably just swallowed his tongue reading this--sorry.) Second, there's no chain cover. Although I wear dorky velcro tapes around my pant legs, all my light-colored pants have permanent oil smudges on the inner right shin (BTW, soaking in Oxy-clean helps...usually). Argh my poor white Goldschmieds! Finally, I feel a bit guilty jamming my beautiful leather handbags into the wire baskets. But I still do because it's, well, convenient.

Bad bike habits I have:
  1. I don't wear a helmet. I own one, from when my sons were small and I tried to set a good example, but I bagged that once they stopped listening to me (ie became teenagers).
  2. I wear inappropriate shoes. I could carry my shoes in my cute little shoe bags, but then, like a helmet, it interferes with the convenience of having a bike! So, yes, I wear my Manolos while biking. Not only does it probably look ridiculous, but it's dangerous. Especially mules, which tend to fall off at inappropriate times, like when one is crossing an intersection. This happened to me already twice today. I was heading back to work after lunching at home, and of course I was in a hurry. I pushed off and my right shoe clattered to the pavement! By the time I stopped, it was three yards behind me. Being lazy, I didn't get off the bike; instead I gingerly backed up on my bare tippy toes and wobbily retrieved my black mule. My mail-person, who was watching all this, hollered at me from her truck, "You're supposed to keep your shoes on when you ride, Cashmere!" Uh, yeah.
Then I lost a shoe again in the parking lot. You can see how this might be a problem when one is crossing a busy street.

Aside from my shoe problem, I've developed some techniques for riding a bike in a skirt. At first I attempted to devise a strap that connected to the middle bar and pinned to my skirt, to keep it from flying up as I zoomed across campus in front of all those undergrads. And if I ever do get it properly engineered, I plan to market it on this website and make a lot of money! But right now it's not quite right. There's not enough elastic in the strap to keep up with my vigorous pedaling, so inevitably the pin pulls loose from the dress (although I haven't ripped a skirt yet thank heavens). Plus it's awkward unpinning it before I get off the bike--I'm always afraid I'm going to lose my balance and fall over.

My new strategy is to wear Spanx under my dress and hope that everyone who might catch a glimpse of my "big panties" (Aka Bridget Jones) thinks it's a bike short. Or I tuck the bottom of the skirt into the bottom of the Spanx. Or I simply let my skirt fly up and figure that anyone who's interested in looking up a 43-year-old woman's dress can just have at it.

I know I need a new bike. Specifically, I want an Electra Amsterdam. But, as you know, lately all my disposable income (as it were) has been going to Hermès. So I'll wear my Hermès (I like to think I look pretty fab riding briskly with my gorgeous scarf trailing behind me) and continue to ride my crappy bike.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Twitter is Awesome.

  1. I know what Dita Van Teese is having for breakfast.
  2. My son outed me on Twitter and now all his friends Twitter me too!
  3. I get to see more pictures of Petunia's adorable daughter.
  4. People like Latex Fetish Heels follow my Tweets.
But...I asked to follow James Franco on Twitter and he hasn't yet responded. Dude, you're missing out on my fantabulous life!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Adventures in New York City

A big thank you to
Tea & Crumpets
Notes from the Ledge,
Headbands & Hand Bags,
French Essence,
The Preppy Apron
Easy and Elegant Life
and Tessa Scoffs
for providing such great advice on last week's trip to NYC.

I hope you're all not too disappointed with me when I tell you that I checked very little off your recommendations.

It's not that we weren't busy--there was just too much! And since almost all of our party had never been to New York before, we stayed generally on the tourist path. And because I was the most experienced NYC traveller, I became de facto tour guide and subway administrator. I think I did okay on the tour guide part, but I must admit that I tried the patience of my merry band with my rather lame grip of the MTA. They were nice about it though even when I got them lost on the way back from Brooklyn and we ended up having to cab it anyway from Midtown to the Upper West Side. And a sleepy fellow rider almost vomited on my son's German host mother (that wasn't MY fault!). Ah, well.

We bought the Citypass and attempted to hit all the venues. Which my husband, son and I did--our German friends missed one of the museums, having arrived later. What we did:

American Museum of Natural History. Okay. Stuffed moose and T-Rex were the highlights here.

Tuesday morning we strolled across Central Park to make a fast path through the Met. Not enough time! Afterwards, we lunched at a rooftop Italian place and walked down to Rockefeller Center (we walked A LOT!). Went to the top.

In the afternoon we headed to Brooklyn to picnic on the lawn of Prospect Park with my nephew, who's an architect in the city.

The band TV on the Radio was playing at the park and it was a very laid-back evening (until I took the wrong train home). Before the unfortunate MTA incident, we stopped off at the Empire State Building and enjoyed a gorgeous moon-lit, late-night view of Manhattan from its observatory.

I should add that the weather was very hot on Tuesday and between the heat and humidity outside and the blasting AC inside, I'll not be surprised if our German friends, who are quite unused to such extremes, came down with some random illness! I hope not, though, because they're presently somewhere in Death Valley in an RV and that would not be good.

On Wednesday, we cruised the Hudson and East Rivers on the Circle Line! I was thrilled to see Julian Schnabel's pink palace from the boat, but none of my fellow travellers got very excited (Julian who?). Of course, the Statue of Liberty was the big draw (I thought the boat might tip over when everyone rushed starboard to take pictures). Years ago, I climbed to the crown; before I left home for this trip, I checked and the waiting list was out to November! So we opted not to stop on the island.

Afterwards, we stopped for a beer in Hell's Kitchen and then headed to Sam Ash, where our very musical German host family wanted to browse. We cut that short, however, because we wanted to make it back up to the Upper East Side to see the Guggenheim.

I wasn't really impressed by the Guggenheim. We spent a little over an hour there and decided that was enough. Later, we took the MTA to Greenwich Village, where we shared tapas and caipirinhas for dinner, and then hit Smalls for some jazz. What a great NY evening!

Finally, our last full day in New York. We spent an incredible morning at MOMA. How did I not know how fantastic this museum is??! I adore the Met and Chicago's own Art Institute but MOMA is absolutely the best museum I've ever visited. When I got back to Illinois, one of my students asked me if MOMA "kicked my ass," and yes, Mark, it did indeed!

Spent the afternoon shopping in SoHo (TopShop didn't rock my world--am I perhaps too old to enjoy its charms?) and walking around NYU and Washington Square. My son and I hit Ben Sherman up pretty hard--they were having a great sale! We all met at a wonderful BYOB restaurant recommended to us by a couple on the subway called Nook on 9th Avenue (earlier, we picked up a couple of bottles of wine at Astor Wines and Spirits). Then: Lion King! We had great seats and were breathless taking in the costumes and sets and performers. Such fun. Here's my son, after the performance, taking in Times Square.

Our German friends left early Friday morning and we sadly bid them goodbye. (They are trying to talk us into visiting Munich this fall for Oktoberfest!) We still had the morning, so we ran over to Zabar's for salmon bagels and split up: Son to see Lincoln Square and Juilliard, Husband and I to Fifth Avenue for a super-quick luxury feast (We had stopped into Takashamiya earlier in the week, browsing the gorgeous inventory but no buying!). Having such little time, I had to prioritize. I decided I could always shop the majors (NM, Barneys, Saks) in Chicago and so set out to see Hermès on Madison, Caron, and Porthault. We arrived at Hermès just as it was opening. I may have conveyed my obsession with Hermès elsewhere on this blog--in fact at some point I hope to post specifically on that--let's just say I feel about Hermès the way Holly Golightly felt about Tiffany's. I would be happy just to live in an Hermès store, ESPECIALLY the Madison Avenue shop, which is their American flagship and to which I'd never been. We were doubly lucky because they were not busy and we received personal attention on all four floors by some very friendly and charming SAs. I tried on my coveted Collier de Chien (I want the white one, with silver), poked around the shoes and watches, looked at pocket squares for my husband, and spent a lovely time talking to an older French lady in charge of the home department. She gave us the grand tour: china (someday I will own this happy Siesta set), leather (my husband liked the leather cigar holder which can be personally engraved for just over a grand), and amazingly beautiful cashmere blankets. Best of all, they had just received two Birkins! No I didn't buy--they were brown and orange and I am holding out for a red they are, uh, expensive...but just touching them, opening them and having them near was amazing.

I did score, though. My husband bought me an enamel H bracelet, which I've been eyeing for a great while, for our anniversary which is tomorrow! Here is the beauty:

I also fell in love with a scarf from the Fall collection, called La Femme aux Semelles de Vent, pictured here.

Not wanting to be too spoiled, I chose the bracelet at the time but I thought about the scarf all week and finally on Friday called the sweet SA I had worked with, Cealon, and asked her to send it to me. So I should have it early next week!

We spent way too much time at Hermès and then we couldn't find Caron, where I wanted to buy a flacon of Tabac Blond, one of my favorite perfumes which one can't get anywhere but New York and Paris! No matter--we'll just have to come back soon said my husband! We did get to Porthault where I selected a baby pillow sham which I've been wanting for awhile. I'm not terribly original--I chose the iconic pink heart pattern shown here on Rita Konig's bed!

There is so much on my list that I didn't see or do. I didn't shop nearly enough! I want to spend more time in Greenwich Village. I didn't see Ground Zero, or visit any of the boutiques listed in my most recent copy of Lucky. I would have loved to just walk the neighborhoods more, or just sit in Central Park. I wanted to try tons of scents at Aedes de Venusta and have tea at Sweetiepie. Oh, well. We did so much, and truly enjoyed meeting our son's German host family and touring New York with them.

All of us, in particular our German friends, were impressed with the friendliness of the New Yorkers we encountered. I can't wait to get back (Christmas??!), and I can truly say I LOVE NEW YORK!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New York City

I'm going to NYC next Monday, through Friday the 14th. In high school, my youngest son was an exchange student in Munich for a year and we are finally meeting his host parents and their children in Manhattan! (Their daughter is the same age as my youngest son; while he was living with her family, she was studying in Uruguay. So they've not met either. His host family also has a son who is a year or so younger.)

We're staying at the Excelsior Hotel on the West Side. My son has never been to NYC (well actually he was there briefly for a Greyhound exchange earlier this summer--long story) and so we have a lot to see and do! The three of us are museum people and we want to try and hit the Met, the Guggenheim and MOMA. I also just want to walk around Manhattan. And, of course, shop (Aedes!!! Takashimaya!!!). But I would LOVE to get recommendations from my blog friends as to where to eat, drink, shop and SEE. Please advise!

I haven't been to NYC since before fact I was sitting on the tarmac at O'Hare, waiting to take off for LaGuardia on a business trip when the planes hit the WTC. We didn't know a thing--we were just very irritated that the plane was late taking off. Then finally the captain came on and said we were heading back to the gate, as there had been some "terrorist activity" in New York. We all looked at each other wide-eyed, then clamoured for our cell phones. I remember thinking in particular that it would have sucked to have died with my despised boss, who was also on the plane (in First Class though, of course).

I was also disappointed, because I was booked to stay at the Algonquin Hotel for the first time! In fact I had along with me a collection of Dorothy Parker's letters. I don't think I ever bothered reading them, after that.

Anyway, COMMENTS please!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vosges Haut Chocolat: What flavor is your favorite?

Whenever my husband and I are in Chicago, we try to stop into the original (I think?) Vosges Haut Chocolat boutique on Michigan Avenue and have a glass of their La Parisienne or Aztec Elixir Exotic Couture Cocoa. Now our local wine store sells Vosges chocolate bars and the cocoa mixes, so I like to try to sneak a couple of bars in on top of our order. (Vosges is expensive, no doubt, but added to a couple of bottles of liquor and wine my husband barely notices!)

My all-time favorite is the Goji: goji berries + pink Himalayan salt + deep milk chocolate. The combinations are unique so you have to taste slowly and savor every flavor. Also wonderful is the Black Pearl (ginger + wasabi + black sesame seeds + dark chocolate), the Creole (New Orleans style chicory coffee + cocoa nibs + Sao Thome bittersweet chocolate), and the Red Fire (Mexican ancho & chipotle chillies + Ceylon cinnamon + dark chocolate).

I don't like nuts, so that limits my options a bit. But my husband likes the Woolloomooloo (roasted & salted macadamia nuts + Indonesian coconut + hemp seeds + deep milk chocolate).

I haven't tried any of the Vosges Organic Exotic candy bars--if you have, please weigh in! Also, awhile back on some food channel I watched the making of a Mo's Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar (applewood smoked bacon + Alder wood smoked salt + deep milk chocolate). Very intriguing but I haven't been brave enough to try--yet! I like bacon and of course I like chocolate, so why not??!

Vosges's truffles are amazing, and also diversely flavored! --and named! I'm always hoping my husband will gift me with a Lunar Chocolate of the Month collection of truffles. Okay, maybe that's a little much; how about the Gatsby collection (available only during January and February)? Who wouldn't love this?:

Inspired by the famous love story of the Great Gatsby and the love of his life, Daisy, I [Vosges Owner/Chocolatier, Katrina Markoff] created a collection of two decadent truffles. Rich dark chocolate swirled with bubbly brut Champagne and topped with a red rose petal completes the Gatsby truffle. The delicate Daisy truffle pairs white chocolate with pink rosé Champagne from Reims and a few drops of rose water, kissed with a pink rose petal atop. The 16 piece box arrives dressed in a prim pin-up girl wrap with secret love notes tucked inside and includes 12 Gatsby and 4 Daisy truffles.
Or maybe something a little more unusual on the palate, such as the Collezione Italiana?:

Sweet and savory, reinterpreted. Lift the purple lid and experience Italy in an interpretation of savory + sweet. Your tasting begins with the Rooster truffle, a mélange of Taleggio cheese, organic walnuts and Tahitian vanilla beans draped in bittersweet dark chocolate. A bit salty, slightly tannic and rich in mouth-feel with an undercurrent of sweetness.
Um, whoa.

Everything is pretty pricey but a worthy occasional splurge. If you do purchase one of the Couture Cocoa mixes, follow the recipe on the back of the box, or I like blogger Topsy Turvy's method.

So, what are your favorite Vogges chocolates? I'll be flying through O'Hare on the way to Washington DC this weekend; I may need to pick up some chocolates at the Vosges boutique in the airport! Recommendations welcome!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dark and Shiny

Sunday afternoon I was getting ready to give myself a manicure. After gardening most of the day Saturday, my hands needed some care. I soaked my nails, pushed back my cuticles, and was digging through my collection of polishes for my usual color, Essie Mademoiselle. Typically, I keep my fingernails light because they chip so quickly. But Sunday I when I came across a bottle of OPI Russian Navy laying there lonely in my box I knew I didn't care that I'd have to probably remove the polish by Wednesday because it would be a chippy mess. So my finger nails are now lovely, shiny and dark blue. And as yet unchipped.

I tend to go for darker colors on my toes but because I usually pedicure but once a month, I tend to choose more classic brights like OPI's Chick Flick Cherry or Essie's Exotic Liras or even Chanel Vamp. So my wilder colors, like Russian Navy, are sadly neglected.

But now I'm obsessed. I just ordered NARS' new nail color Tokaïdo Express. It's "black amethyst infused with gold!" And at the end of September MAC is coming out with a Style Black Collection which features a nail lacquer called Baby Goth Girl. I have to have this for the name alone but it sounds like such fun: it's black with pink and purple pearl. I missed out on the Chanel Black Satin polish trend in 2006 (my sixteen year old son was living in Munich at the time and I begged him to find me a bottle of the European version--which was apparently easier to find--at the local Chanel store, but he was having none of it, most likely prefering to hit the beer halls) and I'm determined to be on the front end of this train--well at least I'll be the hippest girl in Central Illinois. HA!

Lest you think I maintain regularly manicured fingernails, I can't and don't. I clean and garden and bicycle and run and it's impossible! I do, however, try to keep a coat of Sally Hansen Natural Shine Instant Nail Finish on at all times. I own both the Clear and the Pink Tint (I purchased them with a buy one, get one free deal) and always carry one or the other in my handbag. Daily, when I first get to work in the morning, I brush a coat on and it takes but seconds to dry. I've also tried the Neutrogena Instant Nail Enhancer but do not recommend it--no lasting power.

S'mores Indoors

The weather has been cooler here--almost like a Northern California summer (although without the fog!). On Saturday we went out for sushi and cocktails and then came home and lit a fire. In July! Inspired by Cupcakes and Cashmere, we toasted marshmallows and feasted on S'mores, with lovely faux champagne cocktails (St. Germain + Cristalino) to sip.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Buying Jeans

I know purchasing denim can be traumatic and so I try to buy jeans infrequently and then in one fell swoop. Thus, when I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Chicago last May, finding a couple new pair of jeans was a priority. Except for a pair of dark straight-leg Levis, I hadn't bought any denim since Fall 2006. It was time!

Most of my denim came from GAP and J.Crew until I tried on my first pair of Citizen of Humanity jeans. Honestly, they made my ass look so good and I realized that there was a major hole in my wardrobe. I still love my casual jeans from Levis and Express, etc, but there is a reason to spend some money on a well-fitting, fashionable pair of denim: You Will Look Better, no matter what your size. Now, I don't advocate going crazy (unless you can truly afford to fill your closet with Current/Elliott or what-have-you) but I highly recommend that you:

Consider investing in a high-end pair of jeans.

As most of you know, I live in Central Illinois so while we do have boutiques that sell high-end denim, they carry limited sizes and styles. That brings me to my first rule of jean shopping:

Look for jeans at a major department store that carries a huge selection.

You want to try on a variety of silhouettes and have access to a range of sizes. The internet is no good; you can't possibly know what will look good on you or what size you will need from a photo. Every brand fits differently. By all means think about what appeals to you in terms of brand and style and wash, and make notes on pictures you see online or in magazines. But go in with an open mind.

I investigated Nordstrom on Michigan Avenue first--I have had success there in the past but I found their inventory spotty and disorganized. We had a long list of things to look at so we moved on. Eventually we ended up at Bloomingdales, where my husband purchased a pair of shoes. By that time I was feeling rather indifferent about the prospect of jean-shopping. I was tired and didn't relish the possible let-down of squeezing into twenty pairs of jeans and looking in the unforgiving mirror. But we apathetically decided to pass by the denim area before leaving the store.

Luckily, all things came together at Bloomingdales. First, the selection was promising. Earler, I had culled a list of possible brands and styles I might be interested in. My first priority was blue denim, and I thought I want might want a skinny silhouette, since most of the jeans in my closet are straight-legged or boot-cut. I also hoped to find a great pair of white jeans, but I was less hopeful here. At Bloomingdales, initially perusing the racks, I found most of the styles and brands on my list. But best of all, I was almost immediately approached by a great sales person named Joseph Porter*. And so my second piece of advice is:

Find a great salesperson.

Why? First, they know the inventory. I gave Joseph my list and he found the styles I was looking for. Second, they know how the brands fit. I usually take two (or three) different sizes of each style into the dressing room with me to make sure I'm choosing based on looks and not size!
Third, because they know what's on the floor, they can recommend brands and styles you might not have considered or know about. I personally have had more success with male SAs. I'm only guessing but I think the young female SAs take me less seriously--who does this 40+ woman think she is wearing hip denim??! The guys, they seem quite aware of who has the cash! Just be careful that the SA is honest with you. So, number three:

Take someone whose opinion you trust with you.

For me, that's my husband. we've been shopping together for almost twenty-four years now and he's developed a great eye and I utterly trust him. He's appropriately critical and appreciative as the situation calls for. He's pretty patient, too. And why would he want to lead me wrong--after all, he has to be seen with me!? I'm really lucky.

Finally, make sure the jeans fit. If you're going to spend all that money, the jeans better look good! DON'T worry about the size, focus on the FIT! Look for gapping on the back of the waistband, too much muffin top (a little is fine, especially if you opt for a lower rise--just know that you'll need to wear longer, loose-fitting tops), and pulling across the hips. Also, be sure they are not too big! Too big = sloppy. Jeans with lycra will stretch out as you wear them! Study this website or this website ahead of time so you know what to look for. Don't worry about length--jeans can be easily hemmed. I personally hem my own; here are the instructions. When you do hem, please remember that you will have to decide whether you will wearing the jean with flats or heels, and hem accordingly. Sorry, you can't have it both ways...unless you go with really skinny legs that you can scrunch up while wearing flats.

With Joseph and my husband's help--and after trying on about ten styles in varying sizes (I never said it was quick and easy), I opted for two pairs, both skinny. Neither style had been on my list of possibilities; thanks to Joseph I was hooked up with two unexpectedly and incredibly flattering options. Mission accomplished.

The first, in a creamy white, is by Adriano Goldschmied: The Premiere Skinny Jean.

The second, by Rock & Republic, in dark blue denim: the Berlin.

These are obviously not me, but I'm wearing them elsewhere on the blog. See here and here.

*If you live near Chicago, please seek Joseph out to help you find a great pair of jeans. His contact info is:
Joseph Porter, Denim Specialist
900 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer at Chez La Vie

Blog friends, I apologize for my absence. My husband has been urging me to put up a new post for weeks, and M. Lane kindly nudged me awhile back, but I knew it was time when I received a random text yesterday from my oldest son to "Update the blog!"

Life has been good at Chez La Vie. My youngest son is home from college, the weather has been, for the most part, fine, and though I haven't traveled anywhere yet this summer there have been plenty of cocktails in the garden and grilling on the patio.

To catch everyone up, here are some photos from recent happenings:

Remember my great yard-sale furniture find? My husband finished painting the pieces and we're very pleased with the result! We're still looking for suitable hardware, but in the meantime we painted the original pulls to match the wood. Here is our new dining-room cabinet. The color is Benjamin Moore Elephant Tusk, inspired by the wonderful blog Good Bones, Great Pieces. The artwork above the cabinet is by my youngest son.

And here is my cabinet for my sewing-room storage. It's painted Benjamin Moore Windmill Wings (2067-60). When my husband and I vacationed in Nantucket several summers ago, we visited a lovely shop called Le Cherche Midi. While there, I bought a Laguiole Sommelier's Tool for my husband, and I was also taken by the paint color on the shop's cabinets and shelves (you can see it on the website's "Tour.") I asked the sales person if she knew the shade, and luckily she was able to oblige. I hadn't had a chance to give it a try until now, and it looks incredible!

Father's Day, 2009. Brunch at Café Selmarie, Chicago, with my husband and sons.

My sons gave my husband a bottle of single-malt scotch (Highland Park Scotch Whiskey Cask #1673!) from Delilah's. Here they are in Oldest Son's apartment.

Before breakfast, oldest son washed out some glasses (because of course all the dishes were dirty, being that three 23 year-olds live here) so we could toast our wonderful father/husband!

Our local July 4th parade was rained out, but despite me constantly checking the news on my iPhone (!!), we didn't find out until we walked all the way to the parade route. (It was the first time in over fifty years that the parade has been cancelled, and they were so loathe to break the chain that the commission didn't decide until the last moment.) Still, I took the opportunity to wear my appropriately red Wellies!

We went back to the Farm for another dinner; this one was "The Whole Hog" and featured chef Paul Virant of Vie Restaurant in Western Springs, Illinois. My youngest son came, too. Here we are in front of the bee hives:

Essentially, every inch of an immense Heritage-breed pig was utilized in this feast. Including the head: one of our appetizers was a tart featuring the boiled down head meat and tongue. And yes, it was amazingly delicious. (Even though I felt like I might be the guy in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre.)

As we had done on our last visit, we took a tour of the facilities before dinner. Because it was so muddy due to all the rain the week before, we didn't get to go into the goat pens to pet the kids. We did, however, see the goats being milked. I had a great view (sorry I couldn't resist posting this; it's too awe-inspiring):

During the meal, washed down with a delicious Rioja, we had an unexpected surprise. An ewe had JUST given birth, and the dairy manager brought the kid out for us to see. She was still wet--and absolutely beautiful. Here she is, just a half-hour old:

If you are in in the Chicago area, I know this farm's cheeses are being carried at some of the local Whole Foods. I encourage you to seek them out--we purchase some weekly at out local Farmer's Market (where the owners actually sell their own product!) and devour it almost immediately. It's a staple with Friday-night Martinis!