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!