Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great news about our friend, and a Christmas video!

How y'all doin'?  That little image to the left remarkably resembles me this week (sans heels) -- I have been moving a mile a minute and finishing everything up before houseguests begin to arrive!

Just whizzing by the 'puter on this busy Saturday-before-Christmas for three quickie reasons, y'all!

First, I really want to send a (((((((HUG))))) and shout-out to our beautiful friend Dina over at My Superfluities.  I was very, very glad to hear that she's safely at home recuperating and taking care of herself.  That news is the answer, I know, to the prayers that so many of us sent up to the good Lord!!  Can I speak for us, JCAs?  Dina, we miss you, we all adore you, and we can't wait to hear that you're feeling 100% like your energetic, sassy, stylish self again!

Okay, second, I promise I'll be back soon with OOTD.  This week's been crazy, as I said, and I've generally not been wearing anything new or especially interesting.  Like other gals I've been putting my Ankle Stretch Toothpick Jeans (in the Twilight wash and the Amore wash) through a heavy get-dressed-quickly rotation, along with the adorable Tartan Perfect Shirt and similar combos of a perfect shirt with a cardi or a cashmere henley and boots.  Preppy, predictable for me and not too thrilling, but always wicked cute and comfy in a pinch, ya know?

And third, from my heart to yours, I wanted to share a really wonderful 5-minute YouTube video for the holidays.  The "star" of this video is the young pastor of a church in Ohio that one of my dearest friends attends.  But don't be fooled by that -- this is no ordinary "pastor video" and you won't hear a sermon.  Trust me -- grab some hot chocolate and prepare to smile!  Whether Christmas is your holiday or not, you can't help but feel the infectious joy and spirit of the season in this video, and you'll want to share it with your friends, too!

Happy holidays, everyone -- be back soon! MWAH!

P.S.  Could I ask a favor, glaydies?  If you see this post, please pass along the good news about Dina, and this fantastic video, to other JCA's!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ho Ho Ho ROTD: a GREAT Soup Recipe!

Happy Saturday morning!

Okay, who else besides me is s-l-o-g-g-i-n-g through the Great Holiday To-Do List this weekend! :-)

DH is away on a quick guys' junket with friends, so my trusty sidekick Eddie and I are holding down the fort here at Casa UNC, and we're in full-on decorating mode.  Being an interfaith family we gear up for Hanukkah and Christmas, and since Hanukkah came early this year those decorations have gone up and come down already.  I am way behind schedule decorating for Christmas, though, since I lost an entire week right after Thanksgiving snuffling around feeling crummy with a wicked head cold.

But Eddie and I are making good progress and we've got our system down.  I decorate and he watches and occasionally chuffs and yarfs with an approving opinion.  The Christmas candles are in the windows, I've made my wreath, hung it on the front door and rigged up our spotlight for it, and a family of lighted reindeer are festively grazing in our front yard.  Oh, and the tree is patiently waiting, naked but fragrant, in its stand until DH gets home tomorrow -- he'll string the lights and we'll put the ornaments on together.  God bless my adorable Jewish hubby, who gets such a sweet kick out of decorating a Christmas tree!  I'm taking a break shortly to have lunch and hit Kohl's (her fave place) with one of my best BFFs from high school.  It's a holiday Saturday tradition for us and I can't wait!  Later on, today's remaining projects are a mantel and the banisters/balusters on the staircase.  Pictures coming soon!

Instead of an OOTD (I'm in schleppy clothes right now and am changing for lunch into an outfit y'all have seen), I thought I'd post a ROTD -- Recipe of the Day.  This is a fantastic and truly insanely simple Rachael Ray soup.  The picture at left shows it garnished with Rachael's homemade Cheese and Herb Puffs, which I haven't tried, but I'll post that recipe for you, too -- they look yum-o, as she would say!

This soup was really good the day I made it, but 24 hours in the fridge made a HUGE difference to the depth of flavor.  I served it with turkey sandwiches and a simple green salad -- so homey and delicious!  And by the way, it's not a thick soup -- it's hearty, but it's one that you could sip in a mug if you wanted to.  Another yum-o idea.

Hope you enjoy, everyone!  Ho Ho Ho!!!

Rachael Ray's Roasted Garlic and Roasted Tomato Soup
Link to video of Rachael making this
  • 2 heads garlic
  • EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for drizzling plus 2 tablespoons
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 plum or Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise (I used a whole container of Campari tomatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, such as chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley (To this, I added 2 Tsp dried Italian herbs mixture)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large can Italian tomatoes or crushed tomatoes (I used a large can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes; Muir Glen would be good, too)
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (I used Kitchen Basics chicken stock)
  • A generous handful of basil, shredded or torn
  • I used Low-Sodium stock and regretted that b/c the finished product tasted a little flat to me, so I added 1 heaping tsp "Better Than Bouillon" chicken-flavored bouillon.
Yields:  Serves 4.

For roasted garlic:  Preheat oven to 425° F.
With a very sharp knife, cut the top (pointy) ends off the heads of garlic, drizzle with EVOO and season with salt and pepper.  Wrap them in foil and roast til soft, 40-45 minutes. 

If you've got one oven, this can be done ahead of time -- just keep the garlic wrapped in foil and set it aside on your countertop.  If you have two ovens, you can roast the garlic and tomatoes at the same time (on separate timers!)

For roasted tomatoes:  Preheat oven (or reduce heat in oven if you've just finished roasting the garlic in your single oven) to 300° F.  Arrange the 24 halves of tomatoes on a cooking rack set on a baking sheet, so heat can circulate around the tomatoes.  Drizzle with EVOO and season with salt, pepper and your herbs of choice.  Roast for 2 hours.

While the garlic and tomatoes are roasting, sauté the chopped onion in EVOO (one turn around the pan) until soft and caramelized slightly, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.

From here, you have two prep options:
  1. EITHER:  Unwrap garlic and squeeze the cloves out of the paper husks (it should come right out very easily.)  Discard husks.  Place roasted garlic cloves, 1/2 to 3/4 of the roasted tomatoes, the onions and the canned tomatoes into a food processor or heavy-duty blender, and purée until smooth.  Pour this tomato base into a pot with the chicken or veggie stock and stir to combine, then heat through. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  (I used quite a bit of black pepper as we like a little "bite".)
  2. OR:  Unwrap garlic and squeeze the cloves out of the paper husks (it should come right out very easily.)  Discard husks.  Place roasted garlic cloves, 1/2 to 3/4 of the roasted tomatoes, the onions and the canned tomatoes directly into a pot with the chicken or veggie stock, and use an immersion blender (I call mine my "boat motor") to combine and puree, then heat through. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, chop remaining roasted tomatoes and stir into soup to give the soup some texture. Serve in shallow bowls. Garnish with Cheese and Herb Puffs or fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and additional chopped fresh or dried herbs.  Great with grilled cheese or turkey sandwiches and a simple salad alongside!

Rachael Ray's Cheese and Herb Puffs
Link to video of Rachael making this
  • 1 cup water 
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, parsley
  • 1 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
Yields: Makes 24-30 puffs
Preheat oven to 400º F.
In a medium saucepot over medium-high heat, combine water, butter and salt.  Heat until butter has melted and water is boiling.

Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Stir until mixture begins to create a dough ball in the center of the pot and the dough is completely pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 2 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. On low speed, add the eggs to the mixture one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl well after each addition and beating until the bowl feels cool (the mixture should be very smooth and silky).  Add in the herbs and cheese after the last addition of the eggs.

Transfer the mixture to a large Baggie and cut half an inch off of one corner to create a pastry bag.  On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, squeeze the mixture into small rounds and bake until golden brown and puffed, about 25 minutes. (If you're not into piping, I think you could also easily create small rounds by hand, simply using a teaspoon and WET hands.) 

Rachael says:  These can be made a day or two ahead of time and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.  If they feel soggy when you take them out, pop them into a 400º F oven for a couple of minutes until they crisp up again.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

IRL OOTD: Mixing Warm Tonal Neutrals

Thank you ALL so much for the ri-DUNK-ulously flattering comments on my recent IRL blog pix!!  Especially coming from the sophisticated eyes of the JCA community, your compliments are so deeply appreciated by this little old middle-aged mama!  Seriously, you're inspiring me to spiff up a bit each morning, eat my Wheaties and get to my cycling classes! :-)

Today's outfit was thrown together quickly because I've had (and am having, but blogging on my Hot List!) a wacko day.  But I'm happy with it, because it reflects one of my favorite ways to dress.

Sorry about the exposure on the pix, but hope you'll be able to get the color-combo idea. :-)

This ensemble combines a slightly surprising blend of J. Crew warm tonal neutrals including:
All of these blended tones are tied together by the accessories, starring (once again) the Bayberry Washed Wool Scarf (2010), a piece that I would now pay 3X FP for because it's turned out to be such a workhorse.  I'm sure you're all getting just a wee bit weary of seeing me wear it, actually.  To wear this scarf today, I wove it around last year's very long Crystal Cadence Necklace, then looped the combined scarf-necklace into a soft, controlled knot.  Echoing the necklace, I added the Heirloom Flora Earrings a/k/a the 2009 "J. Crew Says Thank You for Devoting Your AmEx Card to Us" earrings.

I also added a loose belt for a pop of soft color reinforcing the colors in the scarf, and as "waist jewelry" -- see my Polyvore set for today for an explanation of that concept.  This belt is truly vintage J. Crew and I have no clue what it's called or when I bought it; I can tell you I've had it for at LEAST five years and I'd bet longer.   It's a rich burgundy-wine patent leather skinny belt, and the patent leather is broken up by segments of antiqued gold thick chain links.  Terrific piece.  And although the pic above weirdly makes it look like I've got a spare tire over the top of the belt, IRL the effect isn't like that at all -- it's a slimming, waist-enhancing little belt.  I swear. ;-)

And as for my shoes, they're a find, too.  Last year I was whizzing thru DSW one day and spotted a pair of EXACTLY THE SAME COLOR BURGUNDY PATENT Nine West penny loafers (a style called "Winogreen") in my size on the super-sale rack.  Super comfy, too.  Whoo baby.  There were only four appropriate words:  Welcome to my closet!

Close-up of the scarf/necklace combo and
shoes.  Socks are a sort of pale-oak color lightweight wool -- too chilly to go without them today!!! :-)


Aw-ight, outta here. Cycling class at 6, dinner to throw together first.  Ciao cuties!!!


Monday, December 6, 2010

BRRRR!!! IRL OOTD featuring the Caramel Arrow Sweater-Jacket

Holla to all y'all!  Which, by the way, is the proper plural form of 'y'all', for those of you longing to speak better Southern. :-)

Most people make New Year's resolutions; some keep them; some fail to keep them; some, like me, avoid them altogether.  But I got my first iPhone recently and it inspired me to make a Thanksgiving resolution of sorts: that I'd try my d*!$%mnedest (1) to find a place in my house where I could take pix of myself with my fancy-schmancy new phone-that-does-everything-except-drive-me-to-my-appointments and (2) with IRL pix in hand, to start actually blogging on my blog. 

Hence, y'all, I'm tryin'.

It is cold here today, by our thin-blooded standards and I'd wager by anyone's -- right now, Weatherbug informs me that it's 33.9 degrees, and it's windy, too.  This morning our bossy senior citizen Bichon Frise, Eddie (see below and at the bottom of my blog) even hesitated to take his quite fur-clad self outside for a potty break.  Watching Eddie this morning I couldn't help but think about what my mom would have said.  She was a true Steel Magnolia who had a perfect one-liner for every occasion -- often slightly inappropriate, always delivered with a serenely confident straight face.  Mama never seemed aware of being off-color or funny, which just made her funnier.  About today, she would have said "Honey, bundle up, it's as cold as a hooker's heart out there!"

What better day, then, to layer up with my luscious Arrow Sweater-Jacket in the Heathered Caramel color!  Here's my OOTD, minus my Tall Classic UGGs in Chestnut, which I wore while I was out and about earlier.   I changed shoes when I got home to my toasty house.

OOTD 12-06-10
featuring the Arrow Sweater-Jacket
in Heathered Caramel (size Small)

I am also wearing:

  • J. Crew Merino Turtleneck from 2008 in Bright Peony (size Small)
  • J. Crew Dressage Belt in English Saddle (size Medium) (See it styled wonderfully on Slastena here) -- I liked the way it added some "finish" at my waist over the turtleneck, and I wore it as you would wear "waist jewelry" -- loose and drapey -- not cinched as if it were holding up my jeans.  Little added short-waisted-girl trick there. ;-)
  • J. Crew Bayberry Washed Wool Scarf (sold out but worthy of stalking) -- and since the product page seems to be wonky and the picture isn't showing, below is a closeup of this versatile, soft and lightweight but warm piece.
Hairdo courtesy of Pebbles Flintstone.  There isn't much else that fine, flyaway hair like mine will do on such a cold day, so I don't fight it.

The fab Bayberry Scarf.

Polyvore for the day.

And I'll leave you with a shot of my old doggie enjoying the early evening in his favorite position and favorite chair (on what we call his "chair sheet") by the fire.  Everybody all together now:  AAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!


Saturday, December 4, 2010

IRL OOTD 12-04-10 Black, Grey & Holiday Red

Darkness has fallen (in that sudden THUD! way that winter darkness comes) and the holiday lights are twinkling at my neighbors' houses, inspiring me to get my decorating mojo cookin' tomorrow!

This weekend one of my BFFs (who makes gorgeous vintage-glass garden art) was working a gigantic craft festival selling her beautiful wares, and I had the great pleasure of manning her booth with her this afternoon.  There is nothing like an arts 'n crafts show to get your holiday juices flowing!  This one was called the "Apple Annie Festival" (who knows why) and was held at a big Catholic church in a nearby suburb.  The place was hoppin', and I was really pleased to see that people were buying, not just looking.  Maybe the economy really is inching its way around the corner, Mr. President!  In any event, the atmosphere was warm and communal and holly-jolly, and it was fantastic to see my dear friend's special pieces selling like hotcakes!

Today's ensemble features last year's black A-line Wool Bungalow Skirt, a piece that I've really enjoyed a lot.  This is a size 6, which gives me room to pull it down a bit.

For a day like this when I knew I'd be bending, stooping, standing for a long time and even hauling bulky things to people's cars for them, this little skirt was a no-brainer.  It's super comfortable; a very decent length even when bending and stooping; fresh, perky and unwrinkled even after hours of wear.  You can still buy this skirt in the Factory version right here (I am seriously thinking about getting it in the Cabernet color since I missed out on last year's lovely Garnet color).

And you could sub in any number of things from the current J. Crew inventory to get a similar effect, such as the Wooltown Skirt or the equally cute Wool Bell Skirt (currently at a nice sale price, especially in the versatile Heathered Aluminum).

Also wearing:
  • Heathered dark grey tights from Nine West that I picked up last week at the mall on a 2 for $15 sale.  I had planned to inaugurate the lovely J. Crew Wool-Blend Ribbed Tights in Urban Grey, but listen to this -- they snagged on the band of my wristwatch as I was putting them on.  For the first time.  BIG snag.  BIG.  I know they didn't cost me an arm and a leg, but come ON -- the FIRST TIME I PUT THEM ON?? Sigh.  So out came the new Nine West substitutes, and I must say they are super great tights. 
  • J. Crew Vachetta Grommet Belt, size M, in black, from earlier in 2010.  Factory version still available right here.
  • My much-loved, ridiculously comfortable black suede Pirate Boots a/k/a the Nine West Frollic from Fall 2009 (often available on eBay, as I've linked here).  I wore them scrunched down to bootie height today, but often wear them full height over jeans or cords.
  • A very old but awesome J. Crew bateau-necked 3/4 sleeve very soft cotton knit sweater -- anybody have a clue what this one was called? It was also made in navy and I would love to stalk eBay for it, because I've had this one for at least four years and it looks brand new with bright white and fresh holiday-red stripes despite having been washed probably 35 times.  Oh J. Crew, bring back this quality!  This year's crazy popular Vintage Bateau Top in Dark Pewter would be a great sub for this kind of look, as I've shown in my Polyvore for today.
  • Gold hoops on my ears and a couple of very good David Yurman knockoff long necklaces (see links on my Polyvore set to the real items).  Love his stuff -- casual and sporty.  I have several real Yurman pieces, but I also have, and loooooooove, a very good knockoff lady. You didn't hear me say that, right? Never, ever would I wear my real stuff to do what I did today!
  • And finally, although it is VERY difficult to see in this picture (sorry sorry sorry), I also wore a black, grey and red plaid cotton gauze scarf from Target -- one of those $14 finds that makes you just grin all day.  Similar here, here and here.  Here's a closer look at the colors (taken right here in my office under way better light than my full-length mirror):

Dinner beckons. Have a nice evening, everyone! Polyvore set for today:


Thursday, December 2, 2010

IRL OOTD: Under the Weather with J. Crew, featuring Zip-Side Sweatshirt

Hello everybody!  My second attempt at IRL photos of myself comes to you from another bright but quite chilly day, and one on which I woke up to find that Zicam, Vitamin C and I have lost the little battle we've been waging against an oncoming cold and sore throat.  Ugh, right?

I'm working on a project at home today and had no place that I absolutely HAD to go.  So when I got dressed (which almost didn't happen at all, because lemme tell ya, some flannel jammies were looking real good), the ONLY requirement for me was that whatever I put on had to ooooooooooze comfort.  And this outfit does the trick nicely, I think.  Plus, I'm pretty pleased with myself (honk honk sniff sniff) under the circumstances for being uber-comfy whilst also nodding to the "let's all wear sweatpants as if they were jeans" trend.  Suhhhh-WISH -- score for me! :-)

Lemme tell ya a bit about what I'm loafin' around in.  And my apologies for the quality of the pictures.  I plead the Sudafed effect, y'all.  I was finding it ridiculously hard to hold my iPhone and myself still at the same time, so I'm posing a bit goofy, and it didn't help matters that I'm wearing navy and charcoal grey today in not-great lighting.  But I'll show ya what I got, okay?

OOTD 12-02-10
"Under the Weather with J. Crew"
  • J. Crew Zip-Side Sweatshirt in Heather Charcoal (on sale in a few remaining sizes for $39.99 in this color and $24.99 in "dark cloud", which is really a heathered athletic gray -- plus 25% to 30% off depending on your ride-along skillz!)
This French Terry item got mixed reviews from the JCA community, but I found it on a super-sale rack a while back for, like, a dollar plus a discount.  So it screamed "Try me on!", and I like it a lot.  Lightweight and slightly fitted (I got the Medium), and wicked comfy.  It looks very cute with a Perfect Shirt peeking out from under it, too.  There is more contrast between the navy pants and this sweatshirt than you'd think from my pix.
This can be seen better in the picture below, and was another lucky find, on sale early in the season.  It's 72" long and made of a gauzy wool and cotton blend, so it's warm but not itchy and very easy to work with.  By the way, a big thank-you to Sparrowsandsparkles, from whose wonderful blog I learned how to tie the version of a four-in-hand knot shown in my pix.  I use that technique ALL the time, and every time I tie a scarf that way I know for sure that some other woman is going to stop me and ask me how to do it.  Awesome little trick!

  • J. Crew Ultraknit Weekend Pants (from 2009) in Navy, size Small (Polyvore link here; similar 2010 version available here in Navy and other colors-- same wonderful knit but without the elastic cuff on the bottom of the pants, in Navy and other colors)
I wish I'd bought these last year in every available color.  And I wish I had a nickel for every time I've worn or washed this pair.  They've stayed true to color and have held up beautifully.  I personally prefer the elasticized bottom cuff because it makes them very easy to tuck into boots (as I've done today), but I like this year's version, too, and I suppose it's still available in every size and every color only because it's not on sale.  With the current promo, I'm tempted to tell Santa to bring me another pair!
Y'all read my UGGs testimonial yesterday.  This is my second pair, and I just love 'em.  Size down one from your regular shoe size for this Classic version.

So that's it from Sneezeville for today! Stay warm, y'all, and don't forget to cough into your elbow, sneeze into a soft Kleenex and Purell Purell Purell!!! 

Oh, and my Polyvore for today is below.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

IRL (!!) OOTD: 12-01-10 featuring Marled Wool Shawl-Collar Cardi

Oh how I love this cardigan, J. Crew's Marled Wool Shawl-Collar cardi from the October '10 rollout.  It's toasty, not itchy, flattering and very well made.  The fit is TTS to a smidge large.  I am a size 6 or 8 (most often 8) in J. Crew jackets and I took a Small in this cardi.  On this blustery, brilliantly blue-skied day, I can't think of a more perfect yummy piece to pull out for an afternoon of Santa errands!

Hold onto your hats, kids, because I have finally found a spot where I can take IRL pictures of myself (a weird skill, can I just say?) and so, with great fanfare, here ya go -- not fantastic quality because the lighting in my "spot" isn't great.  I'll keep working on that!

OOTD 12-01-10

J. Crew Ankle Stretch Toothpick Jean in Twilight Wash, size 29 (from early 2010, but lots of similar options are available -- IMHO, a dark but warm blue wash like this one looks best with this cardi)

J. Crew Marled Wool Shawl-Collar Cardigan in Camel, size Small (sold out in both colors, but look for popbacks)

J. Crew Smooth Leather Belt in Weathered Wood, size Medium (sold out in this caramel-y color, but this is an AWESOME belt, glaydies, and the basic black is on sale for $19.99)

J. Crew Ringspun Candy "Licorice" Tee, size Medium (I could have taken the Small too; this piece is one many of y'all will remember from Holiday 2008.  I bought it on eBay about a year ago for a song from a seller who clearly had no idea what he/she HAD!  And if you're an XS, here ya go -- one's currently listed on eBay:  Current eBay listing for XS Licorice Tee)

UGGs Classic Tall in Chestnut, size 7 (I'm an 8 in most shoes and I think UGGs Classics reliably run one size small).  I do not know for the life of me why I waited years to buy a pair of UGGs, but believe me, once I did I went running back for another pair real soon.  What an INSANE idea these shoes are -- it's like wearing bedroom slippers to the mall.  Warm slippers, at that.  I. am. sayin'.  For comfort like this, I'll happily accept the fact that UGGs + my skinny legs = an unmistakable resemblance to Daisy Duck.

And rounding out this outfit, I just tossed on some big gold hoop earrings (you can't see 'em behind all that hair) and one of my handy necklaces from Forever 21.  Being the mom of a college student and a college graduate (oh yikes -- translation: there is just no flippin' way around the fact that I am on the downhill side of middle age), I always feel a bit conspicuous in F21 amongst all the teenyboppers and young moms.  But it's worth braving all that youthfulness to get their ridiculously useful and cheap jewelry.  This necklace is typical -- it has faux crystal fireballs and faux resin beads in caramel, pale grey and peach, all on a super long gold-toned chain-link single strand that can be doubled, or worn piled up as a bracelet.  I believe I paid about $6.00 for this baby last year at the mall.  What a find for the 2009-2010 J. Crew color scheme, huh?

My Polyvore for today: