Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tying Scarves: Celtic Knot

Who doesn't love wrapping up in a scarf? Over the years I've collected an interesting collection of knots, so I thought I would start a series to share a few of my favorites from time to time.

Tie a Celtic Knot in a Scarf

First up, the Celtic Knot. This is a tie that works best on long scarves and shawls, like the one you see above, with or without patterns. It keeps the fabric close around your neck, but it also bunches it up a bit, so it ranks about a medium on the warmth scale, depending on what kind of top it's paired with. Best of all, it's thoroughly unisex. I taught James how to tie it last year, and he wears it all the time. Here we go!

Start by bunching the scarf in the middle.

Tie a Celtic Knot in a Scarf

Still folded in half, bring it around the back of your neck.

Tie a Celtic Knot in a Scarf

Find the loop in the middle of the scarf, bring it forward, and pull one of the loose ends through it.

Tie a Celtic Knot in a Scarf

Twist the loop 180 degrees, so the side that was underneath is now on top . . .

Tie a Celtic Knot in a Scarf

And pull the second loose end through the new, standalone loop.

Tie a Celtic Knot in a Scarf

Adjust as needed, and remember these steps so you can demonstrate for friends, family, and strangers over the course of the day!

Tie a Celtic Knot in a Scarf

Happy scarfing! Stay warm!

Monday, November 24, 2014

DIY Watercolor Place Cards for Thanksgiving

I've been on a water color kick for the past couple of weeks. It's been an adventure, learning to use them again (I'm still not great at it!), but I'm having a lot of fun and I can't wait to share more of my projects with them here. In the meantime, I whipped up this really simple DIY just in time for Thanksgiving.

We have only recently delved into the world of place cards over here, and now that I've gotten into them, I don't know why we haven't used them all along! It's a lovely little personal touch that tells a guest they're worth the extra effort, even for a small party. Place cards are also an easy way to class up an otherwise plain table setting. And with Thanksgiving coming up, bringing with it all the inevitable family drama, laying out a thoughtful seating plan has the potential to save everyone at the table a lot of grief!

DIY Watercolor Place Cards

With all these things in mind, we forge onwards. For this DIY, you will need:
-Graphic cardstock or cardboard (I used empty tissue boxes #upcycling)
-Watercolors (I used Marie's in Vermillion)
-A large watercolor brush
-A sheet of water color paper 
-A calligraphy pen, sharpie, or similar writing implement
(Not pictured)
-Ruler or straight edge

Start by cutting out backgrounds for your cards from the cardstock/cardboard (or tissue box). I didn't measure too precisely, but each of these outer squares ended up being about 2.75 by 3.75 inches.

DIY Watercolor Place Cards

Then it's time to create the foreground. Decide on the dimensions you want (mine were about 2.25x1.5 inches), and draw a grid in pencil on the back of the watercolor paper to correspond with how many you need. When satisfied with this, turn the paper over and start to paint. I stuck to one color and style over the entire thing, but you can use as many as you like.

DIY Watercolor Place Cards

Allow the sheet to dry, and then cut out the inner cards along the lines you traced on the back.

DIY Watercolor Place Cards

Now it's as simple as writing the names of your guests in a fancy script, and gluing the inner cards to the outer. I find they tend to warp a little bit in this process, so I like to let them dry underneath a heavy book overnight, or until they are needed.

DIY Watercolor Place Cards

I'm pleased with how these came out (the colors aren't quite as Halloween! in person, I promise!). I finished the seating chart last night, and I'm looking forward to positioning the cards and the people around a turkey on Thursday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Summer to Winter

Summer Dresses in Winter

I love this dress. It's so summery and beautiful. It also happens to be really skimpy. Like, make the wrong move and I could expose boobs and butt in one go. Thus, I've always felt a little uncomfortable wearing it around in the summer, when it's supposed to be perfect.

Summer Dresses in Winter
Summer Dresses in Fall

Lately, though, I came to the conclusion that with a few choice accessories, I could easily transition this into a cute winter dress instead! All it needs is a cami, a scarf or cardigan (or both), and a neutral pair of tights. Voila! A summer dress that I actually prefer wearing in the winter. I'm already thinking about other pieces in my closet that I can remix this way.

Summer Dresses in Fall

Scarf: Brought back by a friend from India.//Cardigan: Charlotte Russe.//Dress: fire Los Angeles.//Cami: Arizona Favorite Cami.//Tights: Steve Madden.//Flats: J.C. Penney.

How do you feel about wearing things that are clearly out of season? Am I alone in thinking I can pull this off?

Photos taken by James, edited by me.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Farewell Brunch

Brunch Friends

For the past several months, we've played host to a friend who needed a home for a little while until she and her boyfriend could get everything sorted out, get married, and move back down south. A couple of weeks ago, we had to say goodbye, so we threw a brunch to celebrate and give them a proper farewell.

Taking my cues from the Barefoot Contessa, as usual, I spent the night before getting as much as I could ready to go -- I assembled the fruit platter and set the table, leaving the rest for the morning. My own personal brunch tip is to entertain on the morning that the clocks fall back. It gives you an extra hour to get everything ready! Unfortunately it also gives you one day of the year to entertain, so I don't plan to stick to it exclusively.

Brunch Place Settings
Brunch Table

In addition to the fruit, we served turkey sausages, roasted asparagus, and a variation on these.

Brunch Fruit
Brunch Food
Brunch Food

For drinks, what else? Coffee for pre-brunch mingling, plentiful Coplands for brunch itself, and customized espresso for post-brunch, all made with the ROK. We spent a good hour sipping them and digesting -- you need some distance from brunch before getting on with the day!

Copland Brunch Cocktail
ROK Espresso for Brunch

It was a wonderful brunch, but we wish they didn't have to leave! Good luck down South, y'all. Hopefully it won't be too long before we see you again!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Traverse City + The Iceman Cometh

We had a great weekend in Traverse City. Dad has raced in the Iceman Cometh Challenge for 5 years now, and despite his accident this summer, he had no intention of missing this one! We came up early on Friday to make the most of our time there.

Iceman Finish Line 2014Iceman Finish Line 2014
Vati, The Iceman

Unfortunately the race wasn't much fun this year --  Michigan isn't an adjective, but it's the best word I can think of to describe the weather we had! It was just so Michigan. The race started in Kalkaska with relatively heavy rain and temperatures in the thirties, which caused a muddy and ripped up track for the bikes. Everyone rode a much longer and more grueling race than anticipated, which is saying a lot, since everyone goes in prepared for 30 miles of dirt in northern Michigan in November! By the time afternoon hit, and we came to meet him at the finish line in Traverse City, the situation had deteriorated. Lots of mud and grit, with intermittent rain that eventually gave way to the sun. Great! we thought. Maybe it'll be a little nicer from here on out.

Two minutes later, it started snowing.

All in all, I spent an hour at the finish line, camera at the ready, knowing he could come in at any moment. I've never seen so many people carrying their bikes over the line, a chain dangling from their hands. I've never seen such a long line for the bike wash or showers. Nor have I ever spent more than an hour waiting for the competitor I support to make it out of the race grounds. It was exhausting, and I didn't even get on a bike!

Northern Michigan
Northern Michigan

The rest of the weekend was fantastic, though. Some family friends lent us their cabin for the weekend, which is right on the lake and absolutely beautiful. I'm still thrilled by their generosity. We usually stay in hotels up north, but I think I'm going to advocate for more air bnb type situations in the future -- having a little house or cabin of your own is just a much nicer way to do it! We also had a few great meals at the Towne Plaza and 7 Monks Taproom in Traverse City (delicious, but proceed with caution for both if you are vegetarian or uninterested in pork products!), and Grey Gables in Charlevoix (they have a great 2 for $44 option which includes two entrees, two salads, two desserts, and a bottle of wine, and the food and service were both fantastic).

Northern Michigan

We had a lovely weekend and can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Flat White with ROK

My journey toward enjoying coffee has been a long and tedious one. My genes lean heavily toward the coffee-guzzler, so I grew up figuring I would probably end up guzzling too, one day, but it took me longer than anticipated to even appreciate the flavor of coffee.

First, I started to enjoy coffee ice cream. All the delicious flavor I smelled on the beans, without any of the bitterness on the tongue. What more could I ask for? I stayed at the coffee ice cream stage for many years, until I lived in Vienna, world-renowned for it's coffee houses and for having brought the beverage to the rest of Europe. Soon I found myself able to stomach mochas and lattes, and by the time I came back to the states, I was a regular contributor to my family's weekend Starbucks order.

A few months ago, our ROK Espresso Machine arrived, and it is this little wonder that has started me on the path to fulfilling my destiny as a coffee guzzler. I have fallen in love, and today I'm going to show you why, while sharing a "recipe" (in quotes, because it's so obvious!) that I enjoy on a regular basis these days.

ROK Espresso Machine

This is the ROK! Making a shot of espresso with it takes about five minutes, but makes my day five times classier and more delicious. Here's how I do it:

Water: Hot water is an obvious necessity. I usually fill a two-cup Pyrex measure with water and microwave it on high for 2-3 minutes, until it's nice and hot. One shot of espresso will only require about a third of that water; the rest is for prepping and cleaning the machine.

Beans: You'll need an espresso grind, not regular coffee grounds. We buy our beans at Starbucks, and when we're ready to turn them into espresso, we bring the bag back in to have them grind it for us (you can also do this at home if you have the right equipment). It's always best to store them in a cool, dry area, preferably in an airtight container that doesn't let sunlight in.

Additions: I am probably years away from appreciating a straight shot of espresso, so I have a couple different "recipes" in rotation. For a flat white*, I like a dairy-to-espresso ratio of a little more than 1-to-1. This means I use about half a cup of dairy (sometimes just milk, but I really love to throw in a splash of cream or half and half, too). I take the edge off with a teaspoon of sugar, and toss the combination in the microwave for about a minute at 70% power while I prep the machine. You'll see the result below!

ROK Espresso Machine

Prepping the machine is as simple as popping in an empty basket and an empty espresso cup (or the pyrex, if I'm warming up some milk in the glass I plan to use), and putting hot water through it. This doesn't make espresso, but it literally warms up the machine, it's parts, and the cup, all of which create a better drink. Then I remove the basket and shake it out a little bit before packing in as much espresso as I can, and re-attaching it.

To make espresso, I place whatever cup I plan to use underneath the basket, fill the basin at the top with water, and slowly lift the arms. We've found it's best to push down on the arms just until we feel resistance, and the espresso starts to drip, then let it sit for a few seconds so the water really seeps into the powder, before continuing to push the water through. Bring the arms all the way down, then lift them up again to push through all the remaining water. The best way to get crema (the foamy stuff on the top of a regular shot) is to hold the arms firmly down at the end of the second push -- the machine will froth a little bit and spit out some wonderful bubbles. You can see how all of this looks below.

ROK Espresso Machine
ROK Espresso Machine
ROK Espresso Machine
ROK Espresso Machine

Beautiful, am I right? It has ruined me for other coffees. In fact, we're all so spoiled that we actually brought the ROK along when we went out of town this weekend. Thank god it's so portable.

ROK Espresso Machine

Now, cleaning it is a necessary part of the job. Empty out the basket, then run another cup's worth of water through the machine and back into the Pyrex. Wipe the basket, base, and the strainer (the part that rests on top of the basket) with a paper towel to get out the remaining espresso grounds and dry everything off. Enjoy your drink!

*I know that what I've got here isn't exactly a flat white. The ROK comes with thing to foam milk, but I really can't be bothered. It's delicious either way!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Uncle John's Cider Mill

Orchards in Autumn

You may recall seeing a visit to the Cider Mill on my October Bucket list, and it did not disappoint! I dragged James along (he wasn't difficult to convince) and headed out to a Michigan mill for the first time in years. We chose a beautiful, cold week night for it -- ideal, in order to miss the crowds that run around at most other hours and temperatures -- and caught the last few rays of sunshine.

Uncle John's Winery

We arrived just before sunset, and our first stop was the tasting room. Why wait? Uncle John's makes a wide variety of unique ciders and several kinds of wine, and also stock and sample some wider varieties of wine and liquor. Each patron can choose six to sample for free! I liked the American 150 cider best, and I would have loved to bring home a bottle of the Harvest White if they had any left to buy! We did end up bringing home a bottle of sparkling peach wine (it tastes like sparkling, clarified peach -- absolutely wonderful), although it isn't produced at Uncle John's.

Uncle John's Winery
Uncle John's Winery

From the winery we moved on to the cider, doughnuts, and other farm goods available for purchase. Mutti went a little crazy, and we came home with a pumpkin, a bunch of weird gourds, and several romanesco broccoli, along with the leftover doughnuts and cider from what we referred to as "dinner". Later, she decided that all these gourds were not enough for our Thanksgiving table later this month, and we went back for another bag full. I ask you.

Uncle John's Cider Mill
Uncle John's Cider Mill

It was a great night, and we have really enjoyed the spoils so far! I think we're going to have to turn it into a yearly thing -- who doesn't love a good old-fashioned harvest celebration? Uncle John's is open May-December every year, and has something of interest for people of all ages. Check their website to find the daily hours and events happening at any given time of the year.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How to be Princess Leia

Here's a fun story:

I have always had long hair, assuming you choose to block out (as I do) the brief phase in elementary school when I had a bob, complete with bangs I insisted on cutting myself in a fit of 8-year-old pique. I first saw Star Wars at the age of 5 or 6, and Princess Leia quickly became a role model. She was a princess, a diplomat, and she had amazing hair: the trifecta. However, I distinctly remember trying to recreate the cinnamon buns many times as a child, failing miserably, and eventually coming to the conclusion that my hair role model had betrayed me. Those crazy, amazing cinnamon buns were not her real hair!

This sense of betrayal and resentment followed me until the age of 20, when I discovered the sock bun. It's invention has made as much of a positive impact on my life as any hair accessory ever could, and because I cut up my old pair of Quidditch tube socks to make them (a story for another day), I had exactly what I needed to construct two identical buns.

DIY Princess Leia Cinnamon Buns

Creating this style at its best requires a barrel brush, a boar's hair comb, two small elastics, and about 10 bobby pins, plus mousse and hairspray to help it hold. Obviously, you'll also need the sock buns! I find the best socks to use for this are tube socks that rise to the knee (the shorter the socks, the smaller the resulting bun) -- simply cut off the toes at the seam, and roll from the top down. I used yellow because it's what I had to hand when I made these a few years ago, though ideally they would be a closer match for my hair color.

Start with your hair long and de-tangled. Brush through a dollop of mousse (if using) and mist the whole thing with the hairspray -- I've found this really helps, especially with slippery hair like mine. Part it straight down the middle.

DIY Princess Leia Cinnamon Buns

Next, continue the part down the back of your head and secure it into two ponytails. Leia conveniently wears her buns over her ears, which gives us not only an alternative to ear muffs, but an anchor point for the pig tails. The elastic should rest at the top of your ears (actually a little higher than they appear in this photo, but you get the idea).

DIY Princess Leia Cinnamon Buns

When satisfied with the positioning and smoothness of your pigtails (the boars hair brush comes in handy for that), it's time to turn them into cinnamon buns. Pull your first pigtail through the hole in the middle of the sock, slide the sock towards the end, and begin rolling your hair into a bun.

DIY Princess Leia Cinnamon Buns

As you roll, you'll want to shift the position of your hands constantly so that your hair fully covers the bun, but make sure you don't twist the pigtail as you do this, or you'll make your life unnecessarily difficult! When you get to the top, use your thumbs to make sure that the entire pigtail has gone through the sock. Now it's time to secure (carefully) with a few bobby pins -- sometimes I prefer to have a hair-competent friend help me with this so I don't accidentally expose a bit of sock I can't see.

DIY Princess Leia Cinnamon Buns

Voila! Half a set of Leia buns! Just repeat on side two . . .

DIY Princess Leia Cinnamon Buns

Do some fidgeting . . .

DIY Princess Leia Cinnamon Buns

And you'll have your own set of buns to show off around town!

DIY Princess Leia Cinnamon Buns

(No need to tell anyone you got implants, though they may guess!)

The buns are unquestionably the most important part of becoming Princess Leia, but if you're interested in how we got to the rest of it, keep reading!

As we all know, Princess Leia doesn't need a man, but who would say no to the opportunity of a swashbuckling scoundrel like Han Solo? Fortunately I have a willing partner in crime for this.

DIY Han Solo

We had great success with James's costume at the thrift store -- we found a white semi-turtleneck that was made for someone both wider and shorter than James; all we had to do was cut a slit in it. He also found a decent pair of black boots, and a black children's dress shirt that I turned into a vest with a little creative ripping and hemming. James provided the belt, jeans, and chest hair all by himself.

My costume proved a little trickier. After spending a few hours combing thrift stores for a suitable Leia dress, I just went home and raided my own closet, reasoning that with the cinnamon buns, I could get away with wearing just about anything I wanted, provided it conformed to Leia's signature color -- white. My recommendations for finding a Leia costume in your own closet? Look for weird cuts and synthetic fabrics. I ended up wearing a wonderful asymmetrical skirt I've had for years but don't often wear due to it's odd cut and color. I added a white underarmour shirt that I normally wear skiing, a white sweater cape, and a silver chain belt. And black boots, because I can't be bothered with wearing white on my feet.

DIY Han and Leia Organa Solo

So, to sum up: a relatively inexpensive and authentic Star Wars couples' costume is not as far out of reach as you might think!

(p.s. I realize I'm writing this after Halloween, but as Liz Lemon so wisely says of a Princess Leia costume: "Halloween? A girl can wear this anywhere! School, church, alone on the playground, a child therapist's office. . . .")