Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MMA Tourney.

Most of you have questioned some items on my 30 before 30 list, and this next item definitely falls under that category.  Attending an MMA fight somehow made it onto my list-maybe it was seeing 'Warrior', maybe it's my secret desire to watch people bleed, at any rate an MMA tournament went down last Friday night at the Copernicus Theater in Chicago, and I was there to witness it.  Fearing for my safety (because those crazy fighters are likely to jump out of the cage and attack me at will) and due to the lack of interest my friends had of attending with me, my 62 year old Father joined me.  

I'll get to the actual fight in a minute, but my Dad was a particular highlight of the evening.  Dressed in pressed khaki pants, loafers, a pale lemon yellow checked button down under a cornflower blue cotton sweater, my Dad could not have looked more out of place.  Walking around the lobby munching on a slice of pizza and drinking a plastic cup of Polish beer, we must have been quite the sight.

When we eventually found our seats through the tattooed highly stylized crowd, the action began.  From our mezzanine seats we had a bit of trouble seeing some of the finer points of the fight, so we both whipped out our iPhones and looked up magnifying glass apps (me) and opera glasses apps (my Dad).  Neither of these really worked out, so we settled in for the series of fights.  This is what went down in mostly every fight:

  • Classy young women in maximum coverage hot pants and bras flash the round number to the crowd.
  • Fighter swaggers down the aisle to the cage on stage to his personal fight song, followed by his giant posse of handlers, coaches and sponsors.
  • The next fighter follows suit, and they meet in the cage.
  • They kick, punch, and hold each other on the ground until someone taps out.  Highlights at this stage: someone got punched in the head and bled all over himself, the other guy and the cage.  In another round, a guy had to try standing up four times before he actually made it.
  • The winner does a little fist pump, jumps on the cage, or something similar, and hugs it out with the loser.
  • The emcee acts really interested in the winner and ask all sorts of fascinating questions.
  • The winner does a shout out to his sponsors, and a group of meat heads somewhere in the audience whoops it up.
  • Repeat.
We left a little early to beat the parking lot traffic, and my Dad gave me one last amusing anecdote before he drove off in his Mercedes.  As he's trying to back out of his space, he realizes the car behind him is a little close.  This necessitates a little maneuvering.  Three young guys offer their assistance as my Dad Austin Powers' his way to freedom.  I giggle as I rock out to indie beats on 93XRT.

Lessons learned: MMA tournaments are not terribly interesting or exciting, but attending any event with my Dad is enormously humorous. 

That's Essie to you.

There's nothing quite like hearing your nephew say your name for the first time, and this past weekend my nephew Charlie gave me that satisfaction.  We often skype or facetime on the weekends, so it's a great opportunity for me to see the little man grow up, see his newest toys and even sing the alphabet song together. Okay, that was mostly me singing, but Charlie was thrilled.  One of the items on my 30 before 30 list was to have Charlie learn my Auntie name, which is Essie (Aunt Stephanie is hard to say and just sounds bad anyway).  When asked to say it, he clearly (and I think lovingly) said "ESSIE!".  Made my week.  He's also ahead of schedule (my birthday is July 7), which makes him the smartest almost 20 month old ever.  Then again, he also says "poop" when referring to a skateboard...

I love you little man.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Liquid Sunshine.

Who hasn't thought about the importance of a great looking watering can?  Here's a great option from Terrain for $34.  If you haven't checked out Terrain's online shop please do.  Or if you live in CT or PA, then visit them in person.

Chocolate Fix.

One of my greatest loves is a great slice of chocolate cake.  Along with a cold glass of milk, nothing quite hits the spot.  I consider myself somewhat of a chocolate cake connoisseur, and take every opportunity I can to "educate" myself on this subject.  I am not, however, a great baker, so I haven't attempted to make my own chocolate cake from scratch.  I decided this would be the perfect item to add to my 30 before 30 list, so it comes in at #13. 

The lucky recipients of this trial were my family and boyfriend on Easter Sunday.  They all enjoyed a slice that day and gave it rave reviews.  My Mother loved that the frosting wasn't too sweet, something that's a downside for her with cake.  We took half the cake home with the intention to distribute it to our work colleagues but...well, my good intentions didn't pan out.  I ate a slice (a big one too) of cake every morning for breakfast for a week and even managed to do a double one day when I dropped in for a quick lunch at my parent's home and took a little slice of their leftovers (sorry Dad!). 

It took forever (I think around three hours start to finish), but I declare this trial a success!  Here's the recipe taken from Epicurious with one minor addition from me (mayo!).

Chocolate Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting

For cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I substituted bittersweet for unsweetened)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup mayonaise (regular, not non-fat)
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

For frosting
2/3 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
8 oz milk chocolate, melted and cooled
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (again, I substitute bittersweet for unsweetened)

Make cake:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottom of each with a round of parchment or wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a small bowl. Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl using an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes in a standing mixer or 4 to 5 minutes with a handheld. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add chocolate and vanilla and beat until just combined. Add mayonaise.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in 3 batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until just combined.

Divide batter between cake pans, spreading evenly, and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of each cake layer comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes.

Cool cake layers in pans on racks 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of each layer, then invert onto racks. Peel off paper and cool layers completely.

Make frosting:
Heat milk in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot. Whisk together yolks, flour, 1/3 cup confectioners sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl, then add hot milk in a stream, whisking. Transfer custard to saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 2 minutes (mixture will be very thick), then transfer to a large bowl. Cover surface of custard with a buttered round of wax paper and cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Add vanilla and remaining cup confectioners sugar to custard and beat with cleaned beaters at moderate speed until combined well, then increase speed to medium-high and beat in butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until smooth. Add chocolates and beat until combined well.

Frost cake:
Halve each cake layer horizontally using a long serrated knife. Layer cake, using a heaping 1/2 cup frosting between each layer, then frost top and sides with remaining frosting.

Cooks' notes:
·Cake layers can be made (but not halved) 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature. ·Frosting can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature (do not use a microwave) and beat with an electric mixer before using. 

Easter Ostrich Egg.

This post is a bit delayed, but I had to tell you about my ostrich egg experience.  About 80% of the friends, family and colleagues I've spoken to about ostrich eggs think they're creepy, but I can say definitively that they are delicious!  Before I get into my personal experience, here are a few things you should know about ostrich eggs:

1. Compared to all birds and their eggs, ostrich eggs are the smallest relative to their size.
2. An ostrich egg weighs approximately 5 lbs.
3. An ostrich egg is equivalent to roughly two dozen chicken eggs.
4. Ostrich eggs are roughly the same amount of calories per serving as a chicken egg but are much lower in cholesterol. 

Now that you're up to speed on ostrich egg facts, let's get down to my story.

It starts with an online order to O.K. Corral Ostrich Farms for a large ostrich egg ($25 each). Go big or go home, right?  A few days later I receive a giant dinosaur looking egg at my office.  I poke it, I look at it, I run my fingers over its orange peel like shell.  I send a few family members photos of it.  I get it home where it sits in the fridge and awaits Easter when it will be turned into a veggie frittata for a family brunch.

Easter Sunday roles around, and the fun begins!  With my boyfriend documenting every step of the way, I crack the thing open with the aid of a hammer and flat head screw driver.  Dig out a large enough hole where I can peel open the protective membrane.  Then I release the contents of the giant egg into a bowl, where along with cheese and tons of vegetables it turns into a lovely frittata.  In all the excitement, I never got a photo of the final product, but trust me, it looked great.

Verdict from the three family members at the table and my boyfriend?  It was a hit! Was it because of my incredible culinary skills? Probably, but I'll give a little credit to the giant bird with the long neck that contributed to the endeavor.

Almost the size of my head.

A little concerned that this thing is going to explode.

Digging out a hole.

The membrane was so thick I had to really tear it open.

I'm not sure if the yolk ruptured en route to me, or if it's just really yellow.

That's a lot of egg.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Retail Spotlight: Alder & Co.

Maintaining a sophisticated yet casual, well designed yet comfortable home is no easy feat, but Alder & Co. makes it a whole lot simpler.  Below you'll find a few of my favorite things from the site, and you can also find many more of my favorites from Alder & Co. on my pinterest site.

I am on a continual search for the perfect mug, and now the 'Notary Mug' is a contender.  I would love to take my French press out of this in the morning, while dabbing at my mouth with a washed linen napkin...oh, Alder & Co. has that too.

'Matteo Linen Napkins' $58 for set of 4
There's nothing like the soft sophistication of washed linen.  They make a meal special, indoors or out, and encourage lingering around the table.  Add some soft lighting and you've created magic.  Speaking of creating magic...

It's all in the details, isn't it?  Why bring an uncouth box of strike anywhere matches to your dinner table, when you can express quiet elegance with this lovely box.

Speaking of everyday objects, why not bring great design to a hammer?  I know  I use a hammer nearly every day of my life (I have a lot of projects going on), so it would be quite nice to look at a thing of beauty while I'm making (or hanging) a thing of beauty. 

A kettle is an item that is nearly always visible on the stove top, so it is of utmost importance that it look beautiful (and well scrubbed) at all times.  I am guilty of having both an ugly looking kettle and a dirty kettle.  Perhaps this gorgeous kettle will inspire me to keep clean!

I could go on and on about this lovely site, but I'll let you explore further yourself.  Do let me know about your favorite items-I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Dog Cave.

There are many joys to having a dog, but the fur, mess and ugly cages are not among them.  We just moved to a new home, so I took the opportunity to design a simple solution that would house the dog's ugly metal cages in our enclosed front porch.  This is our main entrance for guests, so the last thing they want to walk into are two very large dog kennels.  The idea was simple: create a platform that would cover the cages, food and other dog essentials while allowing for air flow.  The other big added benefit is shade from the hot sun in the summer months.  For around $100, I cobbled together 4 planks of reclaimed old growth wood from The Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago and 6 4x4 'legs' from Home Depot.  The result is a much cleaner look and a cool 'cave' for two of our dogs to enjoy.  In the coming months, I will be adding potted herbs on top of the platform, both for our culinary use, but also to combat the doggie smell from our three dogs.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Guest Bedroom Preview.

I haven't posted any new designs for awhile, so I thought I'd share my casual photo taken this past weekend of my client's guest bedroom in Glencoe.  I'll have professional photos taken when the whole house is finished, but for now it's iPhone shots.  

The room was designed around their existing punchy red patterned bedspread, but I wanted the bedspread to take center stage so everything else was toned down.  The walls are a soft warm neutral which compliments the bedspread without competing with it.  I added touches of pale blue in the curtains (look closely for the stripes, in the rug (the border around the sisal) and in the pillows and throw on the bed.  It's hard to see in this photo but the bedside tables and lamp are ivory, with simple lines.  The chandelier is from Serena and Lily (Malibu Chandelier).

What do you think?