Meeting an Idol

The next few weeks are filled with events I am giddy about, and attending a talk and book signing with my culinary idol, Ina Garten, is at the top of my list.  So much of what I know about cooking and entertaining (outside of what I learned growing up in the kitchens of my mother and grandmother) comes from working through her recipes and watching her cooking show religiously.  Garten’s relaxed, non-fussy attitude and presentation are big parts of why I love her, but it’s her recipes that seal the deal.  I have never had one fail me.  Ever.

In honor of her new cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof (coming out on my actual birthday – no better present than that!), I thought I’d share my favorite Ina recipes.  It really is impossible to pick a favorite.

Coconut Cupcakes.  Seriously one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.

Chicken Stew with Biscuits, a family favorite.

Roasted Salmon with Green Herbs.  Special enough for company, easy enough for a weeknight dinner.

Indonesian Ginger Chicken.  Garlicky, Gingery, and honey laden.  Amazing with a simple coconut basmati rice and stir-fried broccoli.

Lobster Pot Pie.  The ultimate upscale comfort dish.

Maple Oatmeal Scones.  Breakfast heaven.

Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts. Salty, sweet, and spicy – three of my favorite things.

Chunky Blue Cheese and Yogurt Dip.  This actually may be my favorite.  I make it almost every time I entertain.  And the leftovers are DIVINE spread on a warm steak sandwich.

Can’t wait to get my hands on this book!!!  Pre-order it here, and check here to see if she’s coming to your area on her book tour.  And keep your fingers crossed for me that she is as lovely in person as she seems in her books.  I’ll be devastated if she’s not!

First image is of a portion of my cookbook cabinet, where her books take up quite a bit of real estate (dying to know what color the above jacket spine is!). All other images are from the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.

What to Wear: The Ambiguously Worded Invitation Edition

What to Wear

We’ve all received one.  The invitation to a birthday party, benefit, or holiday soiree with a cleverly worded dress code that leaves you confused and clueless?  I’ll never forget the first time I encountered one.   I was a college junior dating a man who had graduated, and we’d been invited to a dinner party where the invitation read “casual chic.”  As a student, the chicest things I owned were my grandmother’s pearls that I wore with an over-sized grey Champion sweatshirt baring my sorority letters (oftentimes with a peter pan collared blouse underneath – yikes) and the houndstooth blazer I had purchased for a summer internship interview.  Somehow I knew neither would work but I had no idea which direction to go.  I still remember what I ended up buying – a simple black shift, black pumps and a fuchsia blazer (and yes I wore the pearls).  The outfit was safe and I blended in with women ages twenty to seventy, but wow was it B-O-R-I-N-G.

Therein lies the problem: nebulous wording such as “casual chic” or “holiday festive” scares you into dressing like a sartorial wallflower.  Or even worse you end up guessing completely wrong.  As one friend commented, “what if you show up biker bad-ass to country club casual?”

Having a few decades of parties under my belt now, I’ve adopted a formula that seems to work fairly well and helps me avoid making the “what are you wearing?” call to the hostess.  If the event in question could lean either casual or dressy, I’ll base the outfit in classic pieces like a trim blazer and velvet pointy toe pumps and finish with more modern elements like leather pants and a chunky crystal necklace.  This not only helps create a balance between dressy and casual, but it also injects a healthy dose of personality into the look.

And if you have an occasion you know will be dressy but you are unsure of how dressy?  Always skew to the most formal level you think possible.  Trust me when I say being over-dressed is a far better fate.  The invitation to the benefit my husband and I are attending this weekend reads “cocktail attire: Hollywood Glamour encouraged”.  Old Hollywood?  New Hollywood?  Left of Audrey?  Right of Marilyn?  The possibilities are endless.  Just please no Kims or Chloes.

Apple Season

Our recent apple picking trip left me dreaming of a fall-inspired weekend gathering with apples taking center stage.

I’m not sure how it will start (possibly with this apple brandy and cider cocktail), but I know it’s going to end with this warm maple syrup glazed apple crostata and the requisite topping of vanilla ice cream.  That will take at least five or six apples.  Now what to do with the 50+ left in the bushel…

All photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Packing for New York

Packing for New York

I am traveling to New York soon for a great friend’s 40th birthday celebration, so I thought it would be fun to put together a virtual packing list for inspiration.  This fantasy suitcase is filled with all things practical and fabulous.  Not possible, you say?  Read on.

  • When isn’t black cashmere appropriate?
  • Dark, undistressed skinnies go with just about everything.
  • Sleeveless outwear fends off chilly weather while preventing overheating when you are popping in and out of doors. The above Belstaff vest looks off-the-charts incredible.
  • A gold chain link necklace is substantial enough for heavier day pieces but it won’t compete for center stage in evening ensembles.
  • You need to travel with a cosmetics case, so why not choose this luxe version from Smythson?
  • Though I love a great heel, flat shoes are a must for walking the sidewalks, shops, and museum corridors of the city.
  • Dark polish on short nails is a fall/winter must, and this grey makes a perfect neutral.
  • The tweed peplum top with leather trim pairs beautifully with jeans and heels for a casual evening of drinks and dinner.  And it provides a bit of warmth. (You could even wear it over a slim, long sleeved top for an alternate day look.)
  • Satin and lace underpinnings feel amazing under anything.  Especially heavier fall layers.
  • The beauty of matte jersey is that it does not wrinkle, so this aubergine cocktail dress from Cut 25 is perfect for packing.  Who wants to mess with ironing, steaming, or sending your dress out with the chance it may not return?
  • A cross-body bag with dressed up details blends seamlessly with all pieces here.  During the day it allows for comfortable hands-free walking, and in the evening you can tuck away the strap for an over-sized clutch that will hold all of your essentials.
  • This Reed Krakoff leather cuff is sleek, sexy, and versatile.  It dresses up a white tee, cardigan and jeans and brings a dose of cool to cocktail attire.
  • These Jimmy Choo leopard print heels are absolute perfection.  Enough said.

Jersey dress

J Crew knit top

Rebecca Taylor top


J Brand j brand

Agent provocateur

Agent provocateur

Jimmy Choo high heel shoes

Reed krakoff


Nars cosmetic

Soul Food

I probably should have ordered a pizza, thrown on pajamas and crawled into bed (and not necessarily in that order), but I needed some sort of happy ending to my crummy day and knew this easy fall dinner would do the trick.

  • Set oven at 425.
  • Divide and gut two acorn squash.  But please watch your fingers.  Seriously.  My children are still traumatized from witnessing my butternut squash cutting debacle several years ago.
  • Rub flesh of each half with canola or olive oil.
  • Add a tablespoon of maple syrup, butter and brown sugar to each half.
  • Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Place on a baking sheet.
  • Take one (five-ish pound) roasting chicken.
  • Salt and pepper inside and out.
  • Stuff with a head of garlic and a lemon, both divided in two.
  • Add fresh herbs to the cavity if you have them.
  • And next – the BEST trick (learned from a Martha Stewart magazine ages ago) – skip the roasting rack and slice a white or yellow onion into thick rings and place in the bottom of the pan.
  • Rest the chicken on the onions.  (It not only keeps the chicken incredibly juicy, but it adds tremendous flavor.)
  • Roast the chicken for an hour and a half.  Skin should be crispy, legs should wiggle easily, and juices from thigh should run clear.
  • Roast the squash for an hour, or until a fork enters the flesh easily and the sugar, butter and syrup are bubbly.
  • Greens simply dressed on the side.  Or not.
  • Done.
  • Minimal effort, maximum comfort.  Don’t you feel better already?

Manic Monday

Manic Monday

On a crazy Monday morning, who has time to stand in front of the closet contemplating what to wear?  Wrap yourself in polished comfort with a slim sweater and riding boots pulled on over colored denim.  Next, top it off with a favorite cuff and a soft patterned scarf that pulls it all together.  With a swipe of neutral blush and your hair in a loose knot you’ll be out the door and ready to hit the ground running (large coffee in hand, of course).

Acne jeans

Gold bangle

Kate spade jewelry

Roda printed scarve

Nars cosmetic