Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Weather Or Not--Closet Conversations

 When living in Southern California, obsession with fashion has all to do with looks; weather very rarely plays a part in the decision-making process. The fluctuations are not that drastic: it's either hot, hotter or hottest. There are periods during the year when the temps dip a bit, but for the most part, those “cold” mornings turn into warm days and sometimes, those warm days turn into “cold” nights. (And by “cold,” I mean 30s and 40s--it’s all relative.)

Michelle in her pumps
Whenever guests from the East Coast would visit us out West, our rule-of-thumb recommendation would be, “Bring a sweater, you never know...and don’t forget to throw in a bathing suit.” You really don’t need to be a rocket scientist (or a meteorologist) to figure out what to wear in LA.

Now that I am living back on the East Coast, form trumps fashion--often, and weather is the first thing I consider before getting dressed to go out--especially in the winter. I never had to think more about boots than I do now. Back in Cali, they were pulled out only occasionally, and the weather outside never had anything to do with it.  I had short boots with kitten heels, and tall boots with spiked heels, and short boots with spiked heels, and tall boots with kitten heels. I probably wore them two months out of the year and after that they were quietly relegated to the inner depths of my closet, giving way to strappy sandals and flip flops.

Michelle in her boots
With the varying degrees of weather we are hit with in Cambridge, my inner conversations usually deal with wondering whether I should wear the UGGs--they’re warm, but not waterproof, or the Hunter rain boots--they’re waterproof, but not warm. And if it’s really cold and icy out, I can wear my Sorels--they go down to minus 25 degrees, and they’re waterproof...but they aren’t exactly stylish, so I can’t wear them with dressy clothes. And the other boots, although dressy and stylish, have heels that are too high for walking on icy streets. No, this is not the conversation of rocket scientists either, but it can spin my head.

That’s why I, like just about everyone else on earth, was curious to see what Michelle Obama would be wearing on Inauguration Day. I watched as she wore her silver pumps on her way to church during the early hours of the day, and I was thrilled when I noticed her footwear had changed by the time she stepped out for the Inauguration ceremony. 

The thought of standing on spiky heels for a few hours, in 20-degree weather, probably seemed like a daunting task to her, so she changed into long, suede and leather boots. Her decision totally validated me! She had those conversations with herself too--FLOTUS!! She must have been going for the not terribly warm, but warm-er, yet stylish look. And in addition to checking the temperature, she must have known that the day would be dry, since she dropped a cool thousand bucks on those beautiful boots (I Googled them), and I daresay they were waterproof!

Me, in my coat
I could now go into the clothing conversations I have in my head, but I won’t bore you. Just know that today I am wearing a coat I like to call my “Fort Knox Coat.”  It’s kind of like a jacket within a coat--you put it on, zip up an inside jacket, then zip up an outer coat, snap some snaps, all the way down, and close two large buttons over the throat to make a puffy scarf. By the time I am all zipped, snapped and buttoned in, I look like a potato, and there’s no chance of wind, or anything getting inside. It’s amazingly warm, but I don’t think the coat is waterproof, so....

Sometimes it’s just easier staying home.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Alfajores (Caramel Shortbread Sandwich Cookies)

Our Book Group meets the first Tuesday of every month. Yes, I know this past Tuesday was the second Tuesday, but we’re a true bunch of renegades, and we don’t really spend much time talking about books anymore anyway. So, on the second Tuesday of the month, our first-Tuesday-of-the- month Book Group that talks more about food than books, met. (Did you get all that?)

The book we were “discussing” was Tom Wolfe’s “Back to Blood.” But that’s beside the point. (So, if you’re expecting a book review, you’ll have to go elsewhere.) The consensus was, “the book was long,” “the book was classic Tom Wolfe,” “we all saw Bonfire of the Vanities.” Oh, and this last comment was most prevalent: “Let’s eat.”

Before you begin making some cheap generalizations about the IQ and attention span of the group members, I have to say that many of them are MIT grads, MDs, Ph.Ds, and biotech execs, so the brains are definitely present...it’s just that the stomachs usually win out over the brains.

We have each unintentionally been pigeonholed into our designated food categories, and I always have the dessert one. I try to never bring an overly fussy or heavily frosted dessert--we do sometimes have books lying around, you know, and I would hate for them to get dirty. 

My repertoire has run the gamut of cookie bark, biscotti, quick breads, and scones, and this time I went the cookie route. One of the members of the group lives with a man who comes from Spain. She once mentioned how much they loved “Alfajores,” a traditional treat popular in Latin America and some regions of Spain. It’s basically a shortbread cookie sandwich filled with dulce de leche, a thick, creamy caramel. I promised to make them some and there was no time like the present.

So here it is, this month’s contribution to the Book Group. I wish my contribution to the book discussion could have been as good. (Although I doubt it would have been as appreciated.)

Alfajores (Caramel-Shortbread Sandwich Cookies)
(makes about 25 sandwiches)
Cookie Dough:
6 oz. unsalted butter, at room temp.
1 whole egg
3/4c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. brandy
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1tsp. grated lemon peel 
2c. all purpose flour
1/4c. cornstarch

Dulce de Leche:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. kosher salt

Make dough:
Sift cornstarch and flour together and set side. Using an electric mixer, cream butter, lemon peel and sugar together until fluffy. Slowly add the egg, brandy and vanilla extract and mix until combined. On medium speed, add flour mixture and mix again, until dough forms into a ball. 

Remove dough from mixer bowl, divide in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours.

Meanwhile make Dulce de Leche:
Empty contents of the can into an oven-proof dish; sprinkle with the salt and tightly cover with foil.

Place the covered dish in a larger roasting pan  or casserole dish and fill it up with water until it reaches three quarters of the way up the covered dish. (You're creating a water bath.) Bake at 425 degrees for 60-90 minutes, checking every 30 minutes on the water level and adding more as needed.

Dulce de leche is ready when it takes on a brown and caramel-like appearance. Remove from the oven and whisk to smoothness. Leave at room temperature if using right away. If not, store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Using a lightly floured 2-inch round or scalloped cookie cutter, cut out cookies. (You will have approximately 50.) If you have time, place on the baking sheets and place in the fridge for about 15 minutes. (This will firm the cookies so they maintain their shape when baked.) Bake for about 12 minutes, or until cookies are brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack. Shortbread cookies with keep in an airtight container for about a week.
Alfajores: Take two shortbread cookies and sandwich them together with a heaping teaspoon of Dulce de Leche. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with confectioners sugar or dip them in chocolate. Can be covered and stored for a few days in the refrigerator, but the cookies will soften a bit.
Makes about 25 cookie sandwiches.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Bride Of Frankenstein...No, It's Just Me!

A fashion faux pas is a lot like a football game. You go out there thinking you’re playing your “A” game,  thinking you did okay...even great. And then Monday morning...or in my case, years later, you look back at the replay and realize you stunk up the place...and in my case, so did my outfit.  How can one person be so completely in control (or at least think they are), and then upon further evaluation, suck? 

Every little girl (at least I did) dreams about her wedding day--the day when she dons a beautiful flowing white gown, and to the oohs and aahs of her guests (and groom) makes a grand entrance from behind two gargantuan sliding wooden doors. And as she virtually glides down the middle aisle, her bright face and glistening eyes can be seen peeking from behind a delicate veil made of some diaphanous fabric.

There is no bride who is not a breathtaking vision of loveliness on her wedding day.

This is the point of the story where the dj causes the needle to jump and an earsplitting scratching sound can be heard. That noise is in response to my last statement and is meant to let you know that things did not go according to plan at my wedding. 

I, being the contrarian that I was almost 27 years ago, decided that since I was not getting married in a traditional setting--the wedding was at the home of a friend--I would not be wearing the traditional wedding attire. It was too gouche! And what’s really odd is that no one tried to talk me out of it.

I made my way down to New York City’s garment district and visited a friend who worked there. She and I looked through what seemed like an endless array of dresses until I found one that I thought was perfect: a strapless, beaded, tiered cocktail dress. It was the color of champagne and the beads twinkled and blinked as the light hit them. I can’t say I felt like a bride when I tried it on, but I didn’t really know what a bride was supposed to feel like. The fact that I was swimming in it should have told me I was making a rash decision, but I “knew” what I wanted, and how could I not find a good tailor in NYC?

The tailor turned out to be a little, old Italian man in New Jersey. There weren’t many New York tailors who wanted to deal with alterations of such magnitude.

And so it was, almost 9 months later that I did finally walk down the aisle of my very nontraditional wedding wearing my very nontraditional wedding dress. And I and everyone else loved it...at the time.

But the Monday morning quarterback reared his ugly head years later, when my husband and I were watching the film, “Cocoon,” about a group of elderly residents living in a retirement home. During a scene that took place at a nightclub, actress Gwen Verdon came onto the screen. My husband then turned to me and said, “Hey, isn’t that your wedding dress?”

And son of a gun, there it was, a dress that was a dead ringer (excuse the pun) for my dress on a 70-year-old woman! Yup, that was my dress allright. After that night I went home and pulled out my wedding photos. I know hindsight is 20/20, but what was I thinking??

I’m sure there are many people out there who can say they’ve had fashion fiascos, but how many of those were on their wedding day? When I look at those pictures now, I think of those dolls whose legs are stuck deep down into the center of a birthday party cake, with the cake being the dress. Not a good way to remember what I looked like on one of the most important days of my life.

I guess I should be happy about the fact that the marriage outlived the usefulness of the dress. I do still have it, though--it’s hanging in the closet. And I may still wear it--in about 25 years or so.

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