April 29, 2016

Paris Outfits

"Paris is always a good idea." - Audrey Hepburn

Paris - more than any other city - inspires me to wear my most beautiful clothes. For my next trip I decided to have a theme in both style and color. Style: romantic and old-fashioned. Color: Red.

One of my inspirations is Taylor Swift's video, Begin Again, which was filmed in Paris. Ladylike yet colorful, her outfits in this video are the epitome of romantic Paris style. 

What girl hasn't dreamt of walking by the Seine in a beautiful red dress?

This is probably the most stunning dress I've ever owned. Red lace over nude, which skims the body and ends in a fairy tale froth of pale tulle.  

The black and white style of this dress reminds me a little of Audrey Hepburn's gorgeous Givenchy gown in Sabrina.

For a slightly more casual and fun look, I paired this red fit and flare dress with a distressed denim jacket and aqua flats.

During my last visit to H&M, I found this cute navy polka dot dress for $10. 

My next inspiration comes from the timeless Catherine Deneuve and the trench coat she wears in La Chamade.

I love this particular style because of the skirt-like wide hem that sets it apart from the typical beige trench coat.

April 27, 2016

Le Creuset Olive and Parmesan Bread

Among the many reasons why I love Le Creuset is the versatility. For instance, there is no shortage of dishes I can cook with my 6.75 oval dutch oven. While I primarily use it for stews, soups, and even roast chicken, I was happy to find, while perusing the Le Creuset website, that you can also bake bread with it. 
I was a bit apprehensive in trying out this recipe; however, baking the bread in a dutch oven while covered helped retain the moistness underneath the crunchy exterior.  I absolutely loved the results!



4 cups flour
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup finely grated, divided
7 ounces Kalamata olives, halved
sea salt
Olive oil

1, In a stand mixer fitted with the bread hook attachment, combine flour, yeast, salt and 1 cup water. Mix briefly. Once combined, add remaining water, 1 cup grated Parmesan and olives. Mix until dough is thoroughly combined. It should not be sticky.

2. Form the dough into a round with your hands, and place in a bowl that has been brushed with olive oil and dusted with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until tripled in size and dough springs back when touched, about 3 – 4 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 450 F.

4. Brush the Dutch oven with olive oil or butter. Place dough round in the center. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and sea salt. Cover and bake 30 minutes.

5. Reduce heat to 375°F. Uncover and bake until golden brown, approximately 10 minutes.

6. Cover and allow the bread to rest in the Dutch oven for 20 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack before slicing.

April 25, 2016

Book Review: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

I am an impatient reader, I’ll admit. If it does not ensnare me within the first three chapters (more often, the first chapter when my impatience is at its peak), then I have no qualms in abandoning the book altogether and never looking back.  I do not ever regret such practice because in the past I have given books, much lauded as well as mediocre ones, more chances than they deserve. Like the long-suffering partner in an unfortunate relationship, I have doggedly persevered to the thankless end.  I have given books second, third, even fourth chances, determined to find out why they drew so many raves before admitting sad defeat.  That is until I realized that life is short and there are many, many good books in the wide world.

When The Paper Magician first came out, I eagerly grabbed it because the synopsis sounded like I would love it.  However, I don’t know what was off – whether I was in the wrong mood or it was just not the right time but I quickly grew indifferent within the first chapter and moved it on top of the DNF pile without a second thought.

Fast forward to a year and some months later and something made me reconsider.  What was it? A couple mentions in my Twitter feed that nudged me perhaps.

Short story: I loved it so much that as soon as I finished it, I immediately went out and got the second and third books in the series and read it all in one weekend.

Long story: I was thoroughly enchanted by the worldbuilding – a magical world set in early 20th Century London comprised of Folders, Smelters, Gaffers, and the evil Excisioners. Ceony wants to be a Smelter, a metals magician, but because there is a shortage of Folders (paper magicians), she is forced to bond to paper and only do magic through paper for the rest of her life. Ceony is apprenticed to the eccentric Magician Thane who slowly opens up Ceony’s mind to the wonders of what she thinks is a boring discipline.  Folding is like origami magic, for example, where all one has to do is create a paper bird with precise folds and, spell it to “breathe” and it comes alive. So do a paper butler, an adorable paper dog (my favorite) and even the simplest of all, a paper plane.

Now delighted, The Paper Magician took my breath away with a narrative twist in which our heroine, barely initiated into Folding, has to go against a powerful Excisioner to save her mentor’s life.  What is paper against deadly blood magic? Holmberg answers with an inventive, unforgettable and heartstopping plot sequence.

The imagery is stunning, the writing is deft, and I believe I have found myself a new favorite author.

Moral of the story: First impressions aren’t always accurate.  If anything is worth a second chance – it is definitely a book.

April 22, 2016

Great Market Hall in Budapest

The Great Market Hall is the place to go if you are a foodie in Budapest. It is a vast space reminiscent of a 19th Century train station, but full of gorgeous food stands - meats, vegetables, pastries, nuts - everything you could ever want. And of course, everywhere are the ubiquitous peppers. I did all my souvenir shopping here, buying my bags of Hungarian paprika and some trinkets in the second floor.

April 20, 2016

Le Creuset Roast Chicken

I love making roast chicken  - the crackly, crunchy skin, the moist meat underneath and the utter ease of it all. To inaugurate my 6.75 quart French oven, I instantly thought of this favorite Sunday dish of mine. Could it work?  The answer is a glorious yes!  I adjusted the temperature and the cooking times a bit but it turns out I sacrificed neither ease nor flavor by using my Le Creuset instead of a roasting pan. In fact, the meat is so much more moist and tender, which I think is due to the fact that I cooked the chicken while covered for the first hour.  



1 1/2 lb of fingerling potatoes
5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
4.5 - 5 lbs whole chicken
a bunch of fresh thyme
1 lemon, quartered
4 pats of butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Take out the gizzards and rinse and pat dry the chicken.  
3. Put all four lemon quarters and 1/2 of the bunch of thyme in the chicken cavity.
4. Place fingerling potatoes and carrots on the bottom of the French oven.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Take 1/2 of the remaining thyme and place some springs on top of the carrots and potatoes.
5. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the chicken and place in the French oven with breast side down.
6. Place pats of butter and the rest of the thyme sprigs on top of the chicken.
7. Cover and place in the preheated oven for 1 hr and 15 minutes. For the first hour, baste the chicken with the juices every 30 minutes.
8. Uncover and put under the broiler for 4 minutes to brown the skin.
9. Turn off the heat and cover the French oven again. Let sit inside the oven for an additional 10 minutes before taking out and carving.

April 18, 2016

Book Review: The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

A chilling and spooky Gothic historical thriller reminiscent of Rebecca and The Turn of the Screw, dripping with the dark twists and eerie surprises that are the hallmarks of Edgar Allan Poe, from the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Citadel.

In a remote village near the English coast, residents gather in a misty churchyard. More than a decade into the twentieth century, superstition still holds sway: It is St. Mark’s Eve, the night when the shimmering ghosts of those fated to die in the coming year are said to materialize and amble through the church doors.

Alone in the crowd is Constantia Gifford, the taxidermist’s daughter. Twenty-two and unmarried, she lives with her father on the fringes of town, in a decaying mansion cluttered with the remains of his once world-famous museum of taxidermy. No one speaks of why the museum was shuttered or how the Giffords fell so low. Connie herself has no recollection—a childhood accident has erased all memory of her earlier days. Even those who might have answers remain silent. The locals shun Blackthorn House, and the strange spinster who practices her father’s macabre art.

As the last peal of the midnight bell fades to silence, a woman is found dead—a stranger Connie noticed near the church. In the coming days, snippets of long lost memories will begin to tease through Connie’s mind, offering her glimpses of her vanished years. Who is the victim, and why has her death affected Connie so deeply? Why is she watched by a mysterious figure who has suddenly appeared on the marsh nearby? Is her father trying to protect her with his silence—or someone else? The answers are tied to a dark secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop—a mystery that draws Connie closer to danger . . . closer to madness . . . closer to the startling truth.

“Gothic” is one of those descriptors which evoke a Pavlovian response in me – I immediately start salivating. Add “Rebecca” and “Turn of the Screw” and taxidermy and you have got me hook, line and sinker.  My verdict?  Ultimately, I was riveted enough to forego other pursuits to finish this book – but I would not go so far as to mention Rebecca and Turn of the Screw as comparables.

Mosse has always been problematic for me – in that every single one of her books should captivate me but despite repeated tries, I have yet to actually go past the first three chapters of any of them – until this one.  The Taxidermist’s Daughter succeeded simply because I was morbidly fascinated by the first chapter’s vivid description of our heroine painstakingly readying a jackdaw to be stuffed.  Mosse transported me via sensory detail and I was immediately lost in the story. 

“Connie felt most herself when she was alone in the workshop.  She and a bird, working together to create something new and extraordinary.   The process itself was its own reward.  The business of skinning and cleaning and stuffing rooted her in something tangible, kept her tethered to the real world.”

However, taxidermy turns out to be a mere hook rather than the substance of the plot, which is a mystery stemming from something horrific that happened when our heroine was a child, something of which she has no memory.

“…the fear came seeping through her bones, like ink through blotting paper, that what was happening now had its roots not in the gathering in a churchyard last week – nor even in the fact that an unknown woman had stood watching the house a few days before that-but further back still.

“In the vanished days.”

Mosse teases out the truth, interspersing our heroine’s eventual (and slow) discovery with some graphic chapters. The resolution wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped – mostly because I found myself yearning for Mosse to have delved more into the perspective of the alternate, shocking chapters.