Sunday, November 30, 2014

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Watching "Home Alone"


It is my personal tradition to watch the movie Home Alone when decorating my little four foot tall Christmas tree. I rented the cheap SD version on my Kindle the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving, which is a bit early, but I need a little holiday magic this year.

I love this movie and thoroughly enjoy viewing it at least once a year. Released in 1990, it was one I grew up with. I probably mimicked Kevin McCallister hundreds of times when he patted his cheeks with aftershave and screamed from the sting of its alcohol content. As a quiet child, I imagine little to no sound came from my lips however.

I love Christmas trees with all their special ornaments too. My tree turned out well. Check it out...



May your days be merry and bright!



Monday, November 17, 2014

New Recipe #1: Beef and Broccoli


Even though I pretty much always order beef and broccoli when offered Chinese food, I haven't tried to prepare it at home until yesterday evening. I'm pleased to report that it turned out!


It would have been easier to have settled upon a single recipe to follow, but I created my own version, combining my two favorites found on Pinterest. One I loved for its simplicity (i.e. fewer ingredients make it far easier on my wallet) as well as its pretty pictures that showed each step. The other was more complicated (with not only a plethora of ingredients but a preferred brand for one of them) but shared secrets on how to achieve excellent flavor and provided better text instructions. I am thankful for finding both. I hope my own recipe is a happy medium. It looked like it should and tasted delicious!


Michelle's Beef and Broccoli over White Rice

Ingredients

Over 1 lb. flank steak sliced thin against the grain and then cut into shorter lengths

Beef Marinade
1/2  tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil

Sauce
5 tbsp. oyster sauce
1 tbsp. Chinese rice wine
1 tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp. brown sugar*
2 tsp. cornstarch
5 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. vegetable oil

2 heads broccoli, crowns only, cut smaller
1/4 c. water

rice
water, one part rice for one part water

Instructions

1. Mix marinade ingredients in a bowl. 

2. Cut steak and then add to bowl, tossing until coated thoroughly. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least an hour. I finished slicing the steak, tossing in the marinade, and covering the bowl around 1:30 PM. I started preparing dinner early, I suppose around 5:30, so it had four hours to marinate.

3. Later, in a small bowl, mix the sauce ingredients together.

4. Mince a clove of garlic and pour a teaspoon of vegetable oil into another small bowl or dish.

5. Break up heads of broccoli and then cut into smaller pieces.

6. Pour a bit of vegetable oil in a pan and place over high heat. When a piece of beef hits the pan and sizzles, put half the meat into the pan, making sure it's a pretty even layer. Cook for a minute. I set a timer. Flip meat over and stir it around continuing cooking for a minute and a half. The meat will just be browned and not really pink any longer. Transfer the cooked meat to a plate or bowl. 

7. Repeat for the second half/batch of meat.

8. Add a bit of vegetable oil to the pan over high heat again. This time, add the broccoli and cook for half a minute. Add the water, cover with a lid and turn the burner knob to medium. Wait two minutes.

9. Push the broccoli towards the sides creating a hole in the middle. Scrape the oil with minced garlic into the center and allow it to cook for a half a minute. Then, mix all the ingredients in the pan together. 

10. Add all the beef to the very full pan and carefully stir. Scoop the sauce on top and then stir everything again with care. Cook for a couple more minutes. Cover.

11. Make white rice according to number of servings needed and package instructions. 

12. Spread cooked rice into a bed on the serving plate or bowl and then top with spoonfuls of beef and broccoli. 



Buon Appetito!

*I will try 1 or 1-1/2 tablespoon(s) of brown sugar in the future since I'm not balancing hot flavors with its sweetness. Plus, I don't like very sweet meat. Live and learn.

I am so happy that I tried this! It was worth the splurge. As you know, pasta and vegetables cost significantly less than meat and vegetables, so my grocery bill was higher than usual. Luckily, my last paycheck contained a bonus. Plus, I bought those three bottles of Chinese condiments, at least I have them in the fridge and pantry now. What I prepared will last me a few meals plus I stored a bit of steak in the freezer. It's nice to have a dish that's not Italian or American come out of my kitchen. Something different. However, I'll still be ordering beef and broccoli takeout or dining in a Chinese restaurant as I would miss the fried rice and fortune cookies! ...including in Philadelphia's Chinatown!

I also believe this is a great recipe with an assistant! Ideal to cook it with someone. The prep work of slicing all that meat thinly and then marinating can be accomplished alone. But then, bringing everything together later, instead of waiting around, I was constantly attending something, each step only taking on average a minute, and as a result, my kitchen was messy. As you can imagine, nearly every bottle dripped down its side. I also left making the rice until the last minute, which was fine since it cooks so quickly. I was busy but bringing everything together was done quickly. I needed a trial run, but for all subsequent times, I think it would be more efficient with an extra set of hands and more fun with two.




Sunday, November 16, 2014

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Chocolate Marquis, Again! Plus a Weekend Update

I've written about this before [here], my favorite dessert, the Chocolate Marquis, from the fantastic bakery, Cakes and Confections, located a couple of towns away, in Severna Park, Maryland.


Since fall follows my peak season at work as a leasing professional at an apartment community and I work so hard, adjusting to a slower pace takes time. So, I managed to stay busy and scored a couple of deals for our residents just because. One is a coupon with multiple offers from this bakery. When I picked up the 200 coupons plus stacks of brochures/menus on  Wednesday, my coworker and I selected a couple slices of coconut cake and a few chocolate-filled mini cakes to share with our team of four. They raved about them! I got to try a taste of all of these selections. It was an amazing work day!

I also brought home a Chocolate Marquis mini cake just for myself. I savored it that evening. This little cake features alternating thick layers of chocolate mousse and thin layers of chocolate cake. It is covered in chocolate ganache and decorated with more chocolate mousse plus chocolate curls on top! It was delicious...

A little smushed from the ride home, but still scrumptious.





I am looking forward to my plans for my Sunday-Monday weekend. This afternoon, I visit my friend and neighbor M who has been living at a rehabilitation center for the past month. And staying at a couple of hospitals before that. I haven't seen him in like six weeks and I miss him. I am so grateful that his next door neighbor is taking me.

After that, I plan on preparing beef and broccoli for the first time. I bought the ingredients this morning. If it is successful then I will post all about it. I imagine it would be since it is a simple dish.

I am part of a surprise tomorrow evening. I love surprises! Details to come.



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Style Saturday: Edits to My Fall 2014 Capsule Wardrobe

I have pretty much stuck with the limited number of pieces in my Fall 2014 Capsule Wardrobe with a few exceptions. Overall, the curated collection has proven its success.

I lost some weight during September and because I kept it off for awhile, I bought two pairs of pants and acquired a pair of jeans that fit during October and November. It was nice to replace bottoms that were pretty loose at the waist and possibly too much in the thigh for the particular style. My pair of black trousers didn't have any belt loops to help keep them up! Not so chic and a bit unprofessional.

I bought two pairs of black pants from Target. One is a pair of straight leg pants in Classic Fit by Merona. Usually opting for trousers so the line of the silhouette pretty much drops down from the wide part of the hip, I haven't had the classic 'straight leg' cut in a long while. It is nice to have a change with its tighter fit. The curve of my hip is embraced, but I like the straight, even cut of the thigh all the way down the calf to the hem. It's still flattering. I also like the side slit pockets. These are in regular rotation to wear to work. These replaced my black trousers by Alfani from Macy's that I think I bought last January and plan to donate.

After seeing all the lovely ways to style a pair of black ankle pants on Pinterest, I tried another pair and am much more pleased with this one over my last attempt picked up at New York & Company that didn't even make the cut for this autumn's wardrobe. I selected the black ankle pants in Modern Fit by Mossimo. These are a very slim cut so they certainly show off my curves. I am impressed with their weight/texture. For a date with E on a cold night, I styled these with my black and white striped long-sleeve tee by Chance (over a white camisole) and black pumps. Adding a khaki trench and a bright dark pink scarf when out and about. I felt stylish yet classic. Anyway, these were an addition to my closet, making my fall wardrobe total 17 items. I am happy with both pairs of pants from Target, so glad that they were affordable as well!

Exhibit A. Pinterest

E completely spoiled me and bought me my last replacement, a pair of Petite Modern Boot Cut Jeans in Lazare Wash by Ann Taylor. The petite length is perfect for me to wear with ballet flats (which is a signature shoe for me). No required trip to my trusted tailor! I have been living in these after 5 almost every work day as well as a bit on the weekends. Even though they have had a lot of use, they only stretch a tiny bit days after washing, but not too much. This amount of stretch is perfect, the pants remain very fitted but not tight. It's nice that they are no longer as slightly tight as they originally were in the fitting room. I adore the unfaded dark wash which is more polished for an everyday look and dressier than my lighter version of Levi's from JCPenney that I took out of my closet and placed in my donation box. I really love them.

Style Hunter by Essie
with new blue jeans backdrop

I still need to purchase a pair of regular length bootcut blue jeans to style with heels. The denim I own from Ann Taylor Factory Store are, again, big on me at the waist and in the thigh. In fact, I can grab a lot of fabric mid-thigh. The regular version of my petite purchase were way too long and I would have had to pour money into them to have them hemmed. I might not even like the look of the hem on denim anyway. Hopefully I can find a new pair and work them into the budget soon!

If I hadn't had that weight loss and kept it off for a month, then I would not have had these updates. I am still the same number size since different stores size differently, plus it probably changes over time, but that's okay! Since I needed to replace these items, I am happy for the change and that they look so great!

***Edit***
I forgot that I bought a new pair of black ballet flats with a black patent cap toe early on in the season. These are my work shoes, but I also sometimes wear them out and about.





Sunday, November 9, 2014

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Publishing a Blog Post


I have blogged frequently lately ...and on more than just relishing the little things in life! As you may know, I am post-breakup and even though I didn't plan on posting so much this week, it was nice to do something I enjoy. In addition, writing (or talking) gets thoughts out of my complex mind and sometimes makes it easier to figure things out. As an INFJ, I prefer things finalized so clicking "Publish" or "Schedule" is the part I take pleasure in, rather than the writing and editing text or taking or selecting imagery stages. I also enjoy reading comments. I wanted to genuinely thank my readers and friends for showing their love and support recently. I am touched. The world is a beautiful place.

I am dealing with it, which is all I can/should do. Even though my favorite time of year is April with my birthday and spring, now that I have escaped retail, I do believe that the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a wonderful time of year. As a lifestyle blogger, you know that I firmly believe life is what you make it, but the season's magic can work on me as well...

I have a lot coming up on the blog. Off the top of my head... There's my editing of my Fall 2014 Capsule Wardrobe, then the introduction of my Winter 2014-2015 Capsule Wardrobe. I usually post about my seasonal wardrobe on the first official day of the season, but it'll be cold here in Maryland this Thursday, November 13th so I may post it sooner since I'll already be wearing it. What else? Another book review. I thought I would explain why I was absent from here for a few weeks, what the heck I was devoted to thinking about, in addition to what you already know about anyway. Plus, hopefully writing many simple pleasures, holiday gatherings, and seasonal delights. Stay tuned.



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Becoming a Woman Comfortable in Her Own Skin

selfie with a bouquet of summer sunflowers

Being comfortable with oneself by truly accepting what one cannot change or would be difficult to change, and furthermore, embracing all one's physical features to feel authentic and beautiful is so important for a life lived well. The French phrase, bien dans sa peau literally translates to "well in one's skin."

I feel like I am gradually becoming comfortable with myself now that I am in my 30s. (I think this commonly comes with age. Always having wanted to be grown up, my 29th year wasn't the last year of my 20s, it was definitely more pre-30 for me.) Over the past couple years, my actions have shown my thoughts have shifted. First, I introduced my picture on this blog after my 30th birthday trip to Paris in April. I debated about it for awhile before deciding. The truth was that I didn't feel like I was pretty enough before. As I became more comfortable with my looks, I was increasingly ready to 'come out' in that way. I also wanted this lifestyle blog to be more personal and maintaining my anonymity was no longer the way to accomplish that. Secondly, once a summer for the past two years, I felt fine in a sexy little bikini on the beach. Thirdly, the man I recently dated, E, told that I was beautiful all the time. Even though I told him I liked his "Good Morning, Beautiful" greetings and such, encouraging this behavior, I imagine that if I didn't, he would still have said it often and at times, rather insistently. After we dressed up to go out one evening, for example, he literally informed me that I was beautiful every two minutes throughout the entire date. During the following weeks, he also vocalized his memories that I looked particularly lovely that night and wondered where he could take me where I would dress up and be the most beautiful woman in the room again. One of the last couple days I saw him, I confessed to him that those comments really started to affect my thinking. I always had a healthy self esteem before, but after letting his words sink in, I felt prettier than I previously thought. His words inspired me to contemplate, but with my complex mind, my evolution came from within. As it should be, separate from outside judgment. Without him though, this blog post wouldn't exist, at least not anytime soon. Fourth, I also have invested more and more in my appearance lately, purchasing a bit more expensive and highly rated beauty products and actually using them on a routine basis. I am more in control of my look than ever before. When I look in the mirror, what I see more closely resembles what I want to see than ever before. I hope that this rather sudden realization of my gradual transformation leads me to live life more confidently.

It seems almost insane that I am just becoming comfortable with my physical appearance now at age 30. I am often single and will even travel alone and as a result of these facts, feel I know myself well. I am also fairly independent and very much live inside my head. Why is this acceptance so difficult?! There is the fact that I probably wasn't the cutest girl. In fact, I never show anyone pictures of myself with my long messy, wavy-curly hair from the 5th grade. For a decade until the 7th grade, I had such thick bangs, like half the-top-of-my-head thick. My mother thought it was easier to keep that part of hair short. Bangs are my signature, but I grew most of that out starting in the 7th grade, and kept a thin layer of fringe until I finally cut them just a bit thicker during college. Also, I was always one of the "smart kids" growing up. Socially acceptable, I didn't suffer from low self esteem. Although, I didn't receive all that much male attention K through 12. Additionally, I revere all things classic. Classic features for a woman are high cheekbones and slim long legs, neither of which I possess, thus my features did not align with my personal beauty aesthetic. My square face is rather full and my legs are shorter than average and primarily muscular. When I was a young girl, I would suck my cheeks in and gaze into the mirror on my bedroom closet door and daydream that that's what my face would look like when I was older and lost my baby fat. Heredity, unfortunately, had other plans. If I ever considered plastic surgery, it would have been to slightly enhance my cheekbones. I realize now that I will never have that done as I fully accept my face. It's me. Whenever I complained about my legs, E would reply that he liked them. I also dated a guy briefly years ago who was attracted to wide hips. I don't know if both comments helped, but they certainly didn't hurt. If you asked me a little bit ago if I thought I was beautiful, then my inner voice would first say something like, "I am halfway decent looking" or "I can get by." Or perhaps that I didn't even know that I was kinda cute until I signed up for Match.com memberships and received attention. I realize that I dwell on my negatives. I am very nice to others, but like most people, I am quite the bully to myself. My inner voice jumps all over what's wrong. It takes practice to be kind to oneself. I also think one should accept imperfection because being unique should be celebrated as well. Furthermore, one often doesn't even mind imperfections of a confident woman as he or she is distracted by her overall charisma. This short life is meant to be lived, fully, without being held back by nonsense.

There are so many things about my physical appearance that are positive. I like my overall shape: my height and weight as well as my hourglass figure. My brown hair color has never seen a single drop of dye. My favorite feature? My long eyelashes. E also adored my smile and I have to admit it's quick, big, bright ...and reflects happiness. I'm just gonna say it, I am beautiful.

Since this is more my personal journal, this blog does not offer many how to's. Sorry for not guiding you along the way, but I do not feel qualified to do so being a beginner. I assure you that there are so many wonderful resources out there providing helpful tips. In fact, I always love what Shannon has to say over at The Simply Luxurious Life. Nonetheless, since so many external factors inspired my recent developments, I hope my story may help someone on their own journey.



Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review: The Woman I Wanted To Be by Diane von Furstenberg


I downloaded the Kindle edition of The Woman I Wanted To Be by Diane von Furstenberg the day it came out. I just had read this fashion designer's previous autobiography Diane: A Signature Life a couple of months ago and was already looking forward to more.

Of course, I love her iconic wrap dress, but I am more interested in how she personally cultivated the woman she is: glamorous, confident, independent, inspirational. The book is divided in half, between her personal and professional life. And what a life! Her passionate life is so incredibly full. This honest account is an engaging read.

Overall, her story is truly an inspiring one. In fact, I need to take note and become more fearless.



Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review: Heaven, Hell & Mademoiselle


I read the novel Heaven, Hell & Mademoiselle by H. C. Carlton based upon a recommendation from a blogger I adore, Fiona of how to be chic. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a quick read as I could hardly put it down! On the cover, it raves, "A delicious mix of Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada." That it is. If you covet Chanel and think 'Paris is always a good idea,' then you should definitely read it too.

The book is set in 1960s Paris, where there is a lot going on: Vietnam War protests and the city visibly divided between hippies promoting peace and love in the Left Bank and the traditional set upholding their conservative values on the Right. The fate of haute couture is even uncertain at this point!

The book follows four main characters and their stories intertwine within the world of haute couture. The character development is so effective that you root for them. A mystery torments one of them and you anticipate discovering the facts. All of them idolize Mademoiselle Chanel and not from afar either! They actually manage to interact with her. She's one of the narrators too since she has a paragraph every once in awhile. She's an older woman, yet still restless. I've never read 50 Shades of Gray and the like, but I enjoyed reading the sporadic love scenes. Cafes are name-dropped here and it makes me itch to return to the city myself. ...and now desire to own a well-tailored Chanel jacket!

I highly recommend it! I bought it cheap from Amazon and am actually keeping it on my bookshelf since I could see reading it again.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

E

I know that I haven't updated in weeks. I am sincerely sorry and hope you, dear readers, will forgive me. In becoming the woman I am meant to be, I have changed my mind about something important and wished to devote myself to processing it. I realize this is mysterious. Again, I apologize.

I am sure I will write about that later, but for now, I want this beloved blog of mine to capture something else, someone rather. This journal that just so happens to be public at the moment is important to me and I would regret not documenting this brief yet major part of my life in a blog post.

If you know me through this blog or in real life, then you are well aware that I want to move (from Maryland) to Philadelphia. As a result, I respectfully declined local date offers. However, I agreed to go on a first date during the summer, with E. Our subsequent dating was quite a distraction from actively pursuing my plans. Since I prefer to keep so many of the details of the relationship between the two of us, I will refrain from elaborating here on this social media platform. What's important is that I fell in love with him and consequently, took Philly completely off the table. Love can come when you least expect it. It certainly came up unexpectedly and at an inopportune moment for me. Unfortunately, it happened to end last weekend. (And you shouldn't hate him.)

I am heartbroken. Sad. I miss him terribly already. Please do not worry though as I am functional. Plus, I will definitely return to being happy and fabulous, but I just require time first. Time alone. I am off from work tomorrow (instead of my usual Monday) and... need it.

As they say, it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. I simply have not been in love often so far in my life. It's truly amazing to experience that. Although difficult for me now, I will always be grateful.

He's wonderful. ...which is a statement I am used to gushing to friends when catching up. E is adventurous, intelligent, affectionate, passionate, gentlemanly and overall, a good man. Tall, dark and handsome too. He also has an accent. Most importantly, he adored me. ...no wonder I fell in love!

I will always cherish so many of our truly beautiful moments together throughout our four months of dating.

I need some time to grieve my devastating loss before deciding about continuing with my plans for my life. In addition, I am inspired to blog, but ask for even more patience at the moment. Please stay tuned. Thank you.