Friday, July 24, 2015

Chiuso Per Ferie dal 25/07 al 29/08


Italians generally take off the month of August. Prior to their departure to the seaside, they put up a sign that reads, "Chiuso per Ferie" ("Closed for Holiday") on their business. I, too, believe in a healthy balance between work and play.

I have taken a few weeks off this blog in August before (in 2013 and 2014 at least) and feel that I need to take a blogging break again, a bit longer one at that. Starting tomorrow, I plan to take off for the next five weeks.

Always optimistic and ambitious, I have wanted to embrace the longer days of summer by accomplishing so much. I'm having a tough time doing that so far. Since I am thoroughly 'work to live,' I suppose I forget that summer is by far my busiest time at work. I work quickly every minute of a shift (basically during June and July, but some years a bit before and after that) and still don't get everything I want to done. At 6 o'clock, I am exhausted. As an introvert, my energy is depleted from being the bubbly leasing professional at my apartment community for eight to nine hours. I need some time alone and to do nothing to replenish my energy. After that, I feel like myself again and can conquer the world. Sometimes I beat myself up for not leaving all my work issues behind after a half an hour's time plus a half of a glass of red wine, even after a particularly difficult work day. Alas, there are evenings when I don't accomplish much. Making and eating dinner is all I can handle. Any time of year, there is so much that I want to do during the evening such as trying a new recipe, blogging, cleaning, beauty treatments, walking, driving practice, reading, and an occasional dinner out with a friend. Only doing things on my Sunday/Monday weekends is simply not an option for a lifestyle blogger like me. I refuse. Hopefully the crazy busy season is almost over at work as prospective residents tend to move before school starts which is like the third week of August. Hopefully my workload will soon become less swamped and more steady. Plus, I have a few vacation days scheduled during September and another few in October.

I decided on a blogging break for many reasons. With one less commitment, I would have more free time to make my summer great, my August amazing. To do quintessentially summery things. You know that I wished to spend the summer trying new recipes and that is still on the itinerary. I really hope to jump into that since I'm now earning much more commission and could purchase different ingredients. I also want to eat a pit beef sandwich. Like a good Italian, I want to sample gelato. I would love to patronize the wine shop I love. I have yet to sunbathe and read on a beach or at least poolside and wish to just once. I want to visit a friend and have another friend visit me. I wish to entertain al fresco on my balcony. I plan to visit that French pastry shop in Baltimore (which is closed on Sundays) with Elizabeth, the friend I visited Paris with. I want to shop for my fall capsule wardrobe. I signed up for a LivingSocial deal on a Match.com membership awhile ago. The promotional value expires on August 31, 2015. I figure I will resubscribe for a month, starting sometime in August. I'm excited to date, to be open to love and to see where that might take me. That's a lot for the last six weeks of summer, prior to Labor Day! I don't want to miss out on summer; blogging is something I can do at any time, September included.
Even though I feel more like myself when I blog often, expressing myself creatively as well as making sense of my thoughts and feelings, I know that it is time for a blogging break. I need to take something big off my 'to do' list. I spend a lot more time drafting a post in my head than I do actually writing it. Lazy summer days and nights will benefit my mental health too. Although I will be social at times, solitude and savoring some 'me time' is cultivating a sanctuary which will feed my soul, helping me live more consciously and reach my potential. Don't worry. I will definitely be back. Furthermore, I want to get into the habit of blogging everyday. Previously, I thought that that would mean I would publish every other or every third day. But I realize now, with the help of the book I picked back up again, Better Then Before by Gretchen Rubin, that maybe taking big steps in acquiring that habit isn't the way to go. Perhaps I need to start off with much smaller steps. I will be taking off from the blog completely for a few weeks during my break, but for the last week or two, I will get into the habit of writing a little bit each and every day, even if it's just a single sentence!

As you know if you follow this blog, I want to move to a city. I do apply for jobs every once in awhile. I am emotionally ready to relocate and revolutionize my life, but I am not ready to do so financially. I am usually poor, but money does come in during the second half of the summer. I am striving to only spend a bit of my earnings, saving the majority for my next dream. At my core, I am actually a spender, not a saver. I am trying to be patient with how slowly I am progressing towards my goal as well as embracing frugality, but at times, it's hard. Like I said, I am reading that book on habits again, desperately trying to make my life change with what I have control of at the moment. Already, I'm developing a few good habits, such as waking up around 6 every day, so I can seize the day, get things done, and lead a chic life. My point of this tangent is that I don't want to go through the season only accomplishing a couple of the many items that I had in mind especially when my life isn't going my way, plus a few distractions during a tough time wouldn't hurt. Some more (frugal) fun would be welcome. I deserve perfect evenings and weekends... to dress well, go out, eat good food, truly connect with people, laugh until my face hurts and let spontaneity take over. It's been too long since I've done that.

I plan to return after five full weeks with a Simple Pleasure Sunday post on Sunday, August 30, 2015. I hope to return both refreshed and bursting with summer memories. With better habits in place, I look forward to the fall with better posts that occur simply more than once a week every week. I love and appreciate my readers and hope that you'll stick with me. I need this. I promise to make the most of my time away and come back rejuvenated. Have a joyful rest of July and an awesome August!



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Recipe #10: Chocolate Chip Cookies



During my special three-day 4th of July weekend, I made chocolate chip cookies from scratch. Of all the recipes collected on my Pinterest board (Recipes to Try, also see Recipes Tried) and in my cookbooks, this is probably the new recipe I was looking forward to making the most. I love them. Additionally, I had prepared chocolate chip cookies following the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate chip bag or the Arm & Hammer baking soda box fairly often back when I was in high school. When I went off to college, I started baking everything (but my famous chocolate fudge) from a box or bag mix. Although I do still like that, I want to make things from scratch sometimes as I truly enjoy baking. I am happy to have made homemade chocolate chip cookies again, after so many years. As a result of this cooking and baking mission, I have acquired some of the tools and ingredients to do so. Although I dream of beautiful bundt pans!

I pinned this recipe a long time ago. It says it's the New York Times favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, but unbeknownst to me,  the blogger actually did not copy it carefully. When my first batch was in the oven, I looked up that lauded recipe as part of some blog post research and found that it uses special dark chocolate disks and is sprinkled with sea salt. These things happened to be missing from the ingredient list I read and the recipe I followed. She adapted it according to what she had on hand. Follow her lead, make it work for you. Nonetheless, the cookies turned out very well. They were delicious. It drove me up the wall to make the dough one day and then wait 24 hours to bake them. I might do the whole two-day thing again. I might not. I suppose the cookies weren't as flat as the ones from a Betty Crocker bag mix. I will use (or adapt from) this recipe again. 








Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients
2 c. minus 2 tbsp. cake flour
1 2/3 c. bread flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. light brown sugar
1 c. plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 lbs. semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used one bag of morsels.)

Instructions
1. Sift flours into a bowl. Add baking soda, baking powder and salt into same bowl and set aside.
2. Add butter to another bowl. Pour in the two kinds of sugar and cream together until fluffy. (I used a hand mixer. I also dream of a red KitchenAid stand mixer...}
3. Add eggs. Stir in vanilla extract.
4. Add dry ingredients a bit at a time. Mix until just combined.
5. Add chocolate chips and stir.
6. Cover bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.
7. Take dough out of refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
8. Drop spoonfuls or ice cream scoopfuls of dough onto cookie sheet (After sitting in the fridge, the dough is tough.)
9. Bake for 10-12 minutes. (I think mine were perfect at 11.)
10. Let cool on a rack.



Enjoy! Buon appetito!



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Bruschetta

Last Sunday evening, I saw a food truck a few blocks away from my home with enough smoke coming out of it for me to think it sold pit beef sandwiches, so, I made a point to patronize it this Sunday. Then, I would write about it as this week's simple pleasure.

I love pit beef; it's my favorite sandwich. Pit beef starts off as a roast that is grilled over charcoal, sliced thin and then served on a roll. It is so flavorful that you don't need any sauce. Usually you see pit ham on the same menu. I'm coming to realize in recent years that pit beef is a Maryland thing. I think I got hooked on them attending my town's carnival every summer while growing up. My parents live a block from the carnival grounds. My family and I also enjoyed them at a restaurant called Bull on the Beach located in Ocean City, Maryland. I come from a family that grills (hamburgers, hot dogs, and steak) 12 months a year, even with snow on the ground! ...so I love that kind of food. The food of summer is more tempting to me than that of any other season. Now, there is a restaurant in my hometown that sells pit beef year-round, plus another in the next town over. Since they're sold at carnivals and fairs during the summer, I usually find myself picking it up at these special events. I only manage to come across it once or twice year and when I do, I savor this sandwich. It's special.

Tonight, when I unwrapped my packaged sandwich at home, it was not the regional specialty I adore, but a lot of beef pieces soaked in spicy barbecue sauce on a cheap hamburger roll. Of course, all that sauce reduced the bottom of the roll to nothing. It was fine, but not at all what I was expecting. After looking forward to it for a week, I was so disappointed! I ate half of the meat for dinner, justifying that it was so expensive, but I actually might toss the rest... I heard him offer collard greens as a side to another customer, which I smiled at as a Southern specialty, reminding me that I lived in South Carolina for college. He probably isn't from around here, but from somewhere in the South. Luckily, the carnival's in town next week and I can pick up the real deal there!

So, now, what do I write about? What little thing did I take pleasure in recently that I haven't included in this series yet? I made bruschetta on Monday with those plum tomatoes I told you guys that I bought last Sunday in this post. It was delicious. Luckily, I snapped a few photos! Check it out...

On my Philadelphia plate, slightly bigger than the rest of my dinner plates.
Does it surprise you that I grill the slices of baguette?

My dinner, with vino rosso, certo!

The tomato mixture in a latte bowl from Anthropologie.
I grew my own basil.

Making bruschetta is easy. First, I remove the seeds from halved tomatoes with a spoon before chopping them into tiny cubes. I also roll several basil leaves and cut the roll diagonally many times. Next, I place the tomatoes in a bowl and then stir in a bit of the following: salt, freshly-ground black pepper, good olive oil, balsamic vinegar and short ribbons of fresh basil. I slice a baguette at an angle and then grill each side. After that, I cut a garlic clove in half and rub the cut side all over one side of the grilled bread. I drizzle the bread with some more good olive oil. I either serve the bread and topping separately or spoon the topping onto each piece. As everything falls off as you eat, please note that this is not ideal first date food.

Since the tomatoes are ripe and taste like they should during July, like my beloved pit beef, bruschetta tastes best when eaten in the summertime.



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book Review: Ideas for Creating a Luxurious Home on a Budget

I highly recommend the eBook Ideas for Creating a Luxurious Home on a Budget by Tracy Lee, the blogger behind Have Less. Do More. This short book is full of wonderful ideas for a elegant home. ...that are actually doable! I wanted to share some of my favorite ideas from each of her five chapters. In addition, I wished to show a couple of small home projects that her fourth chapter inspired.

The first chapter is about decluttering. If you follow my blog, then you know that I agree how a decluttered home can be spacious.

Tracy mentions a cleaning schedule in her second chapter. This is something that I've adopted, but am still tweaking due to a busy and changing work schedule.

I can see her third chapter inspiring major change in my home(s) in the future. I love the idea of hanging a chandelier over the dining room table. I also adore architectural details such as crown molding. Maybe using a bit of summer commission soon, I will consider adding an orchid as a glamorous touch to my home. I like the idea of using white paint (or even silver...) to transform knick-knacks into modern decorations, which I will keep in mind in setting the table when entertaining. Having a bookcase bar myself, I approve of the idea of repurposing a cart as a sophisticated bar. Perhaps most of all, I agree that quality linens are important. In fact, I plan to improve my bedding as late as Christmas this year. Right now, my white fitted sheet of a low thread count was picked up cheaply from Target and doesn't match the nicer white flat sheet of a set I used to own. Additionally, my nearly-four-year-old white comforter was scored cheaply from HomeGoods and is very lumpy inside the duvet. I would love to save up and upgrade with this one from Garnet Hill.

The fourth chapter on curb appeal inspired a couple minor home projects. Since I live in an apartment, I don't have a yard, but I do have a balcony and front door. Visitors see my balcony first as it faces the front of the building, right next to the building entrance. Around the time summer officially started, I budgeted for and purchased a couple of geraniums to fill my two terra cotta pots, one white and the other red. The blooms are prolific throughout the summer!




Coming up on my four-year anniversary in my home and only possessing a holiday wreath from Target for my front door before, I finally purchased one for another season. A glorious sunflower one for summer. It reminds me of Tuscan sunflower fields that I've seen in pictures. I ordered this stunning wreath from etsy shop KBhomecrafts. I know Tracy would have wanted me to make my own, sorry! Although without this book, it is likely that I would not have researched and saved up for any door decor. Now, I smile every time I approach my door.




My favorite part of the fifth chapter serves as my reminder to "dine al fresco more often" or even simply take a beverage of my choice on my balcony.

If you own a house, I think you would even find this book even more helpful than I did since I limited to what I am allowed to do because I rent an apartment home. Whatever your home and budget, it's nice to know that with some effort, your home can be luxurious.



Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Review: My Paris Dream


I just finished My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine by Kate Betts. This was one of the books on my summer reading list and like the season should be, I read it leisurely, over something like three or four weeks. I enjoyed it.

After college, she moved to Paris, which was her dream after an inspiring first visit. It was a difficult journey however. Life is not often how you imagined it would be. Nonetheless, her Parisian experience truly helped her become the woman she was meant to be. Mingling with the French, she made friends and had a romantic interest. Although, her workplace was populated with expats. She got her big break in Paris. As an American, she was incredibly ambitious and became a fashion journalist at the Paris bureau of Women's Wear Daily. Always diligently climbing up the ladder, she later landed jobs as an editor at Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Time. Even when moving to Paris turned out to be temporary rather than permanent, she still created the life she wanted and is living her dream. This is an honest account of a go-getter's time in Paris during the late 1980s.

There is a lot of self reflection in this memoir. This is my favorite part since I adore anything to do with identity, personality and motivation. Paris is so important to her. And no wonder, she changed so much during that time. I'm currently finding in my own life that even if things do not work out perfectly, an individual you were in any kind of a relationship with and a place or background you were in during a time of tremendous personal growth holds a special place in your heart. For me, I remain devoted to whoever/wherever it is with unconditional love. (I realize that I'm being vague about my own life, but some things must be kept private.) The author proclaimed that Paris shaped her more than her childhood and college experience.

Even if you don't adore Paris or fashion, I think that the writing is so good, you will enjoy it. I believe that if you identify as a francophile and loved either the book or movie The Devil Wears Prada, then you will really love this book. The author goes into a lot of detail, goes into the studio of a famous designer, for example. Why not escape to Paris this summer?



Sunday, July 12, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Shopping at a Farmer's Market


Today's post is brought to you by summer. I enjoy shopping for vegetables at a farmer's market during July and August. On this beautiful Sunday morning, I purchased plum tomatoes and zucchini at a local farmstand.

Tomatoes that are red on the outside as well as on the inside are delicious. I intend to make my famous bruschetta with them. I will probably thickly slice a couple and season with a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper as a side to a burger.



The zucchini that are much bigger than the ones sold at the grocery store will be sauteed and go in simple pasta dishes throughout the week.


It's really summer when I've made bruschetta. I use this recipe. In my variation, I seed plum tomatoes, rub the grilled sliced baguette with a cut garlic clove, and do not add garlic to the tomato mixture. I also add a touch of balsamic vinegar to the topping.



Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer 2015 Capsule Wardrobe

For several seasons, my capsule wardrobes have consisted of primarily black and white clothing with pops of warm color. I wanted to mix it up just a bit and inspired by the Mediterranean, have added some blue. Think Santorini...

Come in and check out my closet...

My closet for clothing (not accessories).

Bright whites, summery color, chic black.
Solids and prints.



Michelle's 21-Item Summer 2015 Capsule Wardrobe

1. new blue and white print Casual Jersey Dress by Boden


2. new black Casual Jersey Dress by Boden


3. white wrap top with circle edges from Banana Republic Factory Store


4. new white long sleeve Perfect Shirt from Ann Taylor


5. pink and black wrap top from Ann Taylor Factory Store


6. green and ivory print short sleeve top from LOFT


7. new black Crepe Tie Neck Shell from Ann Taylor


8. black top with sheer scarf and short sleeves from White House Black Market


9. black sheer short sleeve top by East 5th from JCPenney


10. new dark blue and white print Short Sleeve Wrap Top from Boden


11. blue jean knee-length skirt in petite by Liz Claiborne from JCPenney


12. white eyelet A-line knee-length skirt from Ann Taylor Factory Store


13. new white Modern Straight Leg Jeans in petite from LOFT


14. white capris with vertical line texture by Bandolino Blu from Macy's


15. black dressy capris with vertical line texture from The Limited


16. black paneled knee-length skirt from The Limited


17. black ankle pants (tailored shorter) by Mossimo from Target


18. black pants in Classic Fit by Merona from Target


19. dark gray pants from Ann Taylor Factory Store


20. Levi's blue jean capris from JCPenney


21. new Levi's 515 Bootcut Jeans in regular length from JCPenney




Extras

Boardwalk, Beach, Pool, Sunbathing Wear and Accessories

1. black Teal Island bikini by Island World purchased in Ocean City, Maryland

2. black one piece swimsuit with white dots from Ann Taylor

3. bluish green one piece La Blanca swimsuit by Rod Beattie

4. blue sarong with wave print

5. pink ombre sarong purchased in Florence, Italy

6. black hat by Croft & Barrow from Kohl's

7. beach towel from Target

8-10. three pairs of sunglasses, two of which are new, all from Target 

11. black shorts with scalloped hem from Gap


12. blue jean shorts in dark wash from LOFT


13. black cotton dress with empire waist and spaghetti straps from LOFT

14. white cotton dress with black marks by R & K Originals from JCPenney




Camis, Tanks, and Tees


5. white cami from LOFT

6. white scoop neck short sleeve tee from LOFT



8. white scoop neck short sleeve tee with black stripes by Divided from H&M

9. dark pink Everyday Camisole by Sonoma Life + Style from Kohl's

10. dark pink cami from LOFT

11. red cami from LOFT

12. blue V-neck short sleeve tee by Merona from Target




14. black cami with white polka dots and lace trim from White House Black Market

15. black silky lacy cami from White House Black Market

16. black cami from LOFT

17. black Everyday Camisole by Sonoma Life + Style from Kohl's

18. black crossover sleeveless top with lace from Ann Taylor Factory Store


19. black tee with sheer yoke front and back and lace on front from H&M


20. black V-neck short sleeve tee by Merona from Target


21. black scoop neck short sleeve tee from Ann Taylor Factory Store

22. black scoop neck short sleeve tee from LOFT

23. black crossover short sleeve tee with extra fabric at neckline and waist from Ann Taylor Factory Store



Special Occasion Wear all knee-length

1. black wrap dress with short sleeves from Ann Taylor

2. black lined sleeveless sheath dress with radiating folds from neckline by Mossimo from Target

3. black lined sleeveless dress with origami folds from White House Black Market



Cardigans

1. black by Merona from Target

2. dark pink from LOFT

3. black Italian Cashmere from J.Crew



New Nail Polish




I love every piece. We've had an early hot summer so far, so I started wearing these pieces earlier than normal. Today, I'm wearing the blue and white Boden dress, which is comfy and makes me feel feminine. I channeled Jackie with a black tee and white capris yesterday. As a whole, in addition to always going for classic, I hope this particular wardrobe reads as feminine, flattering, and ready for summery fun. Wrap tops hug the curves of my hourglass figure, for example. I haven't had a chance to wear the (newly arrived) printed Boden wrap top and white LOFT jeans yet, which I can hardly wait to pair together!

Do you have a capsule wardrobe?