From Today’s Kitchen: Spicy Vodka Sauce Wednesday, Feb 29 2012 

I am incredibly excited each time I master a new recipe. Especially if said recipe was one I had thought about before, but had been intimidated to try.  The perfect spicy vodka sauce had always fallen into that category of recipes I’d heard of other people making and loving, but that I was too afraid to try. Enter this recipe, forwarded from my mom, courtesy of http://www.justapinch.com. Every budding cooking ingénue loves to add new, successful options to her recipe book!

You will need:

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium celery stalks, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ c EVOO

¼ lb proscuitto or cooked bacon, very finely chopped

¾ c vodka (of a quality you would drink)

28 oz canned, crushed tomatoes

¼ tsp oregano, dried flakes

2 tbsp parsley

1 tbsp basil

12 tsp cayenne pepper

1 cup half and half

 

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, celery and garlic in oil; stir until soft. Add prosciutto and vodka. Simmer until almost all liquid is gone.

 

Add tomatoes, cayenne and herbs. Simmer for 10 minutes.

 

Stir in half and half, and heat for 3 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, cook pasta (penne grabs onto the sauce much better than ziti)

 

My kitchen notes: I’ve made this recipe twice, and at first,I was wary of the vodka- so I precisely measured the perfect amount and poured it very slowly. I recommend not skimping on the celery (this is a great recipe for when I have extra celery on hand) or the cayenne pepper! I did not measure out the herbs (I hardy ever measure herbs) except the cayenne pepper. I used fat free half and half to make it slightly more healthy. I used prosciutto-my husband’s favorite thing on Earth- instead of cooked bacon.This was a huge hit in my household, and I am so excited to make it again!

Happy cooking! Do you have a favorite vodka sauce recipe?

 

Media Credits:

all photos courtesy of my iPhone

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2012 Red Carpet Round Up: Academy Awards Tuesday, Feb 28 2012 

We all know how much I love a good Red Carpet, and the show from the 84th Annual Academy Awards did not disappoint. Actually, I was quite disappointed with the way E! fell apart after the Ryan Seacrest/ Dictator incident…aren’t they supposed to be professionals?

Anyway, the fashion was amazing! I have to admit I did not see The Artist, and I was pretty steamed at the Ryan Gosling/Drive and Leonardo DiCaprio snubs (and that doofus mocking Angelina Jolie!!!WTF) but I was thrilled for Meryl Streep! All hail the queen of Hollywood.

A few dramatic styles graced the red carpet (Capelets! Natural hair! That leg slit pose! Oh my!) Here are some of my favorites looks of the evening:

“It Girl” Emma Stone drew some criticism for her striking red Giambattista Valli gown with the neck bow- some critics felt it was far too similar to Nicole Kidman’s Balenciaga red bow moment of 2007. But I thought she looked ravishing, and she is sort of becoming a new girl crush of mine. Whenever she hits a fashion high, I do a little gleeful squeal of “Go Team!” for redheads everywhere.
Emma’s The Help co-star was another major contender for Best Dressed of the night. Jessica Chastain has had some questionable fashion moments this awards season, but she achieved absolute perfection in this black and gold McQueen stunner. Not everyone could pull off this detailed embellishment, and I was in love with her hairstyle. My husband voted her “hottest in a few years”- can’t say I can argue with that.

 

Another stunning nominee (and my hand-down winner for Most Adorable of the Night) is of course Michelle Williams. Her Louis Vuitton, which she claimed was “coral” but actually looked red, hit all the right notes with the peplum trend. Maybe she wasn’t channeling Marilyn with her pixie cut, ruffles and BFF Busy Phillips on her arm, but her girlish charm was at an all-time high. In no time she’ll have her moment on the Oscar winner’s stage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps my “guilty pleasure” favorite is none other than Gwyneth Paltrow. Her royal GOOP-ness rocked a white Tom Ford, complete with capelet. Seriously, could anyone else have looked this amazing? I sort of died with fashion joy when I saw her. She is fearless and fierce and knows it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another stunning, statuesque blonde enjoyed her moment in the sun. Cameron Diaz takes the title of “most fun presenter” (narrowly edging out Emma Stone and co-presenter/nip slip lady J.Lo) in her dazzling canary Gucci gown. She showed off her fun-loving, fresh hairstyle and giggled adorably all night long.

Another fresh face on the Red Carpet was the gorgeous Rose Byrne. The one-shoulder sparkly Vivienne Westwood looked anything but basic. I’ve loved her since Wicker Park- and admiring her gorgeous look at the Oscars has made me consider bangs. Because obviously, if I cut my bangs, I’ll look just like Rose Byrne, right?

 

Penelope Cruz is one of the Red Carpet’s biggest fashionistas. Every year, she consistently delivers gorgeous glamour and elegance. This year was no exception: her swept up hair and Armani in a gorgeous forget-me-not hue drew gasps all around.

 

 

 

 

Rocking the Marchesa trend, Sandra Bullock kepy with her gorgeous-girl-next-door look in a white and black backless stunner. Nothing will tip her gold Marchesa from the year she won, but her fluent Chinese with a lovely German accent earns her the title of “Most Impressive” of the night.

Now for the big winner: Meryl Streep won her THIRD Oscar, picking up her statuette in a glorious gold Lanvin sleeved sheath. Miranda Priestly would be proud. In my opinion, Meryl has deserved another Oscar for a while now and it was nice to see her recognized. All hail, the world’s greatest living actress!

And of course, we have Angelina Jolie. One of the most tweeted about celebs of the evening. Not only was she mocked on stage, but then numerous websites and memes have emerged to chuckle at her pose and bash her for being too thin. I can agree the pose wasn’t the best, but she is Angelina. Freaking. Jolie. We should all worship the ground she walks on and hang on her every word. Agreed? I commend her choice of a black velvet Armani- severe pose and all. She knows how divine she is, and by wearing an understated color and showing up at the last minute, she actually lets other women pretend they share the same Red Carpet.

 

What do you think? Who was your Best Dressed of the 84th Academy Awards?

 

Media Credits:

Emma Stone photo courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com

Jessica Chastain photo courtesy of secondtimearound.net

Michelle Williams photo courtesy of news.instyle.com

Gwyneth Paltrow photo courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

Cameron Diaz photo courtesy of shoppingblog.com

Rose Byrne photo courtesy of celebuzz.com

Penelope Cruz photo courtesy of celebuzz.com

Sandra Bullock photo courtesy of hair.becomegorgeous.com

Meryl Streep photo courtesy of vanityfair.com

Angelina Jolie photo courtesy of celebuzz.com

 

Happy Valentine’s Day! Plus My Top 4 Hotel Experiences Wednesday, Feb 15 2012 

One of the most luxurious things in the world is being treated like royalty in a gorgeous hotel. Room service, turn-down service, fresh towels delivered every day- the entire time is a sort of magical whimsy of irresponsibility and being pampered. I’ve been lucky enough to indulge in some seriously wonderful hotel experiences around the world.

 

In honor of Valentine’s Day (a huge hotel holiday even for married and co-habiting couples) I’ll be counting down my four favorite Hotel Experiences from around the world. Even though Valentine’s Day is of course a romantic holiday for couples in love, these particular hotel experiences (with one exception) were enjoyed while on family vacations with my parents and sister when I was younger. As a long-distance couple all through our dating years, the hubby and I saw a few hotel bills, but let’s face it, the hotels we stayed at were nowhere near as nice as what my parents could afford! Still, it’s fun to remember.

 

 

 

 

4. Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

My dad went through a “Western” phase when I was about 12, and we traveled out to Sun Valley Idaho and Jackson Hole, Wyoming for several summers. The adventures are some of my favorite memories of my childhood, but the accommodations were what really made the trips memorable. Located on a beautiful butte with breathtaking views of the Grand Teton mountain range, this little spot of luxury in the Wyoming wilderness offers the nicest of “cabins”- we would call them suites or villas anywhere else. You walk up a flight of stairs to your private two-bedroom abode, complete with two bathrooms and a sitting room. The décor is adorably rustic- but the thread count of their sheets is pure elegance. Their restaurant, The Granary, is on dozens of fine dining lists around the world, and the views from the dining room’s balcony is paralleled only by the tenderness of the filet mignon. Also, I was too young to enjoy the spa, but my mom said the massages were the perfect thing to pamper the sadde-sore away.

3.  Loews Coronado Bay, Coronado, California

I was visiting my now-husband when he was out in San Diego for a week in the Spring of 2009. We used the wonderful website Hotwire.com to secure our stay at this top-shelf Loews hotel. The beach views were spectacular, and the March weather was perfect for driving with the rented convertible top down all the way up to Rodeo Drive for some lust-worthy window shopping. This little spot of sun-soaked sumptuousness made for one of our most memorable weekends all through our dating years- and not just because I stepped too close to put a toe in the freezing Pacific Ocean and was treated to a pair of salt-soaked jeans and fits of laughter. Everyone at the hotel was absolutely wonderful to two college students on a happy spree.

 

2. George V, Paris, France

For two miraculous nights in the Spring of 2001, my family and I enjoyed nothing but bliss along the beautiful streets of Paris. One of my most lasting memories is from a wonderful dinner of prawns in the hotel’s restaurant (during which we witnessed an actual flaming Bananas Flambe being delivered to a neighboring diner) and my 8-year old sister accidentally bit into a delicate crystal water glass. The George V staff had an internationally renowned doctor at our table within 8 seconds, and the kindly piano player played American Disney songs all night long for us, including “The Pink Panther Theme”- what more could a 12-year old American in Paris ask for?

 

 

 

1. San Clemente Palace, Venice, Italy

One day I will treat you all to an account of my horrifying cruise ship experience in the summer of 2007- nothing compared to recent tragic news, but still quite traumatizing. Eventually, though, we arrived in Venice, the last port of call on our Mediterranean nightmare. We stepped out of the train station into the bustling city of Venice around 8pm, and were greeted by a gorgeously lit up city full of gondolas. It was straight out of a movie- music was playing, lights were twinkling on the water, and we were soon whisked away on a private boat “taxi” to bring us and our luggage safely to a breathtakingly beautiful island. An island? I was shocked- compared to our cramped cruise quarters, we suddenly saw horizon and fresh air everywhere. We were greeted by the cutest of Italian bellhops to carry our bags into the stunning hotel (yes, the name really was Palace- and it did not disappoint!) while we enjoyed some much-needed White Russians on their beautiful patio at midnight.

This was my favorite hotel experience, not just because of the magnificent mahogany doors leading into each sprawling suite, or the granite and marble bathrooms that I now want to model my entire house after, or the fabulous walk-in closet, or the five-star service. My entire family had a wonderful, relaxing, delicious time at the San Clemente Palace. This place was just what we needed after our Millenium cruise ship ran aground on the first day of our cruise and we were stuck in the fishy-smelling port of Civitavacchia, Italy for the remainder of our ten day excursion. The San Clemente Palace brings a new meaning to “breath of fresh air”, providing water taxis to San Marco Square whenever we desired, and even bringing us little water bottles for the trip back to the island after a long day of touring. Perfect, perfect, perfect time all around!

 

Well, there you have my most luxurious, delicious hotel experiences! What about you? What has been your favorite hotel? Where will you be spending Valentine’s Day?

 

Media Credits:
first photo courtesy of townandcountrytravelresort.com

second photo courtesy of nydailynews.org

third photo courtesy of sandiego.org

fourth photo courtesy of theopensite.com

fifth photo courtesy of brownsbest.com

sixth photo courtesy of sanclementepalacevenice.com

Couples Shopping Corner: Tommy Bahama Monday, Feb 6 2012 

Moving to South Carolina- where it was 77 degrees on SuperBowl Sunday, something I’m used to enjoying during the snowy wintery mix of the Northeast- has afforded me a whole new level of wardrobe challenges. Dressing for summer weather but still looking professional and not on my way to the beach is something that requires a bit of adaptation.

Of course, being half of a married duo now (I’m slowly leaving “bride” mode- I feel like Monica from Friends “I’ll never be a bride again. Now I’m just someone’s wife!”), I need to start thinking about appropriate guy’s fashion as well as my own. Even though my husband wears his Naval Officer uniform 5 days a week, on the weekends, and rare evenings out, he is also working on finding his new fashion groove here in the South.

One of our favorite brands to help keep us cool but not too casual in this new climate has been Tommy Bahama. Not only does the store smell amazing, but the easy, flowy, deliciously soft fabrics are perfect for this 70 degree situation. The label has been most obviously associated with Hawaiian shirts for a laid-back lifestyle of golfing, lunching and boating. But lately, they have become so much more than that. Sure, they sell bikinis and shirts for the beach, but they can also take you away from the poolside and into the boardroom. Their delectable linen shirts, khaki pants and adorable dresses have become the perfect resource to help this Northern couple transition into dressing for the balmier weather during winter.

These are some of my perfect looks for when you want a relaxing fit but still look presentable during the day.

Their “corktree vest” adds just a pop of sophistication to your work-day or off-day outfit, without adding extra bulk.

Their “safari dress” is great for a day at the office when you want to stay cool during the high noon rush out for lunch.

For the men, these “Linen for The Day” pants come flip-flop optional, and while you might not be able to wear these for an executive meeting with your boss, they will keep you looking pulled together while running errands on the weekend without fighting heat exhaustion.

This “TB Advised” tee-shirt is one of my hubby’s faves. It’s great for a day out in the bright sunshine and lets your skin breathe all day long. Plus, it is incredibly soft.

If the Tommy Bahama lifestyle appeals to you, why not fill your home with vibes of relaxation and comfort? We love their pineapple theme (which is a huge motif in South Carolina, fittingly) and enjoy their juice glasses, candle holders, wall décor and other home adorable adornments. You can even purchase their amazing signature scents to fill your home with island happiness all day long.

What do you think of Tommy Bahama?

Media Credits:

all photos courtesy of tommybahama.com

Style Spotlight: Ladies of Game of Thrones Sunday, Feb 5 2012 

For those you who haven’t discovered the wonder that is the HBO masterpiece Game of Thrones, you have been seriously missing out. I devoured all of the hefty books in record time, and the first season of the hit show delivers gorgeous, spectacular, sweeping entertainment of epic proportions. The intrigue, incest, violence, war, deception are all wonderful- but the stunning landscapes and even more beautiful costumes breathe real life into the plethora of beloved book characters.

If I went into detail about how much I love all the characters and every weaving thought-out and shocking plot line in the books and how miraculously they are brought to the small screen by some of the best-looking actors I’ve ever seen on television, I would never be able to stop typing. Just do yourself a favor and watch the 10 episodes of Season 1 on HBO. But I’ll give you a glimpse into the dramatic world of Westeros’ costumes, featuring some of the beautiful ladies of Game of Thrones (who actually have the most interesting character developments) and their gorgeous old world styles.

My all time favorite character of the series is Daenerys Targaryan. I really can’t go into detail about how wonderful she is, but Emilia Clarke is just brilliant and stunningly beautiful as she moves the story forward. To meet her husband, the foreboding Khal Drogo, for the first time, Daenerys is draped in a gorgeously gauzy lilac sheath with brooch details at the shoulders.

Her doe-eyed, mystical look just captures every essence of her character perfectly. Later in the season, we see her in the leather costume of her new Dothraki tribe, and the crimp in her hair and the hardened look in her eye shows her character development as much as her new confident Khaleesi attitude. I won’t include a photo from the final scene of the season, as it’s a major spoiler and a moment that everyone deserves to experience in all its magical splendor.

 

 

 

Catelyn Stark is a beacon of strength and courage for her family. She does not have an easy life. But her beautiful red hair and stoic nature gives her a regal, respectable air. She needs furs, velvets and resplendent silks to keep her warm on her journey from Winterfell. Michelle Fairley carries off every struggle with an enviable fortitude, and her wardrobe needs to be as formidable and hearty as she is. She’s definitely a woman you want on your side in a tavern battle of wits!

 

 

 

 

Another wonderful character is Cersei Lanniser. Her entirely despicable moments are pulled off with great beauty, and her attitude is one of the most affecting aspects of the show. Lena Headey’s gorgeously queenly face will stick in your mind as you read through the entire series about Cersei’s exploits, and her blonde hair becomes a minor character unto itself.

For her iconic “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die” line, she is standing by a beautiful fountain in a palace courtyard, and looks every inch the glorious ruler in her peach gown with flowing sleeves. Cersei’s wardrobe is just as important as the inflection of her speech- sometimes you can tell what she’s thinking, but behind that sweet, feminine color rests the heart of a lion.

 

 

Are you intrigued yet? Every fan of fashion- or even just a fan of beautiful women and hot (seriously HOT) guys- should tune in to Game of Thrones. Season Two returns April 1, and if you couldn’t already tell, I’m pretty excited!

 

Media Credits:

first photo courtesy of gameofthrones.br.com

second photo courtesy of trappedinaboxblog.com

third photo courtesy of gameofthrones.wikia.com

fourth photo courtesy of ugo.com

fifth photo courtesy of gameofthronesdvd.us.com

sixth photo courtesy of fanpop.com

My 7 Irrational Fears and Phobias Thursday, Feb 2 2012 

It’s a scary world out there. Watching too much 24 and Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit makes it even scarier. But to get through the day, I like to believe in the sunshine side of life, and focus on everything good we have in our lives. A tip I heard from (my idol) Giuliana Rancic is to start your day by saying OUT LOUD 5 things you are grateful for.

 

I followed Giuliana’s advice and like to talk to myself out loud in the car first thing in the morning about everything good . With everything Giuliana’s been going through, she is such an inspirational role model for being thankful for what we have in our lives. It can be something as silly as “I’m grateful I made that red light,” or “I’m so lucky that my hair is cooperating today.” I also think about how grateful I am for major life blessings like that I am able to spend so much time with my new husband, that my parents are healthy, my pets, $0 in student loans, etc. It really feels good. When you think about all the horrible problems plaguing our world right now, anything we complain about seems so petty and silly.

 

That being said, I am of the opinion that if we’re honest about what we’re afraid of, we’re less likely to be caught off guard. I think we’re all entitled to 7 totally irrational fears, that we don’t have to explain to anyone, but that we are just allowed to hide under the covers from when the thought approaches. Why 7, you ask? I don’t know; it’s a cool, mythical, lucky number. Here are mine, in no particular order:

 

Snakes. Not a fear- a phobia. Physical reactions bordering on almost needing hospitalization.

A fire breaking out in my apartment. (It is for this reason that I keep a pair of slip-on shoes in the kitchen and the kitty

carriers are easily accessible.)

 

Vampires. Sure, Edward Cullen is pretty hot, and I know vampires are super hot right now, but the thought of an undead blood-sucker kind of freaks me out.

 

Something crawling into my ear while I’m asleep. 

 

Teeth falling out of my mouth. At approximately age 9, at the dentist, the hygienist was flossing my bottom teeth and she yanked out a baby tooth. It wasn’t loose or anything- she just pulled up with the floss from underneath, and blood came gushing out of my mouth.  I am forever traumatized.

 

Checking luggage. This is a totally rational fear, because I have been the victim of the worst luggage theft of anyone I know. Three words: JFK. Christmas. Europe. Lost: $3000 worth of sentimental and semi-valuable, irreplaceable wonders.

Something really bad happening to a family member and someone not being able to reach me.

 

 

Maybe putting all this fear and anxiety out in the universe isn’t decreasing the chances of something horrible happening, but expressing our feelings about what we’re happy about and what we’re scared of is one of the healthiest things we can do for our peace of mind.

 

What are your 7 irrational fears and phobias?

 

Media Credits:
first photo courtesy of masterfile.com

second photo courtesy of catster.com

third photo courtesy of luciddreaming.com

fourth photo courtesy of cherrynrouge.com

At-Home Hair Mask Wednesday, Feb 1 2012 

As any beauty junkie will tell you, we are always on the hunt for the latest, greatest at-home routine to spruce up our look.

Looking to Hollywood’s loveliest ladies provides great inspiration, and it’s always a treat when they share their favorite secret recipes to perfect beauty! Recently, the gorgeous Brooke Burke tweeted a link to her YouTube video about an at-home hair mask that she swears by. It sounds kind of wacky, but hey, her hair is spectacular, so I’ll try anything beauty-related once.

The recipe for this hair mask is: half a ripe avocado, 2 tbs olive oil (I’ve also read in other places that olive oil is great for hair conditioning), 2 eggs and a spoonful of mayonnaise. It’s impressive that with the access to all the incredible resources and hair stylists that Brooke has, she still prefers a cheap, kitchen-ready regimen to condition her flowing locks. Here is the link to her original-and adorable-video:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUQ_sWACfXM

 

I tried this hair mask a few days ago, and I have a few words of advice if you’re up to trying it. First, it’s not a pretty look, so definitely give yourself a few hours of nothing to leave the mask on without having to interact with people. I was able to hang out all morning and clean my house, and my kitties promist that they don’t care what my head looks like.

 

Also, secure a towel you don’t care about around your shoulders to protect from drips. I think it was the egg, and it kept plopping off my hairline, like really goopy sweat. I was able to dab with tissues and use the towel to keep my shirt clean. I also used an old hair elastic that I just threw away after this mask.

This was my hair during the mask treatment. I told you it wasn’t pretty, but it felt sort of luxurious, in a gooey kind of way.

 

I can’t say I’ve noticed a drastic difference in my hair in the five days since my hair mask experience, but it can’t hurt, right? Maybe it has to be a weekly ritual or you have to indulge in a few treatments to start seeing Brooke-like results. I will definitely try this again.

Do you have a favorite at-home beauty secret? Will you be trying Brooke’s hair mask?

 

Media Credits:

first photo courtesy of misikko.com

second photo courtesy of hairstyles.tk.com

third photo courtesy of healthsociety.com

fourth photo courtesy of my iPhone

fifth photo courtesy of hownwhat.com