Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Classic Dark Chocolate Cake

Photo: taste.com.au
Let the baking begin. It was my first time making a traditional chocolate cake from stretch, but I didn't let that stop me and neither should you. Look how easy/breezy.

After checking a few sources, I used the recipe off the side of a Hersey's Unsweetened Cocoa canister. The chocolate company was established in 1894. I tweaked the ingredients a little bit for the benefit of real chocolate lovers:

Dark Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:
Cocoa, in all its glorious forms: beans, powder; a chocolate bar
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

optional: 2 melted squares of gourmet (or Baker's) dark chocolate bar (if you have it)

Directions:
1) Put the ingredients, one by one, into a mixing bowl while beating with an electric mixer until blended (about 2 minutes). You don't want to over mix a cake. Expect a thin batter.
2) Pour the batter into two 9-inch greased baking pans (or three-8 inch baking pans).
3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degree F in the oven.
4. Remove the pans and let cool for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pans to cool completely.

Next select a frosting ...

Chocolate Ganache Frosting:

Ingredients:
8 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips, or pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
choose one flavor: 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules, or 1 teaspoon real vanilla

Directions:
1. Heat the cream in a pan on a stove top until it just begins to simmer.
2. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate (and coffee or vanilla). Allow the chocolate to melt.
3. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.
4. Let the mixture sit at room temperature until it thickens and cools.
3. Frost the layers and sides of the cake.

Or you can make a Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting:
Blend together: 1 stick of melted butter, 1/3 cup milk, 2/3 cup of dark cocoa powder, choose one flavor: 1 teaspoon vanilla, or 1 teaspoon of instant coffee; and add about 3 cups of confectionery sugar until you get a thick, spreadable frosting. Baker's tip: Double frost your cake: Frost the cake, refrigerator it, then frost it again. That's how professional bakers make cakes look so scrumptious. Add the chocolate shavings, if you wish!

For an intense chocolate flavor, as well as, the health benefits of anti-oxidants, try using organic raw cocoa powder in lieu of a commercial processed cocoa powder.

Invite friends over ... and serve.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Masters Of Sex, A Review

Photo: Showtime
Recently I binge watched the Showtime period drama, Masters of Sex. There are two seasons of 12 episodes each to watch, and it's a good investment of time. 

The show depicts the lives of sex therapists Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who are brilliantly portrayed by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. The real William Masters was an esteemed fertility doctor; Virginia Johnson, a divorced mother of two and former night club singer without a science degree. Initially, Mrs. Johnson was hired as Dr. Master's secretary. 

They began their sex studies in the 1950s when such research was considered smut, not science. It's not easy being pioneers in a field with controversy and misconceptions galore, and it requires brains, ambition, panache and an unrelenting tenacity to succeed. Each of the ground breakers had qualities (i.e. strengths) the other lacked. First Masters and Johnson needed to set up a sex lab at the hospital where they worked; then they needed more autonomy so they moved their study to independent offices, therefore they needed backers with deep pockets; and still later, they needed to get published for their work to be taken seriously, not to mention, reach the ears of scientific grand poobahs and the public ... all of which took personal sacrifices and years of their lives.

Masters of Sex is one of the best written shows airing. It's a rich story. The characters are real and multi-layered, sometimes flawed, but not irredeemable or destructive. You understand what motivates them. There are no throw away characters on the show. You are interested in the entire cast of lead and supporting characters. There is not one person, who I haven't felt sympathy for at one time or another.

It gets complicated too. Smart people aren't always smart, and moral people fall short. Sometimes ignorance, ambition, ego, insecurity, politics or the times get in the way. The scripts are beyond good; they are sophisticated with slice of life insights.

Overall, it's an upbeat show. But at times people make compromises ... to get ahead ... to get along ... to get the job done.

And yes, there is plenty of sex to watch. But, none of it is gratuitous. Um, let's just anoint the show's talented cast as the bravest actors on TV. They do not flinch. Television viewers experience the venerability ... and get into the hearts and minds of all the characters. We root for them; and sometimes, ache for them.

What a quality show. There will be a season three.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Halloween Themed Clothes And Accessories

Sidney Evan 14k rose gold ring with ruby and garnet.
Halloween comes at the exact right time of the year. We have all of October to get ready for Fright night! If you don't dress up in full costume, you can still have a bit of ghoulish fun with these haunting accessories. The ring at the top is probably my favorite. love it ... and will use it as inspiration, since at $620, I can't really justify the expense. Surely, I can find a gold-plated-rhinestone knock-off for a few dollars elsewhere. (Wouldn't I always like to be wearing rubies and solid gold though!)

Esty, which focuses on homemade, vintage and unique factory items, is a fantastic website to find these kinds of things at affordable prices. The e-company provides "personal storefronts" to artists, craftsmen-and-women and other small sellers, who pay a small fee to list a piece of merchandise. Here is a round-up of several spooky pieces to get you into the spirit for All Hollows' Eve
A black cat iPhone 5 cover here.
These tiny skull studs here.
How about these creepy spider earrings here?
A jack-o-lantern glass pendent neckless with an attitude here.
A spider and web neckless here.
A vampire knuckle ring here.
Oooh, an Alexander McQueen skull silk blend scarf. Pricey, so for inspiration.
An inexpensive skull print sweater from ASOS. I'll take the leather skirt too!
EmojiEmoji
Halloween comes but once a year ... and what a lovely season it is in the western hemisphere! Falling leaves, pumpkins, the light layering of a sweater, hot cider, craft beer and candy corn.

For more goth inspired clothing and accessories click this link for ASOS.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Sole Society For The Latest Style

Boho wrap bracelet, $30
When it comes to chic shoes, handbags and accessories, The Sole Society is right up THE SAVVY SHOPPER'S alley. The site features timeless style, the latest trends along with well crafted goods at mostly affordable prices.

That said, buyer beware. Order with great caution because although shipping is free both ways, returns aren't always hassle free. Customers report that shoe sizes are unpredictable. One size 8 might fit perfectly, yet in another style, a size 8 is too big or small. Not uncommon with footwear, but with this merchant, when shoes or articles don't work out, consumers are given either:

1) store credit for returns; or 2) pay a $7.95 restocking fee (per item returned) for refunds to their credit cards. For these reasons, I would not order shoes directly from the company's website. Instead I recommend ordering Sole Society shoes from other retailers who sell the brand, such as Nordstrom or Amazon, which have friendlier return policies. Who wants to pay $8 to get refunds?

Nonetheless, if you see shoes on the site too posh to pass up and are willing to accept the return policy, be sure to read all the customer reviews for insights before placing an order. Other customers will often tell you if the shoes run big or small, or discuss the quality and look.

Personally, when shopping online, I only take calculated risks on familiar, or inexpenive merchandize. The cost of mistakes can really add up.

Sole Society has a couple of features that make the website fun to browse. Its Tastemarker Series is a useful section where fashion insiders, including top editors and industry bloggers, give you advice, plus select their favorite items. Also appealing is the Shop The Look section, where you can click on a hot outfit to explore and buy the trendy pieces. It's like having a personal cyber stylist at your service!

So enjoy the fashion-forwardness of The Sole Society ...  just shop mindfully.


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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Show Off Your Blue Shoes To Fight Breast Cancer

Photo: Dalias.com
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed worldwide, according to AM New York. One out of four women gets it globally. While the rate of breast cancer is high, over the last decades our ability to detect it early, at its most treatable stage, has greatly improved. Thanks to advances in screenings and treatment, there are more than 6.3 million breast cancer survivers today. Most of us know someone touched by it. It's a disease that effects the entire family.

During October, which is breast cancer awareness month, many retailers are lending their support. Nine West is sponsoring a campaign to raise awareness and funds, and you can be part of it. Upload a photo of yourself wearing any blue shoes to Instagram or Twitter with the tag #9WFTBC, and the company will donate $10 (up to $275,000) to Fashion Targets Breast Cancer. Click here to participate.

Let's beat breast cancer, and while we're thinking about the subject, be sure to go for your yearly exams. Many cancers, as well as, other illnesses are treatable (and often curable) if caught early. Chronic illness is costly. As this article puts out, preventive medicine helps everyone ... you, your family and society! 

Do your part ... take good care, stay informed and join the cause.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Best Bean Soup

Photo: FineArtAmerica
As temperatures fall, do you eat more soup? I certainly do ... and as mentioned, I don't buy canned soups anymore. Homemade soup tastes much better. It's chunkier and you know exactly what's in it. Plus, you can freeze leftovers in 16 ounce containers for quick lunches, or dinners. Simply pop a single serving into the microwave.

Recently I made the best bean soup ever! Although I used pintos, other beans will do. Mix it up each time you make a batch. Use navy, pink, pinto, or whatever bean you like. Also, the ingredients can change slightly, depending on what's in your refrigerator and cupboard. Sometimes I'll throw in carrots or ham, but this time it was vegetarian. If you don't have the Cajun seasoning (click below for recipe) I put in my soup, then season to taste with black pepper and the spices you like. 

Here is my tasty recipe:

Pinto Bean Soup

Ingredients:
16 ounces dried beans
(Soak overnight in water according to the package.)
8 cups water
2 large (or 4 small bouillon cubes)
1 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried celery
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
a dash of soy sauce
a dash of nutmeg
a dash of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of dried mustard seeds
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

optional: 2 cups ham, sausage or hot dogs, sliced. (Next time around for me. This time vegetarian.)

Directions:
1. Throw all the above ingredients into a big pot. 
2. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat.
3. Cover with a lid and simmer for 2 - 3 hours. How easy, breezy!

I often make corn bread to eat with bean soup. However, last night I served my pinto bean soup with Virginia ham sandwiches on hearty whole grain bread and a mixed green salad.

Another quick pairing is Cheesy Garlic Toast: Lightly butter slices of whole grain bread. Sprinkle with dried garlic, onion powder and parsley, then top with a generous amount of shredded, sharp cheddar cheese. Place on a cookie sheet: Bake in the oven at 350 degree F for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the bread is crispy and the cheese melted. If you have a whole loaf of unsliced bread, you can slice it in two ... lengthwise to get 2 long halves. Put the toppings on each of the loaf halves. Bake it on a cookie sheet until the bread is golden brown and the cheese bubbles (about 20-30 minutes), then cut the loaf halves into single portions. Either way works. Serve with your delicious soup. 

Bon Appetite!

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Lands' End's House Slippers Are Just Right

With a leather laces in 6 colors - red, pink, navy blue, purple, tan and brown.

Finding the perfect house slippers on a budget can be challenging. Call me parsimonious, but I don't like to spent $50 plus on slippers. Everybody has certain preferences too. For a few years, I wore clog slippers, which truthfully, are not my favorite kind. The clog style is a loose fit, and I worry about tripping and falling down stairs. So recently, I decided to treat myself to a new pair.

Lands' End is a fabulous place to go for variety. It has over 30 styles for men, women and children; a pair to fit every need. My perferences: I like cozy house slippers that don't resemble bedroom slippers, so I can walk down to the lobby or laundry room of my apartment building without changing into regular shoes.

As it turns out I got what I want, a quality, durable pair at a fair price (and a 20% discount). The Women's Suede Moc Slippers have suede uppers and a plush polyester berber lining, which is treated with Agion -- an environmentally safe technology -- that protects against odors, plus wear and tear, allowing you to go sock-less.

Very warm and soft, my new house shoes have extra padding in the footbed. And, I love the rubber soles. I can step outside on the sidewalk for a moment in the winter, if necessary. Someone please tell me, why did I stick with my old, an-accident-waiting-to-happen slippers for so long?

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Eyeshadow Candy For Women

Essence All About Nude Palette
Eyeshadow is a makeup item you can splurge, as well as, save on at various times. You might spend more when rich pigments matter. The shadow will stay on your lids all day. On the other hand, you can save when you want to add a few fun or trendy colors that you don't mind reapplying during the day.

Fortunately, there are many excellent eyeshadows under $10 at the corner drugstore that work almost as well as their upscale cousins. Here are two:

1) Essence has come out with a palette of six nude eye shadows, ranging from matte to shimmery textures. Costing a mere $7, you can mix, match and wear the nude colors in a multitude of ways. Nude eyes never really go out of style, and glittery textures add versatility and fun!

The Tattoo Leather Series - 5 shades available: black, beige, green, plum, chocolate
2) Eye Studio Tattoo Leather Series - Manufactured by Maybelline, this is a moist shadow which goes on as a cream, but dries with a matte finish. Stays put. It's vibrant  24-hour color. A smooth, classy look that performs as well as the high end shadows. $4-$6 each (depending on where you buy it).

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Monday, September 22, 2014

The Tranquility Pod

Photo: Hammacher Schlemmer; Bed created by Alberto Fraas.
If I had an extra $30,000 lying around, I'd spend it on one of these. (Although wide awake, I am dreaming.) The Tranquility Pod is designed to provide the perfect environment for a good night's rest. Luckily, I fall asleep within five minutes of my head hitting a pillow, and I stay asleep for eight hours. However, there are a few nocturnal New Yorkers who are not always respectful of the wee hours, nor of their slumbering neighbors.

This high tech water bed is built to nullify a big city's disturbances and, if necessary, lure you to sleep. The pod's hull is handcrafted from fiberglass into a sleek, gel-coat surface to block out 90% of outside noise, while its interior uses pleasant music, "gentle vibration and soothing light to relax the mind, body and spirit." It contains 80 watt, 4 audio speakers that you program with a smart phone.

The pod also has a biofeedback system. It uses a pulse sensor to synchronize your heart rate with 50 LED's (or light-emitting diodes, a type of solid state lighting) housed in the pod. In other words, ambient lighting created by reading your body rhythm lulls you to sleep.

A deluxe suede-topped memory foam cushion that is temperature controlled makes you feel like you are sleeping on a cloud.

The pod is a six foot wide octagon -- 80 inches in diameter -- which is big. But if you have the 30 grand, you either have the space, or you are desperate for some quality REM zzzz.

A heavenly rest can be had for a hefty price, no? Maybe if we all want one, the price will come down. Still dreaming, I suppose.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Healthy Chocolate Chip Clippers

Traditional chocolate chip cookies are usually loaded with unhealthy fat, sugar and white flour. Once in a while I eat a decadent, sugary, fat laden cookie, but I try to adhere to a healthy diet most of the time. The majority of the time I train my appetite to like better, or lighter ingredients. You will crave whatever you are in the habit of eating.

The following recipe is a less sinful, but an equally satisfying chocolate chip confection. It comes from the good folks at HealthyBarn USA. These clippers have a hardy, crunchy, yet moist texture. They are whole-grain, fiber rich with less fat and sweetness than classic chocolate chip cookies. My batch has lots of chocolate chips in every bite! I served them with a pot of Prince of Wales (a mild black) tea and milk for a delicious afternoon snack.

Chocolate Chip Clippers 

Ingredients: 
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup low salt canned chickpeas, mashed (or substitute 
peanut butter; or mashed beans)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup (4 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips

optional: 1/3 cup chopped walnuts; or pecans
A sprinkle of cinnamin, nutmeg and black pepper, if you like.
2 tablespoons olive oil (for a traditional cookie texture, if you don't mind the calories. If you add the oil, reduce the applesauce by 2 tablespoons.)

Directions:
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, one at a time.
2. Follow with the wet ingredients, one at a time.
3. Mix thoroughly. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts, using a fork.
4. With a round tablespoon, drop buttons of cookie dough onto 2 greased baking sheets. (I brush the pans with a little olive oil or butter to prevent sticking.)
5. Pop into a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake about 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the baking sheets. The clippers are especially good while they are still warm fresh out of the oven.

Another healthy habit to develop is to eat any sweet you like, as long as you make it yourself. You consume less sugar because they are not within easy reach. This recipe only requires a few simple ingredients and steps!

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fall Back With A Bodysuit

 

The 70s called. It wants its bodysuit back. Forget-about-it! Bodysuits are so easy and breezy, they aren't going anywhere in the near future. Available at American Apparel, OSOSForever 21 and Urbanoutfitters, to name a few retailers, they are the new fall staple.

The benefits of a big girl onesie are several. Bodysuits are cozy and warm in cold weather. They are sleek, polished and versatile. Worn with favorite old jeans, skirts, or under a blazer, they eliminate the need for bulky shirts and sweaters, plus they stay neatly tucked in all day. I can understand having a couple of all-in-ones in your wardrobe for times when you need a top to stay in place. No unpleasant surprises where you are the last to know!

Bodysuits also come in multiple styles and sleeve lengths, from all American girl, to sexy, sporty and playful. The fabric can be sheer or textured. Which look suits you?


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Monday, September 8, 2014

Life Is A Carnival

Do you know what is fun for kids? Pretending, of course, that they have joined a carnival. 

When I was a child, I had fun baking with my mother using my Easy Bake Oven. Mom, probably ... not so much, but she was a good sport, supervising me so there were no chances of burning the house down.

Kids love toys that let they make things, or enter a world of nostalgia. Plus, family fun nights are opportunities to bond.

If I had young kids at home, or grandchildren who came for visits, I would probably buy a few movie/carnival vintage appliances for family play dates. Reasonably priced, they would certainly create warm memories and put smiles on tender faces.

Here's what I'd be tempted to bring home to encourage our family fun times:

1) A vintage popcorn popper  (pictured above) - I like the affordable price of the model I featured at the top of the post, the Nostalgia Electrics KPM508. It's under $60 and would do the job.

2) The Kickball Ice Cream Maker - Again, I like the price tag, under $35, as well as, the ease of making the ice cream. The ball has 2 compartments, the first for the ice cream ingredients, the second for rock salt and ice. You can then kick, shake or roll the ball to churn the ice cream. Sounds like the perfect job for a team of kids, who would then enjoy a sweet reward for all their hard work.

3. Turn regular sugar, confectionery sugar or hard candy into cotton candy. The Nostalgia Electrics Cotton Candy Maker sells for under $40. I would not go any cheaper because you don't want to wait longer than 5 minutes for the machine to heat up, nor do you want to have any trouble meeting the damand for cotton candy. Personally, I would also buy the flossing sugar and cone kit for the different colors and to keep the activity fun for everyone, including the adults, who are usually in charge of planning, as well as, cleaning up.
4) I like the Nostalgia Electrics RFF600RETRORED Chocolate Fountain. Under $25. Why buy a more expensive one? Keeping chocolate melted and flowing isn't complicated. All you need to add are fresh strawberries and marshmallows to coat in dark chocolate (dark to sneak in some healthy antioxidants).

Depending on the number of children (and adults!) in the party, you could select any two, or buy all four of the special treat makers. Just one would be the hit of a family gathering, plus make a fabulous hostess gift. Life can be a carnival for children of all ages!

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Innovative Vector Cup Holder To The Rescue

John C. (a former co-worker) and I bought Apple laptops at about the same time. Years later I'm still using mine, but John's new computer died after he spilled a cup of coffee all over his keyboard. That was enough to spook me into sitting my beverage cups down on the living room floor, only to absentmindedly kick the liquid over (too many times to count), staining a wool rug. Sheesh, what is a person to do in our electronic age?!

Well, often necessity is the mother of invention. A new tool is on the market to prevent your drink from snuffing out your computer ... or living room rug, whatever the case may be.

Enter the Vector Cup Holder, a clever accessory that is designed to put a stop to these annoying accidents. Created out of high-grade anodized aluminum, it is sleek, lightweight and mobile. (In fact, the metal nicely matches that of a Mac Book Pro.) It easily attaches to the side of a table or desk. When in place, the Vector Cup Holder secures your beverage, whether you are drinking from a 16 ounce mug, a 30 ounce cup, or even a small airplane cup. The gadget also folds flat, so you can conveniently carry it with you to work on a plane or in a cafe.

Another bonus ... because your drink hangs off the side of a table, it frees up work space. A clamp that attaches to a flat surface is equipped with rubber strips to guard against scratches.

The product has a cute slogan, "Your computer's knight in shining aluminum." No more spills! It's simple, practical and costs a lot less than replacing a computer drenched in coffee or soda.


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