Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Muse Q & A Packing

The muses' faithful reader Kari has brought up a very good question.

How does a fashionable woman pack without bringing three suitcases?

Well your first, and potentially best, option is to buy a suitcase three times as large as your current suitcase. I kid.
The best way to handle packing for an extended trip and avoid paying the extra baggage fees is
to pack items you can easily mix and match and that are appropriate for many occasions.We all love the your L.A.M.B. T-strap heels but are they really appropriate for church, lunch at grandma's and going out on New Year's Eve? No, leave them home!

This means you should bring staple pieces with you.

You will almost always need a pair of heels (boots or pumps) and a pair of flats. Bring a cute dress, a pair of skinny jeans and tops that you can mix and match. This little goddess is spending her Christmas in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. That means the number one concern is warmth. -10 is not fun in the regular crop pants and top. So bring a sweater that you can pair with multiple tops and bottoms to make them appropriate for any climate or event.

Don't bring your wild accessories that don't match anything else. Bring things that you can wear anywhere. This does not mean your wardrobe has to be boring!

During the holidays the muses encourage you to use metallics as a neutral. May I suggest the ideal holiday packing list.

Purple Turtleneck from Forever 21, Green Dripping Blossom Tee from Anthropologie, Silk Streamers Cami from J. Crew, Soaked in Luxury Foil Oversized Cardigan from asos, Shirred Matte Jersey Dress from White House Black Market, Gold Cindy Skirt by Elie Tahari via Neiman Marcus, Lorelei Ring from Banana Republic, Stella Skinny Jeans from Express, Two Tone Tights from Top Shop, Irving Over The Knee Boots by Report Signature Shoes via, Jeffrey Campbell 'Pearl' Flats via Nordstrom, Kuo Ting Silver and Gold Bracelet via Couture Candy

ginger walnut biscotti

I readily admit that I am not a great baker (please note: this isn't the san fran pastry chef posting). I’m not even a halfway decent baker. I love to cook and wouldn’t hesitate to throw down against Bobby Flay (try me, white boy). But on Saturday afternoon, with a foot of snow resting on the ground outside and more falling throughout the day, I decided to hunker down in the kitchen with the warm oven as company and crank out some Christmas cookies.

And I discovered something startling yet wonderful: the slow pace of life resulting from being snowed in makes me calm, methodical and patient. And calm, methodical and patient are qualities found in every great baker. Voila! Recipe for success.

Though I made three types of cookies on Saturday, I’m only including this one (for now): Ginger Walnut Biscotti. Biscotti is the perfect accompaniment for warm beverages, and though found year round, I like ginger as a spicy, seasonal delicacy.

Please note: I adapted this recipe from any standard biscotti recipe you might find online (which is what I did years ago, but didn’t think to properly reference and cite the article at that time).

Ginger Walnut Biscotti

3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup candied ginger, chopped coarsely
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 300° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and extracts together (no need to “whip them into submission”). Set aside.In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until blended (about 30 seconds). Gradually add the egg mixture and beat until a dough forms, adding ginger about halfway through. Do not overbeat the dough.

With floured hands, divide the dough in half. On a floured surface, roll the dough into two logs. Personally, I prefer shorter biscotti, so I don’t make mine very wide. If you like really long biscotti that will reach all the way to the bottom of your coffee mug, have at it. But that’s how you lose biscotti. Just saying.

Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Note - logs will spread during baking. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.

Transfer logs to a cutting board and using a serrated knife, cut log into slices 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal.
Arrange evenly on the baking sheet (just use the same one).

Bake 10 minutes, turn slices over, and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Store in a Ziploc bag or airtight storage container. Transport them to your office. Arrange on a simple tray and set next to the coffee station. Receive respect and generous accolades from all.

Note: if you would like to give these biscotti away as a gift, make them a little more festive and special by dipping the ends in melted dark or white chocolate.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Irish Cream-Honey Steamer

As I spent my birthday weekend jaunting around San Francisco in cute sandals and a dress I couldn't help but think of my poor friends back in DC. Snowed in, desperately trying to stay warm and avoid cabin fever. I wished that they could either be sitting in front of a warm fireplace (like the one in my hotel room this weekend...did I mention Saturday was my birthday?) or that they had something to warm them from the inside out.
So I created this little drink in their honor. Hopefully many of them got to stay home from work today and can enjoy this little creation or that they can slip it into a to go coffee mug and medicate the pain of being at work.*

2009 Snowpocalypse Irish Cream-Honey Steamer
(2 servings)

1 1/2 cup milk (divided)
2 tbs. honey
3 oz. Irish cream (Bailey's is great -- but I prefer (read: can only afford) the Trader Joe's knock-off brand)
4 dashes cinnamon

Put 1 tablespoon of honey in each mug. (tip: whenever measuring sticky ingredients like corn syrup or honey, spray your measuring tool with a little cooking spray - it'll slip right out!) Then add 1 1/2 oz of Irish cream and 2 dashes of cinnamon. Heat up 1 cup of milk and divide between the two mugs. Mix well to get all the honey off the bottom of the mug.

Frothing the Milk: While we all wish we had one of these, we don't. And even if we did it would be sitting on our living room floor since urban dwellings have no counter space (sorry to our readers in Dallas who do not understand this concept). This little goddess likes to froth her milk using a beaker milk frother. Found cheapest as Sur La Table or Target. It is so simple to use and only requires 146.2455 cubic inches of space! Add your remaining 1/2 cup of milk to the beaker, give it about a 20 good pumps then throw it in the microwave for 30-60 seconds (be careful as it has a tendency to overflow). Your result will be a perfect froth that would make any barista proud.

Top your steamer off with the foam and garnish with a few droplets of honey. Enjoy, my lovely, cold friends!

kisses from sunny california

* freelance muses' legal counsel (my husband who is officially 1/9 of a lawyer) has advised that endorsing the consumption of alcohol on the job leaves us liable for any injury (including death or accidental dismemberment) that may occur as a result of our endorsement. When drinking on the job, please use caution. By utilizing our recipe, you accept that you acknowledge our warning and proceed at your own risk. We completely disclaim liability for any injury, awkward social encounters, job loss, foreseeable or otherwise, that may ensue. If you work at a job that requires you to operate heavy machinery or if you send emails to important people that must be free of spelling errors and cuss words, please do not consume alcohol on the job.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Muse Q & A - Christmas cards

Dear Freelance Muses,

E-Christmas cards – lame?

Love, Curious about Christmas in California

Dear Curious,

If you have not already mailed Christmas cards to friends and family and are contemplating a last-minute e-card instead, stop yourself now. The Goddesses are here to tell you that it’s, well, tacky.

First, consider that many working in corporate America are already inundated with e-cards wishing the best for the holidays – whether they be e-cards from clients, those seeking to become clients in the new year, the building management company or colleagues and peers.

Furthermore, though your intention is to be thoughtful, by sending an e-card days before Christmas (or even on Christmas Eve) the message you send is less, “I’m thinking of you” and more “You’re an afterthought.”

Take the time and energy to mail real Christmas cards – you don’t need to say much; let the creativity of the card itself do the talking (can I get a collective groan for the ubiquitous Christmas letter that beleaguers us all? Just say no, people!). To receive a physical card in the mail from a long-distance friend is touching, meaningful and truly thoughtful.

The Goddesses suggest:

Letterpress - you can't get much classier than this. Here in Washington D.C., I prefer to visit The Written Word. It helps that it's locally-owned and right around the corner from our apartment.

You can also find a great selection online. Some of our favorites this year come from Farrell and Chase as well as Egg Press.

Homemade cards – get creative and use rubber stamps, hand-drawn calligraphy, a montage employing many of those old magazines lying around the apartment, clever use of paper layering or photos printed from your nearest drug store or with your home printer.

Photos – particularly if you have children - whom but Scrooge doesn’t love to coo over a fat and happy baby? However, take special note: two photos of your kids - cute. A trifold brochure documenting all 365 blessed days of your child's past year - obnoxious. Please spare us.

Postcard - we're in a recession, and every cent counts. Try creating a postcard using your home computer and printing it out at home, too. Not only do you save money by doing it yourself, but postcard stamps are 20 cents cheaper than regular stamps. Double score.

And for those of you who think we’re a load of crap and still wish to send an e-card, for the sake of those receiving it please opt for a brief and sweet personal message – just say no to mass e-mails with a link to dancing elves or singing Christmas trees!

your muses

Thursday, December 17, 2009

High Tea is so hot right now!

You heard it here first. So later this year when Martha Stewart and Real Simple are featuring afternoon tea, you know they’ve been reading Freelance Muses. (If Sandra Lee has an episode about tea parties, we can't be held responsible).

High tea. Could there be a more perfect way to be girly? What other event shouts “Wear vintage lace gloves!” When else is it completely appropriate to don an ostentatiously large floppy hat? And frankly, it couldn’t be easier.

There are a few key elements when throwing an afternoon tea party.
Please note:
  • a spot of tea
  • a sampling of savory snack
  • some sweet treats
  • dainty friends
  • flourishy embellishments
Rest assured we will be musing on more specific recipes and tea pairings in the coming weeks(dessert/drink pairings are SO underated!), but for now here is a soupçon of what makes the perfect tea party.

Pink Tablescape by Country Living, Four Calling Birds Mugs by Rosana, Rose-Water Madeleines from Martha Stewart, Raspberry Soiree Green Tea from Teavana, Radish-Chive Tea Sandwiches from Bon Appétit, Gold tea strainer from chef tools, Red Ruffle dessert stand (because cupcakes deserve their own cake stand!) by Jeanette Zeis

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Almost There Day!

Baby, it’s cold outside!

And to make matters worse it’s the middle of the week.

In celebration of Almost There Day, we goddesses have a little pick-me-up that serves as a warm-me-up, too: Eggnog Spiked Latte. How’s that for a year-end bonus?

This recipe is adapted from many we experimented with in search of the perfect concoction. Of course, perfection in terms of taste is relative, so do what you gotta do to make this recipe all yours.

Eggnog Spiked Latte
(adapted from the kitchn)

What you’ll need (to serve two):

½ cup milk (or soy milk if your tummy gets wonky from dairy, like me)
1 cup egg nog (or a soy-based alternative to egg nog – you can find this at Whole Foods or the like)
½ cup prepared espresso (see notes below)**
¼ cup Frangelico liqueur
A smidge of ground nutmeg
Two cinnamon sticks

Combine the milk and egg nog (or their soy counterparts) in a small saucepan on the stove. Stir often and be sure not to curdle the milk (if you happen to have a kitchen thermometer lying around, make sure the milk does not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit – it will burn and that’s no bueno). In the meantime, combine the hot espresso and the Frangelico. Once the milk has warmed, add the hot, prepared espresso to the sauce pan and stir well to combine. Pour into two mugs and sprinkle nutmeg on top, to taste. Throw in a cinnamon stick for each mug and voila! Your day is suddenly warmer and brighter.

**Regarding the espresso. We prefer to make espresso the old-fashioned way – with a Bialetti Moka Express. You can find these little guys just about anywhere, and they come in lots of sizes. In my house we have the big one – I think it’s the 6-cup size (we don’t play around). To prepare the espresso is simple: fill the base of the Moka with fresh, cold water. A good device by which to measure is to fill it no higher than the little screw in the side. Place the coffee filter inside the base, and fill it with ground espresso (make sure that your coffee grinds are ground super, super fine). Screw the upper chamber of the Moka on top and set it on the stove. (Be sure that when you turn on the burner, the handle is not directly over the flame/heating element – just say no to burned fingers!) You know your espresso has finished when you hear it bubbling and gurgling – you can lift the lid to be sure that all the coffee has brewed up into the upper chamber. Turn off the heat, and allow the coffee to rest for approximately one minute before pouring.

Oh, and an alternative - if you prefer to have this as a little nightcap or a late-night snack, use decaf espresso.