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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Confessions: the Shoe Review

You know those spur-of-the-moment, amazing purchases you sometimes make that are pretty much astounding overall, so much so that you have to share your shopping glory with others immediately? Thank god for this blog, because I definitely found a pair of shoes yesterday that were a stroke of luck in an otherwise blah, errands-running-y Saturday. Thus, I present to you, the pair of Kenneth Cole Reaction "Fresh'n'Clean" (what?) pumps I bought:
Sure, they don't look like much, but bear in mind that these are going for over US$70 on Zappos, and the dippy Marshalls in my local big-box behemall had them for $20. SUCK IT, ONLINE SHOE STORES. To cut to the chase, I had been looking for a neutral non-black, not camel brown, and not-crazy colored kitten-heeled pump to match with a couple of vintage 1950s cotton dresses (one in purple-and-green plaid, the other in green stripes, I make a mockery of myself sometimes). Partly inspired by a film with proto-flappers in 1920s Ireland that was a midterms treat, I wanted a shoe with retro styling, and this shoe makes me feel like maybe I should take up swing-dancing. The heel height is perfect, and the fit is great, especially considering the price! The issues I take with shoes tend to be too-high unstable heels, lack of arch support, and sharp-edged leather uppers cutting into my feet. So far (and believe me, these have been taking a twenty-four hour spin around the apartment), these fit the bill quite nicely.

The other pair of work-ready shoes I've invested in are these Arturo Chiang flats. Jeanne very kindly accompanied me in skipping out on work for thirty minutes to run to the local Macy's and snap these puppies up. (She is also a good friend who flattered my giant nerd ego by saying that they looked like a pair of shoes from Battlestar Galactica.) The ultimate test of a good pair of shoes is not only their comfort but, as all girls know, how many compliments you get from other girls. One spin through the hair salon and everyone in there was agog at my adorable flats. It's hard being so practical, and so cute sometimes.

Once upon a time, I had a torrid affair with Puma sneakers, and even after we broke up (Puma was putting on airs, psh), I kept a few of their things around just to remind me of my comfort zone. Yes, it's true. I run around town more often than not in a terrifically battered old pair of Puma Californias:
Mine have black laces with grey stars, courtesy of time spent in Japan. My poor babies are almost split through the sole and yellowed or grey where once was white, but I cannot bear to throw them away.

Lastly but probably the most worn and most matched to my personality, my heavily abused purple Converse high-tops (purchased oh so long ago at Berk's in Cambridge, Massachusetts), permanently bedecked in black shoelaces with pink coffins.
These Chucks have survived hailstorms, blizzards, months of working in a basement radio station, sand, and gum. Good job, ladies, way to pull through!

Now, if only I wasn't headed out to the gym in a few minutes, I could wear my new pumps out for the day...

Images from zappos.com and peltzshoes.com.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sweet cuppin' cakes!

We're all big cupcake fans here at the Periodic Elements of Style -- whether it's making them, buying them, or eating them. The one guaranteed stop on my trip to New York was to Magnolia Bakery, the cupcake shop that's been shouted out in The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty (erroneously, I might add -- Magnolia doesn't make a chocolate-raspberry cake!).

Another of my favorite websites is the San Francisco-based Cupcake Blog, which, to me, really illustrates the difference between East Coast and West Coast cupcakes: in New York, the emphasis is on the frosting on top of the cake; here in San Francisco, we focus on the cake itself and its filling. Cupcake Blog has amazing recipes and beautiful photography, and is well worth checking out if you are as interested in cupcakes as I am.

And, of course, there's the cupcakes you can wear: Pancake Meow, who makes handmade scented jewelry, is currently taking orders for her next batch of custom-made cupcake pendants! I ordered mine the last time she accepted orders, and I'm waiting patiently for my sweet little cupcake to arrive in the mail! While these do look more East Coast than West Coast, who can resist any sort of cupcake?

image from pancakemeow.com

Friday, March 23, 2007

New York finds!

I have returned from New York and the shopping was great!

First things first, I did manage to make my way to both the Bond boutique (on Bond Street! with the Bond car parked out in front!) and to Barneys on Madison Avenue, just as I'd planned. I picked up two fragrances from Bond, where I was helped by Blogdorf Goodman's favorite, Shawn. I picked out Eau de New York (neroli, white lily, vetiver), as it reminds me of a grown-up version of Demeter's Tomato. Shawn also helped me pick out So New York (mirabelle plum, chocolate, espresso). I came away with two one-ounce bottles, instead of the big fancy Bond bottles, because I needed the space in my suitcase, after all!

Then it was on to Barneys on a drizzly day, where I went to the Frederic Malle counter first -- it's hard to miss it with those red-trimmed air tubes running from floor to ceiling. I was helped by a very kind store assistant (very kind -- I was wet from the rain and running around in my snazzy-yet-not-New-York-snazzy Converse) who shared several scents with me, but Bigarade Concentree is the one I came home with -- bitter orange with some additional notes of cedar and rose. It's a very interesting, just-on-the-femme-side of unisex, scent that stays close to the skin. I like it quite a lot -- not enough to get the matching shower gel and body lotion, but I do like it. On thinking about it, it's like a lighter, more feminine version of Terre D'Hermes, which I gave my brother for Christmas. (Edited to add: As well it should -- both were created by Jean-Claude Ellena! Which, silly me, I didn't realize until I googled "Jean-Claude Ellena" and realized he's the man behind Hermes' fragrances.)

Then I went to the Lipstick Queen/Fresh counter, where the darling Sheryl helped me pick out the right shade of lipstick. Lipstick Queen is a very small collection of twenty lipsticks: ten shades, two formulas. The "Saint" formula is 10% pigment, while the "Sinner" formula is 90% pigment. I bought Saint Natural, which is the perfect "my lips but better" lipstick for wearing to work. The lipstick is great and moisturizing (I wore it when running around on Canal Street on Saturday in the slush!), and the packaging is lovely too. Sheryl also introduced me to Fresh's face wash (and I'm a sucker for a good face wash) and Supernova mascara (and a sucker for a great mascara), so, while they're not New York exclusives, I'm glad to know I can pick those up at my local Sephora.

I will say this, though: I'm absolutely thrilled that they're going to be opening up a Barneys in San Francisco. I can't wait until September!

But what about the fashion? Sure, of course I went for perfume, but what about the clothes? While I did spend a lot of time in Noho/Soho/Nolita and did a little boutique shopping in both Nolita and the East Village, my greatest triumph has to be the KingFisher trenchcoat from Brooklyn Industries. I have been searching for the perfect trenchcoat, and this very well may be it. I was close to buying the Viktor and Rolf trenchcoat when they released their H&M collection this past fall, but I just didn't love it. This coat? I love it. I absolutely love it.

I love it so much, in fact, that I'm fairly disappointed that the weather on returning to California has been so nice, and I don't really have any excuse to wear this fantastic coat. Needless to say, this is the first thing that's getting packed when I jet off to Europe in four weeks. Ooh la la!

images from barneys.com and brooklynindustries.com

My best makeup comes from England.

I have been a huge fan of the Boots makeup line ever since my Aunt and Uncle sent me a makeup kit from them one year for Christmas, so the news that Target is going to be carrying the Boots line made my day! I've been searching in vain for an American mascara that I like as much as the No7 mascara that came with it, and now I can finally get my hands on some more without having to fly back to England for some. (I stupidly forgot to buy some the last time I was in England, since I wasn't out of the tube yet. I am still kicking myself 4 years later.)

The No7 line is fantastic. My favorites from the kit were the mascara (obv.,) and the eyeliner. I used them both in brown, and it's a great shade for blondes/fair-skinned people- it's not too dark for everyday use, but it's not too light either. The mascara goes on without clumping, even with a couple of coats. The eyeliner rocks! I learned how to apply eyeliner with it. It's easy to fix mistakes when you make them, but doesn't travel much once you're out and about. I've woken up the next morning with this eyeliner still pretty much intact!

The eyeshadow is pretty standard stuff- good quality, but it doesn't give me the same raptures as the eyeliner or mascara. It will however, stay in place without eyeshadow base- plus for it! I know this because the Boots kit was about all I used for a year. Literally. I had the kit, and I had a pink covergirl lipstick, and that was it. Then gradually, I got some base, and some concealer, and foundation, and other mascara, and so on.

I can't really say much about their lipstick, since I only ever used it once to confirm that it was completely the wrong shade for me. I'm looking forward to testing out some of the other products they're bringing over.

Check out the Press Release here and check out your local Target in the coming weeks for the products!

image from boots.com

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My Spa Week-Days

I recently went on a little trip of my own, admittedly not cross-country like Jeanne, but only a few hours upstate into Napa Valley for a two-night spa retreat. The Silverado Resort has a charming, if slightly bloated and rosy manor feel to it, albeit with "condos" available to guests and the hotel attendants driving around in golf carts and Ray-Bans. During the week, the hotel-spa was just quiet enough for us to relax and drink in the beautiful (if unseasonably) warm weather and orange sunsets over the hills every evening. Several swimming pools are scattered around the grounds, and believe me, swimming at dusk with a view of Napa is nothing to sneeze at.

The purpose of this little getaway was to renew and refresh a couple of slowly burning out minds and have a real spa treatment to boot. She chose the Lavender Sugar Scrub with a massage, while I had a gorgeous Ginger-Cinnamon-Tangerine Wrap with jasmine face, scalp, and foot massage. Oh, my goodness, it was like being slathered in a giant bowlful of gingersnap cookie dough and curling up in a pile of fluffy towels fresh out of the dryer. One of the goals of this wrap nonsense, I gather, is to break a sweat without feeling completely claustrophobic and deathly, and the fifty-minute treatment was right on the money. Just as I was starting to feel uncomfortably warm and constricted, I was brought a glass of cool water (flavored with fresh pineapple, other areas of the spa had cucumbers and basil leaves, YUM). If you're worried about nudity in front of strangers as I was, the spa will provide you with disposable "privacy panties"--despite my shyness, I had to decline, as wearing a diaper in front of another woman would be more embarrassing than nudity. Anyway, you are covered at all times with nubbly warm towels, no worries to be had!

I asked for a "Make-Up Consultation" in addition to the spa treatment, in a never-ending effort to increase my cosmetic prowess, so in my state of complete relaxation and ginger-y deliciousness I was led off by an older, gangly redheaded Tammy Faye Bakker lookalike who immediately looked displeased with my sweaty countenance. She informed me that the Make-Up Consultation was usuallly done for brides about to be married at the resort--gee, thanks for telling me that when I booked it, Silverado. Taking a cue from one of Jeanne's recent makeover adventures, I had brought with me a small make-up bag containing the cosmetics I'll wear if it's absolutely necessary that I don't just wash my face and go somewhere: two Neutrogena MoistureShine lipglosses (in Chic and First Blush), Benetint Lip Balm, Nars eyeshadow in Nepal, Neutrogena Weightless Volume mascara in black, Prestige Let Loose eyeshadow in purple, and Benefit Dallas face powder. When I asked her for advice on how to use what I had to make myself look pretty, she looked befuddled and said she'd never had to do that kind of thing before, sort of rifled through my stuff, and then began to apply a crazy brown eyeshadow from her merchandise. The concealer was even worse--yellow, cakey, and managed to make the normal insomniac circles under my eyes look like deep pools of slate-grey mud. They do this to brides? Unbelievable. Of course, as has every make-up artist I have encountered, she finally applied fifteen coats of mascara to my eyelashes to form me into a reasonable fascimile of herself, which in this case was a spikey, zombie-eyed version of Tammy Faye.

That said, the make-up consultation was really the only unpleasant part of the trip. The fitness room was superb, with weight machines that were so comfortable they felt as if I was lifting clouds through the air. The outdoor heated pool at the spa was surrounded by a ring of blooming trees, and several hawks soared overhead while we swam in the afternoon warmth. Until I got all that nasty make-up off, showered in their swanky all-amenities-provided bathing rooms, and dried out in the sauna, I'd never felt so healthy and refreshed in my entire life.

An additional bonus was the adorable little Thai restaurant we discovered a five-minute drive away from the resort, Thai Kitchen on Trancas Avenue--their grilled vegetable platter was to die for; sliced potatoes, zucchini, carrot, onions, eggplant, and whole mushrooms with a lime-basil-garlic sauce that we wanted to drink straight out of the bowl. All in all, a getaway to Napa with delicious food and delicious spa treatments (I could drink that pineapple water for the rest of my life) doesn't need any wine to perfect it, and I did end up getting some school reading done!

Armed to the Teeth

Looking at the resurgence of popularity in the notion of 1950s housewifery and all that it stands for, the perfectly dainty female who makes a shoo-fly pie like a pro and keeps her house without a speck of dust yet retains her wit, charm, and style, the Periodically Stylish girl today faces a conundrum many women have struggled with for decades. We want and deserve careers, respect from our peers, equal rights and education, and yet there is something particularly alluring about the Becky Home-Ecky life, ruling over the mysterious domain known as Kitchen. Do you remember June Cleaver? I do. She was the uber-Mom. The woman vacuumed in heels, petticoats, and pearl earrings. Maybe it's just me and how I've grown up, but I have to say that today, there is no question that young women of our generation will be able to "do it all"--raise a family, work to support them, and cultivate an engaging intellectual life equal to (if not greater than) men. Then again, you have to learn from somewhere, and cooking is a complex sport. In fact, my mother is a non-cooking stay-at-home mom, of all things, so my brother and I are just discovering that making your own food is a genuinely enjoyable experience. This may be the first step on my journey into domesticity.

Thus, somehow, over the last week, I have succumbed to my inner 1950s housewife and accumulated an astounding amount of kitchen-y tools and things for baking. Behold:
1. A red three-cup Kitchenaid food processor. No longer will I labor over flour and butter pieces with a pastry cutter!
2. A new pie/tart spatula (it is very thin and sproingy).
3. A food scale that weighs in grams and ounces--no more bemoaning the fact that I can't use non-American-measured recipes! Quickly, bring me all of my Japanese cookbooks on muffins and pies, whither the British scones and shortbreads!
4. A sifter, definitely a tool that will have to take some getting used to. Here's to hoping it makes clumpy powdered sugar easier to deal with!
5. A glass bowl with which I can melt things like chocolate and butter over a makeshift double boiler.
6. Red wire shelves for my kitchen, upon which to arrange my cookbooks and recipes that seem to be scattered all over the apartment.
7. Three new cookbooks: 1 Noodle, 50 Sauces all about pasta with lovely photos (who knew you could get macaroni that wasn't already cut into short little elbows?), The Best 50 Dessert Tarts, and a surprisingly fascinating copy of The Original White House Cookbook, 1887 Edition, found at an antique store in Danville, California of all places. I love vintage cookbooks more than words can say, not only for their home remedies (warm borax water cures dandruff? chloroform rubbed on delicate fabrics like silk will remove even the toughest paint stains without damaging the garment, apparently), but all of those great recipes for cuts of meat and pieces of animals that you would never see in grocery stores today. Anyone for calf's head cheese?

Cookbooks make for excellently entertaining bedtime reading, if you are into cooking and all--I used to be a crossword-puzzle-before-bed girl (yes, I am very single), but the pleasures of a cookbook in hand are many. Yes, you may get an odd middle of the night craving for banoffee pie, but unlike an engrossing novel, the cookbook is easily abandoned for sleep and you need never worry about losing your place. These three new cookbooks of mine already added to the massive list of recipes I have to try.

From 1 Noodle, 50 Sauces:
Pinzimonio Rigatoni
Spaghetti with Shrimp and Raisins
Farfalle with Two Types of Peas
Rigatoni with Pumpkin Mousse
Linguine with Salmon and Mint

From The Best 50 Dessert Tarts:
Pastry Nut Crust, with walnuts or salted peanuts
Ginger Pear Tart
Blueberry Buttermilk Tart
Pine Nut Tart

From the White House Cookbook:
A corn bread recipe from the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans using buttermilk and molasses.
Pop-overs, those ever-elusive buttery babies.
English crumpets (how I love them!).
Boiled frosting, and frosting without eggs, described as: "An excellent frosting may be made without eggs or gelatine, which will keep longer, and cut more easily, causing no breakage or crumbling, and withal is very economical."
Not one, but FOUR recipes each for apple custard and lemon pies.

All told, those half-empty bags of white whole wheat flour in my cupboard and that unsalted butter in the freezer had better WATCH THEIR BACKS once schoolwork calms down a bit. Perhaps my next investment will have to be in a couple of removable-bottom tart pans and a cake stand?

Can a girl survive on tarts, pies, cakes, and pasta alone? With all my education and credentials, will I end up slapping on an apron and a string of pearls to keep a home, making pot roasts for some hard-working spouse someday?

Images from 180degreeimaging.com, tabletools.com, silverbackbooks.com, and cooking.com.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Little blogger, big city!

This Saturday, I'm taking off for New York City -- my first trip to the East Coast! Can you believe I've never been further east than Colorado? The last time I had to deal with a three-hour time difference, I was eleven and in Hawaii. Now, not only am I not eleven anymore (thank goodness!), but I'll have to deal with Daylight Savings as well. Hoo boy, four-hour time difference.

I'm taking tomorrow off from work to sleep in, pack, and stock up on some of the things I need to take with me. For example, I need to get travel-sized bottles from the Container Store (surprisingly, one of my favorite stores -- I'm chronically disorganized, but I wish I weren't). I also want a larger cosmetics bag -- mine tend to be freebie Gift-With-Purchase ones, which are just not big enough. (The new one I got from Gloss is great because it has a separate pocket for brushes, and it holds all of my DuWop palettes, but I'm going to need more space, I'm afraid.)

I also need to get full-sizes of the Suki Lemongrass Cleanser and Chamomile Serum. I've been using the mini sample size, which is a great size for travel, but I'm nearing the bottom of the cleanser and would hate to run out in the middle of my trip. So, if I buy the full-size tomorrow and fill my little jar back up, it will work out perfectly. (This is my plan, please do not discourage me from it.)

But here is the most important thing of all: what do I buy? It's New York, after all. I'm already making lists of places to go. I'm searching for perfume, so I am following Blogdorf Goodman's recommendations and checking out both Bond's boutique and Frederic Malle at Barneys. I also want to find some boutiques and surprises, so I'll be keeping my eyes open. While I'd love to bring home a fantastic leather bag, I am very picky about my leather goods, whether it's boots, bags, or jackets.

Ultimately, though, my plan is to have a great time. And maybe to, just a little, see some celebrities.

images from containerstore.com and movies.yahoo.com

Monday, March 05, 2007

Dinner tonight: Pasta Two-Step

I am ashamed to admit that this recipe was wholly inspired by the March 2007 issue of Martha Stewart's charmingly tiny but ad-filled Everyday Food magazine. If you've ever caught the Everday Food show on KQED, those Martha Stewart employees/hosts are surprisingly non-Satan-worshippy. One of the cover features that piqued my interest was all about "Boil & Toss Pastas," because really, what's better than a fast, healthy, totally satisfying meal that doesn't dirty up more than two pans and isn't stir-fry? Some of the Everyday Food recipes called for unnecessary steps like making your own pesto in a food processor (please, I barely own a colander and one pot big enough to boil pasta in, much less a food processor or the budget for pine nunts) or fancy things that I don't normally buy like, yes, pine nuts and sundried tomatoes packed in oil.
I came up with my own boil-and-toss pasta combination last night with what I had on hand--all you have to do is boil up the pasta, chop up some veggies and meat product if you wish, drain and throw it all together with or without sauce. This took me less than fifteen minutes, a dinner for two!

2 cups dried pasta, like penne or spirals
1 medium zucchini or squash
1 orange bell pepper
5-10 slices salami or pepperoni
1-2 tablespoons store-bought pesto (Trader Joe's pesto genovese is pretty yummy)
olive oil, Parmesan cheese

1. Boil water in a medium saucepan, salt it heavily. Start the pasta cooking and set your timer for one minute fewer than directed on the package.
2. While the pasta is boiling, slice the zucchini into thin two-inch long (about the same length as the pasta you're using) strips, slice the bell pepper and salami into thinner strips. When your timer goes off, add the zucchini to the pasta pot and continue to boil for a minute, or until the zucchini is cooked but still crunchy.
3. Throw the sliced peppers and salami into a colander in the sink and drain pasta/zucchini on top. This will warm up the raw veggies without cooking them to retain a nice, fresh crunch. Shake the colander a bit to get all the extra water out, then add a bit of olive oil and the pesto. Toss with a fork quickly and thoroughly. Garnish with cheese and enjoy!

Look at that, only three dishes dirtied--pot, colander, and plate. If you were to sautee those veggies alongside the boiling pasta, you'd have to dirty up another pan, utensil, AND have the extra fat and worry. See how easy that was? This is my new favorite dinner! Try boiling other raw vegetables like mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, or green beans with the pasta for its last few minutes. Mix in raw, or easy frozen veggies like peas and carrots if you don't have fresh on hand. This method also works well to make pasta salad for the next day. Enjoy!

Spring's all about the metallics!

If you've been following the cosmetic trends for spring (like I have!), then you already know that metallics are going to be big for spring. Many of the spring/summer runways (all the way back in the fall, remember?) featured models rocking shimmery gold and silver eyes. So here are my recommendations for how to work this into your own style!

Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil may well be one of my two favorite eye pencils of all time. (The other is Benefit's basic kohl pencil in Sable.) I now own this pencil in three different colors: Lucky (copper, like a penny), Deviant (royal blue), and Dime, their new bright silver, which I specifically bought for this spring. One of my favorite daytime eyes is to wear brown pencil on my top lid (like the aforementioned Sable) and then line my lower lid with Lucky -- subtle enough to wear to work, but really pretty and lasts all day. I'm looking forward to wearing Dime in very much the same way, except with stronger liner on top (Benefit's Bad Gal pencil, perhaps?) for a nighttime look.

But what if you're not up for rocking the silver? After all, everyone's got their own preferences when it comes to which metal they prefer. For me, I prefer to wear silver jewelry, but I love gold on my face. That's why I bought the Bobbi Brown Gold Shimmer Brick compact. This compact was (and still is) limited edition; it was released in late 2006, but has proven to be so popular that it's still available. The gold powder can be swept with a blush brush for highlighting the cheekbone or used individually on the eyes with an eyeshadow or angled brush. However, it is limited edition, so if you're thinking about going for it, the time is sooner rather than later.

As for me, I know I'm taking my shiny new toys out for quite a ride this spring! Urban Decay can be purchased at your local Sephora or online at UrbanDecay.com; Bobbi Brown cosmetics are available at Gloss.com or at your local Bobbi Brown counter.

images from urbandecay.com and gloss.com

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