Weeknight Steak

The other night, I had a surprise free night. The previous night, my director cancelled the next rehearsal, partly because of the impending cold and partly because we had done better than expected that night. So I had an unexpected free night with Boyfriend. He was kind of excited and went shopping so I could make us a nice dinner.

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I suggested lamb sausages to go with the potatoes and kale we already had, but he found some sirloin steaks on sale at the store. So I seared them up, and opened a bottle of wine. I sliced up the potatoes and tossed them with salt and olive oil, then roasted them on a baking sheet at 400 F until they were a little brown around the edges. I steamed the kale in the microwave, and sliced up the steak.

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It was a lovely little weeknight dinner. I got to break out the HP sauce to dab on my steak. Slicing up a cheaper cut of steak made it so that it didn’t matter quite as much if I’d cooked the steaks just perfectly. The pan wasn’t quite hot enough when I threw them in and they’d been a bit too rare the first time I cut into them, so I finished them in the oven a bit.

But it was a lovely dinner, and pretty quick to make. And since I used the microwave to steam the kale, and a piece of parchment to protect the baking sheet while roasting the potatoes, there was really only one pan for Boyfriend to wash afterwards. Which he was happy to do because he had just gotten a steak dinner!

A Walk in the Snow

A couple days ago, we had the first snow of the season. It was magical. The forecast had been for just a dusting, so waking up to a couple of inches on the trees and rooftops was a surprise. To my dismay, Boyfriend and I both to go to work, though I was working at his location, so we could carpool. And because my responsibilities were a bit light, I was able to sneak away for a half an hour to go for a walk in the snow around lunch time.

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Though the roads and most sidewalks had been cleared by then, there were still some snowy paths. It was a quiet day, still close enough to the holidays, that snow made the whole world feel private and special. It was cold, so no one really wanted to be outside, except yours very eccentrically truly.

I had the idea to walk up to a local chapel that has a meditation garden with a labyrinth, but while the walkways were shoveled, the labyrinth was not. I could see a vague outline in the snow, and considered making my way around in the snow, but decided not to ruin the pristine beauty of the snowy field with my boot prints.

My new boots got a workout. They needed a bit of breaking in, and I had some rubbing on my heel by the time I got back. The cold nipped, but I had bundled up tightly, and by the time I got back, I was still up for more walking to get lunch with boyfriend at a local cafe.

Time Spent in the Kitchen

One of my favorite things to do is to cook and bake. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen when I have it, and I love to play around with recipes and food. A lot of time, I don’t even use a recipe, but come up with my own versions of classic dishes. My mother really taught me to cook, and I have fond memories following her about in the kitchen, learning how to make a Bechamel sauce or gravy, and learning about seasonings. Most of our family traditions still revolve around food.

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But the best thing my mother taught me was when to go to a cookbook. My favorite cookbook is The Settlement Cookbook. Our family copy when I was growing up was a constant reference, with its aged mustard yellow cover and spotted pages. Some of the pages were more well-worn than others, such as the baked pancake I used to make often. When I moved out and was on my own, it was my one wish, and my mother came through, finding another old copy of it, which I still have. I’ve memorized most of my go-to recipes, but the referene is still there.

I’ve also had some luck finding old, public-domain cookbooks online. One in particular that is adorable is 1001 Ways to Please a Husband with Bettina’s Best Recipes. It’s a sweet book that follows a fictional newly-married couple. The wife is ingenious when it comes to the kitchen and seems to be able to put together a four-course meal from an old boot and a tin of sardines. The book is written in little stories that follow the seasons and highlight a menu. They have casual dinners en famille, and big dinner parties. She even teaches her neighbor how to cook and plays matchmaker.

Now, this book was written in 1917, so don’t expect progressive political ideas. But, as another blogger I read has said, one could easily see Bettina in the modern world playing the role of a party planner. And when it comes down to it, you don’t need to cook for a man to cook from scratch. While I do cook for Boyfriend most nights when I’m not at rehearsal, I spent years living on my own cooking simple, delicious food for myself. And that’s where books like these come into play. I’m not necessarily going to cook myself something fancy and complicated, but I will cook a roast chicken that will keep me in meat for a week, or a baked pancake on the weekend, or a batch of biscuits.

And if I need something a little kitschy or vintage? I can go to the older books for colorful fruit and jello salads, or a fun party spread. And since I managed to fry my last meat thermometer, it’s nice to have an outside estimate of how long to roast certain cuts of meat by time (although vintage roasting times are notoriously over-estimated). But simple food never goes out of style.

My Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routine, Part 3: Makeup

Having washed my face and body, I dress and prepare myself to go about my day. This generally involves some sort of makeup. My makeup routine is minimal, and tends to be inspired both by the 1940/50s and the Victorian Era. I try to use natural products when possible, and since I wear makeup primarily to work, I can’t do anything too outlandish.

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I’ve already gone over my skin care routine. I firmly believe that good skin care is the foundation for beautiful makeup. I always prep after my morning rinse with a couple drops of homemade oil blend patted into my skin and allowed to absorb. I don’t use foundation over my whole face, just a bit as a  concealer. I use Bella Mari Moisturizing Foundation as a concealer, although it can be a bit greasy, so I blot under my eyes when I’m done. I’m considering buying their cream concealer for more coverage. The Foundation also makes a nice light base for times when I need a bit more overall coverage, such as when I’m going to an audition. I love that you can order up to four free samples from Bella Mari to do color-matching, and only pay about $4 shipping.

Then, I wake my face up with a little cream blush. I apply it to mimic a natural flush, like so. I love NYX Cream Rouge, and I have it in two colors: Natural, for everyday, and Glow for when I want a little bolder of a flush. The Natural gives me that perfect English-rose complexion, while the Glow looks a lot like the flush you get from being outside on a cold day.

For eyes, I stick to a swipe of mascara on my upper lashes every day. My current mascara is Pacifica Aquarian Gaze mascara, although I’m not entirely settled on it. For a special occasion, I may add eyeliner (black liquid liner in a cat-eye, Zuzu in Raven), and perhaps eyeshadow. I use a matte eyeshadow palette, theBalm Meet Matte Nude palette. It has some lovely browns, greys, and a nice navy, which suits my style more than brighter colors. I’ll either brush a lighter color over my whole lid, or else do a smokey eye or cut crease with a bolder shadow.

Lipstick is generally the biggest source of variation in my day-to-day routine. I choose either a bold lip or a subtle lip. For a bold, opaque lip, I love my Revlon lipstick. My everyday red lip is “Fire and Ice”, an orangey-warm-cool red color released in the early 50s that I find very wearable. If I’m feeling punchy, I might use “Love That Pink,” a bright flamingo pink, or “Wine with Everything,” a darker, wine-toned red. “Sassy Mauve” is my natural-not-natural lipcolor. Oddly enough, I have a little birthmark at one corner of my mouth and this color matches that mark’s color. At party time, particularly for Christmas, I swap out “Fire and Ice” for “Certainly Red,” a very true red. I apply three coats of Revlon lipstick, with a blot between the second and third coats, straight from the tube, with a little modified X-shape to define my Cupid’s bow. If I’m going out for the evening, I might dust a little finishing powder through a tissue on that last coat to keep things in place a little longer. With all the tea-drinking I do at work, I generally reapply once after lunch, as I try to remove my lipstick before eating an actual meal to avoid eating lipstick.

For a subtle lip, I have a tube of Mineral Fusion Lipsheer in Exotic. It’s a warm pinky-nude that completes the “English rose fresh from the garden” look started with understated makeup and a rosy cheek. Or I use Pacifica’s Coconut Kisses in Lava, a sheer red balm, for a more Gibson-girl-inspired look. I generally stick to subtle lips for weekend days when I might have previously gone without makeup. But even with a more “done” lip, this basic routine takes maybe five minutes, with a little extra if I’m doing my eyes a little more. It’s helped me to commit to wearing makeup most days. The overall look is very fresh and timeless, which lends a vintage look depending on my hair and clothing.

Weekend Adventures and Concoctions

This weekend was the last of my little holiday, so I decided to make the best of it. I got up Friday and dressed to go out, only to discover that my boots had a broken heel. So after three years, I would have to go shopping for a new pair of boots. Boyfriend and I ended up at the mall on Sunday, where I tried on nearly every pair of brown leather boots without too much of a heel. I settled on what is essentially the boots I bought three years ago, with slightly updated styling, and in brown instead of black. I am a creature of habit.

Saturday I decided to do some concocting. In addition to bottling the final two batches of mead and cider we had in the cellar, I decided to whip up some experimental cosmetics. I tried my hand at making my own cold cream. While the recipe isn’t quite finished yet, I managed a successful second batch, based on the classic Galen recipe, only with grapeseed oil instead of olive.

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My other experiment is a bit more out-there. Inspired by the brand Vintage Tradition, and also the packet of leaf lard I found in the bottom of the deep freeze, I decided to make myself a lard-based face cream. I rendered the lard, and then mixed it with grapeseed oil to make it softer, along with some sea buckthorn oil, carrot seed oil, and lavender essential oil for skin benefits. The rendering lard smelled pretty awful, but at the moment it smells mostly of carrot seed oil, which isn’t as bad as the lard, but not so great.

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It cooled to a creamy white color, with a nice soft consistency. I’ve been using it for two nights now, but it’s probably too soon to say if it’s having any effect. If nothing else, it’s certainly an old-fashioned way of taking care of my skin.

My other event this weekend was a decision I made. I’ve decided to abandon my stretched earlobe piercings and downsize to a traditional earring style. I think it will fit in more with my current personal style. While out shopping for boots, I also picked up some nice understated stud earrings to help with this. It was an eventful weekend, and a productive one.

Coming Into My Style

Recently, one of my favorite bloggers, Jessica at Chronically Vintage, posted about her 2015 style inspirations. In her post, she wrote, “I firmly believe that one’s personal style should be a continually evolving entity of sorts.” I couldn’t agree more. Over my life, particularly in the last several years, I’ve gone through phases, but always come back to certain elements that are uniquely me.

I love my long skirts. I used to live in long skirts in the summer when I was in high school because I categorically refused to show my legs, either in shorts or shorter skirts or dresses. Part of this was a whopping dose of body insecurity, and part of it was just an unwillingness to either shave my legs regularly or try to carry off being unshaven. Oddly enough, a style born of laziness and insecurity earned me plenty of compliments, despite the fact that I was an awkward weirdling for most of my young adult life (30s are still young, right?). But I consider long skirts my version of sweatpants, which makes it pretty cool that others find them stylish.

Scarves have always been a large part of my personal style, and lately I’ve been adding shawls to that. Although the crochet habit is part of that, and I have one handmade shawl that I use regularly, I also love my purchased scarves and shawls. In fact, I might do a post soon detailing my favorite cozy shawls for winter. But scarves have been one of my signatures for as long as I can remember. It may have started somewhat when I traveled in Italy in college. Whatever the origin, I wear scarves as an accessory more often than I wear necklaces.

My boots are another one of my winter style signatures. In fact, I’ve had the same pair of black leather riding boots for over three years and yesterday realized they were actually falling apart. So it’s time to find a new signature piece. I’m thinking of trying a brown or cognac pair.

And that’s just the thing: I don’t always keep my signature pieces constant. I’ve gone from hippie gauze long skirts to solid-colored jersey skirts with a slimmer silhouette. My scarves have branched out from the standard Pashminas I found on street vendors in Europe. And now I’m going to get a new pair of boots.

I’ve gone through phases with my style. I tried going ultra-minimalist right after I separated from my ex. And it worked for a while, but I started to gravitate towards a more romantic, vintage feel. So now I’ve come to blend my modern minimalist phase into my classic, romantic signature style. But who knows? That can change.

Saturday Morning Waffles

For Christmas, Boyfriend got me a waffle iron. Waffles are one of my favorite foods, from fluffy, American-style waffles at diners, to toaster waffles, to sweet Liege waffles with their bursts of sugar. I had a waffle iron of my own once, which belonged to my father before, but it became too old and sticky and had to be discarded. So imagine my delight when I opened the mysteriously large box given to me on Christmas morning!

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Because we were out of town for the holidays, we did not get to experiment with the iron until this past week. First, I tried Alton Brown’s waffle recipe, as a kind of a baseline. They were perfectly delicious waffles, but I wanted something with a bit more structure and heartiness to it. So I tweaked it myself. I had already found that sprouted wheat flour offered a lighter texture to baked goods than plain whole wheat flour, and as long as I was making them whole wheat and sprouted, I decided I ought to replace refined sugar in the batter. Finally, I removed a bit of the milk called for in the recipe to make a thicker batter. I also used regular whole milk rather than buttermilk, as I hadn’t got any.

Sprouted Wheat Waffles

2 cups sprouted whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. fine-grain salt (use more if you use a coarse salt)

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 Tbsp. maple syrup

3 eggs, beaten

1 3/4 cups of whole milk

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Whisk together the milk, eggs, and syrup, and then whisk in the melted butter slowly. Mix the whole thing gently into the dry ingredients, mixing just until it comes together. There may be lumps. Cook in a waffle iron, according to your particular iron’s idiosyncracies. I got 4 Belgian-sized waffles. Keep waffles warm in a 200 F oven until you are ready to eat. Serve warm with fruit and cream or butter and syrup. If you have leftovers, freeze them in a zip-top plastic bag with the air squeezed out, and layers of parchment between the waffles to prevent sticking together.

In My Queue: Agatha Christie’s Poirot

I discovered the works of Agatha Christie while living with a couple who owned many of her books. It was fascinating to borrow them and devour them. I love a good mystery, as evidenced by my love of television shows about mystery and crime. And when I was cast in a local play based on one of Christie’s books, I had to look up a dramatization of the book on which it was based.

Lately, Netflix has added a lot of new episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot to their offerings, the play I’m in among them. So I was able to watch that particular dramatization. David Suchet is such a wonderful Hercule Poirot. He has fantastic facial expression and his sense of timing it so excellent. And whoever styles his mustache deserves some sort of award.

Because Poirot is based on the various novels and short stories of Agatha Christie, it doesn’t necessarily follow a thread of plot, but rather enacts one novel per episode. Christie was a prolific writer, and already there are seventy episodes of Poirot to enjoy. So far, I’ve mostly focused on the few stories I’ve read, along with one or two others whose synopses sounded interesting.

My favorite to date is the dramatization of Murder on the Nile, which features Emily Blunt as a wealthy American who appears to have been murdered by a romantic rival. But when the rival has an airtight alibi, things get murkier. It also has the actor who plays the lead in one of my favorite shows, Monarch of the Glen, Alastair Mackenzie. Personally, I think he’s adorable, so I enjoyed that surprise.

The aesthetic of the settings is also fun to watch, as the series moves from the early part of the 20th century, through the 20s and into the 30s. There are subtle markers in the costumes, as well as in the historical references, but the time period settings never become heavy handed. The focus is always on the mystery. And because they’ve chosen such excellent source material, the plots are always just intricate enough to stay interesting.

I highly suggest giving it a watch. Don’t set yourself on watching them all in order. Take a look at the titles and plots and choose one that sounds interesting to you. Or check out Death on the Nile first.

A Day of Crafting and a New Year

Yesterday, I had plans for New Year’s Eve to go to dinner at the house of one of my oldest friends. So I had to finish her Christmas gift! I was making her a crocheted lap blanket, although I was not quite finished. I had the day off from work and my only plans were lunch with another friend, so I spent the rest of the day crocheting.

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I love this project, a chunky piece crocheted from two strands of boucle yarn. I think the combination of the yarns looks like the colors in a peacock’s feather. And it’s very soft. Some yarns rub my hands, but this one is wonderful to the touch. On a cold day, there’s not much that’s nicer than sitting and working on a big crocheted piece, with the finished work spread out over your lap.

And I was able to finish it to my satisfaction before the evening. I even had time to clean up, paint my nails, and put on a bit more glamorous makeup than my usual daytime look. I grabbed a bottle of Moet and then Boyfriend and I drove over.

When we arrived, she was finishing some last things in the kitchen while her fiance was checking the drinks. We were soon joined by her parents and my mother. Dinner was lovely and we all caught up.

After dinner, her father took out his guitar, and we all had a sing-along. It was a wonderful way to spend an evening, singing holiday songs as well as old folk and rock songs. We turned on the television just long enough to watch the countdown to the new year, and then we decided to turn in for the evening.

I’ve woken up this morning, a little bleary from staying up late, but happy with the memory of a lovely evening, pleased that I was able to finish her gift, and excited to see what I can make with the leftover yarn!