Thursday, December 13, 2012

Music, Music Everywhere!

I think I might be a music snob. But I kind of listen to everything (except country...I just can't) so am I really? The ancient clock radio I wake up to was accidentally set to a jazz station a few weeks ago and I even kept it for a while because it was such a nice change. I will always love pop - I don't mind One Direction, I love Girls Aloud, I will ALWAYS be a Spice Girls fan, but I draw the line at Taylor Swift. My first delicious taste of hip hop came in college with my first exposure to different races and cultures and I've never looked back. One of my favorite albums in high school was the 1998 Family Values Tour. It had Rammstein on it FFS. As I type this I'm previewing the new Big Boi album and I'm loving it. So it's clear that my taste in music is varied.

Around seven or eight years ago I started listening to BBC Radio 1 and realized that American radio is, for the most part, completely horrific. I love most Top 40 music, but there's so little diversity in popular American music. There's such a broader range in European music (house, drum and bass, dubstep, etc.) that Americans are almost completely unaware of. So thank you, Zane Lowe and others for bringing it to me. Snobbery.

That said, most of my favorite albums this year are from the same genre. Weird? Maybe. I think folksy, old-school sounding music is having a moment right now and I just happen to be really into it. So without further ado:

5. Jack White - Blunderbuss

Blunderbuss is Jack White's long-awaited solo album and it's a masterpiece. It has such a good balance of hard and soft. The conviction with which he sings Love Interruption is contagious and I dare you to not bust out some awkward Mick Jagger moves while listening to Sixteen Saltines. I suppose he can be polarizing, but I don't know what's not to like. The White Stripes are legendary and if nothing else they gave us one of the best football chants going today with Seven Nation Army.

4. Mumford & Sons - Babel

This was on the list before it even came out and I expect it to win a boat load of Grammys. It's a predictable choice, but this album really is that damn good. I've never had the pleasure of seeing Mumfords live. I'm still seething about missing out on tickets for their show here early next year, but I have faith that they'll come back in the fall. I was a Mumfords fan long before they cracked the States (snobbery) and while I suppose it's annoying that they have to be shared, I'm thrilled that they're getting their due. I Will Wait is the obvious cracker. I've heard it a million times and it still makes me really happy. Lover Of The Light also deserves praise. You've never loved a banjo so much.

3. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Michael Kiwanuka is the second coming of Otis Redding and it's glorious. Upon listening to the British singer/songwriter you'd never guess that he's only 24. His words and his voice are so soulful. I saw him play the tiny yet awesome Brighton Music Hall earlier this year and it was one of my favorite shows of the year. I dare you to listen to Home Again and not get all fuzzy and misty-eyed. Tell Me A Tale is another stunner and it's so fitting that the video is shot with a vintage look. It's a colder more British Woodstock. I believe Michael is touring the U.S. early next year and I urge you to check him out!

2. alt-J - An Awesome Wave

Alt-J are a relatively new discovery for me and I have the BBC to thank. Alt-J won the Mercury Prize just last month and I've been listening almost non-stop since. It's indie with a little electronic and it's totally brilliant. Upon listening to the gorgeous Matilda you'll immediately want to know who she is and how to love her. Breezeblocks is catchy and haunting and Fitzpleasure is delightfully weird. I just can't say enough good things about this album. Alt-J will be in Boston in March and I will be pee-my-pants excited on the day.

1. Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

I haven't been as consumed by an album as I still am by this one in a long time. It's pure genius from start to finish. The first time I heard Brittany Howard's raspy Southern drawl I was obsessed. Not to mention that it's completely bad ass to have a female lead in an all male band. Hold On is without a shadow of a doubt the record of the year. Why it wasn't nominated for a Grammy in that category is beyond me. When Brittany's in love and screaming and gurgling her way through Be Mine you're right there with her and after the breakup you feel her pain in Heartbreaker. I saw them play the House of Blues in October and they are just as good live as they are on the album. I tried to describe their sound to someone who was unfamiliar and after thinking for a bit I said modern Southern rock. To which he replied, country? No. Not even close. So I'll just leave it as awesome.

I'm a little annoyed with myself for not including any female artists (aside from Brittany Howard). I'll give honorable mention to Florence & The Machine's Ceremonials, Jessie Ware's Devotion, and Lianne La Havas' Is Your Love Big Enough. All worthy. I also have to give a shout to The Black Key's El Camino and The Arctic Monkeys' Suck It and See. Both of these albums came out in 2011, but the two combined for one of my favorite shows of 2012. The Arctic Monkeys are probably my favorite band of the last five to seven year so I'm thrilled I got to cross them off my concert bucket list.

I feel like I'm missing so much, but everything above is what's been on constant rotation for me this year. It was a good year for music! Tell me how you feel about any or all of the above or if you think I'm insane. There wasn't too much snobbery, right?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hot Looks Of The Week & My Faves

Image via
Isla Fisher In Willow

Not only is Les Mis one of the most anticipated films of the holiday season, but its worldwide premieres have me chomping at the fashion bit. The London premiere was held on Wednesday night and while its two main female stars (Anne Hathaway in Givenchy Couture and Amanda Seyfried in Balenciaga) shone, there is something about Isla Fisher's Willow dress that I adore. Isla Fisher is not in Les Mis, but her husband Borat is. Yes, I know his real name, but it's more fun to call him Borat. I am a sucker for a tea length dress and I love that this became tea length by default because she's so teeny. It still works. The major cleavage could have been an issue but I think her hair being down helps off-set it a bit. She's stunning. And also very cold. Beauty is pain.

Image via Atlantic-Pacific
Blair Eadie In Michael Kors & Club Monaco

I'm surprised it took me this long to feature Blair, but I just couldn't resist this week. I LOVE this outfit. If you're not familiar with Blair Eadie, allow me to introduce her. She blogs at Atlantic-Pacific and I think she's one of the most stylish people I've ever seen. It would not be inaccurate to say that I'm obsessed a little. She's inspired me, and many others I'm sure, countless times and I think fashion is better off with her a part of it. This is just such a well-put-together look. The gold Michael Kors sweater is an unexpected pairing with the burgundy Club Monaco feather skirt, but they work so well! I never would have thought. And the neutral leopard heels get me every time. Flawless! 

My Faves

I am going to try to keep the Christmas shopping for myself at a minimum this year. I'm desperate to take a good vacation next year and I will be needing to upgrade my iPhone soon so most of the extremely generous holiday bonus that I am lucky to get every year will be socked away. I did, however, just buy this Furla bag on MEGA discount from Bluefly. It will be my schlep all my crap to work bag/carry on for a very, very long time!

I found this to be fascinating - What thirteen people wore on their interviews with Anna Wintour. I will never be getting an interview with Anna Wintour so thankfully I will never have to feel this panic. My wardrobe is full of Gap.

The best holiday windows of NYC according to Tibi designer Amy Smilovic. I think Barneys wins.

H&M is launching a new clothing donation program which is very intriguing. When it starts, you'll be able to bring any clothing that you wish to donate to H&M and be given 15% off one item in exchange. Not bad!

In cooking news, I baked my first round of holiday cookies last weekend that I will be sharing next week. And it's my own recipe! I've mentioned my love of soup many times, but I've never made a fish soup. If this one is half as good as it looks in the photos, it will become one of my favorites. I will report back on Sunday night.

Lastly, my newest manicure discovery is the Sally Hansen Salon Effects French tips. I. LOVE. THESE. I have tried a lot of different kinds of nail polish stickers (Sephora, Maybelline, etc.) and Sally Hansen's are the best. The French tips are a bit of a bitch to put on because they require a few different steps, but just be patient. I've had these on for almost a week and they still look great!

That's it. Happy weekend!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kale Salad With Roasted Butternut Squash & Shallots

For the past six years I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my sister and I and some of her friends who are brave enough to trust whatever comes out of her tiny NYC kitchen. We usually do the standard Thanksgiving dishes, but every year I try to do a new side dish. I made this super yummy kale salad a few weeks prior to Thanksgiving and I knew it would be perfect. The flavors from the roasted butternut squash and shallots go together perfectly with the nuttiness of the cheese and walnuts. The flavors are strong, but kale is such a substantial green that it all works.

 Kale Salad With Roasted Butternut Squash & Shallots (adapted slightly from this)

1 lb. peeled and seeded butternut squash cut in 1/2 inch cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
Fresh lemon juice
Large bunch of kale, washed and chopped
4 ounces of Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, crumbled
1/3 cup of chopped, toasted walnuts

The measurements above will make a large salad that will easily serve 4-6 people, but all of the following photos are for just one serving since I was just cooking for little ol' me when I made this again last week.

Pre-heat your oven to 350. If you buy a whole squash, get to work peeling and chopping that sucker. I was lazy in this instance and bought the pre-cut package. As always when roasting veggies, make sure all the pieces are about the same size so they roast evenly.  Toss the squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper and arrange them in one layer on a baking sheet or dish.

You'll see why I left one side empty in just a minute. Pop the squash in the oven. The original recipe calls for it to roast for 45 minutes, but in my oven I find that this is way too much time. My oven is off, remember. I've found that 35-38 minutes is good for me so I advise checking on your squash at around 35 minutes. If yours needs 45 minutes then by all means leave it in for 45.

Ugh my cutting board. All I want for Christmas is kitchen stuff. I know you're reading this, Mom.

Next chop your shallots. How much do I love shallots? A lot. I think they're kind of under-used. They're such a great hybrid of onion and garlic without the smack-you-in-the-face powerful flavor of either. Sadly, like the onion, they make me cry like a grieving widow when I chop them. Set your shallots aside for you will be needing them in about 15 minutes.

If you have to wash and/or chop your kale, do it now. I obviously bought the packaged kind. Put your kale in a large bowl and dress it with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to your taste. I am pretty picky about how I like my salads dressed (lightly) so I never specify amounts for dressing ingredients. Toss this well and let the kale sit for about half an hour. Kale is pretty sturdy so don't worry about it getting soggy. It needs to sit so the kale can lose some of its bitterness.

With about 15-20 minutes left on the squash, toss the shallots with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put them on the other half of the baking dish in the oven. Now you know what I left it empty! Less clean up.

While the squash and shallots are finishing, chop up your cheese. You can cut it into pieces or shave it. You will obviously eat a few a lot of it before it goes on the salad so do a bit extra. In this instance I used Grana Padano, which is definitely in the Top 5 of cheese for me. It's nutty, and fruity, and chewy and delicious.

Toast and chop the nuts next. I picked walnuts just because I had them on hand.

By this time your squash and shallots should be about done and your kitchen will smell divine. They will have shrunk up, but fear not.

Now all you have to do is add everything to the kale and give it a good toss.

This has become my favorite salad. It's warm, which I love, and everything goes together so, so perfectly. It's great as a side dish or even as an entree with some grilled chicken thrown in. I love that it only has a handful of ingredients but really big flavors!

What are you feelings on butternut squash? I remember being completely grossed out by it as a kid (like most things) but now I love it prepared just about any way. And how about kale? I have my sister to thank for introducing me to it a while ago. It has definitely become one of my favorite greens. Enjoy!