Food Friendly May: Gadgets I Don’t Need

(Image via Cookography, where you can find simple instructions for making yogurt on your stovetop)

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I’m on them like Plummy on Spanish footballers. While some women dream of little Tiffany’s boxes, my heart races at the sight of the words Sur la Table. If in our travels we pass a kitchen-related shop, Mr. Twistie knows it’s time to go find someplace to kill at least an hour before he can drag me kicking and screaming out again. I own an ebleskiver pan. I use a mortar and pestle regularly. I have different sizes and shapes of whisk to use depending on the job. I have been known to gently pet both my KitchenAid stand mixer and my twelve-cup Cuisinart food processor.

And yet, there are certain gadgets out there that I cannot imagine myself using.

In light of yesterday’s conversation about yogurt makers (and I’m absolutely with Plummy on this one, I honestly don’t think it’s a necessary expense), I thought I would share with you kitchen gadgets that don’t fit into my life. Your mileage may – and very likely will! – vary dramatically.

Continue Reading…

Food Friendly May: What to Cook? What to Buy?

I think everyone who reads this blog on a semi-regular basis knows my feelings in general about homemade, handmade, and getting your hands into things being a big part of my personal philosophy of being superfantastic. I’m in favor, full stop.

But that doesn’t mean I’m a fanatic or that I don’t recognize that there are a lot of lives out there that don’t work the way mine does.

And so it is that I was glad to see a book like Make the Bread, Buy the Butter suddenly become not only a best seller, but a tiny sliver of a cultural phenomenon. There are things that are really, seriously better and usually less expensive when made by hand… and there are things where the hassle hugely outweighs any benefit to the average human being. Having someone come along and quantify which is which is kind of a cool idea.

In general, I think Jennifer Reese does a pretty good job of doing just that.

Note that I said ‘in general.’ After all, Jennifer Reese is one person with amusingly phrased opinions. Your mileage – like mine – may vary. In some cases wildly so.

It’s hard to argue with her assertion that buying eggs is cheaper, easier, and a lot less hassle with neighbors and local urban authorities than raising chickens in a backyard in the city. In fact, I think that could have gone without saying, though I certainly would have missed her colorful descriptions of her experiments in the matter.

On the other hand, her conclusion about chutney is that there’s no point in making or buying it because nobody in the world actually likes chutney. Again, her prose is highly entertaining, but I’ve got a brother with a two-jar a month chutney habit. He’s got a tamarind on his back, and I think he might well enjoy making his own. Reese describes making the Cordon Rose Banana Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible as a frustratingly picky process that resulted in a mediocre cake that nobody could possibly enjoy. That’s the cake I throw together on a dull afternoon when overripe bananas go on desperation sale at my neighborhood grocery because it’s fast, easy, and extremely popular in my crowd. Also, her scones are wildly over-fussy (though I do understand she was trying to replicate an over-fussy scone from Starbucks), and she definitely over-complicates making vanilla extract.

Reese’s method for vanilla? Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds, put bean pod and seeds in small glass bottle, carefully measure the vodka, pour it over the bean and seeds, shake, let sit to do its magic. My father’s method for vanilla? Split the bean not quite in two, put it in the bottle of vodka, allow to ripen.

My other complaint with this book? Endless tiny, wry jabs at weight. Over and over again she talks about how making something too often would result in her becoming hugely fat, which is – it goes without saying, but gets said anyway – a fate worse than the death it will result in with undue rapidity. I have a feeling if I went through the book with a highlighter and marked every anti-fat comment in it, it would begin to look like those scripts back in the day when I got the lead in the school play.

Still, those quibbles aside, this is a highly entertaining book with a lot of great, pithy advice in it. It’s brimful of instructions for making things that most people would never imagine it possible to make at home. Sure, we all know that we can buy pasta makers and that home baked bread is a possibility, even if we never try doing those things for ourselves. But how many of us seriously contemplate that it’s even possible to make our own Worscestershire sauce, let alone whether or not it’s worth the effort? When was the last time you considered making your own yogurt? Curing your own Canadian bacon?

Also, the book is refreshingly free from pseudo-spirituality of the kitchen and humorless political screeds. It’s about the practical, the fun of trying out new things, and the balancing act we all have to pull off everyday between the ideal and the reality of life.

I think Reese’s attitude is best summed up by this quote from the afterword:

“Almost everything is better when homemade. While this may have started off as an opinion (though I’m not sure it did), I would now state it confidently as fact. Almost everything. But not everything. Which makes me inordinately happy. Because I think it’s reassuring that you can walk into a supermarket and buy a bag of potato chips and a tub of rice pudding that are better than you can make at home.”

While I might personally put my rice pudding up against anything found in a tub at a grocery store, there are certainly other things that I find better – and even sometimes more satisfying – to buy than to make. If you’re looking to figure out which is which in your world, I highly recommend taking a good, long look at this book… and then deciding for yourself.

You Asked For It: Shoes for Maxi Dresses

Greetings friends and lovers, yesterday dear reader Helena wrote in with the following query:

Do you think it is appropriate to wear blue wedge espadrilles with a Chico’s maxidress and lightweight cotton sweater to a wedding in June? It’s at the Newark Museum in fabulous downtown Newark, NJ. Thanks in advance. The Chico’s lady told me to wear strappy sandals but with my size 11, not particularly nice feet, I vetoed that immediately.

I know what you’re thinking, and although the jokes just write themselves (I mean Chico’s and the Garden State? It’s a slow soft one right down the middle), one must always remember that some are born Newark, some achieve Newark and some –presumably like our friend Helena– have Newark thrust upon them.

That being said, I’m not entirely sure espadrilles –which I love and will feature in an upcoming post– are the way to go here.

One of the few fashion rules actually reliable in the real world is “the longer the skirt, the flatter the shoe.”

The inverse –shorter skirts require higher heels– often is true as well, but it’s by no means as reliable and should be approached with fear and trembling, especially in New Jersey.

I love maxi dresses because they are so effortless. In fact, the only time I see a maxi dress gone truly wrong is when some well-meaning but inevitably dopey-looking person Tries Too Hard.

Jean Arthur in a hostess gown circa 1929


The maxi is the natural descendant of the hostess gown, a floor-length dress popularized in the late 1920s and so called because it was an easy but elegant uniform for casual gatherings at home, especially in the late evening as they historically incorporated elements most often found in negligees and had a sort of glamorous pajama chic.  Their popularity has been cyclical –the last time we really saw a major resurgence was the early 1970s– but ankle-grazers have been going strong for several years and it looks like we’re in for one of those rare, decade-long trends (see also: boot cut jeans).

Prior to to the baby boom, a hostess gown might be worn with low-heeled mules, but when maxis re-emerged slightly before the days of disco –thank YOU, Halston– they were considerably less formal and best served by nearly pancake flat sandals.

Do we think that's Marisa Berenson modeling a homemade hostess gown in Woman's Day, 1967?

The same holds true today.

I tried on all four of my maxi dresses with shoes of varying heights and the highest heel that didn’t look actively bad was a 1 1/2″ wedge.

As owner of not one but two “size 11, not particularly nice feet” I understand your hesitation re: strappy sandals. They’re questionable as a species in the best of times since so often they show a lack of discipline, surely one of the few cases where more straps equals less restraint.

Instead of espadrilles or strappy sandals, here are five appealing but relatively minimalist sandals, streamlined enough to be elegant, but casual enough to reinforce the effortless glamor of a maxi dress (which I’m sure you’ll be accessorizing with a shawl or wrap instead of a cardigan and one –count ‘em ONE– piece of Major Statement Jewelry and little else, correct?)

Read on the see the shoes
Continue Reading…

The Big Question: Luxury Tithe Edition

Ah luxury. It’s interesting how the definition changes.

Once upon a time, luxury for me meant a new Hermès or a call to my gal at Barneys in New York to get my hands on the latest and most exclusive Le Labo or Serge Lutens export.

Now luxury is toilet paper with anything resembling structural integrity.

Then vs. Now

 

Yet even in those heady days, I was still just a Career Girl in the newspaper industry.

What the dead tree biz lacked in job security it made up for in low wages, and my attempt to indulge in champagne tastes on a cava budget was not exactly effortless. Each glittering bottle of rarefied perfume, each instantly recognizable square orange box, represented weeks or months of sacrifices –most small, some large– in other parts of my life.

I call it my Luxury Tithe, a phrase I first heard from my friend Amy, author of the brilliant and sadly dormant Style Spy, as she diligently squirreled away a portion of her pay each week to save for a pair of Miu Miu sandals or a trip to her beloved Paris.

The eminently tithe-worthy Alexander McQueen Seasonal Satchel, click picture for link

I’m happier in Scotland than on the Seine and Miu Miu sandals rarely fit my feet (not that it matters since I refuse to support Miuccia Prada anyway after her fatty-firing opera stunt) but aside from the ideas of paying cash and not living beyond your means as just good sense, I had two reasons to start my own luxury tithe.

First, I knew my dream job –the real one, not the designated thigh oiler for Real Madrid (although if anyone’s hiring…)– has even less money in it than the newspaper industry, and believe me, very few things have less money in it than the newspaper industry.

I knew someday the reasonably well-paid party would end, and when it did I wanted to be able to walk away with an accessories wardrobe to last a lifetime and not a penny of credit card debt, which is exactly what I did.

Second, I wanted to learn the joys of living a discriminating life.

It’s painfully simple, but if something’s not extremely good, I don’t want it. I’d rather go without than have my fill of mediocrity or worse. It’s probably why I’ve lost so much weight in Mexico (well, you know, that and the cholera): Mangoes, fish and veggies are good here; pastry, meat and sweets are not, at least not to a palate that prefers butter to lard and thick ribeyes to thin strips of carne asada.

Television isn’t very good in America (it’s worse in Mexico) so I happily gave it a miss and the money I saved by not paying to have Real Housewives of a Culturally Declining Nation piped into Château Gâteau bought me a Paris-only bell jar of the shiveringly dry yet animalic Bois et Musc  (which smells exactly like my lynx coat after a post-prandial walk in the woods) and fuchsia Dolce and Gabbana heels in suede so buttery I want to spread it on toast.

Let’s turn this into a Big Question.

Right now my Luxury Tithe –pathetic as it may be– is dedicated to funding an exploratory trip to Buenos Aires to see whether the so-called Paris of Latin America is destined to be the next stop on the Miss Plumcake Expatriate World Tour.

Today Miss Plumcake wants to know whether you have a Luxury Tithe. If so, what’s the desired result? If not, what’s your preferred method of acquiring what you want?

What Miss Plumcake is…

Ah Tuesday, or as I like to call it “Oh-No-Is-That-the-Garbage-Truck-Quick-Where-Are-My-Pants-Is-This-a-Bad-Lemon-or-a-Good-Kiwi-Never-Mind-Let’s-GO!”

Yesterday I spent much of the day at the American Consulate waiting for Hot Latin Boy to renew his tourist visa.

As such, I spent four hours people watching and wondering what sort of decision-making process would start out “What should I wear to my very important potentially life-changing government interview” and arrive at “shredded thigh jeans, shooties ordered from the back of Modern Streetwalker and a hickey the size of Gorbachev’s port wine stain.”

Baffling.

Anyway, it’s been a while, but since it’s time to resurrect the featurette and see What Miss Plumcake is…


Continue Reading…

A Note from Miss Plumcake

Happy Monday gang! Or at least I’m calling it a happy Monday, mostly because I accidentally saw this program last night where some woman met a very unpleasant end at the hands of her friend’s Xanaxed-out chimpanzee and I managed not to have horrifying nightmares, so I call it a win, though it just goes to show you shouldn’t have chimps…or friends. Xanax is okay though.

Just a quick note: Will the young lady who contacted me  for fashion advice about her friend’s wedding in New York please contact me again via email or Facebook message?

I was halfway through what I will admit is a thoughtful and entertaining response when I realized I had an important and unanswered question. I’ve tried responding through the contacts I have, so if you still want advice, please contact me.

Gin and Tonics,

Miss Plumcake

Happy Mother’s Day From Manolo for the Big Girl!

Whether you’re a mother, a mutha, or a daughter, let’s celebrate the beautiful circle of life. Rock on with your bad selves!