The Look for Less | The Striped Coat

October 31, 2013

The Look for Less: The Striped Coat
Have you ever found something you absolutely love, but pass it up, only to be haunted by it for years to come, never seeing anything that even compares? Then it becomes your unicorn of sorts, and you search and search for this elusive thing that will undoubtedly never live up to the original. Well, my unicorn was this amazing striped coat from J.Crew a few years back, and naturally, I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. Nothing else really compared until I happened upon the Coach homepage recently and saw Karlie Kloss, with that amazing hair (have I mentioned that I've been pining for bangs again? I must be crazy...), sporting the most amazing striped coat I had seen in years. Then I saw the price. I mean, don't get me wrong, a nice coat is a worthy investment, especially when moving to a fabulous European city where a coat is required pretty much nine months out of the year. But my limit on a good outerwear is more in the few-hundred-range, not the nearly-a-thousand-range. Naturally, my excitement at such a find was immediately quashed.

Like every yin has a yang, I knew there had to be other, more affordable, options out there. Thanks to the ever-stylish Blair, I discovered this amazing one from ASOS. I must admit, I'm not the hugest fan of ASOS quality - I've returned three out of the four items I have ever ordered from them - but I'd like to think this piece might be one of those exceptions that could give me my stripes and let me afford it too. I'm also really crushing on the cocoon shape and wide lapels (perfect for broad-shouldered gals like myself), not to mention the more hip-friendly angled flap pockets. I think this coat would be right at home in Berlin - preferably in my closet!

Recipe | Salted Caramel Bourbon Popcorn with Peanuts

October 30, 2013

Salted caramel bourbn popcorn with peanuts served with bourbon Living in Germany, sometimes I miss Halloween. Not so much the trick-or-treaters that would interrupt our annual Shaun of the Dead viewing every five minutes, or even all the amazing seasonal decor that some people would adorn their house with. No, just like for those sugar-crazed kids, it's all about the candy. Every year, I would buy all of my favorites in preparation for the onslaught of kids, with each doorbell ring hoping this was the last bunch, so that I could greedily keep the rest of the stash in one of my drawers at work, dipping into it whenever I felt stressed or was just in need of a sugar rush. Oh yeah, perfectly healthy behavior.

Now that I'm a grown up who knows better than to gorge myself on countless mini candy bars, not to mention living in the land of no Halloween, and therefore no bags of Halloween candy (what's the fun in a regular size candy bar for Halloween?), I am looking for another way to get my sweet fix - and this caramel corn is it. Perfectly sweet and salty, with a little adult-inspired bourbon flavor, it is the fast track to caramel and just as delicious as the real deal. That said, I will admit the corn syrup element doesn't thrill me, but seeing as my pilgrimage to successful caramel making has been rocky at best, I don't mind indulging in this quick, cheater's version every once in awhile.

So you can keep your tiny packets of Almond Joys, Bottle Caps and Sweet Tarts (mmm, Sweet Tarts...). This Halloween it will just be us, a bowl of this stuff and an uninterrupted showing of my favorite zombie-fighting hero. Have a happy Halloween!

Salted caramel bourbon popcorn with peanuts ingredients

Salted Caramel Bourbon Corn with Peanuts

10 cups cooked popcorn
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
1 tsp bourbon
1/2 tsp sea salt, separated

Heat oven to 300°F/145°C. Butter baking paper liner or rimmed cookie sheet directly. Pop popcorn in an air popper or on stove and transfer to a large bowl, tossing with the peanuts. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and corn syrup. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and lightens in color (3-5 minutes). Stir in vanilla, bourbon and 1/4 tsp salt. Pour over cooked popcorn and peanuts and with a rubber spatula, toss to coat. Spread popcorn mixture on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle remaining salt over. Bake, tossing once, until deep amber (30-35 minutes). Remove from oven, toss and let cool on the baking sheet (popcorn will crisp as it cools). Store in an airtight container for up to a week.
  Salted caramel bourbon popcorn with peanuts close-up

Adapted from this Real Simple recipe

A wander in the autumn forest

October 28, 2013

Autumn in the Taunus_Kate on forest trail It had been a long time since we had taken a Sunday stroll, but after being cooped up and working like mad all week - at times, until one or two in the morning - I think we really just needed to get out. Take a walk. Breath in some fresh, forest air. Rain and wet and mud, be damned. We needed some nature beyond the basil plants that sit on our window sill.

In an effort to get out of the house before I gave up and decided on a nap instead, I didn't really give much thought to appropriate footwear or bringing my real camera to capture glorious autumn in the Taunus mountains, for perhaps the last time ever. So instead, I was stuck pulling out my iPhone around every bend for each new sprawling scene before us - not to mention sliding through the muck in my near-tractionless boots. But for all my unpreparedness and bits of bad weather, it was a glorious Sunday spent taking in the autumn colors and taking a breather from all the stress and to-dos at home.

Please forgive the image quality and enjoy our little piece of Sunday autumnal bliss...
  Autumn in the Taunus_on our way with wet leaves on the windsheildAutumn in the Taunus_temperamental clouds Autumn in the Taunus_sun on the refreshment shack
Autumn in the Taunus_stag statue Autumn in the Taunus_Jagdschloss old and new architecture
Autumn in the Taunus_Bailey on autumn path Autumn in the Taunus_autumn colors on the trees
Autumn in the Taunus_Bailey's ambitious stick Autumn in the Taunus_galivanting Bailey
Autumn in the Taunus_looking up through the trees Autumn in the Taunus_sun through the autumn trees Autumn in the Taunus_Kate with the sun behind

Recipe | Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple-Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

October 25, 2013

mini pumpkin cupcakes with maple-brown sugar cream cheese frosting
I had been wanting to make a really good pumpkin cupcake since pumpkin season began, so of course I went right to the supreme source: Martha Stewart. See, I tried working out my first-ever cupcake recipes not too long ago only to be reaffirmed by what I already knew: that baking is much more science than art and concocting just the right flavor and texture requires a precision and baking know-how I just do not yet possess. So with my overly ambitious plans for treats for friends to enjoy while perusing our massive moving sale last weekend, I decided to go easy on myself and trust in a recipe I knew wouldn't let me down.

After tweaking the frosting to be a bit richer in flavor and a smidge less sweet, and making them the perfect bite-size treat (so you can't feel guilty for eating them in multiples), I think these are a definite winner to add to my autumnal cooking routine.

pumpkin cupcakes, salted turtle bites and marshmallow campfire corn

Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple-Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

for cupcakes:
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice*
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup/250g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
15 ounces/2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
extra butter and flour for greasing the pan

for frosting:
8 ounces/226g cream cheese, softened
1/2cup/125g unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C. Butter and flour a mini muffin tin (since these are bite-size, they are much better without the hassle of the usual paper liners). In a medium bowl, whisk** together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, sugar, butter and eggs. Add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of batter, depending on the size of your mini muffin tin - or about 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched and toothpick comes out clean from the center, about 14-16 minutes, rotating pan if necessary. Transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

For frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together with a mixer until smooth. Add maple syrup, vanilla, powdered sugar and brown sugar until well combined and smooth. Frost cooled cupcakes and garnish with a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and a roasted pumpkin seed.

*Allspice can be hard to come by in Germany, in which case you can make a substitute with equal parts cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
**Use a heavy-duty wire whisk, as the batter gets really thick and goopy, and will become hard to mix otherwise.

Recipes adapted from Martha Stewart's, here and here

Recipe | Homemade Pumpkin Spice Lattes

October 23, 2013

Pumpkin spice latte the finished product
Pumpkin spice lattes. The official sign of autumn. Imagine my surprise after moving to Germany - land of seasonal eating that it is - that this seasonal treat did not exist. Pumpkin soup. Pumpkin pasta. Pretty much every savory pumpkin concoction out there, but no sign of that ubiquitous American fall beverage. It even took German Starbucks until this year to realize the huge gaping hole in their holiday flavor line-up before I was able to get my first store-bought pumpkin spice latte in years. I can only hope that means eggnog lattes aren't far behind... (pretty please!)

So what was a girl to do until this recent pumpkin beverage revelation in Germany? Well, make her own, of course. With the pumpkin puree (halved Hokkaido, face down on lined baking sheet for 45-60 minutes at 350°F/175°C, scoop out and puree in food processor) I keep in heavy rotation during this time of year, it's really so easy - not to mention with homemade syrup, you know exactly what fresh stuff is going into it, rather than having to wonder at the plethora of unpronounceable ingredients likely included in something imported (word is there's no actual pumpkin in Starbucks' version, either). Also, sparing yourself from spending 4,10€ - nearly $6 US and that's just for a tall, folks - for this pricey export can't be beat.

Without further ado, here is what you need to have on hand to make this satisfying autumnal treat at home, any time you please (even in summer!):

Pumpkin spice syrup into the pan

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

1/3 cup fresh pumpkin puree
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, whisking to blend, and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep syrup from burning. Let mixture cook until it becomes syrup-y and begins to coat the spoon, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from and let cool a bit before transferring to a heat-proof container. Store in refrigerator, and shake before use.

Pumpkin spice syrup spices

Pumpkin Pie Spice

2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves

Mix together spices in a small bowl and then transfer to an airtight container, preferably a spice shaker for easy use.

So now that you've got the seasonal accoutrements, you are all set to add them into your regular coffee routine. Since my at-home coffee making is rather simplified - French Press and milk whisked over the stove - I just make my usual coffee and add my pumpkin syrup to my milk as I warm it up. You could always heat the syrup separately, depending on your set-up at home, as the syrup will thin out again once heated for easier mixing into your beverage. The ratio of syrup to milk is completely up to your preference of flavor and sweetness, but I use about 2 tablespoons of syrup to 1/2 cup milk. Put your coffee drink together however you prefer and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice. Just be prepared, you might never go to Starbucks again.

Pumpkin spice syrup with milk

Pumpkin spice syrup recipe adapted from this one

Recipe | Thai Pumpkin Soup

October 21, 2013

Thai Pumpkin Soup served
Autumn food kicks off gloriously with pumpkin - and pumpkin soup might just be the pinnacle of seasonal eating. Warm in both beautiful color and as the comforting food equivalent of sweater weather, pumpkin soup is one of those things I look forward to all summer - along with breaking out my favorite sweaters, of course.

The thing about cold-weather food, and pumpkin is no exception, is that after months and months, the heaviness of such recipes can very nearly weigh on your soul and leave you pining for some warm-weather lightness in your belly. Since that is no way to end up in this most wonderful of cooking seasons, I have found this soup to be the perfect marriage of rich and spicy autumnal pumpkin, with just the right sweet lightness from citrus and mango that making this all the way through till spring will leave one neither feeling heavy nor wanting for lighter summer fare. So go forth, and make soup.

Here's to pumpkin season!

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Thai Pumpkin Soup

16oz/475ml chicken broth
15 oz/2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
12oz/ 355ml mango nectar
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1-1/2 tbsp minced green onions
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp grated orange rind
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
optional: chopped green onion
roasted pumpkin seeds
pumpkin seed oil
heavy cream or sour cream

Combine chicken broth, pumpkin puree, mango nectar and peanut butter in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes (whisk well to combine). Stir in vinegar, green onions, ginger, orange, red pepper and garlic clove, cook for 5-10 more minutes to thoroughly heat and for flavors to meld. Ladle into bowls and garnish with green onions, roasted pumpkin seeds, and a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil and cream, if desired. Serve with bread.

Thai Pumpkin Soup ingredients
Garlic bread makings

Travel | Autumn in Upstate New York

October 18, 2013

Lake George stunning autumn colors
After celebrating our anniversary on Monday and taking in the very fleeting autumn season here in Germany, I couldn't help but be reminded of our brief honeymoon weekend in upstate New York. Our new life in Germany was waiting and while we could only spend a handful of days enjoying New York after our Central Park nuptials, our decision to drive up and spend some of the time at Lake George basking amongst the brilliant autumn backdrop was perhaps the best way to spend our first few days as husband and wife.

As most honeymoons go, we didn't do a whole lot during our time there. We ate at the resort's restaurant, got massages, took a boat tour around the lake, but the highlight was definitely the lazy afternoons spent wandering the local trails that were exploding with fall color. Coming from seasonless California, this celebration nature had on display for my favorite time of year was beyond breathtaking and made me a convert to seasonal living for life.

Our time at The Sagamore Resort reminded me intensely of the setting for Dirty Dancing. The secluded, sweeping grounds, the lake, the surrounding woods. I imagine this place teeming with families in the summertime, making their annual pilgrimage to the lake. October was the perfect time for a quiet honeymoon, without the hordes of children running down to the lakeside pool or tourists trying to strike up random conversations, and it was already chilly enough that the resort staff was whispering the word "snow" when speculating about each coming day's weather. It was just about perfect to cuddle up with a loved one and just take in the spectacular surroundings.

I would love return and spend more time here, as well as other parts of America's Northeast, during this most stunning time of year. I wonder if a little closer to the end of summer, with a bit more lingering warmth, would still provide the same array of autumn color... and one might even catch a glimpse of Baby carrying a watermelon.

Lake George sunshine on the water
The Sagamore from the water
Lake George birds
Lake George boat and hills of color from docks
Lake George autumn colors from the boat
Lake George clear water Lake George tree on fire
The Sagamore triple creme brulee
Lake George fence with autumn colors
Lake George red tree from underneath Lake George on the path
Lake George path of golden trees Lake George lookin up at autumn tree colors
Lake George sun through the trees
Lake George sunset view from room
Lake George sunset at docks
Lake George sunset behind tree

Wanderlust Wares | A little piece of Paris

October 16, 2013

Vintage Paris painting
The City of Light
When we first moved to Wiesbaden and I started taking this smaller side street on my walks into the city center, I passed a little antique shop with this Paris painting in the window. Like art often does, this one spoke to me. I'm not sure if it was the age-stained, moody watercolors or the understated view of the tower, quietly unseen, overlooking the rest of the beautiful city, but something drew me to it. There's all kinds of Paris art, photographs, tchotchkies, but this was different. This was special. And I looked forward to seeing it every time I walked down that street.

So when my parents came to visit that first Christmas, my stepfather learned of my affinity for this painting in the shop window and decided it belonged on my wall. He took my then-barely German-speaking husband into this little shop to haggle with the owner in order to put this under the Christmas tree for me. While I must admit that I rather missed seeing it on my walk, now that we are leaving this town, I am happy that I get to take it with us to Berlin, to see every day in our new city.

Four years into this adventure called marriage

October 14, 2013

KateRussWedding_on bench outsidebcentral park_photo by Augie Chang
Sometimes, taking the road less traveled turns out to be just the right path. When our San Francisco wedding fell apart, we decided to chuck it all and go get married in New York's Central Park. When the opportunity came up for my husband to take a job in Germany, albeit one week before our wedding, we barely thought twice about it. We got married at a castle and then ended up living in the land of castles. It seems we ended up as far as possible from the track everyone we knew was on, buying houses in California and starting families, but feel so at home in the life we have chosen. That's not to say marriage isn't hard work, because it is. Starting that life halfway around the world from all our family and friends in a country where we didn't even speak the language has probably made it a lot harder than it had to be, but I think in the end, it has only strengthened our relationship and made us better people.

When I look back at the photos from our amazing wedding day in New York, I almost have a hard time remembering those earlier versions of ourselves. We have grown and changed so much, and not just in our location or my hair color. We have been tried and tested in ways we never really expected - try frantically struggling together to articulate to a vet that your dog has just been savagely attacked in a language neither of you has a terribly firm grasp on, or supporting each other through the immense sadness of not seeing your mother in over a year - and have had to lean on each other perhaps more so than the average couple. It's not always easy, and it's certainly not always the jet-setting adventure some people envision expat life to be, but we have come to appreciate each other and this life we have made together in ways we might never have otherwise.

So in honor of our four-year wedding anniversary today - and eight years together, conveniently on the same day - here are a few of the photos making me most nostalgic this year for the adventurous day that so appropriately kicked off our not-so-average life together. Here's to the many more adventures to come!

KateRussWedding_The Algonquin Hotel_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_ceremony_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_holding hands_phot by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_Belvedere Castle_photo by Augie Chang KateRussWedding_NYC tote bag favors_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_accordian player_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_cloe-up_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_marriage certificate_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_dessert at Bar Boulud_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_subway stairs_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_on the subway_photo by Augie Chang
KateRussWedding_subway close-up_photo by Augie Chang

Wedding photography by the amazing Augie Chang