Beyond Basic Fair Isle: Patterned Sweater Roundup

November 29, 2013

Patterned Sweater Roundup: J.Crew vs. Boden
The fair isle sweater has long been a mainstay of the season, especially when adorned with snowflakes or Christmas trees. But we've come a long way since the limiting choices of basic knits or gaudy pom-pom-encrusted holiday sweaters. Instead of producing more of the same, J.Crew and Boden are a testament to what the oft-formulaic patterned sweater has become - chic, new and different. These patterned wonders are a far cry from their tacky predecessors, reinvented and ranging from subtle to eye-catching. There are creatively-knitted stripes to traditional patterns made from jewels. And who could forget first spying that amazing stained glass pattern at J.Crew's fall preview months ago? I die for that print - and would consider going broke to get it. A self-proclaimed sweater junkie, I really don't need anymore knits, but Christmas lists are more about what you want rather than a boring old need, right..?

Open cellar days at our favorite local winery: Trenz

November 26, 2013

Trenz port wine It is that time of year again: Open Cellar Days at several wineries in the Rheingau. When we first heard of this years back, the Californians in us were astounded to learn that local wineries would open their doors - and countless bottles of wine - to the public, usually twice a year, for free. Coming from the wine world of Napa, where tastings rarely occur without a fee, a watchful eye and a hard sales pitch, this relaxed, come and enjoy as much as wine as you can pour in our garden/tasting room/underground cellar felt like the way wine was meant to be experienced. After this most wonderful discovery, we have yet to miss one of these highly-anticipated weekends.

With our budget under lock and key for the big move to Berlin next month, we were hardly in a position to go and stock up in the manner that we tend to, but we couldn't pass up perhaps the last opportunity to spend some time in our now-favorite wine region before it's no longer just down the Autobahn. Not only does Trenz do some of the wines we reach for most often - like its Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett, Rosé Sekt and the syrupy-sweet peach wine liquor that goes perfectly splashed in a glass of bubbly - but the owner is as un-stuffy and approachable as his wine. Michael Trenz's floppy hair, smiling eyes and well-worn Chucks are perhaps the last thing you would expect from a successful German winemaker, but this is what greets you as you peruse the selections out to try. In his almost California-like, laid-back demeanor, he will introduce himself and proudly explain the latest wines they have created, as well as asking how you feel about what you are drinking. His kindness and wine making skills will be greatly missed after our move. Thank goodness for shipping.

As if the cool cellar, friendly atmosphere and wonderful wine weren't enough, Trenz also has a really great restaurant. Falling somewhere between traditional German and modern cuisine, the menu boasts offerings beyond the usual, heavy regional fare and rotates often around the seasons - though you can't go wrong with its Riesling cream soup or traditional Flammkuchen - just the kind of eating we look forward to more of in Berlin. We left the tasting weekend with happy bellies and a very reasonably-sized box of wine.

It's going to be tough not to be just down the road from the likes of these wineries anymore (other local favorites of note: Prinz von Hessen and Goldatzel), but we realize we are trading one good thing for another, with much to look forward to in Berlin. Even without something as fantastical as a fountain that flows Sekt, I'm sure that we will make room on our calendar to come back down for small wine events such as these, not to mention the amazing countryside and dear friends we will have left behind. Here's to you, Rheingau - we will miss you. Zum Wohl!

Trenz wine cellar entrance_wine is trapped sunshine
Trenz stairs to the cellar Trenz main cellar room
Trenz sekt Trenz taste testing
Trenz wine selection Trenz cellar path
Trenz wall wine rack Trenz new wine Trenz wall of wine Trenz wine barrel room Trenz American oak barrels Trenz open cellar candlelight ambiance Trenz wine aging Trenz Riesling cream soup Trenz restaurant Flammkuchen

Weingut Trenz
Schulstraße 1‎
65366 Geisenheim, Germany

The Look for Less | Deer Sweater

November 22, 2013

The Look for Less | Deer Sweater
I had my eye on Madewell's oh dear sweater ever since I saw it in one its autumn previews. Cute without being cutesy, and rustic while still reading feminine. I love that it plays into the whole reindeer Christmas sweater vibe, without being relegated solely to holiday wear. The price was enough to keep me from jumping on it, but it sold out before I even had the chance to wait for a promotion with which to afford it.

So when I stumbled upon H&M's version tucked away on a rack - before it's current prominent display at the front of the store - at a fraction of the price, how could I resist? Not only is it legitimate intarsia, but I think the design is even better. And since I could pretty much live in grey sweaters, that was just another big plus in my book. Give me some Bean Boots, an ear-flap hat and perhaps this phone cover, and I am all set for seasonally-appropriate dressing.

Berlin apartment progress (or, a huge step backwards)

November 20, 2013

Berlin entryway_text2 apartment construction entryway_text
We decided to make the move to Berlin exactly one year ago, and the wait to have that move materialize has been excruciating. Now that things are finally happening, they are happening fast. Too fast, in fact. I had already started to think that maybe we had jumped on our apartment too quickly, second-guessing the high cost, the small space and the lack of windows, but we had already waited so long and were dying to be in Berlin, After months of looking, it was the best thing we had come across, by far.

Our apprehension about the bare walls and subfloor, along with not knowing exactly what our finished apartment would look like was met with reassurances that we would be able to choose the professionally-finished tiles and wall colors, as well taking our advice on putting in a small pantry in the kitchen for that coveted Berlin apartment storage space. Waiting anxiously for photos, and more importantly, an update to know when to schedule our next trip up to make decisions and take final measurements to order our kitchen with, we finally saw the progress... and my heart dropped. All those concessions we had made in exchange for the opportunity to really make this place our own were were now just negatives in an apartment that was looking less and less like what were expecting with each photo we saw.

Berlin apartment kitchen_text apartment construction kitchen_text

Instead of allowing us to choose the tiles as promised, the wall ones had already gone up - and are the cheapest-looking tiles I've ever seen and are clearly meant for a floor, not a kitchen backsplash. They are perhaps even uglier than the old ones in our current dilapidated apartment that I painstakingly stripped and painted. Even worse, the tiles before - especially in the bathroom - were much nicer. Instead of these new massive, bargain-bin-looking tiles, they were carefully chosen and of better quality. There were nice details, like a tile border and the tub even had a mosaic tile front. What were they thinking of with these changes other than budget? We were told that for a Prenzlauer Berg apartment, everything would have to be top-notch quality. My personal aesthetic is all for simple, but this is kind of a joke. Well so far, I think it's looking more like a cramped, cheap hotel than a new apartment undergoing a 50.000€ renovation in one of the nicest parts of town. Maybe I'm just not seeing the whole picture yet...

Berlin apartment bathroom_text apartment contruction bathroom vertical_text

Poor aesthetics aside, there's also the issue of how the actual space has worked out. Yeah, that pantry we were so excited that they were on board with putting in? It's so big, it could qualify as a fourth room! Great for storage, but it has eaten up so much of the space in our third room, that having overnight guests has gone from cramped to impossible. The bare minimum of furniture we had planned to bring with us for the room will now not even fit.

Berlin apartment third room corner_text apartment construction third room shortened_text
And while this was to be expected, I'm somewhat hyperventilating at just how narrow and dark the main rooms look after filling in the half-wall that used to partially separate them. It just didn't make sense for our bedroom to be connected to the living room by a massive opening and a door (and the hall door...), and of course, the extra wall space this frees up is ideal. But looking at these photos makes me completely second guess all my paint colors, not to mention worry that months holed up in these narrow, claustrophobic rooms in the winter time will make me want to take a flying leap off the balcony. Well, at least we have a balcony.

Berlin apartment street-facing windows
apartment construction bedroom apartment construction living room
I realize that considering my interior design background and very particular feelings around my home, as well as the bias of coming from an incredibly spacious, Altbau apartment with all the nice architectural details, I might be overreacting a wee bit. I mean, we have a Berlin apartment that is being extensively renovated and is available at the perfect time. The neighborhood is ideal. And I realize that without very specific, in-writing accounts of all these things that were promised to us, not to mention the whole potato/potahto issue of two totally different cultures' take on the same thing, we are in no position to call the whole thing off. I should just be happy to have somewhere to move in Berlin, right? Right...?

So I sit here, the majority of my hopes and expectations for this apartment fading fast, and try to decide what to do next. Do we push back and insist they take down those horrible kitchen tiles? Do we just ignore that we were mislead and pay to have them re-done upon moving in? And how are we expected to make flooring and paint color decisions in the next couple days, with minimal notice and no time to travel up there to see the choices in the space and convey our wishes in person? My head is spinning around all these issues I thought were sure things I had already checked off my 'stress list', but it appears they are back with a vengeance and requiring immediate attention. While it's far from a disaster, I'm currently experiencing some major renter's remorse at choosing this apartment.

While we try to sort all this out, I'm trying to breathe deep and focus on the positives... like that sunny, gorgeous balcony view that made me fall in love with the apartment in the first place.

Berlin apartment view of church

Fashion | Colorblocking

November 15, 2013

Colorblocking - Winter 2013
Colorblocking is the trend that just won't quit. What began many seasons ago as the super bold, not-always-the-most-flattering combinations of colors and pattern, has morphed into this wardrobe stand-by that has expanded to include the subtle, like simple sweater trims, and more luxe, like leather blocking on investment pieces. I, for one, am a big fan of this more chic and understated take on the trend - and my broad shoulders are heaving a sigh of relief at the move away from the ubiquitous high-across-the-chest colorblocking of seasons past that I couldn't wear without looking like a linebacker. That seriously chic cashmere and leather coat and the gold-bottomed satchel have a definite place on my most wanted right now list.

Currently Coveting: Cougar Pillow Boots

November 13, 2013

Cougar boots group shot I don't even remember when I first discovered Cougar Boots, but I quickly fell in love after receiving my first pair a couple years back: the Moola boot (which sadly appears to have since been discontinued). Not only are they actually pretty nice-looking for a boot that's really about function first and foremost, but they are the warmest shoes I own - warmer than my knee-high UGG Broomes and even warmer than North Face snow boots. Those Canadians clearly know what they are doing. For this Californian soon-to-be-Berliner, keeping all my little piggies intact is a top priority, to the point where fashion might even (gasp!) take a back seat.

While many of its boot styles are a bit lacking in, well, style, Cougar really hit the mark on bringing back its pillow boot from the 1970s in various incarnations. I think it strikes just the right 'I'm utilitarian and not trying too hard', à la Bean Boots, that they are the perfect addition for more fashionable folks who also consider functionality - not to mention the whole 'I'm not trying too hard' vibe - to be a worthwhile investment. I'm seriously pining for the classic pair in rust and in a major way for the rather badass wedge version in black. I don't think any drugged-out-of-their-minds, bloodied-hands crazies in Neukölln would mess with me in those (happened once and I'm convinced owning said boots would ensure it not to happen again). That said, there's the trouble of actually finding them for purchase...

Cougar Pillowboot in rust Cougar Pillowboot wedgy in black

Back in 2011, Canadian - and I believe some NYC - bloggers were sent these revamped classics for review and promotion, and a dedicated website appeared. Smart moves. Get the buzz goin'. But two years later, an empty Instagram account stating 'we're just getting started!' (um, haven't they been around since the 1940s..?) and a rather disjointed Facebook page, with everything from hair tutorials via The Beauty Department to random birthday shout-outs to teen dreams featured alongside its styles I would associate more with the senior citizen set feels a little like they are throwing darts in the dark. And yet, where's the info on how a non-Canadian can actually order said boots...(???). Cougar, you can't get us all worked up and then leave us hanging! I think these have the potential to reach hipster-y, cult Bean Boot status, Cougar just needs to get all its cute Canadian ducks in a row. Hmm. Any chance they want to hire an American living in Europe to manage marketing strategy and content for them...? Well, I'm here - and I would be happy to work for shoes.

All images via Cougar's Pillow Boot site

Husband's weekend recipe discovery: Pork Tinga

November 11, 2013

Pork Tinga with VSCOcam With all the packing and selling and planning for our Berlin move, my cooking mojo has taken a bit of a hit. There are days when my husband has come home from work and I have to tell him to fend for himself because I have not the motivation, the hunger nor the time to make something happen. On such occurances, I feel terribly guilty. But on the weekends, when my husband gets excited about a recipe he has found and asks if he can cook dinner, I gratefully sit back and let him be master of the kitchen.

This weekend, as soon as he started asking for specific spices and mentioned he had to find raw chorizo while at the grocery, I could hardly contain my excitement. Anything spicy is always a treat when living amongst a culture with an aversion so strong to spice of the heat variety, anyone with a love of Mexican or authentic, belly-burning Indian knows that to enjoy any of these cuisines, you're going to have to cook it yourself - and likely have to import the ingredients as well. So when my husband actually managed to find some spicy raw sausage (at Hit, if anyone's looking...), that two-hour wait time for this slow-cooked, stewy goodness felt a bit like torture.

Now, let me just say, I'm extremely lucky that my husband not only knows how to cook, but has an appreciation for good food perhaps even stronger than mine. I have never been disappointed in anything he has brought to the table. That said, when I took my first bite of this Mexican street food, complete with chunks of red potatoes, pretty decent avocado (also notoriously hard to find in Germany) and nice, sharp shredded cheddar, I declared it the best thing he has made yet. Even my burning lips couldn't stop smiling with delight. Two thumbs way, way up.

Pork Tinga recipe from Food & Wine

This is it

November 8, 2013

Wiesbaden Christmas market setup When I was walking through town the other day to go to my doctor's and poke my head in a few shops (just to look, I swear...), I passed by massive trucks unloading what looked to be construction materials. Then I saw them: the booths for the Christmas market. It was already that time again. But my recognition of the appallingly early start to Christmas was quickly surpassed by an unexpected sting in my eyes. This was it. This was our last Wiesbaden Christmas market before we move to Berlin. And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

The Wiesbaden Sternschnuppenmarkt, or twinkling star market, was one of our first introductions to life in Germany. We had just arrived in the country as a family a week before Christmas - long before all our furniture was to arrive - living in a cavernous, empty apartment, with no presents, no tree and no idea the impact the life decision we had just made would have. We spent the days leading up to Christmas at the Markt, comforting the loneliness with mugs of hot Glühwein and sausages awkwardly tucked into small round bread, as we took in what was now our life.

Four years later, the magic of these markets has not faded, but perhaps we have started to take them a bit for granted with our focus on getting to Berlin. I have been lost in recent weeks to visions of more abundant restaurants, plans for the kitchen we must buy and slowly acknowledging just how much stuff I am going to have to pack, I nearly forgot the long holiday season before us and our final days at our Weihnachtsmarkt with the dear friends we have made here.

This holiday market has been a savior to us in the dark, cold, lonely days of the German Christmas season, when sometimes all you wish for is that family recipe you've enjoyed every holiday since childhood or simply to kiss your mother goodnight on Christmas Eve. It is hard to compete with that nostalgia and tradition and with family, but the German markets are perhaps the best antidote to this sadness. The crazed, stressed feeling of the holidays in the States has been replaced with happy excitement, making us anxious to see that first strand of Christmas lights go up and have that first mug of Glühwein for the season warming our hands. It is not about everything we need to buy or any self-imposed to-do lists filled with things that aren't really important. It's about those days spent under the sprawling lights, getting warm and perhaps a little tipsy on hot alcohol and a sugar high from sticky sweet Schaumküsse and sugared nuts, huddling with friends in the freezing rain and snow and just feeling completely content.

We have toured around Germany and found more spectacular Märkte and even better Glühwein, but Wiesbaden's Christmas market will always be a symbol of our decision to become expats. I'm sure we will be back to visit friends over the holidays in years to come, but it will no longer be ours. We will just be visitors. But until then, we will take in this last market with fervor, alternately throwing our lives into boxes and stuffing our faces with the spoils of the season. Here's to you Wiesbaden - it's been amazing journey. I will raise my last mug of Glühwein this year in your honor.

Our first Wiesbaden Christmas at the Sternschnuppenmarkt in 2009
The 2009 Wiesbaden Sternschnuppenmarkt

The Look for Less | Pendleton Shawl-Collar Cardigan

November 7, 2013

The Look for Less | Pendleton Shawl-Collar Cardigan
I have a serious weakness for men's sweaters. Perhaps it's my abnormally long arms or just a propensity to be cold (all. the. time.), but for me there's nothing like cuddling up inside a roomy men's sweater when the weather starts to turn. Color and pattern that pops amidst the dreariness is a bonus. And who can dismiss the mother of all cozy patterned cardigans: Pendleton.

With even vintage "The Dude" versions, complete with holes and stains, going for up to $500 on eBay, you know you can't even consider Pendleton without some serious budget to invest. While one of these sweaters will likely remain on my 'ultimate list' for a lifetime, I could be perfectly happy with something equally cozy and colorful, but for a lot less. This one I spied at H&M the other day is thick, warm and in a larger size, could double as a sweater coat. Sold!

Mood Board | Our Berlin kitchen: black + wood + stainless steel

November 6, 2013

Mood board: Our Berlin Kitchen

I know I swore that our next apartment would look less like an Ikea showroom, but with a kitchen kind of required to be able to move in and you know, live, the option to pick and choose each piece for this room over time is a luxury we can't afford, in either time or money. Sure, we can add bits and pieces that make it feel more unique later on, but ultimately, we've got to get our order in ASAP for cabinets, countertops, a sink and the like, so that we can feed ourselves upon moving in next month - and Ikea is the place to do that. Oh, the joys of having to buy and install your own kitchen in German apartments... On the plus side, it means designing my cooking space to my needs, a luxury in America reserved only for those taking the massive leap to owning their own home.

Since I'm a fan of a cleaner, more modern aesthetic - with industrial and rustic touches - simple, inexpensive Ikea cabinets and a wood countertop will do just fine. The style I want to bring to it will be more through the use of a bold black wall (walls..?), open shelving and some great accent pieces, like those beautiful copper measuring tools and hopefully a fantastic towel - or two - from the amazingly talented Leah Duncan. While saving in the cabinetry department (even more now, since Ikea announced its kitchen sale now through the first week of December - score!), I'm inclined to splurge on a massive sink and industrial-type faucet, perfect for all the hand washing I do of my beloved pots and pans, not to mention a cool little tripod for all the recipe reading I do on my iPhone. Who knows? Maybe with all this frugality, we could even afford a nice espresso machine to make the most of the coffee shop in the ground floor of our new building...

How about you? What does your ideal kitchen look like? How would you balance budget with functionality and style?

photo credits: 
unknown (via Ellit)

Taco Tuesday

November 5, 2013

sloppy tacos and fixings When I first saw the recipe for Sloppy Tacos in the r.s.v.p. section of the September issue of Bon Appetit - yes, I'm a bit behind on my magazine reading - I was intrigued (meanwhile, my husband could not stop with the dirty euphemisms). I really enjoy tacos, Sloppy Joes are OK, but I wouldn't say either is necessarily my favorite food, especially not crispy tacos of the ground beef variety. But somehow, when you make this Sloppy Joe meat and pair it with a taco, it became one of the best things I have eaten in a long time. Magic, I tell you.

The meat is perfectly spicy and sweet, and with the crisp of the taco shell, the sharpness of the cheddar and the brightness of the lime sour cream - pure heaven. I recommend you whip up these for your next taco Tuesday craving. But don't stop there. The recipe states it serves six, which is madness unless you're having sumo wrestlers over for dinner. We've had this for three-plus meals and there is still a giant vat of leftover meat in the fridge. So if you're like me and get sick of eating the same leftovers after about day two, this recipe is the perfect solution. Have your Sloppy Tacos, but then slap it on buns and have traditional Sloppy Joes or add it to scrambled eggs wrapped in a tortilla for a breakfast burrito. And of course, the highlight was when we piled up the Sloppy Joe goodness on top of fresh-from-the-oven nachos and doused them with the lime sour cream and fresh coriander. Seriously, this recipe does not quit.

See for the Sloppy Tacos recipe, originally from Off-Site Kitchen in Dallas. Charred Tomato Salsa (pictured in the back) via Esquire's September issue.

Travel | My favorite local outing: Das Rheingau Romantik Tour

November 4, 2013

Rheingau Romantik Tour_Seilbahn into Assmanshausen Sure, I've posted about this local tour a few times before already (here and here), but as one of my favorite things to do on a nice weekend, I figured it deserved a place on the new blog as well - not to mention that this was our last chance to enjoy it with our move to Berlin in December. So back in September, on a weekend that was still decently sunny and warm enough to make it worthwhile, we headed to the Rheingau for our final excursion on this amazing way to take in the German wine region.

Starting out in the picture-perfect little town of Rüdesheim am Rhein, the tour begins in the touristy way. The small cobblestone streets there are filled with people visiting and restaurants and hotels that are vying for your business. But once you buy your ticket (a bargain at 16€ for almost an entire day's outing), you are sent out alone above the vineyards on the Seilbahn (cable car) trip to the top of the hillside, all the while looking out over the Rheingau river valley. Also touristy but worth it: get the mini bottle of Sekt and two keepsake glasses for the ride up. At the top, it is a very light hike (about an hour at a leisurely pace and inclines are minimal) through the serene forest, with stunning views and lookout points along the way. Not to be missed: the tower lookout over the river and the man-made, pitch black tunnel which you must crouch down and navigate entirely blind.

After enjoying a relaxing wander through the woods, the Seilbahn (chair lift) down awaits just beyond a preserve for local deer (which you can feed). While not quite as sweeping as the views on the way up, the scenery on the way down might be even more spectacular with castles dotting the hilltops in the distance, forest surrounding you and the first glimpses of the other picturesque town on the tour: Assmannshausen. If you happen to meander through this lovely town around a meal time, I highly recommend sitting down across the river outside at Restaurant Zum Anker and ordering a glass of wine and the peach melba schnitzel. You will not be disappointed.

A quick boat ride across the river puts you at the next destination on the tour: Castle Rheinstein. Similar to my very favorite castle in Germany, it sits on a rocky outcrop, overlooking the valley below. The trek up can leave one a bit short of breath, but the views from the top are well-worth the climb. The castle interior is a bit too refurbished to feel totally authentic, but the exterior staircases and patios overlooking the river, as well as the garden bar that offers wine and light snacks during the peak season, make this a great spot to spend some time - just don't forget to get back to the dock in time for the last boat back to Rüdesheim.

For me, this tour never gets old. The serenity of the forest, the sweeping views of the vineyards, the ample opportunity to just relax with a glass of local Riesling and take in the scenery. It's a tour at your own pace, where you see what you want to see and pass up what you don't. Even this, probably our fifth time on the tour, we discovered things we hadn't experienced before, like the tiny diorama in Assmannshausen of the Seilbahn into town and the castle restaurant, where we ate the most delicious Flammkuchen I've had in all of Germany. We also made a new friend over that meal who very nearly came home with us - or at least, the patrons at nearby tables asked why we left our dog behind when we got up to leave.

Oh, Romantic Tour, I will remember you fondly...

Rheingau Romantik Tour_picturesque Ruedesheim Rheingau Romantik Tour_Kate on Seilbahn Rheingau Romantik Tour_lookout over Rheingau Rheingau Romantik Tour_Outlook over Rheingau Rheingau Romantik Tour_forest trail Rheingau Romantik Tour_horse-drawn carriage in the forest Rheingau Romantik Tour_logs on forest path Rheingau Romantik Tour_forest Rheingau Romantik Tour_deer Rheingau Romantik Tour_Seilbahn sign Rheingau Romantik Tour_castle and river valley Rheingau Romantik Tour_close-up model seilbahn Rheingau Romantik Tour_trompe l'oeil building in Assmanshausen Rheingau Romantik Tour_Assmanshausen from the water Rheingau Romantik Tour_Burg Rheinstein from below Rheingau Romantik Tour_Burg Rheinstein backlit by the sun
Rheingau Romantik Tour_castle gate at Burg Rheinstein Rheingau Romantik Tour_castle vines overlooking Rhein
Rheingau Romantik Tour_stairs to Burg Rheinstein Rheingau Romantik Tour_Burg Rheinstein gardens Rheingau Romantik Tour_Burg Rheinstein church Rheingau Romantik Tour_wine and flammkuchen at Burg Rheinstein Rheingau Romantik Tour_new friend at lunch Rheingau Romantik Tour_view from the boat

The Rheingau Romantic Tour
runs from late March through late October
for more information, see website