Archive | July, 2010

Cupcake Mania at Cocoa and Fig Bakery in Minneapolis

30 Jul

I can’t think of anything that combines my love of food and fashion better than cupcakes. (Maybe aprons, I suppose. But aprons are not little edible presents–cupcakes are.)

Cupcakes are a true “food fashion” trend. Dressed up, dressed down, they are one of the most versatile desserts. Perfect for a mid-morning coffee break or afternoon tea, now they are beginning to replace the traditional three-tier cake at wedding receptions. All across the country, specialty cupcake bakeries are popping up everywhere. What’s behind the spread of cupcake mania? My guess is that it’s because cupcakes are fun. You can indulge, satisfy your sweet tooth, and not feel guilty. When it comes to ingredients, cupcakes are a great way to experiment with gourmet flavor combinations. And decoration-wise they can go fancy, casual, or whimsical.  Really, the creative possibilities are endless, making cupcakes suitable for so many occasions.

Let’s be honest though, no occasion was necessary this afternoon to try Cocoa and Fig, the new cupcake-dedicated bakery in downtown Minneapolis.

In one word: Indulgent

Location: 651 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (Gaviidae Common, Skyway Level–Saks Wing)

Food: Cocoa and Fig has lots of delicious cupcake varieties, plus other fun confection offerings like tartlets, French macarons, sugar cookies, and my favorite–cake lollipops–an adorable, teeny-meeny cupcake on a stick.

Cocoa and Fig's dessert case

Like most cupcake bakeries, Cocoa and Fig has many unusual, mouth-watering flavors. Some offerings the day I visited included Irish Car Bomb, Black Velvet (with black sprinkles), Banana with Cream Cheese frosting, Carrot Cake, Pumpkin spice cupcake with cinnamon frosting, Salted Caramel and more.

I tried a Peanut Butter Parfait cupcake–a chocolate cake with a big dollop of peanut butter frosting underneath a shell of hardened chocolate syrup and salted peanuts. (I’m such a sucker for salty/sweet combinations).

The effect of the frosting underneath the chocolate shell was like eating a chocolate dipped cone at Dairy Queen with peanuts sprinkled on top. The frosting is truly heavenly–silky and creamy, light as whipped butter. According to an interview with City Pages, Cocoa and Fig’s frosting is top-notch because they use an Italian meringue buttercream, rather than the American-style buttercream that most cupcakes are frosted with, meaning that in Cocoa and Fig’s kitchen the sugar for the cupcake frosting is cooked so it fully dissolves and then is added to whipped egg whites and butter. I think I prefer this method. The frosting is absolutely mouth-watering, with a lovely whipped feeling on your tongue. And speaking of which, because the sugar is dissolved you don’t get that gritty, sugary feeling on your tongue and teeth.

Cocoa and Fig's cupcakes are magic. In fact they perform a great disappearing trick. (so cheesy, but I just couldn't resist)

Underneath the frosting is an extremely moist chocolate cake with an oozy, gooey injection of peanut butter at its center. Yes please. It’s a bit on the small side for gourmet cupcakes (I’d say maybe half the size of Magnolia’s, if you’re familiar)–but the upside is that you actually have a chance to fit a bite of frosting and cake in your mouth at once–if you really open up your jaw.

Some may feel that $2.75 for a cupcake is a little steep, but I’d argue that if you’re looking for an indulgent treat, it’s hard to match this kind of taste for your buck.

Check out this funky rock candy wedding cake. And if you look to the left, you can see what the cake lollipops look like.

Drink: Cocoa and Fig offers plain black coffee and various bottled drinks, including a fridge full of Naked Juice. If you’re looking for something else (latte, teas, etc.) there’s a Caribou Coffee conveniently located kitty-corner in the Gaviidae mall.

Service: The counter staff is very friendly and answered all my questions. Not much else to report.

Scene: For a new retail space, the Cocoa and Fig location is well branded and very cute–there are Cocoa and Fig products lined up on shelves against the wall, and the counter space feels vaguely Martha Stewart-y and is clean and bright. There’s no where to sit, which is unfortunate. You have to shove your cupcake in your mouth, or plan to take it to go. If you decide to do the latter, it might be a good excuse to take home multiple cupcakes. If you decide to do the former, I will definitely not judge.

Dress: No dress code really to speak of–the store is more or less a to-go counter, so there’s not really a crowd to impress. I mostly saw business casual or business professional dressed folks coming from and going to work.

Cost: $2.75/cupcake is pretty good in my book. But I tend to look at the glass as half full, especially when I have a scrumptious cupcake in my stomach, half eaten.

If you like, try: Magnolia in NYC, Sugar Bliss in Chicago, Crumbs (across the country), Sweets Bakeshop in St. Paul, MN

Fall 2010 Trend Alert: “Mermaid” Asymmetrical Jacket and Dress Hems

28 Jul

No one wants to look like a fashion victim.

But, if you’ve ever watched “The Devil Wears Prada” you’ve probably familiar with that irrational feeling that if only you had a trendier wardrobe, your life would somehow be more exciting and glamorous. Unfortunately, it’s that feeling that nudges you towards buying those expensive designer cage heels that have been sitting in your closet for the past six months.

Somehow these never seemed right for the office, trips to CVS, or Trader Joe's.

Friends, I had that feeling today. I was in my Happy Place (Nordstroms)–their Anniversary Sale is going on now and I was on the hunt for a good deal. I went first to a Nanette Lepore rack and what did I see but an adorable tweed jacket that was 40% off:

business in the front...

Immediately I fell in love with the texture of the lightweight tweed. What is really striking (in person) is the deep cobalt-blue-purple color that has just a hint of shimmer thanks to a subtle gold thread running through the fabric. More than anything, I love the jacket’s fit. Two small snap buttons close it in the front, while the exposed zipper belt cinches the waist. Very light shoulder pads define the shoulders and helps to create a flattering silhouette.

So far, I love it! I’m beginning to imagine it with different blouses in my closet. Then, I turn around and get a big surprise. The back of the jacket has an asymmetrical hem with an off-center ruffle:

...party in the back

I catch the name of the jacket printed on the tag–“Mermaid.” This must be the inspiration: a flouncy little tweed mermaid tail.  It is so striking and weird…I find myself strangely drawn to it. But is it too weird to wear in my day-to-day life?

One things for certain, Nanette is taking the business-in-front/party-in-the-back approach to all of her jackets:

Nanette Lepore Hush Hush Leather Jacket, $848

Nanette Lepore 'Maddalena' Jacket, on sale at Nordstroms for $329 from $498

Other designers are on to this “mermaid” trick too. Turns out this asymmetrical hem is a full-on trend that appears to be coming to stores near you. Exhibit one, an Alice + Olivia “Clarissa” dress with a dramatic asymmetrical draped hem, $275, was not far away from Nanette’s rack on Nordstroms’ floor.  Here’s the front:
And the back:

We’ve seen asymmetrical hems many times before on skirts–and we’ve seen them on jackets too (in the front, as with zippers on leather jackets)–but the gathering/ruffled/draping look, as well as the placement over the hip, gives this trend a new twist for 2010. It-kid designer, Thankoon, plays with a similar idea in this dress, 50% off right now on shopbop.com ($395, originally $790):

The dress features asymmetrical smocking and pleating that drapes the fabric on the diagonal. Like the Alice+Olivia dress, it draws the eye flirtatiously across the bum and down the legs.  So, if this is an area you are happy to draw attention to, this trend may be for you.

Returning to jackets, I found another example on Net-a-Porter.com–this asymmetric “Anglomania” wool coat from Vivienne Westwood for $930:

ummm I kind of sort of love this...have I lost my mind?

I really like the sassy kick of the asymmetrical hem.  Wool coats are rarely so energetic and fun–this one has personality. Here’s a view from the back:

Look closely and you can spot the oversized button right under the model's hand.

Vivienne Westwood understands that butt buttons really make a jacket--for men and for women.

The oversized-button at the top of the asymmetric vent is a great detail that draws attention to the flounce of the diagonal line. Along with the oversized lapels, it’s also is a bit of a wink and a nod to the Mr. Darcy-esque dinner  jacket feeling of the piece.

So, back to the main question: is this a trend worth investing in? I couldn’t commit earlier today in Nordstroms, but the more I think about, the more I think I’ll be going back to purchase my very own little “mermaid” jacket. I have to say, I love the art of juxtaposition that this trend offers. In the Nanette jacket, for example, you get the tailored structure of the jacket and the prim feel of the tweed playing off of the flirty, unstructured drape of the asymmetrical hem. In each of the pieces in this post, you can see the asymmetrical hem adding visual and textural interest through the diagonal line created by smocking, pleating, or draping.

Still, this is not something I’d buy online. If you’re considering buying a piece that exemplifies this trend, make sure you try it on in person before you purchase. My sense it this kind of asymmetrical hem will be most flattering on top-heavy women, as the diagonal line will draw the eyes downward, shifting attention away from large shoulders, while adding a little volume to just below the waist that will balance out the upper body.

Have you seen or bought something with this new “mermaid” asymmetrical hem? If so, let us know what you think!

Insanely Good Eggs Benedict and Brunch at Meritage

27 Jul

Whether you want to fuel up for a Saturday full of erranding, or you’re looking for a leisurely start to the weekend,  I recommend one of St. Paul’s best French restaurants, Meritage, for brunch.  I met my mom, two aunts, and uncle for brunch there this past week for an amazing meal. Here’s what we ate:

In one word: Rich

Location: 410 St. Peter Street, St. Paul, Minnesota

Food:It was one order of blueberry pancakes ($9) and for the rest of us, Eggs Benedicts all around ($11)–including one Eggs Florentine.

If you like your pancakes on the sweet side, try these. As though blueberry syrup isn’t enough, they’re coated in a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Very delish, but if you’re a pancake purist, and you prefer maple syrup to different toppings, you’re probably better off trying something else.

Mmmm, blueberry goodness.

If you do elect to try something else, I heartily recommend Meritage’s Eggs Benedict–regular, or Florentine.

Hollandaise sauce for the Hollandaise Hall of Fame.

The hollandaise sauce was knock-your-socks off good. I’m talking butter-tastic good. And the eggs were cooked very well–soft, with a rich, runny yolk–a great contrast to the crusty English muffin. A small salad of simple greens and vinagrette, plus a few pieces of seasonal fruit, cut the richness of the dish.

I loved the spinach in the Eggs Florentine--slightly "healthier" and just as tasty.

Drink: I really enjoyed my cappuccino ($4) while my mom and aunts got regular coffees and  treated themselves to Meritage’s Classic Bellini with peach nectar and prosecco ($8).


Service:
We were very happy with our service at Meritage. Our waiter was friendly and attentive–we always had a full glass of water and coffee cups were frequently refreshed.

Scene: We sat outside and had a fabulous time soaking up some sunshine while we enjoyed some good people watching. The old-school French music being played in the background will make you feel a little like you’re in a sidewalk cafe in Paris. The crowd was varied–couples, small groups of friends, one or two families with small children. I think this would be a great location for a first date. It’s casual, but special.

Dress: Jeans are perfect for brunch. Feel free to dress comfortably and casually. In fact, a couple next to us arrived at Meritage on their bikes in their bike shorts, and they fit right in.

Cost: My wonderful, generous uncle treated us all to brunch–thanks, Uncle Van! So I’m not 100% certain of the final tab. But, by my estimates it was about $25 per person after tax and tip. On my budget, it’s not something I could repeat every weekend, but without a doubt I’ll be back next time I have that kind of money to devote to brunch. After all, it’s the most important meal of the day!

If you like, try: Bistro Zinc in Chicago, Bon Vie in St. Paul

Feel like you’re not doing enough with your life? Wait till you hear about New Dress a Day

25 Jul

You know those moments when you’re catching up with a friend or colleague and discover they’re taking a photography class on the weekends, volunteering at the animal shelter after work, and becoming a certified Yoga instructor in their spare time? You suddenly feel like a bum.

Well, wait till you hear about Marisa of New Dress a Day, an incredible blog that I have to share. Marisa is undertaking a really cool project–she’s refashioning an old dress a day for an entire year, and she’s doing it for only $1 a dress (each piece comes from the flea market or a neighborhood garage sale).

After browsing through her posts, I feel like I can no longer legitimately go to my closet and complain that I’m broke and have nothing to wear. Marisa takes on what she calls “atrosh” dresses–’80s bridal gowns, bridesmaids dresses, shapeless XXL muumuus–and completely transforms them. Check out this winner from Day 149. As with each entry, Marisa starts by giving us a Before picture:

picture credit: New Dress A Day

Then she works her magic. She removes large and in charge shoulder pads, shortens hems, creates belts from leftover fabric, reworks sleeves, changes necklines, and more. Here’s Day 149, After:

picture credit: New Dress A Day

Check out a zoom-in on these awesome pockets:

picture credit: New Dress A Day

According to an interview on Independent Fashion Bloggers’s site, Marisa was inspired to start this project after attending a screening of Julie & Julia. She says, “I had just gotten laid off, was getting ready to turn 30 and was in a complete creative funk. I left the movie and was jealous that Julie Powell had found something to get her creative juices flowing on a daily basis. I knew that I needed to do something too.”

So far, New Dress A Day has given the world 238 refashioned dresses. There are 127 days and $126 left to go.

Marisa, I have to say that you’ve made me feel a bit like a bum–but you’ve also inspired me to get my creative juices flowing more too. I admire the creative commitment this project requires, and I’m inspired by the possibilities of recycled/green fashion that you’ve shown us. I’m looking forward to following the New Dress A Day project for the rest of the year. Keep it up!

Roasted Vegetables from the St. Paul Farmer’s Market

24 Jul

I’m back in the Twin Cities for the weekend and I brought my A-Game.

We started the day with brunch at  Meritage (check out the review)–their Eggs Benedict is for those who do not mess around. Then, after fueling up on hollandaise (the true breakfast of champs) we headed over to the  St. Paul Farmer’s Market.

The market isn’t large, but it has nearly everything you’d be looking for at fantastic prices–fresh fruits and veggies, breads and pastries, meats (cured, smoked, and fresh), cheeses, flowers, plants and herbs, honey, some handmade crafts, soaps and clothes, and more.  Most importantly, it has in abundance what makes a farmer’s market fun to visit: that great sense of community. It’s so rewarding to support local farms and families and know that the food you’re getting is really as fresh as it comes.

Here’s the breakdown:

I was surprised by the selection of potted flowers and plants. These annuals were $2 for one, $11 for 6, or $18 for a dozen.

Great for the garden.

I wanted to take home this lavender plant–it smelled heavenly.

There were also lots of lovely, reasonably priced flower bouquets for $5–quite a deal. But, if you want to beat that price, do your shopping at the farmer’s market at the end of the day–then, they’re an even better deal at $3-$4.  When you’re selecting your bouquet, look for a bunch that has lots of unopened buds in it. That way, you’ll get the most mileage for your flower money.

Great deal.

We decided to make some roasted vegetables for dinner, so we started collecting ingredients, beginning with eggplant, $3 for a carton of 4.

Next we picked up some carrots, a bunch cost $3:

Beets were next on the list. They’re delicious when roasted because their natural sweetness becomes caramelized. We found some yellow and red ones, $3 bought a bunch.

When you're looking for beets, get a bunch that are smaller in size--they'll be sweeter!

We picked up some yellow and purple onions, and then discovered some unusual, multi-colored Swiss Chard in red, purple, and yellow. I had never come across these before–I’m wondering if they’re sweeter than the standard variety–has anyone used them in a recipe? If so, I’d love to get some tips! Though they didn’t make it into our pot of roasted vegetables, I picked some up to experiment with later. Aren’t they pretty?
While we browsed around, we came across a couple of stands with some great samples. The one that stands out in my mind was the River Chocolate Company, which had some of the best caramel sauce I’ve ever tasted:

Dangerously good!

If you get a chance to go to the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, be sure to check them out! I really regret not buying a bottle. The flaw in my thinking was that the caramel sauce would counteract the healthy veggie dinner we had planned. But, I realize now that I failed to remember the nutritional value of caramel sauce…when you eat it with a sliced apple…or a bag of fiber-fortified pretzels…or a spoon…   Well, I’ll just have to make it my excuse to come back soon.

It’s now a few hours later and our roasted veggies are looking great. With a piece of fish or a marinated steak they’ll make a fantastic meal that’s fairly inexpensive–we got all these vegetables for less than $20. Plus, it’s so easy and quick to prepare. Just wash the vegetables, halve or quarter them (I like these larger pieces–they’re more “rustic,” as my inner foodie snob would say!), throw the whole batch into a big roasting pan, and drizzle with olive oil. If you like, you can throw in some garlic cloves and herbs, like rosemary, maybe. But, I have to say, the flavor of the roasted veggies–especially when they’re fresh from the farm–is so incredible that all you need is some salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

Oven-Roasted Basil Leaves: The Better Potato Chip

23 Jul

Thank goodness it’s the end of the week.  Time to settle into some sweats and watch the Twins.

Once again I’m behind (as I am with many things!) on using the basil leaves from our frantically growing plants–but, I have no energy tonight to make something elaborate.

Our super-hyper basil plant is a Genovese variety, but you can use any type you like for this recipe. Did you know there are over a dozen varieties?

Luckily, my fairy godmother, The Barefoot Contessa, has a ridiculously quick and easy “recipe” (if you can even call it that) for oven-roasted basil leaves that makes for a heavenly end-of-the-week treat. If you’ve never tried these before, it may sound strange to roast something that’s literally thin as a leaf. But trust me–the basil not only stands up well in the heat, its flavor is intensified even more.  Imagine the most amazing potato chip–deliciously salty and so crispy it has a lightness to it. Now, imagine that potato chip, but with the big flavor of fresh, sweet basil.

Oven-Roasted Basil Leaves (as seen on an episode of Barefoot Contessa)

Ingredients:

  • Basil leaves (I find you can fit about a dozen on a baking sheet)
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Wash and dry your basil leaves. Make sure they’re really dry so they crisp instead of wilt in the oven.
  3. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the basil leaves on the sheet and sprinkle with olive oil and sea salt.  Toss the leaves with your hands to make sure they’re well-covered with oil and salt.
  4. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 5-10 minutes (until leaves turn dark green and become crispy).
  5. Gently blot/drain basil leaves with paper towel. Emphasis on gentle–when they’re nice and crispy they can crumble easily.
  6. Plate and enjoy!

    I like putting an entire leaf into my mouth and eating it in one bite--salty, sweet, and so crispy!

Mad Men Countdown: Peggy Olson’s Office Fashions for Today

22 Jul

We’re getting closer and closer to the start of Mad Men season 4! To count down to the premier, goodtaste has been featuring posts focusing on the fashion styles of our Mad Men leading ladies. Check out previous posts on Joan Holloway and Betty Draper, and read more about Mad Men era lingerie and shapewear–the foundation of all the looks on this show.

Today, we’re looking at Peggy Olson’s office style. Discussing how she approaches Peggy’s wardrobe, Janie Bryant, Mad Men Costume Goddess, has said:

“She is definitely like that schoolgirl in the office. I do a lot of pleated skirts for her. It’s a little bit prim, a little bit proper, but there’s always a lot of prep going. I also love to design things for her that are very textured. Usually, I’ll do a blouse and a skirt. With her skirt, I like to have the pleats and the fullness around the waist. You know what, sometimes she’ll wear a sheet. I do so many different silhouettes for her. But whatever the silhouette is, it definitely always has the schoolgirl theme to it. In a way she’s buttoned up — not as a nut — but like she has a Catholic upbringing. I definitely think there’s a conservative nature to her.”

If you love Peggy’s “schoolgirl” style, like I do, here are some vintage and modern dresses to check out. Let’s start with one of my favorite “Early Peggy” outfits–this blue and black checked dress from season 1:


I especially love the tuxedo button placket up the front. Get a similar preppy feel with this darling belted ’60s plaid dress, $54 from flourclothing on Etsy.com:

As Peggy’s style evolves, we see her move into more streamlined silhouettes, though she stays prim, proper, and preppy:
This best parts of this dress are the collar and the buttons–two things that Peggy always does well. The side buttons in particular are fantastic–they really draw your eye down the body. This Asymetrical Shirred dress by Laundry, $169 on Zappos.com, is a modern update of this piece:

Great button detailing.

This dress does a fantastic collar, too, just à la 2010–the alluring asymmetrical neckline is sure to grab attention, as will the shorter hemline! Laundry updates the button detailing down the left side by positioning the buttons to work together with the ruching of the dress. Like Peggy’s buttons, the line draws the eye down.  However, the updated ruching detail creates a very flattering look that is more forgiving than Peggy’s dress–so, you won’t necessarily have to use any shapewear.

A sarong-style dress is another flattering ’60s look that allows for the pleats and bit of fullness that Bryant likes to see Peggy wear.  I love this one–particularly the graphic print and the flattering sarong-style tailoring that simultaneously narrows the waist while also gathering together a bit of fabric that creates some forgiving volume in the hips. You can get this  early ’60s day dress for $105 at Vintageous.com:

If you’re looking for a 2010 dress with similar sarong tailoring, but showcasing purple–The Color for 2010–check out this Diane von Furstenberg “Bec” dress, $345 on Shopbop.com:

Diane von Furstenberg updates the sarong style 60s look with purple--so hot for 2010.

So what will we see on Peggy this upcoming season? The show is entering the year 1964 and fashion-wise the mod-movement is gaining steam. I’m hoping that we’ll see Peggy embrace some mid-60s trends, like color blocking. This Courrèges dress is a great vintage example, $200 from pinkpoppyvintage on Etsy.com:

Courrèges is a French couture brand from the '60s. It's namesake designer, Andres Courrèges, is credited with inventing the biggest trend of the decade: the mini-skirt (though British designer Mary Quant coined the term).

A little history about color blocking: this trend was started in 1965 by a genius designer we know and love, Yves Saint Laurent. In the autumn of 1965  (so, a year ahead of this season of Mad Men) Yves debuted the “Mondarian” day dress, inspired by the flat planes of the 1960s canvases achieved by contemporary artists in the lineage of Mondrian. Here’s that famous dress (and you can read more about it here):

The dress that defines the trend.

Color blocking, like many Mad-Men era trends, is coming back into style. (Makes sense, because it’s so universally flattering!) If you’re looking for a 2010 version of this look, check out this short sleeve black and gray dress, $29.99 (currently 25% off of original price of $41)  at wholesale site Lightinthebox.com:

'60s sensibility with a bit of 2010 sexiness

I love the scoop neckline combined with the sweetheart-corset color blocking–it makes the dress sassy–while the pleating and knee-length hem keep it prim, proper, and appropriate for the office.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post about Peggy’s schoolgirl style–thanks for stopping by!

If you’re looking for more Mad Men fashion, we recommend this video link that let’s you can go behind the scenes to the Mad Men costume shop: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1119352258?bctid=29428617001