Monday, February 23, 2015

The 87th Academy Awards

I really only care about the Oscars for the fashion. I rarely see any of the films nominated, and the ceremony is almost always long and dull. This year, I went to bed before the final awards were handed out because the thing ran 30 minutes over, and it was already past my bedtime. C'est la vie. But these were my favorite moments.

Best Dressed: Anna Kendrick or Dakota Johnson

This is a tie for me. Both ladies looked absolutely gorgeous on the red carpet in simple gowns with blinged out elements. I think Dakota's dress was slightly more appropriate for the occasion, but Anna had the whole package with the perfect jewelry, hairstyle, and makeup.

Worst Dressed: Felicity Jones

This dress was so horribly unflattering with the gathered pleats on the hips. She looks 20 pounds heavier than she actually is, and the color washed her out. Such a disappointment from someone who's looked great all awards season.

Best Dressed Man: Common

He inexplicably changed for his performance and win, but I loved the velvet jacket with the diamond lapel pin he wore on the red carpet.

Worst Dressed Man: John Travolta

That chain. No.

Best Moment of the Show: Lady Gaga's The Sound of Music Tribute


Girl's got some pipes. Also, I screamed when Julie Andrews came out at the end.

What were your favorite bits of Oscars 2015?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lately I'm Loving: Orphan Black

The other day, Adam said to me, "I miss binge-watching Parks and Rec with you." Well, hey, that's easily remedied! A quick flip through Amazon Prime, and we decided on Orphan Black because I'd heard it's pretty good and Adam loves science fiction. Next thing we knew, we'd plowed through the first four episodes.

The show starts out with Sarah, an adult orphan with a troubled past. Sarah sees a woman jump in front of a train, which is troubling, but even more troubling is that the woman looks identical to her. In order to escape her past, Sarah decides to assume the woman's identity, but quickly discovers that she's taken on a lot more than she bargained for.

It's nearly impossible to review this show without giving away any spoilers, so I'll just say that the acting in this show is superb, and the writing is interesting and whip-smart. The characters are messy, damaged, real people. Sarah is a bit of an anti-hero, but that's what makes the show so compelling. The suspense always keeps you on the edge of your seat (or sometimes hiding underneath your blanket, if you're anything like me).

Season 3 is scheduled to premiere in April on BBC America, but you can stream season 1 for free and season 2 for a fee on Amazon Prime now.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

South America Trip: Santiago

We had two options for getting from Mendoza to Santiago: flying or driving. The two cities are very close to one another, but there's a slight obstacle in the middle known as the Andes Mountains. We figured we couldn't pass up the opportunity to cross one of the world's great mountain ranges, so we opted to hire a private driver and make the journey.

This ended up being one of the best decisions of the trip. One of the benefits of hiring the private driver instead of just taking the bus was that we were able to pull over at various scenic overlooks along the way.

This is Puente del Inca, a naturally formed bridge over the Vacas River made of mineral deposits that have built up over thousands of years. 

That snow-covered peak behind us is Aconcagua, the highest peak in the world outside of the Himalayas.

Once we crossed into Chile, we had to go back down the mountains. These are a few of the infamous 30 hairpin turns that drivers descend in a two-mile span.

We were fortunate to make very good time. We sped through immigration and customs at the Chilean border and were at our hotel in Santiago by lunch time! Once we got checked in, we set out to explore our neighborhood, Providencia.

The building in the center of this photo is the tallest in South America. It's still being built on the inside.

We weren't sure what to expect of Santiago, but we quickly found it was a very enjoyable city. It reminded me of a much-larger Denver because of its location near the mountains and the generally active and outdoorsy population. There are a lot of parks, and we saw tons of people out biking and running. On our second morning, I took a run partway up Cerro San Cristóbal. Coming from Chicago, I was not prepared for running such a steep hill, but I was rewarded with this view.

Our second day in Santiago was our big sight-seeing day. We bought lots of lapis lazuli jewelry at the Mercado Santa Lucía before climbing Cerro Santa Lucía itself.

We walked down to Plaza de Armas, which was unfortunately closed off for construction. We saw the Cathedral there before walking to the Mercado Central and then to the presidential palace, Palacia de la Moneda.

For lunch, we tried out a couple of local specialties. We went to a local fast food chain called Domino for a completo italiano, a hot dog topped with mashed avocado, mayonnaise, and chopped tomatoes. (It earned the name italiano because it's the color of the Italian flag.) It was amazing, and now Adam is completely obsessed.

For dessert, we ate some mote con huesillo. This was being sold by countless street vendors, so we figured we had to try it. It's made with wheat kernels topped with peach nectar and dried peaches on top. It was a little strange, but pretty tasty.

After lunch, we explored the Bellavista neighborhood before taking the funicular up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. This was probably my favorite activity in Santiago. The views of the city were stunning from the top.

Taking it all in

At the very summit is a shrine to the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception.
Travel buds for life. (On my wrist, you can see my lapis lazuli bracelet I bought.)

We decided to celebrate Thanksgiving with happy hour. We tried the national drink of Chile, the pisco sour. Pisco is a hotly contested issue among Chileans and Peruvians because both populations claim to have invented the type of brandy. The main difference between a Chilean pisco sour and a Peruvian pisco sour is that Chileans don't use egg white, so theirs aren't as fluffy. Anyway, we had two apiece and were feeling pretty good about the Chilean version. Someday, we'll have to go to Peru so we can compare.

The next morning, we headed off to do some more drinking. The four of us along with two retired British couples made the 90-minute drive to the Casablanca Valley for a day of wine tours. The countryside was beautiful and the wine was delicious.

My favorite winery of our entire trip was Kingston Family Vineyards. They make small but high quality batches of wine. They use a lot of methods you don't see at other wineries because the cost is very high, like using stainless steel barrels instead of tanks and aging the wine in three different types of oak. Their passion for wine-making really shows through in their product. If you're ever in Chile, I highly recommend making a visit.

After a long day of boozing, we decided to relax in our room for the evening. We'd been reading all over town about this thing called Teletón. Our wine tour guide explained that it's a fundraiser for sick and disabled children, and that it's been going on for decades. We decided to check it out and got hooked! Stars from all over Chile and Latin America perform on the telethon and at a big concert on the final night. We watched several hours of the coverage that night and the next day. We watched it so much that we even learned the songs they sing! They ended up raising over $58 million dollars, including a few that I donated.

This is Don Francisco. He's the man.

Our final day was pretty rainy, so we stayed close to home. We checked out the Costanera Center, the biggest mall in South America. By US standards, it's not that big, but we had fun seeing lots of American stores and restaurants, like Hard Rock Cafe and Applebee's.

It was all decorated for Christmas, which made me laugh because it was 80+ degrees outside.

Adam and I visited the Museum for Memory and Human Rights and learned about the Pinochet era in Chile's recent history. It was a somber but beautiful museum, and I learned a lot about Chile's history and government.

We had a fantastic trip! We had lots of good food and even more wine. I learned a lot on this trip. I was surprised by how much my Spanish improved in just a few days. I would definitely like to explore more of South America after this trip, but our first journey to the continent was an unforgettable adventure.

Monday, February 2, 2015

South America Trip: Mendoza

We arrived in Mendoza late Sunday night. It was about 100 degrees when we landed, so naturally, we stayed indoors and drank some wine. Once the sun set, we ventured out for an amazing dinner at Azafran.

This was lamb chops with saffron risotto.
We selected a bottle of wine from their wine library. It's like the Beauty and the Beast library BUT WITH WINE.

Monday morning, we woke up ready to conquer the wine country. Our driver Javier picked us up at our hotel and we set out to tour and taste in Luján de Cuyo, the cradle of Argentine wine-making. Our first stop was Bodega Catena Zapata.

Before going to South America, I'd read Laura Catena's book to learn more about the wine and culture of the region, so I was very excited to visit her family's winery. We toured the beautiful building before having a tasting in the wine cellar.

We had a great time at Catena Zapata, and I think it's a must-visit in the region. We learned about their wine and the family, but we also learned about wine in general and the history of winemaking in Mendoza.

Stop #2 for the day was Dominio del Plata. We toured the facility before sitting down to taste. I tried a flight of Torrontés, a grape varietal that is only grown in Mendoza.

Our final stop of the day was a paired lunch at Ruca Malen. This was insane. We had a 5-course lunch. Every dish represented one facet of wine-making (water, sunshine, etc.), and then each dish was paired with a glass of wine.

This was the "soil" course.

We enjoyed this creative, delicious meal in a stunningly beautiful setting. Then we went home and took a nap.

The next morning, we woke up ready to do it all over again. We stared the day at Pulenta Estate. Then, we headed west to the Uco Valley to visit Salentein. The Uco Valley is between the Andes Mountains and the foothills that run along the western edge of Luján de Cuyo. We were rewarded for the mountainous drive with this view:

We toured the gorgeous facility and did a tasting at Salentein. It's obvious the owners really care about surrounding themselves and their wine with beauty. For example, the wine ages in barrels in an indoor amphitheater where piano and vocal concerts are routinely hosted. There's even an art gallery on the premises.

After Salentein, we drove to the Vines of Mendoza Resort for lunch at Siete Fuegos. Again, we were greeted with beauty.

We enjoyed a fantastic (and long) lunch of Argentine barbeque and Argentine wine. It was a very fitting way to end a great week in Argentina.

This sums up my time in Argentina pretty well.

Up next: we head to Chile!

Monday, January 26, 2015

South America Trip: Buenos Aires

About a year ago, some friends of ours pitched the idea of going to South America to tour Argentina's wine country. In November, we actually did it. We visited three cities (Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Santiago) in two countries (Argentina and Chile) over the course of 10 days. It was awesome.


We started off in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After about 12 total hours of flying, we landed in BA, where we immediately discovered the insanity that is driving. Lane lines are just suggestions. If there are only 4 lanes, at least 6 cars will squish into that space.  There are very few stop signs at intersections. People just kind of slow down and make sure no one else is coming.

On the first day, we checked into our hotel and explored our neighborhood, Palermo SoHo. It's full of cute shops and restaurants. It's rather appropriately named because it reminds me a lot of SoHo in NYC.

In the evening, we took a tango lesson. Buenos Aires is the home of tango, and Argentines are very proud of the dance form. Through the language barrier, it was fun to get to know a few locals and to participate in an authentically Argentine activity.

After working up an appetite dancing, we had our first steak of the trip at Don Julio. I wasn't wowed, but it was good. The vegetables were awesome! And we had a great time sitting outside in the gorgeous, decidedly un-Chicago-like weather.

We woke up the second morning to cloudy skies and rain. This was to be our big sight-seeing day in the city, so we grabbed umbrellas and set off. We toured the Teatro Colón, the country's main opera house. We walked up and down Av. 9 de Julio, the world's widest avenue, and through the Puerto Madero neighborhood.

For lunch, we sampled BA-style fugazzeta pizza at El Cuartito for lunch, along with empanadas. Empanadas were a big part of our trip, and I have no regrets about this.

That night, we ate dinner at Paladar, a closed-door restaurant in the chef's home. We learned about it in the New York Times. This was one of the best meals we ate on our trip, and it was certainly the most interesting dining experience we had. The husband-and-wife team who run the restaurant were so accommodating and helpful. The food was fantastic, and the atmosphere was certainly unique. Dinners like this one are what travel is all about.

The next morning, I took a gorgeous run through Palermo...

These gorgeous trees were in bloom all over the city.
...ate a delicious medialuna with dulce de leche...

This was my breakfast every day. Someday we will meet again, friends.

...before heading out to the outskirts of town for a day of polo. We learned the rules of the game while snacking on homemade empanadas. Then, we got to go watch a match. In between chukkas, we practiced our own skills with the mallet and made friends with the horses.

Oh, hello. We do this every day. This is our life.

After the match, we were treated to an amazing barbecue lunch and then played with the ranch dog's new puppies! They were only 2-weeks old!

Back in the city, we ventured to La Boca, the colorful neighborhood at the mouth of the river that's home to tango dancers, the Boca Juniors football stadium, and lots of stray dogs. (The stray dog thing is a theme all over South America, as we found out on this trip.) La Boca is on every must-see list, and frankly, we found it slightly terrifying and not very scenic at all. We high-tailed out of it there as soon as two stray dogs started fighting in the street. No bueno!

We celebrated our travel companion M's birthday with drinks at the Alvear Palace Hotel and dinner at Cabana Las Lilas. The service was very strange, but the steak was the best I ate on our trip. We sat out on the terrace with a view overlooking the river and scene in Puerto Madero. It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires was such an interesting and beautiful city. I appreciated that it has a rich history and culture of which its residents are very proud. I wish we had a bit more time there. I felt like we just scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. I guess we'll just have to come back some day!

View of the Rio de La Plata from the airport. Not too shabby.

Next stop: Mendoza!

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 Golden Globes Recap

I haven't seen the vast majority of the movies and shows nominated, so I'm really just here for the fashion and jokes. Here's a round-up of my favorites this year:

Best Dressed
Kate Hudson is recently single and wants everyone to know she's back on the market. I imagine that was the motivation behind this smokin' hot look.

And speaking of behind, hers looks fantastic in this dress.

This dress was tailored to perfection. I loved her simple hair and fabulous earrings, too. She looked like a movie star.

Worst Dressed
This one is so easy because Keira Knightley looked ghastly. I know she's a very private person who also happens to be a pregnant celebrity, so I'm sure she didn't want to make it obvious, but come on. Just about anything would be better than that butterfly monstrosity.

Best Dressed Man
We can't let the ladies have all the fun. I LOVED Kevin Hart's white-piped tuxedo. Such a perfect detail. It was modern without being crazy.

Most Talked-About Person on the Red Carpet
Amal Clooney. Obviously.

Judging by the gloves, I see that she and I watched the same Downton Abbey special about the manners of Edwardian Britain last weekend. I actually liked the gloves (which she reportedly made herself), but I kind of wish they'd been black. I loved the dress and loved her human man accessory even more.

Best Joke
This was Tina and Amy's last year hosting the Globes, and the show could have used a lot more of them.

They didn't hold back in their opening, going after Bill Cosby. One of my favorite jokes was about George Clooney and his begloved wife. "Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an advisor to Kofi Annan regarding Syria, and was selected for a three-person UN commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip, so tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award."

But the one that really made me laugh was about the movie Selma: "The movie Selma is about the American Civil Rights Movement that totally worked and now everything's fine."

What were your favorite moments last night?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Going Down

Recently, my puffy winter coat went kaput. I faced the task of purchasing a replacement during a very cold snap of Chicago weather where high temperatures hovered near zero. This prompted me to do a lot of research on the warmest winter coats. Everything led me to one source of insulation: down. But I had a lot of questions. What's the difference between real down and synthetic insulation? What kind of fill power is best? Is there really any difference between duck down and goose down? Are there any down sides to down? What even is down?

Luckily for you, I looked up the answers to these questions so you don't have to.

First of all, down is type of feather found on birds. It's a very light, very soft layer of feathers found underneath the tough exterior feathers. A down feather looks like this:

When down is compressed, the tiny filaments create air pockets that hold air and therefore, heat. Because of this, down is an excellent natural insulator.

The insulating power of down is measured through its fill power. In order to measure fill power, one ounce of down is placed in a graduated cylinder and a small weight or a fan is used to compress the down. Whatever marking on the cylinder the down is compressed to, that's the fill power.

Most down ranges from abut 300 to 1200 cubic inches per ounce. The higher the number, the lighter and more compressible the down. A fill power of 500-550 is considered good, 550–750 is very good, and 750+ is excellent. Basically, with a higher fill power down, you get more warmth with less weight.

Generally, the best down comes from larger, more mature birds. The larger and older the bird, the larger the feather, and the higher the fill power.

So, down from an old goose would be preferable to down from a young duck, though down from an old duck would be better than down from a young goose. When comparing ducks and geese of the same maturity, goose down would be slightly better.

There's lots of synthetic insulation out there that can be used in place of down. However, ounce-for-ounce, down is warmer than man-made materials. Down also lasts longer than synthetics, if cared for properly.

The one major disadvantage of down is that it becomes useless when wet. This is why birds have tough exterior feathers: to protect the down from moisture. Humans have water-resistant fabrics on our side. When buying a down coat, make sure the outside is covered in some form of synthetic water-resistant or waterproof fabric.

Most down jackets aren't full of 100% down. Even the most expensive down jackets, like Canada Goose, are filled with 80/20 down, or 80% down and 20% feathers that have been cut into small pieces. Feathers help to keep loft and shape in the down.

In the end, I went with this coat: The TNA Bancroft from Aritzia.

It has 80/20 duck down at a 675 fill power. It has a water-resistant shell and a faux fur ruff on the hood for extra protection from the elements. My favorite part is the fleece-lined pockets. So cozy! Bring it on, Chicago winters!