2016 - Oh, what a year!

2016 turned out to be the most insane year. Here's a recap.
January 1 - we throw a New Year's Day party knowing it is the last party in our big house (the week before we decided to list the house and move closer to my parents). Only one of our guests suspects that this is really a "farewell house!" party.
January 5 - our Realtor Extraordinaire walks through the door and decrees that we have to be market-ready in three months.
January 10 - David Bowie dies.
I clean and pack non-stop for the next month. Nothing else matters. I figure that I'll relax once the house is listed and sits on the market. Yeah, right.
February 10 - we list ahead of schedule. My sister-in-law says we'll be sold in a month. My friend (the one that recommended our Realtor in the first place) gives us 5 days. It takes 28 hours.
February 14 - we go house hunting on the North Shore with our Realtor Extraordinaire II (yes, we needed two realtors) and walk through Nine Levels of Hell.
We spend the next month in Real Estate Hell as the clock is ticking on our move but we can't find a place to move into. Words "rent" and "temporary housing" start creeping into the conversations. I am too tired and too stressed to filter my words and my son learns a whole new vocabulary in multiple languages along with gaining a deep understanding of concepts like offers, contracts, and bidding wars.
We bid on Pottery Barn Special in the location we want and lose to an all cash offer. We then bid on a place two doors down (Home Depot Special) and are forced to drop the process because the seller is a complete a**hole. We see another place in a location we're Ok with and bid out of desperation. Our Agent somehow makes it work. And then we see it in broad daylight during the inspection and I have a panic attack in the driveway. Never, never, house hunt in the evening in the middle of winter! Ever! Suddenly, the a**hole's agent calls and we're back to bidding on Home Depot Special. I instruct our Agent to do what ever it takes and collapse into bed. It was past 1 am when my husband heard that we got it, he wakes me up to tell me. I am so exhausted from the whole process that I don't even care how much we paid.
March - one afternoon, after yet another tense real estate call, I stand in my sold kitchen, look out on a miserable cold and wet day outside and say: This is Hell, and the Cubs will win the World Series.
April - the nightmare continues. The seller and his agent go out of their way to be the biggest a**holes in history. Just as we think we're in the clear, our lender drops the ball. The word deadline is apparently not part of their vocabulary.
End of April - I have to find new movers a week before the move. The principal of Danny's new school calls to personally welcome us into the community - highlight of my year so far.
April 21 - Prince dies. Everyone's suddenly into purple.
April 27 - The movers arrive with two trucks. For the first time in four months I have nothing to do, so I watch Furious 7 on my iPad until I'm kicked off the couch by a large guy the size of a fridge.
When the couch is lifted we discover a mystery stain. To this day we have no idea what it was or how it got there. I have to call for emergency carpet cleaning. The trucks leave. We attempt to load our car with what we think is just a couple of leftover items. I end up sitting with a huge flower pot in my lap and prickly cacti between my feet. The pile of garbage we leave behind is almost as tall as the house. (Don't worry, it got all picked up the next day, my neighbor made sure).
Closing day - as we pull into our new driveway, clutching rusted keys to our new North Shore place, a long line of white contractor vans is lined up along the side. I wave to my mom and she signals a 'go!' to the vans. For the 48 hours our Eastern European crews replace everything. And then the movers arrive. We don't exactly fit, because we downsized. I have 20 boxes labeled "dishes," yet I can't find a spoon. For the first time in our marriage we share a closet.
May - Danny instantly gains new best friends in his new school. I learn how to operate my car horn, a new skill, while driving on the North Shore.
Summer - we collapse on the beach and not move. We think we're in the clear. Since I don't watch sports, I have no idea that the Cubs keep winning.
August - Rio Olympics. We cheer, we cry, we watch Michael Phelps become the most decorated athlete of all time. 
September - I finally deal with the last moving box. The Cubs keep winning. Danny quietly starts paying attention to the team, we let him.
November 3 - We watch the Cubs win the World Series.
November 7 - Leonard Cohen dies. Everyone suddenly discovers Hallelujah.
November 8 - Election Day.
The day before Thanksgiving - since we live close to a fire station, the trucks go by our windows when they get a call. We count 15 calls go by (sirens and all) that day. I start wondering exactly what people are cooking around here.
End of November - we get out our prelit Christmas tree and discover that it did not survive the move. We decide to buy a live tree for the first time ever. It likes Sprite.
December 8 - I finally manage to release my second novel, A Shot From Afar. It's late by only six months!
Christmas season - our master closet collapses on itself. Not only do I have to dig out our clothes, but Danny's Christmas presents. He's so curious why I keep kicking him out of the room as I look for some mysterious items I don't want to explain, I end up telling him it's human brains in a jar.
Terry and I go see Rogue One and find out as the movie about to start that Carrie Fisher had a heart attack.
I spend Christmas suffering from a cold.
December 25 - George Michael dies.
December 27 - Carrie Fisher dies.
December 28 - Debbie Reynolds dies.
December 31 - We eat a 12 course meal and anxiously await the New Year. 2017, please be boring!

DMD Kitchen: Cranberry Sauce

I love cranberries. When I was little, I would see them growing among the pines in the Estonian forest, but in the summer they weren't ready to be picked yet. They were always so pretty - shiny and bright red with deep green leaves. Now there is always a bag of dried cranberries in my pantry and cranberry juice in my fridge. As I shopped for Thanksgiving dinner this week, I grabbed a bag of fresh cranberries and decided to make the sauce this year to go with our turkey breast. It's the easiest Thanksgiving food item to make, I don't know why some people are so scared of it. 15 minutes and poof! you've got gorgeous sauce on your hands. And the best part, it can be made in days in advance. The first thing to make should always be the cranberry sauce, just in case the turkey dries out or the gravy separates - there is a gorgeous and delicious sauce ready to save the day.

Cranberry Sauce.

Cranberry Sauce

12 oz bag of fresh cranberries (check the bag to make sure you're getting good dark red berries and none of them are broken)
1 large orange
1/2 Cup and 3T light brown sugar
Cold water

Cranberry Sauce.

Wash the cranberries. The berries float (call the kids over, it's very cool!) so I use a colander. Zest the orange, then juice it into a measuring cup. Your total liquid needs to be 1 Cup, add water to the juice to make up the difference. Bring liquid, sugar, and zest to a boil on medium-high heat. Carefully add the berries and stir. Bring the heat down to low and cook covered until all the berries are popped (they make a cool popping sound, similar to popcorn) and it looks like sauce, about 10-15 minutes. Make sure you stir several times as it cooks so all the berries cook evenly. Take off the heat and let it cool. Sauce will thicken as it cools. Put it into a very pretty dish, cover, and stick it in the fridge. Done!

The 2016 Vogue September Issue by the Numbers

Vogue September Issue by the numbers - Driving Master Danny

September - Summer's over, kids are back to school, mums are overtaking the entrances to the grocery store and Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte is secretly back. And so is the the nagging question of "Will I be able to hold the Vogue September Issue with one hand, or do I need to put my PSL down?" The answer to that is: Yes, it is one hand friendly this year. Somewhat.

The 2016 September Issue of Vogue has only 800 pages - a number they chose not to brag about by making it small and hiding it on the bottom of the cover. 

2016 September Issue by the Numbers
It is 1'' thick, just like last year (achieved by running a lot of ads on heavy stock to bulk up the issue)
Weighs 3 lbs (lost some weight)
Kendall Jenner's gracing the cover. Well, it's better than Beyoncé from last year. And her hair is dry. Groundbreaking.
577 pages of ads
2 ads for cigarettes
6 pages advertising NBC's Fall lineup
4 pages for a Dyson hairdryer. Yes, it does exist, and it looks like a wind tunnel got crossed with an electric back massager.
114 pages of ads before First page of Contents
671 pages before the First fashion editorial
720 pages before the articles
1 Kendall Jenner foldout, cleverly hidden inside a Dior lipstick ad featuring unrecognizable Natalie Portman
1 article on curvy models (not Plus, Curvy - that's as far as Anna will allow)
1 article on how the Pill is no longer good for you. Next year they should follow up with a guide to baby vomit-proof style.
Vogue's with Her by profiling Huma Abedin, Clinton's right hand (and politely glossing over Abedin's husband's Internet shenanigans). Of course, since it is a fashion magazine, they have to cover her fashion maturity from J Crew to Oscar de la Renta. 
Discover what a "slasher" (les slasheuses in French) is. The rest of us just call them "women". It's different than "multi-hyphenate". 
The 70s are back, flower-power rules again, and leopard discovered how to color its spots. Don't forget to over-accessorize, invest in a military coat, and grow a rooftop garden.

25 Steps to Becoming an American

Recently, I celebrated my 25 year anniversary of coming to America. I have lived here longer than in my birth country and I finally feel American. That feeling did not come easy nor was it immediate, in fact it took years to finally feel like I belonged here. When my childhood friends come for long visits and ask what it takes to finally feel like an American, I pour us a cup of tea (still) and share a long list. In honor of my 25 years, here's my Becoming an American list:
1. Learn English (seriously!)
2. Eat peanut butter.
3. Learn about 80s American pop culture
4. Watch football in the fall on Sundays. And Mondays. And Thursdays. And Saturdays.
5. And The Final Four in the spring.
6. Forget world geography.
7. Spend two years planning a trip to Disney World, don’t forget to create a binder full of coupons.
8. Learn every line to The Godfather and Goodfellas. Use them to make a point.
9. Stop asking why it’s “World Series” and “World Championships” when only one country is participating.
10. Celebrate Thanksgiving.
11. Never take a vacation.
12. Have a Starbucks cup permanently attached to your hand as you go about your day.
13. Wear a bra at all times and make sure the straps show so everyone can see that you do have a bar on.
14. Wear yoga pants all day long.
15. Never put ketchup on a hotdog.
16. Find the best spot to watch Fourth of July fireworks.
17. Mark your holidays with a Charlie Brown Special on TV.
18. Start your Christmas season in July.
19. Learn the Electric Slide so you can dance at weddings.
20. Get your news from Comedy Central.
21. Discover a great BBQ place.
22. Eat corn-on-the-cob.
23. Tailgate.
24. Go to a baseball game (and if you’re really brave, become a baseball parent)
25. Chant “USA!” at the top of your lungs during the Olympics.

DMD Kitchen: Paella

Chicken and shrimp paella.
I have been thinking about making paella for several months now. I’ve eaten the dish before at Columbia Restaurant last year, it was a complicated seafood affair that required a 45 minute wait (just imagine how many pitchers of sangria one can consume waiting for the paella to arrive). I think it was the saffron rice and the flat pan that attracted me the most. I finally acquired the pan about a month ago, however finding the Calasparra rice - the main ingredient in a paella - was a whole different story (Amazon to the rescue as usual). Let's just say I now have enough rice to keep me in paellas for years.

Spanish Paella

½ t Saffron
4C Chicken Stock
1.5lb Boneless and Skinless Chicken Thighs (about 3 pieces)* cut into 1 inch chunks
2 Links Spicy Sausage, cut into pieces
1lb or so Shrimp, peeled and deveined**
½ C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, chopped
1 Large Green Pepper, chopped
2 Large Tomatoes, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
Your favorite seasoning (without salt)
Salt to taste
1 Whole Bay Leaf
Fresh Rosemary Sprigs, stems removed
2C Spanish Calasparra Rice
1/2C Cooked Green Peas

*Boneless pork loin can be used instead of chicken
**Fresh shrimp is the preference of course, but sometimes (for those of us who live in a landlocked areas) it might be extremely expensive, so a really good frozen raw shrimp is OK. Just follow the package instructions for thawing it out.

This dish requires a 17 inch paella pan. Look for the authentic Valencia pan (they’re made out of steel, nothing fancy, with red handles). I got mine at Williams-Sonoma. High-output burner is also crucial, as you need to evenly heat the entire pan. 
Paella recipe.

In a small saucepan, heat chicken stock with saffron threads. Stir once in a while to evenly distribute the color. Cover and set aside. Prepare your mise en place. Season your cut chicken.
Heat olive oil in the pan and sauté onion, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes until onion starts to become transparent. Add chicken, sausage, and rosemary sprigs, cook until meat lightly browned. Add saffron chicken stock, salt to taste, and bay leaf. Carefully add the rice to make sure it is evenly distributed throughout the pan. Stir well. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes. Do not stir at this point. Watch the pan, if the liquid is starting to disappear add some water. Add peas. Add shrimp and stir, making sure shrimp is tucked inside the rice. Cook for another 5 minutes, the shrimp should turn pink within that time (give it a stir or two to make sure all the shrimp is cooking evenly). Turn off the heat, cover tightly with foil, and let the paella stand for about 10 minutes so the rice can absorb all the liquid. Squeeze some lemon juice over the entire pan, serve immediately.
If you’re making it for guests, bring the entire pan to the table and plate tableside.

Bon Appetit!

The Best and Worst Dressed of the Oscars 2016

Ok, I admit, I have been sharpening my tongue all weekend. But I was so disappointed with such a blah fashion performance at the last night's Oscars. It was the safe fashion of the Golden Globes again but with a different statue.

The Best Dressed of the Oscars 2016
Charlize Theron in Dior Haute Couture and Harry Winston diamonds
Once Charlize Theron stepped on the red carpet, everyone else was doomed. Her partnership with Dior is paying off every single time. 

All Chocolate Kitchen PRIMO: He had me at lamb!

©copyright 2016 Kate Brankin

It was about a year and a half ago when, after a delightful discussion of the menu for Danny's communion party we were hosting at All Chocolate Kitchen, I casually said to Esther Roby that they should just open a full restaurant. She replied that actually the space next door was available and they were considering it. I secretly crossed my fingers and wished her all the best in the decision making.

Best and Worst Dressed of Golden Globes 2016

It's that time of the year again: the Awards Season. The Golden Globes red carpet has been dominated this year by the deep-plunging necklines (there has to be a massive shortage of double stick tape in LA today), mermaid dresses, and hair pulled back so tightly that none of the women could blink the entire night and are now nursing massive hairstyle-induced headaches.

The Best Dressed List

Move over Matt Damon, the new Martian is Jennifer Lawrence! Not only is she incredible on screen, but she always stuns on the Red Carpet. Now let's remember that she's only 25 and we have another Meryl Streep on our hands. Dior dress, Chopard diamonds.

Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton. Absolutely stunning dress. Almost had her as Number 1.

Rosey Huntington-Whiteley in Atelier Versace. A tall glass of champagne comes to mind. And one of the few women that decided for a relaxed hair style. (I do hope she will change her name to Statham after the wedding. It is much more convenient!)

America Ferrera in Jenny Packham. The perfect yellow.

Queen Latifah looks amazing in the icy blue column dress. She has always dressed extremely well for her curves. (Melissa McCarthy take note!) Love the neckline.

Lady Gaga in Atelier Versace, Neil Lane diamonds. When will people stop expecting the meat dress? She is tasteful, classic, and elegant. And she learned to edit. Get used to it.

Kate Winslet played it safe in Ralph Lauren. Love the color!

Viola Davis in Marchesa. She looked stunning on stage when presenting. The dress moves quite well. 

The Worst Dressed List
This might be a longer list than usual. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams went Scarlet O'Hara route and wore dining room drapes, and Jane Fonda turned herself into a cupcake. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Cate Blanchett in Givenchy, as usual. Unusual is that this is a bad choice. Did her red carpet entourage include a designated dress-comb person? Her hair did not help the situation as well, but I'm sure her stylist was completely dumbfounded by dress, just like the rest of us.

Eva Longoria. Oh honey! This is a cute dress, but not for you! This is a Karly Kloss dress, as in one needs to be 6 feet tall and have no hips to pull it off. And it is obvious that the dress had to be hemmed severely to fit her height, yet it still dragged 2 extra inches. Probably because her stylist was counting on Eva wearing towering platforms.

Jennifer Lopez in Giambattista Valli Haute Couture, Harry Winston diamonds, and Jimmy Choo shoes. The Leg pose will forever belong to Angelina Jolie, so don't even try. And this color is not doing any favors to JLo's meaty thigh. There is a lot going on here, and it is all wrong. Giambattista Valli should be left to only one person - Mrs. Clooney.

Rooney Mara and Amanda Peet, both in Alexander McQueen (and same lip color!). Both a complete disaster. Was this a nod to the Jennifer Connelly's Balenciaga fiasco of Oscars 2002? Ladies, 2002 was not the fashion year one should repeat! I wonder if they share a stylist...

Katy Perry. No one recognized her with normal hair color. But then again, no one was looking at her head anyway. A lot of men had to pick up their jaw off the floor, and a lot of babies said: "Lunch!" Hats off to her plastic surgeon - the work is beautiful. Completely inappropriate for the Golden Globes. Oh, and she's got Spanx on, one size too-small judging by the binding waistband.

Melissa McCarthy. In a black garbage bag. Or is it navy? She lost 50 lbs, yet chose not to show it off?! She needs to hire Queen Latifah's stylist, because there are beautiful clothes out there for full-figured women. She's got beautiful shoes on and has very shapely legs, yet they're all hidden by the shiny shower curtain in front. (If you want to see someone even more ridiculous, look at the upper left: the fur lady takes the cake. And it was not that cold in LA that night)

Kate Hudson in Michael Kors Collection. Michael Kors is the king of American sportswear. Haute Couture designer he is not. Can't even call this a dress, it's just three tubes: small, medium, and large.

Jada Pinkett Smith in Atelier Versace. Another leg. Another dress that would be better suited on a taller woman. Good color for her, but that is it. And the green of the shoes does not match the dress. Bridesmaid gone wrong.

Jane Fonda in Yves Saint Laurent Couture. Cupcake on a stick.

Jill Soloway and Gaby Hoffmann. Is this a joke? Maybe they thought they were going to the Grammys.