a.:.proper.:.fool

My great mistake, the fault for which I can't forgive myself, is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality // Oscar Wilde

a new blogging space //

pursuit

I’ve been saying I am going to move my blog to my portfolio site for some time now. And by “some time now,” I mean it’s been probably at least one year since I first said that.

Better late than never, I s’pose!

You can now find my blog, watercolor attempts, general portfolio pieces, and fancy button links to things like Spotify or social media all in one place. And, I’m a little sad to say, I’ve been re-branded. It’s sad! I’ve loved my “A Proper Fool” for so long now. It’s been with me through writer’s block, buying a new camera, moving to the big apple, and so much more. It’s seen breakups and new relationships blossom (even if I didn’t write about them, it was obvious from photos). Ultimately, though, I felt like the name was holding me back. It was always a conversation starter, but once I explained “oh, it’s from a really long poem by T.S. Eliot,” people still didn’t seem to understand that it was an attempt to combine my two loves — writing and fashion. And that kept me from writing at all.

I don’t really know where I will be going from here, but I hope to cover a variety of topics, from finances to lifestyle to the recipe for the yogurt face mask I’ve been using the past few weeks. And I think that simplifying will help me feel like I can do that. I also think that all of the space I now have to expand and share design work will be fun for everyone.

To all of my dear WordPress family — I hope to see you on Squarespace! And I will, of course, still be visiting your sites.

birthdays & reflections //

2Yesterday, I turned 24. And honestly, I feel a little bit weird about it. I can remember when I was in the sixth grade and I couldn’t even comprehend what it would be like to be in HIGH SCHOOL (oh the horror!). Then, by the time I was a freshman, I couldn’t imagine what an 18-year-old self would look like — “Will she have short hair or long hair and will these freckles ever leave?”

Fast-forward to college. After transferring from one school to the next, with transferring to Auburn on the horizon, I had no idea what it would be like post-graduation. I mean, what does a semi-adult even do, other than slowly begin paying ones’ own bills, stock more than cheese and cheap beer in the fridge, and maybe travel. You prepare for four years for a job that may not be existent and you study as if you’re actually going to remember the single statistics course you took. 

So yesterday, I woke up with the strangest feeling. This is my first semi-adult year, post-college. So what is looming in an unimaginable space? Well, I’ll be 25 next year. And if I still had a car, I’d most definitely be excited for the cheaper car insurance. I will be able to rent a car without a “you’re too young!” fee, and I vaguely remember someone saying that you can’t go on a cruise alone until you’re 25 (is that really a thing?). Those all seem rather mundane to me. 23 was a big year — I interned in the Big Apple, I graduated college, I moved to NYC, I have one of those humans that wants to be “steady” (yes, this is the 1950’s) with me, and I am slowly learning that heels are something to sit in, not actually walk in. So before I’m 25, I have some goals — there’s a really  long list after the photos.

Photo timeline1 I don’t know what I was thinking about age as a baby, but those sunglasses are fabulous. My early teen years were filled with too much eyeliner, very 2000s styling, and really moody photos. 3 New Year’s Eve 2009, in a Kelsey sandwich. 4 March 2011, Allison and I were local fashion designers. Sometime in 2012, Nadene, Alyssa, and I. photo (29) photo (30) 18462_226310933181_4587663_nrt0_0627 Photo on 2012-05-09 at 17.07

I’ve decided that prior to 25, I need a miniature bucket list. You know, 25 things to do pre-quarter-life crisis. And here it goes:

  1. I know I’ve been saying this for a long time, and it’s really quite embarrassing that I still haven’t done it — read Wuthering HeightsIt has, rather shamefully, been on my Goodreads “currently reading” list since 2012.
  2. Go to a film festival — even a small one. Maybe I’ll plan to see a few movies at the Lincoln Center this year!
  3. Put $1,000 in my savings account. Really, I just want to see the three nice little zeros, hanging out together.
  4. Pay off my credit card bill. While it’s definitely not an unmanageable number, it isn’t exactly adding to my life right now. So I’m going to get rid of it.
  5. Build my design portfolio (Donnie is hard at work on my website, as we speak!). Currently, it looks like a group of unrelated school projects. Because, you know, it is.
  6. Treat myself to a monthly manicure. Because if you follow the Wendy Brandes Jewelry account that I manage, you can see that I’m not the best at nail art. How does polish stay on your cuticles that long, anyway?!
  7. I recently saw Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief at a local theater, and am feeling compelled to watch a director’s entire collection. Whether it be Hitchcock, Woody Allen, or maybe I’ll just follow Martin Scorsese’s list of 85 movies you must see to know anything about film.
  8. Try at least three new foods (by region). There is an Ethiopian restaurant I’ve had my eye on, I’ve yet to try Lebanese cuisine (or not a strictly Lebanese dish — I’m pretty fond of Mediterranean foods), and my South American palate is lacking. Last year, I tried Peruvian food with Yoolee, but I didn’t go for the ceviche. Next time!
  9. I would like to generally be better at keeping in touch with friends. So long, excuses of schoolwork and general busyness. I’m finally settling into some sort of routine, and texting really isn’t that hard. I’m not really sure of how I will measure this. But I’m going to do it! I did finally send Yoolee and Sara their packages, but poor Alyssa’s very belated birthday card is still on my desk…
  10. Take a trip to Nashville that is more than 12 hours long — yes, Allison and Roger, that is on my to-do list!
  11. Maybe this is the year that I’ll actually get my Bonnaroo photos developed! Only two years late. There’s really something more fun about developing photos late. Or am I the only one who feels that way?
  12. Take a bicycle tour of Central Park, thanks to Citi Bike.
  13. Go camping without a tent. Outside of the city, obviously.
  14. Dance more frequently. Whether alone, in a group, in public, or at home. Much like in this video.
  15. At some point in the last year, I got too busy to listen to music. How is that possible? I’m still trying to figure that out. Luckily, I finally started a Spotify account and have a pair of headphones permanently lodged in my purse. I’m going to make listening to new music mandatory.
  16. Go to at least 6 art shows this year. I have a couple of friends who frequent them, so this shouldn’t be too hard! That is only 1 every 2 months!
  17. Spend an entire weekend playing Diablo 3. And I do mean an entire weekend. Turn the phone off, unplug the tv, and just play video games. Probably this requires copious pizza orders.
  18. Make Eggs Benedict with the perfect poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. It is my all-time favorite brunch food, after all. (Photo: brunch at Maharlika, one of my favorite brunch spots)
  19. Get my own apartment! The roommate ship has sailed. I am getting close to being a quarter century old, you know.
  20. Practice my golf swing at Chelsea Piers — spoiler alert: I don’t actually have a golf “swing” per-say.
  21. [Safely] jump off of a cliff into a body of water.
  22. Prep my own fancy cocktail at home. It must have at least 3 ingredients and involve a mortar and pestle. This also means I’ll need to invest in a mortar and pestle. I’ve put off this beverage Pinterest board for far too long.
  23. Keep a wine journal. Because I’m really quite dreadful at remembering which wine I tried a month ago and swooned over! I am always a fan of Moleskine’s products, so will likely go with that one.
  24. Ride a segway. Even if only for a few blocks.
  25. A trip with my sisters, Kelsey and Grace, and my mother. Maybe Philadelphia? That seems doable between now and next February, I think. Who knows, maybe we can even talk Nana into making the trip.

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// ROK Espresso Machine Review.

So, as all of you know, my life basically revolves around coffee. So, when Whole Latte Love asked me to review ROK’s new non-electric, manual espresso machine, I WAS SO EXCITED. These days, I’ve been making fewer trips to my usual coffee shops and spending snowy days inside, with my own cappuccinos.

I will eventually have a video explaining everything about my process with a tutorial, as well as shots of the machine in action! But for now, these will have to do. For more reviews of the ROK Espresso Machine, check it out on Whole Latte Love. I used my go-to espresso beans, from none other than Mama Mocha. Her Brass Knuckle Espresso can be found here; but be forewarned, once you start ordering Sarah’s sweet and smooth espresso, you will basically be addicted. It’s like crack and you will have a hard time ordering any other coffee, ever.

REVIEW

There are so many factors when pulling a single shot of espresso: water temperature, coarseness or fineness of bean grind, pressure applied while tamping, pressure applied by the machine, freshness of espresso beans, and amount of time to pull the shot from start to finish. So, when I first read about the completely non-electric ROK Espresso Machine, I have to say, I was a little bit uncertain of its ability to pull a remotely professional-level espresso shot. The fact that the machine does not heat water on its own was baffling to me and I was even more concerned about the aerating mechanism for the milk. I was more than thrilled with the results! 

For my first effort, I made quite a mess. Honestly, that is to be expected when adjusting to any new machine. I was surprised at how easy the ROK Espresso machine is to use, but it should be noted that in order to brew espresso with moderate consistency from drink to drink, you will likely want to make an additional purchase or two. I wound up buying a burr grinder to go along with my machine. I also bought a kettle so that I could maintain a consistent heat for my water. But, with the machine ringing in at $200, it’s quite a bargain. Even with the additional tools, I spent far less than I would have on the top-rated home brewing machines.

I was a little bit disappointed with the type of foam that is produced with the included milk frother (the bubbles were fairly large), but I think that if you were to use a metal pitcher and give it a few taps on the counter after it is aerated, it has potential for making the microfoam required to produce latte art. 

All in all, this is the best home espresso machine I have used. Well, it is the best one I have used that is not $500-$1200. The external factors — heating your own water, primarily — can be a bit of a hassle, but if you do not mind making your espresso next to the stove, it isn’t a problem at all. 

The machine truly is portable. It is extremely light and comes with a really awesome tin container so that you can keep all of the pieces in one place and travel with it. I think I could/would even take it camping as long as I had a hot plate or something similar to heat the water. The fact that there is no electricity required is a huge bonus and keeps you from cluttering your countertops with heavy equipment.

Another bonus of the machine is that it is extremely easy to clean. You can run water through an empty portafilter and that removes most of the remaining residue left from the coffee grinds. 

My method is posted after these lovely photos:

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METHOD

Grinding coffee beans

Because making espresso can be fairly complicated, I really wanted to focus on consistency in the variables that I could control. I purchased a burr grinder that had multiple settings, was in my price range, and had decent reviews for home use (Krups GVX2-12 Grinder). 

Pre-ground beans

You definitely have the option of buying pre-ground espresso, but coffee has a fairly short shelf-life. So if you are going to buy pre-ground coffee, I would recommend buying by the half-pound so that you can maintain the great taste of fresh beans.

Burr grinder vs blade grinder

I was pretty adamant about buying a burr grinder primarily because it has adjustable settings. When using a blade grinder, the only method of adjusting the grind is by the length of time it takes to grind the beans. Timing is not consistent if you change the quantity of beans in the cup. With a burr grinder, the fineness or coarseness of the grind is not dependent on time or the quantity of beans in the hopper.

Heating methods

The ROK Espresso Machine focuses on the pressure needed to pull a shot of espresso. Originally, I was a little miffed by the lack of a boiler on the machine (you don’t have to plug it in at all!). But once I came up with a way to keep the water temperature consistent, I actually really like that I do not have to worry about finding an empty outlet in my already crammed kitchen.

Heating the water

I personally used a tea kettle for heating the water, but you can easily microwave a cup of water and achieve the same results. If you are going to use the microwave, I would recommend using a measuring cup or something that has a spout for pouring and heat the water until it is boiling. When making espresso, the temperature should be between 200F. The temperature will drop fairly quickly when adding it to the cool water chamber of the ROK Espresso Machine, so heating the water to 212F (boiling) was not a problem for me.

Heating the milk

ROK Espresso Machine recommends that you microwave the milk, but because I wasn’t sure of how long to microwave it, I heated the milk on the stove. The milk temperature should be 150-155 — at this temperature, the milk has a sweeter taste. After heating the milk, I moved it into a slightly warmed mug, where I began to use the aerating mechanism. It does create foam, but it does not create the microfoam you might be used to getting at a coffee shop (also the texture needed for latte art). As I mentioned in the review, I think that with a metal pitcher, you might be able to achieve a better microfoam.

Brewing the espresso

I would definitely recommend warming the machine before you begin brewing the espresso. You can do that by pouring boiling water into the water chamber and pushing it through an empty portafilter. Otherwise, the machine will cool the water too quickly when you fill the water chamber. Also, brewing espresso into a cold cup will make the crema disperse faster, so just let the hot water pour through the machine, the portafilter, and directly into the cup you will be using.  

Fill the portafilter 

The portafilter needs to be completely dry before adding the espresso. I used the same method for filling the portafilter that I would use while using a professional machine — fill the filter evenly and create a small mound on top, use your finger to push the espresso machine clockwise around the portafilter so that you have a flat surface on top, prior to tamping. While it is important not to over-fill the filter, it is equally important not to under-fill. Without even distribution of the grinds and a full basket, you cannot create an evenly packed flat surface. When the water moves through the espresso, you want it to seep through all of it at an even pace; otherwise, the shot will pull too fast and be under-extracted.

Tamp

The coffee scoop that is included with the ROK Espresso Machine doubles as a tamp and works well if you have used the correct amount of coffee. If you used too little coffee, the curved edge of the spoon handle will prevent you from creating a flat surface on top of the espresso. You should be applying about 40 lbs of pressure, so I would recommend putting something soft under the portafilter to keep it from digging into the countertop!

 Lock the portafilter into place

Add water to chamber

With the arms of the machine fully down, add water to the chamber. I added about 2.5-3 ounces of water, which is roughly 1 cm above the metal line. No need to fill the chamber all of the way! I created a pretty big mess when I used too much water.

Pull arms all the way to the top and pause. Push arms down slightly, until you feel the pressure increase, then pause. Push arms all of the way down. Pull arms all the way to the top and push them down again. Voila!

I would recommend brewing your espresso directly into your mug of frothed milk, or a warmed espresso cup. This will help the espresso to maintain it’s flavor!

**this method was used to brew a ristretto shot.

// 2014, let’s do this.

NewYears1 Newyears2resolutions2014

Of course I could make 1 million resolutions to be a better human–to drink less, to design more, to make my own clothing, to eat healthier, to go jogging (literally my least favorite activity), to read more than 75 books, to spend less money on things I don’t need….but I think I would like to take this year a lot like I did 2012. I am just making resolutions that will make me happier, make me smarter, and don’t have astringent guidelines. Because everyone knows that I would only eat healthy and exercise until approximately March before I broke into a McDonald’s and feasted on fifteen cheeseburgers.

Dear 2014, let’s be content. Let’s dance when we want and let’s eat more cheese than should be allowed and let’s have wine with friends (both old and new) and let’s read things that are great and also those that aren’t. Let’s have coffee and work on perfecting the at-home cappuccino and let’s enjoy every step of the grueling process of building a portfolio. And let’s visit new places full of new memories. Let’s just do it all and remember to help others when we can, and as much as possible. Let’s own up to the bad TV shows we are so fond of and let’s laugh at ourselves more than we laugh at others.

2014, I think I’m ready. To be an adult, to grow, to learn, and to be content.

 

// wishing & hoping.

wishlist 1 – Humans of New York for my coffee table! I have been following the blog, getting lost in the mini stories about New Yorkers for quite some time. Available here and here for a tad cheaper.

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2 – I am so so so excited to let you all know that I will be an official reviewer for the ROK Espresso Machine! The machine is made from engine-grade metal, doesn’t need to be plugged into anything, and uses pressure to create the perfect espresso. I’ve been shopping around NYC for the perfect beans to try out in the machine, but I think I’ll have to go with ordering my all-time fave online: Mama Mocha’s Brass Knuckle Espresso. Sarah, an order will be coming your way! Expect something really wordy, lots of photos, and a video tutorial at the start of the upcoming year.

3 – I am constantly battling wet and/or cold feet. If it isn’t pouring rain in the summer while I’m running late for work and toting 12 lbs of things I don’t really need, it is snowing and my tried-and-true wool + cotton sock combo just isn’t cutting it. Therefore, I started searching for a good rainy-day, all year option. You know, something that would allow thick sock-wearing and completely waterproof soles. Dear Sorel, you are officially my solemate. I’m pretty torn between the Medina pair (pictured above) and the Joan of Arctic Wedge.

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4 – Generally, I opt for more classic colors/silhouettes when buying bags. But after using my mustard yellow thrifty TJ Maxx find over the last couple of months, all I want is a bring bag to make my outfits pop. Botkier, a relative newcomer to the accessories world, has caught my eye. The leather, the occasional use of tassels… but mostly, the colors! The tri-color HONORE crossbody bag, the VALENTINA shoulder bag, and my all-time favorite, the LEGACY small satchel (pictured above). Can we just talk about how the listed color is “persimmon”?! Love.

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5 – I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao this past summer and was a huge fan of Junot Diaz’s intricate storytelling and inter-weaving narratives. When I was browsing Barnes and Noble recenty, I came across This Is How You Lose Her, which I will definitely be picking up for my long trip home (flying to AL, but driving to NYC just in time for NYE!).

6 – For the past week, I have had the WENDYB NINJA Letter Necklace in my possession. So that I could photograph it for Instagram/wear it around town. Fifteen real-life compliments and approximately two Instagram photos later, I returned the NINJA Necklace to Wendy. And now I feel lost without it. It is dainty in size, but the letters stand-out from across the room (or so I was told by the anonymous complimenters). If I don’t go the NINJA route, I’ll probably opt for the IDGAF. Self-explanatory.

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Other things that made my perfect for anyone gift list:

- Heavy duty socks from J. Crew.

- A completely waterproof rain cape from Terra NY.

- I’ve been eyeing this Loyalty & Blood sweatshirt for an entire year ago and am pretty sure all of my closest friends have been doing the same thing.

- This dachshund Chanel t-shirt is too funny.

- A great felt hat, found at SWELL.

- I am a huge proponent of gifts that give; this year, I’m spotlighting charity: water.

- If you haven’t checked out Ten Thousand Villages yet, scoot on over and get these Log Cabin Gloves.

// feathers & lace & tulle all over — enter the world of Gaultier.

I have been meaning to post these photos for a few weeks now (sorry, Bethany!). Per usual, I uploaded them, forgot they were already floating around in my draft folder, promptly deleted the photos from my camera, and assumed they were lost forever. Alas, they were not. And now I can gush over the inspirational magic found in the Brooklyn Museum’s Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit.

Upon entering the exhibit, you are overwhelmed by the crowd of people (if you went on a weekend), the mannequins that were displaying the garments, and the variety in the designs. Anywhere from mermaids, to the Middle Ages, to stripe overload, you see mannequins with blinking, life-like faces smiling at you, appreciating your visit. Initially, it was a bit creepy. Later, I would say that these talking, smiling, waving characters became my storytellers, as I oohed and awed over Gaultier’s constant boundary-pushing ideas.

Let’s face it–many people know Gaultier for his relationship with Madonna’s costumes. But as I spent nearly three hours completely lost in his world, I forgot about Madonna completely. Because Gaultier is in and of himself, provocative. Gaultier’s use of models that were bigger than a Slim Jim and his constant ode to the female form (whether it be in nudity or highlighting it with his impeccable tailoring) is a move from the norm, and it’s empowering for us ladies. Gaultier allows us to be whatever size we want, define our own sexuality, and if we want to traipse around town in a cage-like corset because it makes us feel beautiful, Gaultier says DO IT. He is also a proponent of the non-traditional beauty & one of my all-time favorite materials: tulle. 

I most definitely will not be bouncing around Manhattan in a leather cut-out bustier, but you know what, I’m glad Gaultier thinks I could.

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// stripes & spots.

DSC_0005 DSC_0009 DSC_0012 DSC_0016 DSC_0031 DSC_0035One of the best things about managing Wendy Brandes‘s Instagram account–getting to wear & style all of the super cool rings. Jessica (the boy’s sister) was in town, so we toured the city while I ran errands for work. We stopped in and had dumplings for lunch, bought all of the acrylic display pieces we could find, came up with fun crafting ideas, & took photos of how I style the silver NYC Letter rings. There were multiple cappuccinos, leaves falling everywhere, and a determined hunt for the perfect winter hat. After our Sephora visits, red lipstick tutorials (even though I am wearing Revlon’s Just Bitten lip stain here), & nail polish mornings, we settled in for a night of movies.

 

// Roosevelt Island.

The boy and I had a lazy Sunday–coffee at Oslo on the Upper East Side, followed by a long walk to the Roosevelt Island Tram. And a first for both of us new New Yorkers–a visit to Roosevelt Island! There isn’t a ton to do there, but it was named after Roosevelt (Franklin, not Teddy), there was a small outdoor art exhibit, and a beautiful view of Manhattan. Did I mention that the Tram was simultaneously amazing and terrifying? I would also like to point out that Donald has perfected his “super grump” or Grumpy Cat impression (also known as the “Carodine frown” to mostly just me). We ended our leisurely afternoon with a walk through the changing colors in Central Park.

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// Outfit details / recent Frank Sarto ankle booties, found at TJ Maxx / Madewell jeans / sweatshirt was another gift from Yoolee / Kenneth Cole rain coat / hat, thrifted / bag was another find from TJ Maxx //
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// more late photos from Hannah’s visit.

DSC_0041 DSC_0042 DSC_0043 DSC_0046 DSC_0048 DSC_0049 DSC_0050 DSC_0051 DSC_0053 DSC_0054 DSC_0064 DSC_0068 DSC_0069 DSC_0070 DSC_0072 DSC_0077// Outfit details / Sam Edelman Petty ankle booties / bag found at TJ Maxx / hat found while thrifting / H&M sweater / necklace from thrifting extravaganza in Philly this summer / floral romper was a gift from the always great Yoolee! //

A quick trip to Irving Farm, before I put Hannah on the train to catch her flight home!

// nearly an Indian summer, and we walked.

Hannah (one of my friends from Auburn that also interned in NYC this summer) came to visit last weekend! We walked. A lot. We walked to the coffee shop, we walked on the HIgh Line, we walked to the #Eccentrico Armani Exhibit, we walked to Chelsea Market, we walked to Nordstrom Rack, we walked, we walked, we walked. Because there was just a bit of chill in the air–a light jacket and a hat, and you’re set.

There is something magical about being as close to November as we were, wearing light jackets, and warming up with hot coffee (or hot chocolate, like Hannah). The leaves were changing, the wind was blowing, we soaked up the last teensy bit of warmth there was…and we walked.DSC_0126 DSC_0140 DSC_0128 DSC_0086 DSC_0061

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