Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2016 Backyard "Before"

As anyone who has ever spent more than 30 seconds with me knows, I hate winter. Specifically, I hate being cold, being snowed in and wondering whether or not our plans will be scotched because of weather. I have to admit that this has been the most painless winter I can remember, but I'm still glad it's (mostly) over. I'm turning my attention to our backyard and making plans for cookouts, gardening and more and I can see that we have a lot of work to do. The last couple of years I've pretty much neglected it entirely, since I was so busy, but this year I'm turning over a new leaf. I want to plant veggies, in addition the herbs we always grow, and I want to create a nice outdoor seating area on the now mainly empty deck, complete with mosquito protection. The witch hazel shrubs, which are completely dead right now, will fill in and give us privacy and you can just barely detect the irises in the back corner, which are beginning to come to life.

Here's what it looks like now:

I hope to be able to show progress very soon! I have to admit to still being traumatized from our powder room renovation last fall, but I'm gung ho for this!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Cancun Cooking Class And Yucatecan Easter Feast

We're back from a week in Cancun, where we quite unexpectedly took a cooking class, and which turned out to be one of the true highlights of the trip! It also came at a very good time, since Easter was the day after we landed. What a great opportunity to test our new skills!

First, the class:
When we arrived my family had already been there for a week and mentioned that a cooking class had been added to the many excursions on offer. I was torn. We were on vacation and who willingly takes classes when they could be laying on the beach? However, I also love a cooking class. It had been described to us as "all day," furthering my skepticism. When we saw a brochure we learned that it was taught by a chef in her home and it looked very laid back, plus it featured tequila! What did we have to lose besides a little sun time? We were in!

We were taken by shuttle to a gorgeous home in downtown Cancun, headquarters of Can Cook In Cancun and Chef Claudia, our teacher, and greeted with a beautiful continental breakfast and Mexican coffee on the patio.

There were too many wonderful aspects of the day to list them all, but we learned to make many dishes, which you'll see replicated for Easter below, met some lovely people, and developed a further appreciation of Mexican food culture. And it was wonderful to eat such a fabulous meal in an elegantly casual home setting. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

Making salsas with Chef Claudia

Salsas! I love the habanero one, on the right.

Easter Dinner:
I think we did pretty darned well on our first Yucatecan dinner at home, thanks to Chef Claudia's teaching! I made Mexican Rice, Nopales Salad, Xnipec Salsa (VERY hot, which we love, but most people would be crying from the heat), Sweet Pickled Onions and Pibil Sauce. Paul smoked the ham on the grill with the Pibil sauce I'd made and we served sauce on the side, too. It was delicious! 

Dinner is served!

A little appetizer - it's always the right time for guacamole!

I'm so glad we decided to take the class. I'll be serving these dishes for years, although I'll make a milder salsa for company! If you'll be in the Cancun area and are interested in the class, click here to learn more!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Coming Soon: Our Next Music Video!

I'm on my way into NYC to get the song arranged for the next Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en music video! This is the second song on which I've (co)written lyrics (though most of these are mine 😏) and I'm so excited for this one! Our friend, the incredibly talented Ricky Ritzel, wrote the music and I'm dying to see what our arranger comes up with! We have a lot to do, but I'm determined to have it online by the end of April - stay tuned! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Imperial 75 Recipe

Last night on Periscope we created two new beer cocktails, which we based on the recipe for the French 75, a champagne cocktail. You can make the French 75 with either brandy or gin, so naturally we tried both, and I have to say that both were amazing! If you're a fan of craft beers I think you'll really love this one!

Imperial 75

1 1/2 oz gin or brandy
1/2 oz orange liqueur (I've been loving O3 lately)
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
Chilled IPA

Combine the first three ingredients in a single old-fashioned or rocks glass, fill with IPA and stir gently.

We Periscope pretty much every weekend! We're @VelveteenLounge. We'd love to see you there!

Making cocktails live on Periscope!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Can I Be Something Besides A Tortoise?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Specifically, I've been thinking this in connection to (no surprise) our show. We've already determined that one needs to spend money on promotion and we're really okay with that. All businesses need to promote and advertise. Why should we be any different? But there are many ways in which one can spend that money and that's where it becomes interesting and a little troubling.

Brands and anyone who might invest in you and your show want to see that you have large numbers of followers on whatever your chosen platform. Whether YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat or something else, they want to see that thousands of people will see their product if you're using or promoting it. Makes perfect sense. So we all do whatever we can do entice people to follow us. Obviously making great content helps, but getting that content in front of lots and lots of eyes is even better. But there is a less savory way of developing a following and that is to purchase it outright. Some creators buy views or subscribers from a number of online services that promise the boost they're hoping for. Suddenly someone who typically gets 100 views on an episode or tweet or photo is getting thousands or lots of new subscribers. Sounds great, right? Well, it's great until YouTube (or whichever platform) catches on and suspends your channel/page/account. I'm too afraid of that happening to buy views or subscribers, but I have to admit it pains me when I see folks benefiting from doing just that, while we toil, trying to raise our profile the old fashioned way. I wonder whether or not I'm an idiot and if my moral compass is just a little too strict? I'm not going to buy followers or views, but I definitely see why others do.

So we plod pokily along to the finish line. We'll be able to cross it with our heads held high, knowing that we did the right thing. But isn't there some legal, ethical way to speed things up at least a little?! Maybe we don't want to be hares, but can't we be - I don't know - roadrunners or something? I'd like to reap benefits while I'm still young enough to know what I'm reaping!

Friday, March 11, 2016

I Need That Aaron Spelling Magic

And by magic I mean money.

I'm wearing my producer hat today and trying to channel my inner Aaron Spelling in order to raise money to promote the show.

We're fortunate in the sense that our show is very inexpensive to produce. Our largest ongoing expenses are liquor and food. Often I'll make a dress for a particular episode, but that almost always comes in under $20. Occasionally we'll travel for an episode or invest in equipment (like the green screen stands we bought a couple of weeks ago and are loving - worth every penny), but by and large the production costs are low. However, we've come to realize that having the most fun, creative, informative show possible doesn't mean a whole lot of people don't know about it.

Our society loves to tout the idea that, if you work really hard and get people to watch and like your show, it will magically grow from all of the sharing on social media. One person will tell two friends, who will tell two friends, and so on and so on, like that old shampoo commercial. However, this is total hogwash.

We have wonderful, engaged fans who DO share the show, leave us sweet comments and approach us when they see us out and about. We couldn't be more grateful for them and their support. But it's not their responsibility to promote our show and even the ones who share every episode are only reaching the people who see their posts or tweets. It's not like Beyonce is sharing our show (yet). We need to cast the net a lot wider and that means advertising. Which means money.

Depending on which experts you believe, the average person needs to see your ad between seven and twenty times to take action. That means an ad placed only once, or even five times, is a waste of money. And Facebook will happily let you boost your posts or page for as little as $1 a day, but they also tell you up front that for $1 a day you're just not going to reach that many people. No, if you want to be a player, you need to invest.

I get it and I'm a believer. I have a very long capitalist streak within me and I understand what needs to be done. The trick is raising the money in a way that doesn't bother me. I want to avoid crowdfunding, both because I see a backlash against it lately and because I have issues with anyone feeling invested in our project. I don't want to feel I need to report back. That leaves merchandise sales and advertising. And you need high numbers of viewers to see ad revenue, which puts us into a Catch-22: we need to spend money to make money. So that leaves merchandise sales. We have some great ideas for products to add to our merch store. Those will also take capital to produce. It's all a gamble, which is the case for every producer who ever lived, so I'm in good company. So I'll continue boosting our episodes on Facebook and trying to figure out the rest but, in the meantime, I could use a visit from the spirit of Mr. Spelling with tips for producerly fiscal success!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It's Tiki Time!

We're having an unseasonably warm day, which means that, for the first time since last fall, we can enjoy a lovely libation in the Velvetiki Room without freezing our keisters off! I'm so inspired I created a new drink, which I call Early Spring!

Early Spring

1 oz dark Jamaican rum (I used Coruba)
1 oz brandy (I used E&J)
1/2 oz orange liqueur (I used O3)
1/2 oz ginger liqueur (I used Domaine de Canton)
3/4 fresh lime juice
1 oz orange juice
1 oz pear nectar

Shake with ice and pour into a tiki mug or highball glass with ice. 

Let's hope this fabulous weather keeps up!

Monday, March 7, 2016

New England Spicy Italian Mai Tai

Mai Tai purists are no doubt twitching from that title but, rest assured, we know darn well this libation, which we featured on Sunday's Periscope live broadcast, bears very little resemblance to the regulation Trader Vic's Mai Tai! It does, however, bear some resemblance to what we've come to call the New England Mai Tai. Old school Chinese-Polynesian restaurants in New England are partial to serving their Mai Tais with pineapple juice and a dark rum float, which we've replicated here, along with some whimsical new touches! This is Paul's creation - try it and see what you think!

New England Spicy Italian Mai Tai

1 oz dark Jamaican rum (we used Coruba)
1 oz gold tequila (we used Sauza)
1/2 oz blood orange amaro
1/2 oz orgeat
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice
Several generous dashes of citrus bitters (your choice)
Dark Jamaican rum for a float

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain or pour into a double old-fashioned glass with ice. Float rum on top and garnish with a spent lime shell and a sprig of basil.

Look for us on Periscope - we're @VelveteenLounge

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Baking Class At The Culinary Institute Of America

In my quest to improve my skills and make the “Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en” the best it can be, I take as many cooking classes as I can. The really great ones are typically pretty expensive, but I did one on Saturday: the Baking At Home: The Desserts class, which is part of the Culinary Institute of America’s Food Enthusiasts continuing education program. I enjoy baking, but it has never been my strong suit, so I signed up and was so glad I did! Here’s what the day was like…

I arrived at the Culinary’s Hyde Park campus at 8:30 AM. The extremely welcoming gate guard (he called me “young lady”) directed me to the correct parking lot and I easily found the hall where a fabulous continental breakfast had already been laid out. I grabbed a delicious concha and some yogurt and was pretty quickly stuffed. We were seated at long tables where it was easy to fall into conversations and I soon met several fabulous ladies who were there for the cake decorating class and a gentleman who was there for the soups class. It turns out there were many classes that day, including Mexican, Mediterranean, and much, much more. I’d honestly love to take all of them at some point. We were soon called and proceeded to our class.

When we arrived at our kitchen we were greeted by the frenzied activity of student assistants running around, preparing everything for the day, along with the site of a large box from Dunkin Donuts. Even Culinary students have to eat in a hurry, I guess! Our instructor, who clearly missed her calling as a comedian, arrived and informed us that she normally has all ladies in the class, so for the guys to not take offense when she referred to the group as “ladies.” I loved her.

I’ve learned in the cooking classes I’ve taken that most chefs give a short demonstration up front, but mainly throw you off the boat and see if you can swim. This class was no exception, although they DO have many assistants around to help you and our chef was extremely forthcoming and had a good sense of humor - always a plus. We started the day making custard for Creme Caramel, followed by chocolate eclairs, a rustic fruit galette and pound cake. Whew! I now feel comfortable piping fabulous eclairs (after several sad attempts) and am on the road to caramelizing sugar like a pro.

Custard for Creme Caramel

Our lunch break involved another lovely meal in the beautiful Farquharson Hall, once a Jesuit chapel and which still features ornate, soaring ceilings and stained glass windows, with a ton of delicious food and nice conversation with fellow students and our instructor. Being at the Culinary Institute of America, I wanted to try at least a bite of as much food as I could fit on my plate, so I finished lunch stuffed, but happy!

After lunch we were almost done with our day. We got back to our kitchen, where we found that our projects had been whisked out of the ovens by assistants. At that point all we needed to do was pipe cream into our eclairs, dunk them in chocolate glaze and box it all up to take home. Each student left with FOUR BOXES of baked goods! Our freezer now boasts plain eclairs, which only need cream and glaze and which I’ll make for a special brunch, an entire apple galette and a mini pound cake. I’ll be sending a bunch of completed eclairs to work with Paul tomorrow and STILL we have Creme Caramel and pound cake in the fridge!

I had such a great day in my baking class. I stepped out of my comfort zone, met some really nice people, learned a lot and am now laden with baked goods! I’ve discovered over the years that I learn best by doing, so I really want to do more of these classes. Books are great, but there is just nothing like trying new skills with an expert instructor around to build your confidence. Thank you Chef Kamen and the Culinary Institute of America! I’ll be back!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Rum Cake Pop Garnishes

I've heard it said, and can attest firsthand that it's true, that cake pops are addictive. They're so good and so little that it seems harmless to have just one more... then suddenly you realize you've had the equivalent of a large slice of candy coated cake! I recently checked a book out of the library on making cake pops and was glad I hadn't actually bought it, since it's the easiest process ever. There doesn't have to be any baking involved and you can wing it and be pretty much guaranteed of success. All you do is crumble up some cake (store bought is fine) and add some moisture (in the book they used frosting - I used rum, since I'm inclined that way) until it forms into balls nicely. Don't add too much - you want it to hold together, but not be wet. Then you add picks or skewers if you want them, then dunk in chocolate chips melted according to package directions or the candy melt pellets you can purchase at the craft stores. Then you let them firm up. That's it, unless you want to decorate them! I, of course, sprinkled them with edible glitter, since I sprinkle everything with edible glitter. They make great garnishes for your tropical libations!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Restaurant Planned Overs

Much is made of both the expense of restaurant meals and the fact that we as a society throw away so much food. I really don’t think people plan to be wasteful, but you can only eat so much before you feel like you’re about to burst and restaurant meals are just so large in many cases. Fitness experts often share the following as a diet tip, but I’m putting it out there as a cost cutting measure as well: when your restaurant meal arrives and it immediately becomes apparent that you couldn’t possibly eat all that food in one sitting, ask for a box and pack half of it to take home. It’s not only good for your waistline, it’s good for your bottom line. Restaurants can be expensive, but if you amortize the cost of that dinner over one or two other meals, suddenly the price drops right down, allowing you to order another lovely libation with all the money you're about to save! Those are economics I can get behind!

Pub meal at night, lunch the next day!