Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Excusez l'absence

I don't know why I'm apologizing. It's the god damned holidays, after all. But I have been absent and it is rude. Promises, sweet promises, though. I promise to update regularly. I promise to add more pictures (Santa brought me a camera this year!). Um ... what else? Whatever, you get the point. I'll tell you some stuff I have for you, then. Three fun, fantastic books that I have read and half reviewed. All Mad Men centric. A cocktail, created by my friend Ricky the Bartender - just for you beautiful people. A list of Los Angeles bars that are right up our alley (in a totally non sexual way - unless I meet John Hamm's doppelganger and then you better believe I am going to Betty Draper that in a men's lounge.). And some articles on clothing and accessories that men can feel a part of - I'm looking out for you!
For now, though, I'm going to the movies. Santa also brought me some tickets, so I'm going to get my Jeff Bridges on with some True Grit and then later this week check out my girlfriend Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Parties - Tiki Party (planning)

Mad About ... Parties

Depending on your age, a party can mean many things. In our younger years, parties are often spur-of-the-moment affairs; beer and Jell-O shots. As we move into our twenties we discover the joys of cocktails and develop a more sophisticated palette - hopefully. Somewhere along the line you, or some of your friends, will develop a flair for entertaining and parties become a little more intricate. And that's when things can get a little scary. Planning a party and then executing it can be quite a feat. 
The thing to remember, no matter your age, is that parties can be simple - even when they look extravagant. You just need to be prepared and have a firm grasp on reality. Everything isn't going to be perfect, in fact, somethings are going to go down-right wrong. But that's OK. Just have a game plan and relax.

The first thing you want to do is decide the Date and Time of your party. The "when" is very important because it dictates what kind of party you are going to have. And there's nothing wrong with planning the length of your party - in fact, it's highly recommended. This gives you an idea of how much food and drink to buy.
Next, the Location. Even though the party will most likely be at your house, think about what space you want to hold it in. Living room? Den? Backyard? Bedroom? Whatever you like. With this in mind, you can plan around the space available. But don't limit yourself! Have the party in a park or at the beach - the sky is the limit.
And now my personal favorite: Theme! I'm enough of a kitschy nerd that, for me, a Theme is "Tiki Party" or "Tea Party" or "Sex Dungeon Party" - you get the idea. But you don't have to go all out like that; something as simple, and elegant, as "Cocktail Party" is more than enough. Get as creative as you want!
You need to know the Number of Guests for your party. A good ballpark figure is fine, but try to get that number down. The worst thing at a party is when the food and drink run out well before the end of the evening. Invitations (more on those, later) are the best way to confirm who is coming. Just make sure you get a firm answer from everyone invited - it's perfectly acceptable to give a time limit to your guests, asking them to respond by a certain date.
And finally, the Menu. This includes drinks, of course! A good rule of thumb for gatherings is "finger food." Make it easy on everyone and serve easy to handle foods that can be eaten in small bites and don't need utensils. If you are having a sit down "Dinner Party", that's a whole other story. Four featured dishes (two hot, two cold) and a few bits and pieces are usually more than enough. But don't forget dessert! As for drinks, you'll want to chose a few featured drinks and then leave out some selected alcohols and mixers for guests to make something themselves. Beer and wine, along with soda and water, round out the beverages. Never play bartender at your own party - if you must, you can enlist a talented friend to do the mixing for everyone. We will go into this a bit more later on. 


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cocktails - Tiki Time!

In our first installment of Mad About ..., I discussed the fundamentals of dressing well: undergarments. Now it's time to get toasted and take them off!

With the weather so cold - and in some places downright gloomy - I think it's only appropriate that we raise a big, fruity looking glass and make a toast. Today, we are going to learn a little about Tiki cocktails - those glorious, kitschy love letters to the halcyon days of mid-century America. Though they have only been around since the early 1940's, the idea of these cocktails has endured for many decades. In the 1920's and 1930's they could have been colloquially known as "Panty Peelers" - so named for their potent combination of heady alcohol and sweet mixers that helped to  "socially lubricate" men and women of that time.

Tiki culture in America reaches back to the 1930's, but didn't really gain in popularity until after WWII when GI's came home and brought Polynesian  culture with them. Don the Beachcomber, widely accepted as the first Tiki bar/restaurant, opened it's doors in 1934 in Hollywood, California. Most of the tropical drinks we know today ("Tiki", or sometimes "Boat Drinks") were created by Don. Trader Vic's also opened it's doors in 1934, in Oakland, California. The two restaurants have enjoyed a rivalry for decades, stemming from the debate over who invented the Mai Tai - more on that later.
Tiki bars and restaurants enjoyed popularity throughout the 1940's and 1950's before fading away and making room for Mod, and then, Hippie culture. The mid-1990's saw a resurgence in popularity. Trader Vic's has several chain locations all over the world and Don the Beachcomber's recently opened it's doors again in Huntington Beach, California.

OK! Enough history, lets start drinking!

The Cocktails
I've selected four Tiki cocktails that are pretty traditional; if they peak your interest, then I suggest you get to Googling and find some more. Or, even better, go to your local book store and buy a couple of cocktail books.
Most Tiki cocktails tend to have more alcohol in them than a regular cocktail and are balanced with fresh fruit juices. But one of the most defining features are the lavish garnishes and extravagant serving glasses. Decorative ceramic vessels in the shape of Tikis, called "Tiki mugs", are the normal way to serve these drinks. But you can use coconut shells or volcanoes, especially if you're hosting a Tiki party. Volcano bowls, or "lava bowls", are large cocktail glasses with a flaming reservoir in the center. Garnishes include cocktail umbrellas, live flowers (instead of fake flowers) and plastic animals - but you can get as creative as you like.
If you don't have lava bowls or Tiki mugs on hand (what's wrong with you?), then regular cocktail glasses or highballs are perfectly acceptable. But it's fun to root through vintage boutiques and second-hand shops, like the Goodwill, to see what you can find. This is your chance to get creative! And, heck, you might discover that you love collecting!

Mai Tai
The granddaddy of them all, the Mai Tai is the most well-known Tiki cocktail and the reason for Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber's feud. Trader Vic claims to have invented the cocktail in 1944 at his Oakland restaurant. Don the Beachcomber says "no way" - he invented the Mai Tai in 1933 at his Hollywood bar. Both recipes are wildly different - Don's being much more complicated and using Falernum, a flavored Caribbean syrup that is difficult to find in the United States. There is only one active supplier in Seattle, Washington. Trader Vic's recipe is a lot easier and, instead, uses Orgeat.

Don the Beachcomber recipe - 1933
2 oz (or 1/4 cup) water
3/4 oz or 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 oz or 2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
1 oz or 2 tablespoons sugar syrup
1 oz or 2 tablespoons dark rum
1-1/2 oz or 3 tablespoons golden rum
1/2 oz or 1 tablespoon Cointreau or triple Sec
1/4 oz or 1/2 tablespoon Falernum syrup
2 dashes or scant 1/2 teaspoon Angostura bitters
1 dash or scant 1/4 teaspoon Pernod or other anisette-flavored pastis

Shake all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain into a tall highball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with fruits and serve with a straw.

The Original Trader Vic Formula - 1944
 2 oz of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum
juice from one fresh lime
1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 oz Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup
1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat Syrup

Shake vigorously and serve over crushed ice with a sprig of mint.

Both drinks call for some pretty specific stuff but don't let that deter you - a lot of these things can be found online and at good liquor stores. Another good bet is to become friends with a bartender. He, or she, can tell you where to get some of this stuff, how to make it and what some good alternatives would be. Plus, it never hurts to have a bartender in your entourage!

So named for it's perceived effects upon the drinker, this is the ultimate Panty Peeler (I just really love saying that). The Zombie was created by our beloved Don Beachcomber in the late 1930's but became popular at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Now, according to the original recipe, there are the equivalent of 7.5 ounces of alcohol in a single Zombie. For perspective: this is the same as drinking three and a half cocktails made with a fairly generous 2 ounces of alcohol per drink. 
Don Beachcomber was very protective of his recipe (all of his recipes, in fact) which lead imitators to create their own versions. The results were usually poor, but, hey, a drinks a drink! Today, many variations exist and information on the original recipe is hardly definitive. I think my favorite quote about the drink is: "The object is to get as many different rums as possible into one drink, like students in a telephone box."
After some light Googling I have found a variety of recipes - check wiki.webtender.com for a complete list. I went with the supposed original recipe from 1934:

Zombie "Punch"
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. Don's Mix
1/2 oz Falernum
1 1/2 oz. Lowndes Jamaican rum
1 1/2 oz. gold Puerto Rican rum
1 oz. 151-proof Demerara rum
Dash Angostura bitters
6 drops Herbsaint or Pernod
1 tsp. Grenadine
6 oz. crushed ice

Put all into blender, with ice last. Blend for five seconds. Pour into glass and garnish with mint sprig. 
NOTE: Don's mix is 2 parts grapefruit juice, 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup.

A quick word on "blended drinks": there is a time and a place for them and this is one of them. I may be a girl but I drink like a man and rarely ever partake in a blended cocktail. But Tiki drinks are just fine for this. However, if you just cannot abide (and I honestly don't blame you) then please feel free to shake and server over ice - I do suggest straining, though.

Singapore Sling
A drink not created by Don Beachcomber?! Tis true! This concoction was developed at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. A sling is a type of cocktail, usually with citrus flavors. Credit for the invention is given to a gentleman by the name of Ngiam Tong Boom. He is supposed to have created the drink sometime in the early 20th century, though accounts differ. 
Most versions of the cocktail, today, are heavily modified and may even be blended. Early recipes suggest shaking and straining the drink, you can do whatever you like. If you do shake and strain you can serve it straight up or over ice. But remember to garnish! Preferably with loads of tropical fruits and some silly plastic animal.

Official Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling Recipe
1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Cherry brandy
4 ounces pineapple juice
1/2 ounce line juice
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce DOM Benedictine
1/3 ounce grenadine 
a dash of Angostura bitters 

Shake and strain or blend. Garnish and serve!

Navy Grog
And we're back to Don the Beachcomber! In 1941 Don Beachcomber supposedly invented this haiku to rum. Rum! I love rum.
What I love about this drink (besides the rum) is it's history. Don may have cobbled this lovely lady together in the '40's but Grogs have been around since the 16th century. "Grog" is an all-purpose title for a variety of alcoholic drinks that, originally, referred to a drink made with water or weak beer and rum (rum!). It was introduced into the Royal Navy by British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon.
In Australia and New Zealand, practically any drink is called a grog, because those people are degenerates.

Navy Grog
2 shots of Dark Rum
1 shot of Light Rum
0.75 shots of lime juice
0.75 shots of grapefruit juice
0.5 honey
Top with Soda Water

Measure two shots of dark rum and add to mixing tin. Add honey and stir until dissolved. Measure and add one shot of light rum. Measure and add the citrus juices. Add lots of ice to the tin and shake well, until condensation forms on the outside. Fill a Collins glass with ice and strain the drink into the glass. Top with soda water and gently stir. Garnish with a lime wheel and cherry.

A quick note on shaking: it's important to do it correctly. You shake not only to chill the drink, but to make sure everything is well combined. Your mixing tin should have a nice layer of condensation on the outside and your hands should be freezing. How do you achieve this? "Shake the shaker as hard as you can. Don't just rock it; you are trying to wake it up, not send it to sleep!" - quote courtesy of Harry Craddock of the Savoy Hotel in London.

Start Googling around for more Tiki cocktails if this has piqued your interest. A quick glance at Trader Vic's menu shows the fantastically named "Suffering Bastard", "Scorpion", "Potted Parrot" and "Samoan Fog Cutter." I'm not about to leave Don the Beachcomber out! How about a "Vicious Virgin"? A "Dr. Funk", maybe? Or a good old fashioned "Rum Barrel"! Explore the possibilities and enjoy!

Fashion - Undergarments and a Good Foundation

Since the holidays are in full swing, I think it's fair that we discuss "New Year's Resolutions." We all make them and most of us go for some variation on "This year, I will lose weight." And then what happens? Maybe you join a gym and kick butt for a few weeks, months even, but work/relationships/life get in the way and then you are "too tired" or "too busy" to keep up. I've been there - multiple times. I know it's a real bummer; you get so down on yourself and all that hard work goes right out the window - along with your self-confidence. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you really want to make a New Year's Resolution and you want it to be focused on losing weight, I'm not going to tell you otherwise. Try to keep in mind what your goal is and why you want to get there.
Now, what the hell does all this have to do with fashion?! When you look good, you feel good - not exactly rocket science. And while a flat stomach and a rockin' booty would make anyone feel like a million bucks, it's not going to happen overnight. That takes time and dedication. What can you do in the meantime to give your confidence a little bump? Dress well, often. Preferably all the time. Think about your favorite outfit and how you feel wearing it. There's a little strut in your step, huh? Imagine feeling like that all the time! 
The very idea of "fashion" can be daunting for some men and women - and who could blame them! Flip through any magazine and you can see complex, but gorgeous, confections that I, personally, would never have thought of but appreciate to their fullest. And that's where it gets tricky: you see something and think "I would have never thought to put that and that together!" But you don't have to feel panicky whenever you step into a shop; all you need are the fundamentals of fashion and you'll be well on your way to looking like a million bucks.
My personal fashion guru is the fabulous Janie Bryant, Emmy award-wining costume designer for Mad Men and Deadwood. Ms. Bryant's career, and the road to it, has been solid: studying drawing and painting at Georgia State University, she moved on to fashion design at the American College of the Applied Arts. After school, she moved to Paris and then New York, where she studied under designer John Scher. Bryant found her calling after meeting a costume designer at a party; she began to work in movies and commercials in Manhattan. You're probably already familiar with Mad Men and the sensation it's caused - so have many high fashion designers. Micheal Kors (every one's favorite bitchy tangerine) based his 2008 collection around it, same with Prada's 2008 line.
While Ms. Bryant is most well-known for her exceptional use of vintage clothes, she has an excellent eye for modern fashion. Most of all, she knows how to combine the two - and I love that. 

A Good Foundation

Much like a building or house, you need a good foundation to build on. And the best way to get that for your body is to live well. Eat healthy and in moderation, exercise as often as you can (preferably 3-4 times a week, 30 minutes each) and take care of your body. But, as we covered above, that's not instant - it's going to take time to get there. So, what are we to do in the meantime? It's all about underwear. Like anything you put on your body, underwear should fit well. No bulges or bunches! It should be smooth lines for as far as the eye can see. To achieve that you need to take a moment to asses your ... situation. 
In Janie Bryant's fantastic book "The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men", she discusses defining your silhouette and dressing your shape. Just because we want to be a curvaceous Joan Holloway or a rugged Don Draper, doesn't mean that we are. It's nice to dream though. Don't get down on yourself - there should only be love. If you're overweight and don't like the way you look, you know you can change that. But instead of focusing on all the negative things you think you see, find some positives! It can be anything - your hair, eyes, nose, ears! Anytime you find yourself nit-picking, stop and focus on the things that make you happy. It's fine to acknowledge what you don't like - and then decide on how you want to change them. But don't dwell on it.

First Things, First!
You're never going to dress well if you don't know your measurements. So just suck it up, take out the tape measure and get to going. Even if you want to faint, don't. Remember how I've said you can change the things you don't like about a million times? Well, it's the same here. But you still have to take those measurements.

Start with your Bust: Loop the tape around your back and across the center of your breasts. Be sure to lay the tape flat, but don't cinch. For men, this is your Chest measurement. You'll need someone to help out with this: raise your arms slightly and relax your stomach; snake the tape high around the chest and be sure to circle completely across the shoulder blades.
Then your Waist: You can find your natural waist with your hands by placing them on the narrowest point of your abdomen. (Your ribs are above your hands and hips are below.) Now use the tape to measure around that narrow point. Again, this is the same for men; you won't necessarily have a "narrow point" but use the placement of your ribs as a guide.
And, finally, your Hips: To find your hip size, measure to exactly seven inches below your waist. Don't forget to go around the buttocks and, again, no cinching. Yes, guys, same for you! A side note: for anyone that is overweight, you will notice that your hips measurement is a much higher number. That's OK, your booty is a little extra juicy and you may have a tummy going on there. This number will change when you lose weight - so keep up the measurements! 

(A side not for men: if you don't have a tape measure or just don't want to do this, then I highly suggest shaking a tail feather and going to a tailor. Or a good department store that has a suit section. Or a suit shop. Anywhere there will be a gentleman with a tape measure is where you want to go. Plus, this will give you a leg up for when I discuss suits!)

Jot down these measurements because you will want them on hand when you are shopping. Ms. Bryant suggests using a little notebook to record all this info. 

Four Basic Body Types
We are all beautiful snowflakes, different and fantastic in every way! But that doesn't mean we don't fit certain body types. Again, when you're overweight it can be a little difficult to pin-point which type your body best fits. Try to make the best decision - there are certain traits that are undeniable to each body type and you will notice them on yourself. Just make sure to re-asses your type once you've lost weight!

The Delicious Apple
As an apple, you tend to carry most of your weight in your midsection. This tends to make you look shorter and wider if you don't counteract the proportions. 
Your Objective: to minimize the midsection and draw eyes to other parts of your body.

The Succulent Pear
The pear-shaped body is just as it sounds - like a pear. Most of your weight is carried below the waist-line. Your shoulders tend to be narrow and you may have a smaller bust and slim midriff. This body type isn't as common in men, but it can happen!
Your Objective: detract from the hips and focus on arms and shoulders.

The Slim Ruler
Most women with this body type consider themselves to be "athletic" or "lean." And that's fair. But the basic idea is that you are straight up-and-down and slim. While you may not have a rack that rivals Jane Russel's, you do have a shape that mirrors most runway models and that allows you to wear just about anything. This body type is more common in men and is often referred to being "A Guy."
Your Objective: create some contours and add femininity by accentuating the waist. This isn't as big of an issue for men.

The Curvy Hourglass
What most women wish they could look like! Delicious, symmetrical curves with an exaggerated bust and hip line would be a good description, yes? This is probably the rarest male body type, so you guys out there may not find this a problem.
Your Objective: show of that narrow waist and emphasize that sexy silhouette! 

Don't Be Shy!

For a lot of women (and even men) the idea of a girdle is terrifying. Plus, it conjures the thought of defeat. Not so! A girdle is an important part of that foundation we were talking about. Even if you are slim and in great shape, a girdle can be very useful - it smooths out the lines of your body and gives your clothes a nice surface to lay on. They are also great for getting rid of those dreaded panty lines. A two-piece set is fine, though you probably want to invest in a full-slip for occasions that call for a dress. 
When it comes to bras, well ... let's just say that most of the female population (you know, the people that wear the damned things) has no idea what's going on. Your best bet is to just go to a department store or lingerie shop and have a sales associate measure you. If you'd rather do that at home, here are some suggestions:

How to measure yourself:
Band Measurement - You can start by measuring your rib cage under your breasts. Double-check by wrapping the tape measure snugly around your back, under your arms, and across the top of your chest. This helps give you the best indication of your band size because your rib cage expands and contracts when you breath. 
Cup Measurement - Keep your bra on and wrap a measuring tape around your back and across the fullest part of your bust. Make sure to take a gentle measurement - don't cinch or tie a knot. 
Now you have to do a little math ... subtract your band measurement from your cup measurement. If the difference is:
1 inch = A cup
2 inches = B cup
3 inches = C cup
4 inches = D cup
5 inches = DD cup
6 inches = DDD cup

Cup measurement = 39
Band measurement = 36
3-inch difference = size 36C

The Only Bras You'll Need*
Balconette bra - this is an under wire bra modeled after the demi bra. It works overtime by uplifting and slightly compressing the bust to create a shelf of cleavage. I also call it "The Hunting Bra." It's perfect for plunging or open necklines and causing traffic accidents. 
T-shirt bra - a seamless undergarment made of microfiber that is invisible under clingy fabrics, including cotton tees - hence the name. You don't have to sacrifice sex for comfort here, look for a bust enhancing version or push up. That will get the job done.
Strapless bra - this is essential for wearing anything strapless, of course. But I also recommend these for tank tops - nothing worse than an errant bra strap. And don't forget to buy one cup size smaller to ensure that everything stays put and you are provided with the proper support.
*I suppose you will want to invest in a good sports bra, something that offers support and comfort.

Make sure you have well fitting underwear, too! Just because your new full-body girdle will smooth out those lines doesn't mean you should have ratty, ill-fitting underwear. You want to feel good in every way and that includes comfort. Go through your lingerie drawer and get rid of underwear that has shot elastic, fraying, holes or just doesn't fit any more. Same goes for your bras.

Hey Guys, I Didn't Forget About You

All this talk about girdles and bras and what-not is probably freaking you out. Not to worry, you don't have to wear any of those things! Just make sure you also have well fitting underwear and that none of it has stains. If you wear dress shirts to work (bless you!), make sure you have a clean white under shirt beneath it. This will help keep a clean line and prevent any pit stains on your dress shirt. 
That covers the basics but if you want to go the extra mile (and, really, shouldn't you? Your lady friend is wearing a girdle for Pete's sake!) please consider: socks. Yes, socks. Often over-looked, socks are an important part of a man's wardrobe. Since men tend to wear shoes and socks more than women, the socks should be of a good quality. Wear comfortable and breathable socks - there's no point in stinking up the feet when you're trying to look and feel your best. Cotton is always a good choice.
As for fashion, the question of "to flair or not to flair" is up to the individual. On a day-to-day basis you probably want to wear a color that coordinates with the trouser, but don't get matchy-matchy. If you're wearing khaki, look for something in a navy or forest green. But throwing some color in makes an excellent impression. You can go as simple as wearing socks that pick up a color in a tie or dress shirt you're wearing. Or, you can be a "fashion rebel" and go splashier. A red sock with black slacks? Why not! If it was good enough for Fred Astaire, it's good enough for you.

So, we've covered the basics - the foundations. Asses what you have to work with and find what you love about it. Take your measurements and figure out what your body shape is - this will make shopping for undergarments and clothes much easier. Find the right undergarments for you and buy comfortable, quality, and good-looking pieces. And, men? This all applies to you too! Clean undergarments - no ifs, ands, or buts. Your goal is to achieve a clean line and smooth canvas for whatever you chose to wear, but you also want to feel fantastic. When you feel good, you look good!

The next fashion installment will cover finding your personal style! Now, go shopping!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mas, Que Nada

Since this is the first post, it is, appropriately, about nothing. But I forge ahead and run my Internet mouth, nonetheless. So, basically, if you are a fan of the television show Mad Men or have a passion for mid-century and 1960's American design, fashion, food, drinks, pop culture, etc. you have come to the right place. I adore these things and mourn the fact that we have, as a society, moved away from those salad days.
I think we were oddly naive at the time. There was a lot of social change and, as a nation, we were marching forward into our 'teens. Fashion began to change radically. Food was becoming more adventurous. Cocktails ... well, there were a lot of cocktails. It was a fascinating time. I look at it fondly and strive to incorporate as much of it into my daily life as I can.
Bypassing all the racism and sexism, you can see the appeal. Not that any of that didn't exist, nor am I excusing any of it. As glamorous as Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks make the time look, there was an ugly side. We are fortunate to be a little more conscious of these things. Each day we chose to not be pigs to our fellow man (and woman) and I think we can elaborate on that by pulling from the more genteel aspects of life in that time.
Our society is woefully loose with etiquette. "Women's Lib" is one thing, but there's nothing wrong with a chivalrous man. And ladies, it can be very empowering to full accept your femininity. It's the one weapon we do not share with men. And men, dressing like a man can be very persuasive. I think you know what I mean.

Well, my glass of wine is almost empty, so I think I'll wrap this up. You probably have a good grasp on what I want to accomplish here, so my job is done. Cheers.