Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cold Brew Coffee

Unlike me as a tea drinker, my half (I refuse to call him better half :)) is a coffee connoisseur. He is the most pleasant person to be around with after his morning coffee. We tried our first cold brew in New Zealand, and loved how smooth it tasted. The cold brew technique is pretty self-explanatory: use cold water to steep coffee grounds in room temperature for an extended period time. The process took away the acidity and tang from the traditional hot-brewed coffee. Cold brew coffee is not to be confused with iced coffee, which generally refers to coffee that is brewed hot and then chilled by pouring over or adding ice. 
Picture above: Cold brew coffee from KoKaKo Cafe in Auckland

Starbucks started to serve cold brew this past summer. We tried it and were instantaneously hooked. Sadly, it was a seasonal thing so Starbucks stopped offering it during winter months. Anthony was devastated. Luckily, the barista at the Starbucks we frequented shared with us the cold brew system they used, and I immediately picked up one from Amazon to embark on our homemade cold brew journey. 

This is the Toddy Cold Brew system Starbucks uses to make their cold brew coffee. Unlike tens of other fancier options most of which look like sophisticated lab equipment, Toddy comes with three simple components: a giant brewing jug & a rubber plug, a glass bottle with an airtight lid, and filters. 

Starbucks used an unique blend of African and Latin American beans to make their cold brew, so Willow Blend appeared to be the right choice. So far we've tried Pike Place, Veranda, Willow Blend, and Italian Roast, and we both like the Pike Place the most. 

You can grind your own beans but we've been using the prepacked grounds that come in the convenient 12oz bag. Toddy system recommends using 12 oz of grounds to 7 cups of water to extract this super concentrated elixir. You would want to use a coarse ground otherwise the filter gets blocked easily. 

I let it steep overnight but you need a minimum of 12 hours. The yield supposedly would last you three weeks in the fridge but it only took Anthony a week to finish the whole thing. You would need to dilute the concentrate using 1 part coffee and 3 parts water/ice.

I even picked up this classic syrup to give ourselves a complete Starbucks cold brew experience at home. To Anthony, cold brew = happiness. Who says happiness can not be bought? 

On a related subject, I finally picked up this super cute and stylish SMEG kettle, and I love it! The best part is that it comes in this creamy white shade which looks perfect on my kitchen counter against the Carrara marble backsplash. So bye bye stainless steel kettle, miss you never. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Vintage Murano Chandelier Part III

I am sure you still remember my two previous scores of these fabulous Murano chandeliers here. Just when I thought there's nothing else that could've possibly topped that luck, I came across this genuine Novaresi Murano effervescent glass leaf chandelier on a local classified again! The seller said the chandelier came with the house where they've lived for the past ten years. They are renovating their dining room so they wanted to sell it. Their loss, my gain! The identical one is on 1stdibs and Rubylane for over $5000! Of course I didn't pay anywhere near that amount. The best part was that we picked it up the same day the listing went up which just so happened to be my birthday as well - one of my best birthday presents ever! 

The picture below was from the listing. For a light from the 1960s, surprisingly it was kept in a very clean and mint condition. 

I still gave each glass leaf a quick rinse in soapwater and air dried them on my dishwasher rack. When was the last time you saw someone using dishwasher to dry $5000 worth of Murano glasses? Well, thatsa me! 

There are in total 35 pieces of these sparkly effervescent glass leaves. They are so thick and heavy that I could barely hold on to it with one hand. 

I don't know what the technique is called but one side of the glass is covered by thousands of tiny glass beads to create this seeded glass/sparkling effect. The same technique was used in this impressive three-tiered chandelier I saw in Murano this past June. 

As usual, I haven't figured out where in the house to hang it yet. For the score of a lifetime like this, anyone would want to do what I did to snatch it up first and decide what to do with it later. I did a quick mockup for our living room - it may work but I am a bit concerned that it's too small for the room. Perhaps I will add a ceiling medallion to give it more presence. What do you think?

If you are interested in vintage Murano glass chandeliers, you should spend some time on 1stdibs. I did most of my research there. For example, this one below I scored last year was likely made by Venini for Camer. Camer was known for its Murano glass imports in the 1950s. If you come across trièdre bar prisms that have been cut at an angle, and they are hung in a dramatic descending form giving it a cascading effect and overall circular design, chances are you've found a Camer chandelier. 

It took me a while but I finally figured out this one I have in my kitchen dining area was made by Vistosi in Murano. 

So those are my three vintage Murano glass chandeliers so far, and I am sure I am not done. Just couldn't resist the old charm. 

Now onto the Christmas decor. Anthony took me shopping during my birthday weekend (the best kind of shopping because he paid for them all :)). CB2 was one of my stops. I find that I am really digging this store lately. Everything is modern, posh and unique. I especially like their dishes and serving pieces. This set of glass paz trees came home with me. The rose gold/copper tone is nice change from its typical gold cousin. 

Put a bow on my beau. :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

DIY Handpainted Holiday Ball Ornaments

If you've been following my blog for a while, you would know I am a Christmas enthusiast. I am the crazy type who would start to plan the next year's color schemes in my head as soon as I packed away last year's tree. I then moved on to spend the rest of the year obsessing over concerns such as whether I would finally get a real tree this year; or I should relocate the tree from foyer to another room for a change; make the Christmas decor stand out versus part of the overall style of my house (like I've been doing), and the list goes on. So every year I couldn't wait for the fall to be over, not just because Christmas comes after that, but also it's my least favourite season of the year decor wise. I don't know how to incorporate all the harvest styles and woodsy colour tones into my home. One pumpkin on a pedestal? Good. A few pumpkins with dry leaves and branches? Not for me

In previous years, I would be hitting up a few of my favourite decor stores right around Halloween, in the hope that these retailers would put out their new Christmas ornaments of the year. I wanted to be among the first to claim them my precious. Since last year, my desire to create something myself for Christmas has grown stronger. And while I still love most of the one-off ornaments I collected over the years, I can no longer feel my heart racing for those store-bought pieces that are either embellished with crystals or covered in sparkle dust. I crave for something unique, clean, and maybe a little edgier and more glamorous at the same time. So this year, I've finally rolled up my sleeves and got to work. 
Picture above: my 2015 DIY hand-painted ball ornaments

Here's a list of things you'd need for this fun DIY project:

- Plain white porcelain ball ornaments: I used the 80mm ones. You can get them from pretty much any store that sells Christmas ornaments. 
- Masking tape, self adhesive reinforcements (for polka dot patterns). 
- Pencil: for tracing or sketching patterns.
- Black Sharpies.
- Leafing pen.
- Toilet paper core: cut in half to be used as ball stands. 

For this Pierre Frey Kubus-inspired black and gold block pattern below, I first used the masking tape to tape up the midsection. This is also the most invisible part of a ball ornament. I then used a pencil to trace around the tape then immediately removed the tape to start drawing the diamond patterns inside the traced band. I started with the black diamonds, waited for them to dry, then used the leafing pen to fill in the gold ones. Easy peasy. 

Drawing on a slippery globe was no walk in the park. The first couple of ones were challenging but once I was over the learning curve, I became more confident and started to go freehand with Sharpie. This one below was an example, inspired by a Tasmanian Berber rug pattern. I used Sharpie all the way without any pencil guidance. 

And this one below is probably my favourite, a Sharpie and leafing pen hand-painted ornament à la Kelly Wearstler's Channels pattern. I actually like all the uneven strokes - they make it perfectly imperfect to me in a very organic way. 

The other side of the same ornament, in a completely different screen patterns. 

This one below was my first attempt. 

I am sure you would recognize this one, inspired by the ever-popular Brunschwig & Fils' Les Touches fabric. 

I hand painted a total of 15 ornaments (still have one to go and I am sure inspiration will come :)), and these 4 are my favourites. 

The easiest ones were the tiny polka dot ones, time-consuming but very straightforward. All I did was to cover the balls with self-adhesive reinforcements and fill in the centres with either black Sharpie or leafing pen. The most satisfying ones were the two-toned Channels and the Tasmanian tribal pattern. The one with the most unexpected outcome (in a good way) went to the Pierre Frey Kubus fabric pattern. I had the highest expectation for the striped à la Kate Spade, but it turned out to be the most difficult to draw. 

It was such a fun project. Now go make your own.:)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Prague and Cesky Krumlov in October Part Two

You can read about our Prague in October experience here. While in Prague, we made a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, a city in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, about 3.5 hours drive from Prague. 
Picture above: panoramic view of Cesky Krumlov and Vltava River, from a lookout point past the Castle Gardens. 

Besides its Cesky Krumlov Castle and UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Cesky Krumlov is also known for its fairytale-esque cityscape. This medieval town is infused with a relaxing ambience of Czech expression for Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural elements. 
Picture above: entrance to the town

Picture above: the famous Cesky Krumlov Castle Tower

Upon a close-up look at the Castle Tower, you can easily spot the trompe l'oeil painted on the bottom facade to mimic brickwork and windows. The huge panels of what-appear-to-be murals are actually canvas paintings hung along the tower. 

Picture above: Castle map

Picture above: Trompe-l'œil on the walls inside the Castle courtyards

Picture above: Trompe-l'œil onthe walls inside the Castle courtyards

The Cesky Krumlov Castle was undoubtedly spectacular, but I found the best part was to wander aimlessly and get lost on the cobblestone alleyways inside the old town. Main streets are lined with shops mostly selling amber and garnet jewelry which didn't pique our interest. Marionette is huge in Cesky Krumlov (they even have a museum for it), but since they freak me out the same way clown does, we took a pass. I would spend an hour at the Egon Schiele Art Centrum to complete your Cesky Krumlov experience. It's funny that Schiele was once driven out of CK by the residents who strongly disapproved of his lifestyle, but now they created a museum to worship his art. 

Picture above: the MLS Creperie inside a humble but unique adobe with vaulted ceiling, great for a quick coffee break

Picture above: Trdelnik, a traditional Slovak pastry

A typical shop facade on main street Cesky Krumlov. 

Picture above: view from Castle promenade

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