Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dresses For All Your Holiday Parties

Holiday Party Dresses

I love a classic Little Black Dress because it can be worn so many ways.  Here, it's dressed up for the holidays with red shoes, a red and gold jeweled necklace, and red and gold stackable rings.  For more holiday dresses, click here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

No Bake Chocolate Mint Bars

Betty Crocker

There's something about chocolate and mint that always makes me think of Christmas.  I can be eating a Peppermint Patty from my kids' Halloween haul, and I start imagining twinkling lights and warm mugs of hot chocolate.  I made this recipe for No Bake Chocolate Mint Bars from Betty Crocker for our annual Christmas party last year, and they were a huge hit.  

I used plain semisweet chocolate chips and added 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract during steps 1 and 3.  I couldn't find chocolate wafer cookie crumbs at my store, so I bought chocolate wafer cookies and make my own crumbs.  The trick is to get the crumbs really fine, so I'd suggest putting them into a food processor until they're almost a fine powder.

Here's the recipe:

1/2 cup butter
1 bag (10 oz) mint-flavored semisweet chocolate chips (1 2/3 cups)
2 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 drop green food color
2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter 
1.  Lightly grease 9-inch square pan with shortening or cooking spray. In 2-quart saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in cookie crumbs until well mixed; press evenly in pan. Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.
2Meanwhile, in small bowl, beat 1/4 cup butter, the milk, peppermint extract, vanilla and food color with electric mixer on medium speed until well mixed. On low speed, gradually beat in powdered sugar until smooth.

3Spread peppermint mixture evenly over crumb mixture. In 1-quart saucepan, melt remaining chocolate chips and 1/3 cup butter over low heat, stirring constantly; spread evenly over peppermint mixture. Refrigerate until chocolate is set, 10 to 15 minutes. For bars, cut into 5 rows by 5 rows.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Catch Your Kids In A Quiet Moment

It seems like my boys never get along, but when they do, it's magic. This is "their spot", the little corner landing on the back staircase in our home. After hours of what felt like nonstop arguing between the two of them, I caught them in this moment, quietly watching a movie together on the iPad in their spot, together. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Holiday Party Accessories

Tory Burch
I walked by these Tory Burch flats in Nordstrom over the weekend, and I had to stop & drool for a minute or two ten.  I live in flats, but these shiny, silver flats with a big, sparkly bow made my heart skip a beat.  They'd be so perfect for the holiday season!

For some more holiday party shoes, and clutches, necklaces & earrings, click here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Setting the Kids' Table for Thanksgiving

I love to set a pretty holiday table with a nice tablecloth, a seasonal centerpiece, my grandmother's china, wine glasses... for the adult table in the dining room.  The kids' table in the kitchen in another story.  That's the get messy, food all over the place, fun table.

My boys & I stopped at Target after school today, and we found this disposable table cloth that the kids can color and turkey paper plates & napkins--perfect for the kids' table!  We'll have five kids at our kids' table between the ages of 3 and 8, so unbreakable, disposable & fun will be the theme this year!

(We found these items at our Target store, not on the website.  Package of 10 dinner-size plates, $3; package of 20 dinner-size napkins, $3; disposable tablecloth, $3)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Butternut Squash Risotto

Butternut Squash Risotto

Risotto is my "I don't know what to make for dinner" dinner.  It's warm & comforting, and I can almost always make it with what I have on hand in my pantryThis recipe uses a whole butternut squash, one of my favorite vegetables, and one that's in abundance this time of year.  We've been getting the best winter squash (butternut, acorn, spaghetti) delivered to our door by The Produce Box.

2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
coarse salt & ground pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 32-ounce box low sodium vegetable broth, mixed with 1/2 cup water and heated
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage

1. In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat.  Add squash; season with salt & pepper.  Cover & cook, stirring often, until the edges soften, 6 to 8 minutes.  (I find by covering the pot, the squash steams & softens quicker.)

2. Add rice; stir to coat.  Add wine; cook until almost all liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Add 1/2 cup broth mixture.  Cook, stirring, until almost all liquid is absorbed.  Add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding more, 35 to 40 minutes total.  (I know most people constantly stir risotto, but I stir every other minute or so while trying to clean up my kitchen in between.  You just want to make sure you're adding more broth before the risotto absorbs too much & dries out.)

4. Stir in Parmesan, sage, remaining 1 tablespoon butter and salt to taste.  Serve immediately.  Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from Martha Stewart.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gift Ideas for Boys

I got off course with my Holiday Series last week.  My car lease was almost up, and I spent the back half of last week car shopping.  Visiting car dealerships & test driving cars, while it sounds like fun, is just so time consuming & frustrating.  In the end, I stuck with the same car I already had, just the newer model.

This week I'm featuring some Gifts for Boys.  My boys are 4 & 7, and they've been circling things in toy catalogs for a few weeks now.  Here are some of their picks:
Playmobil Secret Dragon Fort

LEGO Legends of Chima The Lion CHI Temple

Disney Infinity Toy Story Play Set

Marvel Universe Titan Heroes
Batman Boys' Footed Blanket Sleeper with Cape
Bugs in the Kitchen Board Game

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Box of Books 5-7 & The Do-It-Yourself Book

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gifts for the Hostess

Every year, I always try to think of unique hostess gifts; something that can be used during the holiday season, or something the hostess & her family can enjoy when the party is over.

Stonewall Kitchen Pancake Mix

 A guest at one of our parties a few years back brought us breakfast for the next day--a coffee cake & orange juice.  I thought this was such a great idea.  This gingerbread pancake mix from Stonewall Kitchen would be perfect for the holidays; pair it with a bottle of real maple syrup & a container of strawberries.

Coasters from Target
 I try to have a few small gifts on hand for spur of the moment get togethers.  These coasters from Threshold at Target are just $14.99 for the set and are small enough to stash in a cabinet for last minute gifting.

Winter Wonderland Dishtowel from anthropologie
 I love to receive new dishtowels, because they're something I never think to buy myself.  I love the scene on this dishtowel from anthropologie; it could be used all Winter.  $18 for one dishtowel.  I've also found great seasonal dishtowels at Home Goods that I've given as gifts.
Hot Chocolate on a Stick from Crate & Barrel
 Everyone loves receiving a treat, and these hot chocolates on a stick look yummy & adorable.  You just stir them into a cup of hot milk to make hot chocolate.  They're $3.95 each.

Charity Mugs from west elm
Pair a hot chocolate on a stick with one of these charity mugs from west elm.  They're listed at a special price of $8 each with 50% of the purchase price going to the charity depicted on the individual mug.  My favorite is the blue map of the United States on the Teach for America mug.

Rose Hand Cream from L'Occitane
 Rose hand cream in a pretty tube would make a great gift.  Again, it's small enough to keep a few on hand, and this travel size is $12.  Package it with a patterned drugstore nail file in a cellophane bag tied with a ribbon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Free Birds

Free Birds

My boys were home from school today, so I took them to see Free Birds.  I know most schools have Monday off for Veterans Day--if you're looking for something to do, my boys always love going to the movies.  I read the reviews for the movie, and they weren't so good, but my older son & I thought Free Birds was cute.  The baby turkeys were especially cute.  My younger son polished off his popcorn then fell immediately asleep on my lap, kind of like the president's daughter in the movie.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

3 Holiday Party Looks

Here are three looks that will get you through the holidays, from a formal work party to your best friend's New Year's Eve bash...

Black Sequin Dress

Evening Pantsuit

Silver Dress & Leggings

Simple Thanksgiving Table

A few weeks ago, a friend & I put together a soup & chili luncheon for the teachers at our children's school. The school has a beautiful courtyard with picnic tables, so we prayed for nice weather in the days leading up to the event so we could host it outside. Parents signed up to bring everything--the soups, salads, desserts, and decorations. 

We decided to cover the tables with brown craft paper to keep the cleanup simple, and we found strips of burlap to use as runners. Parents dropped off pumpkins, gourds & mums, and we put everything together to create simple center pieces. I love how the tables turned out, and I'm hoping to recreate something similar for my own Thanksgiving table this year. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thanksgiving Dessert Ideas for the Kiddos

If the kids at your Thanksgiving table are like the kids at ours, they want nothing to do with pumpkin or apple pies.  (More for the adults!!!)  This year, I thought it would be fun to make them their own special dessert.  I love these turkey cupcakes from theKitchn.  They look super easy to make, and kids love cupcakes.  And chocolate, and candy...
I saw this next recipe for pumpkin whoopie pies on King Arthur Flour's website.  My kids like any kind of sandwich cookie, and they also like pumpkin bread and muffins, so this would be the perfect combination for them.  Plus, nothing says "Thanksgiving" like pumpkin, right?!

King Arthur Flour

 There's an apple orchard near my childhood home that makes the best apple cider donuts.  If my parents come to visit us in the Fall, I make sure they bring apple cider donuts from Roger's Orchard with them.  I've been on a search for an apple cider donut recipe, and I thought this one from What's Cooking in the Burbs would be a good one to try.  They're baked in a donut pan, not fried, so they'd be much easier to make for someone like me who's terrified of deep frying.  Apple cider donuts always make me think of Fall, and kids love donuts, especially ones covered in sugar!

What's Cooking in the Burbs

Monday, November 4, 2013

New Holiday Series and Gifts from Speck & Dressel

 The toy books have started to arrive at our house, and our boys are circling all of the toys and games they want to include in their letters to Santa.  The stores are being filled with holiday decorations, and Starbucks has begun pouring drinks into their red cups.  I enjoyed my first gingerbread latte of the season this weekend.

I thought this would be the perfect time to start a holiday series.  Each weekday until Christmas, I'll be sharing a tip or idea to help you (and me!) get ready for the holidays.  On Mondays, I'll post gift ideas.  On Tuesdays, I'll share a holiday recipe.  On Wednesdays, a decorating idea; Thursdays, an outfit or accessory that can be worn to a holiday party or during the holiday season.  And on Fridays, I'll post an activity that my family enjoys taking part in during the holidays.

Today, I'd like to share some gift ideas for the littlest ones on your Christmas list.  These beautiful gifts are lovingly made by my friend, Janet.  Her company is speck & dressel, and she caries the prettiest things for babies and children, as well as accessories, vintage home decor, and gifts for adults.
speck & dressel

I just love this set of three monogrammed burp cloths.  You can choose block or script lettering, the thread color, and you can include up to 5 letters.

speck & dressel

These 50's nursery building blocks would add a precious accent to baby's room, and older children can use them to practice stacking.
speck & dressel

Janet gave us one of these blankets when our older son was born, and we still have it to this day.  One side is the softest fabric, and the other side is a printed cotton accent fabric.  I used to put this blanket down for my boys to play on when they were babies.  It's also the perfect size blanket for an older child when you're traveling with a Pack N Play.

Join me each day until Christmas for holiday ideas, and fill me in on what you're doing to prepare for the holidays in the comments section below.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fall Finds

I'm loving this Legacy Haley Satchel in Deep Port from Coach.  It's the perfect Fall color, and would look just as stunning with jeans & a sweater as it would with a little black dress.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dressing for Fall

I spent last night at my computer pulling together looks for a client.  I'm a stylist with Keaton Row, an online personal shopping company.  Tonight, I created some looks for myself, like the one above.  I like to keep things simple when I go out for dinner with my husband or friends, so I was drawn this drapey top with the black coated jeans.  I've been dying for leather pants, but don't know if I'm ready to take that step.  These jeans give the leather look without the commitment.  I also love simple, gold accessories, especially this stacked ring.  And I always try to add a pop of color to my outfit with a bag or scarf since I tend to buy a lot of neutrals.  This oxblood clutch went with the overall vibe of this look.  Check out some of my other looks here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Capitol Couture

I love, love, love young adult novels, and Hunger Games is one of my favorites.  I'm currently obsessing over Capitol Couture, a fashion and lifestyle online magazine written in the Hunger Games/Panem first person.  I especially love the knitwear pieces by Maria Dora worn by Katniss in the photos above and below.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat created a collection of Hunger Games-inspired chocolates.  This beautiful box of Capitol Truffles is $225, which means I'll stick to my regular box of (President) Snow-Caps when I see the midnight show of Catching Fire on November 22nd.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Anthropologie Holiday Display Workshops

Look what I stumbled upon while "window shopping" Anthropologie's website today!  I can spend hours walking through Anthropologie, taking everything in--the clothing, books, home decor, gifts, the scents, sounds, the other shoppers.  There's so much there to fuel my creativity.  I think attending one of Anthropologie's Holiday Display Workshops would be the perfect way to see some new ideas & get inspired for decorating my own home for the holidays.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pasta with Roasted Pumpkin & Goat Cheese

Rigatoni with Roasted Pumpkin & Goat Cheese
Every week, I place an order for fresh, local fruits & veggies from an amazing farmer's market-like delivery service in my area called The Produce Box.  This past week, I ordered a pie pumpkin--it's a smaller, more dense pumpkin meant for eating rather than carving into a Jack-O'-Lantern.  My parents were visiting for the weekend, and I really wanted to use the pumpkin for a special meal while they were here, so last night, I made this delicious pasta dish from Martha Stewart.

The pumpkin has to be cut up into 2-inch pieces for this recipe, and really, this is the hardest part of the whole recipe.  Since pie pumpkins are much more dense than decorative pumpkins, they can be a bit tricky to cut and peel.  I laid my cutting board on a damp kitchen towel so it wouldn't slide around on the counter.  Then laid the pumpkin on its side and cut the bottom and top parts off so the pumpkin could sit flat on my cutting board.  I used a Y-shaped vegetable peeler to remove the skin of the pumpkin, going over spots a few times where the skin was extra thick.  I then cut the pumpkin in half, removed the seeds, and cut the pumpkin into 2-inch chunks.

The rest of this recipe is super easy--the pumpkin is divided onto 2 baking sheets with fresh sage, shallots & olive oil, and roasted at 450ยบ for 30 minutes, tossing and rotating the sheets after 15 minutes.  While the pumpkin is roasting, cook the pasta reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.  Drain, return the pasta to the pot, toss with 2 tbsp butter, 5 oz goat cheese, and the reserved pasta water.  Fold in the roasted pumpkin and serve. 

The finished dish looks beautiful.  The flavors are perfect for Fall with the roasted pumpkin and fresh sage, and the butter and goat cheese sauce is nice and light, allowing the pumpkin to really shine.  I've made this in the past using butternut squash instead of the pumpkin, and it's just as pretty & delicious. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Burlap Wreath DIY

 Fall wreaths for my front doors have been on my to-do list for a few weeks now, and I finally finished one of them yesterday.  It was a lot easier to put together than I thought it would be.  I was able to complete it from start to finishin about an hour.
 I bought two 18 inch wire wreath frames from AC Moore.
 I also picked up a spool of floral wire from AC Moore.
 I went to Jo-Ann's Fabrics for the burlap.  I bought 3 yards of 48" natural burlap.
 I saw this leaf garland at AC Moore, and thought it would be a good way to add some Fall color to my wreath.
 I laid the burlap out on the floor in my front entryway--that's where I have a pretty big area of floor space.  I cut 6" wide strips along the length of the fabric.  Since burlap is a loose weave fabric, I only measured the 6" at the bottom edge and tried to cut in between the lengthwise yarns as best I could.  This saved a lot of time--normally I would measure the fabric in increments and mark off a straight line with a ruler and fabric chalk.  Plus, the nature of burlap is kind of rough, and the overall look to the wreath would be natural, I didn't think I needed to be so precise with this project.
 Here you can see my first cut strip of fabric.  I ended up with eight 6" wide strips; four strips of fabric for each wreath.
 To start, I tied the end of the first burlap strip to the wire frame using a small length of floral wire, making sure I tied it to one of the two inner wires on the frame.
 I folded my burlap in half lengthwise so my loops would have a little more stiffness.  I pushed a loop through the innermost space on the wire frame.  I just estimated the size of the loop--no measuring required.
 Then I pushed a loop through the middle space on the wire frame.  Again, just estimate.
 Finally, I pushed a loop through the outermost space on the wire frame. 
I kept pushing loops through the wire frame in the same order--innermost, middle, and outermost spaces on the frame--until i had three rows of three loops within one section.  I then moved over to the next section on the wreath using the same pattern.  Each 3 yard long strip of burlap filled two sections on my wreath frame--18 loops total.  When one length of burlap would end, I'd tie it to the frame using the floral wire, then tie on a new length of burlap to continue.
When the wreath was finished, I fluffed the loops to get a full look around the wreath.  I then used the floral wire to attach my leaf garland.  I found a wooden "Welcome" sign (shown above) in the dollar bins at Target, that I hot glued to the bottom of the wreath.  I also found an "Autumn" sign there for the other wreath.  These will be ready to go on my front doors on November 1st--until then, Mr. Bones & the rest of the creepy decor will be up for Halloween.