Friday, February 27, 2015

One-Pot Pasta


I love the process of simmering a big pot of homemade marinara sauce on the stove for hours. It fills the house with an incredible aroma, and homemade sauce can't be beat, but sometimes there's just not enough time in the day! Next time you're under a time crunch or just looking for a delicious budget-friendly meal, try this one-pot pasta.

What You'll Need:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
8-10 oz pasta (your choice, but I chose GF spaghetti)
1-2 cups chicken stock
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 pinch oregano
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 pinch coarse salt
1 6-8oz package of fresh spinach
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese, for topping

Directions:
  • Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions begin to get translucent. Add a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes and stir to combine.

  • Add the diced tomatoes, chicken stock (hint: more pasta needs more liquid), and oregano, then bring the liquid to a boil.
  • Put the noodles in the pot, stirring so that they're submerged. Cover and reduce the heat to low, simmering for about 7-8 minutes. 
  • Add a pinch of salt and stir to combine. Test the noodles to make sure they're done!
  • Once the pasta is cooked, remove it from the heat and add the spinach. Stir until it becomes wilted.
  • Allow the pot of pasta to sit for about 4-5 minutes. The flavors will meld and then it's ready to serve! Top with some freshly grated parmesan and black pepper- yum!


Tip: Neal (my resident taste-tester) liked this dish, but he thought it would be even better topped with some sautéed shrimp! Try yours with a little protein if you'd like- chicken would be excellent with this past too. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Clean House!

Illustration by Robert Best, via Pinterest
Frigid temperatures have been sweeping the nation this week, and all the indoor activities have me going a bit stir-crazy! I'm feeling the need to do something BIG, so I'm starting to tackle spring cleaning early. Here's what's on my to-do list:
  • Clean the microwave and oven 
  • Empty and wipe down the pantry
  • Scrub the fridge
  • Clean kitchen sink and under-sink area
  • Wipe down walls and rinse out garbage can
  • Clean stove top
  • Clean all countertops 
  • Clean tub, shower curtain, toilet, and bathroom sink
  • Steam clean all wood floors
  • Wipe all wood blinds clean
  • Dust fan blades and baseboards
  • Clear out expired medications and cosmetics
  • Vacuum all carpets and cushions
  • Move furniture to vacuum/dust underneath
  • Declutter closet (Bonus: donate old clothes to Goodwill)
  • Dust TV and electronics
  • Re-organize living room storage cabinets
  • Clean desk and wipe down desk chair
  • Sweep patio
  • Clean car (interior and exterior)
  • Clean out vacuum and re-organize storage of cleaning supplies

 I'm hoping to knock out several of these tasks this week before the wether starts to improve. Who's with me?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Secret to Perfect Skin


You might be feeling the mid-week slump today, but you certainly don't have to look like it! Check out this video from Bobbi Brown: The Secret to Perfect Skin.


My morning routine is one that I have down to a science, but I'm addicted to Bobbi Brown and this quick video helped me to refresh my routine and my look just a tiny bit. I swapped out bronzer for the new Brightening Brick, which gives pale winter skin the perfect peachy glow. I love it!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Get Gifted: Perfect Your Wedding Registry

Kitchen Aid Mixers are a popular registry pick, plus they make a great bridal shower centerpiece!
Image from Pinterest
Wedding gifts aren't mandatory, but most wedding guests will choose to celebrate your union with a special something. Creating a gift registry is a helpful way to steer your guests in the right direction as they shop for items that will help you and your partner start your new life together. Here are a few tips that I found useful as Neal and I started creating our wedding registry:
  • Do it together.  Does your significant other have a set of housewares that you can't wait to toss? Now is the perfect time to brainstorm the style of home you want to have and start fresh! Plus, it's much more fun to shop for china patterns when you've got a partner in crime!
  • Take inventory of what you've got. Think about items that you'll use regularly, items that you already own, and things that are on your wish list.  Start to brainstorm what you'll register for even before you arrive at the store. In fact, this brainstorming will help you choose which store to register at! Need a little help? Check out this checklist from Real Simple
  • Choose more than one store. Variety is the spice of life, and your guests will appreciate options.  There are no rules that limit you to Williams-Sonoma and Bloomingdales. Non-traditional shops like Amazon, Target, and even REI offer registry options! If you don't want to commit to a single store, try a new online registry like Blueprint Registry, which allows you to select items from any store's website and house them in a single location for your guests. 
  • Know your guests.  Pick a variety of price points so that there's something for everyone. Some guests will want to spend $50, while others may spend upwards of $200 or go in on a group gift. Also, consider what types of gifts your guests might choose. For example, some of the ladies in my family would flip if we didn't register for fine china, but it's not a must-have for every bride and groom. 
  • Over-do it! It's unlikely that you will receive every single item you register for, and that's ok! Go overboard and then exchange the items that you didn't love for that one big-ticket item you didn't receive. Plan to register for about 2-3 times per guest on your list.
After you've created your registry, remember to check the list and update it as needed. If the supply gets low, you might choose to add additional items. It's also helpful to keep a log of all the gifts your received so that you can thank your friends and family appropriately. In this case, thank you notes are absolutely a MUST!

Monday, February 23, 2015

How to Fold a Fitted Sheet

Bedding by John Robshaw Textiles
I consider myself to be fairly domestic, but the art of folding a fitted sheet seems to be one of life's great mysteries. Luckily, there's a how-to video for everything these days, and Real Simple has boiled it down to four easy steps:



Another great tip? Store sheet sets in the coordinating pillowcase. It will keep your linen closet organized, plus it's easy to find everything you need when an unexpected houseguest stops by!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Etiquette: Keeping in Touch

Illustration by Inslee Haynes, via Pinterest
As an adult, I've moved several times and have friends in many places. It's absolutely wonderful to have friends all around the country (and world, for that matter!), but keeping in touch does take effort. Don't let your friendships fizzle. Follow these three simple tips for keeping up with your favorites:

Keep it Casual
Texting is a great way to casually include your far-away friends (and those close by) in your day-to-day activities. There's no need to go overboard, but try to send small notes on a regular basis. For example: "I was just thinking of you- I had the most amazing hummingbird cupcake at Magnolia Bakery. It was good, but not as good as yours!" It lets your friend know that you're having fun, thinking of her, and remember some important details about her (she makes amazing cupcakes!). 

Use the Phone
As a rule of thumb, I try to call my far-away friends at least once a month. We aren't always able to connect, but other times we talk more frequently so it all works out. Phone conversations feel old-fashioned in the modern age of Instagram and Facebook, but there's really no substitute for hearing your friend's voice. 

Acknowledge Special Occasions
If you've read my blog before, you know that I LOVE snail mail.  Keep a calendar of your friends' special events and send a cute card or a hand-written note. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, new babies- they're all worth acknowledging! 

Visit!
This might not be an annual thing, depending on distance and schedules, but make a concerted effort to get together! Regular phone chats are a step in the right direction, but there's no substitute for face-to-face friend visits. Want to get the most bang for your buck? Gather a group for a fun vacation, or throw a party next time you're home for the holidays. There's no shame in wanting to see ALL of your friends at once. 

If you've let a friendship fade, it's not too late. True friends won't hold a grudge, so get in touch and start catching up!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Emergency Cookies




After a long run recently, I was craving something sweet but our pantry was pretty empty. I decided to use some odds and ends and whipped up some quick cookies that were healthy-ish and delicious.

What You'll Need:
1 cup nut butter (I used crunchy peanut butter, but almond butter would be great too!)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
Pinch of coarse salt


Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. Combine all ingredients and stir until mixed. Yep, it's that easy. 
  3. Spoon even tablespoons of dough onto your prepared baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 1 inch apart. 
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, cool slightly, then enjoy!

Note that the peanut butter in this recipe replaces butter and flour, so these cookies are good, but they pale in comparison to my favorite peanut butter cup cookies. Butter makes things better, so if you're looking for a more indulgent chocolate chip recipe, click here

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spring 2015 Pantone Picks

Spring is in the air, and seasonal weather changes mean its time to dust off your spring wardrobe and add some new pieces to your collection!

In the 2015 Pantone Fashion Report, softer, cooler colors are in. Understated brights, nature-inspired neutrals, and pale pastels take center stage.


If your wardrobe feels a little drab or the weather in your current locale is keeping you bundled up, there's an easy way to integrate spring: with accessories! Here are some of my favorites, courtesy of Stella & Dot's new spring collection:

Flora Chandeliers and Trellis Necklace
Hayley Necklace with Stacked Bracelets
Tropicana Chandelier Earrings and Necklace
Eclipse Pendant stacked over the Silver Sutton, with Cleopatra Studs 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wedding Decor Inspiration

Your wedding style should reflect your personality, and much of the decor happens at the dinner table. I've been trolling Pinterest for some inspiration for our event, and here are some tablescapes that I just love:

ILoveTulip.com, via Pinterest
StylemePretty.com, via Pinterest
Ruffledblog.com, via Pinterest
BurnettsBoards.com, via Pinterest
StyleMePretty.com, via Pinterest
GreenWeddingShoes.com, via Pinterest
Ruffledblog.com, via Pinterest

None of these quite capture the look we're going for, but I like elements of each. Leafy greens, jewel-tone colors, and perfect place settings will all be part of our special day. More to come...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Entertaining in Austin


I love when friends come to visit. It's the perfect opportunity to showcase some of your town's highlights, and cram all your favorite things into just a few days.

This week, one of my Boston friends is in town, enjoying the warmer weather in Austin and joining me in the Austin Half-Marathon. Here's what's on our agenda:

Day 1: The morning will start with a run outside, followed by wine tasting along the Fredericksburg Wine Road.  We'll end the day on South Congress, enjoying some of the funky shops and stopping for dinner at Guero's Taco Bar.

Day 2: The race starts early- it's half-marathon day! After the run, we're going to relax a bit, play a round or two at Peter Pan Mini Golf, and head to Max's Wine Dive for some fried chicken and champagne.

Day 3: Kerbey Lane Cafe has delicious gluten free pancakes. We'll begin our day there, followed by mani/pedis, a little art-gallery exploration, and a delicious lunch from one of my favorite Austin food trucks. I'm going to whip up something delicious for dinner, and we'll just have a lazy night in.

Day 4: We'll keep the morning low-key, but plan to check out Alamo Drafthouse for an early-afternoon movie and lunch. If the weather's nice, kayaking down the Colorado River sounds like the perfect activity! Dinner will be a snap decision, but we'll end the evening at the Broken Spoke, just to make sure she gets some real Texas flavor.

Day 5: After a few days off, a short run outside might be in order. After that, we'll check out the Blanton Museum of Art, grab lunch downtown, and maybe do a little shopping. In the evening, we're headed to Rainey Street for dinner.

I'm looking forward to five days of fun with one of my favorite friends!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Strawberries + Chocolate


Chocolate dipped strawberries are a classic Valentine's Day treat, and they're simple to make if you know how to properly temper chocolate. 

Tempering is the process of melting and cooling chocolate in a way that results in a glossy finish with the perfect snap to it. When chocolate is heated to about 115 degrees, it melts completely. However, if you cool it too quickly, the chocolate will become streaky and soft. 

Ready to try your hand at tempering? Check out this video from Epicurious:


When done correctly, you'll end up with beautifully dipped fruits that you and your sweetie are sure to enjoy!

Image from Pinterest
Happy Valentine's Day! I hope your weekend is full of romance, chocolate, beautiful flowers and sparkly wine!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love to Run

Image from YourAustinMarathon.com
The Austin Half Marathon is just a few days away, and I'm getting excited to run my first 13.1 mile race. Admittedly, I never aspired to run in a race like this, but a friend challenged me and I can't wait to reach the finish line! I followed a training program, am feeling strong, and I've become totally addicted to running.

Running is a great workout, but the hardest part is getting started. Here are a few tips to help YOU fall in love with running:
  1. Start small. If you haven't been running, a 3 or 4 mile run is a very aggressive way to start. You'll hate it. Start small, and take walking breaks. Walking is a great workout too, so there's no shame! Plus, the interval training will help you increase your overall fitness.
  2. Run with music. I have a playlist full of upbeat songs that keep me going when I start to feel tired- it's like a little workout party! If you're not feeling creative enough to make your own playlist, check out the free downloads at RockMyRun.com.
  3. Get outside. Treadmills are a good option when the weather is crummy, but being outside is much more fun. The scenery will keep you distracted, plus the uneven terrain will challenge your muscles. 
  4. Find an app. If you're new to running, there are tons of helpful apps like Couch to 5K, Strava Run, etc. available for your phone or iPod. Use them to map your runs, challenge you with intervals, and get your lazy bum off the couch!
  5. Mix it up. You don't have to run every day. In fact, it's good to mix it up and even rest from time to time. I love yoga or barre classes on my off days, but spinning is another great way to challenge your muscles without lacing up your running shoes. 
Below is the training plan that I followed. The walk-run-walk days were much more challenging than I expected, but I feel prepared for race day!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

French Macarons

Macarons at Laduree on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées 
I love visiting Paris. The city is full of romance, exciting sites and sounds, and absolutely incredible food. A trip wouldn't be complete without a French Macaron from Laduree, but if you can't make it to Paris this year, you can whip up some of these sophisticated treats at home.

Not to be confused with macaroons, French macarons are beautiful bite-sized treats that do not contain coconut and are naturally gluten-free. You might need a bit of patience to try this recipe, but the end result is totally worth it.  Watch this short video from Entertaining With Beth before you get started- she has some great tips!


Raspberry or lavender macarons make adorable Valentines (although pistachio is my favorite flavor). If you don't have the tine or energy to make them yourself, look for them at your favorite local bakery or Whole Foods Market. These chic bites are becoming very popular. Bon appétit!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wedding Planning: The Entertainment

It's easy to get caught up in finding the perfect dress, choosing the ideal color scheme for your venue, and obsessing over the tiny details of your wedding, but in the end, you're throwing a party and the music is one of the things that people will really remember.

The music that you play at your reception sets the tone for the evening (or day, if your wedding is early). Hip-hop, swing, country, and jazz all give off a different vibe, so it's important to go in knowing what kind of party you're trying to throw. Here are some considerations:

DJ vs. Band
Both options have advantages, so you can't go wrong. A band will give you the energy and sound of a live performance, but a DJ will have access to a wide range of songs and genres. As you make your decision, consider that bands often are a little bit more expensive since you're paying for multiple people, rather than just one DJ.

Style/Type
If you have a band, choosing a particular style will help you choose a vendor. Do you want a top 40s band? One that plays with some Latin flare? Oldies? It's up to you- look to your own musical tastes, locale, and the preferences of your guests for inspiration.

If you're going the DJ route, you'll still need to make a decision on style. Some DJs use turntables with actual records or CDs, while others use a range of digital files. If you don't have a preference either way, then this decision will be an easy one!

Interaction
Are you looking for a band or DJ to just play music, or do you need someone who can really work the crowd and put on a show? This impacts the personality of the band or DJ that you choose. Regardless of your selection, make sure you set expectations clearly so that you get what you want.

Gigmasters.com is a great site to source quotes from a wide range of bands or DJs all in one place. Go in with a budget in mind, and once you've got a few quotes you can:
  • Listen to music samples to get a sense of their overall style.
  • See them perform. Many bands and DJs will have live performances in your area- check them out in person!
  • Watch wedding performance. Youtube makes this easy. 
  • Ask about equipment and setup so that you know all the details. 
  • Confirm the reception plan. Will they provide an emcee? Do they take breaks? What will they wear?
  • Sign a contract and send in your deposit!
We've chosen to hire a band for our September nuptials. I wish we could have David Grey perform live, but in lieu of that we will likely have our band learn one of my favorite songs:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sweet Succulents

A big bouquet of pink peonies is the perfect Valentine for me, but fluffy flowers aren't exactly manly. If you've been shopping around for a sweet treat for your other half, skip flowers and chocolate and choose some succulents instead.

Valentine Succulents from East Austin Succulents
Valentine Succulents from East Austin Succulents
Neal and I stopped into East Austin Succulents this weekend and they had so many beautiful plants to choose from! We picked up a wide range of green and grey succulents to re-fill the planter on our kitchen island. Here's how it turned out:


If you're not in Austin, don't worry. Your local florist or even Home Depot is likely to have a selection of these hearty plants. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fish on Friday

I've been trying to incorporate more fish into our regular weeknight meal routine. It's light, healthy, and a nice departure from heavy meat dishes in the winter. Below is a roundup of some of my favorite fish recipes:

Provencal Fish Stew from The New York Times
Cilantro Lime Tilapia Tacos from SkinnyTaste.com
Barefoot Contessa's Mustard Roasted Fish
Honey Glazed Salmon from Damn Delicious
I made honey glazed salmon just the other night, and it was an excellent meal. We didn't have limes, so I swapped freshly squeeze grapefruit in for the lime juice, which gave it a surprisingly delicious twist.

What's your go-to fish recipe?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

DIY Watercolor Mugs



I've been looking for a fun-yet-functional DIY project, and I stumbled upon this one on Pinterest. I love tea, so I made a beautiful watercolor mug for my afternoon Earl Grey at work. It was easy, kinda fun, and it would make a great valentine if you're still looking for the perfect gift!

Ready to try it? You'll need:

  • A white ceramic mug (I purchased mine at Target)
  • Nailpolish 
  • A tub of warm water
  • Toothpicks or a q-tip with the fuzzy end cut off 

Start by pouring a few drops of nail polish into the tub filled with warm water. I used two different colors, but you can use as many as you see fit. 


Quickly swirl the nail polish using a q-tip with the end cut off  (or a toothpick).  You need to work fast because the nail polish will begin to form a film on top of the water. 


Dip your mug into the water. I'd recommend avoiding the inside of the mug if you intend to actually drink out of it. If a little bit accidentally gets inside, quickly wipe it out. 


Remove the mug from the water and allow the excess polish to drip off. 


Dry your mug on paper towels for 3-4 hour. Then it's ready to use! If you're making a Valentine, consider filling the cup with tea bags, candies, or something fun. Then tie it up with a little note in a cellophane bag. So cute!


I decided to do a second mug, and if you're looking to make multiple versions of your watercolor masterpiece, here's a tip: get rid of you water and start fresh. You don't want any paint film lingering when you start your next mug. 


The finished product is pretty cool. Note that it's hand-wash only unless you decide to get super fancy and add an extra lacquer to the outside of the mug. 


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pasta for Dinner


If you're looking to whip up a romantic date-night dinner or a quick weeknight meal (or both), look no further. This one-skillet pasta dish is quick and easy to make, but it's absolutely delicious and sure to impress. Serve it with a glass of champagne or some dry white wine- the acidity of the wine will cut through the creamy cheese sauce and pair perfectly!

What You'll Need:
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 small jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1 lb chicken breast tenders, sliced into smaller pieces
1 cup half and half
1 1/2  cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 lb. Gluten Free penne pasta
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (use less or omit if you'd prefer less spice)
1 Tbsp dried basil
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp paprika

Directions:
  1. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the bag, then set aside (don't forget to reserve the pasta water!). 
  2. Heat some of the oil from the jar of sun dried tomatoes in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, cooking for about 1-2 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant. 
  3. Remove the sun-dried tomatoes from the pan and slice them. Set aside.
  4. Sprinkle the paprika over the chicken breast, season with salt and pepper, then add them to the skillet. 
  5. When the chicken looks about cooked, add the sun-dried tomatoes back into the skillet. Add the cheese and half and half, then allow it to cook/melt until a thick sauce forms. 
  6. Add the red pepper flakes, basil, and a bit of the pasta water to thin out the sauce. 
  7. Add the pasta back into the skillet, stir to coat, then allow it to simmer so that the flavors can meld a bit. 
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add more red pepper flakes if you choose (I like a LOT of them!). Serve and enjoy hot. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Wedding Planning: Picking Your Party


Choosing a bridal party is often one of the hardest parts of wedding planning. You want to include your favorites in the festivities, but keep in mind that not everyone needs to be a bridesmaid. There are other roles to fill, and being a guest is fun too! Here are a few tips:

  • If you're aiming for a reasonable bridal party, aim for one groomsman and one bridesmaid for every 50 guests. If your wedding is quite formal, you may include a few more. 
  • Make a list and narrow it down. Once you've listed everyone out, it's easier to determine whether or not you want to include siblings, your college roommate, his friends from grad school, etc.
  • If you have friends who live extremely far away or have hectic schedules, think twice before asking them to be in your bridal party. Being a bridesmaid is a huge commitment (time and money), and even though they have the option to decline your invite, most will feel pressured to participate.
  • Decide whether or not to include children. A flower girl is usually aged three to eight and a ring bearer is typically between four and eight years of age. 
  • Finalize your list together. You and your significant other should be happy with who is standing up for you. Call them or send a fun invitation when you ask- no emails!
Most of our wedding guests are not from Austin, so we're keeping our bridal party small (2 on my side, 2 on his). To ask my bridesmaids (and our officiant since he's a close friend) to be part of our big day, I swapped champagne labels for a hand-calligraphed version. 



I still wanted to include my girlfriends in the festivities, but in a way that felt like less of a commitment. I've asked them to be my "something blue." They'll all wear their favorite blue dress to the wedding and be my good luck charm, sitting in a row reserved just for them. 


These cute little invites came from Etsy and read "Will you be my something blue?" inside. I can't wait to celebrate with everyone later this fall!