Friday, January 29, 2016

Dinner Tonight: Weeknight Bolognese

Weeknight Bolognese Image from Pinterest

Ina Garten knows her way around a kitchen, and her recipe for Weeknight Bolognese is nothing short of fabulous. Plus, it's relatively quick to throw together but looks (and tastes) impressive. Serve it over spaghetti squash or your favorite fresh pasta- you can't go wrong.

What You'll Need:
2 Tbsp good olive oil, plus extra to cook the pasta
1 pound lean ground sirloin
4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups dry red wine, divided (and save some for drinking, too!)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving


Directions:
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. 
  2. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. 
  3. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. 
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions.
  6. While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.
  7. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. 
This meal feels so cozy and winter-appropriate. It's comfort food at it's finest. Serve it hot with extra Parmesan on the side and don't forget a big glass of that fabulous red wine that you used in the sauce!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

My Skincare Secrets

Neal and I went to the Broken Spoke (an awesome, authentic honky tonk worth checking out if you're ever in Austin) a few weeks ago, and as we entered the bar for our two-step dance lesson, I got carded not once but twice. The bartender credited my "fresh face" for my deceivingly young look, and I took it as a compliment.


My babyface and soft skin is partly due to genetics (thanks, Dad), but I credit the other part to Bobbi Brown. I've been using Bobbi Brown's line of skin care products and I cannot say enough wonderful things about them. Here's my AM/PM routine:

Morning
Night

In lieu of my nighttime cleansing oil, I substitute and exfoliating scrub once a week. It's just a bit of Lathering Tube Soap mixed with Buffing Grains. Even if you don't use the Tube Soap, give the Buffing Grains a try with your favorite cleanser. 

I'm not a dermatologist, and I don't pretend to think that this regimen is the right one for EVERY woman out there, but it has certainly worked for my combination oily/dry skin over the past several years. I've tried other products from time to time, but Bobbi keeps bringing me back! My advice: find what DOES work for you and stick with it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Movie Night

Movie Poster from imdb.com
If you're still battling cold temperatures outside, there's nothing better than curling up with a big comfy quilt and a bowl of freshly popped popcorn while you watch a great movie. This doesn't have to be reserved for weekends- do it tonight!

I watched The Intern this past weekend with a friend, and it was cute and lighthearted. It falls in the romantic comedy genre, although it's more touching than romantic. Give it a go, and while you're at it, whip up the PERFECT popcorn (right after you watch this quick how-to video):



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Travel Calendar

I've been filling up the pages of my 2016 Erin Condren planner (love it!), and I am SO looking forward to some long weekend trips that we have planned for the upcoming year. Even short getaways can be rejuvenating, and it's nice to have a light at the end of the tunnel when work gets busy or life gets stressful.

Here's what's on our itinerary:
Tuscon Image from VacationIdea.com
Tuscon is our first stop this spring. We'll be spending 5 days in the desert with Neal's family, and I'm looking forward to soaking up the sun while we take in some art, explore the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and get some shopping (or maybe a spa day) in.

Seattle Image from TripAdvisor.com
Seattle is our next stop. We'll play tourist and likely hit the highlights listed on this awesome Fodor's Travel Itinerary,  but I'm hoping we can veer off the beaten path to explore some awesome restaurants and just relax a bit. Recommendations are welcome!

Boston Image from Always Photographing
Boston feels like home, but we haven't been back there in a while! It's time to visit our old haunts and catch up with old friends. I know Neal is looking forward to some Regina's pizza and a cannoli, and I'm looking forward to meeting all of the new babies that have arrived on the scene since we were last in town (this is the year of babies in our social circle... there are so many!).

I'm hoping we'll squeeze in a few more trips, but I'm happy to have these on the calendar for now. What are your 2016 travel plans?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Grilled Cheese Please

Check out these "wild" grilled cheese recipes from Endless Simmer
This weekend got a little chilly (yes, laugh if you're sitting in 3 feet of snow right now), so on Saturday I whipped up a classic: grilled cheese and tomato soup. I used what we had on hand, which made for an awesome sandwich. If you're craving comfort food, kick your grilled cheese up a notch with these cooking tips:
  • Use great bread. Grilled cheese is not a complex recipe, so the ingredients need to be good. Skip the white wonder bread slices and go for something more gourmet. We use crusty sourdough, but a rye-pumpernickel swirl or a seeded bread would also be very yummy. 
  • Swap butter for mayo. This tip sounds a little bit strange, but butter solids burn and mayo will allow your sandwich to get golden and crispy all the way around. You don't necessarily taste the mayo, and Neal can attest to that- he hates the stuff, but will allow it for grilling grilled cheese sandwiches. 
  • Mix up the insides. Jarlesburg or swiss is my favorite for grilled cheese, but the cheese doesn't have to stand alone! Try adding thinly sliced green apples with cheddar, a slice of turkey or pepperoni, fig spread and arugula... the sky's the limit. 
  • Cook low and slow. To get a crispy outside and a melty inside, you need to keep the heat down low and be patient. It's sort of like cooking eggs. If you char the outside of the sandwich, you won't have gooey cheese in the middle and you'll be missing out on the best part!
Bon Appétit!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Favorites

It's FRIDAY!! I'm excited for the weekend ahead, but before we part ways, here are some of the links I've been loving this week:

  1.  Cupcakes & Cashmere: How to Add Greenery To A Space. Decorating is on my list of things to do in 2016, and I thought this quick guide to indoor plants was quite helpful. 
  2. The Everygirl's Photography 101 Series.  I'm not a professional photographer, but I'm always interested in learning new things and I would love to be better with a camera. This series of posts covers everything from exposure to aperture. 
  3. Carpool Karake with Adele. If you haven't seen this yet, watch it. It's a fun 15 minutes-worth of entertainment. 
  4. Martha Stewart Crafternoon Party. Valentine's Day will be here before you know it. Why not get your girlfriends together for a fun afternoon making homemade valentines? 
  5. Conde Nast 50 Most Beautiful Cities in the World. I haven't been to all 50 of these places yet, so I'm filling up my travel wish list. Even if you're not interested in trekking around the world, the pictures are beautiful. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Winter Wardrobe Refresh

If you're like me, most of your winter wardrobe is black and grey. I love these classic neutrals, but I'm ready to make the switch from winter to spring. It's already starting to warm up in Austin (feel free to be jealous if you're getting slammed with snowstorms today), but its not quite spring-y enough for sundresses, so I'm following these three simple tips for refreshing my winter wardrobe:

Globetrotter Scarf, Stella & Dot 
Shirt (Similar), Gap; Clutch (Similar), Nordstrom, Necklace and Bracelets, Stella & Dot
1.  Add prints. Even with heavy fabric and muted colors, pops of print are an easy way to help your outfit feel updated and new. Add a scarf, or a striped shirt and a leopard clutch. You don't have to go overboard, but prints add interest, so mix it up!

Stone Tile Necklace, Stella & Dot
Lotus Tassel Necklace and Eden Tassel Earrings, Stella & Dot
2. Play with color. The best part about black and grey is that they're neutral, so adding color is easy. You don't have to go overboard to include color. Layering a colorful top under a heavy cardigan, adding a colorful scarf to keep you warm-yet-stylists, or including a few new accessories in your daily ration will go a long way.

Sweater (Similar), Nordstrom; Tribal Tassel Necklace and Double Wrap Bracelet, Stella & Dot
Jewelry, Stella & Dot
3. Accessorize. Try adding a fringe-y necklace over your cozy sweater, or even swap out your dark winter nail polish for a cute pastel. This will help you transition to spring even when it's still far too cold outside for light spring layers. Adding fun accessories and makeup are easy ways to make that same-old-outfit feel a little bit more awesome (without spending tons of money on new clothes).

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gluten Free Flour Blend (Make Your Own)


I've experimented with all different types of GF flour blends. Cup-4-Cup is my favorite off-the-shelf brand, but it doesn't work very well for breads and baked goods that need to rise.  Luckily, I stumbled upon a copy of America's Test Kitchen's Gluten Free Baking publication in the grocery store last fall, and it had the recipe for an awesome flour blend.

What You'll Need:
24 ounces (4 1/2 cups, plus 1/3 cup) white rice flour
7 1/2 ounces (1 2/3 cups) brown rice flour
7 ounces (1 1/3 cups) potato starch
3 ounces (3/4 cup) tapioca starch
3/4 ounce (3 Tbsp) nonfat dry milk powder

Directions:
  1. Combine all flours into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. 
  2. Whisk on slow speed until well combined, then store in an airtight container. 
Note: If you're having a hard time finding potato starch or tapioca starch, they might be called "potato flour" or "tapioca flour". 

This is my go-to blend for everything from sticky buns, to blueberry muffins, to cookies

I also keep the following on hand:
  • Powdered psyllium husk: Adding this to baked goods with yeast helps the yeast bind and creates a more gluten-esque dough. 
  • Xantham gum: I learned early on in my gluten free baking adventures that some recipes need a binder, or they don't look quite right and end up with a bizarre texture. This stuff is good to have on hand, and most recipes call for only a minuscule amount. 
  • Extra rice flour: When you're frying catfish or making buffalo wings, you don't need a gluten free blend. Rice flour will usually do the trick. 
Happy baking!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Work A Room


























I watched the Patriots game at a friend's house this weekend, and there were some new faces in the group.  I introduced myself and made casual conversation with everyone, but it reminded me that working a room is a skill that requires practice. It's not easy to make small talk with someone you don't know, but it makes parties (or business dinners, networking events, wedding receptions, etc) a whole lot more enjoyable. Be engaged! Here are five of my own tips for "working a room":
  1. Introduce yourself.  Regardless of the type of event that you're at, know how to introduce yourself. Keep it short and sweet- maybe include a bit about how you know the party's host, or if you're at a networking event, include a brief sentence about what you do for work.
  2. Have something to say. After you introduce yourself, you'll need to follow it up with something to get the conversation started. I like to use a sincere compliment or a note about the event to give myself an "in." For example, "Hi, I'm Lauren. I noticed your earrings- they are so beautiful! Where did you get them?" Everyone loves a little flattery, and the conversation can flow from there.  Another tip? Make sure you're up to date on what's going on in the world. Current events are bound to come up- I catch the highlights every morning in The Skimm
  3. Approach groups. You're not working the room if you stand with one person and talk to them for three hours. Approaching small groups of 2-3 will allow you to meet more people and you won't get trapped in a conversation- it's easier to make an exit when you're talking to more than one person. 
  4. Smile and be friendly. This should go without saying, but nobody wants to talk to the person sitting at the bar alone, frowning and staring into their drink. Smile, make eye contact with people, and look like you're enjoying yourself. If you're having fun, people will naturally gravitate towards you. 
  5. Have an exit plan. Inevitably, you're going to want to get out of a conversation now and then. Be ready to make a graceful getaway by mentioning that you need to refill your drink, or offering to introduce your chatty companion to someone new. For example, at a networking event I might wave over a colleague and say something like "Trina, this is Alex. We were just talking about the new hire training. I know you've been working on that- you should weigh in!" (while I move along to the next group). 
These tips are handy in many scenarios. Even when you're don't really need to "work a room", it's good to feel confident enough to strike up a conversation with someone new.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Blueberry Muffins


Blueberries looked SO yummy at the store on Sunday, so I stocked up. But then as I was unpacking my groceries I realized I had way more blueberries than we'd probably consume in a normal week.  Obviously, the only solution was to bake them into tasty muffins.

What You'll Need:
1 3/4 cups + 2/3 cup gluten free flour blend (11 ounces if you're measuring)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup 2% plain Greek Yogurt
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 cups fresh blueberries
Turbinado sugar (for topping)


Directions:
  1. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. I adapted this recipe from one that also called for 1/4 tsp cinnamon, so if you like cinnamon sneaking into your baked goods, add it here (my sister always adds a dash of cinnamon to her baking... this note is for her).
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk the granulated sugar, butter, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla together until well combined.
  3. Store the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
  4. Gently fold in the blueberries and allow the batter to rest while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
  5. Grease a 12- cup muffin tin with vegetable oil and carefully scoop even portions of batter into each prepared tin. I use an ice cream scoop (the lunch-lady kind with a lever) and it works like a dream. 
  6. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over each muffin and bake for about 15-20 minutes. Let them cool in the muffin tin for 10 minutes before serving. 
 These muffins are SO yummy served warm, but if you can resist eating all 12 at once, then put them in an airtight container and have some for breakfast the next day... and the day after. 



Friday, January 15, 2016

Resolution: Make-Ahead-Meals

Eating healthier is a pretty popular resolution. The new year is a clean slate- you get to start fresh and create new habits for the next 365 days.  I feel like this is an area where Neal and I already do pretty good. I'm not going to kickstart a new diet or commit to eliminating a particular food group. Instead, I'd like to make sure that we do better at shopping and prepping food for the week ahead.

This is a tough one, but I'm committed to it because I find that I make healthier, more satisfying choices when I cook for myself versus visiting a local food truck for lunch (although I'll admit, food truck food and takeout definitely have their place... it's impossible to avoid them altogether!). Here are a few tips if you made a similar resolution this year:
  • Prep produce and meal ingredients on Sunday. This makes it easy to throw together quick week-night dinners. 
  • Soups and sauces can be made over the weekend. If you're not going to use them until later in the week, freeze 'em! I often freeze multiple portions because it's rare that we polish off an entire pot of soup in a week. 
  • Mason jars are your friend.  Mason jar salads are perfect for lunch at work, and because the dressing is on the bottom, the lettuce and veggies don't get soggy. Check out this recipe to get started. 
  • Don't forget snacks! We buy larabars and tiny bags of cashews to snack on during the week, plus I portion out baby carrots and other bite-sized goodies into snack bags so that we can just grab them and go. 


On the menu this week? Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Soup (recipe courtesy of Damn Delicious). This soup was surprisingly hearty and is full of good-for-you veggies... and bacon!


And speaking of bacon...Brady's New Year's resolution is to find the best snooze spots in the house. He didn't even move when bacon was sizzling on the stove! Oh to be a dog...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Resolution: Decorate

Decorating our new house is high on my list of things to do in 2016. We started with the main living space, but our bedrooms needs a little something more.  Because the master bedroom is obviously the one we use most often, I'm starting there and tackling an area of the house that has really stumped me: the shelves!


We have these amazing floating shelves in the master bedroom, but since we moved into this house from a much smaller space, we really don't have enough "stuff" to put on them! I frequent the library and love my Kindle, so books aren't really an option. Plus, I want the shelves to contribute to the overall vibe of the room and feel like they were curated. 

I tried searching Pinterest for inspiration, and I've browsed almost every home store that you could imagine, but I didn't want to fill the shelf with just ANYTHING. So, I whipped out a pen and drew the end result. It's not perfect, but this picture has helped me to shop with a purpose. 


I've included a mix of botanicals, books, pictures, and decorative objects, and now that i have an "end" in mind, I don't feel pressured to go but it all at once. As I shop for other things and an item catches my eye, I'll purchase it and add it in.  I highly recommend this approach to decorating, and I think I'll use it as I tackle some of the other rooms too.

Another tip? Look to pictures in magazines, online, etc. to get inspiration. I love this article from Lonny Magazine on "Accessorizing with Flair". 

I still have a long way to go, but I've made a tiny bit of progress! I'm hoping that by the end of 2016 I'll have some before/after shots of ALL of the spaces I've decorated throughout the year. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Best Day of 2015

I have been itching to share pictures from my favorite day of 2015: Our wedding! Neal and I tied the knot in September and after months of planning it was the perfect celebration, full of personal touches and lots of love.


Our invites, designed by Gold Fox Paper, set the tone for our wedding weekend. We wanted the vibe to be natural and effortlessly elegant (and also fun!).  Since most of our guests were from out of town, we opted to host a welcome party on a rooftop in downtown Austin the night before the wedding, and we included that invite with the details for the main event. 


Neal and I were not planning on having a "first look" but after a crazy drive out to Prospect House (our beautiful venue out in the hill country), I needed to calm my nerves a bit and request an impromptu meeting in the hallway. It was one of the sweetest moments of the day, and it definitely helped to center us before the ceremony.  I'm glad that our fabulous photographer, Heather Curiel, was there to capture it!



We had a day of hair, makeup, and brunch with all of my favorite ladies, but it wasn't until I put by veil on that I really felt like a bride. 


I was a little bit nervous about the  flowers... I had my mind set on peonies, but when the week of the wedding rolled around, Lea at Blackbird Floral just didn't feel like there was a great selection available. I trusted her, and she delivered. I loved the dahlias and ranunculus and the artfully disheveled look of everything was just my style. 


We walked down the aisle to beautiful music played by Terra Vista Strings. They continued playing during the cocktail hour and were absolutely amazing- I can't recommend them enough!



A dear friend of ours officiated the ceremony, which means that we had to WRITE the whole ceremony. It definitely took me a while, but I'm glad we did it. Having a ceremony and vows (we wrote our own) that were totally unique to us made the day even more special. 


My sister and now sister-in-law were my bridesmaids, but I have some amazing friends that were still an important part of our big day. The ladies pictured above sat right up front during the ceremony in their blue dresses and served as my "something blue". I'm so glad they could all be there!


Prospect House is like a big, beautiful blank canvas. We didn't overdo it with decor, sticking with that "natural elegance" theme. 


Cake tasting was one of my favorite parts of wedding planning, but it was so hard to choose just one type! Rather than make decisions, we picked ALL the flavors and had a big cake/dessert table, courtesy of Green Lilly Bakery. 



Our party wouldn't be complete without a nod to our east-coast history. Neal and I met in Boston, so it only seemed appropriate to include some New England-esque touches. When the band took a short set break, Dock & Roll pulled up and started serving up lobster rolls- SO good!


We had parties the TWO nights before the wedding, so we opted out of a post-wedding brunch on Sunday. Instead, we sent our guests home with some morning-after favors: boxes full of bloody mary mix, vodka, tabasco, and homemade jalepeno cheddar muffins. 


A sparkler send-off was the perfect end to a perfect day!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Resolution: Learn Something New

I don't have a bunch of new year's resolutions, but I DO have some goals for 2016. At the top of the list: learning to sew. I got a sewing machine over the holidays and I am excited to get a little bit crafty!


This past weekend a friend and I went to Sew Much More where I stocked up on some basic thread, bobbins, scissors, and practice fabric. The store was full of fun sewing accessories, patterns, etc. and they offer classes for beginners to expert-level sewers. I was a little intimidated at first, but upon explaining that I was brand new to sewing, the staff were incredibly helpful and encouraging. Everyone starts somewhere!

Sewing 101: Dog Bed (Project and Photo from Design Sponge)
My first "easy" project is a new bed for Brady. Even if it doesn't turn out 100% perfect, I'm confident that he'll love it (dogs are easy to please!). I'll be following the instructions from Brett's post on Design Sponge... wish me luck!


What goals do YOU have for the new year?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reflecting on The Last Year

We're a week into 2016, and I spent the weekend thinking about all that I want to accomplish in the upcoming year. It's going to be a good one, but 2015 was pretty awesome too. Here are some of my favorite posts from the past year:

A Fête For The Bride-To-Be

I love throwing parties, and this bridal shower for my cousin was one of my favorites. Winter worked it's magic and created the perfect setting for a fun afternoon with the girls.

Picking Your Party

Neal and I sent custom bottles of champagne to our sisters in early 2016, asking them to be bridesmaids in our fall wedding. Check out my tips on picking the perfect bridal party (and I promise to post some wedding pics late this week!).

Love To Run

Running is NOT something that comes easily to me, but I followed this plan and completed the Austin Half Marathon- it felt like a big accomplishment for me, and it was actually pretty fun!

Tools For Your Toolkit

Perhaps this seems like a a lame one, but we bought a house in 2015 and I cannot count the number of times we have gone to Home Depot! These tools are just the basics, but they really do come in hand.

Busy In The City


I stand by this post: there's no reason that fun dinners with friends can't happen during the week. Keep things simple and throw the easiest dinner party ever- I promise you'll have fun.

Curried Tuna Salad-As-A-Salad

There are so many awesome recipes out there, but this one is incredibly delicious and super easy to make. It's one of my favorite lunches and I will definitely continue to make it in 2016...

Weekend Away: What to Pack

One of my resolutions for the new year is to take short weekend trips and explore new places. I'm going to take my own advice and pack light!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Get Comfy: Perfect Pajamas

I LOVE comfy pajamas. I'm not taking about mis-matched college t-shirts and shorts. I mean REAL pajama sets. Our New Year's Eve pajama party was really just a formal excuse for me to hang out in PJs all day (and night) long. Here are some of my faves:


This silk Asceno set, sold at Nordstrom, is so beautiful! I have a similar pink set that I received as a bachelorette gift, and it's just a little bit sexy while still being functional and comfy around the house. 


I have a plaid Ralph Lauren sleep shirt (similar to the one pictured above, but flannel) and it is my FAVORITE thing to wear to bed. It's not too matronly and not too hot. 


Valentine's Day will be here before you know it... how cute is this set?! PJ Salvage makes adorable pajama sets in a variety of prints. I also have a few similar sets from Cosabella that are amazingly soft and comfy. 

I have a pretty romper from Soma Intimates that I live in during the summer months, but I think the one pictured above is even more chic and it's in my Nordstrom shopping cart! This loungewear looks almost like regular clothes, making it perfect for those lazy Sundays when we're just hanging around the house until the mid-afternoon.