love coordinates

Last week I read a post by one of my favorites, Damsel in Dior, about coordinates. In it she mentions the coordinates of where she was born and that she had them engraved on a bracelet as a gift for her mom. I read this idea and got SO excited. I am always looking for unique gift and design ideas, and there’s so much you can do with numbers.

So I looked up the address of the party where Ben and I first met (thank you, Facebook Events). Originally I was going to get the coordinates engraved on something for him as a surprise, but I was so excited about the idea I just had to tell him. For now I’ve just settled with a simple graphic we can frame and put on our wall.

I love this idea so much, because the numbers by themselves will only mean something to those who know what they represent. A few ideas for coordinates of a special place that have popped into my head:

  • Engraved jewelry (taking Damsel’s idea) as a gift
  • Artwork/posted or even huge wall stickers in a house
  • Print-screened pillowcase or t-shirt
  • Cut-out numbers as party decorations
  • Treasure hunt date idea

I haven’t really thought these through, but I am totally loving this new way to represent locations and special moments of our lives. Yay!

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let’s get scrappy

So… I think I’ve decided to start scrapbooking. I realize this sounds a bit like me saying, “I’ve decided to start using the internet,” in that so many people have been doing this for years and years, and any hope I have of becoming mildly competent at scrapbooking will be forever overshadowed by the masses of seriously talented experts out there. Including one of my sisters. She has a whole room in her house dedicated to it. I have a whole container! Thus far. But let’s be real here—scrapbooking is totally fun.

This is clearly a big deal. Honestly, I think I resisted the idea at first because it seemed like a lot of work, and I’d constantly feel the need to keep scrapbooking, but I’m realizing these things are counterbalanced by how much fun the actual work of creating a scrapbook can be. (This also *might* have to do with a recent visit to a craft store in the mall and discovering all the fun supplies in existence for scrapbooking. All the things!)

In any case, here I am, and I’m trying to decide how to go about it. Where do I start? Our first year of marriage? Allie’s first year of life? Mine? The fine ladies of A Beautiful Mess recently shared an awesomely helpful post about scrapbooking for beginners, which I’ll need to go back and review in detail. And I will probably just go ahead and give my sister a call to get her professional opinion.

In the meantime, I’ve started playing with a few ideas. Probably what I love most about scrapbooking is scrapbook paper. I mean, have you seen all the cute patterns out there? I keep buying sets of the paper with no real projects in mind, just because they are so cute. I also decided to create a few scrapbook pages of my own in Illustrator. Feel free to download and use them if you’d like!

I think for me there’s something about becoming a mom that has made me feel this urgency to document our lives. For Allie’s sake. And the sake of any future babes. It’s part that and part creative cabin fever. We’ll see how the great scrapbooking adventure goes. I don’t want to go overboard and have it be a hobby-turned-addiction, but I’m hoping it will serve as a creative outlet and means for me to counteract my fear of all these precious memories with my family slipping away. I shall keep you posted!

food fave: flatbread pizza

Tonight I am happy to share with you all one of the favorite meals in this household: my aunt’s recipe for flatbread pizza. I don’t typically love pizza; it’s usually a point of desperation if I agree to ordering pizza for dinner. But this recipe is soooo good. We probably end up eating it every two or three weeks, and any leftovers will be gone by the next day. This just tastes like a lighter version of pizza—not too cheesy or juicy or bready. Just perfect.

Here’s the lowdown:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-2 cans 14.5 oz. diced tomatoes in basil, garlic, and oregano flavor (like this)
  • Fresh mozzarella in a ball
  • Shredded fontina cheese (may be replaced with gouda cheese)
  • Sliced meat as desired (pepperoni or salami)
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Mix water, sugar, salt, and yeast in bread mixer. Add flour and knead until mixed.
  3. Divide into two balls and roll out into a circle shape.
  4. Grease two pizza pans with olive oil and put dough on pan, spreading evenly to the edges of pan. Brush a little olive oil on top of dough.
  5. Add drained tomatoes (half a can on each pizza). Add salt and pepper. Top with thinly sliced mozzarella, covering most of the pizza. Finish with the shredded fontina.
  6. Cook for approximately 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack before cutting.

Ben likes meat on his, but I don’t, so we’ll do half and half. I love tomatoes, so I like to use a little more than one can. We’ve also had some situations where we thought we had the right seasoning of diced tomatoes, but instead had Italian style, and that worked fine, too. You can add additional seasonings (e.g., garlic, basil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, oregano, shallots) to taste, especially if you only have plain diced tomatoes.

Anyway, it’s super yummy and you should try it!

{In unrelated food news, tonight we made Our Best Bites’ Pizzookies tonight for dessert. Insanely, decadently sweet and delicious (fair warning: you have to really love sweets to enjoy them). Just one is more than enough sweetness for a week or two.}

food fave: warm goat cheese salad

First things first: I love goat cheese. I’m talking love-sonnet-writing, mountaintop-shouting levels of love here. I honestly can’t think of any food that wouldn’t go well with goat cheese. So, when I was informed in the early weeks of my pregnancy that soft cheeses were a no-no (unless you’re absolutely *sure* they’re pasteurized), I was crushed. My pediatrician sister-in-law Candice did tell me, however, that as long as the cheese was cooked, it was fine.

Now, let me also tell you what happens if you grab some goat cheese and try to cook it. You know, like on the stove or in the microwave. It melts. So I was at a bit of a loss as to how one would cook goat cheese. Until Ben and I went out to dinner at Carlyle in Arlington, VA. It was here I discovered the warm goat cheese and spiced pecan salad. This salad was seriously amazing. And we returned to Carlyle more than once during my pregnancy so I could keep getting it! But now that we’ve moved away and there are no Great American Restaurants nearby, we’ve had to improvise.

After searching online for a recipe for warm goat cheese and reviewing the Carlyle menu, we’ve recreated this recipe multiple times to happy palates. And for those of you who share my love of goat cheese, this is your lucky day, because this one’s a good one!

Ingredients

  • 4-6 cups mixed greens
  • 1 cup pecans (approximately)
  • Sugar
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup Craisins (or other dried cranberries)
  • Warm goat cheese:
    • One log goat cheese
    • 1-2 egg whites, beaten
    • 1-2 cups bread crumbs
    • Oil and butter

Directions

1. Cut goat cheese log into half-inch slices (easiest with dental floss). Dip each slice in the beaten egg whites, then dip them in the bread crumbs until they are completely covered. Place the slices on a rack and chill them for at least 15 minutes.

2. Pour a few tablespoons of sugar into a frying pan and add in pecans. Turn burner on medium-high and stir constantly until sugar is melted and pecans are coated. Turn off heat and stir until cool (otherwise they’ll stick to the pan).

3. Cut cherry tomatoes into halves and combine with mixed greens and Craisins. Add in pecans once cool.

4. Melt about a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat until just under smoking. Cook the goat cheese rounds quickly on both sides until browned on the outside but not melted inside.

5. Add cheese rounds to salad and serve with balsamic vinaigrette or similar dressing.

Post-pregnancy, I’ve tried this without cooking the goat cheese (since it’s probably the most time-consuming part), but it really makes a difference having it warm. Also, as we just made this again tonight, it’s easy to burn the cheese rounds if you don’t have enough oil/butter in the pan. But even a little burnt, they are still delish.

Seriously my favorite salad ever!

project salted caramel molten chocolate cakes

This week we have had all sorts of family in town, and the other night we had a big family dinner and, surprise surprise, I was tasked with preparing a dessert. Ever since I’ve started following all these amazing blogs and pinning more frequently, a simple batch of cookies or brownies just hasn’t seemed exciting enough. So when the call came, I answered with this recipe from A CUP OF JO for salted caramel molten chocolate cakes. More accurately, Ben answered, because it got late and I had to put Allie down, so Ben was the magic maker of the evening. And magic he made, my friends.

Even though I didn’t do any of the work, I was involved in planning and oversight, and these were a couple of the hurdles we encountered:

  1. Caramel: The recipe included instructions for salted caramel, but we were missing the heavy whipping cream required. We had to choose between (a) buying the whipping cream, (b) buying pre-made salted caramels from Costco, or (c) buying pre-made caramels and salting them ourselves. Because of time, we opted for (c), and it worked out great! Ben just salted them to taste. (And yes, the salt is crucial!)
  2. Ramekins: We didn’t have any and had to borrow them from my sister. Now I realize that I need to buy some but don’t know which size or where to buy them! Thank goodness my sister could help in this case. You don’t think of these as a kitchen essential until you need them!

But despite these minor issues, everything worked out well! More than well. Guys, these are amazing. We sprinkled each cake with powdered sugar and served it with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. So insanely good. Every member of my family present gushed about how delicious they were, and my family is not the type to shy away from honesty. We will probably be picking up some ramekins soon and making these as regularly as my waistline will allow!

* Sidenote: How do you pronounce the word “caramel”? My family teased me for calling them care-uh-mells, instead referring to them as car-mells. Evidently both are correct.

project pineapple upside down cupcakes

I’ve been trying to do some kind of food or craft project each week, and today I had all these fun holiday ideas I wanted to try. I was scrolling through them and made the mistake of asking Ben which one he thought I should make. He responded by vetoing all my ideas and instead requesting pineapple upside down cake, one of his favorite desserts. I groaned, because the idea of this dessert seems kind of… 70s to me. I can’t think of another way to explain it. Just not exciting and kind of old-fashioned.

But, like a good wife, I wanted to make something he would appreciate. I scoured Pinterest for a fun spin on the recipe and discovered all sorts of recipes for a cupcake version. For whatever reason, this seemed more interesting and doable, so after checking to make sure we had all the ingredients, I set to work on this recipe. It was super easy, and I followed it exactly. Fitting the pineapple in the cupcake tins proved a little difficult, so I just ended up cutting it into chunks. I also filled the tins to the very top, which caused them to spill over a bit.

I was honestly not expecting much, but these were delicious! I ate two.. and a half. Okay, three. We added whipped cream on the side and that was the perfect complement. I much preferred the cupcakes to the cake version, as there wasn’t any messy cutting or trying to line up the pineapple with the slices. Maybe mine weren’t as cute as those from the blog where I found the recipe, but they sure tasted good!

 

custom 2014 wall calendar

Every year for the past three years, I have put a Kate Spade wall calendar on my Christmas list. It has been one of my favorite gifts and one that graced my office wall with pride. This year, however, inspired by all the DIYers whose blogs I’ve been fawning over, I decided to make my own calendar. I wanted something that felt as fun as my Kate Spade calendars but that I could create myself. I was so excited to find the Project Life – Sunshine Edition scrapbook paper used in the colorful advent at A Beautiful Mess and was initially going to use it for my own advent calendar. However, since Allie is a little young to appreciate it, I opted to save the idea for a future year and use my paper for something I could appreciate now. Like a 2014 wall calendar!

Before I started I needed a few additional supplies, so I popped over to Michael’s. And oh my craftiness—there are so many craft supplies out there! I am clearly new to this world, because I was totally overwhelmed. But I managed to pick up the remaining items I needed for my calendar and headed home to get to work. All in all, here are the supplies I used:

  • 13 sheets of double-sided 12×12″ scrapbook paper (I cut them to 10×12″)
  • 2 sheets of black 12×12″ cardstock (cut to 10.5×12″)
  • 28 gold split rings
  • 12 calendar months printed from iCal
  • 12 photo pages of family/Allie pics
  • Paper cutter
  • Hole puncher
  • Scissors
  • Double-sided tape (primitive, I know)
  • Glitter alphabet stickers
  • Glitter chevron ribbon
  • Ruler

I started by sorting the scrapbook pages into an order in which they complemented each other and at least somewhat fit the month. Then I cut all the paper to better fit the calendar pages I had printed, with the black covers slightly longer than the month pages. I had created 12 pages of photos (this took time, truth be told) and printed them on some photo paper we had lying around. I used double-sided tape to stick on all the photo pages and calendar pages and to attach the first and last months to the covers. I decorated the front cover with some of the alphabet letters and a piece of the ribbon.

With all my pages prepped and ordered, I punched three holes across the top of each page for the main gold rings, then I wound the rings gently through the holes of each page. Here is where I got a little gold-ring happy, when I remembered I needed a way to attach the calendar to the wall. I wanted to distribute the weight of the calendar evenly to avoid page-tearing, so I punched three holes across the bottom of each page but only wound the gold rings through the front cover. I looped the remainder of the gold rings in the package together from each main ring, ending up with one ring at the top that will be hung on a nail on our wall come January! I’ll loop future months through the bottom gold rings as we move to each new month.

The whole project took me maybe 2-3 hours, which flew by while I caught up on our saved episodes of Project Runway, Top Chef, and White Collar (yay for sleeping babies!). It is far from perfect (I replaced the scissors with a paper cutter a little late in the game), but I love all the bright colors and patterns of the scrapbook pages and of course all the pictures of Allie! For my first real DIY project in a long time, I’m very happy with it, but I hope to come up with some cooler ideas in the future.

 

custom recipe book + supply box

Absolutely Extraordinary recipe book

I am by no means a master chef. I pin and read blogs with amazing-looking recipes, but when it comes to actually making food, I usually default to spaghetti or taco salad. However, there are a few special recipes I’ve found over the years—through family, the internet, or random experimentation—that have become our little family’s favorites.

When a dear friend got married recently, I tried to think of something I would have wanted when Ben and I got married, and I realized that even now I don’t have all my go-to recipes in one place. SO I decided to remedy this situation and in the process create a custom wedding gift for one of my very best friends!

SONY DSC

I gathered 28 of our favorites and sorted them into categories. Then I created a recipe book template in Adobe InDesign (my beloved 8×8″ size, naturally). The time-consuming part was copying all the recipe text or typing it up, then editing everything for typos and consistency. I really wanted to include photos, but I was too impatient to wait the time it would take to make each dish and take pictures, so I went with recipes (and the occasional helpful hint) only, at least for this first version.

Absolutely Extraordinary recipe book

Once it was complete, I uploaded jpegs of each page (also time consuming) to Shutterfly, and had it printed up as a photo book! Before I shipped it off to my friend, I took a few pictures of the end product, then packaged it up with a few less-common kitchen tools (spaetzle maker, melon baller, cheese cloth, and citrus juicer) required in some of the recipes in the book.

kitchen supplies

And now that all the hard parts are done, I can eventually add pictures and adapt the idea for future gifts! Yay!

project red velvet brownies

red velvet brownies

Ben and I are devoted red velvet fans. As in, so much so that Ben’s good friend got us 17 boxes of red velvet cake mix for our wedding. We have tried many varieties of red velvet cake and cupcakes, but nothing beyond that. Until I found this recipe for red velvet brownies. Considering our love of brownies is approximately equal to our love of red velvet, it was vital that we tried to make these. And we did!

My fault for poor planning, but when I went to make these, thinking we had all the ingredients, I didn’t realize how much red food coloring was required! I only had one little bottle of it, and the recipe called for TWO OUNCES. Of red food coloring. So we ended up with pink batter + cocoa powder, which equaled kind of a burnt brown… so basically they ended up just looking like regular brownies.

But forget the aesthetics for a minute, because these were delicious! Especially when Ben convinced me they would be improved by some cream cheese frosting*.

SONY DSC

I made no effort to remove the crumbs from the plate before taking these pictures. I had already had a couple at this point.

Here are my final comments on this recipe:

  1. The brownies themselves tasted amazing but were a little more cakey in consistency than I would have liked.
  2. If you are a sweets fan, I highly recommend adding the cream cheese frosting. But alone they are still quite good.
  3. Plan ahead with the food coloring! Somehow they aren’t as magical in brown as in bright red.

Another pin down! I like this whole actually making things idea. Though I appear to be partial to desserts…

* I just did the recipe by taste, but it was a packet of cream cheese (8 oz.), a stick of butter (probably should have included a little less, maybe just half), 2.5 cups of powdered sugar, and 1.5 teaspoons of vanilla—mixed together in a bowl with a hand mixer. Made A TON of frosting, so I’d recommend cutting the whole recipe in half.

baby first year book

Near the end of my pregnancy with Allie, I got all sorts of anxiety about making sure I had enough ways to document her life. I looked at several baby book options and decided, considering I spent my work days writing and designing magazine-style documents, I could do something similar for Allie. So I did! Drawing from multiple sources of Pinspiration, I created a template that I’ve been filling out each month, starting with pregnancy.

baby first year bookThe format is basically an 8×8 inch book, with a spread per month. There’s a page of text about what Allie did/what life was like that month (and stats, if I have them) on the left-hand side, with a full-page photo from that month on the right-hand side. The pages here just have placeholder text; I’ve been writing something each month but am continually editing and even swapping out the pictures (decisiveness is not one of my gifts), so I won’t include the final product just yet. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I love the idea of documenting this first year in a format of my choosing—and it’s a template I can reuse for future kids!

baby book_Page_3

The file is built in Adobe InDesign, and I will probably have it printed as a photo book through Shutterfly.