December 11, 2012

A Dozen Holiday Gift Ideas

I'm a complete and utter whore for gifts...

...just not in the way you may think. 

See, I like getting gifts just as much as the next person...but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE giving them.  Sick, right? 

The annual arrival of Black Friday (when I begin my whirlwind Christmas shopping binge) fills me with child-like glee and giddy anticipation for when I get to play Santa to my nieces, friends and family.  I love finding that perfect present that's thoughtful and tailored to the recipient...and it doesn't even have to be expensive.  Some of my favorite gifts I've given over the years are small, simple and heartfelt.

In this spirit of gift-giving, I've listed a dozen ideas below to spark any last-minute shopping you may be doing...because CHRISTMAS IS ONLY 2 WEEKS AWAY!!!  I'm aiming to post another gift idea list over the next few days, so keep your eyes peeled!

1. Drybar Blowout. $35  This little luxury is one of my all-time favorite gifts to give.  It's such a nice, special, relaxing treat.  They'll even give you a glass of champagne and yummy cookies while you're there!

2. Trader Joe's Chocolate Passport. $10  A few weeks ago, I noticed this darling set of sweets sitting at the TJ's check-out counter. It's arranged like a row of encyclopedia books and boasts eight different dark chocolates from unique locales like Venezuela and Tanzania. 

3. Girls Season 1 DVD/Blu-ray. $22.99  I believe the exact line was: all adventurous women do...have HPV...and this show on DVD/Blu-ray.  But seriously, Girls is abso-fucking brilliant.  You know how every network has tried over and over again to recreate the phenomenon that was LOST and failed? (Alcatraz, Flashforward, Fringe, V, The Event)  Well, this show does that...except for Sex & The City...and it succeeds.

4. Anthropologie Christmas Ornaments.  Varies.  Anthropologie easily wins the Cutest Christmas Ornaments Ever award.  They're each so unique that they almost look one-of-a-kind.  Like this pair of bunny critters.  One is Chalet Bunny and one is Pollyana Bunny.  (head exploding from the cuteness)

5. Balsam & Cedar Yankee Jar Candle.  $15.99-$27.99  I've had this candle burning non-stop since Thanksgiving* and it makes my home smell just like a fresh-cut Christmas tree.  Who wouldn't love that!?  *Side note.  My rule-of-thumb for holiday candle scents is as follows:  October (pumpkin), November (apple cider/spices), December (pine/cedar).  

6. Ridge Wine.  Varies.  Ryan discovered this wine a few years ago when his boss gave him a bottle for a gift.  They're known for their Zinfandel blends and you'll probably want to bathe in it. 

7. Warby Parker Sunglasses. $95  Buy a pair and they donate a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need.  It's the gift that gives back and makes you look stylish!

8. Penguin Classic Books. $20-$25  These pretty books come clothbound and feature beautiful, original cover designs.  They even have Les Miserables, which would pair nicely with tickets to see the movie!

9.  Essie 'Leading Lady' $8  A festive, glittery garnet nail polish makes a great mini stocking stuffer!

10. JCrew Power Mate iPhone Charger.  $40  A practical present for your friend who loves to gab, Facebook and drain their battery!

11. A Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack. $7  Everything about these songs puts a smile on my face.  They're absolute classics.  Magical, beautiful and bright.

12. Baubles.  I love giving this type of jewelry as gifts for my girlfriends...anything sparkly, colorful or fun that you wouldn't necessarily buy for yourself.  Like these, these, or these.

December 1, 2012

Sugar & Spice...And All Things Nice

My nieces Olivia and Charlotte are two of the most important things in my life.  It has brought me immeasurable joy being their aunt and watching their unique little personalities develop.   

Olivia, 7,  is imaginative, precocious and oh-so-sensitive (like her auntie).  She's the consummate helper and a budding fashionista on the verge of losing her adorable 'baby' voice and becoming a full fledged, smart-as-a-whip girly girl.  Charlotte, 3,  is a little ball of energy and physical, playful, affectionate, wide-eyed and sweet.  Her favorite things are baby animals, My Little Pony's Pinkie Pie and cookies.   I want to stop time and bottle them both up exactly as they are.  They are utterly perfect. 

Though I digress, there is a crafting moral to this story. 

Last year, I started the tradition of making these two special little gals an annual cross stitch Christmas ornament.  I hope these are trinkets they will have for years to come and use to decorate their own Christmas trees one day.  

For 2012, I made them matching reindeer ornaments.  This year, I made them the jewel-toned companion pieces below based on the popular (albeit ironic) nursery rhyme 'What Are Little Boys Made Of.'  

I've uploaded the pattern I made here in case any of my fellow crafters feel like re-creating for the little girls in their lives. 

Embroidery Hoop Christmas Wreath

I've been binge crating (and shopping) for the holidays the past few weekends and finally got around to making the one quintessential Christmas craft that every home should have: a wreath!  

Instead of decorating one of the plain, artificial wreath bases, I grabbed one of the million embroidery hoops that I have in my craft closet, some loose holiday floral stems and a hot glue gun. 

After trimming down the floral stems in to smaller pieces, I arranged them on the embroidery hoop and simply hot glued everything down, accenting with holly berries and pine cones. 

I love the rustic look of the snow-frosted pine needles and the mini size - about 12" when finished.  It's the perfect piece to hang on your mantle or give as a gift!

November 30, 2012

BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza

Ryan and I have always been really good about cooking for dinner (vs. ordering in or eating out).  This usually means that we don't eat until 8:30 or so because of our work schedules but 9 times out of 10, we whip something up at home.  I try to make recipes that will last us for at least two meals so we have something to bring for lunch the next day. 

Despite having a laundry list of go-to recipes...we're always trying to brainstorm new tasty options.  Yesterday, I experimented with the BBQ pulled pork pizza below and it turned out incredibly well so wanted to share.  It's ridiculously easy to make and only involved about 10 minutes of prep time and 20 minutes of baking. Bon Appetit!

  • Trader Joe's pre-made pizza dough
  • Trader Joe's pulled pork 
  • BBQ sauce
  • Mexican cheese blend
  • Red/yellow peppers
  • Corn
  • Arugula
  • Stretch your pizza dough out on to a lightly greased cookie sheet, pizza stone or jelly roll pan. 
  • Spread on BBQ sauce as your base. 
  • Top with cheese, veggies and pulled pork!
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

November 21, 2012

Ho Ho Ho Holiday Letter Bunting

I know that it's not even Thanksgiving but I'm already giddy with excitement for Christmas and all the fun crafts, baking, gift-giving and decorating that the holiday brings.  

Last year, I made these hanging bulb ornaments for my mantle.  This year, I wanted to make something new...just for the fun of it!

I decided on the glittery ho-ho-ho lettered banner below.  It's festive and colorful and sparkly and kinda random, if you ask me...which I love.

All I did was print two large letters - and 'H' and an 'O' - on plain white paper to use as my template.  I cut the letters out and then traced on to the back of my glitter paper.  Using an Xacto knife, I cut out each glitter letter, then hole punched the tops to run ribbon through.  Voila!

November 18, 2012

Mason Jar Snowglobes

I have a total obsession with mason jars.  I love their antique look and they have a million different uses: vases, pencil holders, as drinking cups, to collect small odds and ends and more!  I've also been itching to use them for my latest crafting project: Christmas snow globes I saw in Martha Stewart a while back...especially now that Anthropologie is selling them for a small fortune - $40 each - yikes!! 

To make your own wintery snow globe wonderland, you'll need mason jars, glitter, a hot glue gun and various holiday trees and figurines (which you can find at a craft store and are almost always 40% off).  For my series of snow globes, I could only find little white trees so painted them green using a sponge brush, but you could always leave white depending on the look you want.

First, remove the lid from your mason jar and lay it on a flat surface.  Arrange your figurines on the inside of the lid, then simply hot glue them down to secure.  You want to leave a little bit of space between your figurines and the edge of the lid so test placing the jar over them to make sure they fit in smoothly.  

Then, add a few tablespoons of glitter inside the jar.  I used mainly white but also a bit of silver sparkles.  Fill the mason jar with water, screw the lid on tight and turn upside down!  

November 4, 2012

Pine Cone Napkin Rings

This past week, I brought out my sewing machine to make my very first set of napkins using an orange feather print I found at Sew Modern.  The napkins themselves are not my finest project but I'm in love with the accompanying pine cone napkin rings I made.  They were relatively simple to make and would be a great Thanksgiving hostess gift this fall.

To make your own set, you'll need the following supplies:
  • Mini Pine Cones.  You can find these are your craft store, usually in a bag of roughly a dozen. 
  • Brown Floral Wire Stems.  Like these but brown.  I went for a thicker gauge to make sturdier. 
  • Craft/Washi Tape in the color of your choice.
  • Hot Glue Gun
First, you'll need to attach the floral wire to the base of your pine cone using hot glue.  I made a small loop using the top of the  wire and then just glued on.  To make extra secure, I swirled another inch or so of the wire around the original circle, gluing as I went.  If the visibility of the hot glue bothers you, you could cut out a small round piece of brown felt to glue over the wire. 

Next, take your craft tape and glue on to the wire as close to the pine cone base that you can get.  Then, simply wrap around the wire until you've covered about 6".  Trim off any excess wire stem. 

Now you have your completed napkin ring!  You can twist and shape the wire around your napkin however you like. 


October 13, 2012

Gold Paper Mâché Bowls

I came across this brilliant project by Kelli Murray via Craft Gawker and knew I had to make one of these gold paper mâché bowls immediately.  I love when I find crafty projects that I literally would NEVER have thought of on my own.  It blows my mind.  Who would ever conceive a shiny gold bowl using a balloon, newspaper and Mod Podge?!

I won't attempted to re-create her blog post because it's fantastic.  The only thing I modified for my version was that I used gold spray paint + Martha Stewart's liquid gilding instead of the gold leaf (shit is expensive).  I then added the polka dots using a pencil eraser and some paint.  

My newest little creation is already sitting on my nightstand holding some of my jewelry. :)

Paper Clip & Button Bookmarks

I've always been an avid reader and remember eagerly looking forward to school book fairs as a child so I could binge on latest Judy Blume, Roald Dahl or Beverly Cleary. 

There's some wonderfully grounding about turning the pages of a paperback book, earmarking the corner where you left off.  I love seeing a stack of them on my nightstand as a reminder of what I'm reading and being able to loan or give to a friend when I'm done.  I refuse to read on a Kindle for these very reasons.

Despite my love for physical reading materials, I never seem to have a bookmark handy to mark the point where I invariably passed out in bed reading late at night.  I decided to make some of my own for this very reason so ventured to my favorite, sacred crafting venue: Michaels. 

They had these adorable, vintage-y looking buttons...roses, nautical anchors and shiny crystals.  With about 5 minutes worth of work, I hot glued them to jumbo paper clips and covered the back with a little piece of cream felt.  Piece. Of. Cake. 

How To Make An Envelope Pillow

Last year, Ryan bought me a sewing machine as a gift.  Although I've only used it a handful of times, it's one of my most prized possessions.  I've been on a mission to improve my sewing skills these past few months so have been taking lessons, including the envelope pillow class I took last weekend at Sew Modern.  I'm obsessed with this place.  They have the cutest, most stylish fabrics and their amazing owner, Lauren, is pretty much living my dream: running her own business and getting to craft/create stuff all day long. 

Although the envelope pillow was so ridiculously easy to make, I have never been more proud of a project in my life!  Here's how you can make one too...

  • Measure your pillow!  Mine was 17" so all the measurements below are based on that size.
  • Cut one 17x17" piece.  This will be the front of your pillow (grey chevron for mine) so if you want to use two different fabrics, make sure the large piece is the piece you want facing front.
  • Next, you'll cut two smaller pieces that will overlap on the back side to make your envelope.  To calculate your measurements for these pieces, divide the size of your pillow in half.  In this case, 8½".  Add 4" to get 12½". This extra 4" on each piece will provide enough fabric to make a hem and then overlap to make your 'envelope' opening.  For this pillow you'll cut two smaller 12½ x17" pieces.

  • Take one of your 12½x17" pieces.  You want to make a hem on one of the longer edges.  To do this, fold the black line below to the first red line (½") and then again to the second red line (½").

  • You should now have a ½" fold of fabric.  Sew down the middle to create your hem.  Repeat on your other piece of 12½x17" fabric. 

  • Now, you're almost ready to finish you pillow!  Place your 17x17" piece right side up (the side of your fabric that you'll want showing on the front of your finished pillow).  Place your two smaller pieces of fabric right side down with the hemmed edges overlapping.  In the picture below, the blue/green lines represent the hemmed edges of the blue/green fabric pieces.

  • Sew around all four edges, about ¼" in.  Use pinking shears to cut off the excess fabric and to prevent fraying.  You can also snip a triangle of fabric off each corner to help make the corners less bulky.  
  • Turn your finished piece inside out and then stuff it with your pillow!

October 6, 2012

Spray Painted Animal Ornaments

Growing up, my sisters and I each had one of those jumbo holiday popcorn tins filled with the Christmas ornaments we had collected over the years.  Conspicuously absent were the shiny bulbs, candy canes and felted reindeer.  The thing I loved most about our ornaments was how random they were: mini porcelain dolls, Radio Flyer wagons, glittery pine cones, carousal horses, musical instruments and sets of skis.  

When my 2-year-old niece Charlotte came to visit a few months ago, she was obsessed with these little rubber toy animals we found at the craft store.  They come in a long tube of roughly a dozen in themes like Farm Animals, Dogs & Cats, Dinosaurs and Sea Creatures.

After seeing a similar set on Pinterest, I decided to make my own Christmas trinkets using...wait for it...the rubber animals!  It was ridiculously easy and they definitely fit with my vision of having my own set of random ass ornaments as an adult.  Here's how you can make your own.

Step 1 - Grab a teeny eye bolt.  The rubber in your animal should be soft enough that you can literally just screw it right in.  If not, poke a little hole first using a push pin or thumbtack.  If you're using larger animals (they sell ones that are about 4"...these are about 2") you may need to drill a hole first and use a larger eye bolt. 

Step 2 - Spray paint them!  I went for silver and gold but am thinking of doing another batch with bright, shiny reds and greens or even neons.

Step 3 - Loop a thin piece of ribbon through the hook, tie off in a bow, knot or with a few sewn stitches to secure and you're done!

September 24, 2012

Crock Pot Edition: Beef Stew

Until this past Sunday, I was a Crock Pot virgin.  I have an irrational fear of things catching on fire so the idea of leaving anything on in my apartment while I'm not there makes me break out in a cold sweat.  In an exercise of 'exposure therapy,' I decided to cave and buy one, proving that my love for hearty meals conquers all.

After Googling 'Crock Pot Recipes' for inspiration, I mainly wanted to gag after meals like Cheeseburger Soup, Cream Cheese Chicken and something called 'Texas Goulash' popped up.  Last I checked, I'm not on an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo* and I'm not making 'sketti' so my crock pot will be used only for good...not evil. 

On that note, my first crock pot meal was a beef stew.  Normally I wouldn't immediately blog a recipe without trying it out a few times first, but this was an adaptation from Martha Stewart...and Martha Stewart can really do no wrong.  Plus, Ryan loved it so my focus group of one says it's ready to be shared.  Bon appetit!

3 lbs. beef chuck
1 large white onion
1 bag white pearl onions
1 lb. carrots
2 lbs. red & Yukon gold potatoes
4 cloves garlic
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tbs. coarse pepper

1/3 c. tomato paste
1/4 c. red wine
1/4 c. beef broth
2 tbs. balsamic vineager
1 tbs. corn starch or flour

Below is a photo of all the main ingredients.  This was literally all I could fit in the photo so you'll have to use your imagination to paint a picture of salt, pepper, corn starch and the other boring but essential items.

  • Cube the beef in to 1" squares, trimming off excess fat. 
  • Wash and scrub your potatoes, then dice in to smaller pieces.
  • Peel and slice carrots and white onion. 
  • Peel garlic and press or mince in to fine pieces. 
  • Broil pearl white onions in oven on high for about 10 minutes.  Once they're cooked a bit, you can easily pop their skin off, leaving just the little onion.
  • Add ingredients above to your crock pot. 
  • In a small bowl, combine beef broth, tomato paste, red wine, balsamic vinegar, corn starch, salt and pepper.  Use a whisk or fork to gently blend together. 
  • Pour liquid in to your crock pot and top with several bay leaves. 
  • Cook on low heat for 7-8 hours (basting occasionally) and enjoy.

*In all seriousness, I love this show and the Thompson family is hilarious...their eating habits are just as nasty as the game Guess Whose Breath.

Kate Spade + Paperless Post = Yes, Please

The Charlotte York part of me* is giddy from the announcement that Kate Spade has created a line of greetings for Paperless Post.  


Sometimes, stuff from Kate Spade gets a little prissy for my taste. Like a hybrid of what Suri Cruise + An American Girl Doll + Betty Draper would wear.  These cards, however, are colorful and sparkly and make me happy inside.  They're fancy because they're Kate Spade and their casual because they're an online card.  They're perfect.

*If I were an amalgamation of all four Sex & The City characters, I would be about 30% Carrie (adorably neurotic), 30% Charlotte (modern Mary Poppins), 20% Miranda (driven career woman) and 20% Samantha (no comment). 

September 23, 2012

I Am The Danger

In honor of tonight's Emmys, I wanted to share my newest, television-themed DIY project... 

It's a not so little secret that I'm a huge Breaking Bad fan.  It's so unique and runs you through such a roller coaster of suspense and emotions that it leaves you breathless at times.  Throughout the show, lead character Walter White transforms from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to full-blown, dangerous motherf---ing drug lord.  The moment below sums up this transformation in four little words:

I Am The Danger.  

Because I'm a huge dork, naturally I decided to make this line in to a cross stitch.  I modeled it after the show logo with the green coloring and periodic table style lettering.  It's my cross stitching masterpiece and you can make your own with my handy little pattern here.

September 20, 2012

Food On A Stick

I generally like foods that come on sticks, picks or skewers: popsicles, meatballs, caramel apples, fruit kabobs and corn dogs to name a few.  Also, anything wrapped in bacon or in a puff pastry or made in a muffin tin is pretty much a guaranteed good time in your mouth. 

My friend Celeste* and I hosted a couples cocktail wedding shower this last Saturday for our friend Sarah and whipped up some bite sized nibbles that I wanted to share.  In all the chaos of getting ready though, I only managed to snap a photo of my caprese on a stick. :( Luckily, this was one of my favorite appetizers we made so I thought I'd share.  It's literally the easiest thing ever and looks cute and fancy.

Just skewer a little mozzarella ball, leaf of basil and cherry tomato.  Voila!  Other finger foods from the menu included bacon wrapped shrimp, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, teriyaki meatballs, veggie + cream cheese crostinis, and more.

*I know I've mentioned this on here before, but it's worth mentioning again.  Celeste is a mutant form of a Super Mom who can entertain, clean house, bake and run a 10k all with a baby in one arm and while chatting on the phone with a friend.  And makes it look easy.  She also has the most incredible eye for design, so every shower, birthday party and luncheon she's ever thrown looks amazing.  Like her back patio where we had the shower.  See, isn't it beautiful?

September 16, 2012

90 Degrees & Pumpkin Decorating

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday.  I love the changing colors outside, the scary movie repeats on TV, kids and dogs dressed in costume, yummy seasonal lattes at Starbucks and generally just all the smells and recipes that start to arrive with fall: mulled cider and nutmeg and apples and dried leaves. It almost makes me miss living somewhere that has 4 real seasons.

Los Angeles - on the other hand - is experiencing some incredibly hot weather for September, which makes doing Halloween crafts a bit odd.  Unfazed by the scorching temperatures, I've been determined to whip up some fall crafts to dress up our apartment.

I landed on on a pumpkin decorating project using the plain, pre-painted craft pumpkins below from Target.  My vision was to make something that I could bring out year after year instead of having to carve and then throw away fresh ones. 

In addition to your pumpkins, you'll also need some crafty supplies: paint brushes, paint pens, glitter, a pencil and some Mod Podge.  

For the orange pumpkin, I first drew the outline of a bat for guidance.  I may do the Sunday crossword in pen but I don't have the same risky attitude with my crafts. ;) If a bat isn't what you're looking could try any number of Halloween images: a spiderweb, witch's hat, ghost, tombstone, black cat, etc.  Once your design is ready, fill it in with paint and top with heaps of glitter.  You can also add a coat of Mod Podge once the paint is dry to seal everything in. 

For the black pumpkin, I free handed the word 'BOO' using the white paint pen (on top of pencil, naturally).  Normally I would use a stencil for lettering to ensure a precise look but I didn't have one large enough and was too lazy to make one.

Last but not least...the little cream pumpkin.  This was definitely the easiest of the three as I just used the orange paint to fill in alternating segments of the pumpkin to make stripes.  That's it! 

In total, I spent probably 3 hours making the goodies below and I'll hopefully pull them out from storage every Halloween!

August 24, 2012

White Wine Fruit Salad

I know that technically it's almost fall but one of my favorite things about summertime is all the fresh, in-season produce we get here in sunny California - avocados, blueberries, nectarines, white corn and strawberries.

While famished one Sunday afternoon*, I decided to mix up a batch of fruit salad...with one little difference.  I soaked everything in white wine.  I used a Pinot Grigio because it has a fairly neutral taste that didn't overpower the sweetness of the fruit.  Here's how you can make your own!

  • Grab a variety of fruits: strawberries, blackberries, mango, kiwi, watermelon, tangerines, white peaches and pineapple.  My only rule is no bananas because they brown quickly.  Yuck.

  • Wash, peel, dice and slice your fruits and place them in a large bowl filled with 1 bottle of white wine.  Allow your ingredients to soak for roughly an hour, then strain in a colander.

  • Place the strained fruit in to your serving bowl and mix in roughly 1/4 cup white wine for texture and to keep everything moist.  Squeeze the juice of one lime over your fruit salad and toss gently.

Then, enjoy...and keep away from children.  I learned this the hard way.  But that's for another blog post.

* Literally every time I have that 'low blood sugar and haven't eaten in a while' feeling, I crave fruit salad.  So random.  

July 15, 2012

Sew Modern

Sewing is something that I'm sure Martha Stewart is a pro at.  I imagine that in between canning preserves and mixing up homemade cleaning supplies she artfully creates her own duvets, curtains and Project Runway-worthy garments without batting an eye.  

Reality check.  Sewing is f--king hard!  

I learned this after Ryan bought me a beautiful sewing machine as a gift and after several frustrating sessions of stitches that were too tight, too loose or seriously pathetic Charlie Brown Christmas tree looking projects it sat collecting dust in our hall closet for months. 

Determined to master a skill that even children can learn*, I dusted off my Janome** and coerced my friends Erin and Melissa to join me for a baby blanket making class.  (yes, it's as dorky as it sounds) 

We met up at Sew Modern, which is officially the most darling little store ever.

We picked out our fabrics from among the rows and rows of beautiful prints and patterns.  The store is really affordable considering the quality and cuteness of their selection.  Most fabrics are around $10-13/yard which - when you consider all the ugly stuff at Joann's Fabric is $8-10 - is a steal.  There's also more premium items in the $15-$20 range, as well as a lot of 20-40% off sale pieces too.  Needless to say, there's something for every price range.

We got to work cutting and pinning our fabrics.

And then headed over to our machines to start sewing!

We each had a few little setbacks - trying to sew around a curved edge, my machine was threaded improperly so made some hideous stitches that had to be ripped out - but owner and class instructor Lauren patiently helped us each mend our mistakes.

But by the end, we each had a cute little blanket to gift to one lucky little baby!

(ignore our makeup-less was a Saturday)

Highly recommend going over to Sew Modern for a class of your own.  Check out their class schedule here, along with their online shop!

* That's not a child labor joke.  They literally have sewing summer camp for elementary school kids at the place we took our class.   

** Ryan's mom was a home ec teacher and swears by the Janome brand.  Unlike Singer or Brother, Janome is still made with metal parts which makes it super durable vs it's mostly-plastic competitors.  I credit this priceless tip with getting me an A+ machine that will last for years to come.