12.23.2011

joy.

I'm jumping with joy over our Christmas cards this year. Not because of the paper bag envelopes, but they are pretty rad. Or because of our custom Paperwink stamp that makes me smile, 120 times over (we have a really big family).
I'm overjoyed because our first family [of three] cards were a creative collaboration with some of my favorite people; custom calligraphy provided by sweet Bianca of Little Miss Press; and design and photos perfected with such love and care by one of Whitney's best friends, the amazing Jenna of Jenna Beth Photography.
We have some pretty special people in our lives, don't we?

Our family portrait session with Jenna last month was the highlight of Thanksgiving weekend, and now we have a bundle of beautiful images that we'll treasure for forever, thanks to her and her uber-talented eye.

She is a true artist; while she owns her own events and photography boutique, she is a trained painter, a dancer and moonlights as a designer. (Sidebar: she designed her own wedding invitations, and these, you have to see (well, you have to see all the images from her wedding, really. So go, and enjoy)). There isn't much this girl can't do. We're lucky to know her and especially thankful for so many years of friendship, on account of my brother picking one heck of a wife who has brought us so much light and love!

Jenna blogged about our photo session earlier this month, and you can view a few more images from our sunny day here.

And with that, our cards are finally sent (I mean, it's Christmas Eve Eve). Gifts are almost totally wrapped. Stockings are hung. Mulled wine, our favorite comfort soup, sugar cookies and lots of family time is on our agenda for this most wonderful time of the year.
To all of you: may you have a happy Christmas. Full of love. And joy.

12.22.2011

our DIY christmas stockings.

At last... our stockings are up just a few days before Christmas. It was a bit touch-and-go, but with my mom's help, we got our family's stockings made just in time for Santa.
If you're considering making your own, here are some helpful links:

+ Step-by-step DIY (with photos!) on lining a stocking with a cuff (ours are clearly without, but this is very helpful when you can't figure out how to get it lined with hidden seams all the way around. Thank goodness for blogs.)

+ Nice, helpful and professional embroidery people. They do exist.

+ For the font-obsessed who have to have their names embroidered just so, find your favorite script here and then get it digitized here. Before you do, ask your embroidery shop what file format they use. Note: most shops provide digitizing services, but it's pricey. Advance Digitizing can do it for a fraction of the cost, and will deliver your files, via e-mail, in 24 hours or less.
All fabric and embellishments from Joann's. We lined the khaki cotton twill stockings with a red-and-white polka dot print and played with buttons and tulle.

12.21.2011

for your christmas brunch.

Or, really, any brunch that you want to make a little extra special... like faux Christmas morning, which we celebrated over the weekend with Mari's cousin, Carson. I have two yummy suggestions for your holiday: potato-leek gratin and blueberry crumb cake. Let's start with the gratin.

Have you read those recipes in the Williams-Sonoma catalogs and wanted to try one? We finally did, and it was divine. Like velvety divine. This is not a time for dieting, people.
Potato-Leek Gratin from Williams-Sonoma
Serves 8-10

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 pounds leeks, white and green portions, rinsed well, cut into 1/4" rings
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/4" slices
3-4 tablespoons minced fresh chives

In a 12" nonstick fry pan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add leeks and salt, stirring to coat leeks with butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Add thyme, nutmeg, pepper and cream. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl; let cool. Wipe out pan and grease with 1 tablespoon butter.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, combine and roughly mix the cheeses. Layer one-third of the potatoes in fry pan. Spread one-third of leek mixture on top and sprinkle with one-third of the cheeses, then one tablespoon of chives. Repeat layering two more times, reserving 1 tablespoon of chives. Cover pan; transfer to oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove lid and bake until potatoes are tender and crust is golden brown, about 30 minutes more. Sprinkle remaining chives on top and let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Note: this recipe is very forgiving and you really can't mess it up (even if you forget, way back at the beginning, to stir in the cream to the leeks, like I did). Have a strong partner around to lift your pan of cheesy, bubbling goodness out of the oven and then load up on the chives.

Next: The BC's Blueberry Crumb Cake. You can find it here, and you can also find it on page 230 in Barefoot Contessa Home.
The cake is fluffy and light with a good crumb crunch, and is a nice, slightly-less-sweeter alternative to my favorite coffee cake.

You really can't beat the smell of melted butter and cake baking in the morning. These two recipes are a match made in heaven, and you don't even need to whip up some scrambled eggs to go with, but we couldn't resist. Cheers.

12.20.2011

gift giving: for your co-workers.

I work with a group of really amazing people. People who helped me take off nearly five months to enjoy being a mom, and people who helped me get back into the swing of things in the last few weeks. I'm very grateful to call them co-workers; but they are really more like friends. Friends who enjoy coffee. And lots of it.

One of my favorite go to gifts: Anthro's monogrammed mugs. For your office pals, pair it with a Starbucks card, and call it a cute day.
Sidebar: another affordable, monogrammed-ish gift from Anthro: this sweet winter tree monogram that can double as a jewelry holder for the glam gals in your life.

12.19.2011

DIY: cheap and cheerful ornaments.

I love these ornaments. They're pretty in glass bowls, hurricanes and hung from just about anywhere. They're also super easy and great for gifting.
Here's what you need:
+ box of clear glass ornaments
+ metallic shred in any color(s) you like
+ pencil with a rubber eraser
Here's whatcha do:
+ Remove the ornament hanger/toppers for each ball. Careful... the cheaper they are, the easier they break.
+ Depending on the size of your ornaments, wrap a few strands each of silver and gold shred around a finger to form a loop.
+ With the loop end down, gently stuff the loop into the ornament.
+ Use eraser to finish stuffing the shred - the shreds get slippery, so the rubber eraser helps a bit. And, the better your loop (sometimes I double it up), the quicker it might go. Once you get your own rhythm, it's quick and easy.
And sparkly.

Happy Christmas Week.

12.14.2011

seeing stars, etc.

Around here, we've been busy little elves. I just love the hustle and bustle of the season... ish. Until I collapse at the end of every day, too tired to wrap the first gift (or do much of anything, really). In my future: lots of wrapping at the end of next week.

Until then, I'm feasting on my favorite: sugar cookies.
This year, the stars aligned, and with four hands, we made four big batches of my favorite holiday cookie. And, in between cutting, frosting and topping, we started making Christmas stockings (nothing like waiting until the last minute). After a good few hours of trying to figure out how to turn things inside out, right-side-in and back again.
More to come on this festive project that really is easy once you get going, so long as you have a genius seamstress (read: mom) and a little beauty to keep you company.

What are you up to in your merry world?

12.09.2011

holiday ideas, recycled.

For your Friday, I have a few paper{whites} links from last year's holiday that may inspire some creativity this weekend?! Or not. At least it's a good reminder, for me, to take a dip into the archives every now and then.
+ In the gift wrapping department: my December to do list and images of last year's gifts, wrapped.
+ Simple Christmas: decorating with clear glass ornaments.
+ Gift go-to's from The Crate: snowflake pretzels, choc-covered marshmallows (plus an easy hostess gift idea) and sea salt caramels.
+ Tags. Obv.
+ Need a baked gift idea or an easy, luxurious dessert that's freezer friendly? Try homemade Kahlua Cake.
+ Best, most favorite holiday hot toddy: Mulled Wine. Especially when enjoyed in glow of Christmas fireworks. Thank you, Manhattan Beach!

Merry weekend, all!

12.08.2011

holiday baking: cheesecake petit-fours.

Let the holiday baking begin! Remember how I was knocked up last year 'round this time? I barely got any baking in, and did I miss it. This year: game on.
This recipe is my all-time favorite dessert. I learned at a very young age that I'm a cheesecake person because of these little bites of delight. They are pretty, festive, delicious and easy (and easily doubled) - and are even better after having sat in the frig for a few days. I love to pop them in my mouth with a little chill on them, and it's nearly impossible to stop at just one.

We enjoyed these cheesecake petit-fours, wrapped in gold on Thanksgiving, and at Christmastime, I use silver.

My mom's Cheesecake Petit-Fours
Makes about 22 petit-fours

1 8-oz. 'brick' of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
6 double squares of graham crackers, roughly broken up
1 can cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line mini muffin tins (mine are 1-3/4") with liners. I find foil works really well with the buttery (read: can be greasy) crust.

Place graham cracker pieces in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until they break down into fine crumbs. Melt butter in a medium-sized, microwave safe bowl and add the crumbs to the melted butter. Mix until well combined. Using a 1/2 teaspoon, spoon the mixture into the lined muffin tins and use your fingers to press lightly to mold them into the bottom and sides of the tins to form a crust.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese with the sugar until silky smooth (get rid of all the lumps!). Add vanilla, and then the egg. Scrap down the sides of the bowl as you mix.

Using a teaspoon, spoon the cream cheese mixture into the muffin tins to about 2/3 full. Bake for 10-12 minutes and cool in tins for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before refrigerating at least 2 hours. (Note: when you pull the petit-fours out of the oven, they'll look underdone, but they'll firm up as you let them cool. Promise.)

I like these best chilled, so once they are completely cooled, I throw them in the frig, but you can certainly serve at room temp, if you prefer. They refrigerate beautifully and last for a few good days.

Prior to serving, top each treat with a cherry (note: if you're transporting the dessert, easiest to do cherry topping at your destination).

12.06.2011

shopping for kids, simplified.

YoYo.com is the answer to my Christmas wishes. Are you ready? More than 20,000 toys, searchable by age, type, brand and gender. My favorite category: Learning & Development.
Toys. Delivered to your doorstep in two days or less, for free (on orders of $49 or more). And it seems like something is always on sale.

No more standing in the Target toy aisles, staring into space. And then waiting in line. And staring into space.

If you're wondering about returns, all you have to do is call and UPS will pick up at your house, for free. And you have 365 days to request a return. One whole year!

YoYo.com is the sister site to Diapers.com - which is just as wonderful for those shopping for infants, or those with child and thinking about registry. It makes mom errands simple and affordable, with the same great return policy. The entire website should have been on my lists of must-haves.

12.05.2011

it's beginning to look a lot like...

Poinsettias: check. Paperwhites (albeit a little late): check. Pretty wreath, fresh from Oregon (thanks, Quail Creek!): check. Perfect tree (in 20 minutes or less, I'm proud to say): check.
I just love Christmastime. On this week's list: tag making, a little baking and maybe some sewing.

Merry December.

12.01.2011

blogging.

Something happened to me over the holiday: I got lost in a blog.

It all happened so quickly - while on my daily visit to Making It Lovely, I stumbled onto this fabulousness (super, super bonus: it's the best gift guide I've ever seen), and it all spiraled from there.

And that hasn't happened in a really, really long time. Creature Comforts is one of those pretty, pretty places that takes your attention away in so many different directions that you lose track of time, and for a moment, you lose your mind. You escape. And it feels so good.

Which reminds me: blogging is beautiful. And reading blogs is just as beautiful as writing, and I need to make more time to read. Any new ones in your world that have helped you escape?

PS: How soon can I make these? Must bake this holiday season.