lately: links i'm loving + some housekeeping.

Friday: I'm glad you're here. As we close off the week, I'm happy to share that I've started the conversation with some creative geniuses to help me better brand this here blog, and in the near future, re-design it. I have been itching for a face lift for quite some time now, and I am finally taking some steps in the right direction.

I'm starting a journey that is really into uncharted waters. I know nothing of HTML code. I vaguely understand the difference between Blogger and Wordpress. I don't know what's best for this blog and me, technically speaking. But, I'm happy to say that research is underway, and as with all creative projects, I'm going to learn as much as I can because I really believe it's all about the process. And collaboration with some really smart and talented people.

This kick in the pants to change things up has really stemmed from Nicole's Photo 101 class.

Stay with me.
from paper{whites}
{gratuitous babe photo / practicing my moves from Nicole's class / capturing irresistible eyelashes}
I forgot what it's like to really engage. Read to learn. Try to succeed, but sometimes fail, get frustrated (and maybe take it out on my foxy roommate), get a pep talk from said roommate (to be clear: it's Eddie, my husband) and then try again. I really love learning, the exploration of possibilities and the creativity that comes with it has inspired me to get seriously passionate about how this blog looks and functions.

So, I'm at square one, but I'm here. With research has come a lot of blog reading. I've discovered some beautifully crafted and written blogs that are just too good not to share. Here are a few new spaces that I am loving lately:

Sacramento Street
Naturally Ella
Good Things Grow
Restored Style
Everyday Occasions
Not Without Salt
Love and Lemons
Sugar and Charm

I know you'll love them, too, if you haven't already discovered them for yourself. And, if you're a blogger (or not) and are interested in this process, drop me a line. If you're a creative genius and have some suggestions or you're a reader with some general feedback, I'd love to talk to you.

I'll check in on this topic periodically and let you know how it's going, and I hope that I can share some good things along the way that may help others who find themselves ready for a change, too.

And on that note, thank you for coming here and encouraging me to keep writing, sharing and doing. I started writing for myself, but I enjoy it so much more profoundly because I can share it with you.

Have a beautiful weekend!


sneak peek: mari's halloween costume.

Do you dress up? Have you decided on a costume yet? For you, or your babe? We've at least got Miss Mari covered. Ish.
Her unofficial but official nicknames, as given by her Uncle Jeff are: The Lady, Little Lady, Lady Bug, Love Bug and Bug (to name a few).

For her first halloween, she was a tiny dancer, and if you know me, that probably didn't come as a surprise. This year, we're going with her nickname, and she's going to get wings and a wand, and I'm going to make part of it, just like I did last year.
I got started over the weekend with some tulle and a glue gun. And some black puffs. All from Jo-Ann.

More to come!

BTW: It's not so easy to find just wings or just a wand for the little ones. Seems like most tiny costumes are all-in-one. If you are looking for individual pieces, One Step Ahead is a good place to start. But go now. Wings have been on back order for weeks.


welcome, apple season.

Thank goodness apple season is here. Couldn't have come a moment sooner. Miss Mari has been under the weather, and is there really anything more comforting than homemade applesauce?  Okay, maybe chicken noodle soup, but Mari and I prefer applesauce.
paper{whites} // smitten kitchen's homemade applesauce
I use Smitten Kitchen's recipe, which is simple and quick. When I'm in a rush, like I was with my little sicky over the weekend, I dove right in with my smart stick blender. Easy on the clock and the clean up. If time's on my side, I'll use my food mill when I want to really enjoy the process and better control the texture.

I usually halve SK's recipe because I don't actually can (for longer-term storage); I freeze it in small mason jars (for the very short term; we go through applesauce quickly in this house). Depending on the size of your apples, 6-to-8 apples makes two-to-three pints.
BTW: speaking of apple season, feast your eyes on this pretty Pin-worthy fall-inspired shoot, apples and all, as spied by Stevie from Shop Sweet Lulu. Uh-maz-ing.


paper{whites} picks: baby fall fashion.

We have been very fortunate in the hand-me-down department. Mari follows in the footsteps of slightly older mini-fashionistas, and we've been the beneficiary of many, many bags of the cutest baby girl clothes out there (I'm specifically thinking of and thanking Kaylee K., Coral C. and her cousin Malea).

As she's growing, the supply is starting to thin, and I've still got her wearing 6-12 month-sized clothes, and it's more than obvious that she's just too big. She needs an overhaul on the basics, and my go-to for the cutest and most affordable basics out there is Old Navy - when they're on sale, which is right this red hot minute (through Wednesday!). Plenty of long-sleeves, long pants and leggings to get you through the fall and winter.

Here are my picks, living in a navy/white/gray/pink palette so mixing and matching is easy breezy (and cost effective, I might add).
paper{whites} picks // old navy baby for fall
One: striped sweater hat; rib-knit henley; striped hooded tee; denim skirt; jersey leggings

Two: sweater-knit flower hat; long-sleeve jersey dress; ruffle-strap soft-sole mary janes; embellished headband.

Three: little bundles long-sleeve bodysuit 3-pack; waffle-knit pants; ruffle-back jersey leggings.

Because it's all low priced, it's easy to get carried away. You may find yourself, like me, with a few items to return once you get home. If you're really organized, you'll do a quick look-see for what you really need before you shop, and stick to it. Kind of like the grocery list. Which, in retrospect, is exactly what I should have done. Next time.

Old Navy also sells my favorite ankle socks (that stay on!) and I think we should all buy this gingham top a size or two too big and save for next summer. I may have to go back for that one. Oh, and attention all prego friends: maternity clothes are on sale through Wednesday, too!

PS: on the topic of basics, if you are living with a little one and haven't found pajamas you love, these soft, footed and breathable zip-ups from the Children's Place are our favorite, in large part because they're so cheap (on super sale, I've paid $7 a piece), and I prefer zippers to snaps. They're just easier for me. In the colder months, we layer with a onesie (and sometimes socks) underneath.


party on.

The first birthday party parade continues. Sweet Jessie and Stevie at Shop Sweet Lulu featured Mari's party on the blog.
Have you jumped on the Shop Sweet Lulu bandwagon yet? If not, get on board. It's my go-to for thoughtful, tasteful and unique party supplies. In fact, it's my first stop when planning a party; there are so many fun patterns and products to layer that gets any party going in the right direction, and the blog is chalk-full of inspiring ideas and crafty projects (note: DIY coffee filter flowers from Stevie's summer farewell party and one of my all time favorites: her daughter's county fair birthday).

When you're as big a fan of Shop Sweet Lulu as I am, this is pretty major. What a great treat for my week! Thank you, Jessie and Stevie!

Hop over and check it out.

fall inspired: pumpkin peach and navy blue (and some kraft, too).

From summer yesterday, to fall today. I love the color orange (really love it when it's sherbet, like in Mari's room). But I don't love it when paired with black. I love earth tones, but sometimes they really weigh me down in the Fall. I lean towards airy, bright, white spaces and sometimes when you invite the season in, it's easy to lose your [home] identity, isn't it?
Except when you get inspired by one of Kathryn's boards and re-discover that you can define the season and how it works for you - for an event, a wedding or for your home. Board #491 did that for me yesterday, and I got busy pinning bits of fall inspiration in shades of peach, pumpkin, navy blue, white and brown.

This is a palette I can get on board with through September, October and November. Until Mari insists on things like faux cobwebs and plastic spiders, I can work with this.

Come take a look!

PS: planning... anything? please tell me you've been introduce to Snippet & Ink. It's an amazing resource when you're at square one and in need of serious inspiration and direction. In the fall category, start here.


savoring summer: frozen key lime pie.

We have some really good friends who just lost their best friend; a 12-year old chocolate lab. If you're a dog person, you understand. Say no more, right?
They are southerners at heart, and are professional key lime pie addicts. As in: the key lime pie is their fifth food group, and now seemed like the perfect time to try this recipe and treat them to some homemade love.

Thank goodness for The BC, for she's always spot on; this tart and creamy pie hits the spot. I regret not making this sooner this year, but if you're Southern Californian, you know that this is when the season gets really good, albeit with record-high temps this year. This is practically a no-bake dessert, adapted into small pies, using large cupcake tins. Essentially, the grown up and key lime version of my all-time favorite dessert.
The Barefoot Contessa's Frozen Key Lime Pie, adapted for cupcakes
From Barefoot Contessa: Family Style, page 138
Makes 12 large cupcakes

Click the link for the recipe.


party day.

I'm off today, celebrating my birthday (hooray!) and a pretty special birthday gift: Mari's first birthday party was featured on Hostess with the Mostess in their Friday Party of 5 feature.
So exciting for me! If you're new to Hostess with the Mostess, prepare for some major eye candy, plus tons of party planning resources and an online community that loves a party as much as you do. 

I hope you'll pop over and check it out. Have a beautiful weekend!

spa margaritas.

Happy Friday, friends! Let's toast to my birthday (today!) with a pitcher of these deliciously refreshing Spa Margaritas. Okay with you?
I made these last week for our September dinner party, and both Heather and I agreed that they were like sipping in a bit of the spa. These cocktails are Camille's clean and crisp agave nectar margaritas with some pureed cucumber that I didn't even strain. And that may make a bartender cringe, but I enjoyed tasting bits of cucumber as I sipped. And also - that just seemed like too much work.

It's a simple bebida - no triple sec, nor simple syrup need apply - and that's what I love most about this drink. You do have to get the blender out for the cucumbers, but it helps bring everything together beautifully. As with all good margarita recipes, you will get a good workout lime juicing. But I promise you: it's so worth it. This is a time when you really want the fresh juice and an electric juicer really comes in handy.
Spa Margaritas
Adapted from Camille Styles and Rick Bayless
Serves 4

1 English hothouse cucumber (or 2 small Persian cucumbers), peeled and cut into big chunks
3/4 cup good blanco tequila (that's the clear stuff, vs. the gold stuff)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup light agave nectar
Ice, cucumber and/or limes for garnish

In a blender, combine the cucumber, tequila and lime juice and process until it's as smooth as you can get it. Pour margarita mixture into a large pitcher and refrigerate, or serve immediately. To serve, add ice to four cocktail glasses (about 3/4 of the way) and pour margarita mixture over ice. Serve with a slice of cucumber or lime (cut a small slit in either and wedge onto rim of glass).

Quick optional note: if you like salt on the rim, before pouring margaritas, sprinkle a layer of kosher salt on a small saucer. Moisten the rim of your glass with a slice of lime and dip the rim into the saucer of salt. You can twist it a bit to get the salt to really hang on. Camille suggests only doing this on half the glass so as to not overpower the drink with salt, and I tend to agree. By the way, if you prefer a smoother cocktail, you can strain it before serving, a la Rick Bayless.
Cheers. Is it 5 o'clock? It is for me. Off to enjoy my birthday with my family. Have a lovely weekend!


photo basics.

I'm loving being back-to-school. Though it was very unintentional, I really timed this whole photo class thing well, because I feel right at home, studying and doing homework around this time of year.

I'm guessing you're like me, and you probably didn't grow up with the internets. In college, our commencement speaker proclaimed that "e-mail would be the wave of the future." I remember being very unimpressed and unaffected on that beautiful May day. This whole e-mail thing was going to take over the world? Eh.

So, 13 years later, I have to admit he was onto something. I'm a blogger, with three different e-mail addresses, taking an online course and loving it. I love being able to learn at my own pace, when it's convenient for me and in my own environment. I am engaged in a way I did not think was possible with the virtual classroom.

I think a lot of it has to do with the brilliance and format of Nicole's Classes, and if you are at all into photography and/or graphic design, I urge you to see what she offers. I am certain Illustrator 101 is in my future.

In our first week, we learned the basics of exposure; the relationship of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Slowly, these three principles are starting to click, ish. In our weekly live chat, Nicole said it will really come together in two weeks. Until then, I wanted to share what I thought were my three best shots from our homework (yes, there is homework!), shot with my Nikon with a 18-55m f/3.5-5.6 lens.
{1/50 at f/4, ISO 100} 
{1/500 at f/4, ISO 800}
{1/40 at f/4.5, ISO 400}
I know that this is just the toe dip in the pool. So much more to go. But I am very proud to finally look at those numbers above and have any sort of clue what they mean. It feels so good. Thank you, Nicole.

PS: recognize the dahlia?


september entertaining: friday nite grill.

Remember when I made my new year's intention to host a dinner party each month? This mission was 100% inspired by our September dinner party guests, Nick and Heather. And while I fell off the bandwagon for a bit, we brought back the monthly tradition last week, with white dahlias and alstroemeria to match a green-and-white-striped runner (from our wedding (!) - just love when I can pull one of those out).
Just the thought of newlyweds Nick and Heather makes me smile. It was their gorgeous wedding that brought us to Lake Tahoe in June and they were among our very first friends to meet Miss Mari. They're the kind of couple that invites you in to kick off your shoes, grab a cold brew, plop down on their couch and snuggle in for some good company (and around this time of year, Denver Broncos football). I wanted to return the favor at our house, and since we're still celebrating summer around here, with temps in the 80s and 90s, to the grill we went.

Here's the Friday night menu that we threw together, in between chatting, bathing and feeding Mari. Beats ordering pizza, though that is one of my very favorite things to do on a Friday night - and quite honestly, exactly what we will be doing this Friday night.
+ starters: guac, chips and margaritas
+ main: turkey and gorgonzola burgers with carmelized onions on grilled wheat buns
+ side: watermelon, prosciutto and  mint salad (just those three simple ingredients in a bowl)
+ side: Pasta, Pesto and Peas made the day before with all that leftover [frozen] pesto
+ dessert: mini frozen key lime pies

According to moi, here's what makes a special week-nite dinner possible:
+ a few things in the bank: guac to-go from out local Mexican restaurant that I glammed up with lemon juice and onion (avocados were in a sad state at our market); pre-made carmelized onions; and two things from the freezer: pre-made dessert and that pre-made pesto for the salad. Big fan of the pre-made.
+ grilling is very social and makes for an easy first course. Plus, no one gets stuck in the kitchen.
+ little details: colorful napkins, trays of margaritas upon arrival and dinner alfresco, under the twinkle lights.
I am still playing with the burger recipe so I can share it with you. It was inspired by my brother and Whitney who are serious grill masters. In the meantime, I'll have the starter margs for you this week, which I'm officially calling Spa Margaritas (thanks to Heather for the suggestion!). And next week, we'll talk mini key lime pies that keep in the freezer for weeks.

My juicer has been getting a good work out lately.

Condiment bowls from Arte Italica; white porcelain spoons from Crate & BarrelWicker-wrapped glasses from Privet House/Target; straws from Shop Sweet Lulu.


cooking with greens, take II: best pesto.

In the last several days, I've spent a lot of time digging into my first photography class, which for the record, is awesome and I'm so glad I'm doing this. It's not a huge time commitment, but I'm really trying to devote myself and my mind to it, so keeping up with the rest of life has been a hack-job, at least in the last week. I also think it's just that time of year for frazzled brains and the like. It seems like most friends I know are in the same boat. And that always makes me feel better.

As does pesto. Homemade pesto, specifically. I know we've talked about it before, but I thought I'd share The BC's most perfect recipe, especially if you find yourself with a giant bundle of basil, like I did in our last small box.
We have major pizza-loving friends. So much so that they've taken a pizza-making class. (in Napoli. As in: Italy. The country.) They have their own brick oven that they've mastered. And Mari loves them (and their puppies) as much as she loves pizza crust, which seems to be a lot.

They are good friends to have.

Their favorite pizza is anything with pesto (on a homemade sourdough crust that is just heavenly), so I made one jar for the pizza chefs and one jar for us. This sauce is freezer-friendly, when topped with a thin film of olive oil, and I'm obsessed. I think it's the subtle walnut flavor that permeates every addictive drop.

The Barefoot Contessa's Pesto
From Barefoot Contessa Parties!, page 142

1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (about 9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated parmesan

Place the walnuts, pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and process for 30 seconds. Add the basil, salt and pepper. With the food processor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the parmesan and puree for a minute. Use immediately, or refrigerate or freeze in a sealed container.

In the time it takes you to wash and dry your basil, this delightful sauce will be made. It's quick (except for that leaves drying part). To clean basil in bulk, I swirl leaves in a big bowl of cool water, and then spin dry in a salad spinner. If I plan to use later, I let the leaves sit out on the counter to dry completely, and store them in a sealed, plastic bag with a very lightly dampened paper towel, in the frig.

Thanks mom, for that tip.


new neighbors, new pancakes.

We have new, cool, sweet neighbors! And bonus: they have a big, fluffy dog who makes Mari giggle. They are a welcome addition to our fun little street - the kind of street you hope to introduce your daughter to, with neighbors who help you when you're locked out of the house (and your little one is snoozing inside (with roasting veggies in a hot oven) - yes, that happened), water your plants when you're on vacation and have a glass of wine waiting for you when you need it most. Our newest couple fits right in.
When I saw Laken's post on a thoughtful housewarming gift, I threw out the instinct to bake something and stole her brilliant idea; buttermilk pancake mix in a jar, topped with fresh blueberries for some good, new home cooking. Just in time for the long, holiday weekend.

Using Joy the Baker's pancake present mix and Laken's example, everything went into a mason jar, topped with blueberries and finished off with red-and-white twine and a card with baking instructions, which came straight from Joy's recipe.
Housewarming gifts are a lot like hostess gifts, and using Mary's golden rule, shouldn't add clutter, and in essence, 'go away' at some point. I really like the idea of homemade gifting, and this jar of mix represents what I love most about blogging - smart, crafty ideas are everywhere, just waiting for you to pluck and make your own. Thank you for the inspiration, Laken, and of course, Joy the Baker!
Card stock and gel pen from Paper Source; stamp from Michael's; twine from Shop Sweet Lulu.


cooking with greens.

In our last CSA small box, we got a beautiful bouquet of rainbow chard. I've seen it, I've read about it, but I've never actually cooked with it.
Trying to keep up with my new idea, to the books I went for a quick and easy way to cook the colorful greens. Nothing got my wheels turning. I was craving something creamy, but healthy (I tell myself it is possible) and so I'm thankful, once again, to the world wide web, for I found a simple, generic creamed chard recipe... with pine nuts. Sold!

This is a delicious and easy side dish that appears very applicable to greens of any kind - kale, spinach, what have you. I will be playing with this recipe again and again.

Creamed Rainbow Swiss Chard with Pine Nuts
adapted from The Food Network
Serves four

1 large bunch rainbow swiss chard, stemmed, leaves coarsely chopped (or, insert your green of choice)
1 large shallot, diced
6 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts

Combine card, shallot and 1/2 cup water in a large saute pan over high heat. Bring to a simmer and lower to medium, cover and cook, stirring frequently until chard is very tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the cream cheese, nutmeg and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the cream cheese melts and the mixture just bubbles around the edges. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chard and shallots to the cheese mixture, leaving any excess liquid in the pot. Mix well, and season to taste. Top with roasted pine nuts.
By the way, I never would have given the Mari-approved chard a chance if it weren't for Tanaka Farms. Loving the CSA program.

I never knew how much I could love a tiny, little hand. Look at that thumb!


finally: back to [photography] school.

Hooray! I'm finally taking that online photo class I vowed to get in this year.
{for good measure: my last uneducated photo}
Photo 101 started yesterday, and lasts four weeks. There's a textbook, homework assignments, and each week, we have an opportunity to online chat with accomplished photographer and Nicole's Classes founder, Nicole Hill Gerulat.

I'm already thinking this might be the best class I've ever taken - the textbook came wrapped in a big glassine bag, sealed with turquoise-striped washi tape.

I'm so excited, and hope to share some tid bits as we go. By the way, if you're toying with the idea of online classes or are looking for a really great starter guide, you can purchase Photo 101: The Book to try on for size without even committing to a class.

She's very breezy, this Nicole. I can't wait to meet her, cyberically-speaking, of course.

PS: speaking of breezy, I hope everyone had that kind of Labor Day. I have a few new recipes from the weekend to share with you this week (which include pre-class photos, so don't hold it against me)!