Saturday, April 30, 2016

2016 Resolutions Update

I had four new year's resolutions and the truth is: I have been struggling with them so far. You can read about them here. In an effort to reach my goals by holding myself accountable to others, I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings regarding each.

My nightstand.
Photo taken back in February.
Those flowers were part of a much bigger arrangement 
by our lovely community housekeeper Y.

My first resolution was to blog more often, as in finally establish a regular blogging routine. I am consistent and reliable in so many other areas of my life that it is odd to me that I do not work on my blog as often as I would like. My intention was for readers to have a post Sunday and then another day that week, to post every few days. I set goals of 9 posts per 31-day month and just 8 for months with less. I am trying. And you know, I have published as frequently as 10 times a month before! Now that I said something about publishing, all of a sudden, it's difficult. As an INFJ, I do not revel in my achievements for long because I am always focused on improving. I'm pretty hard on myself. You see, I am really trying to develop other good habits recently. I am getting up earlier, jumping in the shower earlier, accomplishing more before work and during my lunch break, shutting down screens about an hour before bedtime, completing certain cleaning tasks on designated days of the week, etc. I have been making strides, especially improving over the past couple of weeks. My home has never been cleaner! So, I am still getting used to numerous routines that I think it's hard to add/get serious about yet another. I do have a plan though. Consistently rising earlier will allow me some time to blog nearly every morning and I have already started working on the blog before 9 on some days. Specifically, I am trying to get up at 5:40-5:45 rather than at 6 as well as do my first tasks like making, cooling and drinking my coffee quickly. Because burnt cool espresso isn't that great. I'm not a morning person so I need caffeine in my system for about 20 minutes to function, at all. If I get in the shower by 6:40 instead of 7 like I used to, then I would be ready for my day earlier and be able to squeeze some blogging in before I have to leave for work or get into what I'm doing on my weekend. I feel motivated to blog in the morning rather than when my energy plummets to zero around 7:30 PM. I will still try to hit those number of posts goals, but if I don't hit the goal one month, I shouldn't beat myself up over it! It is simply not the end of the world.

Entertaining more was my second resolution. I am proud of myself for hosting my first family dinner at Easter, but I need to keep it going! Things have been really slow at work, so I'm not collecting much commission. Hopefully things will start turning around this upcoming week and that means I will have more of a budget to play with as early as late June. Although, I can still be creative and invite friends over on a tight budget. I just don't have anything planned yet. I should!

My third resolution was to have fresh flowers in my home and with three arrangements, I certainly did during the week of my birthday. I will write 'flowers' on my grocery list about once a month and/or when I entertain and consider its purchase a non-negotiable. It doesn't feed my body, but it does feed my soul.

Lastly, in January, I resolved to lose weight in order to fit into my current clothing size better (since I can't afford all new clothing in a bigger size!). After birthday cake(s) and ice cream, I am up in weight. When this happens, of course, my clothing is tight. I no longer want to be uncomfortable. My weight usually fluctuates between my high school graduation weight of 145 pounds and my college graduation weight of 160 pounds. I feel fabulous at 145. I don't even feel like look like myself at the other end and it's becoming less and less acceptable for me to weigh that much. When I published my new year's resolutions, it seems I weighed 155. After that I went up to 160, but then worked to drop down to 154. During my birthday celebrations, I, unfortunately, hit 161, but have lost a couple of pounds eating a lot of salad in the ten days since my vacation ended. I will attempt to make healthier choices in terms of both food and portion size. For example, my pasta specialty this week will be loaded with more vegetables than usual. We have had gloomy weather lately, but rain will not be in the forecast forever and I will walk more. My favorite flower, dark pink azaleas are in bloom right now! I would love to get down to 150 and feel comfy in my clothes by July 8th (which is a pound a week) and then keep it off. By making this public, it confirms the fact that I will truly try.

Are you guys keeping your new year's resolutions or sticking to your goals? Are you having trouble? Or did you throw them out the window sometime during January/after you set them?

My Birthday Staycation: Part 1

I enjoyed celebrating my 32nd birthday throughout my ten-day staycation. Off from work starting Sunday, April 10th and going through Tuesday, April 19th, I accomplished a lot of what I planned to do. I wanted to share some of the highlights with you from the first five days in this post. Since this is really long, I plan to publish how I celebrated my birthday during the second half of my vacation in Part 2.

On Tuesday morning, I savored a pain au chocolat along with my usual espresso. I highly recommend these delicious chocolate croissants from Williams-Sonoma.

That evening, my friend Elizabeth and I decided to try two new recipes from my Recipes To Try Pinterest board. First, we hopped on over to the grocery store for ingredients and then made two quick pasta dishes. The first was Penne Pasta with Sun-dried Tomato Cream Sauce, which turned out well and was a big hit. I can add this recipe to my repertoire. I was probably inspired to pin this because it's similar to one of my favorite dishes from one of the best restaurants in my hometown. It's nice that I can now make it at home! I can also easily add chicken breasts like they do. Nowadays, you can even warm and top it with pre-cooked sliced chicken. Our dish sans chicken was still decadent and delicious.

Our second pasta dish was Mozzarella and Tomato Pesto Pasta SaladYes, it was too much pasta for one evening, but I did wish to expand my signature recipes. We tweaked this recipe as we served it hot instead of cold and used Barilla pesto instead of making it from scratch, which I already know how to do. I adore Classico jarred tomato sauce, but with this recipe, I learned that I prefer the Barilla pesto over their's. This dish turned out too, but it wasn't a hit. Elizabeth didn't like it and I forced myself to eat the mozzarella since I've been trying to acquire a taste for it for awhile. When it's fresh, I can't get over the texture. I love mozzarella on pizza and in lasagna though! It's very Italian, so I hope to like it one day. Anyway, I love the flavor combination of earthy pesto, sweet tomato, and creamy cheese. Perfect. For people who are not as picky eaters as I am, I would serve it in the future, both hot as a meal anytime and cold as a side dish during summer. Both recipes can now be found on my Recipes Tried board.

Dinner was served with bread and olive oil.

The wine was a big hit too, which is a bit of a surprise since we both prefer red, only trying white and rosé a bit. I had bought this Sancerre from my favorite wine shop in Annapolis awhile ago and was saving it for dinner with Elizabeth. We both liked this French kind of sauvignon blanc wine from our wine tasting at O Chateau in Paris. It was crisp with a note of citrus. I thought it was a refreshing pairing for the cream sauce. My preference is something dry like this. I officially declare Sancerre my favorite white and will definitely try to keep a bottle at home. I wonder if my local liquor store sells it...

At the grocery store, Elizabeth and I picked up half of a decadent chocolate cake and a carton of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream that was on sale, which was good too. This is our dessert...

I indulged in a professional mani-pedi on Wednesday morning. At my nearby salon, I selected one of my signature shades Red Hot Rio by OPI for both my fingernails and toenails. It was nice to be pampered! 

Coming back from the salon, I picked up some fresh flowers from the grocery store to arrange at home. I selected red roses and white daisies. I bought the red roses closed, but here is what they look like bloomed...

I cut down the six stems significantly for a small arrangement in the white polka-dotted Kiki Vase that I purchased from Crate & Barrel awhile ago. I set the vase on top of a short stack of three coffee table books having to do with Italy in the middle of my coffee table. (I had ordered a tray from West Elm the day before. I will reveal how I now have my coffee table styled in a home tour blog post.) 

I slipped the bunch of daisies into a tall clear glass vase and centered the arrangement on a small black accent table in my living room.

That evening, I went over my parents' place for my birthday dinner with my family. I had requested balsamic chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach, and Pepperidge Farm french dinner rolls on the menu. My brother's fiancée J had prepared the first two dishes, including grilling the meat. I actually sauteed the spinach in some olive oil really quick. My mom rounded out the feast with roasted carrots and stuffing. Everything was delicious! My parents, maternal grandparents, sister and brother's fiancée J attended and we had a good time. Unfortunately, my brother had to work at his new job. My brother and J gave me a bottle of good balsamic vinegar, so I will definitely have to perfect a balsamic chicken recipe. I also want to perfect making mashed potatoes as well as try garlic mashed potatoes for the first time.

My grandfather, father and I all contributed wine and red sangria. My dad thoughtfully bought me Gabbiano Chianti Classico, which is one of my favorites (and more expensive than regular Chianti so I don't usually buy it). I provided Moscato for J. My mom also made iced tea. 

My mom ordered a giant chocolate chip cookie for my birthday cake. It was beautifully decorated with frosting roses. It was delicious.

My parents also gave me flowers that night and I arranged them in a short clear glass cut vase on Thursday. I had these on an end table between the sofa and the front door. I love fresh flowers in my home. My living room was incredibly fragrant for a few days!

After a bit of blogging, Elizabeth and I attended a wine tasting at my favorite wine shop, Bin 201, Thursday evening. This event featured eight wines from Germany and Austria. It was different from the few tastings I have been to before. Instead of staying in one place, you could walk around the shop. Six of the wines were white and all but one of those Riesling. Favoring red over white, this tasting certainly broadened my horizons. I found that I like whites that are described as dry and refreshing. That are also smooth rather than possessing something like a "persistent minerality." I actually liked some of them! Although, my favorite was the last selection, a red called Moric Blaufränkisch 2012 from Burgenland, Austria. This wine was fruity but also earthy. I preferred it to the other red which was spicy. This is me holding my favorite in one of the aisles...

Even though there was a discount on a bottle of this specific wine, it was still more expensive than the bottle I left with. I felt like I purchased the Italian equivalent of that tasting favorite. I love the economical and earthy Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. I pair this with grilled steak in the summertime or chili during autumn. I plan to save it for later. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo comes from the region where I studied abroad. I look forward to returning to this wine shop for both their tastings and stock. Elizabeth really enjoyed the tasting, so we will keep it in the mix of things to do.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone again for the birthday wishes. This blogging community truly means something to me. Grazie

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: The Charm Bracelet

I highly recommend the book The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman (which is a pen name). I'm happy to be publishing this review before the end of April because I think it would be lovely to read sometime during May. Either during the week of Memorial Day when the book itself takes place or around Mother's Day. This new novel would make a great gift for a mother or grandmother who enjoys reading. 

It is so ...charming. This is the word I keep coming back to! This selection from my spring reading list is about three women from three generations in their family. They spend time together and the two younger generations learn about each charm on the grandmother's bracelet. It is sentimental. Sure, it is all about family, but it is also about one's attitude towards living life. Not only does each charm represent a story, it also has a wish for the wearer's life. I returned the book to the library so I am unable to look at that and provide a specific example, but a particular charm could wish, "for a life filled with ___." I read it in three days while on vacation, but since pretty much each chapter revolves around a single charm, you can leisurely savor a chapter a sitting as well.

I own a charm bracelet myself and after reading this novel, it makes me value it more. Memories are important. Furthermore, if I have a daughter, niece, goddaughter, etc., I can see myself giving a charm bracelet and charms over a lifetime as gifts. As an INFJ, I love symbols, and I simply adore the idea.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Simple Pleasure Sunday: HomeGoods Shopping Spree

HomeGoods is my favorite store. In case you do not know it, this is a home decor chain that sells accent and outdoor furniture, home accessories, kitchen products, seasonal decor, etc. at great prices. Even though they do not sell many of each item, with multiple shipments each week, stock is always full and changing. I love decorating my home and an item I fall in love with at this store usually falls within my budget. So, it should come as no surprise that I engaged in a little shopping spree during my recent birthday staycation. (I will post all about that soon!) I wanted to share my HomeGoods haul.

This is everything...

I picked up three sets of paper cocktail napkins. I love cute ones for entertaining. These three doubled my inventory. First, a set of 20 fancy French ones... (Since I often wish my dinner date, buon appetito before eating a meal, I might order these online.)

This 40-count set of pink floral napkins is lovely, perfect for a (pink) blood orange margarita.

I like the geometric design of these pink and white napkins. There are 20 in this pack.

I cleared tall pantry items from one of my nice red bins and replaced them with my small collection of cocktail napkins. (I have two red and white sets on my bar.)

I selected two of these short clear plastic cups. The design that includes quatrefoils and dots appeals to me. I intend to use them for dinner for two on my balcony. I also love these hard-to-break and lightweight glasses for picnic dates in the summer. (I am now looking for a couple small melamine plates to go with them. I like these from Crate & Barrel, but there are many cheaper similar options at Bed Bath & Beyond as well as a chic blue and white style from HomeGoods. Although I prefer warm colors over cool, the last choice might go with the glass' design the best...)

I recently picked up a journal from the same collection as this to do list pad with cover. I love this shade of pink. I wish that the text was in silver rather than gold though. It sits on the right side of my desk.

This is the book opened. I adore the polka-dotted lining and that there is a box on each line on the pad. I enjoy checking off items on lists.

I liked these classic grey and white chevron cloth napkins a few visits ago but didn't buy them. I returned to pick them up but they didn't have them in stock on a subsequent visit or two. This is pretty much always the case at HomeGoods. Learn from me: buy it when you first see it. A red runner trimmed with roses still haunts me! Luckily, on my last visit, I immediately grabbed a set of four when I saw them on the shelf! I think they would go with my red placemats with a subtle herringbone kind of texture from Pier 1. To give you an idea of the wonderful values at HomeGoods, all four total $6.99, not $6.99 (or more) a piece like they would likely be in another store. This store is essential for entertaining in style on a budget.

I love all of my new home decor items! It was nice to spoil myself. Shopping at HomeGoods was such a fun way to celebrate my birthday.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Signature Sunday: Nail Polish: Red Hot Rio by OPI

This is the third post in the series on my signature nail polishes. If you missed them, check out my first and second favorites. It's time for a classic red nail...

I love red nail polish. Red Hot Rio by OPI is my red creme. I used to buy warm-toned Big Apple Red by the same brand, but stopped once I found this slightly more neutral shade at my salon. To me, it is a true red. Not too warm, not too cool, just right. Red Hot Rio is my perfect deep red.

I indulged in a professional mani-pedi a couple of days before my birthday and the day of my birthday dinner with my family. While at my local salon, I decided on this hue for both my fingers and toes, one of my signature shades that I own at home. I think this is my favorite color for my toes. However, I didn't love it all the time on my fingernails. In some lights, like daylight and shade, I thought it was so sophisticated, the ultimate classic, but then in other lights, such as overhead lamplight, the blood red hue struck me as a bit too dark, almost ominous and vampy. Despite many attempts, I am still not capturing the color perfectly, so please know it is a true yet saturated red, not a bit pink nor orange and more dark than light. (Check out this post I found for better photos.) Due to some cracking and a bit of chipping, my manicure only happened to last three days this time. I didn't happen to snap a few photos until two days after having them done, hence the following pictures of only a couple of digits that still looked nice. Overall, I was very happy with both my birthday manicure and pedicure. I recommend this red, that is both Brazilian sultry and classically chic.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Easter Dinner Entertaining

As I announced in this post, I hosted Easter Sunday dinner for my family this year and... it was successful! I was pleased how it turned out plus my mom and grandmother raved about it. With a lot of preparation, I was on time with almost everything, but just not early, so I rushed to snap the following photos that I wanted to share with you.

First, I wanted to show how I set the dining table. I made do with a yard sale-type table and light blue tablecloth, both of which I borrowed for the occasion. Pastels are not my favorite. The silverware is missing in the photo below as I borrowed forks, knives, and spoons from my mom when she came over at dinnertime. As a centerpiece, I arranged gifted dark pink and white tulips from the grocery store in my large white pitcher from HomeGoods. I will do a shorter bouquet next time. 

This is the view from my seat at the end of the table. The glasses for tea are from Ballard DesignsThe wine glasses and the striped cloth napkins are both from Crate & Barrel. The dark gray stripe of the napkin goes with the platinum rim of the plate at each setting.

Specifically for this dinner party, I ordered these elegant dinner and salad plates from Pier 1. They are beautiful. In fact, I plan to order more to achieve service for either six or eight. Inspired by Pinterest, I matched the platinum trim on the dinnerware with a dark silver ribbon from Target. I cut the ribbon in half lengthwise and then tied a bow around the neck of each mini gold-wrapped Lindt milk chocolate bunny, which I also picked up at Target. I love that I decorated with chocolate!

I also carried on the silver theme in my kitchen with this garland. This was on clearance on an endcap at Target. I wish I had purchased another! 

I chopped the end off the garland so I could pin a bit of it to my corkboard on my desk. From this office area, an Italian dinner music CD played from my laptop and external disk drive.

Before it was time to eat the salad course, I added the flatware to the table and ice cubes to the glasses. Most of the wine glasses are missing in the image below since I offered each guest a drink promptly after arrival.

We squeezed in. I had a dining table and a separate food table. I served everyone food myself. The dining table was in a space in between my dining room and my living room, next to my office area. With all the furniture, space was tight. Again, I also made do. For example, one chair didn't match my set of four.

I even used the printer stand to display the coconut cake and a chocolate bunny. The cake dome and stack of light blue cloth napkins were borrowed.

Pitchers of tea, bottles of wine, a bucket of ice and a dish of lemon wedges are featured on the left. Salad, seasoned croutons, homemade balsamic vinaigrette, a Crate & Barrel ramekin of red bell pepper pieces and a large lasagna on the right. I borrowed the ice bucket and glass dish since my parents brought the ice and lemon for them. I actually own an ice bucket though, acquired back when I had a "hope closet" (rather than a "hope chest"). Under the hot lasagna dish, I also used my mom's placemat, but I do have my eye of a set of three trivets for use in the future.

This is the meat lasagna right out of the oven less than a minute before my guests arrived. It cooled while we enjoyed appetizers and the salad course. PerfettoThe recipe is from theKitchn. It was delicious! I made it with "sweet" sausage which I learned is the same thing as "mild" instead of the usual hot variety in order to suit my mom's preference. This time, I sprayed the aluminum foil with cooking spray so it wouldn't stick to the top cheese layer like Jennifer of The Daily Connoisseur recommended. I purchased all the food at my local grocery store and it was great, but I would enjoy shopping at a premium place like Fresh Market in the future.

First, I served my guests antipasti on the coffee table. This was a big hit. On the cutting board, I have a selection of three cheeses: a soft: brie, a semi-hard: sharp cheddar, and a hard: parmesan. I also included some charcuterie: prosciutto and soppressata. The brie and parmesan had their own knife. I garnished the round board with a few sprigs of rosemary. My four Latte Bowls from Anthropologie are filled with: Harvest Wheat Toasteds, Hint of Salt Triscuits, and Italian Herb Town House Flatbread Crisps, and mixed marinated olives. The little scallopped Pier 1 dish of olive oil is for the sourdough bread in a tall black wire container that I never managed to take a picture of. I had to slice it. Also not pictured are the meatballs that my dad made on behalf of my mom. I love bringing out this set of four appetizer plates. Each plate features the word "cheers." One is in English and other three are in foreign languages. It was a gift from a friend years ago. This rose cutout placemat also from Pier 1 is a go to for entertaining as it always seems to coordinate with my (red) dining placemats. Now, I wish I had bought more than one!

What a beautiful closeup! I love me some antipasti...

After the meal, I served a coconut cake for dessert. I quickly whipped it up using a box mix and canned frosting that morning. This is Betty Crocker yellow cake and buttercream frosting. I centered it on my cake stand, but I need to buy a dome for it.

I wanted this dinner to be successful, so I made my grandmother's favorite, homemade chocolate fudge. She was blissful. I made this dessert three nights prior, but cubed it that morning. This is a really quick photo of pieces placed in a borrowed glass dish.

I requested that my mom bring fruit for dessert. At the store together, we decided upon strawberries. I didn't have time to cut these large strawberries before dinnertime, so I quickly halved them just before dessert. I should have taken the time to cut more of the parts that were not ripe away. They are in another borrowed glass dish. My mom is an antique dealer and I share her love of clear Depression glassware. 

I wore this full floral skirt, perfect for spring entertaining. I paired it with a simple black tee.

As intended with a New Year's resolution, I anticipate entertaining more frequently this year. With this particular dinner party, I have convinced myself that I am ready enough to throw myself into the mix of seriously helping with large family gatherings, whether it be hosting again, hosting a potluck meal, always contributing a dish or two to another host, or helping to cook and decorate at the home of a family member. In becoming the hostess with the mostess that I dream of, this was a step that I needed to take. Also, I hope this post inspires someone to have people over. If I can do it in my home, then you can too.