12.30.2011

2011.

I was thinking about writing a recap post of 2011, but decided it's enough that I've posted sporadically this year. You bloggers who post 5 days a week every week? Personal heroes of mine. I'd love to make it a resolution to post every day next year, but why set myself up for failure? I'll stick to the 2-4 days a week that I seem to be pro at.

All I wanted for New Year's this year was a quiet night at home with some good wine and decadent dessert, but instead it looks like we're hitting up a bar with 7 other people? Ah well. I love my friends and I'm sure I'll have one (or four) too many drinks and sleep half the day Sunday. And don't even get me started on the Rose Parade being on Monday this year. I didn't realize there was a purpose for this parade past hangover viewing and an attempt to enrage the rest of the country with our SoCal weather in January. That's basically my way of saying I'll probably skip it on Monday and sleep in instead (thank you, one more day off!).

Happy New Year! Cheers to 2012 and all the wonderful things it holds.

(Photo VIA)

12.27.2011

christmas.

Usually after Christmas, I take the week off and trek up to the bay area for quality time with some of my favorite people. But it's always a nightmare trying to wrap things up at work and get out of town, and there is always a nagging worry that the Grapevine might close down while I'm in the bay. So this year, I elected to stay home and work this week, unwind, and try to do a little something special for D's 32nd birthday.

While I can't imagine I'd ever really be ready to get back to work after all of the fun and festivities, it's kind of nice to have some quiet downtime to work on a few nagging projects and unwind from the holiday.

Weekend recap: this year was the first Christmas that D and I spent together, and it was pretty darn great. We skyped twice with his family (once at 6am on Christmas Day to watch them open their presents!) and it really does feel like we got to spend the holiday with them too, even from 3000 miles away.

I got very lucky this Christmas, but the gift that took the cake by far is a brand new camera - Canon Rebel. My parents are amazing, seriously.

Some pics from the new camera!

By the way, I finished the Advent post, so all of our activities are up!

12.23.2011

merrry christmas!

Here we are...Christmas 2011. This year has been full of amazing moments, and 2012 is going to be even bigger (um...I'm getting married!).

I can't wait to pack up the car and head to Alta Loma for some serious family time - my first Christmas spent with D! It's supposed to be 80 degrees this weekend. I'd better enjoy this last warm, sunny Christmas for awhile. Next year I'll (hopefully) have my first white Christmas ever.

Have a wonderful, joyous, festive and merry weekend!

(Photo VIA)

12.21.2011

fleur de sel caramels.

I have been experimenting with a few holiday baking recipes this week, with less than pleasant results. A few recipes I'd been dying to try completely let me down, which I suppose is a relief - I can throw them out and not worry about making them in the future. So I decided I needed a trusty recipe to whip up, and I fell onto these caramels. I made several batches of these two years ago and burned out on the process, as they are very hands-on and time/labor intensive, in my opinion. Candy can be finicky. But if you commit to the recipe, you will have absolutely dreamy results. My coworkers have been sneaking into my office and eating these all week (which is wonderful...less for me to inhale!).

Fleur de Sel Caramels
I'm not sure where I originally found this recipe, but I believe it is adapted from epicurious.com

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 to 1 teaspoon fleur de sel (depending on your preference, and the quality of the salt), plus more for sprinkling on top
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

Other necessities: parchment paper, 8x8 or 9x9 baking pan, candy thermometer*

Line bottom and sides of your baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment - I used a light vegetable oil spray.

Bring cream and butter to a boil in a small saucepan, and once butter is completely melted, turn heat off and stir in vanilla and fleur de sel. Set aside.

Pour sugar into a heavy saucepan, drizzle water and corn syrup over the top, and bring to a boil, swirling the pot (don't stir) until sugar is dissolved. Boil and continue to swirl pot until the mixture reaches 248°F. Turn off heat, and stir in cream mixture. Be prepared - the mixture will bubble up.

Bring the mixture back to a boil and simmer, stirring frequently (I just stand at the stove and stir) until the caramel reaches your desired consistency. The way to determine consistency is to pour a bit of the caramel into a bowl of cold water, and pick it up with a spoon or your fingers once cooled to check. Many websites say that the time spent will be 10-15 minutes, but I will be honest, it can be closer to 25-30 minutes for me. Just start checking early and check every 5 minutes or so after that.

Pour caramel into baking pan and cool 2+ hours (can be in the fridge to speed things along).

Cut into 1-inch pieces and sprinkle each piece with a pinch of fleur de sel, as desired. Wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper or parchment.

Try not to eat them all!

*Don't let the candy thermometer sway you - it's a necessity for candy making, and not scary at all. There are inexpensive ones at any supermarket or online.

12.14.2011

fa la la.

I think it would be a pretty huge understatement to say I'm obsessed with Christmas music - I think I own something like 30+ Christmas CDs. So with my new love of Spotify this year, I went completely overboard loading my Christmas playlist with hundreds of my favorite Christmas songs (and I'm still finding more every day).

So I decided to put together a more manageable playlist for Christmas 2011. Check out the playlist here, track list below.

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year - Andy Williams with Robert Mersey & His Orchestra
Christmas In Hollis - Run D.M.C.
Christmas of Love - Little Isidor And The Inquisitors
O Holy Night - Mariah Carey
Run Rudolph Run - Chuck Berry
O Come O Come Emmanuel - Sufjan Stevens
Los Peces En El Rio - Mannheim Steamroller
White Christmas - Michael Bublé ft. Shania Twain
A Mad Russian's Christmas - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Frosty The Snowman - The Beach Boys
Carol of the Bells - John Williams
It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas - Johnny Mathis
Christmas Eve/Sarajevo - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Winter Wonderland - Jewel
Deck The Halls - Ottmar Liebert
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Mariah Carey
Sleigh Ride - The Ronnettes
Medley: We Three Kings/Carol of the Bells - Kenny G
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town - Bruce Springsteen
Linus & Lucy - Vince Guaraldi Trio
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Frank Sinatra
Wintersong - Sarah McLachlan
Auld Lang Syne - The Cast

(Photo VIA)

12.13.2011

anniversary.

This weekend, in honor of 3 years, we decided to splurge on a weekend here in LA and some fine dining (a huge treat, what with wedding savings and all). Friday was our actual anniversary, and since we already had plans in Culver City for two friends' birthdays, we elected to hit up our first date spot - Father's Office. We managed to snag a seat at the bar and enjoyed their world famous burgers and ended with a beer float. An interesting idea, but I think I'd love to try to make one myself with a chocolate porter or oatmeal stout instead.

Saturday night we had dinner at Villetta on recommendation from a friend, and it was such an amazing experience. We didn't want to leave, and had an after-dinner cocktail to enjoy the dwindling evening. Of course, we had to walk across the street afterwards for some Sweet Rose ice cream...it will be a sad day if they ever remove their Salted Caramel ice cream from the menu!

12.09.2011

three.

Happy three years, babe. This time next year, we'll be married almost 2 months!

A few more favorite pics from our engagement shoot in honor of the day:

Have a lovely weekend!

(All photos by Stone Crandall Photography)

12.07.2011

la monarca.

Monday night D and I went to La Monarca for coffee and dessert. Usually we stay in during the week, cooking dinner and catching up on the DVR, so it was a fun rare weeknight activity. The staff was incredibly nice, and we got to sample some cake and cookies while we decided what we wanted. We will definitely be back!

12.06.2011

new york.

Belated pics from the great travel weekend of 2011. Didn't get very many photos during the wedding, as both D and I were in the wedding party. It was a fantastic weekend!

Snow was on the ground upon our arrival, but it quickly melted away due to the unseasonably "warm" weather (NY warm...not CA warm).

The hotel where the wedding party stayed (except us, we stayed with D's parents) - the grounds and hotel were gorgeous.

The hotel was so festively decorated.

Me and the dwindling snow pile.

Putting up Christmas decorations.

Driving to visit family.

Late fall landscape.

What was left of the snow the night before we left.

12.05.2011

life's a happy song.

The Muppets. Just go. No words are needed, this film was wonderful.

This weekend one of our advent activities* was to go to the movies, and I'm not saying I'm listening to The Muppets soundtrack today...but I'm also not saying I'm not listening to it.

We had our annual holiday cookie exchange on Saturday, which was a great excuse to buy our Christmas tree and decorate the apartment for the holidays.

A few cookie party pics:

The spread.

Dorien's maple bacon cookies - I die. And yes, that would be a bowl of Christmas sexiness, thanks to my dear friend Kathryn.

I also baked a cake for Kenny's birthday...red velvet...with the best cream cheese frosting in all the land.

*I'm going to be updating the advent blog post with our activities up through the 24th, so if you'd like to keep up, here is the list!

12.02.2011

advent.

I have been obsessed with advent calendars since I was a kid...usually we just got one of the packaged ones from the store, but there was always something about only being able to open one a day that pumps up the excitement and anticipation. When I saw this great idea last week, my brain started working. I was inspired to make an advent "tree" for D and I this month, with little scraps of paper glued to the back of each day with an activity of sorts.

Last night for December 1, we pulled "make hot chocolate." The holidays are my absolute favorite time of the year, but also the craziest time (between work, three birthdays, our anniversary, and oh right, all of the actual holidays that fall in there). It's fun to have a little something every day to look forward to.

Happy weekend!

UPDATE:

I'm going to update this post with each day through the 24th!

December 1: Make hot chocolate
December 2: Bake cookies
December 3: Go to the movies
December 4: Try a new restaurant
December 5: Go out to dessert/coffee
December 6: Go to the library
December 7: Watch a movie
December 8: Drink some wine
December 9: Cheers to 3 years! today didn't have an activity, it's our 3 year anniversary!
December 10: Go out to breakfast
December 11: Go rollerblading
December 12: Find some Christmas lights in the neighborhood
December 13: Try a new recipe
December 14: Candy (Payday for D, dark chocolate for me)
December 15: Play Scrabble
December 16: Sushi date
December 17: $5 gifts (go to the store, each find a fun gift under $5 for the other)
December 18: Make breakfast
December 19: Go for a walk
December 20: Go out for a drink
December 21: $2 to buy a treat at work
December 22: Question cards (a conversation game)
December 23: Go ice skating
December 24: Merry Christmas!