Friday, June 28, 2013

Quarter Time

If you are anything like me, you sign up for all of the daily deal websites thinking you are going to find amazing discounts on home decor, clothes and restaurants. Then you start to feel a little overwhelmed by the number of unread items in your gmail inbox. Eventually, you ignore every daily deal email just for the purpose of having something you can delete.
I've signed up for Gilt, One Kings Lane and more over the last couple years. I just can't seem to find the time to peruse the websites, save for once a month to check out what discounted goodies are available.

However, Bob receives emails from and keeps a regular eye on what's coming through that could make nice additions to our home! Every few weeks I'll get a gchat with a link to a console table, a mirror or a set of pillows that he'd like me to weigh in on.

When he sent a link to a set of modern clocks available through the site, I was pleased to discover we both gravitated towards the same one: The Infinity Wall Clock. A simple, "that clock looks cool" was all it took and in a week's time we had a new friend in the house!
It took awhile to figure out where to put the clock. It isn't oversized, so we worried about it getting lost on some of our expansive walls. Then we decided to look up....
Wait, let me pull back a bit....
We purposely put it off center so that the extra long minute hand would start to run off the side of the wall for that last half of each hour. Bob needed the ladder to change a few light bulbs right before our party last Saturday, so while he was at it he grabbed a nail and found the clock a home.

Now just this week I received another gchat link...have we finally found salt and pepper shakers to call our own??

Three days later.....
So it looks like we've started making myhabit a habit! Hopefully we won't go too crazy...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Forever 31

And here I am, already a year past the big milestone of thirty....

With a summer birthday, I have held many a party on a rooftop deck, outdoor patio and beer garden over the years. Always with, knock on wood, perfect weather to accompany the festivities. We knew we wanted to have a party at our house at some point this summer, so scheduling it over my birthday week seemed like a great fit.

As our evite promised, we have no outdoor space available, but do have three large windows that look out onto an alley. What more could one ask for on a June evening?

Per usual, our friends make our parties come to life - do you ever just look around at your group and think, "what a lovely bunch of people we hang out with?" I sure did last night as folks cheered on a Blackhawks win from the couch, lounged in the library playing tic tac toe (more on that later) and swarmed the food table to grab a plate.

Onto the menu! The original theme idea for the party was "fancy snacks." Inspired by a box of chocolate covered potato chips our friend brought us from Japan, we scheduled the party with visions of truffle salt popcorn and mini hot dogs with classy sauces dancing in our heads. 

Around the same time as we were devouring the sweet 'n salty chips, I attended a work reception that featured a macaroni and cheese station. Bowls of toppings to choose from followed a giant crock of cheesy goodness on the buffet table. I knew I had to recreate it.

With fancy snacks on the menu, our grocery list was just a little different than usual this time around. 
My cheat sheet for the cardstock labels I would later make for the table. I didn't leave myself with enough time to make the cards too fancy, settling for one purple marker to get the job done...

Truffle Salt Popcorn
We don't own a popcorn popper, so settled for lightly buttered microwave popcorn I doused with a bit of olive oil and a dose of truffle salt. I used about 1/2 teaspoon of salt per bag which seemed to flavor the snack without overdoing it. You can buy truffle salt at Whole Foods, but we picked ours up at The Chopping Block, our local cooking class workshop and store. We have enjoyed many handfuls of truffle salt popcorn at those classes!
Chocolate Covered Potato Chips
I thought I would save prep time and sanity by buying bags of ready made chips from Trader Joe's. However, after arriving home from the store, we were less than impressed with our purchase. Call us snobs after having enjoyed Royce's snack, but Bob and I weren't feeling the thick layer of chocolate on the Trader Joe's brand. 
We went back to the original idea of making our own. I picked up 2 bags of Ruffles and a 12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Our double boiler got some use (once I googled how to properly use it) and in no time at all had melted chocolate all ready for painting. Yes, I said painting. After a few searches on best methods, I decided against "dipping" and went for the basting brush method to lightly coat the chips with chocolate as opposed to going heavy and just recreating the Trader Joe's type.
The chips were laid out on wax paper and put on cookie sheets to harden in the fridge for 10 minutes or so - making sure not to leave them in too long for fear of soggy Ruffles. 
Once they were all hardened, they went in the serving bowl ready for consumption. On a warm summer evening like we had, I'm sure guests appreciated not getting their fingers all melty with overdone chocolate coating and you could definitely tell they were potato chips, unlike the fully coated versions.
Hot Dogs
Okay, over-analyzation of chocolate covered potato chip creation aside, what's next? We scoured the stores for mini hot dogs and mini buns to no avail. The best we could come up with was King's Hawaiian mini sub buns but even those were in short supply and had to be supplemented with regular length hot dog buns from their brand. I spent what seemed like hours in various meat aisles comparing lengths of pre-packaged dogs (I'm sure there's a joke somewhere in there) before settling on a brand of smallish franks.

Instead of ketchup and yellow mustard alongside the buffet, we picked up Wasabi horseradish, thick Dijon mustard and duck liver pate as spreadable options for the hot dogs. A couple hours into the party, Bob grabbed cohorts to head down to our alleyway to start grilling. If you don't know the story of why we grill in our alley, read all about it here.
Moving down the table, we featured grazable snacks like nuts and cheeses, chips and guac before hitting our trifecta of mac 'n cheese.

A Mac 'n Cheese Trio
My parents bought us this trio of crock pots for Christmas and it saw its first use at this shindig. Keeping the Macs warming all night long while leftovers stayed in their original pans in the oven, it certainly did the trick. It took me just a couple searches before finding three recipes with slightly different themes, none of which looked too difficult to create. For the sake of space, I'm linking to the recipes instead of typing them up.
First up, Crab Mac 'n Cheese. I have never made this before, but it was pretty by the book outside of the chopped up crab. Admittedly, the crab of choice was the packaged imitation stuff from the grocery store - I wasn't shipping in Dungeness from Washington State or anything like that.

Chipotle Mac 'n Cheese was added to the mix to fill the "spicy" niche I know some folks will flock to. Rather than spend time finding actual Chipotle chiles, I settled for the spice aisle and substituted 1/2 teaspoon per needed chile. This cheese sauce was a particularly lovely shade of red orange.
Finally, Creamy Mac 'n Cheese was from a recipe I first made a few holidays ago while hosting family. This Martha Stewart recipe was decadent indeed and found a place in my recipe hall of fame. Yum.

I made all three in tandem in the morning and stored them in the fridge until 2 hours out from the party. All three went in the oven at once, splitting the difference with the requested baking time and temperature from each of the recipes.
Toppings included crumbled bacon (I learned my sister is an expert bacon maker earlier that day when they came over to visit and help get us ready!), scallions, chives, blue cheese, croutons and ham pieces I sautéed in a skillet before setting out.

Homemade Ice Cream and Waffle Cones
So what about dessert? We wanted to get some use out of our KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment so Bob took on efforts to make homemade ice cream while I made mini waffle cones with our waffle cone maker. And yes, we do have one of those! Apologizing for the blurriness of the photo below as the machine was in mid-spin!
Bob chose Salted Caramel and Toasted Almond/Candied Cherry for his first forays, a bit ambitious to be sure. We were both a little confused during the prep process as our assumption was it would churn into a frozen treat while being mixed. It stayed pretty soupy, but once we transferred into a container and threw it in the freezer for a few hours it tasted pretty great. I still am not sure if we were using the attachment correctly, or if we were just misinformed with what the outcome would be, but no complaints in the end!
I got about 12 mini cones out of a batch of waffle cone batter, usually reserved for about 6 full size cones. Secretly, I'm glad I have extras left over - love the taste of waffle cone! 
The maker comes with a cone form to create the shape. Rather than explain, you can see how in this quick youtube video
We used a cookie scoop instead of a regular ice cream scoop to fit with the cone size of four inches.
With the Blackhawks on, we had some built in entertainment for the evening, but for those who happened to grab our library chairs, I decided to set out a little Pottery Barn tic tac toe stamp set received last year as a gift. I pre-stamped a few sheets with the grid and was pleased to see that a few folks had taken advantage of it when I was cleaning up the next day.
Thanks to all who came over to help us celebrate summer and my 31st! Until next party!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hair Today, Gone Today

File this one under, "Just Go For It" or "Take a Risk, It'll be Worth It."

My hair had gotten to be about as long as it has ever been - I had started growing out my chin length bob in August 2011 after getting engaged (a typical female tale, I'm sure). After our 2012 nuptials, I decided to keep it going for awhile, only scheduling a couple trims over the last ten months. Sure, I was saving money by not going to the salon, but the heaviness was starting to get to me - especially with the heat index creeping up now that we're into June.

I just came off of two weeks of work travel and decided to pull the trigger upon my return and chop all my hair off. This isn't new to me - over the years I've gone extreme several times. As I like to say, I have no loyalty to my hair and don't shed a tear when it all gets cut off. It grows pretty quickly so I always know it won't be long if I really can't stand the cut anymore.

For reference, here is one of the most recent photos of me - in case you are wondering, one of the events I was at had a Carnival theme so I am posing with giant popcorn, candy and animal crackers. You know, a typical Wednesday night.
My inspiration binder (pre-dating Pinterest) has pages of hair styles cut out of magazines over the years. One page features pixie cuts that I've never had the guts to take on fully. 
The short hair girl du jour is definitely Ginnifer Goodwin! A google image search gave me plenty of options to see how short I was willing to go. 
I have a round little head like hers, so figured it wouldn't look too terrible on me. I was more concerned with how thin my hair was, but some volumizing spray and a bit of texture-providing pomade should be enough to keep my blow dried 'do in place.
I booked the appointment and put my trust in J. Gordon Designs - I've been going here most of my time in Chicago. I came for the location (I used to live down the block), I stay for the shoulder massage after getting shampoo'd!

Less than an hour later:
Pardon my wandering eyes in the photo above - I attempted to take a selfie with my camera in the mirror and couldn't get the eyeline just right. Pretend I'm listening to someone say something extremely interesting off camera.
My challenge now is maintenance. Day to day will be easy enough, it dried in about three seconds this morning after a shower and I even treated myself to a new hair dryer and a Target shopping spree in the beauty aisle to help keep me going with styling it each day. But a salon visit every five to six weeks to keep my fast-growing hair trimmed? Hopefully I can stick with it so my hair isn't down to the middle of my back again this time next year!

So with summer upon us, what new risks are you taking? What are you "just going for?" 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Guestbook with a Higher Purpose

And the wedding posts just keep on coming....

If you have a year after the wedding to send thank you cards, I suppose it would also be fair to say you have at least a year to create your photo album. I finally took some time this weekend to arrange the photos that I had printed within a day of receiving the files from our photographer back in October. Half the work was done for me before the wedding even began, so it actually came together quickly once I got started.

I had been struggling coming up with an idea for a guestbook - we knew we didn't want the traditional "sign your name" book, I wasn't sure that the create-your-own photo frame was for us and, while a cute idea, the idea of leaving my guests with inky fingers after putting their thumbprints on a canvas wasn't one I wanted to pursue.
photo source
I have kept scrapbooks since kindergarten in one form or another. Since freshman year of college, my books have been born out of spiral bound, black-paged albums. Heavy on photos and captions, as opposed to a lot of typical scrapbook fare (read: overly designed), these have helped me toe the line between photo album and memory book. Read more about my scrapbooks in this post.
The thought to combine the photo album and guest book came easily enough, but the idea of how to execute took a bit longer. I figured I could fill up the pages with blank spaces for guests to write their thoughts and well wishes, but without pictures in their places, would folks understand the intention?

The next idea was to include placeholder images of the events that would eventually fill the book - getting ready, walking down the aisle, bridal party shots, dancing it up, etc. Google searching for appropriate clip art images proved fruitless: I would find one image I liked, but knew there wouldn't be one design that captured every wedding event I wanted on paper.
clip art source

One day I made an off-hand remark to my bridesmaid, Kara, via email when she inquired if there was anything she could do to help the planning: "can you draw stick figures?" I was more than excited when she responded, "YES! I'm actually great at stick figures!"

I gave her a few scenarios to try out with a sharpie and cardstock and was so impressed when she texted over some starter images. Amazing detail, stick people that actually resembled us and cartoon versions of our wedding decor! Can you spot our lantern centerpieces and vintage suitcase card box
Kara shipped me about 20 pieces, with several "photo to come" placeholders to help fill the book. I then got to work on printing different shapes and sizes on label paper to invite guest comments. 
After much layout trial and error, and what seemed like hundreds of photo corners and glue dots, the book had come together with the help of scrapbook paper and a few stickers. The drawings were affixed only with photo corners to allow for easy removal.

The first few pages include photos from the proposal, our Save the Date, engagement session photos and our invitation to help set the stage. We also dedicated two pages to the program, back and front. 
The guestbook served its purpose the day of, with a stack of different colored pens available for easy writing and to add some splash to the book. Instead of adding any text to the front cover (somehow the ransom note magazine letters I use for my other books didn't seem appropriate), the first page of the book featured a 3D sticker of a wedding cake on scrapbook paper with the phrase "To Have and To Hold" above it.
Fast forward to this past weekend, the stick figures all got taken out of their photo corners and added to a memory box, along with cards received, DVDs of the wedding day and more memorabilia. Sifting through about 250 photos, I picked out the top ones from every aspect of the wedding day. I plan on buying a more traditional photo album to house all of the rest.
Again, layout proved challenging as my original assumptions on how many vertical photos I would get were quite wrong. Almost all of the photos I loved were horizontal, which changed how I used the placeholder spots since I wanted things to stay in chronological order.
I removed all of the photo corners with the intention of re-using them with the help of some glue dots to re-ignite the stickiness. I covered any rips in the scrapbook paper from the stuck on corners. I also made sure to cover up any unused text boxes so it didn't look unfinished. 
Our wedding details got a couple pages of their own. The hotel suite we had booked for the night wasn't ready in time for the photographers to use for their detail shots, so instead they grabbed our rings, my dress and the flowers and sped off in search of creative areas in the hotel to feature the items. They laid flowers in hallways and up against windows, my shoes were hung up on a hallway light fixture, our rings were captured on a tabletop surface - I loved everything they came up with!
Sticker sets from Michaels came in handy to help narrate the events, which got me off the hook in writing out the text myself and messing things up with my third grade handwriting.
After a few hours the job was done and our wedding album can be considered complete, in time for that one year anniversary!