Monday, September 29, 2014

A Latte Love for Coffee

As the terrible pun in the title of this post might suggest, it turns out today is National Coffee Day. I'd venture to guess any Monday is "coffee day" in this country, but hey, any reason for an extra cup, right?

Before logging on and learning that Sept. 29 is dedicated to caffeine appreciation, I unwittingly celebrated the "holiday" this morning. I had my routine cup of hazelnut coffee in my giant Anthropologie mug, but I amped it up with a splash of sweet cream (I've been drinking it black for a few weeks) and a side of Nutella-smeared French baguette slices. Yep. Somewhere in my heart I must have known it was National Coffee Day. 

Do you drink coffee? I didn't always. Hated it as a teen, mostly ordered high-calorie sugary frappes in college, and only recently got to the point where I could drink it black, willingly. (That's how my husband takes it.) And since being forced to become an early riser (thanks to the puppy), I really do crave a cup of coffee in the morning. It makes keeping my eyes open before 8 a.m. substantially easier. (I am so not a morning person.)

How do you prefer your cup of joe? We love our Keurig and our flavored K-cups, but if I'm at a Starbucks, 9 times out of 10 I'll order a hazelnut macchiatohot or iced depending on the time of year. Though, in the fall, I have been tempted away from my routine by the ever-popular PSL... Those are devilishly good even if they are completely over-hyped.

Anyway, cheers to National Coffee Day! I'm raising a mug to java-lovers everywhere.

Fall Bucket List

Fall is not my favorite season. I don't have bad feelings toward autumn, oh no, it's just Spring has always been the one to hold a soft spot in my heart. And yet, I'm finding myself reconsidering.

It may have something to do with living in Florida. OK, it has everything to do with living in Florida. I am so over hot, humid, sticky, oppressive, don't-want-to-leave-the-house weather. I'm fully ready for crisp air and cool breezes that call for layers and boots. More than ready, I am eager to welcome fall with open arms and an unusual amount of glee. The anticipation is killing me.

So, while waiting for Florida to catch up with the calendar, I decided to channel my new season enthusiasm into something productive: A Fall Bucket List. Here, in no particular order, is what I hope to accomplish over the next few months:

1. Use our beautiful, new enameled cast iron pot (in teal!) to whip up a hearty soup. This colorful chicken and butternut squash stew is packed with flavor in the form of good-for-you ingredients (plus, I pinned it on my Foodie Fixations board ages ago so I finally need to make it!).

2. Visit some of St. Pete’s many museums. I bought a LivingSocial deal for The Chihuly Collection (I’ve loved Dale Chihuly since seeing an exhibit of his work at my college’s on-campus museum) but I’d also love to check out the Museum of Fine Arts and The Dali.

3. Explore the bay area. Since the weather should be cooling down soon, with less humid days and nights, I’m looking forward to forsaking air-conditioned buildings and enjoying the outdoors. I just learned of the Tampa Riverwalk and it looks like a fun (romantic, even) place for a sunset stroll and watching the neon city lights dancing on the water.

4. Pick our own fall veggies. I wish I could go apple picking but, alas, I live in Florida and it seems there is no apple picking opportunities here, at least not near me. But, I can go zucchini and squash picking, which is a good runner-up option in my book. The hubs and I can eat tons of the stuff. Sweetfields Farms, which also boasts a pumpkin patch and beautiful barn, sounds promising, and there’s a corn maze—though I’m not sure if exploring a five-acre labyrinth will be fun, frustrating or frightening.

5. Browse the St. Pete Indie Market, a street fair showcasing local artists and makers on the first Saturday of every month in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg. I missed September’s market so I’m hoping we can make it to the October installment this Saturday (before the Pup Crawl).

6. Bake an apple pie, or any of its rustic variations: tart, galette, crostata. They all sound good! This apple mosaic tart with salted caramel looks divine and impressive, but the recipe is deceptively simple. My favorite kind.

What's on your fall bucket list?

(Top image found on Pinterest, edited by me)

Friday, September 26, 2014

On Emotions

"Turn everything off and listen to yourself."

For me, that means staring at a blank document, wondering what to write, knowing but then wondering how and if I should. But I force my fingers to type because, when I do, inevitably my feelings start pouring out. So here it is:

This week has been a little lonely.

Lonely is how I have felt often since moving to Florida. But this week the emotion stung sharper since my Coast Guard husband is underway. It's his second time getting underway here, on his boat in St. Petersburg, but the first time only lasted a couple days due to engine trouble. This time the boat is working fine. He's been gone since Monday and won't be coming back for a few more days.

Back in San Diego, when we started dating, GT was working in a land job, so I haven't had much experience with him getting underway. He was temporarily assigned to a boat for about two months last summer, but it didn't take him from home more than once, maybe twice, and not for long. He was in Charleston, South Carolina, for six weeks last fall, training to become a boarding officer. He missed our two-year dating anniversary (Oct. 29) but was back just in time for Thanksgiving. At the time I thankfully had a job to distract me from his absence, not to mention I was in the throes of planning a wedding.

It's something I have to get used to, him being gone from time to time. That's the life of a military wife. I know I have it easy, too. Some people's spouses are gone for months, a year, at a time. Later in his career, GT may be gone for a month or two or three, depending on the boat. I don't even want to think about what it will be like when we have kids. But I'm not going to apologize or minimize my feelings. I'm lonely. Right now. And it's not just because he is underway. The emotion is most certainly compounded by my current jobless and friendless state.

GT was able to call me this morning on a break. When he told me he wouldn't be home for three more days, I felt tears threatening to fall. I felt stupid; stupid for being so emotional. He said he and the crew would have liberty tonight and tomorrow, and that they were going to go out to blow off some steam. Jealousy crept in, mixing with loneliness. I proceeded to tell him how I got ready yesterdayput on makeup, and clothes you can't sleep into go pay a bill he forgot to take care of before he left, and when I got in my car I noticed a warning light glowing on the dash. The low-tire-pressure light. I got out, checked the tires and the light was right, all four looked saggy, in my non-expert opinion. Normally, I'd risk it since I just had to drive five minutes down the road but then it occurred to me: If my tire does blow and I get stuck on the side of the road with a flat, then what? I have no friends, no family, to call to come help me. So I turned the engine off. Now, staying in the apartment wasn't a choice. I was stuck. 

Yep, I'm an expert at making myself feel more lonely.

Anyway, I've been trying to keep my mind and body busy, to pass the time productively, but my spirits are still a little lowlike my tires. I've always be a firm believer that to be happy you have to actively choose joy. That you are responsible for your own happiness. 

But man, choosing joy can be hard work to do.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Spreading Cheer

It's only September, the season has only just turned to fall, and yet here I am, thinking about Christmas. Grossly premature, I know. Don't worryI haven't bought any gifts or decor yet. I'm not that good.

But being the stationery aficionado that I am, I'm thinking about holiday cards. Every year I intend to send out warm wishes in paper form to my friends and family. Some years it happens. Other years it doesn't. The procrastinator in me is to blame.

So that's why I'm thinking about it now, three months in advance. As you probably know, I have plenty of recent professional photographs (here's looking at you, engagement session and wedding) that cost big bucks and I want to share them! It's like that expensive fancy dress you justify splurging on by telling yourself you'll wear it more than onceover and over and over again, in fact.

We used Minted for our wedding invitations and were absolutely delighted with their look and quality, so it was a no-brainer to turn to the online marketplace once again for its selection of unique holiday cards created by indie designers and artists.

There are tons of wonderful options (including non-photo cards) that can keep you busy browsing for hours, but here are my fave flat-format photo cards:

Painted Banner. (This may be my top contender; I am smitten with the holly and pine banner and matching envelope liner and label!)

Clockwise from top left: Mosaic // Merry Brush and backer options // Oh So Merry Collage // Festive Type and envelope liner & label

I'm also loving the beautiful foil-stamped holiday cards (available in gold, silver and rose gold foil). The shimmer and shine is perfect for the holiday season.

If you're planning ahead like me, make sure to take advantage of Minted's annual preview sale, going on now but only for a limited time. Minted doesn't offer discounts often, and usually never this good: 20% off holiday cards with the code PREVIEW2014. You're welcome!

(Top image via Edelweiss Post, an awesome Etsy shop dedicated to keep real mail alive and well, one vintage stamp at a time. Love.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wedding Wednesdays : The Reception

Since I recently got hitched, and have all the photos from the big day, I launched a weekly series sharing my favorite images and memories, and a few tips and resources along the way. This is the fifth installment. If you're planning a wedding, make sure to check out "The Credits" at the end. Enjoy!

After the ceremony, our guests enjoyed cocktail hour on the decks of the Martin Johnson House while GT and I, along with our wedding party, took a few more photos. We had hired Carriage Trade Catering to provide the food for the evening, and they did an outstanding job whipping up gourmet grub on site. Guests noshed on three tray-passed hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour: an Angus ribeye beef skewer with chimichurri sauce (my dad’s favorite), ancho-chile infused shrimp ceviche served on corn tostada with avocado and shallot, and an artichoke “two ways” (grilled and pureed) topped crostini topped with lemon zest. We wanted there to be something for every palate—the meat eaters, the seafood lovers and the veggie fans.

We stocked the bar with our favorite local wines and brews. It wasn’t the most economical choice but something we were passionate about. Everyone knows GT and I love wine and often journeyed to Temecula for a day of wine tasting, and San Diego is the craft-beer capital of America, after all! We had lots of choices (and, lots of leftovers) but everyone raved about the drink selections so it was well worth the cost and effort to curate a locally driven bar.

Besides music and mingling, entertainment included lawn games and wedding-themed Mad Libs. Cornhole and bocce ball were set up on the grass and Mad Libs were placed on our wine barrel belly bars for guests to fill out. (We received some very interesting responses that were a hoot to read after the big day!)

After the cocktail hour, guests picked up their potted succulent escorts that doubled as favors and took their seats. We entered the reception to Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie.” That was my husband’s enthusiastic choice. There wasn’t much he was firm on during the wedding planning process, but he insisted we swagger in as the new Mr. and Mrs. to that tune.

We then went right into our first dance, “Marry Me” by Train. Part of me wishes GT and I had practiced a little beforehand, but it was a sweet and authentic moment between us so I wouldn’t change a thing.

While we had a farm-style sweetheart table, our guests were seated at rounds, about eight to a table, and the dinner was served family style. Our So Cal-inspired menu featured a balsamic-dressed baby spinach salad with quinoa, tomato, caramelized onion and feta cheese. For the main course we had ancho chile chicken breast and grilled cedar plank salmon, served with chimichurri and Spanish aioli, oven-roasted market vegetables and paprika potatoes. We loved our meal and were happy to hear positive reviews from our friends and family as well.

After dinner, we heard touching and funny toasts from my parents, GT’s best man and my maid of honor and then it was time for the special dances. Though it might be a bit overplayed at weddings, I chose “I Loved Her First” by Heartland for the father-daughter dance because every time I heard it I choked up. And the same held true on the wedding day! I was a blubbering mess. Not just because of the lyrics but also because of what my dad said as we swayed back and forth, hand in hand. It was a beautiful moment. I was still emotional as I watched my new hubby dance with his mom to “My Wish” (the Brooke Kelly Kilgarriff of the Rascal Flatts song). GT is an only child and has always been especially close with his mother, and as they danced she sang the song and you could tell she meant every word.

Our DJ, Will Chitwood of Dancing DJ Productions, smartly played the John Legend hit “All of Me” to get our mostly all-couples-crowd up and on the dance floor and the rest of the reception sort of flew by after that.

Highlights include GT's mom's cousin Doug expertly busting out Michael Jackson moves to "Billie Jean," not to mention my small-but-mighty spitfire of a grandmother-in-law boogying the night away, showing us youngsters how it's done.

Of course another highlight that no one will ever forget, for many reasons, is when the classic Isley Brothers song “Shout” came on. It’s become a tradition of sorts for GT to dance in quite an outlandish fashion to this song and, at its pinnacle, do a one-arm push-up. No joke. He gathered all his boys around to do it with him and as they jumped in unison to the chorus, creating a wonderful spectacle, the deck broke. Just what every bride dreams of! It didn’t break completely, no one fell through or got injured, thank goodness, but due to the bowing plank we had to move the dancing to the upper deck. Yep, an unforgettable moment indeed.

Before I knew it, it was time to cut the cake (to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz). The last dance (“Choose You” by Sara Bareilles) and our glow stick exit (“Light Em Up” by Fall Out Boy) came all too quickly as well—it’s true what they say about your wedding going by in the blink of an eye. I wasn’t ready for it to end. But we left full of joy and love in our hearts—for each other and for the friends and family who made our day magical.

More photos from the reception below, if you'd like to see...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dark Blooms : Fall-Worthy Frocks

If you know me, you know I'm a dress gal. I love a good frock. I especially love a good flirty, floral frock. I have too many to count and yet I'm always craving more. I justify my addiction by wearing a dress any chance I get. Even if the weather is cold and gloomy, as long as my legs are shaved, I'm throwing on a dress. (Tights are a lifesaver even when that caveat isn't accomplished.) It's just so easy to slip onone and done, and out the door.

Now that it's officially fall, I thought I'd round up a few autumn-appropriate floral dresses from my favorite boutiques. Darker colors, longer hemlines and sleeves make even a full-on flowery dress a not-out-of-place choice in the cooler months. Boots and a chunky sweater seal the deal. Heck, I'll probably sneak a few of my bright and breezy summer sundresses into my winter wardrobe with just the addition of those key accessories. I am and always will be a California girl at heart, and we don't pay much mind to the changing of the seasons. (Seasons? What seasons?) It just takes a few swaps and new details to make a seamless transition into a new time of year. But hey, any excuse to go shopping, right? That's what "changing of the seasons" means to me.

Check out my top picks on my clotheshorse wish list...

LuLu's:  1 // 2 // 3

Ruche: 1 // 2 // 3 

ThreadSence: 1 // 2 // 3

Free People: 1 // 2

Are you as excited for fall fashion as I am? I can't wait for this Florida weather to cool down so I can layer up. But until then, I'll keep rocking my floral frocksbarelegged, eager for tights season.

(Top image of adorable fall style via The Moptop)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Weekend Recap : Gourmet Eats at The Birch & Vine

This past weekend started off gloriously, when the hubs took me out for a gourmet dinner at The Birch & Vine at The Birchwood in downtown St. Pete. The award-winning restaurant is considered one of the top eateries in St. Pete. Led by Chef Jason Cline, The Birch & Vine uses organic, locally grown ingredients (there's an edible herb wall in the dining room!) to serve up globally-inspired dishes that are inventive yet approachable. The wine and cocktail selection is just as impressive. 

We started out our meal by perusing the drink menu onwhat else?an iPad. Fancy, huh? I chose the Stoli Spritzer, a light, refreshing, slightly fizzy cocktail made with Stoli vodka and St. Germain elderflower liqueur, shaken with grapefruit juice and topped with Italian prosecco. Always a gin man, GT opted for a Hendrick's martini, served with a twist. I gave it a taste and puckered my face in displeasure, while the boy laughed at my unsurprising grimace. How he enjoys drinking that is beyond me. It's like Pine Sol meets gasoline. I prefer my boozy drinks nice and sweet.

For dinner, GT went the manly route and ordered a steak. The Garlic and Peppercorn Charred 12-oz Niman Ranch NY Strip, to be exact, paired with a glass of medium-bodied, easy-drinking Jekel Vineyards Pinot Noir. Blackened and crusty on the outside, but red and tender on the inside, the hubby thoroughly enjoyed his steak, and we both agreed the sauce foyot (a variation on the classic bearnaise sauce) only made it that much more delectable. 

I went for the House Made Spinach & Basil Gnocchi and it tasted just as divine as it sounds. Lured, I was, not just by the thought of homemade gnocchi but by all the wonderful ingredients accompanying those little clouds of dough: shaved cauliflower, mixed olives, grape tomatoes, maitake mushrooms, shallot confit, tear drop peppers, shaved romano, lemon-roasted garlic sauce and toasted pinenuts. It was an explosion of colors and flavors and textures. I added grilled salmon, which was delicious but also totally unnecessary. The gnocchi and all its counterparts stand just fine on their own. There was just one problem: I couldn't stop eating it! I was beyond full and yet I couldn't put my fork down. I didn't want to leave one piece of cauliflower, one baby pepper, and most certainly not one bright green fluffy bite of gnocchi behind. Superb. The bright, citrusy Estancia Pinot Grigio (from my home state of California) was a perfect pairing.

We capped off the evening with a sweet treat. When a waiter brings a dessert menu to the table, I am powerless to resist. Especially once my wandering eye caught this: Brûléed Plantain "Foster." The hubs and I adore crème brûlée, it has sort of become "our" dessert, and I am obsessed with banana, well, anything. The layered dessert was creamy and crispy, served alongside swirls of thick caramel and a scoop of tart crème fraîche ice cream. GT wasn't a fan of the ice cream, as it reminded him of icy sour cream, but I thought it was a nice foil to an otherwise entirely sweet dessert.

I'm looking forward to a return visit to try some of the other fantastic offerings on the menu. And next time, we're making sure to get there early to check out the rooftop lounge, The Canopy. Views of a St. Pete sunset with a well-crafted cocktail in hand? Sounds like perfection to me.

Here's hoping you had a wonderful weekend, too! 

(This was only our Saturday night. Sunday was dedicated to football, as you may know if you follow me on Instagram. To sum up: I sipped a surprisingly good beer-topped mule, er, jackass while watching the game at World of Beer in downtown St. Pete and, we're on a roll, the Chargers win again!)
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