christmas cocktail

We have a favorite restaurant in St. Louis (the Demun Oyster Bar) and their cocktail list is pretty impressive.  My favorite - I may or may not have been sucked in by the cute name - is the French 75, a pretty little cocktail I was thrilled to learn is nice and simple to make at home.  I even made them when we had friends in town for a wedding a few weekends ago and despite the girly appearance the guys all loved them as well - the cocktail actually originated in Paris in the 20s (when champagne was all the rage) and it was sort of a manlier spin on a glass of bubbly.  I like to serve it in a coupe or cocktail glass, Goodwill has tons of pretty vintage ones, but a flute is also fine.  

This is a great one to serve at a party, you could easily pre-mix a few and they're so easy to make you don't have to miss out on the party trying to play hostess.  

French 75

1 oz gin
1/2 oz simple syrup (if you infuse it with lavender or rosemary it's lovely in this, but not necessary)
1/2 oz lemon juice
Champagne or Prosecco - not sweet
Lemon Twists

Cocktail Shaker/Strainer
Coupe glasses

Instructions: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes, pour in gin, simply syrup, and lemon juice and shake vigorously.  Strain it in the coupe and top with champagne.  Garnish with a lemon twist.  

photo credit: elephantine


A Few Winter Favorites

Advent calendars add to the excitement of the season, this one is my favorite from Etsy.  

I want to lay around my house all day in this sweatshirt, reading and drinking cocoa.  

Aren't these stockings beautiful?  And only $45 for three of them!  Would be perfect for my family (me, the hubs, and the dog.)  

I'm the apple pie maker in our family, and although I've always made Betty Crocker's version, I might switch it up this Christmas for this one (with cider caramel!)  


a special sunday dinner

Last night we were making dinner, and basically had a Thanksgiving food hangover.  All we wanted to eat was something ridiculous & decadent, but what we really needed was to eat something light and healthy.  So we compromised.  

I'd been toying with the idea of making mussels in garlic wine sauce at home for a while now (one of my FAVORITE things to order in restaurants) because I had heard that mussels are actually relatively inexpensive, which is kind of funny when you consider that mussels run you upwards of $20 at a lot of nicer restaurants.  So we went to Whole Foods, talked with the fish monger for a minute about if they were good that day, was it really that hard to cook them, and eventually went home with a pound of live mussels for $5.  That was silly, we should've bought 3!  Mussels don't have much meat, so you need quite a few, and you have to account that you'll throw out about a 1/4 of them.  

So here's what I made - I didn't follow any real recipe, I read 4 or 5 and then just improvised, and they were DELICIOUS.  End of story.  Don't be scared, just make them!  

Mussels in Garlic Butter White Wine Sauce
(serves 2 for dinner, 4 for an appetizer)
takes about 30 minutes, no kidding

3 lbs mussels - this is not a "buy ahead at the weekly shopping trip" purchase
buy your mussels the day you plan to cook them, and when you get them home, remove from ice and set the bag in the cold corner of your fridge
3 cups white wine
8 tbsp butter (one stick)
1/2 cup shallots, chopped into a fine dice
1/2 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf

1.  Start by picking through and cleaning your mussels.  Toss out any with cracked shells, and if they're open a bit, tap them on the counter firmly and set aside.  If the open ones don't shut up in a minute or so, toss them as well.  

2.  Rinse the mussels well, scrubbing off any stringy bits.  Then go through them removing the beards (little bunches of stringy muscle peeking out from the side).  They won't all have these, most are removed during processing, but to get the few that remain just pinch between your pointer finger and thumb and tug around until it comes out.  This is, by the way, not entirely essential.  Beards aren't inedible, just not that pleasant texturally, so don't panic if you feel like you missed some!  

3.  In a large stock pot (I used a cast iron dutch oven but anything wide and deep with a tight fitting lid is fine) pour in the wine, butter, shallots, thyme and bay leaf.  Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, and let boil for 2-3 minutes until the liquid reduces a bit.  

4.  Add all the mussels (gently so that don't crack, but quickly) and close the lid tightly.  The mussels will cook for about 5 minutes before the shells open and they're done.  Every minute or so, give the pot a toss so that the mussels are evenly coated in the sauce and each get plenty of heat.  

5.  Remove the pot from heat, and with a skimmer spoon, divide the mussels among wide shallow bowls (you want to be able to keep them in the yummy sauce).  Then spoon the remaining sauce between the bowls.  Serve each person with a chunk of good, crusty french bread.  

Either impress your company with your fancy french cooking skills, or enjoy in your pajamas on the couch Sunday night, while watching Revenge.  


it's coming on christmas

I'm a holiday purist, so the day after Thanksgiving is pretty much the highlight of the year for me, as it's when I FINALLY feel like it's okay to start listening to Christmas music, decorating for Christmas, and initiating the general merry-making!  
My friend Lauren and I are hosting at Christmas party later this month so we sent these invites out a while ago, because people make plans so early for the weekends in December.  
 However, I had been waiting to send out Christmas cards until we got our wedding pictures back (which we love, and I can't wait to post my favorites!)  I usually go with Tiny Prints (inexpensive, tons of choices) or Minted (often the best designs, pricier but you get what you pay for) but this year after reading a post on Cup of Jo, one of my favorite lifestyle blogs, I decided to check out Pinhole Press, a newer NYC based company that focuses on simple, modern designs.  

They had a collection of ultrathick cards with a pinstripe down the side that looked so lovely and high quality (I'm a sucker for beautiful stationary paper), and their prices are amazing.  I picked THIS one, and below I've included a few of my favorites, just click the pic to go to its listing!  


a monday disaster & i'm overly caffeinated

Sooooo we received a Keurig as a wedding gift last night.  It could become a serious problem, this ability to just pop into the kitchen and have a cup of fresh coffee every once in a while.  

Especially today, because I woke up at basically dawn due to my husband's yelling about the fridge door being left open all night - yes it was my fault - and I obviously had to get up to immediately assess the damage (everything was warm) toss out all that needed to go (eggs, yogurt, soft cheese, condiments with eggs or milk) and then proceed to clean the entire house to make up for it. 

Anybody want to tell me the best K-Cup flavors?  I'm making a grocery run on my lunch break (obviously...) and I'm thinking of picking up a few kinds.  

Oh Monday, at least you picked a three day work week to do this to me.  


insalata caprese

Isn't it funny how one trip can just really alter your views on food so completely?  I left for Italy the type of person who wanted to put sriracha on EVERYTHING and was really happiest when food involved like 100 ingredients.  

I came home wanting to eat no more than 10 food items: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, good crusty bread, pasta, salt/pepper, parmesan, balsamic vinegar, and truffles (okay, I know truffles is a bit ridiculous, but they were in season over there and came on just about every dish.)  I was also seriously missing the socially acceptable 1/2 bottle of wine at lunch, but I managed to get over that.  

What I didn't get over was this salad.  I ate some variation of this salad at basically every single meal when we were in Florence, knowing full well that there would never be sweeter tomatoes or fresher mozzarella once I got back home.  I managed to come up with a somewhat approximated version of it at Trader Joe's, and then realized that fresh mozzarella is key, so if you have an Italian market nearby that makes their own in-house daily, go that route first!  

The sweet saltiness of the balsamic vinegar reduction will make up for any imperfections in the tomatoes.  

Sorta-Close-To-Italy Insalata Caprese

for one, and then just keep adding to it for more people

2 really good tomatoes

1 ball of fresh mozzarella - if you're going the trader joe's route for this, get the kind packaged in water

10-12 basil leaves

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

rresh ground sea salt and cracked pepper

Slice the tomatoes & mozzarella with a serrated knife and layer back and forth.  Tuck the basil leaves in between each slice.  

Pour the balsamic vinegar into a very small shallow saute pan, heat over medium heat until boiling and then let simmer away until it reduces to about half.  Do not walk away from this!!!!  Balsamic vinegar reduction goes from syrupy to scorched in the blink of an eye.  It's worth it to watch it.  

The reduction will thicken up more when it cools.  Let it get down to just "warm" and then pour over the entire salad - not too much, you don't want it sitting in a pool, but just enough to wilt the basil leaves a little.  Enjoy, preferably with a crusty piece of french bread swiped with a little butter, to sop up the extra balsamic.  


welcome home

So as I mentioned, we moved!  And we're fairly enamored with our little place, and I swear that piece of art in the photo below is not actually crooked.  It's just like that in the picture.  Although the doors.....yes, all the doors & doorways in this apartment are lavender.  

Our little entry-way/dining room, complete with a buffet table I got at Hobby Lobby for $120, which feels much larger in real life than it looks in that first picture.  I am no architectural digest photographer.  

Our living room, which I love.  It is the coziest, and that giant piece of art makes my life. I hung those curtains by myself.  WITH A DRILL!  Hurray for new skills.  I also think that couch could use more pillows, a comment I'm sure Darrell finds hilarious, and we plan on replacing that tiny ($20 @ Target...) coffee table next week with something more substantial.  

The other love of my life, our new bar cart, which I found on Craigslist. I stocked it up with wedding leftovers and any mixers I could find with pretty labels AND glassware entirely from the Goodwill.  There are coupes just like that at Anthropologie right now for $14 DOLLARS EACH!!! MADNESS!  These were $.50.  I'm thinking about going to the Goodwill every week to scour the home section and giving out "vintage" glassware as Christmas gifts this year.  

Our bedroom, which always somehow ends up feeling more girly than I originally intended for it to.  

My pot rack, which is my current love.  Especially with those colorful wedding-present pots hanging on it.  My handy father-in-law built this for me and I've decided I will always have to have one.  

So that's it!  Not a big fancy space, but we sure do love it.  


photobooth fun

No wedding pics yet, but we do have a few of the best shots from the photobooth our photographer set up!  These are my favorites of my groom and I, with lots of our friends and showcasing our new gold bands.  


our honeymoon in 8 pictures

So now you get the explanation as to why this blog has been MIA - we got married & went on our honeymoon!  Oh, and then we moved.  All in three weeks.  Why yes, we are a bit insane, but now that everything's settled I can't help but be thrilled that it's all over and done with!  No wedding pics yet, but I have all the good pics from our trip to Italy (and accidentally, Paris).  

So we had quite the wedding party - we were literally up pretty much all night the night of the wedding and we left for the airport at 8:30 the next morning!  We decided to just suck it up until we got on the plane across the Atlantic (from Atlanta to Amsterdam) because at least then we could sleep through 8 hours of sitting in coach.  While at the Atlanta airport waiting for our flight, I was in line changing some USD to Euros and Darrell spotted Dave Matthews walking by our gate!  I was much too shy to say hello, but Darrell walked right up and said hi, and I was so glad he did!  He was incredibly friendly, asked us all about our honeymoon and even offered to take multiple pictures to make sure we got a good one.  It was a fun little start to our honeymoon, especially since I've listened to Dave Matthews Band ever since I was a little kid and me and Darrell have seen him three times together!  

When we got to Florence, we were greeted by THIS beautiful terrace.  Our apartment in Florence was truly beautiful, and only steps (literally, about 10) from the Duomo, the biggest church in the city.  

Our first full day there we walked to the Arno to cross the Ponte Vecchio, the beautiful bridge in Florence pictured below.  It was covered in shops and street artists, and we bought three paintings that we were so excited to bring home.  

 Once we crossed the river into the other side of the city, we went to most likely my favorite restaurant in Florence.  This is a bit ridiculous because we ate at probably 15 different places, and some were much fancier with multiple courses, but this pizza was hands down the best thing I ate while on my honeymoon.  I don't know how they did it - although I have a hunch that this mozzarella was made fresh in the back of the store - but this pizza, simply crust, fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil, was one of the top 5 meals of my life.  We ate a whole one each, and went back the next day!  If you are ever near Florence, you must go to Gusta Pizza and get the Margherita.  

Friday we went to Venice for a day trip, which was both wonderful and slightly terrifying.  Venice is a beautiful city, but it is laid out like a maze (literally, like the kind you did in grade school as a child).  The streets are short, take frequent turns, and it isn't uncommon to reach a dead ended courtyard or just a canal with no bridge when trying to head in a certain direction.  The difficulty getting around almost caused us to miss our train back to Florence, and I'm sure we made quite the sight running in the rain, stopping intermittently to ask stranger in my admittedly broken and not-so-perfect Italian how to get to the station.  

Nevertheless, we did make it back (yay!) and even made our 10 pm dinner reservation at Coquinarius, where we had probably the best wine of any place we ate.  Chianti, a variety that is usually mediocre at best in the US at almost any price, basically tastes like the nectar of the gods when you actually have it in Tuscany.  According to our waiter, only 5 cities in Tuscany produce the only good Chianti in the entire world, and they don't much like to export it.  Stingy!

I sadly wasted some - I was so tired from our day in Venice I poured some Chianti into my Pellegrino....

Our last day in Italy, Saturday, we mostly rested up for travel Sunday and it was a good thing too!  We had a terrible morning I still don't understand entirely at the Florence airport, and Air France wouldn't let us on our flight!  We had to buy a ticket to Paris to get to speak to a Delta agent in person (our cell phones didn't work in Europe and there was a 5 hour wait to speak to a phone agent because of Hurricane Sandy so a pay phone was out of the question.)  Basically we were told we couldn't leave Florence without speaking to a Delta agent and the only way to do that was in person.  It was a bit insane, but once we get to Paris our agent Pierre Laurent was so friendly.  He upgraded us to business class for our flight home (Which was awesome!  Free champagne & your seat is like a bed!), and since he couldn't get us on a plane until the next day, he put us in a very nice hotel near the airport and told Darrell he had to "take his wife to the Tour Eiffel" since we were going to be "stuck" in Paris for the night.  

 All in all, a mostly perfect trip, and any slip ups we mostly made the best of!  

(ps - big thanks to my Mom & Dad for the amazing trip!)

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