Friday, October 29, 2010

DIY Project

From time to time I will spot something in a store or online and I think to myself, "I could make that on my own if I gave it a shot." I love doing crafts and I really wish I could just stay at home all day and be crafty....maybe one day.

Last year my Mom and I visited the Hickory Furniture Mart. If you're in the market for nice furniture (not Rooms to Go quality, I'm talking about really good quality furniture) you should visit this place. It's a combination of around 100 furniture outlets stores, shops and galleries. During our visit we came across these great mirrors that we both loved.

Only problem? They were priced at $150 per mirror. $300 for two mirrors? I think that's a little pricey and after I took a good look at them I didn't see why I couldn't make one on my own. For my first attempt I was on the hunt for a cheap case this turned into a disaster! Luckily I found one at Home Goods for $9.99. Then I was off to AC Moore to buy a stencil and some paint. It really was a simple project and I think the final product turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

As you can see, the stencil I used was reversed from the ones we saw at the furniture mart. The stencils they used were a little more detailed, so maybe I'll give that a try next time. So here is a little encouragement to attempt a new craft!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Preparing for Halloween

I absolutely love Halloween. I guess I must be a big kid at heart because it's probably tied in second place with Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday, Christmas of course coming in first place. I love the decorations, costumes, candy and the general time of year.

I realize stores push the limit in terms of putting out their decorations earlier every year, but I will have to say I was giddy to see the Halloween decorations appear in late August. I have my own collection of Halloween decorations that first begun my freshman year in college. Yes, I had Halloween decorations in my dorm room. They were mainly a collection of things I took from my Mom and have held onto over the years (along with many other items that mysteriously disappear from my parent's house).

Chris doesn't get into the holiday like I do, but thankfully we now have two precious nephews and a perfect excuse to go all out for the holiday. So we're having our family and a few close friends over on Saturday night to celebrate Halloween. We're having all kinds of fun Halloween treats & cocktails and we're dressing up! Neither one of us have finalized our costumes but we will dress up. I will most pictures of the finalized products next week.

In Bon Appetit's October magazine I came across the most scrumptious treat that I knew I had to try.
Halloween Peanut Butter & Toffee Candy Bark
I decided this would make the perfect Halloween favor for our guests. It was simple to make and oh my goodness, delicious! I almost made myself sick last night as I made the goodie bags. :)

1 lb. bittersweet chocolate chips
3 2.1oz. Butterfinger candy bars, cut into irregular pieces (I used 8 mini sized Butterfingers cut into quarters)
3 1.4oz. Heath toffee candy bars, cut into irregular 3/4 inch pieces (I used 12 mini sized Heath bars cut into quarters)
8 .55 oz. peanut butter cups, cut into 8 wedges (I used the mini dark chocolate Reese cups and rough chopped them, but you could also use the reg. size Reese cups)
1/4 cup honey-roasted peanuts
3 oz. high-quality white chocolate
Reese's pieces and/or yellow and orange peanut M&M's ( I used the orange & yellow Reese's pieces)

Line a baking sheet with foil. Melt chocolate chips in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and warm (not hot) to touch. You can also melt the chocolate in the microwave. Pour chocolate onto foil; spread to 1/4 inch thickness (about 12x10 inch rectangle). Sprinkle with Butterfinger candy, toffee, peanut butter cups, and nuts, making sure all pieces touch melted chocolate to adhere.

Melt white chocolate in heavy small saucepan or the microwave. Dip spoon into chocolate; wave from side to side over bark, creating zigzag lines. Scatter Reese's Pieces and M&M's over, making sure candy touches melted chocolate. Chill bark until firm, 30 minutes.

The final product. Notice there is a corner missing....I had to give it a taste test!
Slide foil with candy onto work surface; peel off foil. Break bark into irregular pieces. I found that it's best to break the bark into pieces immediately after you remove it from the refrigerator. If it gets warm it doesn't break into pieces as well.

Bark broken into pieces.
The bark can be made up to one week in advance. Chill in an airtight container and let it stand at room temperature for 15 min. before serving.

Treat bags!
I found these cute little tin buckets in the $1 bin at Target. They're perfect for the treat bags. BTW, if you haven't discovered the $1 bin at Target, you're missing out in life. You can find the greatest things....esp. gift bags, tissue paper and cards, all for $1.00!!

Halloween decorations

My homemade Halloween wreath, which can easily be converted into a Thanksgiving wreath next week.

I'm also making "mummies in a blanket" and candy apples on Saturday, so I'll let you know how they go next week.

I hope everyone has a very happy & safe Halloween!!! 

Christmas shopping

I realize that Halloween and Thanksgiving haven't even rolled around, but if you're like me it's always nice to get a jump start on your Christmas shopping. Once Thanksgiving comes and goes things tend to get a little crazy between all the holiday parties and traveling, and before you know it it's Christmas Eve.

I always have trouble thinking of unique gift ideas for girlfriends, the guys in my life (except for my husband who pretty much has a running Christmas list all year long) and secret santas. Every now and then I'll come across a great idea so from now until Christmas Eve I will plan on sharing these ideas with you. My hope is that this will ease your holiday shopping and hopefully make your family and friends happy when they open your gift.

When I was in Nashville, TN a few weekends ago for a bachelorette party I came across a great gift idea. They're called TableTopics.

Have you ever been to a dinner party or simply a small get together with friends and find the conversation lull from time to time? TableTopics are a collection of conversation starters meant to engage folks in fun, interesting discussions typically with a lot of laughter at dinner or cocktail parties or simply on your next road trip.

The large cubes come with 135 question cards and a variety of topics to choose from such as the: family edition, girls night out edition, dinner party edition, gourmet edition, couples edition, what would you do? edition along with many others. TableTopics also come in travel size versions that contain 40 question cards with topics such as the: road trip edition, wine edition, wedding shower edition, bachelorette party edition, honeymoon edition and the golf edition.

A friend of mine purchased the bachelorette party travel set for our weekend in Nashville. It was the perfect game to have on hand while we enjoyed a few cocktails before hitting the town that evening. They are great conversation starters so if you're looking for a fun, entertaining gift pick one of these.

TableTopics are mainly sold in individual boutiques across the country but you can always buy them online. For store locations please visit their website.

If you have any gift suggestions please send them my way!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New York City

Nothing compares to New York City. I experience a rush when I step onto the city streets that I can't imagine you would experience anywhere else in the U.S. One of Chris' best friends, Ben, lives and works in NYC and was kind enough to let us stay at his place in SoHo for the weekend, so we took full advantage of this great opportunity.

I could ramble on and on about NYC but I will do my best to summarize some of my favorite parts of our trip. We visited NYC on our one year wedding anniversary and I feel like we crammed in every possible tourist attraction NYC has to offer. We absolutely wore ourselves out! This time I wanted to experience a more low key weekend and have a nice, relaxing trip. We had a picture perfect weekend and I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Ben's apartment in SoHo

Check out the stairway up to his 4th floor apartment....straight up! Chris wasn't too happy with me since I had a heavy, large suitcase.

Ben's tiny kitchen. Notice you don't have much counter space to do your cooking!

I took the bus to NYC out of Union Station. Some of you may question the bus, but let me tell you how great it is. First, a round trip ticket usually runs around $40 per person. The bus is clean, there is free wifi and the drivers waste no time getting you in and out of the cities. There are several different charter buses to choose from and you really can't beat the price. The trip takes right at 4 hours. When we went for our anniversary we took the train which was really nice too; however, several hundred dollars more. When I looked into train tickets this past weekend it was going to run about $300 round trip, per person. So let's see.....$40 or $300? No question in my mind! If you're ever planning a trip to DC keep the bus in mind for a quick trip up to NYC for several days. I highly recommend the Bolt Bus, DC2NY or Washington Deluxe.

I could spend a week in NYC just shopping...actually I would probably need more than one week. On Friday we spent the entire afternoon walking up and down Broadway St. in SoHo. There were many great stores....many more than Charlotte, NC or Washington, DC has to offer. :) Some may think that DC has a lot of great places to shop, which it does, but it doesn't hold a candle to NYC. Some of my favorites along Broadway were Mango, BloomingdalesTopshop and Madewell.

I regularly check out Topshop and Madewell's websites; however, I haven't had the opportunity to visit one of their stores. Topshop was unbelievable and I scored a great shirt and hair accessory. I bought the coolest shirt but I didn't see it on their website so I'll take a picture and post it soon. I've noticed that feathers are big this season, especially worn in your hair. I found a great peacock feather hair clip that I purchased which adds a nice finishing touch when I wear my hair pulled back (I'll post a pic of this too).

Topshop in SoHo
Photo courtesy of Putucos

You can't go wrong at Madewell, one of J.Crew's sister wonder I love it so much. Their line of clothes is very similar to J.Crew, but a little less preppy. Reps claim that Madewell's merchandise are priced at 20-30% less than J.Crew, so definitely take time to check them out.

Madewell in SoHo
Photo courtesy of Refinery29
On Saturday I spent most of the morning visiting the small boutiques in and around SoHo. I visited several vintage stores and picked up a few cute things for next to nothing! New York vintage stores have the biggest selection you can imagine. A great vintage jewelery store is Pippin Vintage Jewelry. They have hundreds of pieces priced under $50 and drawers filled with $5 pins, earrings and cuff links.  Another great jewelry store, but a little more on the pricey side, is Gas Bijoux. Want to stand out from the crowd? Visit Le Labo where you can create your own fragrance. Your shopping options are endless.

I don't even know where to start, but I will just mention a few of our favorites from the weekend. For lunch on Friday we visited Lombardi's Pizza. New York City was the birth place of New York Style pizza and in 1905 Lombardi's opened it's doors as America's First Pizzeria. It did not disappoint!

Sweet Italian sausage, roasted red peppers & wild fresh mushroom pizza

Smile you're at Lombardi's

On Friday night we went to the SoHo House with Ben and his girlfriend, Megan. The SoHo House is a private members' club and hotel located in the Meatpacking District. The atmosphere was awesome and it was neat to experience an area of the city that wasn't accessible to just anyone. After dinner we ventured over to The Standard Hotel and went to the Biergarten. The Biergarten is an outdoor bar (partially enclosed in the winter with outdoor heaters) located underneath the High Line. They feature a classic German menu of beer, sausages pretzels and more. They even have a few ping pong tables....which yes, we attempted a game or two and we were TERRIBLE! There are times where I am very impressed with DC's dining and nightlife scene, but nothing compares to NYC.

**Please take note of my jacket in the pictures below. Look familiar?



Best buds

Megan & Erin

Ben & Megan attempting a game of ping pong

For the absolute best cake doughnut I've ever tasted, visit Balthazar's Bakery. Deb with the Smitten Kitchen first informed me of these doughnuts and she was absolutely right. For all my southern readers I do have to specify that these are the best cake doughnuts I've ever eaten. There is nothing better in this world than a warm, hot out of the oven, melt in your mouth Krispy Kreme doughnut. But I will have to say that these came in a close second place. The doughnuts have a crunchy outer layer with a moist, dense cake-like inner layer. Along with the doughnut (it was a mini size) we also got a sticky bun and a pain au chocolat. You can't go wrong with any of the breads and pastries so make a stop at Balthazar's.

Balthazar's Bakery

Saturday afternoon we decided to venture to NYC's latest and greatest tourist destination, Eataly. Eataly is basically a marketplace that gives you a taste of Italy without the flight. Restaurateurs Joe Bastianich, Lidia Matticchio and Mario Batali teamed up with the founder of a gourmet food and wine market in Turin, Italy and created Eataly. The market features areas for shopping, learning and most importantly eating! The market is located in the Toy Building at 200 5th Ave. between 23rd and 24th streets and includes multiple restaurants, including a fine dining Italian steakhouse, a Neapolitan pizzeria, a year-round rooftop beer garden and microbrewery, a wine bar, a gelato station as well as a cooking school and retail sections for everything from Italian cookware to all the essentials you need to cook a gourmet Italian meal. This place was incredible! It was a little overwhelming at first since there were hundreds of people trying to make their way through the market to decide what to buy, eat and drink. Luckily I was able to snatch two seats at the wine bar and Chris and I enjoyed several glasses of wine along with our paninis. If you have an opportunity to go, order a charcuterie board with your wine.


Yes, please

Last but not least was our dinner Saturday night. I feel that some of the best places to eat in any city are the neighborhood, family owned joints that not everyone knows about. Ben introduced us to this little regional Brazilian home cooking restaurant named Casa. Unbelievable. That's about all I know to say because it truly was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. The restaurant is extremely small so I highly recommend calling for a reservation. Make sure you start off by ordering a caipirinha. This is Brazil's national cocktail, made with cachaca, sugar and lime. What is cachaca? It's Brazil's most common distilled alcoholic beverage that is the result from the fermentation of sugarcane juice that is distilled afterwards. At Casa they offer several different varieties, one of the best being the passion fruit. Chris and I ordered the same entree, feijoada. This dish is considered a Brazilian national dish made of black bean stew with prime meats (usually stewed pork and beef) served with white rice, fresh oranges, collard greens, farofa (seasoned, toasted manioc root), and a vinaigrette sauce. It may not sound very appetizing, but I'm telling you that if you get a chance to try this dish you won't be disappointed. It's a little sweet, savory and spicy!

As you can tell we had a great time on our trip. I'm already trying to plan my return. My Mom and I went one weekend in December last year to see all of the Christmas decorations and it was spectacular. Be prepared for the crowds though....walking down the street, at every single restaurant, the hotels, you name it! It's the most popular time of year to visit NYC but if you've never been at Christmas then you need to plan a trip. There is truly something magical about that city.

By the way, 58 days until Christmas!!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Men's casual fall fashion

Yesterday I received a personal request from my younger brother to write a post on men's fashion. Apparently he's in the market for some new clothes and wants to know what to buy. I'm not exactly sure how this will work because there have been numerous times where I've purchased clothes for my brothers that they would not wear. I don't know why they think I would steer them in the wrong direction but I don't think guys are risk takers in the fashion department. They stick with what they're used to and what makes them comfortable. Not a bad route to take, but I promise I won't steer you wrong or away from anything that's comfortable.

1. Plaid
Once upon a time the good ole plaid flannel shirt that your Dad probably wore was considered a staple in every man's closet and an anti-fashion statement. Luckily designers have reinvented the rustic shirt to sophisticated chic.

The shirt can be worn with w v-neck tee, buttoned or unbuttoned, and dark wash jeans. I have nothing against light wash jeans, but I think a dark wash has a more polished look. I'm not a huge fan of baggy jeans that guys constantly have to tug on to keep around their waist or tight "skinny jeans." I don't think guys should stroll around in tight pants. Leave the tight jeans to the ladies, please.

If you want to switch things up wear a pair of utility pants. When the shirt is worn with jeans or utility pants wear boots to complete the outfit.

For a dressier look wear the shirt under a v-neck sweater with neutral colored cords or khakis. If you go this route pair it with loafers.

J. Campbell's Plaid Western Shirt, $89.50

American Eagle Plaid Flannel Shirt, $39.50

You can basically find a plaid shirt in the men's department of any store. As I combed through the racks at Marshall's last night I came across three of these great shirts for a steal! I picked up one for my brother, Justin, and two for my husband, Chris. We'll see if either of them actually wear these shirts, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Paper Denim & Cloth, Marshall's

 Paper, Denim & Cloth, Marshall's

$7.00 (clearance!!!)

I think this shirt looks great when you roll up the sleeves. Some shirt sleeves are designed to be rolled up and have button to hold them in place.

2. Pants
Jeans, cords and utility pants. You can't go wrong with any of them and they're all very popular this fall.

Old Navy Men's Straight-Fit Jeans 
(they also come in tall)

Jcrew Vintage Cords 

L.L.Bean's Katahdin Iron Works Pants

 3. Boots
Every guy needs a good pair of boots. Whether they're a pair of red wing boots for the true (or at least authentic looking) lumberjack or a more streamlined and sophisticated pair, make sure you have a pair this fall.

Utility boots (lace-up) are very popular and have more of a rocker look to them and are worn with your pants tucked into the boot.

Burberry, $795

 Dr. Martens, $130

Lug sole boots go with everything so invest in a pair. Here are four different varieties:

L.L.Bean's Duck Boot
You can't go wrong with these boots. Every single guy out there should own a pair . You can get them in several different colors and heights.

Albuquerque Distressed Brown Waterproof Men's Work Boots, aka Cowboy Boots! 
 Rock the cowboy boots! Trust me on this.

If you can't manage the cowboy boots, go with these sturdy "work" boots.

I really loves these shoes. They're also called chukkas. They're basically ankle length boots with 2 or 3 pairs of eyelets for lacing and they're made of calfskin or suede. Get a can wear them with everything! Jeans, khakis or cords. 

Obviously there are many options to choose from and you can't go wrong with any of these. Choose a favorite brand and style in a color that fits with your wardrobe and make it your staple. Keep in mind that L.L.Bean has free shipping, no minimum order, through December 20th!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Statement pieces

Pearls. Whether it's a pearl necklace, earrings or bracelet, they should be an essential piece of your wardrobe (along with a great pencil skirt and black pumps). You can never go wrong with pearls. What a classy, southern finish to any outfit!

Recently I've seen pearls worn more as statement pieces. Over the past few months I've admired several of Stella & Dot's necklaces which incorporate a long strand of pearls and a brooch.

Charlotte Statement Necklace

I have been tempted on several occasions to purchase this necklace, but I stopped myself because 1.) I have a long strand of pearls and 2.) I have several different brooches. Why spend $100 on a necklace when I can make my own version with jewelry I already own?

So one afternoon I ventured home after work and put my thoughts to work and I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

Here is my long strand of pearls and 2 brooches.

I tripled the strand of pearls and attached the first brooch.

Here is the back side of the brooch. You can see where it evenly holds the strand of pearls together.

Here I doubled the pearls for a longer look and pinned on the second brooch.

As you can see from the the pictures you have several different options with this look. You can wear a shorter strand of pearls by tripling them around your neck or wear it longer by just doubling the strand. Depending on how many brooches you own, you can make it look like you own several different necklaces. The pin is actually helpful because it holds the pearls in place through the day so that the clasp doesn't constantly work it's way toward the bottom of the necklace.

Don't own a brooch? Not a problem! The first brooch I used above I purchased from H&M for $3.50. You can also find great vintage brooches at antique stores, flea markets, or better yet your Grandmother!

Looking for other ways to wear your brooch or a reason to buy one?
ifashion network

1. Lapel
Add a brooch to your blazer, jacket or sweater.

2. Hair jewelry or hats
Attach a bobby pin or hair clip to your brooch and clip it into your hair. You can also attach the brooch to a headband or hat for instant glam.

3. Cufflinks
Don't have clufflinks? Use two identical brooches instead. Missing a button? Use a brooch!

4. Sweater
If you want a different look or your sweater is a little big, use a brooch to pin it together.

5. Shoes
Pin two identical brooches to your flats. Use velcro tape or double sided sticky tape if you don't want to pin them through the fabric.

6. Dress
Pin a brooch on your dress. If the dress has a cinched waist, pin it to one of the sides. If the dress is v-neck try pinning the brooch at the bottom of the V. If you own a v-neck sweater this will work too.

Take away from this post? Buy a long strand of pearls and a brooch if you don't already own them. I promise you won't regret it.

Quote of the Day (QOTD):
" I never worry about diets.  The only carrots that interest me are the number of carats in a diamond."
~Mae West

Photos courtesy of: Ladies' Home Journal