Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas family celebrations

It has been a crazy, fun whirlwind of a few days!  I can't believe that we're sitting on this side of Christmas - it seems to happen faster and faster every year.  We look so forward to it for months and spend so much time decorating, shopping and wrapping and planning and then it seems like it's over in a flash!  Here's a little recap of our Christmas weekend.

Friday afternoon my mother in law Carolyn arrived from Richmond.  I made a big dinner and we had a nice evening in.  Saturday was a relatively relaxing day.  I spent a good part of the day in the kitchen making an apple pie, Nutella bites and biscotti to take for Christmas day at my aunt's house while they went shopping and did some gift wrapping. 

That afternoon, we loaded into the car and headed downtown to the National Cathedral.  After being on the waiting list to get tickets for a couple of weeks, they finally arrived a few days earlier.  We arrived right around 5:10, and the line was already really long.  Luckily it moved pretty quickly, and we found seats about halfway back.  The place was packed!  

The Carols by Candlelight service was very nice.  They paired some favorite Christmas carols with the Christmas story.  Just before we sang Silent Night, they came around and lit the candles that everyone was holding.  It was really a touching service.

Sunday morning was full of presents and breakfast casserole.  We spent the morning together opening presents from Carolyn and we opened a couple from each other.  Cady got a special present too!

Impatiently waiting to open her present.
Christmas morning - finally!

We said goodbye to M's mom, packed everyone up and headed across the river to Maryland to my Aunt Carol's house, where my parents already were.  We've been spending Christmases together for almost as long as I can remember, and it has been at her house every year for a long time except last year when I hosted.  It's one of my favorite family traditions, and one that I'm holding onto dearly as our family grows and changes.

This year we had a few new additions - my cousin Jason's new bride Lauren, her daughter Paige and mother joined us!  Because of the huge crowd, it was the first time ever that we did buffet style!  We put all of the dishes in the dining room and everyone just sat wherever they could! 

It's always such a great time when we get together - lots of stories and laughter!

Monday afternoon we headed back to VA and my parents followed shortly after.  We went out to a nice dinner canceled our reservations and I made a bunch of appetizers, opened a bottle of Cava and a bottle of wine and turned on some Christmas music.  We hung out in the family room for the rest of the evening, talking and opening presents.  Everyone got some great things - clothes, jewelry, crystal glasses, electronics, an espresso machine, perfume, and so much more.  

My parents stayed around until this morning when they headed back to Richmond.  We spent yesterday hanging around, going to lunch, doing a bit of shopping - the boys even had a movie date to see A Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.  We went out to a nice dinner canceled our reservations again and ate leftover appetizers on while watching The Layover (one of my new favorite shows) and playing Apples and Apples.  

It was a great Christmas holiday for M and me.  It was the perfect combination of his mom, big crazy family dinner, and my parents.  As we went to bed on Tuesday night, we couldn't help but feel so happy, and we said that it was really just a great Christmas!

Christmas is such a special time of year with so many wonderful traditions and blessings!  I hope you and your family had a great holiday weekend.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The girls celebrate Christmas

A couple of weekends ago I had 2 awesome holiday events with different girlfriends.

First I headed downtown to the Madarin Oriental for afternoon tea with a couple of my favorite girls.  It was really lovely.  We spent all afternoon (literally, we were there for hours) sipping champagne and tea and enjoying the wonderful spread of sweets and treats they had.

They have 16 different types of tea plus numerous coffees and martinis on the menu.  The place was full with mostly women - groups of girlfriends and families, celebrating the beautiful Sunday afternoon together.

We chatted so much, I forgot to take any pictures until it was almost too dark and they were putting everything away!  We had a great afternoon - I highly recommend the hotel for afternoon tea.  It's such a nice time away from the hustle and bustle, whether it's the holiday season or any time of the year!

After saying goodbye to the girls, I raced back to Reston for Christmas dinner with another group of girlfriends.  We went to Il Fornaio, one of my favorites in the Town Center.  We laughed and talked and ate their wonderful food.  We also did a white elephant gift exchange, which was very fun.  And I came home with a big box of Godiva chocolates!

The holidays can be stressful and hectic, but it's so important to take time out to celebrate with friends and family.

Did you do any fun things this month with your girlfriends?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree

*With all of the attention this post got today, I felt that the iPhone, lazy photo of the final product didn't do it I've added a few more pictures!*

Going to get our Christmas tree is quite the family affair.  

When M and I got married, one of our first compromises was about the Christmas tree.  He used to get the 'fluffy ones' - I have no idea what kind of tree it was, but it was fluffy...not very good for hanging ornaments.  And to that point, the only ornaments he had on the tree was gold and red balls.  Not very creative...

And I would go to the easiest, closest tree stand and just pick one up that wasn't too big or too tall.

So our first Christmas together, I wasn't into the fluffy trees and he wasn't into just picking one up on the side of the street....

Enter Snickers Gap.

Each year, we take a weekend day early in December, bundle up and head west.  About an hour from our house, on Rt 7 just before you go across the mountain is Snickers Gap.  This family owned farm has been growing Christmas trees for over 30 years.  

Cady of course goes, and loves racing around through the trees.  She's a good helper! 

Once we've found a good one and determined that it will fit in the living room, it's time to cut it down! 

The we strap the pup up and she helps M pull it down the hill to the barn!  Everyone gets a big kick out of this, because she's really into helping pull it. 

Once we got the tree home and in the living room, we got right to it took us a week to get around to decorating it. Finally the following weekend, at about 11pm Saturday night, we poured ourselves a glass of wine and turned on the Pandora Christmas stations.  We got out the garland and all of our favorite ornaments...including some gold and red balls.  

While I hem and haw over driving so far to get our tree, I do have to admit (M, paying attention?) that it's a fun tradition.  And one that I'm sure we will continue for years to come!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas cards

Today I'm linking up with Faith at Walk With Me  for her annual Christmas Card Carousel! 

One of my absolute favorite parts of the holidays is getting so many fantastic Christmas cards!  I race inside when I get home at night to see what new ones have arrived that day.  I of course especially love the photo cards - and am so amazed at how many babies and kids there are on our cards now!  I love watching them grow year after year.  I proudly display them around the doorway to the kitchen and so enjoy looking at them all through the month.

I also really enjoy sending out our own cards.  We have quite a list that we mail cards to - this year I sent almost 100!!

We snapped this cute picture while we were in Richmond over Thanksgiving!  Cady was a great model and loved her bow!

Since we buy everything at Costco, I figured why go elsewhere for our Christmas cards.  They are so reasonably priced, you really can't beat it - $25 for 100!  Some of the other popular card and photo sites that I looked at were going to be well over $100, and I just couldn't justify that.  And that's even before the stamps!  Plus they're ready the next day - so great.

I also send a little family update letter to our family and close family friends who I might not see that often.  This year...I can't believe it, but the letter was a full page.  Dear God.  I can't imagine when we have kids...

Now go link up and share your Christmas card!  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Last minute gift ideas

Christmas will be here in just 13 days!  Have you finished your shopping?

Here are a few great items under $40 that would make perfect last minute gifts for friends and family that you still need to shop for!

This Alphabet Needlepoint pillow from Pottery Barn Teen is adorable - whether you choose your initial or monogram or spell out a word they'd be a great addition to any room.

Over at the regular Pottery Barn site there are tons of great gifts - we have ordered several things over the years from them for both girls and guys.

One of my favorites is their silver jewelry boxes.  With the option to monogram them they make beautiful personalized gifts.

Another monogramed PB option is their beautiful cosmetic bags.  I have some similar to this and just love them - they hold tons of things for traveling or just for use at home.  And these are on sale right now too!

For the wine drinker in your life the Vinturi Wine Aerator is a great gift.  We have one and use it all the time - it's great for when you have a bottle that needs some air but you just don't want to wait the time to let it open up!   

Whenever my girlfriends get together we all bring at least one bottle of wine with us.  We've made ours girls nights out into girls nights IN and everyone brings something.  It's so much more casual and comfortable (and we can be as loud as we want!) and less expensive if everyone brings something.  I have a couple of these neoprene wine carriers and love them.  People are always commenting on them when I have it with me.  They come in one or 2 bottle styles and in all different fun colors and patterns.  Pair this with a bottle of wine and/or some cocktail napkins and you've got a great gift!

Continuing with the monogramed theme - this initial flag is a great addition to any front yard or walkway.  We just got one a few weeks ago and I love it - it makes me smile everytime I see it!  Just be sure to include the flag stand if your friend or family member doesn't already have one.

I hope these cute ideas give you some inspiration to finish that last bit of shopping you have left to do.  And if you happen to order 2 and give yourself one - I won't tell :)  I might have to order one of those cute pillows!

Happy Monday and happy last 2 weeks before Christmas!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pasta alla Formiana

I have mentioned before my love of Giada, and I'll say it again.  She really is one of my favorites - and everything of hers that I've made is delicious and easy. 

It doesn't get much easier than Pasta alla Formiana.  I had everything except the tomatoes already in the pantry.  And I also like that you control the sodium and calories since you're making the sauce with just crushed tomatoes, garlic, spices and olive oil.  You don't even have to cook the pasta before you bake it - it happens in the oven!  Dump, mix, bake. 

The fresh tomatoes in this were delicious, especially after they had roasted for an hour.  Add a little parmesean cheese and a veggie and you've got a great, super easy dinner!  This would be great for entertaining too because you can just throw it in the oven when your guests arrive and will have an hour to hang out before you sit down to eat.  And M had the leftovers the next night and said it was even better.  One tip I have is to make sure you put a baking sheet on the shelf under the dish in the oven - it definitely bubbled over and made a bit of a stinky mess on the bottom of our oven...


Pasta alla Formiana

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound (8 ounces) mezze penne or other small pasta
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/4 cup dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 very ripe, extra-large or beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Grease an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.

In a food processor, blend together the crushed tomatoes and garlic. Pour into a medium bowl and add the uncooked pasta, 1/3 cup olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Toss until all the ingredients are coated.

Line the bottom and sides of the baking dish with tomato slices. Pour the pasta mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Arrange the remaining tomato slices in an overlapping layer on top of the pasta mixture, making sure the mixture is completely covered. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the tomatoes are slightly crispy and the pasta is cooked, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving.


Enjoy and have a great weekend!!  Any fun plans?!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Framed wine labels

I had looked and looked for something to replace an old print that we had above our fireplace and just wasn't finding anything I loved...  Finally one day, I just decided to make my own.  With wine labels.

Over the years, with our trips to Sonoma and Napa, Walla Walla, WA, Santa Barbara and the Rhone Valley, we've brought home some cool bottles of wine for our collection.  I wanted a way to be able to remember them, or keep them, without it taking up too much space.  I decided I would start pulling the labels off the bottles...but wasn't sure what to do with them.  And then it just came to me!  Frame them, together, in a big collage...for over our fireplace!

It really took longer than I could have expected to finish the collage...maybe because I bought the largest frame that Michaels sells?  Maybe because I didn't want any repeat labels?'s finally finished and sits beautifully on the mantle.  Over the year or so since I finished it, I've changed out a few labels, making sure to incorporate some of our newly found favorites.  I've had lots of people ask me how to do it, so I wanted to share.

First, once you have some labels that you want to save, you need to get them off the bottle.  I use the oven method - I know there are several different thoughts on how to do this (put hot water in the bottle and dunk it in cold water, use one of those label remover kits) but this has worked great for me.

Set your oven to 175 degrees and once it's warm, put the empty bottle in for 15 minutes.  Then, remove it with an oven mit and while holding the bottle with the mit, carefully start to peel the label from the corners, slowly working around until it's all the way off.  You might get a little in one corner and move to the other corners, working your way towards the center.  Some are easier than others - some just come right off and some really take work.

Also, you have to be willing to loose some.  And it's going to be that special bottle that you had on your anniversary that you really want...and it's just going to tear and not come off.  Sometimes if you leave it in for a few extra minutes you'll have luck, but not always.  It just depends on the paper that the label is made of and the strength of the glue.

Once you have the label off, use a piece of wax paper to hold it until you're ready to use it.  The label will stick to the wax paper, but also will allow you to pull it off easily when you're ready to do something with it.

Usually they're pretty curly when they come off the bottle so you'll want to put a weigh on top of it to flatten the label back out again.

Since I was doing a big collage, it would collect several, maybe 10 or more at a time, and then open up the frame and put a bunch on at once.  I started from the corners and worked my way in so they wouldn't be all grouped together.  I also tried to space out colors - not put all the dark ones together and same for the cream ones.  Plus, if I had 2 bottles from the same vineyard, I wanted them to be spread out.

It really turned out great, I just love it.  I've already made some changes since I first 'finished' it and put it up on the wall. It's fun to look over the collection and remember when and where we bought or shared a certain bottle!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cashions Eat Place

Living Social and Groupon have definitely been a welcome addition to our life here in DC - restaurants, activities, stores, and more at a greatly discounted price.  But, that said, there have definitely been times where we've bought one with the best of intentions and months to use it...and we find ourselves remembering it a week (or month) too late.

In an attempt to use a deal that was expiring, a few weeks ago M and I ventured into Adams Morgan for dinner.  Going downtown on a Friday night for dinner is not unusual for us...but going into Adams Morgan is.  I can't remember the last time we were up there, except for a bachelorette brunch at Perry's over the summer.

When the Cashion's Eat Place deal came out, I was a little hesitant...I didn't really know much about the restaurant and was worried we wouldn't get up there and yet another would go unused.  I think because of their casual exterior, I thought it was more of a diner.

Luckily I let M talk me into it, because it was a fantastic evening and dinner!

We had a beautiful little table right up in the window, which was really nice - we could see the whole restaurant!  The waitress was very nice and chatty, but didn't hover.  They have an interesting and accessible wine list - lots of good options and good prices.

We opted for a beautiful Perrin & Fils, excited to find a Cote du Rhone Villages and even more excited that after our Provence wine adventure, we knew what this was! 

We shared the three traditional Greek spreads and the delicious rustic bread - each spread was better than the last.  Then I had the salmon and M had a soup and salad.  Everything was very fresh and just delicious. 

I met and chatted with one of the owners, Justin, who was just delightful.  He was explaining to me all of the amazing photos along the walls and in the restrooms - they are baby pictures and family members of the owners and staff.  What a unique and personal touch!

We really loved Cashions and are so glad we ventured in.  This is one of my favorite new finds, and I can't wait to go back!

And, on that note, Adams Morgan was not nearly as far as we had in our minds - and actually, from VA quite easy to get to!  We recognized the names of lots of restaurants and bars that we'd heard of, but shied away because of their location.  We can't wait to get back up there and check out more new places!