Sunday, December 21, 2014

Last Minute

I'm really proud this year; for once, I've managed to complete all of my Christmas shopping a few weeks in advance. That's usually not the case, though, and I've become a sort of expert when it comes to last minute gifts. So if you're anything like me and panicking about the next 3 days, here are a few tried and true last minute gift and stocking stuffer ideas that don't include a Starbucks gift card:

The Handmade Scarf: Can you knit? Even the most elementary knitters (like myself) can bang out a pretty scarf before the big day arrives. It's a more thoughtful approach to a simple gift, and can be personalized with its wearer's favorite colors. Want to update the classic style a little? Sew the ends together with extra yarn to make an infinity scarf, or weave some ribbon through the finished knit. Tadaaa!

Fancy Coffee/Cocoa in a mug: Homegoods (HomeSense in the UK) is a great one-stop shop for this sort of thing. If your gift recipient is a coffee, tea, or cocoa drinker, you can find some one-of-a-kind luxurious beverages/mixes and unique mugs. Maybe even through some fancy cookies or chocolates in the mix, as well.  When in doubt, try Anthropologie for the classic monogram mugs (if you know someone who doesn't own one yet). Foodies on your list this year might love some spicy Mexican hot chocolate mix, and who doesn't love a little mini bottle of Bailey's for their Christmas morning coffee?

Handpainted Ornaments: Grab some acrylic paints, some plain glass ornament balls, and get to painting! Personalize it with family names and the year/date and a few sparkles. Here's a little inspiration: paint a row of snowmen representing each family member, with different facial expressions. Have an old bean bag toy lying around? Use the filling beads to fill your ornament with "snow"! Personalized ornaments are so popular, and this is an inexpensive handmade option that can turn out to be super cute.

Gift Wrapping: This isn't a gift idea, but a fun idea for the holidays nonetheless. Put a little laughter into your gift giving by wrapping up your gift to be it's actual shape. Wrapping a sweater? Leave the sleeves out and wrap the item as it is! It's a fun and funny way to brighten up an otherwise usual gift.
Or, perhaps try decoy gift wrapping: disguise your gift as something completely different, whether by shape or by placing a small item in a ridiculously disproportionately large box.

Have any other great ideas for last-minute holiday gifts? Feel free to make suggestions in the comments!

*all found images*

Friday, December 19, 2014

You Have to Smile

First of all, as I write, I am currently 8 people away from having 20,000 views on this blog. Twenty. Thousand. For some bloggers, that's not much - but when I started this little blog nearly 4 years ago, I never expected it to be what it is. I never expected blogging to become such a huge part of my life - between this personal one, and my food blog, I've had so much fun and met so many people and talented other bloggers along the way. So here's a thank you to all of my readers! I can't wait for the next 20,000.

Today is about appreciating the little things. As Christmas is fast approaching in less than a week, the last-minute gift shopping and wrapping can get in the way of remembering why we're celebrating, and how valuable this little season is for bringing family and all sorts of people together. So whether you're volunteering, celebrating, or hosting a family gathering - take a minute to really notice how wonderful it is. You simply have to smile.

Even if your head gets chopped off in the family Christmas party photo.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What's Cooking: Easy Homemade Pasta

This recipe is from my food blog, Street Cred. Click on the photo below to check it out!

BUM-BUM-BUM! I know that this might sound intimidating, but please trust me, it's not. If you can roll out sugar cookies, you can make pasta. No lie! When I started making my own pasta about a year ago, I didn't even own a rolling pin - I used an empty wine bottle to roll out my dough. And it worked great! So there is no need for a fancy pasta machine, and in about half an hour you can have amazing fresh handmade pasta.

do have the advantage of owning a pasta machine now, since it was an anniversary gift this year (and a hint that the hubs wants me to make pasta more often). If you make pasta using this recipe and you decide that it's worth the time, effort, and you like to know exactly what's in your food - you can pick up a basic hand crank model like mine for about 20 bucks (or pounds, or whatever your unit of currency is). It still won't save you from the upper body workout that is kneading dough, but hey! The more calories you burn, the more of that fantastic pasta you can eat later.

So, without further adieu, here are the ingredients for my pasta recipe:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little more for dusting)
3 large eggs

That's it! I swear! That's all that goes into pasta. Or, should I say, it should be. This stuff can be hang dried or refrigerated for up to a week, so even if you don't use this whole batch at once, it won't go to waste. Typically this makes 6-8 servings, depending on your appetite. I made lasagna noodles this time around, and about 1/3 of the dough was leftover and cut into fettucini for the later this week. 

Make sure your work surface is washed clean and dried thoroughly. You can use a large cutting board, but I prefer a nonporous surface like a countertop. Place your flour in a pile, then hollow out the center to create a well. Crack all 3 eggs into the center well of your flour, and whisk gently with a fork (if you'd prefer, you can whisk before pouring into your flour). While stirring with the fork, gradually incorporate flour from the center edges of the well. 

When the flour is about 2/3 incorporated, you can begin mixing with your hand until a ball of dough has formed. This dough will probably be flaking off and quite messy now, and that's when the fun of kneading begins! Knead the dough ball using the heel of your hand. Flatten, fold over, and repeat. Continue this for about 8-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stops cracking when kneaded. It's extremely important to knead the dough, since this process gives the pasta its elasticity. 

When your dough ball is ready to be rolled out, clean and dry your work surface, and dust it with a layer of flour. Divide the ball of dough into 3-4 even pieces, and work with one at a time. Dust the top of the dough and your rolling pin (or rolling wine bottle) with flour, and begin rolling! If you're using a pasta machine, you can probably begin rolling in the machine once you have the dough at about 3/8" thickness. If you are rolling by hand, skip the rest of this paragraph and see below!
For machine rolling, start on the lowest (biggest) setting, #1, and each time the dough is rolled through, increase the number by 1. I like my lasagna noodles to be a #6 thickness, and my linguine to be a #7. Unless you're making angel hair pasta, I don't think it's really necessary to roll anything out to the thinnest setting, but that's a personal preference. I like a little substance to my pasta. Then you can either use one of the cutting wheels on your pasta machine, or remove your pasta and cut it by hand (instructions below).

For hand rolling dough, roll into a large flat sheet of desired thickness - about 1/8" is usually good. Dust the top of the pasta sheet well with flour, then fold over in half. Repeat until you have a log shaped roll of pasta. Then, using a sharp knife that is lightly dusted in flour, simply slice your log into the desired thickness. Here's a good little demo video, in case you'd like a visual for this process. Shake out your cut pasta so that it doesnt stick together, and dust with another tbsp or so of flour if you're not planning to cook it right away. 

Simply repeat this process (whether by hand or machine) for the rest of the remaining dough, and voila! The first time I made this, I think it took about 20 minutes, so please don't be intimidated - give it a try! You'll never want to buy store-bought pasta again.

Monday, December 15, 2014


I'm sort of kicking myself for this past weekend. On Saturday, Steve and I bundled up and headed to Winchester for their amazing Christmas market. It's set in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral, and the entire city is a holiday wonderland. It was insanely beautiful, and the minute we parked the car, I realized that I had forgotten both my camera and my phone. Because I'm really, really fantastic like that. The plus side? I completely forgot about taking photos, and instead simply soaked it all in with my own two eyes. Not to mention, my hands were free to hold that big cup of hot whisky with maple syrup, as well as my first taste of mulled wine (which I am now addicted to).

The hustle and bustle of the street market, the smell of cauldrons of mulled wine and endless confectionary delights, the laughter and sounds of people ice skating, and the twinkling lights all around the city and cathedral were able to be fully enjoyed for once - instead of overlooked while hiding behind the lens and searching for the perfect photo op. I can go on and on about how sentimental and festive the entire afternoon and evening was, but I'm going to keep the rest inside and have a little Christmas party in my head for now. Don't worry, Mom - I know you're reading this - and it's definitely on the list of places we're taking you next year when you visit for the holidays.

In the meantime, enjoy some other people's photos of the market that I've found (and the ones I stole from my sister-in-law's Facebook, since they were with us that day!), and I promise that I won't forget my camera again!

Sadly, all found images. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Decorations are appearing throughout the house, one by one. I have to admit that I jump started the Christmas decorating a little sooner than my in-laws are used to (well, except for Steve, who encountered my Christmas obsession last year). But after days of begging, the big tree is up, with most presents already wrapped and nestled underneath. I've been baking cookies on [at least] a biweekly basis since Thanksgiving, and I've bought a multitude of pine-y candles to help the the season permeate all the senses. The weather is still reminiscent of October in Pennsylvania, but the frosts have begun so it seems a little more wintry than in recent weeks.

I'm pining (pun intended) for my mother's "Merry Freakin' Christmasland," which involves a level and quantity of decorations that turns an entire home into what could easily be mistaken for Santa's workshop (she has an entire ROOM in the basement dedicated to storing Christmas decorations), but I'm also thankful for the little touches of home that I have here with me, and the promise of making new traditions and decorating our own home in the Christmases to come.

In other news, I'm actually really excited for the post-Christmas clearance sales, so that we can begin to stock up on pretty things to adorn our home with next year (you know, when we actually have our own place again). I can't believe I'm already looking forward to next year. I mean, what happened to living in the present? Speaking of presents... heading to a Christmas market today to really get festive and pick up some little last bits and stocking stuffers. I really hope the weather cooperates so that we can go ice skating!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Disappearing Gifts

Doesn't sound too appealing, does it? But hear me out.

I actually had this idea while watching Barefoot Contessa (because I have a dream that I'll someday be Ina Garten). She simply pointed out that sometimes it's difficult to buy for people who have everything (read: money) so the best gifts are disappearing ones.

What is a disappearing gift, you ask? Well, by Ina's definition, it is a gift that is used up in one sitting. Examples: movie or theater tickets, Groupons, baked goods, wine, activities - anything that is used promptly, and disappears. I love this concept because, let's face it, Christmas shopping can get really expensive. But these disappearing gifts can seem even more thoughful (and can help to avoid amassing mountains of cheap crap in your home). Clutterbugs be gone! Especially under tight budget constraints, I think that this idea works wonders, since it can be adapted in so many different ways.

As a college student, when money was obviously tight, I often made my parents a gift basket of wine and snacks and sweets that they couldn't buy where they live. It was a simple, thoughtful gift that took into consideration their love of food and wine, and my advantage of living in a big city (Thank you, Trader Joe's). My grandmother often baked enormous batches of her famous cookies, and gave each family member a tin. A favorite aunt makes homemade Bailey's and distributes mason jars to family members each year (which I will sorely miss now that I am 3000 miles away! Save me some if you're reading this!)

Anyone trying out disappearing gifts this year, or have any recommendations, post in the comments below!!

All images found on Pinterest

Chill in the Air

It officially feels like autumn is coming to a close. November seemed to be picture perfect, and we took that opportunity to enjoy the foliage and all that nature had to offer before the frost rolled in. Now we're switching to heavier bedding, bundling up to go outside, and counting down the days on Advent calendars until Christmas arrives. Where did the time go? Life is seeming more and more like a roll of toilet paper; the closer to the end you get, the faster it moves (Life lessons from unlikely source).

In all seriousness, my birthday came and went at the end of last month and I can't believe a year has passed at what seems like record speed. Hence, I have a pre-new-year resolution: my goal for the remainder of December is to take in as much of every day as I possibly can. It's just all flying by too quickly, it seems. And I'd like to stop and smell the frosty flowers before they melt away.