Let the pre-Oscars prep begin! It’s my favorite time of year…the Golden Globes were this Sunday and the Academy Awards return the end of February.
It was looking to be a dismal year in film, but Hollywood finally came through in the last few months. Here are my top picks from 2016 that I’ll be cheering on on this awards season!
Best movies of the year
I can’t reiterate enough how much Manchester by the Sea blew me away and stuck with me for a long time. Be prepared to be “crushingly sad” but impressed with the intricate, subtle performances and story line. If Casey Affleck doesn’t win Best Actor…
It seems like everyone is either looking back or looking ahead right now, so it’s the perfect time to celebrate my favorite books and movies from the last year. I highly recommend adding all of the following to your 2017 or winter reading list.
I owe all my favorite reads this year to one thing – the library. It’s like this novel (ha) concept where books are completely free!
But seriously, I can’t believe I waited so long to stop buying every single book and revisit my childhood love of the library. Now I get ebooks right on my Nook and audiobooks through the Overdrive phone app, then buy my favorites for a more permanent addition to my collection.
Legend series by Marie Lu – Everything you loved about Divergent story and the Hunger Games characters, but so SO much better. NOTE: Read the ebook versions. The print version has an incredibly annoying font treatment to differentiate the point of views.
Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith – JK Rowling returns with the world-building detail of Harry Potter + the sarcastic investigating of Sherlock Holmes + the will-they-won’t-they of Suits’ Donna and Harvey. Worth the long read.
The Duff by Kody Keplinger – After reading and then promptly rereading, I thought “I wish someone would make a movie of this” While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, too, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the book.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – I tried to figure out the mystery and talked-about twist the whole time and was still completely surprised. Haunting.
Honorary mentions go to these light yet poignant “beach reads” about worthwhile complicated relationships:
I have a theory that every couple has the same conversation at some point during the wedding registry process:
“THIS WILL CHANGE OUR—”
For the husband and me, the life-changing item in question was a donut pan.
He made some solid arguments, like how I had never made donuts before (because I didn’t have a donut pan) and that we would never use it.
But I was convinced. I was a donut maker just waiting for her donut pan.
Luckily a friend of mine also had the registry disagreement and didn’t bat an eye before saying “Oh girl, I will get you that donut pan.”
Cut to me wide-eyed and innocent, opening wedding presents a few months later: “Would you look at that? Someone got us a donut pan! Crazy!”
Ironically, between both of our crazy schedules, we ended up not cooking much at all our first year of marriage. But I did use that donut pan repeatedly, thus making it one of the most used items in our kitchen.
Anything coffee will win over the husband so I recently adapted one of my favorite gluten-free and dairy-free recipes. Here it is – Coffee Chocolate Chip Donuts!
Coffee Chocolate Chip Donut Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Baking Flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1.5 teaspoon instant espresso coffee (I use medaglia d’oro)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup “buttermilk” – made from canned coconut milk and juice from half a small lemon
1/2 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips
Vanilla Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Remaining coconut milk, 1 teaspoon at a time until desired consistency
Preheat oven to 350º and spray a nonstick doughnut pan with cooking oil.
Make your buttermilk. Shake the can of coconut milk then pour into a measuring cup. Strain the lemon juice into the measuring cup – do not stir. Let sit and curdle for 5-10 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, instant espresso powder, and salt.
In a medium bowl, blend the eggs with the vanilla, oil and buttermilk together; add the flour and blend until just combined, then stir in the chocolate chips.
Spoon the batter into the doughnut pan – be careful not to overfill! Bake for 18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let the doughnuts cool slightly, then shake them out of the pan on to a cooling rack. Place a baking sheet, parchment paper or tinfoil under the cooling rack – this will be important in a few minutes.
While doughnuts are cooling, make the glaze in a small bowl, mixing in a little coconut milk at a time. You want it like thick honey – if you drag a spoon through and hold it up, the glaze should drip off oh so slowly, but all in one stream.
Dip one side of the donut in the glaze, twisting until covered, then place back on the cooling rack.
Once the glaze dries until no longer sticky, usually 10 minutes or so, enjoy!
Earlier this year, my immune system forced a confrontation. Since being forced to slow down and make time for things like, oh, eating, I hopped right online and pulled the trigger on some items waiting around in my shopping cart…for a year. You may not have Shingles (because you’re not, like, 27 going on 60), but these three things are all-around useful for getting and staying healthy.
Garlic. Raw garlic has natural antibiotic, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, so I put about 5 cloves in quinoa. My husband loved me right about then. Maybe more than when I made him put hydrocortisone on my shingles, though – HA! Word of caution: it is possible (although difficult) to overdose on garlic. Really. I accidentally made myself sick after an overenthusiastic garlic binge during my first inflammation experience. I don’t know if that tidbit is laughably sad, helpful or both?
On to Vitamin D. Definitely do your research on this one. When I did, I found out that some supplements use D2 or ergocalciferol, which can be toxic in large amounts and even apparently alter your body tissues. What you want for immune system support is D3 or cholecalciferol. Deliciously Organic goes into all of the details, so check it out! I bought this liquid Vitamin D3 supplement, because it’s potent (only one drop a day vs. 3-5) and doesn’t contain any unnatural or allergy-inducing additives like so many other brands.
Ashwagandha. Where to start? The flavor might not be all that (let’s just say the name means “the smell of a horse” for a reason), but the benefits are many. People swear by this Ayurvedic herb for reducing stress. It also helps regulate your blood sugar and immune system, provides antioxidants and is an anti-inflammatory. So far, I simply put one drop in my pressed juices…I hear the powder version could taste good in water or your choice of milk/alternative, too.
This Sunday, I broke out the pink wine and got to work on a cherry pie. I’ve only used canned filling in the past, so I thought it would be fun to use real cherries. And here’s where I tell you it wasn’t all sunshine and rosé.
Lesson #1: Let frozen cherries defrost before baking or you can attempt to de-pit fresh cherries, which, no thank you. I did not, and I literally had to sop up the pie because it was so liquid-y. I also did not add any flour/starch to help it stick together…lesson(s) learned.
Lesson #2: More spices! I put a little bourbon in the mix and some more nutmeg and cinnamon would have really complemented the flavor and counteracted some of the watered down flavor.
With all that in mind, here’s an edited version of the Cherry Bourbon Vanilla Pie filling:
3/4 cup sugar
1-2 TBS vanilla
3 TBS bourbon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 bags of defrosted cherries
2 TBS flour
My favorite gluten-free pie crust recipe is from SimplyGluten-Free.com. Not only will it fool the best of gluten-eaters, it’s really easy to make with vegan butter and not quite as delicate as other gluten-free dough. This means you can make it through the haphazard parchment-paper-to-pie-dish flip with a much higher rate of success.
Her recipe calls for the following pie crust ingredients, which I’ve modified below, in a food processor:
½ cup vegan, soy free Earth Balance (one stick)
2 to 4 TBS ice water
1¼ cups Bob’s Red Mill Baking Flour, Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Flour, or a mix of both plus more for rolling
1/2 tsp kosher or fine sea salt
1 TBS sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Now for some more learnings:
Lesson #3: Use the food processor over a hand or stand mixer. It cuts and distributes the butter so much faster, so the butter stays cold. Cold dough is happy dough.
Lesson #4: You can adjust the salt and sugar ratio to taste. Since fruit pies can be sweet naturally I prefer less sugar in the crust. For chocolate pies, I use a little more salt to delicious results. That said, the vegan butter adds a little saltiness to the recipe, so I recommend going no more than 3/4 tsp salt.
Lesson #5: Instead of doubling the recipe for a top crust, blend two separate batches. I can’t point to any science behind this, but my dough always turns out better this way.
Despite not turning out quite as expected, I’ve still eaten almost all of it. Maybe contemplating baking and eating a whole other pie before I hit the beach next weekend, too…
Less crap, airy closet, beautiful clothing, endless styling options.
If that sounds like living the dream, you’re not alone. Like many, I’m intrigued by the minimal closet / capsule wardrobe trend.
Scrolling through Pinterest the other night, I noticed another trend – every pin, every blog and every article promised tips or steps for a “perfect wardrobe”. It was then I realized, this is just another way to channel perfectionist tendencies.
Now, I’m genuinely interested in owning less, caring less about the things I do own and spending my money more thoughtfully. Those are all good things! But if I’m spending rare solo time with my husband face glued to phone, agonizing over potential purchases, and then having to find time away from the office to inevitably return half of it….it’s just not worth it.
But this realization isn’t going to make the desire go away overnight. Here’s how I’m channeling my capsule wardrobe inspiration into some real-life action:
Clean out your closet, regularly. About every 2-3 months I cull through and find things that I just don’t wear as well as hidden gems. Going through everything on a consistent basis helps me keep better track of what I own to avoid unneeded shopping, rediscover items I love, disprove the “I’m not wearing it because it doesn’t fit right” notion, and learn from the things I remove. The more you do it, the faster you’ll become at it, too.
Explore thrift stores. If I’m in the mood to shop and spend, I head to the thrift store. There I can poke around to my heart’s desire and keep the damage to my wallet at a serious minimum. I also love the sustainability factor, that I’m recycling clothing and not fueling consumerism (as much). Some of my favorite and most complimented items are thrift store finds, as is everything pictured here.
Buy better clothes. When most people say this, they mean pay more for better quality items. This is not necessarily what I’m saying. When I was a kid, I heard somewhere that good makeup is when you don’t know it’s there. I feel the same way about clothes…now. I’ve learned that if I’m going to be constantly adjusting my outfit, changing how I move for fit’s sake or worried about damaging things, it’s not for me. Sometimes this means paying more for an awesome fit, or sometimes this means picking up a Forever21 item so I don’t have to stress about ruining or not 100% loving an “investment” piece.
Part of me is also considering one of those quarterly personal shopping by mail services. It could be nice to save all that mental space and time online researching to just have some items arrive at my door? I’m still skeptical about the effectiveness of someone else finding clothes I love and that fit well (I’m a little picky about…everything), but it might be worth a try eventually.
But how often are we really “good” when we say that? How often is “busy” even an accurate reflection of our lives? Does posing the question, usually as we walk past someone, really communicate interest or value? Do we really want to know or give a real answer in the first place?
I find myself both frustrated and conditioned for this automatic exchange, these catchall phrases that don’t seem to add depth to our conversations and relationships…with others or ourselves.
Which is why I loved this blog post by Be More With Less:
Let’s stop telling each other how busy we are. That conversation isn’t helping us connect, or become less busy. Talking about busyness makes me feel busy, even when I’m not. Instead of “how are you?” I am going to ask people, “What was the best part of your day?” or “Who or what made you smile today?” or “What will you remember about this week?”
I can’t wait to add these questions to my daily life. To make time to really listen to the answers. To assume someone wants to hear mine.
Work has been a lot of work lately. Lately as in, like the last year and a half.
While we are finally getting our act together in a lot of systematic ways (#startuplife), sometimes it seems that help will never come. My last painstaking hire was whisked away from me, like Wilson the volleyball floating away in the current of agency politics.
The real upside of all the insanity on my to do list is getting way better at prioritizing, voicing red flags and learning to accept my limits. And how I do all of these things involves lists, lots of lists.
Last week, I just couldn’t take any more “urgent, top priority” items. Randomly, I decided to order my to do list by stress level instead. I mean, if I’m not going to get everything done anyway, might as well be freaking out slightly less about the things left over?
It turned out to be loverly.
To keep the list from getting too overwhelming, I broke my list into groups of three. Then I refused to even look at the next three until I had finished the first group. Apparently this a real deal productivity tip I stumbled into? I’ll take it. This also had the unintended effect of keeping me more focused and present during the work day.
There’s definitely a correlation between deadlines and stress level, so I didn’t completely throw those out the window, but I also found this helped weed out the “pop-up” tasks from the high impact ones. By the end of the week, I felt lighter, as well as proud of my productivity.
Last weekend, I went to Create & Cultivate Dallas. It was my first ever blogger conference, and I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous. I sit down with my blog reader every morning, so there’s something of a celebrity status reverence in my mind. I also anticipated a great deal of fashion bloggers, given that it’s a popular category in general and in the Dallas area.
A twinge of impostor syndrome had me feeling the need to up my style game and buy a bunch of new outfits. Some confidence-boosting FT business cards and soul-searching later, I realized a) my closet is already too full and b) I like my every day style, so it just wouldn’t be me to dress like my idea of a “real blogger”. Some outfit planning later with my style consultant (as in, if my husband hears “these shoes or these shoes?” one more time…) I ended up 100% comfortable as just me in things I already owned. Figures.
Once I actually got there, I realized I had nothing to worry about anyway. Everyone was truly friendly and nice. There was also way more of a range of blogger levels and career fields present than I expected, which kept things interesting and way more approachable. It also helped a ton that one of my favorite people was there.
Overall, it was fun, fancy, and I’d definitely go again! Here are my big takeaways from Track #2:
Let’s get technical:
Know your audience – where else should you be for them to discover you, what do they actually want or need from you.
Engage with people who’ve just liked / commented / followed – they are most likely to still be on their phone or in the app.
Hashtags – check before you use! Luckily, this lesson was already cemented while researching before a client’s major sports event…In case you were wondering, “#score” on Instagram is not so much sports-related. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter.
Specify rounds of edits in partnership contracts in advance, as well as fair fees for extra / extensive ones.
Make your own opportunities:
Bag Snob turned a negative review for a designer’s bag –> a product conversation –> into a bag pitch –> into her own line.
House of Harper was looking to personally embark on a home remodel. She decided to explore expanding her blog content accordingly and pitched Lowe’s with her design ideas to see if they would maybe, like to, potentially sponsor. They did.
Quotes, thoughts and things:
creativity is a practice
know your strengths, tap your network for the rest
sell the idea over the skills
respond to “no” with “why”
you’re only as good as your last _____
authentic > innovative …and is often innovative in and of itself
inspire creativity by understanding how people work best – and then letting them
But every morning during our trip to Portland, Maine, chia seed pudding with fresh, local blueberries sat downstairs. This seemed like the perfect opportunity and a slightly better texture to start my chia seed experience, so I gave in…and loved it!
Now I like to make a large batch for the week and mix it up with different fruit toppings or add-ins. I’m one of those people who wakes up RAVENOUS (if you’re one, too, you know why it’s in all caps), so I need real food, preferably with protein, fast. This is one of my go-to’s!
Here’s my recipe for Vanilla Chai Chia Seed Pudding, inspired by The Mercury Inn.