party eats + drinks.

Oh, do I love a party. I took some major shortcuts with Mari's baptism, which absolutely made planning so much easier. 'Twas a different experience, party planning in mom mode, and if I thought I was a list-maker before, I reached a new dimension this time around. But, boy, the lists really helped get me through. As did my family (and Trader Joe's). We had so much help!
I've got details on the 100% make-ahead menu for you, complete with a few recipes, serveware and some sophistocated and totally-worth-it shortcuts.

Let's start with appetizers: one brought (and store-bought) and one made. We served a big, beautiful cheese, cracker and fruit plate on my Boos block - my favorite way to serve a variety of cheeses - courtesy of my mother-in-law. And I made deviled eggs, topped with paprika and chopped chives, from my garden.
Shortcut (provided by deviled eggs-pert Erin): Trader Joe's sells hardboiled eggs, de-shelled, in bags of six. It's a little more money, but it saves time, warped eggs and headache. You will have perfectly cooked, peeled eggs. It's pretty awesome. // Serveware: Egg Platter from Crate & Barrel.

We served the main course buffet style, and we all ate on our knees... or standing up... or chasing after kids. It was very casual, food included.

+ Sliders sandwiched in hawaiian rolls with sharp cheddar cheese and assorted toppings: carmelized onions, tomato slices, ketchup and hot chipotle mayo
+ Lobster and Shells pasta salad
+ Melon ball skewers
 Shortcut: Trader Joe's sells sliders pre-formed and ready to grill. All you need to add is salt and pepper. And they grill up fantastically. Major time savor. // Serveware: Sliders served on tiered galvanized stand from Home Goods; toppings in C&B's 3-Part Server; Lobster and shells served in Target's Home Basic White Serving Bowl (possibly my favorite bowl in my whole house).

Drinks were also serve-yourself and included a big pitcher of red orange margaritas, subbing red navals for blood oranges; a pitcher of citrus water with lemons and limes; blood orange soda (a Whole Foods Italian soda); and assorted beers and wines.

Shortcut: Have you seen the selection of Italian sodas at Whole Foods? Me thinks a bottle (or two) is a great mocktail addition to the beverage tub.

Dessert was particularly special; Mari's baptism day was also her grandmother's birthday, so we topped these angel food cupcakes with whipped cream - garnished with candied oranges - with a candle and sang to her, with all her grandkids on her lap.
So much goodness shared. Thanks for reliving it all with me, and for your sweet notes all week long. End scene.

Cupakes Serveware: PB's Great White 3-Tier Stand.


more from the baptism: le table, etc.

Are we sick of the baptism, yet? I hope not. I have a handful of photos to share with you today, plus a few tomorrow, and then we're done - promise.

Says the beautiful pink ranunculus: Come, read, see.
Mari's post-baptism get-together was different than any other party I've ever thrown; instead of being consumed with things like having enough water in the pitcher, or keeping the appetizer trays full, I was consumed with just being a mom, because that's who I am. I let it all go, and left it to our family to fill the table with food and keep the margaritas flowing. With kids running to and fro and babies attempting to nap (very unsuccessfully, I might add), we all enjoyed the merriment, at our own pace. It was family at its very best, and it felt so good to be a mom.

But, let's be real: before the day ran away, I was party planning, right up until the very last minute. I was your Type A cover girl. I was list-making. I was fluffing pom poms like a crazy lady. And I was loving it. And then, I stopped. I carved out some time to snap some pre-party pics, at my own, very slow beginner's pace while Mari took her morning nap.

And then I went back to being crazy. Forgot my belt that totally made the dress. And off to the church we went. It was a beautiful day!
Tomorrow, I've got an arsenal of my favorite serveware to share with you, plus le menu. Which you can kind of see in this last image.

Oh yes, there were sliders.

Pom poms and Divine Twine from Shop Sweet Lulu. Runner fabric from Joann's. Cards and papaya scallop labels from Paper Source.


mari's baptism: decor.

I'm still on a bit of a high from Mari's baptism. It's been a joy to scroll through so many photos and pick a few (or more) to share. Today, we're going to talk decor and flowers - pretty, fun stuff.
The inspiration for her special day really started with a love affair with blood oranges, which narrowed the palette to pretty oranges, peaches and pinks. Her sweet and feminine invitations also got my wheels turning in a very sherbet state-of-mind, much like I was with Mari's nursette.
Flowers came from Trader Joe's and our local Vons. My best girl got her mom's favorite ranunculus, plus white tulips, freesia and alstroemeria with lemon and waxy gardenia leaves, hand-tied in mason jars, of course.
Our beach house is tiny, so we make good use of every square inch of space, inside and out. Our deck became the bar, complete with the obligatory stripey straws in Shop Sweet Lulu's sorbet mix; Caspari strawberry pink polka dot napkins; and a DIY decoupage "M" made from a kraft paper letter + orange striped clearance fabric (both from Joann's) and pink grosgrain ribbon (my advice: do not attempt a decoupage DIY the night before a party. Just - don't.)

With the hanging-herb-garden project complete, we finished decking the deck, with some potted flowers, candles and some pinwheels - a Target Easter-season find.
Coming this week: more details on the eats and drinks. I'm currently dreaming of fresh squeezed red orange margaritas. It's 5 o'clock somewhere, yes?


papaya scallop-inspired invitations.

Of all the paper projects over the years, designing Mari's baptism invitations brought me the most joy. Because I'm not a graphic designer, this was a crafty collaboration with my dear friend and talented artist Lynette Fowler, who you may remember from our letterpressed wedding invitations.

Now, that was a fun project - but this one - this takes the cake because well, it was for Miss Mari.
We took inspiration from Paper Source's papaya scallop labels and aimed for a sweet, light, feminine and breezy-but-sophistocated invitation, printed at the most beautiful paper store I know, Christie, in Manhattan Beach. (By the way, if I had a million dollars, I would probably spend it all there.)

With Kim and Mara's help, Christie printed the invitations on beautiful 118 lb. Savoy paper, which we paired with a barely-there pink envelope. The whole thing reminded me of a ballet. Which, in retrospect, was exactly what I was going for. I just didn't know it.

+ Paper + envelopes: 100% cotton bright white Savoy, 118lb. / warmed white envelopes
+ Fonts: Mrs. Eaves, Carolyna
+ Printer: Christie
+ Labels: Paper Source

So much more to come from the post-baptism party!


blog love: more herb garden.

Big news! The lovely ladies over at Camille Styles blogged about my herb garden today. What an honor, right? Especially since I get loads of inspiration from the site's craftily cultivated posts and photos. It's one of my favorite happy places.
Special thanks to Claire, who really got me inspired in the garden department.

Pop on over to check me out... and if you're new to Camille Styles... consider yourself warned. It is addicting!

three years later.

Three years later nearly to the day, we found ourselves standing at the very same altar, with the very same Priest and Deacon, with the very same special family and friends, with the same most beautiful sunny weather during the same most wonderful time of the year.

With one addition: Mari (and a couple of cousins who joined us along the way, of course).

Our little love was baptized on Sunday, just three days before our three year anniversary. By a beautiful coincidence and a lot of help from our church, we relived so many wonderful April 18 memories. When the day was over, I felt a little like I felt after our wedding had passed - so much gratitude, emotion and mostly, a lot of love.

I have so much goodness to share; we hosted a small party at our home following the ceremony, and I've got lots to get to, starting tomorrow with the invitations.

For now, I'll leave you with this, which pretty much sums up our daughter.
One shoe on, and one in the mouth. Starting off her relationship with the Monsignor on the right foot. Literally.

Happy anniversary to my sweet, handsome husband who's still got it, in the very same suit he was married in three years ago (PS: I wore the Loft dress - thank you for your thoughtful opinions and comments!).

Photos by my sister-in-law Whitney.


happy hour black bean dip.

I have fallen in love with a new black bean recipe, and it's a delicioso dip that will remind you of hummus, but it's creamier and dare I say: better. I served it atop crostini at happy hour with the Slaters, and we've been enjoying the leftovers - that are - hold for it - freezer friendly!

A virgin Ingrid Hoffman recipe to me, this is easy and healthy and it's a good weapon for your party arsenal. It's also versatile, as Hoffman notes that when heated with some chicken broth or water, this dip turns into an instant soup. So bueno.
Ingrid Hoffman's Black Bean Dip
from Simply Delicioso, page 47

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
red pepper flakes (optional)
1 6-ounce container plain yogurt*
2 large tomatoes, halved, cored, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft, about 2 minutes. Scrape the onion mixture into a blender or food processor along with the drained beans, the cumin, red pepper flakes and salt, scraping down the sides of the blender jar or food processor as necessary. If the puree is especially thick, like mine was, add a tablespoon or two of water or chicken broth to help it along.

Transfer the puree to a bowl and fold in the yogurt and diced tomatoes (btw: I promise the time it takes to core, seed and dice tomatoes will pay off - they are so good in this dip). Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Before serving, give it some time to take the chill off; this dip is best served at room temperature. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro just before enjoying.
We spread the dip on crostini for a little black bean bruschetta, but next time, I'd add some sticks of veggies, too. You can toast your own crostini with a little olive oil and kosher salt like I did, here.

*I used greek yogurt and it was superb. As greek yogurt usually is.

Baguette board and dipping bowl - my new favorite serving piece - is also new, from the Crate.


april entertaining: happy hour with a mission.

It's always five o'clock somewhere, right? We hosted some friends, old and new, at the beginning of the month, for a long overdue get together, as most get togethers are.
We met Anthony Slater years ago through our day jobs and he's just one of the good ones. You know, those people who you love working with and love being around. He's inspiring and makes you feel like you can do anything (did I mention he's an accomplished athletic trainer and executive with an elite sports group? And, oh yeah, he's got degrees in both psychology and physical health and education). He and Eddie share a very similar half-glass-full outlook, rooted in belief that physical activity does make you - and the world - a happier, better person. I love that about them.

We've spent many a Sunday Fundays with Slater, and just like that, years fly by, he gets married and we have a kid. He married a lovely and fun Lisa, and together, they are doing some pretty amazing things, including an upcoming expedition to Uganda, in the name of bringing clean water to two Mityana schools with RainCatcher, a non-profit aimed at solving the world's global water crisis.

As I down ounces and ounces of water each day, I am now conscious that more than 1 million people in this world do not have access to clean water - ever. Ever. Anthony and Lisa's mission is to help chip away at this number with their Uganda trip, by helping provide clean water to two local schools, as well as soccer and fitness education.

Inspired by their commitment and passion for their June trip, we snacked and we talked, on this yummy bean dip - my new obsession - and two recycled favorites: Eddie's shrimp dip and blood orange margaritas.
Come back tomorrow for details and the recipe. It's perfect for the weekend, if you ask me.

We are grateful to the Slaters for sharing their Sunday with us, and will be helping them inch towards their trip. You can, too, by visiting their fundraising page. You can also follow their progress and journey on their blog.


welcome to our DIY herb garden.

Well, it's a garden, at least to us. Our tiny beach deck is just big enough for two adirondack chairs, a small table and a handful of potted plants. It's lovely, like most things, when it gets a lot of TLC and in the last month, we've cleaned it up and planted a pretty herb garden, in the form of hanging herb planters.
Inspired by Camille Styles' post on this mason jar herb planter DIY, I enlisted the help of the two craftiest people I know; my mom and her green thumb, and my dad and his tool box. Together, we transformed a not-so-welcoming space into a green garden oasis. And just like that, we crossed another one off the 2012 intention list.
In the morning, Mari and I get to water the herbs and flowers together. And I like the idea that she's observing what water + sunlight + soil + love can produce.

Citrus bonus: Eddie and my mom also managed to get a lemon tree up our narrow stairs and planted, with some thyme. It smells so good.
Materials/Sources: hanging planters from Ikea; wrought-iron hooks found on eBay; chalkboard signs handmade + sprayed with this (thanks, dad!); labels penned with this. Like most things I do, twine was also involved.


happy easter weekend.

Hippity, hoppity. I'm so ready to celebrate Mari's first Easter. We've got baskets. We've got jelly beans. We've got Easter grass. And, we've got some little treats for her cousins.

Are these paper eggs vintage-y? Or is it just me? We got them as kids, and I fell in love with them all over again a few weeks ago, as I do with most things at the Ikea food court.

Hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend!

For the DIY on gift tags, hop on over here. Need any last minute Easter menu ideas? Check out last year's post.


nestle's chocolate chip cookies.

Does everyone have their own favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe? Probably, yes. I'm not an uber chocolate fan (gasp!), but my mom made a fabulous batch of cookies a few weeks ago, so I got chocolate-inspired and tried a couple of recipes with, regrettably, little success.

Back to the source I went, and assuming her cookies came from a family recipe (or even The BC's), I was surprised to learn that it was Nestle's, and that in her esteemed baking career, that that has always been her favorite. Monica Geller, anyone?
After the success of a from-the-box pasta dish, and with the Friends anthem singing in my head, I followed the recipe on the bag o'chips and made my first batch of slightly undercooked Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. It kind of felt like making my first pot of coffee. And that I should get a pat on the back for finally doing something that so many of you have probably been doing for years.

I'm not the first blogger in the world to proclaim that I've found my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I finally have. We sampled them after pizza night with Krisa, and for me, it was perfect end to a long week.

Here's my take on Nestle's classic recipe, with milk chocolate chips.

Original Nestle Toll House Milk Chocolate Morsel Cookies
Makes 4-5 dozen cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups Nestle Toll House milk chocolate morsels
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl, whisk together completely and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and then the vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture in three batches, scraping the sides of the bowl with each addition. Fold in chocolate morsels and nuts.

Drop by rounded teaspoon or small ice cream scoop onto baking sheets and bake for 9 to 11 minutes until lightly golden, but do not overbake. Don't go far, and keep a close eye (and if you're like me, you might even slightly underbake so your cookies are extra chewy).

Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.


dress shopping.

Let's just get something out of the way: I'm not fashionable. My go-to outfit is a white tee, jeans and my favorite pair of flip flops. I love beach living for lots of reasons, and a big one is that my go-to outfit is always in style. Heels kinda scare me. Flats are a staple and I rarely wear dresses or skirts. As in, only when I have to.
{from Boden} spring shift dress in tulip mono floral and notch neck shift in navy
When I was pregnant, I invested in some maternity clothes. I didn't buy a ton, but I have to say - after getting over the fact that I was growing quickly - it was a treat to update my outdated wardrobe. With the help of some stylish bloggers, I learned ways to strategically shop and gained a little confidence in the fashion department. When I was 30+ pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, looking good did help me feel like a new person. Especially on those swollen, water-weighty days.

Oh, being pregnant really is such a beautiful thing, isn't it?

Fast forward to mom life and in the last few months, I've purged my closet of all those random pieces I held onto for years. When I realized it had been at least a year since I'd worn most of it, I decided I could live without it. And then I realized I needed some new clothes [that fit]. Gradually, I've been adding bits and pieces to my new mom look - things like cardigans, scarves and belts - that up the fashion factor to my neutral staples. I'm trying to be more put-together and intentional when I get dressed, if nothing more than to feel good and be a good role model for Mari. And a double take from Eddie isn't bad, either.

Mari's baptism is this month, and I am in the market for a new dress that will make me feel special on her special day. This feels like a big purchase, and maybe it's because it'll be the first really nice thing I've bought myself since she was born. Or maybe it's simply because I know that we'll be looking at her baptism pictures for the rest of her life and dangit, I better look good.

Also eyeing this J.Crew tunic and this, from Loft.