Practical Person's Gift Guide: The Basics

11.28.2014

Happy Thanksgiving!! Happy Black Friday!! (Although if you're out celebrating the latter, you're probably not reading this post, at least not this morning.) Either way, it's officially the start of the Christmas season, and I'm 100% ready to get in the mood.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), that probably means we'll have to do some shopping. (And crafting!! I'll have some DIY posts this season, too!) So in preparation for the season of giving, I've put together a few gift guides I think you'll like. It's Black Friday, and there are probably Cyber Monday deals coming up, so now is a good time for me to help you by sharing my Christmas list and giving ideas!

A practical person's gift guide (/my Christmas list!)


I wrote this gift guide with the intent that it be a little different than the ones I typically see on blogs. While those are often beautiful, let's be honest, I'm not going to buy a $75 trinket, $100 throw, über trendy but not super useful accessory, or gilded party decor item for most people I know. I've learned that I can put personal thought into every gift if I know the person well enough... and, I like to buy things that are useful as well as beautiful. Hopefully they love the gift, but if not, at least it doesn't just sit on a shelf unused.

I also have conflicts with making my Christmas list each year. My sweet family often asks what I want, and I am touched but have a hard time answering because I either feel greedy and/or like I just can't really communicate it perfectly. Because usually I want a few things, but I don't need them and I don't need them to be happy.

But anyway. I put together this gift guide for you if you have similar struggles, either in asking for gifts or in shopping for someone like me! Here is my basic gift guide for 2014, written by a practical person, intended for the relatively practical people in your life.

It's a very honest gift guide, and it may seem pretty random!, but it's all the truth. These are things I really want this year and/or have received or given in the past with success. These items are practical, kind of hippie, and could work for both women and men. I hope it helps!

  1. I've wanted these for a couple years now. Cozy and durable but also cute. The classic L.L. Bean duck boots. One of those things the knock-offs just don't capture, and these classics have quality materials and come in wide and narrow.
  2. I have watch problems. I always want a basic, large, non-crappy quality simple gold watch and it's hard to find. So I found this basic Timex one here and I think it'd be great. (Because while I love the $170 Kate Spade ones, I don't have anyone in my life who would (or should) give that to me! But, at least the Kate Spade ones at Nordstrom are 40% off for Black Friday.)
  3. When was the last time I had new, nice quality flannel sheets? Would be great! Options: these Lands' End ones* or these from The Company Store are sure to be great quality. White is my fave.
  4. I also always struggle to find classic button-up pajamas. Flannel or otherwise. I just found these cute navy dot or white zebra print ones from Gap**, and I looooove these classic plaid flannel ones from Nordstrom.
  5. Slippers are the perfect holiday gift unless the person already has nice ones! These from Nordstrom are the gold standard, or try these less cute but still real leather and fur ones.
  6. I love cast iron and we have a tiny enameled cast iron skillet--this normal size enameled cast iron skillet would be great for things larger than eggs. (Also pretty is this West Elm one, which is on sale.)
  7. Great Lakes Unflavored Gelatin. I never thought about food items as gifts until I started celebrating Christmas with my in-laws. My mother-in-law gives people big packages of their favorite specialty foods and ingredients. Talk about useful!! ;) This gelatin is the really good stuff from grassfed cows and is delicious in homemade desserts and even in blended coffees for extra protein and collagen. It's kinda spendy so I do't buy it for myself often!
  8. Nice gym clothes like these cool Gap pants**. I dunno about you, but I do not buy myself gym clothes often enough. Mine are pretty ratty and it doesn't really matter since I don't see anyone I know at the gym... but it sure would feel like a nice treat to have some flattering, higher quality things to wear.
  9. Dr Bronner's bar soaps. Another thing my family likes to give is really nice quality natural soaps. But my husband has recently decided the ONLY soap he will use is this classic Dr. Bronner's peppermint castille soap bars. This 6-pack would be a great gift!

*Lands' End is doing big Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales! See here.
**P.S. Gap is doing 50% off everything for Black Friday!! Shop here.

More gift ideas?


If those gift ideas were a little funky for you, You can also check out my specialized gift guides from previous years! Here's my:


I'll have some recommendations later for kitchen items I have and/or want, and my favorite great gift books!

Also had to shout out these deals for the crafters on your list, or for yourself. Silhouette does killer Black Friday deals (my friend got some super cool glitter heat transfer material online last B.F.) and if you have crafts to make as gifts, now is the time to get one! Check out the deals here.

Simple whole food cranberry sauce - cooked cranberry relish

11.25.2014

Fresh real food cranberry sauce take 2!

Several years ago I developed/perfected a super basic recipe for fresh cranberry relish. No processed sugars, just sweetened with dates, apple, and orange. I love the fresh taste and no sugary aftertaste, and I can feel better about eating it.

I've made my fresh cranberry relish for the past few Thanksgivings, but this year I wanted to try something a little softer, less tangy... I looked into a few recipes, but I really liked how mine was SO basic and used no concentrated sweeteners.

I wondered, could I just cook my old favorite recipe? What would happen? Cooked cranberries? Good. Cooked apple? Good. Cooked oranges and dates? Not sure, but sounds okay!

I did find some other examples of fresh fruit cooked cranberry sauces, so I figured it would probably work out okay texture-wise. I went for it!!

It's really like a cooked cranberry relish, which I understand is an oxymoron (cranberry sauce vs. relish here). But it's not saucy and liquid/gel-ey like the basic sugar and cranberry recipe. I think of it like a cooked relish, still.

Simple Chunky Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c. - 1 c. whole dates 
  • 1 bag of cranberries 
  • 1 orange, peeled and chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped

    Instructions:

    1. Blend dates in food processor to chop them finely.
    2. Combine cranberries, orange, and apple into food processor and blend until combined.
    3. Cook in saucepan until berries and apples darken and become opaque.

    Serve warm or cold on turkey or other festive foods!

    When I made the raw version, I would add a handful walnuts when the mix was mostly blended. I'm not sure how good the nuts would be in this cooked version, but if you really like chunky relish, I guess it could be okay... let me know if you try it!

    P.S. The lovely oven mitts and cocktail napkins in these photos were a gift from Hen House Linens. They have adorable stuff perfect for the holidays! This one is the Greek Key Licorice pattern. So pretty and their quality is excellent, really nice 100% cotton and durable printing.

    And thanks to Macey for the photo help, and Jenni for the styling help! We had a fun day of holiday cooking and decorating this weekend.

    Ski lodge winter party inspiration!

    11.21.2014

    Winter party planning!!
    I'm on the winter party committee at my company again this year, and I'm so excited. It's a ton of fun to plan a big party for 200 people with a budget and committee of excited architects and engineers plus a few people like me. (Last year was Great Gatsby themed-- see my party inspirations heredress I made here.)

    I definitely had a big hand in choosing the theme this year, and I always volunteer for the invitation/announcement subcommittee, food subcommittee, and decor subcommittee--of course!! (You know me.)

    This year our theme is ski lodge. Or lodge. Or plaid. Something like that. We went back and forth but decided that a general "lodge" theme would allow people to dress up for a lot of eras and sub-themes like 80's ski or 60's fur James Bond/apres-ski or Paul Bunyan. (These themes were all discussed as well.)

    The venue is this funky new downtown Portland place called Punch Bowl Social. Funny mix of hipster food and drinks with classic games/bowling/darts etc. and vintage video games. And the decor is what originally inspired the "lodge" theme--there are some glam retro couches and barstools and such but also lots of log tables and antlers and fireplaces. Oh, it's also on a top floor of the downtown Portland mall. (Confused yet? Here is a virtual tour.) BIG pro of this place? It's already so cool we don't need to decorate virtually at all, so we can free up some of the decor budget for other things like an awesome photo booth or activities!

    Anyway, I've been brainstorming about ideas (I collected a bunch of these photos to sway the committee to vote on my preferred theme!!) and also thinking about what to wear! (Should I make myself a plaid taffeta dress or something?? What is lodge-ey but also a cute party look?!?)

    I thought back to a New England blogger I know of who posts the most perfect preppy holiday scenes in goodness knows what amazing settings she puts together, complete with all her adorable coordinated friends. I pulled a bunch of photos from her blog to show the committee! And I wanted to show you, too; maybe you can help me decide what to make/wear!

    From Classy Girls Wear Pearls:

    How lodge-ey are these?! Plaid pants, anyone?

    Or this? I bet my husband would totally wear a plaid jacket like that. ;) (P.S. not for the winter party, but next time I get a chance I definitely want to tie plaid bows around my dining chairs!!)

    I can't tell if it's in a lodge for real, but I think this classic 50's style Haddon Sundblom painting captures it... called "Weekend in the Ski Country"!


    I also found, in my Google image search for lodge parties, that a few people have had this idea before and documented it. (Duh/yay.) One of my faves was these company party photos of a "Sexy Ski Lodge" themed holiday party.

    These employees all did an awesome job of dressing the part! And how cool it this party setting? Complete with a cool lodge-ey photo background!

    Obviously, for a great ski lodge costume, you need a hat and something fur on or near you.

    So now I'm conflicted! Should I make a plaid dress, or go all out with leggings and fair aisle print??

    Hope you enjoyed these inspirations as much as I do!

    A very cool woven ribbon pillow DIY

    11.18.2014

    This is quite the project! I have a very interesting tutorial for you today, one I tried without much practice or thorough thought before jumping in. You may know how that goes. But I learned as I went, and am happy to share my tips with you!

    Here's my tutorial for a woven ribbon pillow.

    I think the inspiration for this project was woven paper hearts I remember making for Valentine's Day as a kid. I think we made paper baskets out of them once? I don't know. I remember liking weaving the pieces together, and being very intent on matching the corners up tightly.

    So when Offray reached out to me to celebrate the launch of their new website, and I thought about a cool project using ribbon, the over-under basic weave was the first thing I thought of!

    Woven Grosgrain Ribbon Pillow Tutorial


    You will need:


    • Grosgrain (or other) ribbon (pronounced GROW-grain, not GRAWS-grain) (I used two colors, two white pieces for every grey piece)
    • Sturdy home dec or bottomweight fabric for pillow base and back (Do not use knit or something lightweight, as it needs to hold up to lots of pins and still stay flat as you add each ribbon.)
    • Zipper (invisible recommended)
    • Pillow form

    I used an 18" pillow form so I used an 18" zipper and less than 3/4 yards fabric.


    Calculating ribbon needs:

    Sometimes sewing projects = lots of math. To calculate how much ribbon you need, divide the width of the pillow by the width of the ribbon. For example I used 3/8" wide ribbon (0.375") on an 18"x18" pillow form and assumed 1/2" seam allowances on each side but no ribbon in those areas. For each direction:

    • 18" divided by 3/8" wide ribbon lined up perfectly = 48 pieces
    • 48 pieces, each 19" long for seam allowances = 912"
    • 912" divided by 36" = 25.3 yards
    So 25.3 yards per side, so 50.6 yards total. 

    (I did 2/3 white ribbon and 1/3 grey ribbon, so I used about 17 yards grey and 34 yards white.)

    I'm pretty sure the fabric store is the most expensive place to buy ribbon, so ordering online is definitely the way to go for large orders like this. (Offray.com now has an online shopping feature.)

    Instructions:


    1. Prepare the pillow base. (I used the same fabric for the front and back.) If your fabric is all or mostly cotton, pre-wash it and press it before cutting. Once washed and pressed, cut two pieces to fit the pillow form. (I used 1/2" seam allowances for my 18" pillow, and wanted a snug fit, so I cut 19"x19" squares.)

    Fold the pieces in half and notch the centers on all sides.

    2. Cut ribbons. I started out cutting 10 or 20 pieces, then pinned some and cut more as I went. Kept them from getting too tangled.

    My pillow was 18" with 1/2" seam allowances and I wanted a little extra room, so I cut 19.5" pieces.

    3. Pin ribbons along one side. You can see my alternating pattern here--two whites, one grey. Put on a good movie or podcast! Lots of pinning.

    Leave at least 1/2" at the side for seam allowance and wiggle room.

    **If your ribbon is thicker like velvet ribbon, you may want to give each piece a few threads' worth of space to accommodate the bulk when you weave the other direction.

    With each piece, on a flat surface, follow the ribbon piece to the opposite end and pin flat.

    4. Baste ribbons down. You can use the longest stitch your machine has, since it just needs to take the place of the pins for now while you weave. Use about a 3/8" seam allowance.

    5. Pin and sew ribbons on the perpendicular side. Pin only on one side, not across as well.

    If you used spacing for thick or fluffy ribbon, match that spacing on this side.

    Sew these pieces down with a basting stitch and 3/8" seam allowance as well.

    6. Weave! With a consistent pattern, weave each piece through under-over-under-over-etc. all the way through.

    My ribbon was stiff enough that I didn't need a needle or anything to weave it through the perpendicular pieces. I found that I could just fold each piece in half or so and use the loop as a pusher to get under the pieces as I wove through. I made a twisty mess most of the time, but the ribbon had enough body to bounce back when I flattened it.

    I also found I could do up to four or five pieces at a time, under-over-under-over-etc. all together, but then just had a slightly harder time doing the next pieces individually.

    The hardest part was keeping the weave straight as I went. Lots of pulling with my fingernails, pretending to be the pusher on a loom. At the end of each weave, pin the ribbon flat in grain.

    Keep weaving until the very end. For the last TWO pieces, I pulled out a big tapestry needle and used it to help me.

    But then I realized I had too many ribbon pieces for the seam allowances and I pulled out the four edge pieces (the outer one on each edge), which gave me more room to weave. (After I took this picture--sorry. Just trust me.)

    Anchor the pinned edges of the bottom of the weave with a basting stitch and 3/8" seam allowance.

    7. Assemble the pillow. As you would any pillow, install the zipper, then sew the faces right sides together. Clip corners, press.

    8. Insert pillow form and display proudly!

    Here's mine!

    Really cool texture to play with as you hang around relaxing on the couch.

    (Next to another DIY pillow, of course.)

    Because it is so unique and takes more labor than a basic printing or painting project, I think these would make GREAT holiday gifts! I'm always looking for interesting DIY gifts, and this would be a great one. Particularly if you have someone who loves a specific color. Offray sells this basic grosgrain in like every color ever.

    Do let me know if you try it!!

    It's also a great DIY gift!

    Thanks to Offray for sponsoring this post!

    Why, how, when - making mirepoix

    11.14.2014

    I've learned so much about cooking in the past couple years, and there are a few things I've taken on that have really helped me save time and make more delicious food. I didn't learn a whole lot about cooking from my mom, and I had such a limited diet for so long that I didn't expand my horizons much on my own until a couple years ago when we started eating a balanced, nutrient-dense, real food (paleo) diet. Now, I love that I can resurrect classic recipes from family members, literature, wherever and put together delicious foods of high quality ingredients (and I can easily modify things to be grain-free and processed food-free).

    So I have a kitchen tip for you! I realized what a benefit this was one weekend when I was cooking a soup, a roast, and a stir fry all on one day (we pack lots of leftovers and I love having things ready to cook). So often for me the barrier to cooking is the chopping. Especially messy things like broccoli and carrots, which fly everywhere if you're not careful. And onions require a special cutting board, so yet another step. But so often I find myself chopping up the same few ingredients! Onions, definitely. Also, for wintery stews and roasts, carrots & celery!

    And so have many people, over many years! Since as early as 1757, people have been calling this mix "mirepoix" and using it as a base for many, many recipes.

    Seriously, I looked up the definition and origins of "mirepoix." (I love definitions. Especially specific ones like this!) Mirepoix (pronounced "meer-pwah"), is:

    a sautéed mixture of diced vegetables (as carrots, celery, and onions), herbs, and sometimes ham or bacon used especially as a basis for soups, stews, and sauces

    So simple, right?!

    Even more simple if - and I realized this when I put together all those recipes that one day - I make a bunch of mirepoix and spread it out over several recipes!

    There are a million different variations (around the world, even--read this post) and a million things you can do with it. Some of my faves are:
    • Roasted chicken
    • Shepherd's Pie
    • Soups
    Mmm. Great way to add flavor and set up a base for delicious dishes. (Especially during the season when we get onions, carrots, and the most flavorful celery ever from our CSA!!)

    So recently when my photographer friend Aubrie came over to take some photos, we got these as I prepared a mirepoix base for a couple dishes for dinners.


     1. Chop vegetables.

    2. Combine.

    (My suggestion, optional 3. Prepare several containers, and save one for the next night to save you some chopping time!)

    (I always use my designated garlic/onion cutting board for garlic, onion, and spicy peppers... nothing worse than onion-flavored cantaloupe! I swear the taste/smell never really goes away.)
     Image Source: Stocksy
    Photos by Aubrie LeGault.
    Food & Editorial Business: Aubrie LeGault Photography
    Twitter: @aubrielegault
    Instagram: @aubrielegault

    Try it!

    Black knit print drop waist dress

    11.11.2014

    This dress was inspired by several others I've seen. A girl at work wore a cute heather grey knit drop-waist dress a few weeks ago that I liked, and then I realized I've seen a lot of black/white/grey dresses in straight up-and-down or flapper shapes this year. Plus this leopard print one I've seen on several blogs.

    These lovely party and daytime dresses all have a similar feel, right? Contrast, pattern, interesting skirt or sleeve shapes...
    anthropologie, Banana Republic, J.Crew, Kate Spade

    And I had this awesome heavy, soft black and white patterned knit I used for this maxi dress. Knits are so comfy, and this one is a sturdy enough weight for a simple dress or standalone skirt.

    So I used a pattern I've been using a lot this year, Simplicity 2584 and my cool black patterned fabric for this edgy, swingy dress. The pattern is very plain if you don't give it the neck treatment it suggests, so I just use it as a base with bust darts and slight shaping at the waist. I cut long-ish short sleeves and a modified partial circle skirt.

    And gave it an exposed zipper!

    Pretty proud of that zipper.

    I think it can go to work or for a weekend outing.
    Jacket: Ross (similar). Necklace: Jules Smith c/o Favery. Booties: Dolce Vita (similar). Dress: DIY!

    (First tights day of the year!!)

    Easy Thai red curry butternut squash soup recipe

    11.06.2014

    Several years ago now, I found a curried butternut squash soup recipe to make when friends came over to dinner. It turned out great but took forever and was quite messy! We've made it several times again since then, and it is always a big hit with guests and husband but the amount of time and tools it takes makes me nervous.

    But, we've accumulated a lot of squash from our CSA this fall, and I saved a big butternut one for our beach rental last weekend with friends. I knew I would have limited kitchen tools and only the ingredients we brought with us, but I managed a very simple recipe using whole ingredients, even lots of local stuff from our CSA!

    So many Thai curry dish recipes use storebought curry paste, which I have never had good experiences with. I can always taste some weird oil they use to keep it from going bad. I don't know what it is but it's just not as good as mixing the flavors yourself. Plus, I don't usually have it on hand so have to cobble something together!

    Creative DIY curry paste-in-squash


    But I got very inventive this time. Typically this squash soup is blended, but you add all the ingredients together in the pot together to cook the squash, then blend in the blender. So you have to have another pot going for the blended part while you transfer very hot chunky un-blended soup into the blender... it's just not a great system.

    So this recipe is much easier because 1) you can make a simple version of curry paste yourself in the blender, and then 2) you can cook the squash beforehand and blend only the squash portion (not the steaming hot liquid portion too) in the blender. Way less volume that way.

    Because I am all about making things easy. Especially while we were on vacation! So I ended up with not the most authentic Thai red curry (I don't usually have galangal and Kaffir lime leaves on hand), but a dang good one.

    Easy Thai Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

    Ingredients:

    • 1-2 tbsp coconut oil, butter, lard, or tallow
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • Generous sprinkle salt
    • 3 cups chicken or beef broth
    • 3/4 cup full fat coconut milk
    • Squash and curry paste mixture:
      • 2 garlic cloves 
      • 1-2 shallots
      • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass (outer stalk pieces removed), chopped
      • 2-4 red chilis, seeds removed
      • 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger (or galangal if you have it)
      • 1 tsp cumin
      • 1 tsp coriander
      • 1 tbsp fish sauce
      • Juice of 1 lime
      • Optional: 2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves (or use as garnish)
      • 9 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 3 lbs) 

    I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but after making this for at least three winters now, I've got it down for an efficient, low-stress method that you can put on the stove while other things cook. And it's always delicious and impressive!

      Instructions:

      1. Halve butternut squash, scoop out seeds, and bake with a little water on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
      2. In a large soup pot or dutch oven, saute garlic in fat of choice with sprinkle of salt until soft.
      3. Add broth and coconut milk to soup pot and simmer on low while you prepare cooked squash/curry paste mixture.
      4. Add all of the curry paste ingredients (excluding the squash) to a blender and blend/chop. Mine didn't have enough liquid to make a paste on its own, but I was able to chop all the big pieces. (I imagine this works best with a super powerful, high speed blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec, but you could also try a food processor. (We have this basic Vitamix and love it, plus the smaller (48 ounce) container.))
      5. Scoop the squash out of the shells and add about 1/4 of to the blender at a time, blending with the curry paste mixture as you go. Once all of it is combined in the blender...
      6. Put squash/curry paste mixture into the soup pot and stir to combine. Let simmer for several minutes while you make a delicious salad or other side and main dish to go with!


      Like most Thai flavors, I promise this soup is magically good! The flavors harmonize so well and it has the perfect amount of spiciness and creaminess. So great on a rainy night in the fall or winter. Try it with your next butternut squash!

      A wintery beach weekend and from-scratch pumpkin baking success

      11.04.2014

      It's been so busy at work and at home lately, so really need some time off this past weekend at the coast with friends. We stayed in Rockaway Beach, a very small town with a few vacation houses and not much else. We wanted somewhere cozy without too many amenities, somewhere we could hang out inside and play board games if it was rainy or have the beach to ourselves if it was nice. Win and win!

      Seriously, this weather in November was like magic.

      I love the Oregon coast so much.

      So did our friends' 1-year-old. So cool watching him figure out what sand is.

      Even warm enough to get in the water!

      Our condo had a grill which we made good use of with salmon our friend caught on a fishing trip a while back. Local food! It was better than any storebought salmon I've had.

      We ate very well. My friend and I both brought veggies from our CSA shares and meat from our beef and hog shares. I brought our Vitamix and food processor, plus plenty of spices and good coffee and grassfed butter. Staples! ;)

      DIY pumpkin baking!


      As I mentioned in this roundup of pumpkin baking recipes I shared last week... pumpkin baking season is on!! My friend brought several pie pumpkins from her CSA, and neither of us had ever successfully turned fresh pie pumpkins into pumpkin puree, but we managed. Turns out it's actually really easy. We baked them with some water on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 30 or 40 minutes, let them cool, and then scraped out the pumpkin and pureed in the food processor.

      I wanted to try a new pumpkin recipe from my roundup, but I brought limited baking ingredients with us to the coast and the condo's kitchen had only the most basic equipmen, so I ended up making yet another one I've found recently, Magical Paleo Pumpkin Crumble Bars.

      Basically upside-down pumpkin pie! Pumpkin/egg custard stuff on the bottom, nut/date/coconut topping on the top (and I overcooked it a little so it got carmelized-ey). Both the filling and the topping were sweetened only with dates. So tasty, no icky aftertaste like from white sugar.

      Crabbing!


      We also went crabbing. First time ever. The condo had crab cages to rent, and after some misadventures getting bait and finding the dock in the dark... we caught some crabs!

      And made a breakfast feast out of them and hog share bacon and local farm eggs. (Baked bacon and scrambled eggs - cooking for a crowd!)

      Seriously, breakfast feast!

      We got some more beach playing time despite the grey day on Sunday.

      Husband is excited it's sweater weather. I'm just happy we got to go to the beach again while it was nice enough to enjoy it inside and out!

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