Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2011 Holiday Gift Guide

It's that time of year again for the Holiday Gift Guide. I love Christmas shopping and wrapping presents, and I genuinely try and find something for each person that I hope they'll enjoy. This year's list is considerably smaller than last year's guide, but I just wanted to give a quick variety of gifts for every budget. So here it goes!

Click to Enlarge

1. You can never go wrong with jewelry. Unless it's ugly... Swarovski crystal jewelry is a good way to go in that the pieces are high quality to last a lifetime, yet they have a range of price points. This is the Swarovski Marie Crystal Ring Moonlight (Small) and retails for around $90.

2. Here is the Birchbox I touted in yesterday's post. Can you tell I think this concept is really cool? $10 a month, or $30 for a three-month subscription.

3. I love these Pashmina scarves from World Market. They come in a variety of colors - I bought one last year in ivory. They're super long and soft, and at only $10 a piece, they're a steal so you can buy multiples!


1. I love the look of this Fossil watch. The chocolate brown color is just different enough to make it stand out, but it's still pretty manly. For a nice watch it's pretty reasonably priced for $115.

2. This iPhone alarm clock dock turns an iPhone into a sleek, mid-century modern statement piece for the bedside table. And at $39.50, it's a pretty good deal.

3. You can't really go wrong with guys and their gaming systems. Assassins Creed and Call of Duty MW3 are two of the latest and run around $60 depending on where you buy. Better yet, just get him a GameStop gift card so he can wait in the line with the rest of the crazies for the latest newly released games.


1. The Kindle Fire has just been released and at $199 it's a much better deal than the iPad. Watch movies, download games and books, and fight over who gets to use it next.

2. These soy candles from Achipelago Botanicals burn for up to 60 hours, and are more eco-friendly with less smoke. With scents like Bergamont Tobacco, Bamboo Teak, and Pineapple Ginger, there's bound to be a scent that can please both sexes. Candles start around $24.

3. Macarons are delicious. I was so excited to try them when we went to Paris this year and Scott didn't see the big deal until he finally tried one. Now he's a convert. I've had really good experience ordering from The Little Oven Bakery in New York. They ship very quickly nation-wide and sampler boxes run around $22.

4. Agate bookends. Because they look neat. This turquoise pair runs around $39.

5. I appreciate a unique piece of wall art. My current obsession are these painted deer antlers found on etsy from seller MadeByCassandraSmith. These antlers are naturally shed in the wild and thus, are cruelty-free. They would look so cool hanging on the wall! They cost between $80 and $100.

I hope this gift guide helps you get started on your holiday shopping, or at least maybe you've discovered some new products (and maybe something fun for yourself as well?). Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gift Idea + Trend: Curated Subscription Boxes

I've noticed a growing trend in the world of gift-giving which I think is fabulous: Curated monthly subscription boxes. You can sign up yourself or give as a gift a monthly subscription (usually starting at 3-month intervals) to boxes of products that arrive every month at your door. It's like a jelly-of-the-month club but (much) better. Each company has a different niche-market and subscriptions start at as little as $10 a month. Some of the popular ones I've found are:

1. Birchbox - you get 4-5 deluxe samples of beauty products every month. Subscriptions are only $10 a month for this one. This would make a great gift for that friend/mom/sister who can't get enough beauty products!

2. Bluum - this is the same concept but with baby products! I love that each month has a new "theme" for all of the products in the box. November's theme is "Goodnight Moon." How cute is that? Subscriptions start around $11 a month. I may or may not have purchased this for a friend's upcoming baby shower. . .

3. Citrus Lane is similar to Bluum in that it caters to moms and babies. However, it's slightly more expensive because it's meant to be more specific to your lifestyle. For example, you would get a newborn box and then each successive box would have products relevant to your baby's development. It starts around $25 a month.

4. Blissmobox - The Blissmo box specifically caters to those wanting to live a greener lifestyle. Products range from organic health foods to eco-friendly cleaning products. What a great way to discover ways to live more responsibly and for only around $19 a month.

All of these would make wonderful gifts for the holidays! And it's a gift that keeps on giving. Your recipient will get a box in the mail every month for however long their subscription lasts. Who doesn't like getting packages in the mail? I would love to hear of more companies doing this, so if you hear of any, be sure and let me know.

On The Menu: Taco Pasta

I was a little wary of this recipe at first if only because of the wicked awful heartburn I've been having lately due to this baby hanging out on my organs and such. Luckily I remembered to take a Pepcid an hour before eating this, so I didn't have a problem.

This recipe comes directly from the wonderful food blog: The Girl Who Ate Everything. She has a ton of amazing recipes and I found this one after searching through Pinterest.  I love that it's kind of a "throw everything in a pan" kind of recipe. My brother, Adam, doesn't have an oven where he lives on his military base, so Adam, if you're reading this - make this for dinner!

8-12 oz. medium pasta shells
1 lb ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
1/2 onion, chopped
1 14 oz. can of Rotel or similar diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 cup sour cream
3 oz. cream cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional Cilantro for Garnish

1. Cook pasta shells according to directions on the box. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
2. Meanwhile, brown the ground beef in a large skillet or deep pan. A couple of minutes before the beef is done cooking, add in the chopped onion. When the beef is cooked through, add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds.
3. Add the taco seasoning and can of rotel (drained) to the beef mixture and let simmer for 3-5 minutes.
4. Add the cooked pasta shells, reserved pasta water, cream cheese, sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cream cheese is melted.
5. Garnish with cilantro at the end if desired.

Thanks again to Christy at The Girl Who Ate Everything for this awesome recipe!

Friday, November 11, 2011

On The Menu: Cilantro Lime Fish Tacos with Creamy Avocado Dressing

So, I've done a shrimp taco recipe before in a hard shell, but I've never really tried a fish taco in a soft tortilla before. These Cilantro Lime Fish Tacos with Creamy Avocado Dressing turned out really well. In fact, my husband said it was "an explosion of flavor." My only regret was not making more fish. I used only 2 Tilapia filets, which was enough for two large (burrito size) tacos or four small tacos. So feel free to double up on the Tilapia in this recipe if you want more.

• 2 Tilapia Filets, Thawed
• 1 Tbsp. Hot Mexican Style Chili Powder
• 1 Tbsp. Ground Cumin
• Garlic Salt
• 1 Lime
• Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• Two Large Flour Tortillas or 4 Small Flour Tortillas
• Cilantro
• Pico de Gallo (We used Store-Bought but you can certainly make your own from chopped red and white onion, tomato, lime, garlic and cilantro)
• Mozzarella Cheese
• Creamy Avocado Dressing (See Recipe Below)

Creamy Avocado Dressing:
• 1 Avocado, Cubed
• 1/2 Cup Sour Cream
• 1/4 Cup Mayo
• 1/4 Cup Milk
• 1 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
• Salt and Pepper to Taste
• Handful of Cilantro Leaves
• Handful of Flat-Leafed Parsely Leaves
• The juice of One Lemon

1. For the avocado dressing, put all the ingredients into a food processor or blender and mix until the consistency is creamy and everything is incorporated. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary to your liking. Cover, and set aside in the fridge.

2. Preheat your oven to 425° F.
3. Mix together your cumin, chili powder, the juice from half of your lime, garlic salt, and about a Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl. Rub both sides of your tilapia filets with the mixture - using all of it, and let marinade while your oven heats up. Sprinkle the tops of the filets with extra minced cilantro if desired (in our case, it's always desired).
4. Cook filets in a shallow baking pan until they are opaque all the way through. These filets were fairly small so only took about 9-10 minutes before they were done.

5. Build your tacos with the fish, and layer on the pico de gallo, mozzarella cheese, and creamy avocado dressing. Garnish with the other half of your lime. Enjoy! 

*Note: The recipe for the avocado dressing makes quite a bit. It's pretty good on cut up raw veggies, though!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On The Menu: Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast

It's that time of year where you want to come home to the smell of something warm and delicious filling your house. Something where you don't have to do practically anything to prepare dinner once you've had a long day at work. Enter: The Classic Slower Cooker Pot Roast.

This is something we had all the time growing up, but something I have never managed to make until now. Also, I just discovered Crock Pot liners. I am stupid for not using these before..seriously made our clean up SO EASY. I'm a convert and will use them from now on! So let's get to it...

This recipe adapted from Linda Larson at
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 1-1/2 lb. boneless beef top round (The smallest one I could find was 1.75 lbs)
  • 4 potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks
  • 16 oz. pkg. baby carrots (you could probably get away with half this amount)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 14 oz. can ready to serve beef broth
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water

  • Directions:
    1. Make a mixture of your flour, salt, pepper and thyme. Make slices in your beef top round and rub the flour and thyme mixture on your beef. Set aside.
    2. Layer your peeled potatoes, carrots and onion in your slow cooker.
    3. Set the beef top round coated in your flour mixture on top of your vegetables. Our beef sat in the fridge overnight in the mixture and our veggies sat in the crock pot so I would have less steps to do in the morning.
    4. Pour the Worcestershire sauce and can of beef broth over your beef and veggies.
    5. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours depending on the size of your beef round (we cooked the full 10 hours and it was perfect).
    6. If you like a thicker gravy than just the normal drippings, remove the beef and vegetables after cooking and place in an over-safe serving dish. Cover with foil and keep warm in the oven. Meanwhile, add 2 Tbsp. cornstarch and 1/4 cup water to your drippings still in the crock pot and heat on high for 15 minutes. You may have to add more or less cornstarch to get the gravy thickness you desire.

    This recipe makes great leftovers as well - you can do beef stew, hot roast beef and swiss French dip sandwiches, or with barbecue sauce on a wheat bun. Enjoy this classic dish and the way your house smells when you get home!

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011


    Our dog Indy, a 2 year old Siberian Husky, is seriously weird, but endlessly entertaining. Here he is laying in his kennel, because apparently this is comfortable. We don't make him go in there when we're home and have been slowly weaning him off the kennel when we leave the house. We've left him out in the open for the past two days for the entire work day and he has done so well. The goal is to get this giant kennel out of our house by the time Baby Reece is born, because this thing takes up some major space real estate. And it's ugly. I'm a little worried that he'll feel like he doesn't have a safe haven anymore if we get rid of his "den."

    He has another funny quirk that has just started fairly recently. Apparently huskies are pretty good at regulating what they eat. We could free feed him if we really wanted to because he only eats if he's hungry. But we can't do this because our other dog, Dotty, a 6 year old rescue, would zip line across the room and eat anything left untouched. It's a throwback to what her mental state must have been like when she was a stray. She'll always have that scavenger mentality.

    Anyways, in the mornings, I get up first and let Indy outside, then he comes in and I set his bowl of food in front of him. He tends to look at me like, "Is this the best you have to offer?" before wandering around the house for ten minutes looking for a better alternative. Perhaps a used kleenex or an apple core. Sometimes he grudgingly comes back to the bowl and eats the food one tiny kibble bite at a time. Other times he just lays in front of it and stares at it like maybe it will morph into steak, or more preferably to his taste: some fruit. Well Indy, I'm sorry that we spend the big bucks on Blue Buffalo food for you, but it's the best you're going to get out of us. Anyone else's pets have weird habits like this?