Christmas Party Recipes

Webb and I are big fans of Christmas and all our friends.  So naturally, we threw a Christmas party.

It was a success.  We had people there from all different groups and everyone mingled so well.  Plus, add a photobooth (even though I forgot to put out half the props), yummy food, a yule log and Christmas music and you've got yourself a party.

Some of the food - most was all eaten up!

Wish you could see more of Ernie's Christmas sweater

Friends brought amazing desserts and wine, and Webb and I whipped up food for everyone.  Here are a couple of my all-time favorite recipes!  Note that I was running around too much to take too many pictures, so these are examples, but not my actual dishes.  Enjoy!

Stuffed Mushrooms
Adapted from my aunt's recipe

1 lb. large white mushrooms (not too big or they will be too firm)
6 strips pre-cooked bacon
2 large tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs (or panko + oregano and basil)
1 egg
Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Remove stems from mushrooms.  Chop the stems.  Chop the bacon.  Mix stems and bacon in a bowl with cheese, breadcrumbs, the egg, and a few shakes of salt and pepper.  Line the mushroom caps on a lined baking sheet.  Stuff the caps with the mixture.  Pour olive oil on the mushrooms and sprinkle some cheese.  Bake uncovered at 300 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  Serve warm (although people who ate them after they cooled said they still tasted great).

Cranberry and Cream Cheese Spread
Adapted from Buns in My Oven

12 oz. fresh cranberries
5 green onions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and diced
3/4 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 8-oz packages cream cheese

Pulse cranberries in a food processor or blender until coarsely chopped. Add onions, jalapeno, sugar, lemon and salt and pulse until combined (you don't want it to puree!).  Refrigerate for 4 hours (up to 24).  Spread the cream cheese onto the serving plate.  Drain the cranberry mixture of any liquid, then spread on top of the cream cheese.  Serve with a small knife or spoon and sturdy crackers.


Thanksgiving 2013

My autumn was filled with trips to the East Coast, weddings, squash recipes, long brunches with friends, out-of-town visitors, and feeling more settled in this city I now call home.  It's hard to believe I've been in the Bay Area for over a year, and 11 months in San Francisco.

The city is filled with Christmas decorations, which really drives home that I've been here for a while - this is how the city looked when I was looking for an apartment not too long ago.  Does that make me a San Franciscan? I guess so... (/JerseyGirl4Life)

Okay so I'm a huge fan of Fall, but Christmas is certainly my numero uno holiday.  In a very close second comes Thanksgiving (because it's the start to Christmas time duh), and this year I spent that thankful holiday with Webb's wonderful family.  It's overdue, but for posterity's sake, here's a little recap.

Me with the Knudsen's after Thanksgiving dinner
Wednesday I rushed home from work, rushed to pack Ernie's stuff, and rushed to get the 3 of us on the road to Los Gatos.  After all that rushing I realized (an hour into our drive) that I left my cell phone in the city. OOPS.  I learned that 5 days cell-free is actually not a reason to get all crazy and I survived the weekend perfectly fine - it's a good thing Webb's sisters take plenty of pics like me! You'll see some here.

We spent Thanksgiving Eve catching up with Webb's parents and 2 sisters & brothers-in-law from out of town (Orange County & Hawaii) - it's always nice to have everyone together.  In the back of my mind I was thinking about the next morning's Turkey Trot aka 5k aka the culmination of a month of training.

The group post-run
So you know how a 5k is not a big deal to runners? Well I'm not really a runner, and to me it's a long distance! But Thanksgiving morning I got out there and kept running and finished pretty strongly (for me).  Webb was kind enough to stick with me, even though he could have gotten a much better time on his own, and our little Ernie was the first dog to cross the finish line!

After that run I treated myself to a scrumptious dinner at our friends' the Holland's house, where I spent Thanksgiving 2 years ago as well.  They have a big group get together and FOUR turkeys! 2 baked, 1 barbecued, and 1 fried. Their beautiful home is filled with lots of warm laughter, good food and fun games (Bunco!), exactly the way Thanksgiving should be.  We followed dinner with a traditional trip to the movies and saw Jennifer Lawrence kick butt yet again in the Hunger Games.
Most everyone who was at Thanksgiving dinner

On Friday, Webb and I took Ernie to see his old doggy sitters, Brian and Jane, for a walk and lunch in Santa Cruz. They recently moved to Santa Barbara, which on one hand is a bummer because we lost 2 good friends in the area, but on the other hand is awesome because now we have people to visit in Santa Barbara! Santa Cruz, as usual, was sunny and quirky and fun.
Sunny Santa Cruz

The rest of the weekend included more friends, more parties (including Webb's 10 Year High School Reunion Non-Reunion) and finished with our good friends' Jason and Krista's baby blessing (along with his 2 cousins).  I love that little Ollie and can't believe how quickly he's growing up!

Little Ollie with his parents (left) and doting "aunts and uncles"! I love the orange tree in Krista's parents' backyard.
One of the gingerbread house creations at a party Friday night.
So much to be thankful for this year.


Dad's Birthday & Some of his Great Lessons

This past weekend my dad hit a milestone birthday, so I flew home for a quick weekend to surprise him.  Along with his closest family members (and with many others in spirit!), we enjoyed a long meal of his favorite foods to celebrate the big Six-Oh.  We looked at old pictures and spent hours telling stories, and that walk down memory lane reminded me of the so many reasons I'm glad my dad is my dad.  Like many good fathers, he's taught me so much, so to honor him on his big birthday week, here's a list of just a few things I've learned from Frank :)

Sonoma, CA - 2013
It's not a vacation if there isn't a beach.
Since I was literally bean-sized, I've been a bonafide beach bum.  I largely have my dad to thank for this. Our annual trek to Wildwood Crest, NJ meant hours upon hours of resting along the shore, listening to the whoosh of the waves, and tasting the salty air. Every morning, we'd take our chairs out and park them in the ideal spot, not packing up until it was time for dinner and whatever the evening had in store. We loved those trips (just look at my dad's Jersey Shore t-shirt collection) and now I can't call it vacation unless I've dug my toes into some sand.

No good music was made after 1980.
Okay, I know what you're thinking - ummm, *NSYNC?! But I'm sorta with my dad on this one - the best sounds came out of the 60's and 70's.  Growing up, there was always music - in the car, from the living room stereo - and unless we were cooking (buona serra, The Three Tenors), I was hearing the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac.  Again another t-shirt collection (from NY's Classic Rock Station Q104) points us to my dad's love of this amazing music era, one he passed on to me as well, and for that I'm grateful!

I'm not sure if he realizes this, but I've never seen anyone so darn diligent with their dental hygiene.  Okay I might not floss as much as I should (sorry) but whenever I do it's because I think of my dad.  And he's got quite a flashy and healthy smile, I might add.  So there ya go, Dad - flossing.

Keep little traditions.
Corn muffins at birthday diner breakfasts.  Buying a Christmas ornament each summer.  Little traditions are important.  We had a slew of them involving summer trips, and a few more involving the holidays.  Without fail, each year, my dad saw to it that we'd keep our traditions - many of them involving food!  Even if in the last few years some of those have gone away due to growing up and distance, I'm glad my dad kept so many traditions. It made growing up fun, and our time together so special.  

Take risks and follow your heart.
When I told my dad I wanted to major it theatre, he told me he was my biggest fan.  When I said I wanted to move to LA without a job, he didn't tell me I was young and stupid. He told me stories of his motorcycle trips to California and then offered to accompany me on my own cross country road trip. More than anything else, my dad has been my biggest supporter and always made me feel like he was in my corner, glad to see me do whatever made me happier, smarter, and more independent, even if it meant taking big risks.  Thankfully, a lot of those risks have paid off so far, but even if some won't, I always know I have my dad to give me a big hug and tell me everything will be fine, because we've got family and health and the beach, what more do you need?

Feeling shy at the Bronx Zoo
First of many meals together in the kitchen

Down the shore in Cape May, NJ while I'm in college

Grand Canyon, driving cross-country for my Cali move

Pretty proud of my "60" pie - and he's happy to dig in!
Some of the family at his 60th birthday diner!


A Different Perspective on Mondays

Mondays are tough. Old news.  Anyone who works in an office knows there's always someone who says "Happy Monday" in that sarcastic, trying-to-be-witty-but-missing-the-mark way to which you respond with a grimace/grin.  The routine.

Logic says a Monday following a great weekend is one met with dread.

Not always, I say!

I had a great weekend.  Friday night I stayed in with Webb to relax after the work week with Ernie and TV.  Saturday, we headed down to Los Gatos where we helped his parents move back into their recently renovated home.  After, we visited our good friends Jason and Krista to spend more time with their adorable newborn Oliver.  Sunday was filled with great times with friends - church and brunch with a couple in Menlo Park, book club at a cute wine bar in Hayes Valley, and the Dew Tour and dinner with North Beach with our good friends Lauren and Tony.

So why don't I feel miserable this Monday morning?

It's a funny thing - when you have a weekend filled with laughs and inspiring conversations, Monday just doesn't seem so scary.  You might just be excited to dive into life and work feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Let's start thinking of Mondays not as the end of a good weekend, but the beginning of a great week.

It's this little guy's first week EVER! 


Labor Day Weekend '13: Up the Northern Cali Coast

Webb and are quite familiar with California Highway 1, having lived right near both it's LA and San Fran portions and spending last year's 4th of July vacation meandering down the "PCH" between the 2 cities.  However, neither of us have ventured far north of San Francisco, and Labor Day Weekend was the perfect opportunity to explore this new region.

Our plan was to take the 101 up for a bit, head over the the 1, then back to 101 where it's called the "Redwood Highway", and ending in Eureka (the largest city between San Francisco and Portland).

We left Saturday for Healdsburg, a wine country town in northern Sonoma County. Be-yoo-tee-ful.  Our first stop was Mutt Lynch Winery, which was supposed be this dog-tastic winery but was sort of a dud.  Yummy wine though, and we walked away with a bottle with the cutest label.  Christopher Creek, across the street, saved the day with friendly servers, gorgeous views, and a rousing Country-Style-Bob-Marley. I know, it's weird, but didn't you think bacon and figs would be weird together before you tried it? (if you haven't tried, I recommend you do.  Put on some Rob Marley while you're at it)

At the Healdsburg farmers market
Picnicking in cute downtown Healdsburg (art fair in the background)

Christopher Creek Winery with kids playing in the pool
Beautiful northern Sonoma County

That afternoon was a pretty ride to Ukiah, CA.  We ate at the kitschy Be-Bop Diner next to our motel and hit up a few local spots where Webb beat me twice in darts (but I whooped him in California Speed the next time - more on that later, bahaha)
That little pup in pooped!
I like to think I'm tough...
Be-bop won my heart

The next day had us driving again amongst the gargantuan Redwoods to the little town of Willits for a breakfast stop, then it was on to Mendocino and Fort Bragg.

Mendocino is on the coast and is as cute as can be.  I kept telling Webb that if I decided to hole up and write a novel, this is where I would go.  This town is filled with quaint art galleries, jewelry shops and cafes, all tucked in the rugged coastline.  We arrived as the thick morning fog still covered the town, but when we were heading out the, sky was bright blue.
Pretty chapel, pretty sky
So delish
Can you get more quaint than "jam tasting"?!
Ernie LOVED the beach!
Me and my buddy in the morning fog
We found little caves
Point Cabrillo Light Station
We continued our drive up Highway 1 through Fort Bragg and along the Redwood Highway until we got to Eureka.  We had made a camping reservation just outside of Eureka for our stay Sunday night, and thought the spot was so fun we just stayed there the rest of the evening and saved the city for Monday.

Hours of this. So pretty.

Our campground was a KOA, which isn't REAL camping (we had a pizza delivered to our site...) but was perfect for us since we didn't want to bring a ton of gear on the road trip.  It's definitely aimed at families, but we really love anything outside of the norm and had fun playing basketball, making smores, playing with Ernie at the dog playground, and sharing a pancake breakfast in the morning.

So proud.
Not gonna lie - I'm pretty great at California Speed (taught by the best!)
Enjoying a group bonfire
Eureka is the biggest city between San Francisco and Portland.  It's also home to two beautiful Victorian houses, both of which are prominently featured in Eureka's advertising.  When you arrive to Eureka, you don't exactly expect those to be the only beautiful houses, but you soon discover that Eureka has seen better days.... Still, we enjoyed reading about the history of this coastal seaport town and enjoyed walks through the historic downtown.  The highlight for me was probably going to Lost Coast brewery, the maker of a popular beer and one of my faves, Tangerine Wheat.  Their popular location was a block from Humboldt County's state prison (also not in the brochure).

We spent the rest of Labor Day meandering back down the Redwood Highway, still marveling at the majesty of those trees, and passed a few funny stops such as the "world famous log cabin house" and the Bigfoot Museum. One crazy attraction was worth a stop to us, and it was the Drive Through Tree!  How many times can you say you've driven through a tree?! It was pretty crazy stuff. Word of advice: turn your mirrors in if you ever go.
Now THAT is a tree.
Ready to go!

Our last stop on the trip was in the cute town Santa Rosa, back in Sonoma county.  We had lunch with one of Webb's high school friends and enjoyed some British food which reminded me of my semester in London (oh fish and chips with vinegar, I just adore). It turns out Santa Rosa is the hometown of Charles Schulz.  How great is this statue?  I think the real life Charlie & Snoopy guys are pretty cute too!

In case you're wondering, Ernie is Snoopy and Webb is Charlie ;)
We made it back in time for the comforts of our couch and some DVR's Sunday night TV.  There's no place like home :)


Just Because

Birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs - these all warrant grand celebrations and surprises.  And you know I love a great party.  

With all the reasons to celebrate during the year, you would think the in-between weekends get written off.  Don't get me wrong - I truly appreciate a weekend that has a good ratio of productive:lazy.

But this past weekend, Webb planned a secret day for fun just because.

Isn't that lovely?

I challenge all of you to think of opportunities to make regular days/weekends/moments special, because it's often the spontaneous "just because" moments in life that are the best!

When I came back from my solo trip to New Jersey, Webb asked me if I had any plans on Sunday.  I told him not any that I could think of.  He replied, "Good.  Block out the whole day".  And that was all I knew!

He even went so far as blindfolding me in the car and silencing the GPS.  My mind wandered - where had I mentioned I wanted to visit? I couldn't remember anything specific.  Admittedly being the planner of our relationship, it was weird to be the one without the itinerary in hand.  

When we arrived at our destination, he told me to take off the blindfold.  I still had no idea where we were.

"The racetrack!" Webb told me.

The total randomness of it all is just quintessential Webb.  I don't think the racetrack ever came up in a conversation, it wasn't really romantic, and yet he knew we'd have the best time because for whatever reason, we have a blast doing anything outside of our usual routine.  People watching, cheering on the horses, and dancing to the cover band made for a great Sunday.  I think what made it even more fun was the fact that it was a surprise and totally out of blue.

It was a perfect day.

I'm inspired to plan one of these secret adventure days!  Stay tuned, Webb...

What will you do out of your usual routine?  Celebrate "everyday days" just because.

You may find yourself yearning for a Derby hat while yelling "Go Sassy Brunette!"


"'Cause Down the Shore Everything's Alright"

`cause down the shore everything's all right

You and your baby on a saturday night
nothing matters in this whole wide world
when you're in love with a jersey girl
Oh, Bruce! That song just gets me every time.  If you know me, you know I love New Jersey.  The fact that I hadn't been in the summer in 3 years was a true travesty.  You see, home in North Jersey during the fall, winter and spring is also wonderful, but there is something oh-so-special about the Jersey Shore at summer time.  I wrote about it here right after Sandy, and here when Webb and I went to Cape May, so feel free to read about my what the Shore means to me.  

So, to solve such a conundrum, I went ahead and bought a ticket to go home for a long weekend with no agenda at all! I am so glad I did.  It was just what the doctor ordered.

In Summary: Jersey is STRONG! Even though I'm from North Jersey, I have a total love affair with the shore and I was nervous to see what it looked like post-Sandy.  There were definitely some remnants of destruction, and people still need help and donations, but "Restore the Shore" is well underway and the energy is so positive.  My friends and family are all wonderful and now I know I need to do this every summer because let's be honest, there's just nothing like being with those who've known you forever.  

Pics and stories below!

Friday morning, I landed at 6AM and my wonderful dad met me at the airport we started the day with Dunkin Donuts!  They seriously need to expand to California. Then, we had breakfast at our usual spot in Ridgewood in their recently added outdoor section.
Later that day, my Mom, sister and I laid out by Crestwood Lake, this great little lake 5 minutes from my house.  Obvi, I needed a base tan for the Shore.  
That night I got to see my cousins Jon and his wife Shelly and their adorable and sassy daughter Mackenzie.  The restaurant was Bahama Breeze, and let me tell you - this is new the new hot spot in Bergen County. Everyone got really excited when I mentioned that where we were going. My mom planned the whole thing, and even surprised me with my FAVORITE cake (cannoli!) to celebrate my "half-birthday" - hey, I guess when you're only home a couple time a year you've got to find something to eat cake for! I loved it. 

Dinner with some family
After dinner, I met up with my main dude at home Vinnie :)

Saturday morning, my best friend Alyssa and I grabbed bagels (yes!) and hit the road for the 90 minute drive to the adorable town Ocean Grove.  We met our friend Kelly and laid out in the sun, catching up about everything.  After some lunch at the popular Nagle's, we skipped a couple towns over to Belmar where we were going to stay the night.  Coincidentally, I ran into my cousin! What a small world.  We all did happy hour at D'jais, a bar on the beach that my mother remembers going to.  I've been a couple times, but I did NOT remember how, um "Jersey" it is.  Definitely entertaining for my newly-California self :)  Then we all hung out at my cousin's place before dancing the night away at another spot.  It def brought me back to some crazy shore nights of yesteryear :)
Me and some great girls in Ocean Grove
Sad to see Sandy's destruction in some areas 
Partying with the winners of the Jersey Shore cast lookalike contest
Sunday, I said bye to my friends and went to Point Pleasant with my family and our family friends the Freeney's. We did the usual lunch and beach bummin'.  Sadly it was a little overcast, but that didn't stop most of our group from swimming and playing volleyball.  For dinner, I found a SUPER fresh little seafood market so we got a bunch of seafood and pizza.  Perfect.  That night we hit the boardwalk with the kids who seriously attempted to ride every single ride.
Some of the best seafood
I love my Kohr's!
Monday we were down the shore til midday then headed back up. We tried to ride bikes on the boardwalk, but the Point Pleasant bike shops were closed up from Sandy :( That evening I met up with one of my longest friends, Kristen, and we caught up over her delicious Italian food and the newest ep of Breaking Bad.
Tuesday I felt like mini-mom as I shuffled everyone around and grabbed lunch with one of my besties, Vinnie, near his new office at our old stomping ground, Kinchley's! 

My mom, dad and sister drove me to the airport then I was back on my way to Cal-i-forn-I-A.

This Jersey Girl will be back soon!