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Trader Joe's Bakery

I love Trader Joe's.  I know that sounds trite and simple, but it's true.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Trader Joe's, it's a small, specialty grocery chain that packages most of the foods sold in their own brands.   They have really great prepared foods, cheeses, and a bakery.  And this post is simply an ode to the bakery.  It is very rare that I bring home something from the bakery that is not immediately consumed by everyone.

Crumb cake

Gingerbread (from a mix)

Chocolate loaf and Cookie Butter

What is this Cookie Butter you ask?  Oh's only the most delicious thing to spread on cookies or toast or to end by the spoonful alone.  It has the consistency of peanut butter but is actually butter made from cookies.  So delicious and now they make it swirled with cocoa.  And I wonder why I have an extra 20 pounds.



While so many people are putting together gift guides and wrapping ideas, I'm sort of on fast forward this year.  After resolving to just relax and think of my food choices as a lifestyle instead of a diet, I started thinking of other things I could relax in my life.  Prior to moving three years ago, I had held on to a lot of things for no good reasons.  It was probably a way of attempting to gain some control in my very out of control life, but it really didn't solve any problems.  Spurred on by my husband and my sister while we were packing, I let go of so many things and never regretted it.  Now I'm looking around and wondering what else I could let go of.  I'm starting to feel like less could indeed be so much more.  Maybe it's having my office exist in what was formerly a small closet.  Every day I'm pulling things off of the shelves above me so that gaps are finally emerging, and I have the luxury of thinking about arranging and grouping things to make them more pleasing.  Starting with one small space, I want to move on to others.  Hmmmm...I wonder how far I'll get before the mood changes?

All photos via Martha Stewart Living


Last Thanksgiving

Over the last three years, I've been attempting to drop 20 pounds.  Before that, I had been a devotee of Atkins for at least 7 years.  I was really happy with my weight, and I always felt that I was living a lifestyle not following a diet.  Soon after I started dating my husband, I started to transition to a more "balanced" diet, eating more complex carbs including whole grain bread and brown rice.  I almost instantly began gaining weight.  Since I hadn't really been concerned with portion control while on Atkins, I quickly realized that I had no idea of proper proportions, and I focused on portion control and limiting between meal eating.  And I gained even more weight.  Starting to feel frustrated, I started exploring diets and eating plans and fit more routine exercise into my schedule.

I have been able to maintain my weight over the last few years, but I've never been able to lose that 20 pounds,  so prior to leaving for France, I had decided to go back to Atkins when we returned.  Saying goodbye to bread would be tough, but with low carb options out on the market, I was hoping to get back into the swing of things soon with plates that look more like this than I'm used to anymore.   Ironically, this was my thanksgiving dinner in 2012.  No potatoes, yams, or gravy.

Armed with my resolve, we set off for France where I was determined to eat every piece of cheese and macaroon in sight.  And I did with no regrets.  For the first week back, I had unbelievable jet lag and just could not adjust, so I didn't spend a lot of my time when I was awake thinking about my diet.  This year for Thanksgiving I didn't really worry about what went onto my plate.  And on Friday, finally feeling back to myself and having time to think after unpacking, I thought about the women I had seen in France.

Everyone eats much smaller meals than we are used to in America, and they eat everything.  People are not ashamed to eat the way we seem to be here.  Eating is a very social and entertaining thing for them. So Friday I made an early resolution.  For a time I'm going to just try everything in moderation, and we'll see how that goes.


Reading Slump

Like so many things that have changed over the years, my love of reading and turning to it in times of stress has undergone a major transition.  For so many years, reading was a daily passion; it was the past time I fit into every day, and I felt incomplete if I didn't read at some point in every day.  My love of reading led me to choosing English as my major in college, and I spent several years focusing on reading Victorian novels.  No matter how much I had on my plate during my studies, I was always reading another novel of some kind at the same time as all of my school books.  Reading has seen me through some tough times in my life; hiding in a bookstore or library, choosing my next read, finding time to forget my woes and lose myself between the pages were all I needed to relax, unwind, and find some peace.

At some point over the last two or three years, reading has stopped working in this way for me.  I'm not sure if it's a different level of stress or different kinds of stressful events, but now I can't shut it out and get into the book.  The bad stuff just keeps rearing its ugly head.


I haven't finished a book in over a month.  I'm staring at quite a nice to-be-read pile, but I haven't cracked a cover.  You can tell by the books, that I have eclectic taste, but I stick to some clearly defined genres.  I love mysteries or crime fiction, or whatever you want to call it, but I don't care for true crime. I do like non-fiction specifically about fashion and the history of fashion, any thing associated to motivation, and organization.  I also try to always have one classic that I read bits and pieces of since I find that I rushed through so many of them getting them read for assignments that I didn't have the chance to just enjoy them.

Writing this has helped me focus on just how good the books in my stack look.  Since it's my birthday, I'm looking forward to sitting back maybe with a beverage or two, and getting lost in a good book.


Packing for Paris

Tiffany Passport Case

Okay, so I'm not packing yet, but I am starting to think about what I'm going to take when we leave for Paris next month.  The first thing I started thinking about was luggage.  I'm not a good traveler.  I do fine on road trips, but I'm a very nervous flyer.  I usually take one long flight a year, so I know exactly how I act.  Because I'm nervous, I start second guessing everything.  I check and double check that I have my identification, my phone, etc.  I usually take a soft-sided bag as a carry-on, and that adds to the anxiety because things shift around so much during the flight.  To try to avoid some of the stress, I chose this hard-sided Hartmann cosmetics case as my carry on, hoping that everything will be easy to see and to find.  

I also chose this Tiffany passport case as a way of dealing with the momentary terror I get about, oh, every 4 minutes or so when I look through my bag and can't find my id.  This bright, patent Tiffany blue case should be instantly recognizable every time I open my bag.  That doesn't mean I won't keep checking for it, but the process should be quicker and easier.  Ironically, I've never been on a long flight with my husband, and I'm hoping that flying with him will make this trip easier, too.  


Gifts Fit for a Niece

Has your fall been as crazy as mine has been so far?  The combination of back to school, back to dance, work, birthdays, and planning for an upcoming big vacation has me feeling stretched a little too thin.  It's my husband's birthday this weekend, and shish, don't tell him, but I still haven't picked up his gift yet.  Put that on my crazy to-do list.  Oh, it's already there.  But the last birthday was my elder nieces.  Thank goodness I find her an easy person to buy for, so coming up with a list of options wasn't hard.  She loves to bake, so the Philosophy Cookie Exchange Set was the first thing that popped into my head.  She's always wearing delicate necklaces with a simple charm, so when I saw this necklace from BaubleBar, it immediately went on the list.  I was never one of those dream moms who could take the fully stocked picnic basket to the park as well as flowers, a beautiful blanket to sit on, and the camera to document the event, but she really is, so I know she'd be picture perfect with the Hillside Basket.  She and I share a love of all things Coach, and when I think of her, she makes me think "pink," so this Legacy bag would be a perfect fit.  If you have kids (and maybe if you don't), just admit it: you have something from Pottery Barn Kids in your house and not necessarily in one of the kids rooms.  I actually have a smaller version of this mirror in my closet, so I know she could fit it into the decor somewhere.  


A-Frame Fried Chicken

I really love fried chicken but not the fast food kind.  I couldn't remember where the last place was that I had really good fried chicken, so I did what comes naturally, I Googled "best fried chicken in L.A." and A-Frame was the result.  David and I sat there trying to remember from our childhoods what restaurant this used to be.  We thought maybe a really old I-HOP or some kind of chain, pie serving, coffee shop of the kind every neighborhood in Southern California used to have when we were kids.  I remember going to places like this with my parents when I was little and thinking they were huge with soaring ceilings when in fact this is a really tiny spot.

If anyone has a guess what this place used to be (Lisa, I'm looking at you), please let me know.

All the food here is meant to be shared family or picnic style, and comes on platters.  You're encouraged to use your fingers as much as you want.  We started with sesame leaf wrapped tempura shrimp with fried cucumbers and Kitchen Fries, which you can sort of see in the background.

Moving on to the chicken that brought us here, which I did not photograph and this potato, sour cream, panko concoction.  Thank goodness for websites that have photos of the exact meal we ordered.

And then we arrived at dessert: pound cake churros that we dipped in malted chocolate milk and vanilla ice cream.

A fun, delicious meal with interesting takes on some old favorites.


DIY Feathered Bag

I saw a few people do this DIY last winter, and sort of kept it in the back of my mind as something to think about doing.  When I was cleaning out my closet a few weeks ago, I came across this old Anne Klein evening bag that had been a little to close to some glitter and thought I'd give it a try.

I'm still seeing a lot of Gatsby-inspired pieces out there for fall, and this really had a 20's feel to it; plus, why buy another bag when you can just redo one you already have with a few inexpensive add-ons like a feather duster and some fabric ribbon.

I was pretty shocked that I was able to find a feather duster at the grocery store.  I guess people still use them.  I simply cut off the feathers as close to the base as I could.

And then I laid them out on the bag to see where I should pipe the hot glue.  I wanted the edge of the feathers to slightly overhand the edge of the bag.

Next I simply piped the hot glue across the bag and started applying the feathers, slightly overlapping.

I continued to add feathers making sure none of the leather was showing through until I felt it looked full enough.

Then I cut the ribbon to length, folding the rough edges over and gluing into place.  I then glued it across the top edge and over the quills of the feathers.  I decided to go with the silky blue ribbon because it provided more contrast and gave the bag more of that flapper vibe I was shooting for.

I only did one side of the bag because I thought it would hold up better if I had the leather to hold when carrying it instead of feathers, but you could just as easily do both sides.


Back to Beautiful Workshop

Kim Acedo, Jeanette Chasworth, and I will be hosting a free workshop on September 25 at Brookside Golf Club to kick off our new Back to Beautiful Program.  If you join us that evening, you will receive the first module of the program as well as information on the rest of the amazing two week program, which is kicking off on October 6.  Seating is limited to 50 for the workshop on Sept. 25 and only 10 for the program, so if you are interested, please click on the link to register or call as soon as possible.  We had a full house the last time we did this over the summer.  If you'd like further details, please leave a comment below or send me an email.  I'd love to see you there.


Happy Fall

Everyday into the new season brings us one day closer to eating treats like this, the Gingerbread cake from Trader Joe's.  It's a dense, moist gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting, white chocolate curls, and soft-baked gingerbread men on top.  With a cup of creamy coffee, it's the perfect fall/winter treat.  This is my favorite time of the year, but as I write this, it's 91 degrees in Southern California, and it's only expected to get warmer this week, but I'll be looking at clothes for cooler weather, thinking of pumpkin and gingerbread, and I've just found a recipe for beef stew in a pressure cooker that would be perfect with a crusty loaf of bread and some wine.  Oh well, it will be here soon.  Until then, I'll be sitting under the air conditioner as I do all my planning.


That Bookshelf

We have a bookshelf in our living room, which is very similar to the one in the right foreground of this photo I found on Pinterest.  My husband has always used the lowest of the shelves as his centralized area to keep his wallet and keys when he gets home from work.  Since he claimed this space very early on, it's also the space where his mail goes after I've sorted it every day.  The only problem is that not only does his mail stack up, but he's taken to making this his catch all for all the items he may need but not right now.  His passport is there.  Some paperwork from his doctor is there.  He's a receipt collector, and they end up there.  There is some chalk there?  We don't even own a chalkboard as far as I know.  And now it's not just the lowest shelf but three of the four shelves.  We have a library, so I had never planned to fill the shelves with books as pictured here, but there are some art and coffee table books on the top shelf.  I have some family pictures and candles on the other shelves, and I thought he wouldn't put anything on them, but I guess because there is plenty of space in front of the pictures, it's a great space to stack stuff on.  I'm wondering what to do to slowly take his space away from him, but honestly, just putting books on the shelves to fill them up isn't what I want to do in this space.  I think I just need to sit there starting at it until I have some inspiration.  How do you fill your bookshelves?



My sister who is an amazing kitchen designer and who you can follow as @woodwardkb on twitter and on Pinterest can vouch for the fact that my favorite type of meal is the snack.  You can also classify this meal as starters, but far too often we overeat the starters and then still try to eat dinner.  Her kitchen has this immense island where we lay out cheese and olives and every other kind of good snack-y type of food, and then that becomes the central gathering point for all family meals.  Our family loves to eat bread with olive oil.  It's kind of amazing that this habit hasn't been popular in the U.S. for all that long. You have to have really good olive oil to make this a decent snack though, and so many times, I just have the usual cooking olive oil in the house when I want to do this.  I discovered this technique to turn even the least inexpensive olive oil into something great for dipping.

I start with one cup of olive oil in a pan over medium low heat.  You don't want the oil to overheat or smoke but just to get warm enough to start taking on the flavors of the things you're going to add.

Next I add a whole can of anchovies in oil.  I use the kind that are wrapped around a caper for extra salty goodness.  Now I know what you are going to say but just trust me.  It doesn't taste fishy; it just adds a salty richness that you have to try.

As they heat up, I take a spoon to them to mash them around a little bit.  They basically melt into the oil leaving a cloudiness and the little caper gems.  It takes about 30 minutes for everything to heat up and melt down.  

Toward the end, I will add something extra like kalamata olives or chili flakes.  It usually depends on who is around for dinner.  The kids don't really like olives (where did they come from?), so for them I'll add chili flakes.  Sometimes I'll strain out the cloudiness if it looks too dark throwing the capers and olives in after and putting it back on the heat.  I always serve it warm.  I prefer a crusty bread, but my husband likes a softer crust, but really it depends on what I can get in the bakery section that day.  This is the kind of thing that I can sit and eat and not need anything else.  I do have to say since it is salty, it's great served with a beer.  The Stinking Rose does this hot oil and cloves of garlic thing that makes me think that the next time I do this I should throw in peeled cloves and just let it go for hours.  Hmmm...maybe these are my plans for this weekend.


Reading Slump

It seems like such a silly thing to be stressed over, but I'm in a reading slump.  It's probably because I'm stressed about a lot of different things right now really, but this seems to be the straw that is breaking the camel's back.  I have always read as my way of making my self feel better when I'm sick or down, as a way to relax after a hard day, or as the way to fill the hours and take my mind off of things when I'm stressed.  I always read at bedtime; it's my way of winding down.  I take a book with me to appointments to fill the time in waiting rooms.  I can read in the car, so when I'm the passenger on a road trip, I have a book.

I started blaming this slump on the last book I read, which I wrote about here.  The Robert Crais book actually depressed me quite a bit, so to combat that, I picked up an easy comfort read, Back to School Murder by Leslie Meier, the next in her series, which I've already told you about here.  These books are like comfort food to me: they have a likable main charter who is far from perfect, they don't take too much thought, and I find Lucy's juggling of motherhood, working to make ends meet, and loving but being annoyed by her husband amusing and realistic.

But it's just not working this time.  I'm suffering from insomnia, so you would think that I'd have plenty of time to lie there reading, but I would read a few pages and then put the book down.  Then I didn't pick it up again for a day or two choosing to stay up watching t.v. instead of going to bed to lie awake. Now I realize that I haven't read anything for over a week, which is hugely out of character for me.  My mission tonight is to get ready for bed early, make myself comfortable with some pillows, and break through this slump by reading.  I have to get some sleep; we go back to school on Wednesday, and (wait for the horrible pun) that can be murder.  


Back to School? Back to Dancing!

It seems like I haven't fully recovered from the last competition season, and it's time to kickoff the prep for the next one.  I know, who am I to complain when I'm not the one working, learning routines, and practicing, but I am the one who worries about logistics and sits and waits while all the other stuff happens (plus I get to pay for it all!).  A only competed in two routines last year, but I think she'll be doing more this year plus she's en pointe this year, so that means extra studio time.

Here's what we have to look forward to even before competition begins: auditions, waiting after auditions to see which pieces she'll be dancing, keeping her calm while she waits to see what she'll be dancing, reassuring her when she hasn't heard anything so thinks that she won't be dancing anything and starts to freak out, celebrating when she finds out what she'll be dancing, not freaking out when I find out how much it's all going to cost,

a Saturday spent taking company photos,

ironically this usually happens before the company is fully fleshed out, and someone always quits and someone is usually added (this picture looks nothing like the one below of who ended the season),

visits to the dance store, here for a pointe shoe fitting, but we'll be there for at least a pair of ballet shoes, toe pads, and jazz shoes at some point in the year,

sewing and burning ribbons, and being fitted for costumes, and paying for costumes (yeah!),

learning routines, practicing routines, and dancing in the parking lot to learn how to keep going on stage when there are distractions,

the mad dash on competition days of making sure all costumes and pieces of costumes are there, waking up for hair and makeup, driving and driving and driving, and waiting and waiting and waiting,

knowing it's all worth it when I see that face.


New MintStyle Catalog

The new comprehensive MintStyle catalog has finally arrived, and I only just realized that even though I was really excited for new pieces, I would have been really upset if some of my favorites were sold out.  I was so happy to see two of my favorites, the Coquette Collar necklace and the Caspian cuff on the cover as well as the Baroque Bloom necklace inside.  My other favorites, the Lantern Tassel, Victoria Cameo, and Heirloom Tassel pendants are back as well.  Everyone who has purchased a piece or attended a showcase has commented on what great quality the pieces are for the price.  My new favorites are the Chombard earrings and the Honeycomb bangle.  If you'd like to see samples, arrange a showcase, or place an order please contact me.  If you book a showcase, you will receive credit from any purchased made toward your own purchase of jewelry.  I hope you enjoy the new catalog, and I'd love to hear what your favorite pieces are.


The Just Because Gift

We all go through those tough times.  Stuff can be happening at work, with our families, with our health or the health of a loved one.  It's nice to put a little gift together for a friend when she is going through something to make it known that you care and just because.  These little things can go a long way to making your friend know that you care and are thinking of her.

I just posted that I want to build my own terrarium here.  Giving a friend the base will let us work on them together.

This beautiful blown glass ball makes it feel a little like Christmas in the middle of the summer.

Delicate and sparkling, she'll just have to look down at her wrist to know that you are thinking of her.

Is she a cat lady?  I have a few friends whose cats are their kids.  This is cute to put on her desk at work without being too over the top crazy cat lady.

She'll think this is a gag gift, but once she tries it on, she'll thank you.  Goes on as a sheer berry-colored gloss that is incredibly moisturizing and full of Vitamin E.