2015 in Review


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Twenty-Sixteen. HOW, pray tell, can it possibly be time for a new year? And yet it is, and I'm past thankful for the chance to reset the calendar, and past worried that I achieved little in the last twelve months. I seldom realize that I do have a perfectionist streak until I stand at the back-end of the old year and realize I accomplished basically nothing on my “to-do list.” Somehow, my urge to be everything I imagine I could be, given enough time, reckons what I didn't do in relation to what I did do, and likes to gloss over everything I accomplished, saying, “You had twelve months, sweetheart. Twelve months.” A real reason why I've never liked setting New Years resolutions, even if we call them “goals” and talk in nice terms of “things we'll attempt to do.” In an effort to combat that yearly panic, I am putting forth my yearly list of Things I Did. There's time enough in 2016 for making new lists to ignore.

January

Attended a New Year's Charity ball
Finished up three months of wedding craziness by styling up-dos for an extensive bridal party
Visited a friend and her young family in Greensboro, NC. Ate my own caramel apple for the first time ever. Had amazing milkshakes. Bought a tulle skirt.
Health issues with my grandmother took up most of the month, including a two-week hospital stay which meant my mother drove two hours round-trip almost daily to visit her. Her cancer diagnosis meant a worrisome new reality for all of us.
Sold the timber on our land and saw my beautiful woods turned into a hack-job, buzz-cut affair like a pimply teenager shorn by the US Marines
Worked and worked some more



February

Celebrated the first year anniversary of my debut independent novel
Received word that an “essay” of mine entered in a contest had accidentally won notice in an international magazine. Also received a check.
Real-life friend and author Meghan Gorecki traveled from Pennsylvania to meet me.
Hosted third annual Singles' Valentine's Day bash
Was snowed in weekly in a freak series of snowstorms uncommon to this portion of Virginia
Worked and worked some more


March

Debated trying to win an historic inn in an essay contest, decided against it because I know nothing about wine-cellaring or inn-keeping
Finished editing The Fox Went Out and published it on my writing blog, The Inkpen Authoress
Conducted much online research for a setting for my second mystery novel. Got bogged down. Progress in novel stopped
Worked and worked some more, getting up to four and five-day work weeks


April

Celebrated Easter with a surprise visit to my best friend near Atlanta, Georgia. Ate Georgetown Cupcakes for the first time. Wore my magenta trench-coat and spent a day at the Georgia State Capitol. Guarded the inner office door of the Rules Chairman of the Senate because all his interns were out. Was escorted onto the Senate floor for the last few moments of session. Stood behind Senator John F. Kennedy whose wife or daughter or someone passed me some paper to tear. Saw my first real-life Hermes location. Began to watch The West Wing in earnest.
My Cinderella retelling and its sisters in the Five Glass Slippers collection were released in an Italian translation
Began fund-raising in earnest for our trip to Romania, which included organizing, painting for, and hosting an art-auction
Had my worst day of work ever immediately followed by my best day of work ever.
Worked and worked and worked even more


May

Princess Charlotte of Great Britain was born. That's not my news, but it's news I loved
Attended a baby-shower for my yet-to-be-born niece
Visited Romania, a trip whose highlights included return visits to Bran Castle and Peles Castle, but also included an unforgettable adventure on the Transfagarusan and a visit to Bucharesti, plus shaorma not once but TWICE. Had my first run-in with an honest-to-goodness charming Irishman and ate lots of gelato and apple strudel + a cheese that tasted like pickled elephant smell and was slightly addictive.
Spent the night under an airport bench in Moscow.
Worked and worked some more (when I was not traveling or jet-lagged)
Secretly began plans for launching Lipstick & Gelato


June

Traveled to NoVa (Northern Virginia) and continued my #chaiquest. Visited Harpers Ferry
Took several beach trips
Counseled at iGovern East on the Patrick Henry College campus. Got my first ride in a Jeep. Tried lavender soda. Joined a girl-band boy-band spoof. Posed as a White House Press Secretary. Visited the Holocaust Museum. Scrubbed a big marble floor on my hands and knees.
Experienced “Cinderella” multiple times because the loveliness couldn't be covered in one viewing
Celebrated the first anniversary of the Five Glass Slippers debut
Worked and worked some more


July

Attended the COOLEST home fireworks display I'll ever see.
Organized and threw a baby shower for my brother and sister-in-law + made my first ombre cake
Roadtripped to and attended the WIT Alive conference in Indianapolis and subsequently met fashion blogger Ashley Pokone of Bramblewood Fashion
Turned twenty-three
Enjoyed our bumper-crop of boysenberries
Dressed up like a cow for Chick-fil-A's Cow Appreciation Day
Worked and worked some more


August

Launched Lipstick & Gelato on August 11th
Made homemade croissants for the first time
Celebrated my birthday belatedly with a picnic in Colonial Williamsburg
Visited the Chrysler Museum of Art and fell in love with a few particular paintings
Attended a swanky water-side wedding totally solo/survived a shredded tire
Invented York S'mores
Was surprised by a portrait of myself from artist Kendra Yoakum
My first niece, Ellie Rose Heffington, was born and I spent several weekend in Northern Virginia
Threw a “schnitzel” party. A good friend brought homemade chocolate gelato. It was great.
Worked and worked some more


September

Bought/was blessed with my “new” car which I named Dover
Drove to 8 hours to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to surprise author Meghan Gorecki during her post-surgery recovery. Ate cheesecake. Got her hooked on White Collar.
Drove to NoVa to surprise our friend, Jill, and spend a day in DC where I experienced the joy that is Le Diplomate
Attended our county fair where I was able to get cheesecake frozen on a stick and dipped in chocolate
Tried my hand at crepe cake
Began work on my retelling of “The Sleeping Beauty”
Acted as bridesmaid in a childhood friend's wedding + styled the hair of seven bridesmaids besides my own
Worked and worked some more


October

Tried to participate in Inktober, got halfway through and gave it up for lack of time
Styled wedding flowers with my aunt for a friend's wedding and triumphed exceedingly
Did my first “persuasive journalism” on this blog by reviewing tea for Queen's Pantry
Developed two tea-infused recipes for the Queen's Pantry blog
Began artwork for an online holiday-market craft sale
Attended political costume party. Did my costume change in the Barnes & Noble bathroom. Ended up at Waffle House after the party with quite a few stories to my credit, including being told my non-committal costume was a Jackie Kennedy affair.
Tried “repeat art” for the first (and so far ONLY) time
Had a plein air painting session paired with the best soft pretzel I think I've ever had
Bought my first pair of leopard-print shoes
Worked and worked some more


November

Bought my first leopard-print blouse
Voted
Organized and pulled off a surprise birthday lunch for my mother's fiftieth birthday
Took a day trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ate Crozet Pizza. Saw six bears.
Finished my retelling of “The Sleeping Beauty”
Celebrated the first anniversary of my second indie novel
Multiple bombings around the world affected me quite a lot emotionally and left me unready for Mockingjay Pt. 2
Helped Mama pull off a surprise sixteenth birthday picnic on the beach for my sister, Anna
Attended a world-premiere concert of a composer's music put on by the choir my sisters participate in
Painted china for the first time to relatively great success
Helped host Thanksgiving for 33 people
Black Friday shopped and celebrated my older brother's birthday + first wedding anniversary
Ordered a new laptop (hurray!)
Worked and worked some more


December

Found the perfect Christmas dress
Visited my friend and fellow Cinderella-retelling author, Clara Thompson in Louisiana. Missed my flight out of Atlanta because of a visit with my best friend that necessitated leaving security. Got to Louisiana safely. Experienced Cafe du Mond and New Orleans for the first time. Finally saw Newsies. I fangirled a couple posts back if you want more details of everything we did that trip.
Met and interviewed Hannah of Hannah Everly Designs
Attended several Christmas parties
Was home a grand total of Not Much
Got my new laptop
Drank coffee
Mailed packages
Spent a fortune in gas
Worked an awful lot
Celebrated Christmas
Wrote this post

Ahhhhhhhhh. That feels good. So I did do a lot. Things not mentioned on this list that wove through the whole year are my grandmother's ongoing (but praise-filled) journey through her sickness, the saga of the end of our goat-herd, general family stress of which there has seemed to be a lot, friend-counseling/life-doing of which there has been a lot, many many books read, movies seen, lessons planned, letters written, roadtrips taken, coffee drunk. I stand on the end of 2015 like the flag of Virginia, with my heel on its head and think, “Well, gee. No wonder I've got tense shoulders.” It was a good year, but not an easy year. A blessed year but a year requiring a notable lot of “adulting.” It was a year that I hope to look back on in the future as a year that shaped me in many good and needful ways.

May 2016 be equally full of adventure and noticeably less full of what-the-hecks.

All My Love,

Rachel

The B.T.T. [Bacon Takes Tuscany]




In the world of lunches, sandwiches don't automatically rank high on my list of Typical Choices. Unless I have the option for a panini or a fantastic sub, I'm far more likely to order soup or a salad. Exceptions are made for a killer grilled cheese (The Grilled Cheese in Norfolk, Virginia is on my short-list for places to visit) or an apple-wood B.L.T. because I cannot pass up the chance for a B.L.T.
When not hitting a restaurant for lunch which, let's face it, is 90% of the case, I do get creative with sandwiches. I've paired raspberry jam with mild cheddar for a sweet-and-savory grilled cheese or an Asiago cheese bagel with deli-sliced ham and Havarti. My favorite lunch sandwich, though, is a sandwich I've dubbed the B.T. T.: Bacon Takes Tuscany. This sandwich was born out of the fact that my boss keeps pesto around and my family doesn't. It takes the classic bacon-lettuce-tomato deal and takes it on a road-trip through Italy with basil pesto, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, and melted cheese.




B.T.T. (Bacon Takes Tuscany)

3 slices thick-cut bacon
ground black pepper
1 pinch of oregano
2 slices bread of choice (sourdough or foccacia would be great for this)
1 Tablespoon basil pesto
1 slice Havarti, Provolone, or mozzarella cheese
3 or 4 cherry tomatoes, halved
handful of baby spinach

  1. If you want the ultimate bacon experience, cut the bacon slices in half before frying and weave into a square. Quickly transfer to hot pan, rearrange slices, and sprinkle with black pepper and oregano. When cooked to your preference, soak off excess fat with paper towels.
  2. Toast bread in a 425-degree oven. Flip slices and spread pesto on one and cheese on the other. Heat until cheese is melted.
  3. Press cherry tomatoes into melted cheese and assemble sandwich with baby spinach and bacon. If desired, drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar before eating

What is your favorite sandwich combination?

Jesus our Immanuel



"Mild He lays His glory by;
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the Incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel."
As I drove into work a couple days ago, Rend Collective's joyful, ringing rendition of this song came on the radio. I was singing along loudly and, as happens at random, I started to actually pay attention to the lyrics. This verse struck me as incredibly comforting and just as humbling and beautiful. Immanuel: God with Us.

I pray that this Christmas, you are surrounded by the knowledge and love of Immanuel. Jesus as Man. Laying His glory by so that we may no longer die but live with Him in eternity. The truth of this Savior for our shipwrecked lives is the thing that gives me joy this Christmas. Not time spent with family, beautiful as that is. Certainly not presents - as I write this post, I haven't even finished shopping. Not the fact that life is beautiful - I mean, it is but there are so many problems in the world it can be hard to understand how we are to go on. No, what gives me joy and fills me an unspeakable peace is this clarion-call to Life: veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity pleased as man with men to dwell: Jesus our Immanuel.

Merry Christmas, darlings. May His peace and comfort rest upon you this holiday.

One Young Designer You Need To Know


Last Wednesday, after much scheduling-tag, I was able to drive a couple hours to track down Hannah Coker, the dynamic energy behind Hannah Everly Designs, and interview her in-studio.

I pull into the rocky, uphill driveway and follow its arc into a lot carved from the middle of the pine-woods. Just as I turn off the car, my phone lights up with a text from Hannah, telling me not to mind the German Shepherd; to come straight to the door. I grab the sloshy, melted frappe with her name on it and the Grinch-spirited dollop of whipped cream which, at this stage in my journey, looks half-hearted at best. The nearest Starbucks is a solid twenty minutes from her rural home and the ginger-haired barista made it soupy to begin with.


Hannah opens the front door with her signature smile. “Hi! I'm Hannah!”
I laugh and introduce myself likewise because, though we've connected online, we haven't met in person till this minute. Formalities over, you'd think we were old friends meeting again for the first time in a year or two. Handing off the melted frappe, I am invited into her quiet, spacious home decorated for Christmas. A plate of chocolate chip cookies, just out of the oven, waits on the counter. Another round is still on the tray.
“I've been trying to perfect my chocolate chip cookie recipe,” Hannah informs me, swinging a spatula like Rapunzel swings her frying pan. Hannah wears a red crepe skirt (“Not my design,” she says with a wry face) and slim gold belt, a black top, red lipstick and bare feet.


In a few moments, Hannah has led me into her studio just off the kitchen. She sets the cookies on a fold-up table scattered with scissors, measuring tapes, and other accouterments of her trade and gives me a tour of the studio: the rack loaded with finished skirts, the shelves holding paper, ribbons, and boxes for shipping. The watercolors of her designs sketched by a friend; the Paris, New York, Rome prints representing three places dear to her heart. The yellow-striped accent wall, the gold foil stars and her pleasantly-cluttered inspiration board. Last up is Imogen, her faithful mannequin and studio companion.
“If you're going to take pictures of Imogen, I need to dress her up.” Hannah vanishes, leaving me in the bright studio, and returns a moment later with several necklaces which she fastens around the bust's neck. We pull Imogen in front of the heavy Asian dressing-screen which Hannah, with youthful glee, tells me almost killed her when it fell onto the ironing table a few nights prior. “There,” she says, and pats Imogen on her cloth shoulder.



It's this mix of capability and girlishness that characterizes Hannah and her designs. Classic, playful, practical, and streamlined, skirts from Hannah Everly seem to capture the heart of their designer. At eighteen, Hannah is already a seasoned business owner of four years. After a few months of sewing lessons and bothering around with a couple of other business ideas, Hannah began to sew skirts for herself. When friends saw her designs, they asked her to make a copy for them. When their friends began to ask where they got their skirts, Hannah knew she had a market. She launched Hannah Everly Designs in 2012 and since then, has watched her business grow from sewing for friends of friends to gathering a knot of fans which include a star of The Bachelorette and well-known style-bloggers as well as some small shops and boutiques which want to sell her skirts in-store.


“I've been asked to do wedding gowns before,” she says, a mischievous gleam in her brown eyes, “but I'd totally ruin it. I'm too terrified.” I press her to give me a dream design project. She tosses her long brown hair, laughing. “I'd like to make something for Taylor Swift...if we're talking ultimate goals here.” If she went into gowns, Hannah also mentions, she'd love to dress someone for a red carpet awards ceremony. And with discussions open with Nickelodeon and Disney show-costumers, that bucket-list item might not be out of reach.
Further goals from the girl who isn't afraid to dream include plans to hire a few employees this year, open a store-front in Richmond in her early twenties and even, if business is steady, in Washington D.C. By her late twenties, Hannah hopes to open a store-front in New York City, where her factory will also be located. As I talk with Hannah – her enthusiasm and love for her work almost palpable – I understand the key to her success: this young designer is not afraid to take risks to stay aligned with her vision. A point clearly made earlier this year when Hannah chose to deactivate one of her best-selling designs because it no longer represented her style and the direction toward which her shop has headed.
“It was hard for me because that design was still doing well – people were still buying it. But I had to make the choice to do what was right for my business in the long run.”
When I ask how Hannah drafts her patterns, she laughs again. “I don't even use one anymore for the double-pleated bow skirt. I've made almost a thousand. I know what I have to do.” She explains methods used for her other designs, including techniques learned while taking a course from a fashion school in Milan.
Though Hannah's Etsy shop currently boasts only two designs, they are available in various colors and prints. Never fear: more ideas are in the works. Hannah's favorite idea is a peplum pencil skirt she made her for her personal collection which is currently undergoing strenuous testing for a fitting strategy that satisfies Hannah's desire to have each skirt fit its client to perfection.
She rolls her eyes. “Some people have butts, some people have no butts. It's hard to find a formula that works for everyone.”
We both laugh. Fitting challenges are just a small obstacle to a girl with Hannah's determination.


As our interview winds down, I find myself reluctant to get out of Hannah's beloved, ugly couch-chair. As a method of stalling, I ask one last, slightly-unrelated question:
“What item in your closet, besides your own designs, is your favorite?”
My question sets off a flurry of answers. Hannah can't choose just one thing. She raves about her black leather jacket and finishes by strapping on her favorite lemon-yellow satin Michael Kors high-sandals which, for some reason, are tucked under the wrapping-shelf as if she wears the four-inch heels daily. She poses for me, showing herself quite as adept at showing off fashion as she is at designing it, and I snap a few more pictures. It's time to leave the studio. I've got a long drive home and food to be brilliant with for a party at home. Hannah shoves the majority of the chocolate chip cookies into a Ziploc bag and hands it to me. “Here, take these to eat on your way home.”

Who could refuse? I leave the studio – a surprising oasis of sartorial bliss in the middle of the Virginia pine-woods – and start my drive home. And as I pull back out of the driveway to the soundtrack of her German Shepherd, I can't wait to order a skirt. Even if the holidays and those blasted cookies make it necessary to size-up and test her curve-tailoring prowess. I'm not worried. Hannah Everly Designs is up for the challenge.

Painted Gingerbread

Gingerbread is another one of the many things I discovered later than seemingly everyone else. I always knew about gingerbread and had it a time or two, but it was never a part of my essential Christmas experience until three or four years ago when I realized the joy of making three dozen gingerbread men with our eccentric cookie cutter. Okay, there's nothing inherently weird about our cookie cutter except that one of the leg is bent so that it gives the gingerbread men this "shuffle, step" appearance that never fails to remind me of Fred Astaire. So I call them "Fred Astaire" gingerbread men and I love them to death. My favorite recipe can be found at allrecipes.com, strangely enough. It also might be mentioned that I tend to put about twice the amount of ginger requested in a cookie recipe because I like my gingerbread to bite. This kind of cookie is probably the worst on my waistline because, unlike chocolate chunk cookies, they seem healthful and wholesome and hearty! They seem the sort of thing you could eat ad infinitum with no worse side effect than a slight ennui when you thought about eating another. Sadly, they're quite as full of unhealthfulness as the next cookie except, say, the helping of iron that comes from the molasses. Anyway. I hearkened back to an old English lit assignment of mine and decided to paint some winter scenes on my gingerbread this year. I cut out various shapes from the dough, baked them, iced them with a paste of powdered sugar and water, mixed up some strong food coloring, and painted away.







Painted Gingerbread

baked gingerbread cookies
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon water
food coloring
extra water for mixing

  1. Mix one teaspoon of water with the sugar until you have a nice, icing consistency. If needed, thin with a few additional drops of water till desired thickness. Ice cookies and allow to air-dry for at least an hour.
  2. When the surface of the icing is stiff, mix food coloring and water in the wells of a watercolor palette to desired strength. Paint designs with a fine-tip brush and allow to dry.

 I had such fun painting these cookies and I'm sure they would make lovely party favors or gifts for a friend who has everything already. They're also a fun alternative to the full-out cookie-decorating experience if you don't have time/space/supplies for such a thing. The first time I ever painted cookies, I did Jane Austen quotes. It was so very Alice in Wonderland to eat a quote with a cup of tea! Hope you'll try this fun new version of a classic cookie. If you do, tag @lipstickandgelato on Instagram so I can see your work! 

Merry Christmas!




8 Gift Ideas For the Guys

Most people would say a holiday gift guide at this stage in the Christmas season is useless and tardy. Happily for those of you who haven't finished shopping, I'm what yesterday's Google homepage poll called a "last minute Nelly." I've finished shopping for all my sisters and nearly all my girl-friends, but the boys in my life are still unchecked. That's where this blog post comes in! Eight gift ideas for the gentlemen in your life. Because let's face it; we're all tired of giving them their favorite candy or more Star Wars and Batman themed clutter.

#1: craft coffee - I know a few guys who hate coffee, but the vast majority of men seem to like coffee. The vast majority of men also won't be treating themselves to a costly brew and will probably, like my poor father, survive off an ancient can of Folgers, brewed blindly in the pre-dawn hours. Instead, treat them to a bag of locally-roasted or carefully-sourced-and-roasted beans like those from Brash Coffee.

#2: shaving paraphernalia - This  is a category I hadn't necessarily thought about, but which my dad and brother and who knows who else loves. I mean, a guy's gotta shave so why not do it in a way that would make White Collar's Neal Caffrey proud? Get some good shaving soap and a badger brush from The Art of Shaving, or if your fellow is of the bearded variety, give him some scented beard oil. Apparently it's a thing, like conditioner, only for your beard. My friend, Melinda, offers two varieties from her company, Healthy Farm Girl Organics .

#3: drink-wares - There's little for making a guy feel like 21st-century Ernest Hemingway like receiving something fancy for his drink-hour. Even if the fellow on your list "doesn't drink" (and most on my gift-list subscribe to this view), they'll still love a handsome copper mule mug, or a fancy stainless steel ice-cube set. Okay, I want that ice cube set.

#4: wool coat - This counts as a big-ticket item. The sort of thing I'd reserve for my boyfriend or fiance or as a graduation present for my younger brother. But a classic wool pea-coat is an investment that not only will allow your man to look fifty percent better than most guys walking around, but will also last about a century, properly taken care of.

#5: novelty board game - Last Christmas I gave a vintage game called Airmail to my younger brother, rather on a whim. It has since become one of those fun games no one else owns and you can pull out to great acclaim when the occasional house-guest is over for a game-night. One of the coolest games in this respect is Dixit. I love this game. You should own it. 

#6: homemade version of their favorite candy - not only does this avoid the predicament of looking like you just popped into the nearest Dollar Tree and bought a box of Milk Duds, but your version will also probably taste better than the original. This is an especially good idea if your guys are fans of something not readily available in the U.S., as in the case of my cousin, who loves a Romanian candy-bar not sold here that I was able to recreate with ease at home.

#7: gift-card to a men's clothiers or leather-goods store - if the guy on your list is the sort who probably wants to pick out his own gift, why not give him a gift card to a place he wouldn't ordinarily shop for fear of looking like he's "splurging?" Your brother might not shop at Brooks Brothers on the normal day, but if he can treat himself to a shirt you've covered 50% of, he just might be persuaded to do so. Alternately, you can buy them a bottle of Aqua di Gio and have them smell divine forever after. 

#8: handsome copy of a favorite book - this gift has the double appeal of being attractive and personal. Last Christmas by older brother bought me a hardback copy of the very first (and most beautiful) version of The Hobbit we read together. It was a perfect gift because not only will I use it and display it now, but it also holds nostalgic appeal. Find a story you and the fellow have shared or loved or found together and buy the nicest copy of it that you can afford. 

I hope these ideas are useful for those of you who still have shopping left to accomplish! Goodness knows the men on my list are always the hardest ones to buy for! If you have any other ideas for masculine Christmas gifts, leave them in a comment below. I'm always scouting for inspiration!

Husbands of Instagram

Hello, Readers! I have a lovely and exciting set of blog posts coming soon, but for now I wanted to make sure everyone saw the "Instagram Husband" video which has been flying around the internet since it came out last week. You need to watch this. And then you need to thank the people who help you take photos, or kiss the self-timer button on your camera. Yes, this video was funny enough to warrant a post of its own. Because really, without photos, what would lifestyle bloggers be?



Louisiana, Via Her Food

"Food is memories."
-The Hundred-Foot Journey

My experiences in Louisiana could be sifted down to two words:

eat + laugh.

Of course we did other things like watch movies (fun), people-watch and pretend we belonged in the historic and deeply glamorous Roosevelt Hotel (more fun), attend a performance of Newsies at the Saenger Theater (even more fun) in New Orleans, and have Nerf gun wars in the dark at home (the most fun). My friend, Clara, works at a retirement community as the activities director which meant that the Monday I went to work with her as a volunteer was "makeover morning." I got to do a manicure and eye-makeup on a 99 year old woman (and a 93 year old woman) and then I was in charge of reading some of my fiction for the "book club." This turned into an hour and a half of discussing our favorites books and places we had traveled. One woman professed a fondness for any Nancy Drew mystery she could get her hands on, while another extracted promises from me to stay at a place with a good view whenever I make it to London after trying to recall the plot of Pride and Prejudice. I had a blast. Here, then, is a list of all the new yummy things I got to try in Louisiana, each accompanied by a particular memory of my time with these fantastic people:

looking like we belong at the roosevelt


cream cheese + pepper jelly - never one to pass up something that looks beautiful and is served with crackers, I spent a lot of time the first evening hovering over a stone dish that hosted a lump of cream cheese suspended in spicy golden jam.

seafood gumbo - Clara's sister, Anna, made this amazing, perfectly-flavored classic the first night. I could have eaten three bowls. I was polite and ate one.

european chocolate mousse cake - as a sort of celebration of our meeting, Clara's brother ordered a whole cake (chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache, chocolate bars) with the trip's official hashtag (#thompington) written on a slab of white chocolate on the top. We grazed on this fantastic cake the entire week.

beignets from cafe du mond - this legendary little french cafe on one end of Jackson Square has long been on my "to visit" list, courtesy of my parents having visited years ago. I hadn't realized it was an outdoor cafe, which places always fulfill my childhood dream of eating at the outdoor bistro at the Norfolk Zoo which we could never afford. We stood in line for twenty minutes before being admitted to a tiny table. All six of us crowded around. It was no larger than a cocktail table and it was perfect. I choked by inhaling someone else's powdered sugar. The place is FOGGY with it. We got cafe au lait and three plates of hot, sugar-caked beignets. I got sugar all down the front of my best dress. It was delightful.

pumpkin ricotta pancakes + pecan syrup - I don't even like pancakes and I couldn't get enough of these. Wow. They were served with brown sugar + black pepper bacon which I will also need to feature on this blog, made with the bacon my dad has been slaving over.

red beans and rice - of course I'd had red beans and rice before, but this was the perfect recipe and reportedly features curry. I'm going to do some research and possibly recreate it at home because yum.

honey - again, I've had honey. Don't look at me like that. But the Thompson family raises bees and this was their honey. It was lovely.

raw oysters - on Sunday, Clara took me to Palmettos on the Bayou: a local gem with the best atmosphere imaginable. We meant to go to get creme brulee but it on Sunday mornings they only serve the brunch buffet. Usually "buffet" and "delicious" are not used in the same sentence by those with a scrutinizing palate. Thankfully, the food was delicious and set up more like a wedding reception than a buffet. There was not a single chafing dish and there was a charcuterie board, and a hollowed out wooden trough filled with ice on which I found raw oysters a'plenty. I had one. It tasted like a scoop of seashore sand. It made me happy. Also, two real Louisiana musicians were playing bluesy-jazzy tunes live in the covered outdoor dining area and they played "Fly Me To The Moon" just for me and Clara.

devonshire cream + lingonberry preserves - both of these were consumed with scones on my last morning. Okay, so maybe we broke into the preserves the night before and gobbled them with a spoon  had a taste. Devonshire cream, if you're new to it like I am, tastes like a cross between butter and whipped cream and seems designed expressly for the purpose of being eaten on scones. The lingonberry preserves taste a good bit like cranberry sauce, but better.

salted caramel apple eclair - it was Saturday. We had had nothing

creme brulee - again, this was the pet project of Ian Thompson, Clara's brother. We had abandoned the idea of making our own in favor of experiencing Palmettos, but when he heard that they weren't on-menu that day, he spent part of Monday making them homemade. He saved the torching process till we got home, knowing I was a bit of a pyro. It was harder to hold the clicker down than I'd thought...there's a funny video of that which will probably resurface at another date. But my word. Creme brulee. It's exactly what I had hoped and dreamed it would be. The molten sugar hardens into glass and you crack through it with the side of your spoon. The sweet, classy crunch is a perfect foil to the creamy beauty of the custard below. It was definitely a highlight of the trip. I have been dreaming about creme brulee and craving it ever since. I plan to get a torch and feature it on the blog because I'm now a sworn devotee.

food from belize - okay, so I didn't actually try food from Belize, but the Thompsons are foodies: the eating while traveling? well, they just get it. Anna and Ian spend an hour one evening describing to me. the food they ate while on holiday in Belize. By the end, I couldn't decide which seemed more like Paradise: the island or the food itself. The family also lived in Okinawa for several years, so I got some insight into the food options there as well. Currently craving: the freshly-squeezed lime juice from Belize, the pineapple from Okinawa



Traveling to a new place is always exciting. Traveling to a new place and being with people who get that a vibrant way to experience the place is to travel it through flavors....that's super exciting. Many, many thanks to the Thompson family for carting me around and being just as ready as I was to fan-girl over the culinary experience. I look forward to coming back and trying all the things I missed: the snow cones, the Trout Pontchartrain, the pots de creme made by Frank himself. And everything else we meant to do and didn't cover. Hail to the foodies: may we always have such good taste.

Holiday Playlist Ideas

Hey, Loves! I know that the holidays are a great and very busy time for everyone. I'm one of those conscientious objectors to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (mosttttttttly) but after Thanksgiving, I take off the gloves. There is nothing for cranking the holiday cheer into high-gear like blaring Christmas music. There is nothing like killing the holiday cheer like hearing songs you hate over and over and over again on the radio. So here, then, are my top picks (both albums and particular songs) for a perfect Christmas soundtrack.

Nat King Cole
- "The Christmas Song"
- "Caroling, Caroling"
- "Joy To The World"
- "I Saw Three Ships"
- "The First Noel"
-"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

Mindy Gledhill
- Winter Moon (whole album)

Natalie Grant
- "Silver Bells/Christmas Came For Me/ O Holy Night medley"

The Carpenters
- "Christmas Waltz"

Harry Connick Jr.
- "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas"
- "Sleigh Ride"
- "Let It Snow"
- "Christmas Dreaming"

Mariah Carey
- "All I Want For Christmas"
-

Frank Sinatra
- A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra (whole album)

Michael Buble
- "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
- "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas"
- "Santa Baby"
- "Baby It's Cold Outside" (with Idina Menzel)

Lady Antebellum
- On This Winter's Night (whole album)

Ella Fitzgerald
- Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas (whole album)

And the best part? You can find the entire playlist as "Classy Sassy Christmas" on Spotify! I will probably continue to add songs to this playlist, but when you've exhausted it, check out my sister's "Chrithmath" playlist which she has doggedly been grooming to beat mine in perfection. Merry Christmas, peoples!

On My Cooking Wish-List...



Buche de Noel

via pinterest


I've wanted to make this beauty for years, but Christmas always sneaks up on me before I've had a chance to properly get a handle on how. Or a free weekend, for that matter.But seeing a recipe in the latest edition of Bon Appetit Magazine renewed the desire. Maybe I'll get around to it this season but if not, you can bet it's on my list to be done next year.

Thin Crust Meat-Lovers' Pizza

image belongs to i am a food blog


Been drooling over this idea since seeing the post from i am a food blog. I'm craving it badly. And Dad is nearly finished turning the first of our pigs into yummy sausage and bacon soooooo....it's probably happening sometime soon. I love pizza of many sorts (and if you're ever in DC, you need to check out We The Pizza), but my favorites are the pickupable pizzas. You know, the slices that can be mobilized to get into your mouth without requiring a fork and knife and a landslide of cheese. I mean, sometimes that's necessary but I prefer a stiff, (preferable wood-fired) bottom crust. Yummmmmmmmm.

Creme Brulee

//via pinterest//


By the time this post publishes, I will probably be making creme brulee with my friend, Clara in New Orleans. As soon as I realized that her brother, Ian, had the little blow-torch tool required for making the perfect crackle, I begged him to allow us to make creme brulee. He agreed quite kindly so that's going to happen. I'm so excited.

Paella 

//via pinterest//


EVER since an episode of White Collar in which Neal's idea of a perfect date included heading to his loft apartment to cook a killer paella, I've wanted to make some. It just sounds and looks like something so so classy. I know it could easily become a stupidly expensive recipe due to the high volume of seafood ingredients, but I will make it sometime. Maybe for a small dinner party? It would be the perfect meal for a cozy, grown-up evening in. I'm putting it on the list.


What's on your cooking wish-list?

Six Fantastically Common-Sense Tips for Gift-Giving

Oh, guys, CHRISTMAS. I am beyond thrilled to be able to finally begin posting frequently about Christmas-related things. It is definitely my favorite holiday and quite possibly my favorite time of year if we're speaking specific times, not seasons. CHRISTMAS. I think of all the many, many, many traditions my family has and all the beautiful things I love about it and I'm overwhelmed. And as much as I like receiving presents (I mean, who doesn't?) I absolutely love to give gifts. My list of "people to give to" seems to quadruple every year...I think I counted forty names on my list this year. We will see if I actually end up able to fulfill all those wishes, but I intend to do my best to try.

The quest for the perfect gift for someone can be a little intimidating. Either you don't know the person well and you're having a hard time thinking of what to give them, or you know them far too well and can't seem to think of something that will suitably show your affection for them. Or maybe they're the kind of person who already seems to have everything or never want anything! I know I have people of all these descriptions on my list this year. Here, then, are some tips I will be keeping in mind as I start my gift-giving:

//source//


Pay attention to the things they talk about, the things they value, and the things they share. Sometimes we way over-think peoples' interests. We sit there trying hard to understand their passions when really, we should be stalking their Facebook feed. I am only halfway joking here. If you listen, people will tell and are telling you about themselves. If someone is always sharing Calvin & Hobbes comics on Facebook or always retweeting tweets about Belgian poets, or perhaps every time you're together, they reference hunting, tart there and build from the ground upward.

Do your research. There are few things more embarrassing than giving someone a gift you thought was perfect, only to find out they A) hate chocolate B) don't have their ears pierced C) hate reading. Try to be as sure as you can that you've covered at least these bases. I can't tell you the number of times I've saved my dignity by doing a quick check at a recent picture of a friend to see if they have their ears pierced or not. That seems to be a big one among girls, for some reason.

Go personal. People seem to fret over whether gifts are too personal or not, but here's my standard: if you know the person well enough to have personal memories of them, hearkening back to those personal memories is not in bad taste, provided the memory-making itself wasn't in bad taste. this principle works even with acquaintances. Let's say you went on a road trip with a casual friend and some inside joke started. Getting them something related to that joke would be funny and probably cheap. For instance, if a certain friend of mine got me an IHOP giftcard, I wouldn't be able to stop laughing. It's just that funny. Or maybe you know a friend who is a writer and is always cold. Buy her some fingerless gloves and handwarmers and include a funny note.

Think classically. Let's say you're participating in a gift exchange with strangers and get the name of someone you've obviously never met. If the person has provided a short description of their personality, you're in luck. Let's say they mentioned that they liked to read, but never specified what they liked to read. Let's say they liked cold weather and camping and the outdoors. If I got a person of that description, I'd pay homage to some classics and traditions and then spin it creatively by putting together a fireside s'mores package complete with chocolate, marshmallows, locally-roasted coffee, and a book written by some famous explorer or another. Look to globally-shared experiences (i.e. s'mores just GO with camping), and use that to help lead you into creativity.

Explain yourself. Oftentimes the thought that goes into a gift is almost worth more than the gift itself. I am never happier than when someone says, "Hey, I saw this and thought of you because..." A couple weeks back, one of the little girls I nanny bought me two ornaments: an Eiffel Tower and a glittery hedgehog. "I just knew you would love him, Miss Rachel. He's so cute because his face looks a little like, 'huhhhh?'"
So include a note explaining the thinking behind your gift, the reason why you thought of the friend when you saw this item, or what you hope they'll do with it. This is the most fun when you send a package with a lot of little gifts inside. I delight in scrawling mysterious messages on the tags of individual parcels and keeping my friends guessing what will be inside. It's all part of the magic.

Go handmade. If you're really stumped for a person, try thinking about something you could make. Find out their favorite candy bar and make the homemade (and probably better-than-the-original) version. Think of a list of songs that make you think of them, songs they love, and songs you've loved together, and burn a c.d. of a customized playlist. Make homemade marmalade. Buy some vodka and vanilla beans and make homemade vanilla extract for their frequent baking sprees. You'll think of something, I know.

Merry Christmas-Start-Up to you all! I am headed down to visit my friend in the New Orleans area, Clara Thompson, right now. We have loads of sparkle and glitter and beacoup d'elegance planned and I'm certain at least one post will be forthcoming! Who am I kidding? I'm sure several posts will be forthcoming. Cheers, and may the Ghost of Christmas Present gladly haunt your hearts!

ALERT: The Dangers of Wearing Lipstick

The risks I run when wearing lipstick. The risks! You wouldn't think that anyone could hold a grudge against you (for your lipstick) for three years. But let me tell you: it happens.

How. How does it happen? It happens when you're a little too eager to show the world it is beautiful. It happens when you take up a short-lived and ill-fated campaign to write body-positive and encouraging messages on the ladies' room mirror with cheap lipstick. It happens when you do it once at a Starbucks and the new barista is made to clean the bathroom because he can't work the bar yet. It happens when that new barista is fantastic at holding grudges.

For three years, I never realized about that grudge.

Thankfully, serendipity is very sweet. Friends of mine worked at this Starbucks and the story leaked out. Every time I walk into the store (apparently I wear lipstick a lot?) and this barista is on the bar, he makes a gruff remark about "that girl with the lipstick." I'm sorry, darling, for the timbre of your life. I'm sorry for what the inside of your mood must look like if the girl who mistakenly ruined your day once can ruin it again every time she walks into the store and gives you a bright red or pink or magenta or plum-colored smile. I'm sorry you don't want to get to know me so you could see that I wish I could make your life more cheerful than it is. I mean, not judging or anything, but if it was all san patico, you'd probably not still despise me.

Thankfully, this fellow prefers to hold his grudge in silence. He's not the sort that would act out on his pent-up rage and bludgeon me over the head with a venti iced macchiato in the dark parking lot. So I'm safe...this time.

But I'll never think of lipstick the same way. Wearing lipstick is dangerous, y'all. In an effort to raise awareness about the dangers incumbent on wearing lipstick, I have compiled a list below. I hope it will prove to alert those of you who have not thought about it before to the dangers inherent in frequent use of this beauty product. Maybe you'll think twice before buying a new color.

Bright lipstick might cause a stranger to smile at you. BEWARE. When wearing lipstick, you set yourself a degree apart from many other people. This causes the happy-minded stranger to settle on you when scanning faces in a crowd. You will probably be looking pleasant. It will probably cause the stranger to smile.
Wearing lipstick might leave a mark on the cheeks of small children (or grown men) you kiss. This is a big problem because it might even take soap and water to remove the lipstick. I mean, consider the implications? Definite cause for caution.
Lipstick can become addictive. If you become accustomed to wearing lipstick and choosing a color for your lips based on your current mood, you will find it alarmingly difficult to decide not to wear any lipstick at all. You might even ask to borrow someone's lip-balm because your lips are feeling dry and less splendid than usual.
Lipstick could become part of your signature. This is a potentially harmful thing, because you will be easy to pin-point in a crowd of, say, a thousand women as "That One Who Wears Lipstick." Just you try to get away from the mafia or a stalker or a hitman with a description like that to base their woman-hunt off of.
A favorite shade of lipstick might cause increase in confidence. And since over-confidence always follows confidence, you want to try to stay as far away from sartorial poise as possible. If you sense an increase in confidence following application of lipstick and a good outfit, please wipe it off as quickly as possible and change into a hoodie, sweatpants, and flip-flops until the feeling passes.
It might cause coordination in your outfit. It's scary-easy to tie all the components of an outfit together with the proper shade of lipstick. I mean, stay away.

Please share this list. I am concerned that more women will fall prey to the dangers listed above or, even worse, get have their Starbucks-lovers turn into haters.

The Holly Jolly Guide: Creative Gifts For Everyone On Your List


//via pinterest//


It’s time. Time for the dazzle of lights and sequins, party dresses, punch glasses, balsam and fir livening up the drabbest corners, holly spangled everywhere. It’s time for comings and goings and meetings and celebrations. It is, in fact, Christmas time! And one of my favorite parts of Christmas has to do with giving gifts to friends! There is really nothing as fun as choosing the ideal gifts for all the many, many fantastic people in my life. I love having only a vague idea of what I want to get someone and then finding just the right thing. Since my best friend lives a high-profile life near Atlanta, I don’t get to see her often. Not infrequent packages fly to her throughout the year and I’m always excited to meet the challenge of making this one the best yet. Most times I have no idea what I’m going to send her until I see one item, and then another, and pretty soon a theme for the box has built itself around the individual pieces. Every Christmas I wait anxiously till I receive her text:
“Got it!” with about a million smiley-faces attached. Then I wait as she opens it, holding my phone, checking my notifications every few seconds until the capslock burst of excitement and “THIS IS SO PERFECT! OH MY GOODNESS” comes through. Then I grin like a fool and listen to her spazz out and generally feel like the Ghost of Christmas Present (no, that wasn’t a pun.). Sufficient statement: I like giving gifts. So to celebrate the kick-off of this splendid season, Carmel and I have written sister-posts with gift ideas for any sort of person in your life. Hoping this helps you along!

For your foodie:
The Forest Feast Cookbook. by Erin Gleeson – a gift from my boss for Christmas last year, this cookbook holds a very special place on my shelf. Erin Gleeson beautifully illustrates her cookbook with colorful watercolors, combining photography, art, and food in a way that only a truly understanding soul can. The recipes are practical, vibrantly healthy, and delicious and shy away both from boredom and pretension. Highly recommended.
A subscription to a food magazine – what can I say? My boss gives insanely specific and perfect gifts. For my last birthday, she spoiled me with four magazine subscriptions. I eagerly, eagerly haunt the mailbox each month waiting for the latest issue of drool-worthy, glossy publications. If your foodie is more into useable, inspiring recipes and fun food-spot highlights, I recommend Bon Appetit. If he/she more enjoys the heart/stories/passion behind food, I recommend Saveur Magazine.

For your traveler:
Places To Go, People To See by Kate SpadeThis beautiful, hard-bound book is a celebration of travel and makes a person want to pack up and GO immediately. I know because I bought this book for my best friend’s birthday and read it cover to cover before I sent it to her. Best friend privileges and all.
A travel journal – We’ve discussed the importance and pleasure of keeping a travel journal, so if you know that one of your loved ones has a big trip planned for the coming year, why not buy them a journal to write in? Look for one that is unlined, small enough to fit in a cross-body bag or small backpack, and that fastens closed. A favorite place to find a broad selection is Barnes & Noble, though many good options can be found online.

For your artist:
A new creative outlet – As an amateur artist myself, I can speak to the importance of stretching myself creatively and artistically. I love messing around in a new media, whether it’s a different variety of paint, pencil-sketching, pottery-painting, or paper-art. Try getting a gift certificate to a pottery studio, or graphite pencils and a sketchbook, or something of that nature.
Pieces of their favorite artists – I like making gifts person-specific. Nose about and discover who your artist friend counts among their favorite artists. Buy and frame one of that artist’s prints or, if the artist is currently at work (like some of my favorite fashion illustrators, Inslee Farris and Kerrie Hess), buy them a phone-case, stationery, or wall calendar from the artist! Bonus points for supporting industry!

For your fashionista:
A Hannah Everly skirt: This girl is a fairly new find for me, but I am such a huge fan of her perky designs. The fact that she is so young and successful excites me and I am thrilled with my plans to feature her on the blog in the near future. That being said, check out her shop and take special note of my favorites of her skirts:
A unique gift-card: I realized gift-cards are kind of a cop-out, but let me defend this choice: if you buy a gift card to a company the person loves but cannot ordinarily afford (Kate Spade, Boden, Anthropologie, J.Crew) you are helping them be able to more reasonably splurge on an item that they will love viciously. It is really quite an exciting gift when you raise your head above the $25 mass-chain cards you can buy at Walmart. Take that amount of money and apply it to a brand that will thrill instead of bore your loved one.

For your barista:
Locally-roasted coffee beans – One of my sisters, while not an actual barista, loves to make espresso and coffee drinks and when she gets a bag of good beans will guard them with her life. My favorite roasting place locally is Rogue Elephant Roasting Company. I first encountered their beans at a coffee-enthusiast-friend’s wedding that had a great coffee-bar. I was hooked and whenever I’ve gotten a chance to have another cup, I do so.
Coffee-jewelry – so this borders on tacky, but do we really care? Some Mondays just call for Starbucks earrings in addition to the daily cup. Here are some cute ideas:



Merry Christmas shopping to you, and don’t forget to head to CARMEL for more ideas in more categories!

Sweet Sixteen Picnic By The Bay

2015 has been the year of surprises around here. In April, I managed to fly down and surprise my best friend for Easter. In September I surprised a friend recovering from hip surgery in Pennsylvania and spent a quiet weekend addicting her to White Collar over Trader Joe's cheesecake Also in September, I joined a band of friends pulling off the D.C. day-trip and brunch at Le Diplomate, a surprise arranged by the self-effacing Tatum in honor of Jill, the creative force behind Joodles Doodles. At the front end of November, I arranged a surprise lunch-with-friends for Mama's 50th birthday. So it's barely surprising (ah.ha.ha.) that there would be more occasions attendant upon the rest of the year. Some of you know that I live at home with my rather numerous puddle of siblings. The family is split up this way:

2 parents
3 brothers
6 sisters

The order goes:

1 brother (married, plus a baby daughter, living in NoVa)
Me
3 sisters
1 brother
2 sisters
1 brother

Anyway. The third sister down from me, Anna, was turning sixteen and Mama arranged the absolute best surprise picnic in honor of her day. Anna is an Instagram maven, or would be if her account wasn't pretty private. She stages photos like a pro, is very photogenic herself, and is a little addicted to baby succulents and hot tea (two bags per cup, plus lemon). The female contingent of the family skipped church and snuck down to the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach via First Landing State Park (which I still fondly call by its old name, "Sea-Shore State Park"), having arranged for my uncle and sister, Leah, to meet us there. Unfortunately they got there before we did and almost saw us. We had my niece, Ellie, in tow, having given her parents a night away for their anniversary, so there we go: a straggling line of packhorses (er, family members) carting a sizeable picnic and a three-month-old infant by an alternate route (i.e. not the nice board walk) to the beach so as to not be seen. I confess that as I juggled a camera bag, a box of macarons, two giant picnic blankets, and four bottles of sparkling cider, one of them fell...and I sort of christened a ship, minus the ship. Whoops. Down to three bottles of sparkling cider, we made it onto the beach and set up before Anna even noticed the strangely bustling party at the opposite end of the beach. When she finally noticed (i.e. we shouted "Happy birthday!" and waved like Bedlamites), the picnic was all ready and she was thrilled. The day was perfect too: just the slightest breeze, just the perfect temperature, just the ideal measure of sunshine, just the perfect combination of very few people on the beach and no runaway dogs. Even Baby Ellie was angelic and smiley, which is a feat for a baby with habitually painful tummy-problems. Following are too many pictures of the food, the beach, the people, and the baby. Because I firmly believe one can never have too much picnic inspiration or enough of an excuse to eat a meal outside with loveable people. Also, a million thanks to my littlest sister for realizing that I dropped my camera in the sand dunes as we made our way back to the car....













One of the top things I love about Virginia: the weather can be counted upon to be picnicable at least 300 days out of the year. <3 And guys, my niece is the cutest thing in the entire world.