Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cake Tastings around Baltimore

Over our holiday break we booked three cake tastings for the wedding! The goal was to get all of the tastings in before the new years when we are starting our strict wedding diet. It worked out perfectly since I was able to bring my sister with me while she was home from vet school.

First up - Caroline's Cupcakes. 

I  found this place on Fort Ave while working in the area. Vendors always brought us cupcakes at work and my co-workers used to love their cupcakes! We started off sampling their cupcakes...

Vanilla, chocolate, black bottom, peanut butter and chocolate, cookies and cream and red velvet. The cupcakes were huge, but we found them to be a tad dry. It could be because our appointment was at 4:30 in the afternoon and they had been out all day. The girl was extremely sweet, and even told us they were going to be on Cupcake Wars (obsessed with that show), but in the end we decided not to go with them.

Next stop (in the same night) was Midnite Confections Cupcakery. They were recommended by our wedding coordinator and voted #1 cupcakes by the Baltimore Magazine. They are located in Federal Hill for those of you familiar to the area.

We had the opportunity to try 4 of their cupcake flavors. We chose their sinnabon, playboy (carrot), vanilla, and lemon lime.

It was so hard to pick a favorite! They were all delicious. I was excited they invited their cake designer out to talk to me about my design and they had so many amazing flavors we didn't try! If we go with them, it will be hard to pick only 4!

Last, but not least, was Baltimore Cakery. They specialize more in cakes and are amazing at their job! They welcomed us on a rainy day with coffee, tea and lots of cake flavors to try! Chris was at work so we took his younger brother along for the ride! I had a blast trying cakes with him and I'm glad I get to share this time with all of his family!

Our favorites were their vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, a mocha coffee cake, a spice cake with canoli cream they named little italy, and the raven - chocolate with chocolate ganache.I really want to know if they could possibly do a vanilla with strawberry icing or a lemon cake with raspberry filling. If so, this may be our place! Especially since they offered to make white chocolate "L" monograms and scrolls to place on top of each cupcake. How cute! Plus, I'll know our sweetheart cake will look amazing!

I'm having a blast planning the wedding and feel like I am crossing so much off our to-do list early on. I hope to keep it up! We found the bridesmaid dresses today and I absolutely love them! The girls did an amazing job picking them out. I can't reveal what they look like, but they are Watters. I love their line of bridesmaid dresses! We are holding off on buying them until I try on dresses and find the perfect one. I'm so glad we went so I could see my little sister try on dresses before she headed back to school in Ohio :)

What is your favorite cake flavor? I really love a good lemon cake!

Spiced Apple Cider Sangria and Spinach Goat Cheese Torte

The holidays are a great way to introduce yourself and others to new home cooked recipes. Sangria is always a favorite drink of mine, especially since it can change with the seasons! I found this recipe on Pinterest a few months ago and knew it would taste amazing! 

Spiced Apple Cider Sangria
Recipe adapted from My Life as a Mrs. (very fitting)
For the Spiced Apple Cider: 
2 cups apple cider 
1/3 cup sugar 
2 cinnamon sticks 
1/2 teaspoon cloves 
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground allspice 
1/2 teaspoon orange zest 
1/2 orange 
For the Spiced Apple Cider Sangria: 
1 bottle inexpensive sweet wine 
2 cups spiced apple cider (recipe above) 
1/2 cup orange juice 
1/2 cup brandy (I omitted, tasted amazing without)
  For the Spiced Apple Cider: Mix together all ingredients in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Strain before using. For the Spiced Apple Cider Sangria: Mix ingredients together in a large pitcher and garnish with orange wheels and cinnamon sticks. To serve, pour over ice. 

This spiced cider made the kitchen smell amazing!

For a non alcoholic drink I suggest making the spiced cider and combining it with sparkling apple cider! That way you get the warm, spicy taste with a little bubbly!

I doubled the sangria recipe and shared it at my family's pot luck Christmas and my future mother in law's day after Christmas brunch. It was definitely a hit and a recipe I'll be making annually!

I also brought a spinach and goat cheese appetizer to our Christmas pot luck. It was one of the first things gone and I'm so glad everyone loved it! Everyone in my family is an amazing cook, so I wanted to live up to their dishes!

Spinach and Goat Cheese Torte
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick)
unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (3 small cloves or 2 medium cloves)
2 (10-ounce) boxes frozen chopped spinach or 1 16 ounce bag fresh spinach
1 cup goat cheese
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dry bread crumbs, plain or seasoned
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
phyllo dough
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray your cookie sheet with non-stick spray. Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, and cook them for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 more minute. In the meantime, squeeze the water out of the spinach, and place it into a large bowl. If using fresh spinach, add the onion and butter mixture to a large pan on medium heat with the spinach and cook down. Add the onion mixture, goat cheese, Parmesan, eggs, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg. Mix well. Set aside. Unfold one sheet of phyllo dough and place it on your lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil or melted butter between 4 layers. Spread the spinach mixture in the middle of the pastry, leaving a 1-inch border. Place 4 more phyllo dough sheets (brushed with olive oil or butter between each layer) over the spinach, and seal the edges. Make three slits in the pastry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is lightly browned (be careful not to burn the phyllo dough). Transfer to a cutting board, and serve hot. (Slice with a long serrated knife, if possible.)

We had an amazing Christmas being engaged! I can't believe this time next year I'll be married and be a home owner. I plan on having several holiday parties at our place!

Hope you guys ate a ton of amazing food over the holidays! Now it's time to hit the gym :)

By the way, if you have a moment please vote for our proposal story by clicking the heart underneath our story! Click here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wedding Update and WIAW

Tis the season... to get hitched!

Our Christmas photo from last year!

My friend and bridesmaid Elena sent me this awesome Christmas Card!!
Did you know that the holiday season is the most popular time for fellas to pop the question?
As I was driving to work today I couldn't help but think how wonderful this year has been and how blessed I am to be engaged to my best friend. I'm so lucky to have amazing friends and family who love and support us, to be able to purchase our first home together (once we find another that we love), to both have amazing jobs and to have grown in our careers in the short time since we've graduated and so much more! 

I am cherishing every ounce of wedding planning because I know time moves quickly and I don't want to miss a thing!

So far I have set up an appointment with 4 bakeries for our wedding cake, our florist, contacted several videographers and photographers and have made an appointment for a few of my bridesmaids to start trying on dresses to get a feel for what they like.

I'm feeling pretty good! I need to make a decision on our DJ since we have a few family friends who we could use, interview a few officiants, and visit a linen place to get a few ideas on tablecloths.

I will admit that being engaged around the holidays and watching what you eat so you can slip into wedding dresses is hard!!! It's hard to resist all of the goodies and dinners out at restaurants visiting with family and friends. So, starting next year I have decided to join the gym 5 minutes from my office so I can work out during lunch! Hopefully this will leave me with no excuses!

We also picked out CLs wedding band! It was a really great moment after trying what felt like 30 rings. Funny thing is, I tried on about 3 before deciding which one I loved. Guys are so silly! I'm so excited we found the perfect one. :)

I found Panera salad dressing at the grocery store and I almost screamed for joy! I have been trying to recreate the fuji apple salad dressing all year and now I don't have to!

I love this salad and I love it even more that I can make it myself! I take mixed greens, pecans, feta cheese, red onions and apple slices to work and top with the Panera dressing and it tastes like I just picked it up from the store! So good.

 I've been having a container of plain, non-fat greek yogurt with apple slices, yogurt and cinnamon for breakfast a lot lately. Greek yogurt + honey = match made in heaven!

An easy dinner to prepare ahead of time is tilapia packets! Add sliced veggies (red and green peppers, celery, carrots, parsnips), tilapia and old bay together in a foil packet and all you have to do is pop it in the toaster oven when you get home from work! Healthy and requires no thinking about what's for dinner!

See what other bloggers are eating and join the WIAW party with Jenn over at Peas and Crayons!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Bride's Best Friend: Google Docs

After I first became an engaged lady I immediately wanted to jet to the store and pick up a wedding planning book. Something that I could take with me to all of my venue and vendor meetings and physically make check marks in and scribble down notes. I researched online the best ones and CL even bought my pick for me (he's such a doll).

Weeks went by and I still hadn't used it with the exception of putting two business cards into the plastic holder. Now that I am older and wiser (by nearly 2 months), I regret to tell all of you pre-engaged ladies that you should save your pennies.

My secret planning tool: Google Documents

Google Docs has made me feel so organized and happy that all of my wedding lists and planning tools are in one place. Sure it's not on a piece of pretty pastel paper, but there are so many pros to using this!

For example...

Chris and I created our guest list within excel - listing out the name of the attendants, are they bringing a guest, total in party, are they on the bride/groom's side, are they family or friend, what is their address, and RSVP Yes/No. Once we were done I uploaded the excel spreadsheet into Google Docs and BAM! There was my excel spreadsheet ready for me to update it at any time.

But the best part... I can "Share" this document with anyone I want by sending it to their email. Once you share the document, they can view and edit it anytime within Google Docs. When you are within the document you can see who else is in it (everyone has their own color) and see their updates in real time.

Why is this so awesome? This allows me and Chris to update our list at any time and neither of us are out of the loop. It saves a ton of time combining both of our edits and we can view it on any device. Sometimes we even pull it up on our phones!

Another reason this is so awesome? Send it to your parents! Make them feel involved. This way they can update the list with addresses and add people they want to invite. Just a word of advice: you and your groom should decide ahead of time how many people you would like to invite and that realistically fits within your budget. Add a separate section to the spread sheet for people you would like to invite. That way if someone RSVP's No, you have a back up guest. Sure, it would be great to send out invites to everyone you know ahead of time, but make sure your budget allows you to go up. You never know, I'm sure there have been instances where everyone says yes!

Chris and I have multiple tabs within our document:
  1. Guest List
  2. Wedding Budget - Make sure you add columns for Item, Price, Taxes, Gratuity, Delivery charge, Total and Notes! A column that tells you how much has been paid so far is extremely useful too!
  3. Music List - Song name, Artist, Ceremony/Cocktail/Reception, and Notes!
  4. Wedding Registry - Gift Name, Store, Price, Registered, Amount are a few good columns to include.
I'm sure I will be adding more.. Tables (decorations and flowers), Bridal Party (who has placed their clothing orders and who has received), and maybe even Flowers (so my mom and I can discuss which flowers we like).

I know it isn't fancy, but for the modern organized bride who likes all her info in one place I highly recommend this tool!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We set a date!

This past weekend we made the most important wedding decision. We picked a date and venue!

Next November we will be saying "I do" at the Belvedere in Baltimore! It was once a hotel that Sarah Jessica Parker, John F. Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson stayed at. I absolutely adore the venue and it's architecture!

Crossing that off my wedding to-do list was a huge relief! The moment I walked into the Belvedere my heart skipped a beat. It is so elegant and I could instantly picture myself marrying CL there.

I originally dreamed of getting married at a vineyard, with a cream, taupe, and eggplant color scheme. I practically had it all planned on Pinterest. But the more I thought about it, I started second guessing my decision. We had found the perfect venue in Bluemont, VA at a gorgeous vineyard, I found photographers I loved in the area and had even talked to the caterers about possible menus. Something just wasn't right. I wasn't as excited as I had hoped. It was almost like I was planning someone else's wedding.

I'm so happy with our decision and can't wait for next November! We are doing a pink and gold theme. It goes with the venue perfectly and has the romantic feel I've always wanted! 

Next on our list is choosing a wedding photographer and videographer. I also want to start collecting centerpiece ideas to show our florist!

Question: Did you have a videographer? I have gotten mixed feedback!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Holiday Party Ideas

Looking to host your own holiday party? I love getting together with friends over the holidays so I decided to share some fun holiday-themed parties to get you in the mood to invite friends over!

1. Cookie making party. Invite a group of girlfriends to your house with their prepared cookie dough to bake up some treats! Offer to make the sugar cookies or gingerbread cookies for your friends so you can have a decorating station. (Just make your cookies ahead of time so they are cool enough to decorate while the others are in the oven.) Have each girl bring copies of her cookie's recipe. One for each person so everyone can take the recipes home with them :)

2. White Elephant Gift Swap. For those of you who are not familiar with white elephant, it is a gift exchange where each person brings something they have around their house that they no longer use. It could be something funny, something retro (I've seen thigh masters) or something practical like that red wine you got that you don't drink. You could even make a theme - like a white elephant jewelry exchange, or clothing exchange!

3. Holiday Drink Party. This is a party to might want to invite your friends to bring their favorite Christmas movie and their pajamas! Have each girl bring her own specialty holiday drink. It could be spiked hot apple cider, spiked egg nog, winter sangria or a pumpkin martini! Have each girl bring copies of her drink's recipe so everyone can recreate them at home - or their next holiday party!

4. Ugly Sweater Party. This is the most classic holiday party. Have everyone come dressed in their ugliest holiday sweater. The uglier the better! The guest with the ugliest sweater wins a prize! (Could be a nice new sweater or a bottle of wine!)

5. Gift Wrapping Party. Who wants to buy roll after roll of wrapping paper? This year invite a few friends over to wrap gifts! Each person should bring two rolls of holiday themed gift wrap and their gifts. Supply them with tape, ribbon and scissors and swap gift wrap. This is a great way to wrap your family's presents without them around and to have an assortment of gorgeous gifts under the tree!

6. Ornament Making Party. Ornaments make the best gifts and no tree can be over dressed around the holiday season. Have each person bring glass ornaments (I suggest a box of 6) they wish to decorate. Provide materials they can use to decorate with. Paint, lace, spray paint, etc. are great. You can have your guests bring sentimental items to fill their ornaments with too. Photos, sand from vacation, wedding invitations, etc are a few examples. At the end of the party your guests could do an ornament swap to hang on their own tree as a memory!

7. Paint your own Pottery Party. I've mentioned this before, but I absolutely loved when my mom would let me invite 2 friends to come to the Paint Your Own Pottery local store as a holiday party. The items you make will be keep sakes for years to come. I set out our holiday plates for cookies and it's a great conversation piece. Maybe this could even be an annual outing you and your special someone share. Now a days, Paint Your Own stores have designated nights where you can bring in your own beer/wine while painting - so it is completely grown up to invite your friends along :)

I'd love to hear what types of holiday parties you are going to or hosting this season!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Gifts for Brides to Be

Okay, so I know it may look as if I wrote this post as a wink, wink nudge, nudge to my friends and family, but truth be told we probably all have a bride to be in our lives.

The holidays are a perfect time to get that bride to be something she will treasure on her wedding day that aren't listed on her wedding registry.
1. Monogrammed Robe. A bride to be can use this on her wedding day while preparing to slip into her dream wedding gown. It's great for pre-ceremony photos of her with her bridesmaids. I'm sure this is a gift she will wear every night and every morning! I found these both on Etsy. Etsy will become your one-stop shop for all unique and personalized gifts!

2. Personalized Hanger. This is definitely on my to-get list for my wedding. What a wonderful gift for the bride to hang her gown on! I absolutely love these hangers! These range from 15-40 dollars on Etsy so they are a steal!

3. Spa Day Package. Help your bride to be relax the day/week of her wedding by purchasing her a spa day package! Just remember, a girl should never get a facial any less than a week before her big day just in case she breaks out! Holidays are a great time to buy spa packages since they usually have deals! Make sure if you want the bride to use it the day of, that it's for the hotel she plans to stay at.

4. Mani/Pedi. Remember those groupons for mani/pedi deals you quickly moved to your trash bin? Next time you see one purchase it for a great deal on a Christmas present for your bride to be. Every bride wants gorgeous nails to showcase her ring and this is sure to make her happy.

5. Personalized Stamp. Okay, so I wasn't sure I wanted to share this find that I absolutely adore, but I think it is such a great tool for your bride to be when sending out cards. Just think, she could use this when mailing out her Christmas cards, thank you cards, even wedding invitations! It will definitely save her hand from cramping up! I can't wait until we find a house so I can purchase one for myself :) You can find these on Etsy as well!

6. Handmade Ornaments. On a tight budget or just love handmade gifts? How about making a set of 6 ornaments for your bride to be? Has she already sent you an invitation? Why not cut it into ribbons and place inside a glass ornament? That way she can treasure them for years to come. (Just make sure you write the date and time down!) Or, you could always paint her wedding date on one and their initials on others.

7. Prepared Date Nights. Your bride to be is probably stressed from all the planning or spending her weekends trying on dresses, searching for venues, tasting cake, looking at invitations... the list goes on and on. While that is fun, she may appreciate a date night out with her husband to be! Save up those Groupons you have been seeing for restaurants in the city, golf course deals, musicals, etc. Put together a few envelopes and watch her face light up as she opens them!

8. Personal Trainer vouchers. Sure, no girl wants to get a gym membership for any occasion. But, why not purchase a few kickboxing lessons or hot yoga sessions for you two to do together? Your bride wants to look her best on her big day and it's always more fun when you have a gym buddy!

9. Gift Basket. Why not put together things your bride to be will need the day of? A miniature bottle of liquor/wine, personalized shot/wine glass, aspirin, sewing kit, clear nail polish, deodorant, baby wipes, snacks, makeup setting spray, false eye lashes and glue, her favorite perfume, maybe her something blue like a beautiful pin or hair accessory. The ideas are endless!

10. Honeymoon Gift. Know where your bride to be is going? Is she escaping to a tropical spot? Why not get her monogrammed beach towels, sunglasses, a new camera to capture the moments she shares with her new husband. Is she going on a cross country trip and stopping in her favorite city? Why not find out places she plans on stopping at and surprise her with a gift certificate to a top rated restaurant in the area?

11. Scrapbook. Are you in the wedding party? Now is the time to start thinking ahead! Make sure you take lots of photos of you girls trying on dresses, visiting venues, tasting cakes, her bridal shower and bachelorette party. She will have plenty of photos of her wedding day, why not give her a gift that reminds her of all the exciting events that lead up to a wedding?

12. Housewarming Gift. Did your bride and her hubby to be just buy a house? Why not collect photos of the two of them, their family and friends and print them out and frame them. I have a love affection for photo walls so why not take different size frames so they can make a photo wall in their new entry way? How about a monogrammed throw for their new couch and movie room? You could also make a kitchen gift basket of a cook book wrapped in a monogrammed towel with personalized mugs and their favorite coffee!

13. Gift Card. Not just any gift card. Why not a gift card to a dress boutique where she can pick out her dress for her bridal shower, engagement party, or bachelorette dress? How about a gift card for her wedding day shoes?

14. Yourself! Why not write a certificate to help out on her big day? Offer to help set everything up the day of, or take a load of the materials for the big day to the reception site the morning of. Are you a DJ, a graphic designer, photographer or amazing baker? How about offer one of your services as your wedding gift to the bride!

Sentimental gifts are always the best. Happy shopping!

December To Do List

December usually puts people in a surprisingly good mood and means lots of freebie days off from your company. I love the holiday season, so expect to see a lot more on my blog this month! 

I love sharing gift ideas, DIY crafts, festive holiday menu items, drinks to share at your holiday party... you name it, I have an idea for it.

Here is my December To Do List to inspire you!

1. Make a batch of marshmallow popcorn and watch a Christmas movie on ABC Family. So far I have watched the Santa Claus and Rudolf. Marshmallow Popcorn: 1.5 bags of popcorn, 1 stick of butter (run an extra 3 miles), 8 ounces of marshmallows (or a few extra), and half cup brown sugar. Microwave butter, marshmallows, and brown sugar for 2 1/2 min. Take out and stir. Microwave again for 1 min. Repeat until thin sauce. When done pour over popcorn and mix.Goodbye rice krispy treats! 

2. Make Christmas cards and send them to our family and friends. I love giving cards. My close friends are no stranger to getting a card in the mail for their birthday, mothers day, or Christmas. It is the one thing I think my generation lacks! There are so many simple ways to create your own Christmas cards! I am making a note now to do a post on cute and creative card ideas :)

3. Make a new holiday dessert to bring to a Chistmas party. I saw this on Pinterest and I am dying to make it for a holiday party. Instead of a pumpkin roll, you make a chocolate peppermint roll for your friends and family!

4. Go ice skating OUTSIDE! This is the perfect time of year to search for outdoor skating rinks. Chris surprised me on our anniversary earlier this year by taking me to an outdoor skating rink as one of our stops. It's a great way to have to hold on to each other tight and pretend you are Nancy Kerrigan.

5. Get a group together to adopt an angel this year. Alyssa from Fashion, Fitness, Foodie inspired me to adopt my own angel for Christmas. There are so many families and children out there that are not as lucky as you or me and the holidays are a great way to give back. Get a group together and adopt a few angels this year to make a difference in someone's life! Click here to find your angel.

6. Go see the ICE show at the Gaylord Hotel. We went last year and had a great time! I am up for going down an ice slide again this year :) Take your family for a great photo opp in huge blue jackets!

7. Drive through a Christmas lights parade. They have ones in Ocean City, Annapolis and Columbia. Or, just drive around your local neighborhoods. Christmas lights put me in such a great mood because they represent holiday spirit. It takes time and effort to put them up!

8. See the National tree. I am putting my name into the lottery next year to see the National tree lighting ceremony for it's 90th birthday. How awesome would that be? This year, I won't mind going to DC for a dinner date and walking by the tree to take in it's beauty :)

9. Try to perfect the perfect hot cocoa recipe. I am not a chocolate lover, but that's the best part about perfecting your own recipe! You can add as many extras you want. I happen to have something up my sleeve for our wedding that involves hot chocolate :)

10. Buy a new holiday CD. Yes, you can listen to Christmas music in the car, but don't you want to listen to your favorite holiday songs? I guarantee if you pop in a CD of your own holiday favorites it will put you in the spirit on your way to empty your pockets at the mall. I am loving the Justin Beiber/Mariah Carey duet for All I Want for Chrsitmas. That has been my favorite since the day it came out! I always make it my ringtone around the holidays :)

11. Paint my own holiday plate. When I was younger, my mom would take us to paint our own pottery around the holidays. They make great gifts and memories. I just found a plate I made in 1999 for a holiday party I did with my best friends. 

As you can see, I could go on and on. I love the holidays - mostly because I love how it brings everyone together.