my valentine’s weekend


Hello, friends! I hope you are having a wonderful Presidents’ Day! In honor of our past presidents, here is a link I came across with some truly inspiring quotes: 50 Greatest Presidential Quotes of All Time.

I also hope you had a love-filled {all kinds of love, from friendship to pet-love to romantic love} Valentine’s Day! My minister gave an insightful sermon about the many forms of love in our lives that we should celebrate, rather than only focusing on romantic love. I could not agree more! She also touched upon The 5 Love Languages, a subject I find quite fascinating. You can watch her sermon on YouTube here.

My Valentine’s Day was not just limited to a day, but encompassed the whole weekend! Here are some snapshots:

My sweetie and I ordered Blue Apron for the first time, and received our first delivery on Friday night. We had heard many good things about this meal/cooking service and thought we would try it out for ourselves! We ended up making all three meals in three straight days, for dinner on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night. I was blown away by how easy it was, and how absolutely delicious all the meals turned out! Each night Allyn and I would look at each other across the dinner table in disbelief: We just made this?! Really?!¬†I also feel like the recipes taught us some new cooking tips that we can use in lots of future recipes of our own! We are definitely Blue Apron converts now. ūüôā

Friday night's dinner: Mexican spiced salmon with black rice

Friday night’s dinner: Mexican spiced salmon with black rice

Saturday morning, I woke up with the urge to bake. So I whipped up these easy + healthy apple oatmeal muffins, along with a note: MUFFINS FOR MY STUDMUFFIN. I came across this idea on Pinterest {the wedding-planning frenzy has begun!} and thought it was too cute, so I couldn’t resist¬†doing it for my studmuffin. ūüėČ

apple oatmeal muffins

After enjoying a couple muffins for breakfast warm from the oven, I headed out for a quick tutoring session, and when I returned home my sweetie surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers!

Valentine flowers

I spent most of the rest of the day obsessively reading THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN… have any of you guys read this book? Allyn’s sister loaned it to me and I started it on Friday night, and could.not.put.it.down alllll weekend… I finished it on Sunday afternoon! Very suspenseful and full of twists and turns.

girl on train book

Saturday night we made another Blue Apron meal and I had to continue our Valentine’s tradition of red velvet crinkle cookies! YUM. These are so festive and super easy to make {besides the batter turning your hands bright red!} ūüėČ

red velvet crinkle cookies

On Sunday, Allyn came with me to church to announce our engagement news during the “joys and sorrows” part of the service. It was so wonderful to share our happiness with the congregation! Everyone was so warm and joyful, and it warmed my heart.

We stopped by my grandparents’ after church to say hi, and I was delighted when my aunts and cousins surprised us and came by for lunch, too! We hadn’t seen them for a while and it was so fun to chat and share stories. Grandma busted out some of the wedding photo albums from when my aunts got married, and there was much laughter while looking through them. {’80s fashion out in full force!} My grandma then¬†disappeared for a little while into her bedroom and emerged holding her own wedding dress from 60+ years ago! It was a goosebumps-inducing sight. The dress’s beautiful lace is still preserved quite well. It was quite a special moment!

My grandparents¬†also surprised me with “engagement flowers”… our apartment is now bursting with flowers and I love it!

20160214_141039

When we got home, Allyn and I got some work done for a little bit, and then he asked, “Do you want to go mini-golfing?” There is a very cute course less than a mile from our new apartment, where Allyn and his family have gone many times. It was a beautiful evening so we walked over to Golfland and played 18 holes. There were many families and couples out and the atmosphere reminded me of summertime. I played pretty well, but Allyn absolutely rocked it. He got THREE hole-in-ones! How is that even possible?! Needless to say, he beat me handily.

IMG_1392

mini golf

When we got home our stomachs were growling, so we made our final Blue Apron meal of the batch: seared chicken with mashed potatoes and maple-glazed carrots. It was both of our favorite one from the bunch {and all of them were delicious!}

20160214_191043

valentines dinner

It was the perfect ending to a truly lovely weekend!

Questions of the day:

  • What was the highlight of your weekend?
  • Did you celebrate Valentine’s Day? How?
  • What is your Love Language?

traveling simply + the top 3 hospitality items I wish hotels would provide

Hello, friends! During this holiday season when many of us are traveling, Fairmont Hotels reached out to me about doing a post on the topic of favorite travel amenities. I thought it sounded like a fun idea, plus I¬†am curious¬†to hear your comments on the topic! Please play along in the comments section. ūüôā

A big theme for me of late has been trying to simplify and streamline my life. This relates to travel, too! Back in college, I traveled around Europe for three weeks with two of my best friends, each of us bringing nothing more than a backpack as luggage. It was an amazing trip and serves as a reminder for me that you do not need to bring a lot of STUFF to make life-long memories you will treasure always!

backpack

Now my only real “must haves” when I travel are: my contacts/glasses; my favorite face-wash and sunscreen; cozy socks; portable snacks like granola bars and fruit;¬†and a good book or two!

Fairmont Hotels also asked my ideas for the top three hospitality items I wish hotels would provide on the West Coast, such as the Claremont Hotel. Mine are a liiiiiiittle out there creative, but see if you agree — I think it would be SO awesome if hotels would provide these things:

Yoga mat

After a long car trip or plane ride, my body is aching to be stretched out. In the past I¬†have¬†tried to do some yoga moves in my hotel room, but it is never very peaceful or comfortable. Bringing my own yoga mat from home is inconvenient; it is¬†bulky and takes up too much space. If a hotel chain provided yoga mats in their hotel rooms, it would definitely persuade me to stay there! Also, by doing so, hotels are sending the message that they care about their guests’ health and peace of mind. Travel can be stressful, especially when you are traveling for business purposes. When I am feeling stressed out, nothing centers me and calms me down like a quick yoga session.

Compost bin

The more I learn about composting our food waste, the more convinced I become of its importance. All of the hotels I have stayed at have little trash bins in the room, but what if one of these was a compost bin with a lid? If emptied every day, this would not smell at all, and it would make a big difference in the amount of waste sent to landfills! When I travel, I often bring healthy snacks such as apples and bananas; it always makes me sad to have to throw these in the garbage instead of composting them.

Why does composting matter? Food waste in landfills decomposes in an anaerobic environment {without oxygen} which produces the gas methane. When it enters our atmosphere, methane is a much more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide. All of this can be solved by composting, because when food waste decomposes in a natural environment with oxygen, no methane is produced.¬†Plus we¬†produce compost to fertilize our future food products. It’s a win-win!

compost bin

photo credit: Sac compostable en place via photopin (license)

Recipe card

This idea was sparked by my recent visit to the Penzey’s Spices store in Cleveland. One of my favorite things about the store was the tear-off recipe cards scattered throughout the aisles. It was really fun to take home recipes from different parts of the world that featured various spices, many of which I had never before used. Trying out these recipes when I got home was a way to¬†relive my trip a bit and also¬†expand my repertoire in the kitchen. I think it would be neat if hotels adopted this idea and had recipe cards in the room that guests could take home with them. Perhaps hotels in different regions could feature recipes local to that region, or maybe all of the hotels could feature the same recipe and it would change each month or so. This would be a neat way to highlight local restaurants and chefs. The recipes¬†could even be collected in a cookbook at some point that could be available for guests to purchase.

Questions of the day:

  • Your turn: what amenities would improve your stay at hotels?
  • Do you have any travel tips to share?

christmas tree lane

This past weekend, Allyn and I had a really fun and festive time celebrating the holiday season! On Friday night we went to a fantastic production of A Christmas Carol.¬†I was blown away by the quality of everything — the acting, singing, set design, special effects, costumes — it was superb! I nearly cried at the end when Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, every one!”

me and allyn

On Saturday we had a picnic lunch overlooking the city of Oakland and the San Francisco Bay, which was beautiful even despite the fog.

picnic view

Then we went to the famous carousel at Tilden Park, which was decorated for the holidays. One thing I love about my sweetheart is that he’s up for anything, even a mid-afternoon carousel ride alongside a bunch of toddlers and little children.

tilden park carousel

me and allyn christmas

On Saturday night we celebrated my dear friend Dana’s birthday, which was so much fun. Allyn and I headed out¬†early for¬†the party, and on our way we stopped at Christmas Tree Lane in Alameda. Neither of us had been there before, but I heard many great things about it when I did some poking around online for “holiday things to do in the Bay Area.”

We went hoping for lots of Christmas lights… and let’s just say, we were not disappointed!

christmas lights

christmas lights

christmas lights

christmas lights

christmas lights

I loved seeing all the different themes of the houses and the characters they featured… Snoopy, Sesame Street, Disney, The Night Before Christmas… one house even had Christmas karaoke going! There was a man dressed as Santa Claus for the kids to take pictures with, and at one point a parade of people dressed as¬†Christmas trees danced down the middle of the street!

Allyn and I bought hot chocolate from some adorable girls selling homemade treats in front of one of the houses, and we sipped it as we strolled along the street admiring all the lights. It was absolutely lovely. I definitely want to go back next year!

Hope you are having a delightful Christmas Eve, my dear friends! I am sending light and love to every one of¬†you ‚̧

Questions of the morning:

  • Are there any amazing light displays in your neck of the woods?
  • What are some of your favorite holiday¬†traditions?

fabulous friday #43

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you’re having a great morning! I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time believing it is already Friday… not to mention already December 19th! Tomorrow is the lovely¬†Dana‘s birthday, and then on Sunday I’m heading home to So.Cal to spend the holidays with my fam! And on Monday, my amazing brother Greg turns the big 2-5! Birthdays galore around here, I love it.

I’m super excited for all the joy and festivities and family and friend time this upcoming week brings! In the meantime…

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Christmastime in San Francisco. Allyn and I went into the city for a date night, and it was absolutely magical. Union Square is lit-up so beautifully and we were lucky enough to score a table at Burger Bar that had a terrific view. After dinner we rode the glass elevators at the Westin St. Francis Hotel up to the 29th floor to look out at the entire city. Then we got hot chocolate to-go from a restaurant that was closing up. {The man was kind enough to give us the hot chocolate free of charge because he said he was just going to throw it away otherwise! How nice is that??} We sipped our hot chocolates as we held hands and watched the ice-skaters and listened to the holiday music. It was perfection.

union square

me and al xmas

westin xmas tree

union square xmas tree

2. Celebrity doppelgangers. I am fascinated by this! Perhaps because I’ve always had a hard time figuring out who my look-alike is. The person I’ve been told most often is Claire Danes, which I consider a huge compliment because I think she is wonderful. What do you think, do you see a resemblance? Could I be her much-less-glamorous kid sister?

me claire danes

I got onto this topic because when Allyn and I were watching the ice-skaters in Union Square, a woman said out of the blue that Allyn looked like a celebrity to her, but she couldn’t place who. I suggested Kevin Bacon, but she said it was someone else.

al and kevin bacon

We left before she figured it out, so I guess it will always remain a mystery!

3.¬†My Grandpap’s choir Christmas performance last night. They work so hard practicing for months leading up to the holidays, and it shows! They go all out with costumes and presentation, and the cheerful holiday music always brings a smile to my face. Plus, I love watching my Grandpap when he sings — he always lights up with joy! It was fun that Allyn could make it, too.

grandpap choir concert.jpg

4. This quote from Heather Waxman {especially apppropriate and meaningful during this time of year!}

“Healthy boundaries aren‚Äôt about building walls around yourself. They‚Äôre about building doorways of love around your energy field. Boundaries are not meant to separate you from other people. They‚Äôre meant to build doorways¬†for you to attract the¬†right people into your life.”

5. Tonight Allyn and I are going to see a local production of A Christmas Carol. It is one of my favorite stories. Though I have read the book and have seen a number of movie versions {including the classic Disney cartoon version!} I have never seen a dramatic performance of A Christmas Carol, so I am really excited ūüôā

Have a¬†terrific weekend, friends! And don’t forget to…

leave sparkle

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?
  • Who is your celebrity doppelganger?

pumpkin spice apple crisp

So last week, I made this pumpkin spice apple crisp.

I made it because I had three mushy apples and a jar of Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter to use up.

pumpkin butter

And oh my goodness… I’m so grateful for those mushy apples. Because this dessert¬†is AMAZING!

This pumpkin spice apple crisp would be perfect to bring to a holiday gathering. It is a delightful combination of apples and pumpkin, two flavors that are bursting with holiday joy.

This crisp tastes like apple pie, only it is loads simpler to make! All you need are four ingredients {well, five, if you top your slice with whipped cream, which you certainly should!} And you don’t need to tell anyone, but for a dessert it’s even relatively healthy, thanks to all those apples and a relatively small amount of butter and sugar.

pumpkin spice apple crisp

{adapted slightly from this recipe}

– 3 large¬†apples {I used fuji and jazz because that’s what we had going mushy in our fridge}
– 3/4 cup pumpkin butter
– 8 oz pumpkin quick bread mix {most packages are double this amount, so I used half of the mix for the crisp and then made pumpkin muffins with the remaining half of the mix… another alternative would be doubling this recipe and using the whole package of pumpkin bread mix}
– 3 tbsp butter
– whipped cream for serving {optional}

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Peel, core, and dice your apples and put into a bowl.

apples diced

3. Toss apple pieces with the pumpkin butter until they are coated. Pour into a shallow class dish or pie pan.

pumpkin butter apples

4. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix with your hands into the pumpkin bread mix until well-combined. This should create a crumbly topping. {Note: your fingers will be messy!}

5. Pour the topping over the apple mixture and spread it into an even layer.

topping prebake

6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until topping is golden brown and your house smells aaaamazing.

pumpkin spice apple crisp

7. Enjoy warm with whipped cream on top… or pumpkin ice cream! Yum, just thought of that, it would be delicious. Now I need to make this again so I can eat it with pumpkin ice cream ūüôā

apple crisp slice

My Grandpap, an extreme lover of apple pie, told me that this was one of the best apple desserts he has ever eaten! We certainly gobbled this up in our household. Hope you do, too!

if you liked this recipe, you might also enjoy:
incredibly easy pumpkin spice cookies
apple cake with crumb topping and brown sugar glaze
gluten-free apple pie bites
chocolate pumpkin spice kiss cookies
pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting

fabulous friday #42

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you’re having a good one!

It’s a typical Friday for me… this morning I headed to one of my fave yoga classes, now I’m getting some work done on the computer, and later this afternoon I’m tutoring a few great kiddos.

We have been getting LOTS of rain here the past couple days… they say it’s one of the biggest storms we’ve had here in five years! Fortunately we are all safe and sound here. If it’s stormy and bad-weathered where you are, please be safe!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. The Lucy Hale song “Mistletoe.” It’s been bopping around in my head off and on since I heard her sing it on the “CMA Country Christmas” TV program, and this week I finally went and ordered it on iTunes. Love it!

2. This interesting and thorough article Allyn sent me with tips for staying calm and managing stress {especially useful in this often-stressful holiday season}: https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140805002649-50578967-how-successful-people-stay-calm

3. Speaking of the holidays, here are two socially impactful, beautiful gift ideas if you are doing some holiday shopping:

4. I’ve been craving veggies — carrots, celery, bell peppers, kale — even more than usual lately. For example: last night, I sliced up half a bell pepper as part of my dinner, and ended up going back to the fridge and polishing off the rest of the pepper later that night as a snack! I’ve never craved bell pepper before, but there you have it! I believe our bodies tell us what they need, so I’ve been riding the veg-tastic train all week. This is an interesting NPR article about how what you eat affects your mood:¬†http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/07/14/329529110/food-mood-connection-how-you-eat-can-amp-up-or-tamp-down-stress?

5. This quinoa veggie salad from Costco. Tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, lentils, beans, quinoa — healthy, light and filling. It’s made a great quick lunch on a couple days this week when time got away from me and I was a little rushed to get out the door.

quinoa salad

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I’m gonna leave you with this beautiful John Gardner quote my brother sent me:

greg quote

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?

fabulous friday #41

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve done a fabulous friday post… feels good to be back into more of a regular blogging schedule, after the Thanksgiving craziness! ūüôā

My day so far has been a great one… restorative morning yoga class, pumpkin spice chai latte at Starbucks, phone chat with my brother,¬†a few errands checked off my list {including the Post Office, which was much less crowded than I was anticipating! Don’t you love when that happens?} This afternoon I have a couple tutoring appointments, and then tonight I’m getting together with my beautiful-inside-and-out friend Dana for dinner. I haven’t seen her in a month and I’m so excited to catch up!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Raaaaaaain! We have finally been getting some rain here in California, and it is so wonderful!

rainy days

We’re singing and dancing like Gene Kelly around here ūüôā I love drizzly winter days when it feels so cozy to be snuggled up inside, sipping a mug of tea while cookies bake in the oven… which leads me to…

2. I made a holiday version of my pumpkin-spice chocolate kiss cookies! I used the same chocolate cake-mix cookie base, and then instead of a pumpkin spice Hershey’s kiss I topped them each with a candy-cane Hershey’s kiss. The classic peppermint + chocolate combo is a winner, plus they look so darn cute!

peppermint kiss cookies

3. While we’re on the subject of holiday treats, I picked up this black-and-white drizzle kettle corn as an impulse buy at Safeway, and it’s become my go-to dessert. For fellow sweet-and-salty lovers and chocoholics out there, this is right up your alley! I love that it’s made with non-GMO corn and has no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives; no high-fructose corn syrup; and zero cholesterol or trans fats. The grocery checker told me there is also a peanut butter & chocolate version that I am going to keep my eye out for.

holiday kettle corn

drizzle kettle corn

4. This¬†quote from Whitney at sometimes.always.never¬†reflecting on the past year — I feel very similar to the way 2014 unfolded for me:

“It was a year of small, beautiful changes that probably don’t look like a ton to an outsider, but that meant a lot to me. It was a year of personal growth and risks, reflection and change. It was a year of countless little moments that added up to a whole year that turned out to be really beautiful.”

5. I brought back the chocolate advent calendar this year! Greg and I used to get these every year as kids and I have such fond memories of opening them together each morning before school.¬†A couple weeks ago, I spotted chocolate advent calendars when I was at Trader Joe’s, and I grabbed one. {Actually, two — I got one for Allyn, too!}

advent calendar

It¬†brings a smile to my face every morning to see what shape of Christmas chocolate I will get that day. Sometimes it’s the little things, right?

And that’s all for now. Have a delightful weekend, everyone!

Questions of the day:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?
  • Do you get a chocolate advent calendar?

chocolate pumpkin-spice kiss cookies

I have a simple, delicious recipe to share with you today! These cookies are easy to make, come together in a flash, and would be the perfect holiday treat for a party or get-together. I brought them to a BBQ this past weekend and they were a big hit!

I got the idea for these cookies¬†when I came across these babies at Walgreens after getting my flu shot:¬†pumpkin spice Hershey’s kisses!

pumpkin spice hershey kisses

I was intrigued and they were on sale, so I scooped them up! When I got home, I started brainstorming what I could bake with them, and I thought about the cookies my mom makes during the holiday season using chocolate Hershey’s kisses. I thought I could make a similar cookie — except with pumpkin spice kisses, I decided I wanted a chocolate cookie base.

Rummaging around in my pantry, I found this.

chocolate cake mix

So I decided to make chocolate cake-mix cookies {similar to the funfetti cookies I made for Grandpap’s birthday two years ago.} I love cake-mix cookies because they are dense, soft and chewy. Yum!

I was able to whip these cookies up in about half an hour, and they turned out great! If you don’t have Hershey’s kisses, I think just making the chocolate cookies would also be a hit. Add in some peanut-butter chips and you’ve really got it made! ūüôā

chocolate kiss cookies

chocolate pumpkin kiss cookies

– 1 box chocolate cake mix {I used triple-chocolate fudge; I bet devil’s food would be good, too!}
– 1/3 cup vegetable oil
– 2 eggs
– 1 cup chocolate chips
– pumpkin spice Hershey’s kisses

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine cake mix, oil, eggs and chocolate chips in a large bowl. Dough will be stiff and sticky.

3. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes, to allow dough to become easier to handle.

4. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. {Note: these cookies EXPAND quite a bit! My first batch, I made the dough balls much too big. Just a tablespoonful is enough, I promise!}

5. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until cookies are set.

6. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. While cookies are still warm, gently press a pumpkin spice kiss into the center of each one.

chocolate kiss cookies

You can easily adapt these cookies based upon your favorite Hershey’s kiss. I think using a peppermint kiss or white-chocolate kiss would be divine!

If you liked this recipe, you might also enjoy:
aunt elaine’s peanut butter blossoms
pumpkin spice cake mix cookies
eggnog cookies with buttercream frosting

fabulous friday #26 {new orleans edition!}

Hi from beautiful New Orleans, and Happy Independence Day to all my U.S. readers! I hope you have some fun celebrating on the agenda today. Allyn and I are going to watch the fireworks on the Mississippi River! I’m waaaaay excited.

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. Being reunited with my sweetheart! After being apart for a month {and knowing we’ll have to be apart for another month when I leave} I am savoring every moment we get to spend together.

me and Al new orleans

2. The beautiful architecture of the city! It’s so uniquely New Orleans. And I love the strands of lights that are hanging everywhere! The picture below is from a cute outdoor art fair we stumbled upon one night on Frenchman Street.

new orleans architecture new orleans architecture new orleans art walk

3. Live jazz music! We saw a terrific performance at a place on Bourbon Street, and also wandered around Frenchman Street where there was a fantastic band giving a street performance that blew my socks off. I get such a big goofy grin on my face when listening to live music.

live jazz

4. The food. Especially the beignets at Caf√© Du Monde. I learned the hard way not to exhale while taking a bite — guess who blew powdered sugar alllll over herself? Haha.

cafe du mondebeignetal beignet

me beignet

5. These cheerful flowers Allyn surprised me with at the airport when he picked me up. There were a bunch of buds that have slowly been unfurling all week. I love them!

flowers from Al

BONUS:¬†My friend Dana’s beautiful photography blog. She posts a new photo of hers every day and it makes my morning to check it out while I sip my tea. Talk about inspiration! She is so talented. I wish she could walk around New Orleans with me and take photographs! She has such an insightful, interesting way of viewing the world behind her lens. You can subscribe to her blog here!

Questions of the morning:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • What are your plans for this 4th of July weekend?
  • Have you ever been to New Orleans? Any recommendations for my final week here?

celebrating martin luther king, jr.

Today we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m celebrating by participating in a community service project and by doing as many random acts of kindness as I can fit into my day!

I’m also spending time today reading the words of Dr. King and reflecting on his wisdom. I was especially moved by this passage:

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation.” {Source:¬†http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/pacificaviet/riversidetranscript.html}

My dad’s wonderful column this past week was about Dr. King and I want to share it with you as well:¬†http://woodywoodburn.com/column-let-service-ring/

I’ll be back tomorrow with this week’s year of Wooden post. Hope you are having a beautiful day filled with service, compassion and reflection!

Question of the day:

  • What are you doing to celebrate MLK day?
  • What are your favorite words of wisdom from MLK?