Monday, December 31, 2012

A Happy New Year

As the new year is fast-approaching, I thought I'd take a moment to write a bit about some important decisions that my husband and I made this year that have made a big impact on our happiness and overall well-being. While we didn't set these as New Year's resolutions (those always get broken, anyway), they are very relatable to some of the most common resolutions people make. I hope that our experiences can help you better understand some ways that have worked for us to save money, have more time, and be healthier.

1. We saved big time. This year, we easily could have splurged on several things like a new car, dinners out, and more vacations or weekend getaways. But we didn't. When I was hungry after a long day of work and desperately wanted to pick up In-n-out Burger, I came home and cooked something instead. We allowed ourselves one meal out a month (at about $50) and strived to do the rest of our eating at home. When we felt like we needed some time to disconnect and re-charge our batteries, we could have booked a hotel room at a nice hotel, but we went hiking instead. When birthdays came around, we went out to dinner and kept gifts out of the celebration. Oh, and in case you forgot, I did not buy any new clothes all year. We did not keep a specific budget but just aimed to spend as little money as possible. And I can't tell you how satisfying it is to see that number representing net worth grow and grow.

It's so easy to spend money and our culture does a good job of making you feel like you can't live life to the fullest if you're not spending money. But I've learned that that's not true. It's easier than you think to have fun while only spending money on gas, rent and groceries.

2. We cut cable. Around August, we started to notice that a lot of our free time after work was being spent "clearing the DVR". It was a never-ending battle to get the "space being used" number down to 0%. So we decided that once our current contract was up (in October), we would not renew. Our choice to get rid of cable TV was not a money-saving decision, but a decision about time. Since limiting our cable and thus, greatly reducing our TV-watching, I've found that we talk more at home, we have more free time and we get more sleep. In short, I don't miss having cable TV. Not one bit. (Disclosure: we do have Netflix, which allows us to enjoy movies and other great featured shows, on our time.)

3. We bought a juicer. In October, I caught wind of a documentary called "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead". Since we had cut cable earlier that month, I had the time to watch it on my laptop. The hubby heard sound bites of it while I was watching and, by the end, we both decided that juicing might be a great way to get more nutrients in our diet and, ultimately, get healthier. The hubs was looking to lose some baby weight and I had been battling little headaches which were getting seriously annoying. We decided to purchase this juicer (which we love) and made a trip to Costco to stock up on produce. We've since purchased large Mason jars which we use to store, transport and drink our juice.  I drink one every morning (along with a small breakfast) and hubby has replaced breakfast and dinner with juice.

In short, we feel great!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Destination: La Alhambra, Granada, Spain







In 2006, I had the marvelous experience to travel to Spain. I spent two months exploring the country and of all the places and things that I saw, my favorite destination was La Alhambra. I could spend all day in this incredible palace and fortress complex, which combines natural and artistic elements to create one of the most serene and romantic environments I've ever visited. Originally constructed during the mid-10th century by Arab ruler Badis ben Habus, La Alhambra is located in Granada, Spain which is part of the Andalusian region (my favorite area of Spain).

The Arab architecture combined with Christian influences creates such a beautiful motif. If you ever have the chance, please go there and plan to spend all day exploring this beautiful fortress.

Click on each photo to view the source. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vanilla Pudding Cinnamon Rolls


I've mentioned these cinnamon rolls once before on this blog, but they are so delicious that they deserve their own post. This year was the first Christmas morning that I woke up in my own apartment, with only my husband by my side. I knew I needed something to help make it special and cinnamon rolls would do the trick. The vanilla pudding in these rolls help keep them soft and scrumptious, just the way a proper cinnamon roll should be.

TIP: To enjoy a stress-free morning, make these up to 2 days ahead. Simply keep the rolled dough covered in the baking pan in the fridge until ready to bake. In the morning, all you'll need to do is pre-heat the oven and pop them in.


Vanilla Pudding Cinnamon Rolls
Yield: About 24 cinnamon rolls
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Rising Time: About 2 hours
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours

INGREDIENTS:

{for the dough}

1/2 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons active-dry yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
3.5 oz. package instant vanilla pudding
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
6+ cups flour*

{for the filling}

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups brown sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon

{for the frosting}

8 oz. cream cheese**
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups confectioner's sugar
2-3 Tablespoons milk

*If you'd like to increase the amount of fiber in your diet, use half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose flour. 
**For a healthier option, use neufchatel cheese.

DIRECTIONS:

In a small bowl, combine water, yeast, and sugar. Stir until dissolved and set aside. 

In a large bowl, take vanilla pudding mix and prepare according to package directions. Add butter, eggs, and salt. Mix well. Then add yeast mixture. Blend. Gradually add flour and knead until smooth, being careful not to overflour the dough. It should be very soft but not sticky. Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled. 

Once dough has doubled in size, divide into two equal parts. Roll dough onto a floured surface 17 x 21 inches in size. Take a half cup of softened butter and spread it over the dough. In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups brown sugar and 4 teaspoons cinnamon. Sprinkle half the mixture over the top. Roll up very tightly. With a knife, put a notch every 1 1/2 inches. Cut with thread or serrated knife. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet about about 1 inch apart. Repeat this process with the remaining dough. Cover rolls and let rise until doubled in size again.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Remove when they start to turn golden. (Do not overbake.) 

To make the frosting, combine butter and cream cheese and mix well, then add vanilla and sugar and mix again. Then add milk for desired consistency.

Frost warm rolls with cream cheese frosting. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from my home to yours! It's been a fabulous year at FEST and I'm so grateful to all of you lovely readers for your kindness and support. May you have a blessed and wonderful holiday.

XO,
Catherine

Friday, December 21, 2012

New Year's Eve Style

I still don't have plans for New Year's Eve. Every year, I imagine myself at a hip, rockin' party dancing the night away and every year I seem to end up at home or somewhere nearby, quietly celebrating the New Year with a simple kiss to Bradford and maybe a sparkly beverage. While quiet celebrations are nice, I'm kind of hoping the whole party thing works out this year. And if it does, I would love to show up wearing something like this. 

1. American Apparel Racerback Tank - $14.00
2. LA FEE VERTE Disco Blazer in Gold - $250.00
3. Kate Spade Black Stone Stud Earrings - $38.00
4. Joe's Jeans Leather Pants - $557.99 (or click here or here for two much less expensive options)
6. Kate Spade Terry in Cream/Gold/Black Patent $228.00

Scroll through the images below to see more FEST favorites for New Year's Eve. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wanderlust: Croatia

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's just about absolutely totally completely ready for this holiday break to come. I work in an industry that demands some crazy hours at times, weekend work, working from home, you name it, but there's one week every year that I can count on to re-charge my batteries: the week between Christmas and New Year's. My company closes their offices for this week and I think it's the greatest thing ever. I wish all corporate businesses did it.

While I won't be lounging on a beach during this break, I probably will be doing a whole lot of this. If I were on a beach, however, I'm pretty sure I'd want to be in Croatia. I think these photos will speak for themselves...
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Click on each photo to view the source.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Red Velvet Peppermint Crinkle Cookies

I typically try to space out my food posts on FEST, but the holiday season provides so much opportunity for good, seasonal food, I just can't help myself. 
These cookies are amazing! I love discovering new things (which is probably what spawns my love of cooking) and this is a new discovery of a mixture of lovely things (peppermint, red velvet, cookies). Such a beautiful, delicious, holiday-rific treat! 

Red Velvet Peppermint Crinkle Cookies
Makes about 30
Prep Time: about 30 minutes
Bake Time: about 30 minutes
Total Time: about 1 hour

INGREDIENTS:

1 box red velvet cake mix (I used Duncan Hines)
6 Tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy or candy canes (about 6 large candy canes or 20 small ones)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, crush the candy canes. (I find it easiest to use the mini candy canes that are individually wrapped...keep them in their packaging so you don't make a big mess. If you only have big candy canes, unwrap them and place them in a plastic bag. Then use a meat mallet and whack away!)

In a large bowl, mix together the cake mix, cooled butter, eggs, and peppermint extract. Add in the crushed peppermint and stir. The dough should be very thick. 

In a shallow dish, mix together the powdered sugar and cornstarch with a fork. 

Form dough into balls and cover with powdered sugar mixture. Place on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for 9-11 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. 

Plate up and serve or give away as gifts.
Merry Christmas!!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Traditional Enchiladas

Traditional Enchiladas Traditional Enchiladas
Over the last two weeks, I've made 2 meals. And both meals have been enchiladas. I've discovered that enchiladas are one of the easier meals to make, so long as you have tortillas, cheese, and sauce. (If you happen to have chicken, rice, beans and salsa, that doesn't hurt either.) Warning: this recipe is a a "by gosh and by golly" recipe, meaning there are no specific amounts. Just do what you feel.

INGREDIENTS:

about 2 cups enchilada sauce
tortillas
Mexican cheese
shredded chicken
black beans
cooked rice
salsa (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together chicken, rice, beans, cheese, salsa (if using) and enchilada sauce (reserve about 1/2 cup for topping). Use whatever ratio you like here. If you're a cheesy person (like me), load up on the cheese. Want more protein? Chock this mixture full of chicken.

Using a spoon, spread a layer of enchilada sauce on the bottom of a pan. Place a large spoonful of chicken mixture onto the middle of a tortilla and roll it tightly. Place, seam-side down into the pan. Repeat until the pan is full. Top all enchiladas with remaining enchilada  sauce and cover with cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes, until all the cheese is melted.

Enjoy!

Enchilada Sauce

Enchilada Sauce
From allrecipes.com
Yield: about 3 cups
Time: about 10 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup chili powder
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion salt
salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil in a medium skilled over medium-high heat. Stir in flour and chili powder, reduce heat to medium, and cook until lightly brown, stirring constantly to prevent burning flour.

Gradually stir in tomato sauce, water, cumin, garlic powder and onion salt into the flour and chili powder until smooth and continue cooking iver medium heat, approximately 10 minutes, or until thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Baby, It's Cold Outside

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It's finally starting to feel like winter here in LA and it's nice to bring out some of my winter clothes out from hiding. There's something so comforting about long sleeves and beanies. The only thing missing from this picture is a warm cup of hot cocoa.




Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake

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This spiced pumpkin cheesecake accompanied our amazing apple-cranberry pie for our Thanksgiving dessert and it was perfect. If you're looking for some good ole' holiday comfort, go ahead and whip up this cheesecake (it's much easier than it sounds), serve it to some friends, then eat the rest for breafast. (At least, that's what I did.)

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake
From Real Simple, November 2012 Issue
Yield: one 9-inch cheesecake
Total Time: 6 hours

INGREDIENTS:

4 ounces gingersnaps (about 18)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Nonstick cooking spray, for the sides of the pan
4 8-ounce bars cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 15-oz can pure pumpkin puree
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the gingersnaps until fine crumbs form (you should have about 1 cup). Add the butter and pulse to combine. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (preferably nonstick), using a straight-sided dry measuring cup to help. Spray the sides of the pan lightly with the cooking spray. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar on medium until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and salt and beat to combine. Add the pumpkin and beat to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until set but still slightly wobbly in the center, 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours. (Tent loosely with foil if the top becomes too dark.)

Let cool completely in the pan, then refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake to loosen, then unmold.

Just before serving, using an electric mixer, beat the cream, sour cream, and confectioners' sugar until soft peaks form. Dollop on the cheesecake and dust with cinnamon.

To Prep Ahead: The cheesecake can be baked up to 2 days in advance (do not top with the sour cream mixture); refrigerate, covered.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Camping

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Today I'd like to talk a bit about camping. Are you into it? Growing up, my family never went camping but as an adult, I quite enjoy it. I've learned that the most important thing to consider while camping is where and how you sleep. Plan your camping trip so that you can sleep well, even if it means bringing along your down comforter. If you can sustain a full night's rest, waking up in the morning to the fresh scent of mountain air will feel unbelievable.

P.S. Have you heard of "glamping"? Would you ever try it?

Click on each photo to view the source. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Layers & Stripes

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Shirt: Gap, Jeans: Brass Plum (similar), Shoes: Vans, Jacket: J. Crew (similar), Belt: H&M (similar), Scarf: H&M (similar), Watch: Nixon

A change of seasons is the perfect way to refresh your wardrobe without needing to make a trip to the mall. All of the pieces featured here can be worn separately in the summertime but when winter comes, I can combine them for a whole new look. On a side note, it's amazing how warm long-sleeve shirts can keep you. Wowzers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Baked Italian Chicken & Pastina

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I love the smell of Italian food in my kitchen. It warms up the house and the aroma just feels like family. This pasta has become a staple dish in my home. It comes together quite easily and it always tastes amazing--one of those "grub" meals that just tastes good and fills your belly. It also uses ingredients that I usually always have on hand. Double-score!


Baked Italian Chicken & Pastina
Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 45 min
Total Time: 1 hour

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups pastina pasta (or any small pasta - I used whole wheat shells)
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (may substitute with 1/4 cup dried parsley or other Italian herbs)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook just until tender, stirring occasionally, about  5 minutes. Drain pasta and place in a large mixing bowl. 

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes more. 

Add the chicken mixture to the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Place the mixture in a buttered baking dish. (9" x 13" or similar in size will do.) 

In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden-brown, about 30 minutes.

Buona Vita!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wanderlust: Pacific Coast Highway

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This Christmas break, Bradford and I are meeting up with family in Northern California and we're playing with the idea of taking Pacific Coast Highway (also known as PCH and Highway 1) all the way up to San Francisco. It's a much longer drive than taking the more commonly-driven 5, but it is oh-so-beautiful. Everyone I've talked to says you have to do it at least once in your lifetime and I'm thinking this might be the perfect opportunity. Just look at all those amazing views of the Pacific!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Smiles

I hope you are having a lovely weekend. I'm working on finishing up my Christmas decorations and preparing for a Holiday Cookie Exchange we're hosting next weekend.

Here are some links from around the web that made me smile this week.

Hey, It's Christmas! - Vol. 3 is out!

I love these jammies. (Please, J. Crew, can you make them in tall size?)

Snow Cocoa.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Grow fresh herbs in your kitchen!

19 people who are having a worse day than you.

Photo via

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Gift for You

Elf Christmas Printable
This year, I wanted to find a way to incorporate one of my favorite movie quotes into my Christmas decor so I designed this "Elf" Christmas poster that now hangs proudly in my home, just above little Santa.

As a Christmas gift to all my readers, I'd like to offer this poster as a free download. Simply click on the link below to receive your gift.


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{Christmas cheer hanging in my home}

Thank you for your wonderful support and loyal following. Happy Holidays!