Wednesday, December 19, 2018

2018 Wine Club Christmas

Christmas season is in full swing and our dance cards have been packed with parties and get-togethers. I again had the chance to host Wine Club Christmas last week and we had a lovely time! Here are some snapshots from the night, along with some recipe links to the delicious treats we ate.

I set the table with a red striped runner and these very, very cute scalloped-edge napkins from Target. Wherever I go, red, white and blue always seem to pop up.

I love any excuse to bust out all the blue and white china I've collected over the past few years, and show off my handmade mug collection. Using storebought puff pastry, I made two types of breadsticks (both delicious!) based on this Martha Stewart recipe. It was so easy peasy! One batch was parmesan and cayenne pepper, while the other was Everything seasoned.

I welcomed our guests with some good old-fashioned Glogg (that has to be one of the most fun words to say out loud) — wine mulled with spices and served warm.

I did some prep but Sean did the heavy lifting, so here's a great shot of me wearing my mom's apron while Sean does all the work.

My favorite Pinterest-sourced idea: a Christmas tree veggie tray! I used a cookie cutter to trim slices of cheddar into stars and then laid some pretzel sticks to form a trunk.

I also served my very first hard-but-worth-it sugar cookies with royal icing (these deserve a whole separate post). I used this Tasty recipe for the cookies and bought royal icing mix, just to make the whole process a little easier for a newbie. I may have lost my mind and made custom icing colors matched to my gift wrapping scheme because...well, I'm a little bit extra.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the piece de resistance, so here's an old screengrab from an Insta Story: Sean's extra delicious Bucatini Amatriciana with crispy prosciutto. He's made it twice now and it is a bonafide HIT and everyone in Wine Club loved it.

And as if all that wasn't enough, I also tested my baking skill and made this hot cocoa cheesecake, which required a water bath that — of course — seeped a little bit in at the bottom and maybe made my crust too soft. You can't win 'em all, but the cheesecake itself (topped with a layer of ganache) was perfect.

It was a wonderful night of fellowship with my best gals to close out our NINTH year. Obviously we have to make 2019 a truly baller year befitting our decade of monthly get-togethers!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Christmas Wrapping Scheme 2018

The holidays turn my Martha Stewart-wannabe levels up to 11, and wrapping presents is no exception. I'm now in my 12th year of choosing a wrapping scheme and running with it! I started doing this my first Christmas after college and it's such a fun little design challenge for my brain to see how many combinations I can create from a tight color or pattern scheme.

This year's scheme is — drum roll here — GREEN AND PINK! I had this vision in my mind of a Wes Andersonian color scheme of variations of mossy green and bubblegum pink, with accents of gold. It took me a minute to realize apparently "The Royal Tenenbaums" title card has imprinted on my brain!

The idea sprung from a roll of peachy-pink floral paper designed by Kelsey Garrity Riley that I picked up at O'Suzannah in Charlottesville, one of my all-time favorite gift and stationary stores. From there, I picked up beautiful marbled green and pink papers, plus watercolor greenery paper, at Paper Source. I found the polka dot green paper at Target and the perfect bubblegum pink at Dollar Tree.

My very favorite part of wrapping, however, is getting very frisky with the trimmings. I picked up a spool of pale pink velvet ribbon at Target, dip-dyed green ribbon and moss satin ribbon from Michael's, and pink sequin trim, pale pink vine and olive ribbon at Hobby Lobby. In the scrapbooking section, I found a bag of gold tassels for $2.99.

Check the detail on that marbling! So pretty.

Wrapping presents is truly one of my favorite parts of this season. I totally zen out wrapping, drinking eggnog and watching cheesy Netflix Christmas movies in my Terrific Lady Room (my version of a man cave). May I recommend "Christmas With a View" starring nobodies, alongside Vivica A. Fox and Patrick Duffy?

See previous wrapping schemes:

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Birthday Weekend: Crafts Galore and Winesgiving 2018

Call me Priyanka Chopra because I was basically super busy globe-trotting (or...Virginia-trotting) for all of November and life ain't slowing down one bit. I had a truly wonderful birthday full of friends and laughter this year and thought I'd share a few pics of our celebrations!

Amber's Favorite Things Birthday

One of my lifelong icons is Oprah, and I love the audacity of her Favorite Things. Jokingly, I said I wanted to have an Oprah-themed birthday inspired by Amber's Favorite Things and thus, my birthday party theme was born. When I thought about it, my favorite things are: breakfast pastries, crafting, mimosas and girl time. So, I invited my girlfriends over for a crafternoon brunch!

The dress code was "luxurious loungewear" and I ordered beautiful pastries from May's Parlor in Virginia Beach. The only food I had to "make" were the straight-from-Pinterest baguette cups filled with hummus and bell peppers.

My handmade mug collection ready for duty.

My sweet friend Kate brought her espresso machine over and made lattes to order for everyone (what a rockstar!).

Once the living room was set up for crafting, it basically looked like I'm running an at-home preschool art program. I was truly shocked to find out I had more art supplies to share than I could put out on one table — I have a hobby problem.

I even took a cue from Oprah and hid a few of my "favorite things" as party favors around the room. We had an impromptu scavenger hunt and people got to take home some of my iconic faves: Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers, orange Tic Tacs, Sour Patch Kids, and more.

For my craft, I ultimately just practiced my watercolor brush lettering and added some words to a friend's moon and stars paintings.

A couple friends made wreaths, like Ashleigh's winter showstopper here...

And Kate even taught herself some origami from YouTube!

It was such a fun day of just gabbing and crafting, and I honestly might want to do that quarterly.

Winesgiving 2018

The very next day, Wine Club convened for what is arguably our favorite "wine club" day of the year: Winesgiving! We introduced Winesgiving maybe five years ago and it is basically the Thanksgiving of my dreams. We all pile into cars and convene at The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg, where we collectively spend approximately $200 on gourmet sandwiches, cheeses, jams, crackers, cookies, chocolate and whatever random foods we can't resist. We stock up on our favorite snack: Torres black truffle potato chips. And then we set out for a winery to partake in wine, cheese and fellowship!

This year we ventured again to Gauthier Vineyard in New Kent County, which has a beautiful lake view and fantastic fire pit!

Stacie surprised us with matching wine tumblers that all said "#winesgiving" and we were arguably the most obnoxious clique to ever take over a winery.

It was a fantastic cap to an excellent birthday and I couldn't be more grateful for the friendship and fellowship that enriches my life. As I've aged, I've realized how rare it is to forge deep connections to form and maintain adult friendships, but I've been exceptionally lucky to have found so many members of my tribe. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Halloween Fun 2018: Breakfast at Tiffany's

Sometimes your friend texts you and says, "For Halloween we should go as 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' except I'll be breakfast and you be Tiffany's" and the idea is so clever and original, you type YES before you have a minute to think about how you'll embody a brand. But that's what happened this year and the costume turned out to be one of my favorites. It was shockingly easy to execute, thanks to a particularly well-stocked craft store near my office.

It wouldn't be Halloween without Hallowino, one of our most sacred Wine Club holidays. Lauren is, as always, the hostest with the mostest and always thinks of every little detail.

This year, our costumes included: Breakfast at Tiffany's (Ashleigh and I), Edward Scissorhands (Lauren), Cocktail Party Cinderella (Stacie) and Catwoman (Melissa). 

Our spooooooky feast included meatball subs, a pasta salad and poison candy apples (the sugar was actually burnt so they did accidentally taste a bit like poison, lol).

Edward Scissorhands with her spread.

Lauren blew my simple mind with this simple trick for an extra fun pasta salad: she soaked the cooked pasta in water with food coloring! The colors really popped and it made such a big impact for such an easy hack.

As always, we brought our scary-label wines and for the first time ever in the history of Wine Club, Ashleigh and I brought the same bottle. Disasters! But, it was good, so no harm. We sipped on:

  • HobNob Red Blend: A smooth red blend with notes of coffee, mocha, hazelnut and hints of orange. We've had it before and always enjoyed it!
  • Cloud Break Black Cloud: A classic red blend with notes of cherry and dark fruit, plus a touch of oak. 
  • Intrinsic Cabernet Sauvignon: A silky red blend with hints of blueberry, pomegranate and chocolate. 

And Melissa made her own spooky label with the help of her crafty four-year-old! Very cute party idea to steal in the future.

Just your regular cocktail gal pals, Catwoman and Cinderella.

Ashleigh supplied Stacie with a mermaid costume bib for her baby, and we had a good laugh having her baby digitally model it so we could get the full image.

Closer to the actual holiday, we went to our favorite Halloween house party where the hosts truly deck out the house and every guest takes the dress code seriously. Here's how we made our costumes:

  • Breakfast: Ashleigh ordered felt breakfast items from Etsy, including waffles, eggs, toast with jam and pancakes and pinned them to a black dress she already had. She made a headband with a felt donut to top off the look.
  • Tiffany's: I originally wanted to make a Tiffany's box, but realized it would be impossible to move around the party, sit or dance. My local craft store happened to stock foamboard in this exact color, so I grabbed that then trotted over to the scrapbooking section, where I found alphabet stickers in a similar font (I drew the ampersand). Then, I wandered through the applique aisle and they happened to have a sequin diamond ring applique, so I bought that and ironed it onto a blue headband. I decided to be a gift bag, so all I had to add was ribbon and tissue paper, slide into my gold sequin flats and BOOM, I was a gift from Tiffany's. 

Ashleigh and I have done a couples' costume for six years now, so we're aiming for ten and then we'll try to get on the Ellen Show or something. It was a most excellent Halloween season!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Fashion Review: Emmys 2018

I've had a long list of reasons I'd like to boycott the NFL, from its complacency with abuse toward women to its slow move toward addressing the inherent dangers of the game, but you can now add to the list: when football affects MY life because the Emmy's are moved to Monday to accommodate it. NOT. COOL. As a result, I missed the damn red carpet because I had barely made it home from work.

But never fear, the internet is here. I was able to get a peek at some of the best and worst fashions and, as is our custom, we'll debrief. On the whole, everyone looked mostly nice. A few standouts on the best and worst ends of the spectrum, but the vast majority of people landed squarely in the middle Let's discuss, shall we?

Best Dressed

Thandie Newton glided across the Emmy stage like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face in this bubblegum Brandon Maxwell dress. Perfectly cut, spectacular color for her complexion and definitely befitting a winner. I was reminded that when she was a hot new girl in Hollywood and was cast for a very misguided remake of Charade, I could very much get Audrey vibes from her easy elegance. Still true.

The depth of the pleating and gorgeous draping of this scarlet Oscar de la Renta gown on Rachel Brosnahan is just breathtaking. Her makeup and accessories were perfect. Just when you think you've seen all the red dresses on the planet, this one really blew me away for its subtle and elegant details.

There was a time when I probably would have turned my nose up at Tracee Ellis Ross's hot pink Valentino duvet, but this girl can just about pull off anything. The color pops, but what really shines is her clear joie de vivre. The drape on the pillowy bodice looks perfectly imperfect — the kind of detail you know it took five tries for the atelier to get right. 

Constance Wu is a bonafide movie star and it's about damn time! I am very excited to see how her fashion options explode now that she's got that Crazy Rich Asians fame. She chose this edgy yet timeless gunmetal sequined Jason Wu gown and could not have signaled more proudly: I'm ready to lead all your best projects.

Allison Janney capped a spectacular 2018 awards show fashion run with a bright purple Prabal Gurung sequined drapey number that looked fit for a high fashion challenge on Pose — in the best way. She manages to somehow make purple sequins and bright green earrings look casual, like something she just threw on because she got invited to this party or something?

I'm here for the Sandra Oh-issance! Although her red velvet Ralph & Russo gown appeared a little bit wrinkly, I thought the cut, ruby color and trim were perfect, and I was just really happy to see her getting her due. Also, her adorable mom wore a traditional hanbok and everyone was obsessed.

Penelope Cruz took a page out of the Penelope Cruz Playbook and wore a fluffy, feathered white Chanel gown fit for a princess. In all honestly, I find this kind of boring specifically for her because I feel like she's been wearing some version of this to every awards show for 15 years, BUT it ain't broke, so why the hell fix it? I was somewhat stunned she didn't wear Versace, however, considering she was nominated for playing Donatella Versace. We're wondering if there's bad blood there since the family (predictably) did not love the show?

I just love this simple green pleated fit-for-the-disco Dior Haute Couture gown on Dakota Fanning. The shade is perfect to make her eyes pop, it's different but not overly bizarre. She just looks effortlessly chic and ready to tear up the dance floor.

Who me? Judith Light? Boss of our Hearts? Yes, I guess I am completely pulling off a Big Bird-yellow turtleneck Christian Siriano dress. It doesn't make sense, but what does, darling? 

For more shots of Judith Light absolutely owning red carpets, please waste some time here

Longtime readers know I'm a longtime not-fan of Jessica Biel, but even I can admit I'm proud of her for creating an edgy role for her damn self with The Sinner AND her fashions of late have been notably improved. I love the geometric pattern and delicate wave of this gauzy white Ralph & Russo gown. Pairing it with mermaid waves and a simple pink lip was also a great judgment call.

I can count on my hand the number of times I liked an outfit on Scarlett Johansson and it just figures that she'd look THE BEST she's looked in years when she was the date of the host, rather than a nominee or presenter. The fit on this Balmain bodice is — POW — knock-your-socks-off perfection. Paired with the ultra-modern silver shoe and her cool-girl short hair, she looked like a very edgy glamorous surfer girl. 

The always gorgeous Samira Wiley shone especially bright in this silver sequined Jenny Packham gown with swingy diamond earrings. It's timeless, attention-grabbing and perfect for her.

Hand on my heart, I will never turn my back on a swath of dark fabric studded with rhinestones like a starry night. I'm just a sucker for it. Angela Sarafyan of Westworld shot her shot and grabbed plenty of attention in this Christian Siriano, even if it was impossible to do a pesky little thing like sit.

I may never get over Keri Russell being robbed of a damn Emmy for The Americans, but at least she'll haunt everyone's memories with regret as the embodiment of a sexy raven in this Zuhair Murad feathered gown. Her smokey eye is iconic perfection, and don't even talk to me about these champagne strappy sandals. 

I mean, I know what you're thinking. What kind of rhyme and reason am I applying here to measure good and bad when I'm going to bump Leslie Jones in a unicorn Christian Siriano suit to my "best" list? But when someone attempts a triple salchow and sticks the landing, who am I to deduct points? This works.


Regina King is a damn veteran who deserves all the awards AND trots around in chartreuse couture like it ain't no thing. She glowed in this Christian Siriano gown. The only thing keeping me from nudging it into the "best" column was the bodice, which isn't sitting quite the way I think it's supposed to.

We can all agree Mandy Moore basically always looks good and always has looked good. This custom Rodarte is pretty, but it didn't take my breath away. I think that length is hard for anyone to pull off and I actually got slight Bachelor contestant vibes from the overall look and styling.

If you haven't watched Orange is the New Black or The Handmaid's Tale, you might not recognize Madeline Brewer. Trust me, she's fantastic. It was exciting to see her trade her Handmaid uniform for the Sophia Loren-style drama and glamour of this Brock Collection gown. I'm excited to see her star rise (hopefully).

Yara Shahidi looked like the cute ingenue she is in this petal pink, slinky Gucci gown that somehow made her glow more than she already does.

I really waffled on whether or not to bump Sarah Paulson's Black Swan look to "best" because it checks basically all my boxes: glamorous black, ballerina bun, vampy lip, perfect accessories. But it's not a particularly exciting or revelatory look and let's be honest, I'd like this dress on literally anyone.

I had been getting a little concerned about Millie Bobby Brown growing up too damn fast and looking too damn adult and then she popped out in this perfect-for-14 Calvin Klein dress. The shade of millennial pink + the graphic rose pattern + delicate little bows perfectly straddled the line between couture and cute. 

I looooove Zazie Beetz on Atlanta and always marvel how beautiful she is with basically no makeup and wearing sweats. She looked especially regal in this rust velvet Ralph Lauren gown dripping in jewels. She might as well be a princess.

Issa Rae looks lovely in this ice blue formal pantsuity gown thing by Vera Wang. Will I ever be 100% on board with pantsuity gown things? I don't know. I like this just fine, but it felt like a Lupita Nyong'o dress turned into pants and I just can't get excited. 

Vanessa Kirby did not come to play in this blush Tom Ford bustier gown. This femme fatale look screams "I can wield a knife in Mission Impossible and a gimlet in The Crown and I can interchangeably go from brunette to blonde, so my career is full speed ahead and you might want to move aside." The fit is incredible.

I'm on the Fence

I appreciate Taraji P. Henson's commitment to risk-taking. She never, ever bores me — even when I don't think her looks are 100% successful. This Giambattista Valli has me a bit on the fence. It's just a LOT of look — florals and lace and a train and a high neck and a short skirt and sheer fabric. Maybe I'm being picky? You tell me.

Part of me admires Evan Rachel Wood's ongoing commitment to wearing black for the Time's Up movement and her consistent spin on traditional menswear details, but this feels a little eensy bit repetitive. 

On anyone else, in any other context, this would be a solid "nope" from me, but dammit Tiffany Haddish just looked so, so happy in her Prabal Gurung gown. I would definitely love it more if it were a full-on rainbow spectrum, rather than just the colors you'd see on a gym class parachute, but apparently it's inspired by the Eritrean flag of her roots.

I was not inclined to like Michelle Dockery's 1970s prom dress. I'm pretty positive my grandma had towels with the exact same peach floral applique. But she looks this delighted in every single picture and that's infectious.

I truly cannot decide if this neon lime and black Christian Siriano pantsuit on Tatiana Maslany is a home run or a bunt. I think it's good? But it maybe makes her look really short? But the color is so fun? And she looks so happy. It may actually be very chic. 


Chrissy Teigen's Zuhair Murad gown just felt a little aging showgirl to me. I would love it on Carol Channing. On Chrissy, I found it kind of YAWN. I'd love to see her in a bright color.

Kristen Bell looked like a modern, elegant Grace Kelly in this Solace London column gown. It's one of her best looks, but I wouldn't say one of THE best of the night.

I feel like I have to retrain my eyes when I look at this sheer Dior gown on Emilia Clarke. Yes, she's artfully covered, but you know...I'm still distracted. The design itself, of Old World floral panels, feels incongruous with the sheer lace. I'm just not swayed either way.

Ellie Kemper is inching — inching I tell you — toward finding a style that works for her. She clearly likes quirky, but she has yet to wear something that I just loved on her. I like the coral color and LOVE the earrings, but this J. Mendel feels like a sea anemone waving underwater.

Claire Foy legit looks like she's shivering in this deceptively simple Calvin Klein dress. It's nice. I'd wear it to an opening event for sure. It felt a little boring for the Emmy's, though.

Alison Brie has been a fun risk-taker in the past couple years and is extraordinarily versatile — like Sarah Paulson, she can swing from disco diva to 1940's starlet in a blink. But this citron Miu Miu is really underwhelming. It's not as daring as I think she imagines it is, it's not particularly interesting and the fabric seems stiff.

Alison's GLOW co-star Betty Gilpin coincidentally ended up also wearing another modern-yet-ill-fitting Vera Wang dress that, by the look on her face, didn't even thrill her.

The glorious queen of my heart Maya Rudolph unfortunately never kills it on the red carpet. I'd love to see that rectified, because this formal Christmas paralegal look is just not right. It's not terrible. It's not good. It just is.

And inevitably Elisabeth Moss, a staple of my "meh" list for at least a decade, also phoned it in with a rather ho-hum black bustier cocktail dress that truly might just be underpinnings. Girl, you're a freaking star now, turn it up!

There are my imaginary besties Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson and they are so, so cute, but these looks need some work. I like the general gist of Ilana's, but it manages to make her look like a shorty and probably could have been a touch more supportive to the girls. Despite her perfect hair, Abbi looks quite a bit like a state fair butter queen. I'll give them a B for effort.


I my heart, I'm against athleisure at formal events. But I can never turn my back on the ever-fabulous Jenifer Lewis making a political statement. If you ever need proof that she's a treasure, watch her promote her book


I'm fairly positive Alexis Bledel's Delpozo gown must have been designed by a first-grader, because it looks very much like something I'd expect to see on a Cupcake Doll (do you remember these?!). The yellow and pink pastels are just too saccharine for my taste, and the embellishments felt tacked on as an afterthought. Emily Gilmore would NOT approve.

Bledel's Handmaid's Tale co-star Yvonne Strahovski looked so luminous and pretty, minus the awful dress. Her brocade gown by Warm NY honestly looks like a silky robe worn backwards, and a luminous pregnant lady deserves better. Morticia Addams would take a pass on this dress.

My girl Tina is so rarely adventurous in fashion and then when she randomly steps out, it's always just enough off to not really work. This Elie Saab multicolor sequined black gown would probably sing if it shed a few frills and accessories. It's like a disco negligee cinched with a Puritan's belt.

You could pay me $500 and I would not have been able to identify this actress. It's Susan Kelechi Watson of This is Us, but her high side pony could have convinced me this was some teeny bop Disney star and her oversized slouchy pink pantsuit looks like it was stolen from a Steve Harvey's closet.

Speaking of crazy pantsuits, Amanda Crew (of Silicon Valley) dressed like the forgotten Business Spice Girl, ready to give a PowerPoint presentation, then ditch her blazer and pound out the choreography to "Say You'll Be There."

We're living in a magical time of true fashion experimentation from men, and it is delightful. But Karamo looks like a legit Hogwarts Professor of Personal Branding in this gold-trimmed cropped Dumbledore robe topping a burgundy pantsuit tucked into some seriously fitted knee-high boots. Tell me he wasn't sweating all night in this.

Maika Monroe (a.ka. fake Kristen Cavallari) looks like her bustline is a weeping willow in this Stella McCartney pantsuit. It's really not that bad, but the idea of crotch-length fringe on a pantsuit with cutouts just seems objectionable.

Alison Sudol is like a Stars They're Just Like Us column in this Nina Ricci gown. Their hair gets windblown and messy! They dress up as Princess Leia! They wear their job interview black pumps in a pinch!

Amy Sedaris is my queen and let's be real, this is a fun level of kooky that is commensurate with her kooky experience. But for us mere mortals, this is what we'd call "stumpifying," i.e. this hem is the enemy of the short person. The drop-waist line looks like a row of loofahs, and I'm deeply distracted by the flopsy bows on her shoes that look like a tripping hazard. It's like a formal look for Lucy Van Pelt from Peanuts. But, you know, it's Amy Sedaris and she can do whatever she wants.

God bless Samantha Bee, but this kobalt blue-and-gold matronly robe gown is somewhere between cruise director and a flight attendant madam. It's a feminine take on the Beast's formalwear in Beauty and the Beast.

That's it for me, folks!