There’s a steaming mug of spiced cider and a Christmas movie on TV calling my name, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Searching for gifts is my favorite part of the holiday season (tied with the delicious food, cozy time with my family, pretty lights everywhere and old timey music). I love finding the perfect present for someone I love, wrapping it up and placing it under the tree, then seeing their reaction when they open up a unique, heartfelt and useful gift. Every gift idea in this guide checks those requirements, and every purchase supports independent brands and the talented makers behind them.
To get you started on your shopping, these are my picks for a few of the special people in your life: the epicure, the best friend, the homebody, the gentleman and the new mama. I hope this guide makes gift shopping, and supporting small businesses, a little easier this year. Happy holidays!
Happy almost spring, everybody! Yesterday the sun was shining in Portland and little bulb leaves were popping out of the ground in my front yard. Of course, as I write this, freezing rain is coming down in sheets and the wind is whipping. What!? No matter what the weather says, the months are moving along and February is here, which makes me happy because P’s birthday is next week and we’ll be celebrating our wedding anniversary toward the end of the month. Notice I didn’t mention Valentine’s Day? We’ve never celebrated it, but not for any particular reason. Maybe because I eat enough chocolate as it is? Things just might change this year now that I can confidently arrange my own flowers, thanks to a morning spent with the lovely Saria Dy of Rue Anafel.
Saria specializes in old world florals that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dutch oil painting and are uniquely beautiful in the modern world. The arrangement she crafted for this post utilizes fresh and dried flowers, as well as foraged bits from around town. I’ve always thought of big, lush florals as something only for special occasions because they tend to be expensive to put together. It turns out they don’t have to be; by using foraged greenery and branches, and inexpensive flowers that are still show stoppers (these carnations!), you can make a gorgeous arrangement on any budget. Before I hand the reins over the Saria for the how-to, I want to mention she’s taken 20% off her shop through Valentine’s Day (the code is BELOVEDCOMMUNITY), and will also be giving 20% of proceeds to a worthy cause. If you’re not local, you can order one of her everlasting bouquets and she’ll send it your way. Go have a look!
I know it’s still January, but I already have one foot in spring. Today was a balmy 46º and the little bit of sun peeking through the clouds had me dreaming about the coming spring. I have big plans this year involving waterfalls and sweeping views – yeah, I’m talking about hiking! I’m a little ashamed to admit just how sedentary I’ve been this winter. Back when I worked in downtown Portland, I’d use my hour long lunch break to go on brisk walks, ensuring at least moderate exercise on a daily basis. These days, though… does walking from my couch/desk set up to the kitchen for another cup of tea count as exercise? Suffice it to say I need to spend some time stretching my limbs and working my muscles before I’ll be ready for any spring treks. Likewise, my skin is out of shape; it’s always a tad on the dry side, but in the winter it’s like paper. That’s why, toward the end of every winter, I start using this rejuvenating winter facial scrub.
What makes this a winter scrub, you ask? Two things: first, it has fresh squeezed winter grapefruit juice which is both astringent and loaded with skin-friendly vitamins; second, because it does double duty as an exfoliator and moisturizer, which we can all use by winter’s end. The coarse sugar in the scrub sloughs off dry, flaky skin while the olive oil gives your skin an ample dose of moisture at the same time. I’m not exaggerating when I say one use is the difference between dull winter skin and silky, dewy spring skin. The scrub has just three ingredients – sugar, olive oil and grapefruit juice – and chances are you have them all in your kitchen already. My skin isn’t picky, but my sister has very sensitive skin and she uses my scrub all the time without any redness or flare ups. Oh and it smells deliciously rich and naturally fruity; another little taste of spring for ya! Read on for the recipe and a making-of stop motion, too. Continue Reading
‘Tis the season of holiday gatherings with friends, family and coworkers. I always like to take a little something to thank the host for inviting me into their home for festivities, and chocolates seem to be a traditional and crowd pleasing gift. Increasingly though, I’ve noticed that invitations specifically ask guests not to bring the hosts sweets. And I get that. For those of us trying to cut back on sugar or maintain a healthy diet, having truffles and fudge and cookies within reach all December long is the worst kind of torture! So out of consideration for my sweets-averse friends and family, I’ve been bringing bundles of these painted cork coasters to holiday gatherings instead. I made a bunch of them early in the month and have simply tied a handful together with twine as needed. Throw in a bottle of wine or a nice aperitif, and you’ve got a lovely hostess gift! They’d make a great stocking stuffer, too.
You can make the coasters any shape you like, pick any color scheme and get creative with patterns. But before you get started there are a few rules to bear in mind that will make your finished coasters look like something from a holiday market rather than a kids craft table (like my first couple, whoops!). First, skip the cork that comes in a big roll from the craft store. It’s nearly impossible to get it to lie flat, which sort of interferes with the functionality of a coaster. I used pre-cut cork tiles instead and they work like a charm. If you have sharp scissors and a careful cutting hand, circle shapes are possible to achieve but if you lack either of the above, try sticking to angular shapes like hexagons. They’re easier to cut out cleanly. Lastly, make sure to paint at least three coats. Since cork is porous and bumpy, it takes a good amount of paint before your designs really stand out. Continue Reading
Bisou turned four years old on December 1, or sometime thereabouts. Since Bisou is a rescue cat, we’re not sure of her exact birthday, but December 1, 2013 was the day she turned up at the humane society looking about a year old, so it’s the day we’ve celebrated each year since then. I can’t believe she’s been with me three years. On one hand, the time has flown by, but on the other, so much has changed since then it seems like much longer. Just days after I adopted Bisou, we met her dad/my future husband. P and I have since gotten engaged and married, he’s finished grad school and started a challenging career in education, and I’ve started working as a photographer. Bisou has been the center of our universe through it all, and it’s entirely thanks to her that I’ve embarked on this career path. She’s my muse and favorite subject, and the feedback my lovely readers gave me on early pictures of Bisou gave me the drive to hone my craft. All in all, I owe a lot of the best things in my life to Bisou, so I decided to show her how much I adore her by baking her a kitty sized birthday cake.
The cake is incredibly simple to make, and your cat is sure to love it because their favorite wet food is the main ingredient! All it takes is three ingredients and some catnip sprinkles for decoration. Bisou and I were anxious to get the cake out of the pan – to eat it and to start shooting it, respectively – and I didn’t let it cool down enough, so it came out a bit dented and lopsided. Bisou didn’t seem to mind though, and if you’re more patient than us you should end up with a perfectly formed little cat cake! The texture was dense yet fluffy and spongey, just as cake should be. It’s soft enough that it’s nice and easy for cats to pull apart with their teeth if you let yours dig in to a whole cake. Give it a try for your cat’s next birthday or special occasion, and let us know how it turns out!