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!
As I write this post, I am trembling with excitement because P and I went house shopping today and stumbled across our dream home. Eeee!! I’m trying really, really hard not to get my hopes up about the house because everyone we know in Portland who’s bought a house recently has gone through several rejected offers before securing a home. Before we started this process we promised each other we wouldn’t get attached to any houses, but I just have a feeling about this place. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe that sometimes things align in your life with perfect timing and you know when it’s happening because everything feels right. Do you know what I mean? It’s the same feeling I had when I met P and knew immediately that he was my person for life. Eeeeeee! Now that that’s out of my system, I’m brewing some herbal tea and cutting myself a piece of P’s leftover birthday cake to calm down.
While we’re talking about cake, I’ve been meaning to share this super simple yet incredibly delicious blood orange olive oil cake. It’s airy and moist and not too sweet, with a citrusy zing and the prettiest pink glaze I ever did see. Since it’s made with olive oil instead of butter, the only fats it has are the wholesome, healthful kind. My mom came over and reluctantly tried some – she’s not much of a sweet tooth – and immediately asked for a second slice. Yesterday she called and asked me to make it for her birthday in June. It’s officially a winner! You’ll want to make this one before blood oranges disappear for the winter if you’re like me and you’re currently hooked on everything pink, but even after they’re gone this would be tasty with any regular orange, too. Let me know how it turns out if you try it!
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
Late last week a winter storm swooped in over Portland and we were snowed in for a couple days. It was only a few inches, but snow isn’t a regular enough occurrence here for streets to be plowed or salted overnight. Instead, everything just sort of shuts down until the rain washes it all away. It’s pretty magical seeing everything clean and still, knowing you officially don’t have to put on real pants for the day. We used that time at home to listen to some Christmasy records, finally wrap presents and we even took Bisou out in the snow for the first time. She loved feeling the freshly fallen snow on her paws and seeing chubby winter squirrels running through the trees right above her (hop over to Instagram for some Bisou in the snow pictures). On the flip side of the snow storm was our dwindling food supply. We ran out of leafy greens and bread after the first day, and I didn’t have the stuff to make gingerbread cookies to go along with the music and gift wrapping. I did have the chocolate and milk on hand to whip up some rich and silky lavender hot chocolate though, and it fit the bill!
I grew up drinking hot chocolate from a packet, and while those little marshmallows do bring back fond memories, hot chocolate from scratch is so much tastier and free of mysterious additives. I usually make it with a dark, high quality chocolate bar chopped into pieces. I couldn’t get to the store though, so I swapped in the semisweet chocolate chunks I had in the pantry. Lesson learned: you can use just about any chocolate and not go wrong. You can use any milk too, dairy or otherwise, but whole milk does give the hot chocolate a rich, creamy quality that’s hard to top. Dairy milk is also the easiest to infuse, which is a plus if you want a lot of lavender flavor in your hot chocolate. My favorite part of this recipe is that it can be tailored to any consistency: use a bit of chocolate for a silky and light hot chocolate, and a whole lot for an extra rich sipping chocolate. Continue Reading
Picking, wrapping and giving gifts is my favorite part of the holiday season, tied with eating all the tasty food that abounds, so it was only natural that I’d put together a gift guide for the year. I’m so excited to share this selection of gifts with you, each so charming, one of a kind and quality made I’ll be gifting them to my own nearest and dearest*. I’m confident each one will delight its recipient, and in many cases become a new heirloom to be treasured and shared for years to come. Bisou pawpicked some of her very favorite items that she’s sure the cats (and cat parents) on your list will adore, and I’ve rounded up my favorite home wares, kitchen staples and beauty obsessions that I love not just because they’re beautiful and functional, but because of the hard working and dedicated folks behind them.
It’s easy to fall into the big box store trap when it comes to gift shopping, especially when your list is long and during the holidays there are a million other things to do. But what better time to support small businesses and the talented craftspeople who put in long hours this time of year so you can gift their wares to the people you love? I’m making it extra easy to support family- and women-owned businesses, makers who lovingly handcraft every item they sell, and brands committed to responsible and animal-friendly practices by including some of my favorites here.
*To my closest family and friends: avert your eyes now, or there could be spoilers. You’ve been warned! To everyone else, read on for our favorite picks for all the cats and human people on your list and watch in amazement as your gift shopping pretty much does itself this year!