Monday, March 31, 2014

4 Life Hacks For Your Next Dinner Party

I'm super excited to announce my very first guest post! Arianna of Arianna Knows Best loves entertaining and volunteered to share a few of her favorite tips. Here's how she throws a great dinner party...

4 Life Hacks For Your Next Dinner Party
By Arianna Pierce

Growing up with an older sibling creates envy in one direction or another. While we both excel in different areas, the one thing I truly hate to admit is that my sister is a better cook than I am (at least I can always steal her recipes!). She threw a lovely dinner party when we last visited her in Philadelphia, and I was able to pick up a trick or two about throwing a fantastic dinner party!

1) Something to Nibble On

   Hors d'oeuvres truly can set the tone for the evening. One thing she served was stuffed dates, which were a huge hit with everyone. Each date was filled with almond paste, goat cheese, and bacon. The result was a delicious mix of savory and sweet that had everyone’s mouth watering.

    Of course, always make sure you check your guests’ dietary preferences and plan accordingly. I always include a gluten-free, dairy free, and vegetarian option to accommodate any guests that might have forgotten to mention their preference or for any uninvited (but still welcome!) guests. You don’t want someone to graze on salad all night!

2) Hold Onto Your Cups!

      When it comes to drinks, make sure you stock your bar with a wide assortment of alcohol, as well as non-alcoholic options. Though the classic red cups are always cheap and effective options, it can look pretty tacky and can be difficult to tell apart from another. Also, using wine glasses for everyone can also result in extra clean up (especially if you don’t have a dishwasher!). How did my sister solve this classic conundrum? She ordered clear, plastic cups in different sizes and shapes and classed them up with DIY handmade ribbon tags. DIY chalkboard labels are also a cute option depending on your theme. Each guest can write their name on a tag, allowing them to easily locate a misplaced drink!

3) Spruce the Place Up

     My sister hand made paper flowers out of old newspapers, painting some of the petals to add a little flair. It was shabby chic done so, so right! I’ve always enjoyed using fake flowers myself. They’re much lower maintenance and won’t aggravate allergies! Another great option is to check out your local craft store for pre-made arrangements. They can be reused for future gatherings or can be a lovely take home gift to hand out as your guest leave!

4) Contain Your Canine!

    If you’re a pet owner like I am, it’s important to make sure your pet is out of the way for the evening. For one, Brodie (my adorable lab) likes to get under my feet while I’m cooking. Also, as much as I hated leaving Brodie out of the fun, I can’t take the risk of making my guests with allergies and/or a fear of dogs uncomfortable. We were able to find a few locals who were available for dog boarding. After all, even dogs like a mini vacation every now and then! If you can’t find a good sitter in time for your party, be sure to relegate your pet into a room where they can remain contained, but entertained. Put their food, water bowl, and a few toys in the room with them. Make sure to stop in and give them a good petting, so they don’t think they’re being punished!

    Though I love entertaining, it always comes with a certain level of stress. The key is to carry yourself like you know exactly what you’re doing. Being prepared ahead of time can prevent unnecessary stress later on. Serve great food, stock a fantastic beverage cart, and create a lovely atmosphere. Most importantly, have fun!

Arianna is a full-time mom and a fashion-lover, world traveler, animal lover, and family woman extraordinaire. She loves to cook and bake, travel to new places, share great fashion finds, and spend time doing crafts and projects at home with her kids. She’s got a crazy busy life, but she wouldn’t have it any other way! Follow her blog at !

Friday, March 28, 2014

Noted on a Friday

2014 is speeding on by - can you believe we're nearing April?! Crazy. This week felt quick and easy -- which is how I like 'em - and we're on the home stretch to Spring Break. Whaddup! I'm hoping time slows down this weekend so we can enjoy some leisurely fun. 

A few things I noted this week...

A couple surprise rainy days and brisk weather -- loved!

And this homemade kabocha squash soup with bacon and crema was really hitting the spot.

We watched a butterfly flutter by outside our window. (Photo by Flav)

And played in the park with this pretty lady.

Happy Friday! xo

Monday, March 24, 2014

Weekending, quick notes

Although there aren't photos to prove it, this was maybe the best weekend we've had lately. Last Thursday I was feeling anxious about having too much planned/being over-committed (I need downtime scheduled in, too), but from Friday - Sunday, we were on the move and in the end, we had a lot of fun and it made the weekend seem longer. Some highlights:

:: Some of my students were in a play, so it was fun to go see their talent and support them in their production of Balm In Gilead.

:: We pretended we were in Vietnam/France and went to Zion Market for their "Paris Baguette" pastries with friends. (Note to self: Friends report the coffee is amazing there. When we're back on the juice, I can't wait to try it. Pastries divine - like those we had in Paris.)

:: We partied at a BBQ on Saturday night.

:: I was a wee hungover Sunday and woke to the smell of bacon as Flav surprised me with breakfast - sweet!

:: We're sort of getting into Friday Night Lights and we binge-watched in pajamas Sunday morning - Flav is really into it - I'm sort of a fan. Reminds me of high school culture in El Centro.

:: We celebrated Jan's birthday with wine and delicious Thai food Sunday night.

Even though we were out late last night, I woke up this morning feeling oddly refreshed. Nothing got done at home this weekend, but who needs clean clothes, anyway?

{Sunday morning chef}
{paleo pancake breakfast a la Flav}

Friday, March 21, 2014

Noted on a Friday

This was a pretty uneventful week. We both worked a lot and spent the evenings collapsed on the couch in front of the TV. The weekend ahead is packed with fun plans, so it'll be a nice change of pace. I hope you have a good one. xo 

A few highlights from this week...

St. Paddy's dinner & a movie.

It's beginning to look a lot like springtime.

Found: A sleeve of thin mints in the back of the freezer. Made me beyond happy.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring To-Do

Happy first day of spring! Here in San Diego we're already munching on delicious red strawberries and enjoying flowery roadsides and sunny days. While our draught-ridden state could definitely use more showers, I think it's safe to say spring has sprung around these parts. Last summer and fall I put together seasonal to-do lists, and I thought it would be fun to do the same for spring. Here are some of the things I hope to do in the next few months:

1. Go on a picnic
2. Hit up the farmers' market regularly
3. Sleep more and worry less
4. Bake my annual strawberry shortcake
5. Go to a baseball game
6. Easter baskets!
7. Mix up spring-themed cocktails and drink on our porch
8. Do some home spring cleaning / redecoration / freshening up (new pillows, a new rug, etc.)
9. Take a cooking class here
10. Go to Playa del Carmen. Woot!

{Video: Guiri enjoying spring-like weather at Coronado last weekend - not sure if it plays properly on Blogger?}

Monday, March 17, 2014

First Dates & Honeymoon

Happy St. Paddy's! I hope you're wearing green or plaid, or both (!) today. My corned beef and cabbage is bubbling on the stove, smelling like pure heaven, and we'll be feasting, sipping some stout, and watching The Departed as soon as Flav gets home. Slainte!

Today, 52 years ago, my parents went on their first date. They went out for pizza after a school St. Patrick's Day dance, and as the story goes, they sat down to eat and my mom said, "I just love pizza," to which my dad replied, "I just love you." On their first date! Can you believe that? Also, my mom said she wrote conversational topics on her hand, like the weather and favorite music, so that just in case there was an awkward silence, she'd have something to talk about. But the notes on her hand had all rubbed off by the time they got to dinner. Turns out, there were no awkward silences and this summer they've been married 50 years.

This past Saturday, March 15, was the anniversary of our first date. Fourteen years ago, Flavio and I cruised south of the border for drinks and dancing and it was not my finest moment; you can read the whole sleazy story here. So, Saturday, to celebrate our Dativersary, Flavio took me to Turmeric Thai (amazing!) in La Jolla. They let you bring in your own alcohol, so he brought Tiger Beer from Malaysia, and we reminisced about our honeymoon, to Malaysia, and many of the adventures we've had together as a couple. We ate, drank, and laughed. I love that you get to go through life with a partner. Marriage is a beautiful gift.

Some photos from our Malaysiamoon...

{Tiger beer, Indian food, Penang}
{flower carts in Melaka}
{fish pedicure - ticklish}
{so nerdy}

PS: I've been obsessively following the coverage on missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370. Tragic and eerie. What could have happened? I wonder if we'll ever know.. Sending love and healing energy to all affected.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi(e) Friday

Happy 3.14! I am so throwing paleo to the wind and eating a piece of pie tonight to celebrate pi.

There has been a lot of midterm grading, a bit of cooking, a romantic date night, a horrendous dental appointment, and a couple of moonlight walks happening around here.  I am thrilled for a restful weekend ahead, and it's supposed to be gorgeous out. Dog beach here we come!

No photos to share this Friday. So, I'm sharing mouth-watering pictures of pie. Enjoy. xo

{lemon icebox}
{dad's favorite berry}

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Your Birth Order Personality

{the younger set of kids}

My eldest sister Barbie and I are conspiring to do something for our parents' 50th Anniversary this summer and after hearing from her this week, I got to thinking about birth order and personalities. I am one of seven children, but there is a ten year gap between the four older kids and me and my younger twin brothers. So, it's almost like we are two different families, or sets, with the same parents. As the youngest girl, but the oldest of the younger set, I sort of identify as a firstborn personality. Even though I'm only 13 months older than my brothers, my parents always put me in charge when we were growing up, so I was always the responsible one. Like Barbie (who really is the firstborn), I tend to be the organizer and while she is more the matriarch, I am sort of the secretary. I can see my other siblings' roles, too: we have a rebel, an entertainer, a peace-maker, a giver, and a baby. Family dynamics are so interesting!

For fun, I took this birth order personality quiz and it ranked me as a first born child's personality. I knew it!

Also, I might be the last person in America still watching Parenthood, but it's all about family dynamics, which is why I love it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Noted on a Friday

Mercury was in retrograde recently, and I think that's why things felt off-kilter this week. Nothing terrible happened, I just felt grumpy and tired, which means I am welcoming the weekend with open arms. We're off to Korean BBQ tonight for a paleo feast with friends, and then we're excited for a visit from my cousin and her new baby tomorrow. It will be fun to do San Diego-y type things with out-of-towners. Flavio's been hinting about a very non-paleo mystery date on Sunday, so I'm also looking forward to that.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend. xo

Here are a few things that brightened my week...

Sunday night Oscars treats. Loooved the speeches, the gowns, and Ellen this year.

The best thing about teaching: the students. One of my best brought me Havainas and the sweetest note from her trip to Brazil. I was so touched.

Walks with this lady are my antidote to the mid-week blues.

Currently eating: this paleo chocolate chili. Totally hitting the spot on this cloudy Friday.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Financial Fast, take two

Last year's Lenten Financial Fast was revelatory, so we're at it again. When we started the fast, the goal was to save money. In the end, yes, we definitely saved money, but the whole experience was so much more enriching than just austerity. You can see last year's reflections here, but in a nutshell, besides keeping more dough in the bank, we saved time and pressure, learned true financial mindfulness, and realized we'd rather spend our money on experiences than on things. It was eye-opening, and the fast's virtuousness carried on throughout 2013 as I constantly found myself questioning whether I was spending carefully, if I truly needed or just wanted an item, and if I'd rather have this thing, or an evening out.

So this year, we're following the same rules, but our main goal is to try out new budgeting/saving systems to see what works best for us.

These are the rules:

:: Use cash only - no plastic.

:: No shopping. Necessities only.

:: Record and categorize every single purchase (see photo -- we're using worksheets for this, at least to start).

:: Allow for planned exceptions. We have a lot of pre-scheduled commitments for March and April, so we're honoring those and also budgeting for one date night per week. Must be paid for in cash. No spontaneous dates allowed - must be pre-arranged and have money set aside.

I'm not sure this fast will be as eye-opening, since we know what to expect, but I'm really hoping it helps us establish a longterm savings schedule so that we (mostly I) actually become savers. We didn't go into any new debt in 2013, but we didn't put much into savings either. Here's hoping this financial re-set will help us tighten up a bit, get a longterm system* for budgeting/savings in place, and put aside more in 2014. I'll keep you posted on what we come up with in terms of a savings/budgeting system; we have a family finances meeting scheduled for Sunday. (Yep, we're dorky like that.)

*Question: Does anyone out there use an online tracking system like In theory, it sounds good. I mean, I'm sure it's secure, and it seems really easy to use, but it's scary to hand over your financial information to the cybervoid. Skeptic over here. If anyone has a tried and true budgeting/saving system, or otherwise, I'd love to hear.

We started the fast yesterday. Oh! And also, instead of 40 days, we're going 36 as we'll be on vacation after that.

Let the deliberate simplicity begin.

PS: We got the idea for a financial fast from this article. All posts relating to 2013's financial fast are here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I woke up this morning feeling bogged down by life. Spring Break seems so far away. I'm tired and grouchy. And I was not feeling it in my classes. Then, on my walk with Guiri I spotted this sweet little flower trying any which way to grow. Unbothered by the stone around, and the people stepping on its sidewalk, totally persevering through the concrete jungle that is our modern world. I felt inspired by its cheery yellow optimism. And happy that tomorrow is Thursday. And that spring is coming.

Monday, March 3, 2014

How Cooking Can Change Your Life

We're back on another 30 Days of Paleo - Something had to be done after we went to my parents' and I gorged on pizza and cheesecake more times than I'd like to admit. So, Flavio and a couple friends and I are challenging ourselves to get off the crack (carbs and sugar) for the next month. What I love about these paleo re-sets is all the cooking we do. Flavio and I turn on music, talk, and have fun in the kitchen, and then at mealtime we know exactly what we're putting into our bodies. All this home-cooking reminds me to follow my favorite healthy-eating trick, which I learned from food theorist Michael Pollan. In the fun little video below, Pollan reminds us that some foods (like french fries) are labor intensive and celebratory and thus not meant to be eaten daily. If we only cooked these foods at home, they'd be eaten with much less frequency and prepared in a very different way than if you were to buy them from a corporation. He says, "What predicted a healthy diet more than anything else was that it was being cooked by a human being (not by a corporation)...Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself."Simple and true.