November 28, 2016 | by Cyd Converse
Each year during the holidays, I like to spend time making homemade Christmas gifts for a handful of people on our gifting list. One year it was homemade after shave for the gentlemen. Another year it was homemade vanilla extract. Most every year I make homemade body scrub for the ladies. (Like this one or this one!) This year I was inspired by some of my lady friends in our neighborhood to make homemade Irish cream! Poured into a cute bottle and paired with our sweet printable tags (designed by one of my BFFs, super talent Erika Firm), this is such a good idea as a sweet little hostess gift, or gifts for your co-workers or the mail carrier. (We have the best mailman ever and he’s definitely getting a bottle!) Also, it tastes really delicious so make make enough or yourself, too!
Homemade Irish Cream
- 1 cup half and half
- 14 0z sweetened condensed milk
- 11⁄2 cups whiskey
- 1⁄4 cup chocolate syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pour all ingredients into a mixing bowl and use an immersion blender to blend until smooth, about thirty seconds. Alternately, place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth on high. For a richer, thicker Irish cream, substitute heavy cream for the half and half, but be sure not to over blend so the cream doesn’t start to turn into whipped cream. Bottle and give as a gift, or sip over ice or in your coffee!
To top off your gifts, print our free printable gift tags (or snag the black and white version) on white card stock, then just trim and attach with a bit of pretty ribbon or baker’s twine. I found these bottles at Michaels, but you could also use simple mason jars. Bob and I sipped some from our personal stash in our coffee on Thanksgiving morning and it was incredible. Just as good, if not better, as the non-homemade kind if you get my drift. Oh, and a whole lot less expensive than to buy! If you give this or any of my holiday ideas a try, share with me on Instagram using the hashtag #thesweetestholidays! I want to see what you’re baking, making and crafting this holiday season. xo
[Art direction by Cyd Converse | Printables by Erika Firm |Photos by Alice G. Patterson for The Sweetest Occasion.]
November 23, 2016 | by Cyd Converse
On the eve of Thanksgiving, I am overcome with gratitude today for the last year we’ve have the privilege to share with this sweet baby girl. A year ago this morning at 8:21, our bubbly little Emerson Gray was born. Some days I can hardly believe she’s here and other days I can hardly believe we ever managed to exist without her. Last night, as they helped me prep for today’s photo shoot, her big brothers declared in all of their teenaged wisdom that she was the greatest gift they’d ever received. To be fair, that about sums it up perfectly. She spent the evening squealing and chasing them around as fast as she could in her warp speed of a crawl and when she snuggled up with mommy to get ready for bed, I had a hard time lying her down in her crib. This morning, with the sun just peaking out, with my coffee mug steaming, with my eyes watering up with tears, I am every mother’s cliché. Oh the ways this tiniest of little humans has changed our hearts forever.
Emerson and I always make a point of running our errands during the day when it’s a little less busy. We’ve now made it one full year without daycare (with ample assistance from her Nana and her Aunt Megan on shoot days), so it’s always easiest for me to juggle the shopping and the banking and all of those things during the day. Now, it has just become the thing that we do. We get our shopping cart and we stroll through the aisles passing out smiles and blowing kisses. If I had a nickel for every little old man or sweet old lady who stopped us to marvel over her giggle or hold her hand for a moment in the bread aisle, I’d be a millionaire. One thing I’ve realized is that this tiny human is pretty special in her ability to connect with people. Mind you, absolutely all babies are glorious and joy inducing, but this magical little girl just radiates happiness. She gleefully claps for strangers, she enthusiastically waves goodbye to our mailman and she happily throws herself into the arms of the people she loves.
While her favorite human is absolutely her daddy, she delights in being her mommy’s sidekick. She follows me back and forth across the house numerous times a day and often sits on my lap shaking her tiny wooden maracas while I cull images and write blog posts. She has been present for dozens of photo shoots and is already quite the little assistant stylist, usually stealing props and trying to sample the goods while we’re shooting recipes. Her big brothers are the absolute light of her life, and they’ve made promises to spoil her every day of her life. (I’m pretty sure that’s not a threat.) Her big sisters are already her best friends, helping pick out her outfits and cuddling with her to read books. As long as it involves having fun, she’s the chillest little baby and game for just about anything, which I’m pretty sure is a trait she got from both of her parents.
At twelve months old, Emerson is not yet quite walking, but climbs and crawls with wild abandon. She blows kisses, gives high five, claps merrily, goes crazy over playing peek-a-boo, gives sweet little open-mouthed kisses, loves music and shaking her tiny booty to the beat, shrieks regularly with laughter, sleeps an easy and glorious 11 to 12 hours a night, and loves food. She will eat just about anything we put in front of her (usually some combination of veggies, beans or eggs) although bananas and avocado are both easy contenders for her favorite. She loves petting her doggie, playing with blocks, taking baths, story time and recently has decided she’s not the biggest fan of car rides or sitting properly in a shopping cart. Occasionally she’ll still tolerate Mommy’s penchant for putting bows in her hair.
At twelve months old, she is in so many ways the keeper of our dreams. When we look at her, in this big crazy world we’re living in, we feel hope for the world and for the next generation. We’re already working hard to raise her to be kind, loving and accepting. We talk regularly about the values we want to instill in her and the things we will fight every day to steel her against, namely hate, intolerance and bigotry. This week, we sponsored a family of nine for Thanksgiving dinner along with a couple of friends, and even though the snow was falling in sheets, I made sure to bring her along with me to deliver the food we had bought and prepared. I want her to always be a part of this new tradition of ours and I want her to grow up witnessing and delighting in acts of kindness. Every day my heart is full of gratitude for this incredible baby human in our midst and I am more committed than ever to spread love every day like confetti. Happy 1st birthday, sweet Baby E! You are so very very loved.
If you’d like to catch up on Baby E’s first year and other baby things check out these posts:
[All photos by our dear friend/family photographer Alice G. Patterson. | Good genes from Daddy + Mommy.]
November 22, 2016 | by Cyd Converse
Coming up on my first Thanksgiving after becoming a vegetarian, I remember fielding loads of questions about whether or not I’d eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Honestly, I had to laugh! I mean, no guys, vegetarians don’t eat turkey. Ha! Besides, doesn’t everyone agree that the sides are the best part of the Thanksgiving feast anyway?! Traditionally my mom hosts Thanksgiving and because she’s awesome and she loves me to the moon and back, she always makes sure there is plenty for me to eat, including adapting her world famous homemade stuffing to suit my “please don’t pour melted turkey all over my stuffing” needs. What has resulted after nearly 12 years of tweaking is this, the world’s best vegetarian stuffing recipe. It has all the requisite flavors of sage and celery, but you know, with none of the melted turkey bits. I assure you, this recipe is masterful. To the point where I don’t even touch it, I beg my mother to make it every year. And a couple weeks ago I begged her to bake up a batch early so I could share it with you. Even if you aren’t vegetarian, you will go crazy over this stuffing. Cross my heart.
- 2 cups veggie stock (recipe below)
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 large Granny Smith apple, finely chopped
- 3 large celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- 2 tablespoons ground sage
- 2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
- 6 large eggs
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ loaf of whole wheat bread, torn into chunks
- ½ loaf of Italian bread, torn into chunks
Preheat oven to 350° and prepare a large casserole dish by greasing it lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Combine all ingredients except for the veggie stock and butter in a large mixing bowl and use your hands to mix well. Once combined, pour the veggie stock and butter over top and use your hands to mix well again. The resulting mixture will be very moist and somewhat sticky. Spoon it into your casserole dish and bake, covered, for approximately 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes until lightly golden brown on the top and around the edges. If you don’t have a covered casserole dish, a glass baking dish covered with aluminum foil will also work. You may need to adjust baking times if your dish is more shallow.
Homemade Veggie Stock
- 1 large celery stalk plus 3 celery stalk tops
- 2 large carrots
- 1 medium onion
- 1 green bell pepper
- 8 – 10 whole black peppercorns
- pinch of sea salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 sage leaves
- ½ gallon of water
- 1 tablespoon rosemary
- 1 tablespoon parsley
Cut all of the veggies into large chunks and place in the bottom of a stock pot. Top with approximately ½ gallon of water. Add herbs and spices and bring to a low boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover, simmering for 1 – 2 hours. Remove from the heat and strain off the herbs, spices and veggies, preserving the liquid. Voila! Homemade veggie stock.
[Art direction by Cyd Converse | Recipe by Donna Zang | Photos by Alice G. Patterson for The Sweetest Occasion.]
November 21, 2016 | by Cyd Converse
Friends, it’s Thanksgiving week and I am so excited! My sister and brother in-law fly home on Wednesday, which also happens to be our sweet baby girl’s first birthday. We’re hosting a huge Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 30 of our closest family and friends, and then on Saturday we’re hosting a birthday party for the littlest lady of the house. We have so many things to be excited and grateful for today, the least of which is not this butternut squash goat cheese crostini recipe. If ever there were a Thanksgiving appetizer that was going to bring down the house, this is it, friends. (Unless you hate squash in which case I suggest making these or these instead.)
Butternut Squash Goat Cheese Crostini
- 1 medium to large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- 6 to 8 fresh sage leaves
- 1 large shallot
- 6 oz goat cheese
- 4 oz cream cheese
- Baguette or pre-sliced crostini
Preheat oven to 350° and then begin by tossing your cubed butternut squash in a mixing bowl with the olive oil and a big pinch of black pepper and sea salt. Finely chiffon your fresh sage then add it to the squash and toss to combine. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for about 25 minutes or until the edges are starting to caramelize, flipping once halfway through. While the squash is roasting, finely slice a shallot and sauté over medium-high heat in a bit of olive oil until soft and translucent. In a mixing bowl, combine the goat cheese and cream cheese with another pinch of salt and pepper until smooth and whipped in consistency. Slice your baguette into 1/4″ thick slices, then spread a dollop of the goat cheese mixture on each one. Spoon on some roasted squash then top with shallots. Alternately, you could toast the baguette for a few minutes on a baking sheet in the oven before adding the goat cheese. Serve warm upon completing or at room temperature.
No jokes, I ate like eight of these for lunch when we finished shooting them. They are so crazy tasty! If you’re a butternut squash fan like I am (as in you want it on and in everything basically every day), you need to make these. Especially if, also like me, you’re kind of over or just sort of meh about the ubiquitous mashed butternut squash that seems to turn up on every Thanksgiving table. Oh, pro tip! If you’re feeling really feisty, you could drizzle a bit of balsamic reduction over top of these and they’d be next level. I just thought of that and am definitely going to try it that way next time. Ok, enough rambling about squash. Stay tuned for the world’s best vegetarian stuffing recipe!
[Recipe, styling + art direction by Cyd Converse | Photos by Alice G. Patterson for The Sweetest Occasion.]
November 18, 2016 | by Cyd Converse
This post was sponsored by Dr. Oetker Virtuoso Pizza. Thank you for supporting
the sponsors that help make The Sweetest Occasion possible!
I was looking at my calendar a few days ago and realized that from now straight through the holiday season is pretty much maxed out. Between work obligations, various holiday parties, family gatherings, and chorus concerts, there are very few days without some kind of commitment. Add in the need to tackle the organizational aspects of the holidays (gift shopping, wrapping, food shopping and prepping, etc. etc.), I think we all know just how busy November and especially December can prove to be. With that in mind, today I once again teamed up with the fine folks at Dr. Oetker Virtuoso Pizza (formerly Dr. Oetker Ristorante Pizza) to share three easy weeknight dinner ideas with you! Specifically, we’re talking about the most delicious pizza and salad pairings that are a cinch to toss together while totally elevating your weeknight dinner game. Inspired by the seriously delicious flavor combinations of Virtuoso and their and commitment to fresh, whole ingredients, these salad pairings are about to become your new go-to during the week. We’re also teaming up on a really fun giveaway so keep scrolling for the details and be sure to get entered for your chance to win as the giveaway will close one week from today!
Virtuoso has nine gourmet flavor varieties with a thin, crispy crust that makes it about the best frozen pizza you’re ever going to taste. You can track down your favorite variety by checking out the store locator to find out where it is sold near you, or put in a request with the manager at your favorite store! The pizzas (now showcasing a new name and a sleek new box) feature the same fresh ingredients as they always have and bake at 425° in jus about 12 minutes. With these salads, we baked up the Seasoned Chicken, Vegetable Medley and Four Cheese although you can pick any of your favorites for the perfect weekday meal!
Blackberry Feta Salad
I love fruit on salads, specifically berries and think the flavor is even better when paired with good, crumbly feta! Here red leaf lettuce provides the perfect base, then I just sprinkled on the blackberries, a small handful of thinly sliced almonds and then crumbled a bit of feta over top. A nice drizzle of lemon vinaigrette and you’re in business! Of course, you can switch up the greens and specific berries to suit your taste, but I suggest thinking beyond iceberg and romaine when making your selection so your salads feel a bit elevated and special. That’s the beauty of these salad and pizza pairings! Good, simple ingredients that taste awesome, especially when paired with the Four Cheese pizza. (Which, for the record, is one of my personal favorites!)
Gorgonzola Green Apple Salad
Again with the fruit on salads! In this case, thin slice of granny smith apples and a good sprinkling of gorgonzola bring it home. Walnuts make the perfect pairing with gorgonzola and the tart green apple flavor so just chop ’em rough and toss them on top. For the greens here, I kept things simple with butter lettuce, which is just really clean in flavor and nice and crisp, so everything tastes super fresh. Pile your plate up with a few slices of Vegetable Medley pizza and you’re set! All the veggies on the pizza taste amazing paired with the apples on this salad.
Avocado Heirloom Tomato Salad
I’m such a salad junkie that it might be impossible for me to pick a favorite of these three, but if you twisted my arm and I had to, I’d probably say this one! Green leaf lettuce topped with slices of avocado and heirloom tomato, then sprinkled with a bit of red pepper flake. Coincidentally, this is pretty similar to how I like to eat my bagels, too, so there may or may not be a recurring theme happening in my life. At any rate, this one is also as delicious as it is easy to make. Keep the ingredients handy and then after work you can pop a pizza into the oven, slice everything up and be ready to eat in just a few minutes so you can tackle your evening’s agenda. The gentleman of the household is a huge fan of the Seasoned Chicken pizza and loved it alongside the avocado!
A Cozy Pizza Prize Pack Giveaway
One lucky reader is going to win a cozy pizza prize pack valued at over $200! You can enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. (It’s as easy as can be, promise!) What are you going to win? Lots of really good stuff from the likes of Crate & Barrel and Pier 1, plus lots of yummy pizza, of course! Also known as everything you need to cozy up for the perfect night at home. So, get yourself entered to win! The giveaway will run through 12:00 AM (eastern) on Friday, November 25th. One winner will be announced here on this post later that day – good luck and see below for what you could win!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
[Art direction + styling by Cyd Converse | Photos by Alice G. Patterson for The Sweetest Occasion.]
This post was sponsored by Dr. Oetker USA LLC. I received compensation for this post, but all opinions are my own. Read more about our editorial policies. For more recipes, tips and entertaining ideas, follow Virtuoso on Facebook!