At long last, after much ado for the last couple of years, an all new, all beautiful The Sweetest Occasion will be launching in the next month or so! (Stay tuned in late February or early March. Hooray!) Everything will be fresh and updated, marking the largest update to the site by far in it’s nearly nine year existence. The branding has been overhauled, the site is going to look really clean and sleek with all the focus on big, beautiful images, and the function of the site is going to be vastly improved. Behind the scenes this has been a huge, drawn out process and I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last couple of weeks getting things organized on the back end of the site to make all of these changes really come to life. With all of these exciting things happening, I’ve also been sitting with notebook in hand brainstorming content ideas for the year. I made a lot of changes to the content I produced in 2016, subtly and without fanfare, such that if you look back through 2016’s archives you’ll really see a big change from beginning to end. I love how things have evolved and plan to keep moving in that direction, but I wanted to check in with you, too. I want to know what you want! What posts do you love? Are there new things you’d like me to try? What’s missing? What posts and content would be most helpful or inspiring to you in your world? That’s where the 2017 reader survey comes into play! (Scroll down to take it!)
I made this salad a couple of weeks ago for the first time in a long time, and couldn’t believe that it ever fell out of my regular rotation of solid, delicious, healthy dishes that I generally go to again and again. I’m really trying to get back to the basics over here, cleaning the junk out of my diet and starting to focus in on some of my personal goals of weight loss and just generally taking better care of myself this year. This tomato and farro mozzarella salad easily ticks all the boxes. It’s an amazing side dish or can stand alone as an entire meal unto itself. It’s good served warm. It’s good served cold. It’s easy to make, the ingredients are limited and it’s a really hearty, vegetarian dish that will leave you feeling really satisfied. Plus, quite notably, it’s delicious. If you can’t find farro, feel free to substitute barley! It has many of the same nutritional benefits and the texture is similar so it’s pretty interchangeable in this particular recipe. I love bringing this salad to potlucks, because it always gets eaten right up, but I also love a big bowl of it for dinner or leftover the next day for lunch. All in all, this is a must try that I’m confident you’ll love!
My favorite tip when it comes to cooking and preparing grains is to always use veggie stock instead of water, whether it be farro, barley, quinoa, etc. No matter the grain, there is just so much extra flavor when you use a good veggie stock. Homemade is honestly always best, but when that’s not possible (which is often the case for me), using a good quality organic stock will get the job done. It makes such a huge difference, you’ll be a total believer for life. For this salad, I also like to toss in a couple veggie bouillon cubes to really boost up that flavor.
Tomato + Farro Mozzarella Salad
- 1 cup uncooked farro
- 2-1/2 cups veggie stock
- 2 veggie boullion cubes
- 8 oz of fresh mozzarella
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- 6 – 8 fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- Black pepper to taste
- Pinch of coarse sea salt
Rinse farro in a sieve or strainer. Bring veggie stock to a boil, add the farro and then return to a boil. Reduce to a simmer as soon as it comes to a boil, cover and allow to simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. While the farro is cooking, cut mozzarella into bite-size chunks and slice tomatoes in half. When the farro is cooked, combine everything in a large mixing bowl, adding the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and stirring just until combined. Add more vinegar if you’d like as some will absorb into the barley as it cools. Add sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste and chop up your basil and parsley to add right at the end. Serve immediately and eat warm or chill and serve cold. Either way is delicious!
[Recipe, styling + art direction by Cyd Converse | Photos by Alice G. Patterson for The Sweetest Occasion.]
I have been an avid reader since the earliest of days. As soon as I could pick up a book and flip the pages, I was hooked. I was a mega mega bookworm as a kid, to the point where I think my father even thought something might be wrong with me because I preferred books over television and what kid likes books more than television? As an adult I still love to read, but it seems to get continuously tougher and tougher to find the time. On my personal Facebook page I recently shared with friends that since the baby was born the only time I’ve really been able to read has been when I’ve been on planes. One of my goals this year is to read more, although I’m also being realistic about how long it’s going to take me to get through a book. I’ve set a benchmark of reading a book a month, which is still a far cry from my book a week or more from my days of yore, but I’m happy with that as a start in these crazy days of working and caring for an active tiny toddler full time. On Facebook, I asked friends for some recommendations to get me started and was happy to have one of our amazing neighbors (Hi, Sarah!) show up at my door with a stack of goodies. Her stash combined with one I already had comprise my winter reading list!
Fates and Furies is the book I’m reading currently. I picked it up in the airport in Portland on my way home from Oregon back in October and after misplacing it temporarily, I’m now more than halfway through. It follows the life of a married couple over twenty or so years of their life together and is a really interesting look at their relationship and the ups and downs they face together. So far it’s a really good read!
When I asked my pals on Facebook for recommendations, several people chimed in with enthusiastic approval for A Man Called Ove. It follows the story of an older man who strikes up an unexpected friendship with a young family who moves in next door. I am thinking this one will be my next read and I’m really excited to dig into it based on the number of friends who recommended this book.
All the Light We Cannot See is another book that got recommended several times in response to my Facebook call out for suggestions. I’ve picked this one up, read the back and considered it multiple times in airport book stores so it seemed like a fitting time to put it on my list. This historical fiction piece centers on a French girl and a German boy whose lives intersect during World War II. I am really looking forward to this one!
My final pick for the month is Everything I Never Told You, which I’m told is a quick but ultimately very good read. Again, this is one I’ve looked at and considered a few different times, about a Chinese American family living in Ohio whose daughter shows up murdered. Has anyone already read it? Any other suggestions to add to my list for once I finish these up? Chime in and fill me in on your recent favorites! I’d love to know what you’re loving.
[Art direction + styling by Cyd Converse | Photos by Alice G. Patterson for The Sweetest Occasion.]
If you’re a long time friend around these parts, you may recognize this recipe! It’s one I’ve actually shared a couple of times before, but because it’s such a solid recipe and one I personally love so very much, it felt like it was time to share it again. With far prettier, updated photos of course. These are, quite simply, the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies you will ever eat. I say that completely humbly, I might add. They are both ever so slightly crispy around the edges and chewy in the center, a texture imparted by the addition of the oats. I love to add just a hint of peanut butter, but you can easily skip that part if you have an allergy or just don’t have it on hand. I haven’t tried them yet with almond butter, but that’s definitely something I plan to try. The key is to not add so much that the peanut butter overwhelms things, but rather just enhances the other flavors. In a word, these cookies are seriously delicious.
To give you a feel for just how long thees cookies have been a mainstay in my world, you should know that I started working on this recipe back in my cold, dark college apartment. I probably shouldn’t admit how many years ago that was, but I’d estimate the first batch of these cookies as dating back nearly 12 or maybe even 13 years. Since then I’ve tweaked and adjusted things a little bit at a time until perfection (or my version of it) was achieved. These are both a very simple cookie, perfect for baking on a Saturday afternoon just because, and a serious crowd pleaser worthy of baking for parties or bringing to a friend who’s had an especially crappy week. These are your everyday cookies and your special occasion cookies. These are your celebration cookies and your “ugh, he’s such a jerk” cookies. You’re going to love them and is everyone you know. Cross my heart. Promise. Big time.
Best Ever Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes approximately 36 cookies
- 2 cups of all purpose flour
- 1-1/4 cups packed brown sugar
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups oats (rolled or quick oats)
- 2 cups chocolate chips
- 2 tablespoon peanut butter (optional)
Preheat oven to 350° then sift together flour and baking soda. In a separate bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, eggs, sugars, and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients by adding the flour mixture to the sugar and butter mixture a bit at a time. The dough will be very stiff. Add oats until well combined, then add chocolate chips and peanut butter. Drop onto an ungreased baking sheet. For best results, use a cookie scoop to measure an equal amount for each cookie, and form the dough into slightly flattened puck-like shapes on the tray before placing in the oven. Bake for 9 – 12 minutes or until golden around the edges. Allow to cool slightly, then remove to a baking rack to continue cooling. Best served room temperature or just barely warm.
[Art direction, recipes + styling by Cyd Converse | Photos by Alice G. Patterson for The Sweetest Occasion.]
Friends, let’s talk about planners! Does anyone else love starting the year with a fresh, crisp, clean new planner? For me it’s a carry over from my college days and while I use Google Calendar for tracking my editorial calendar and deadlines (gotta love those reminder alerts), my daily go-to system for staying organized is a classic tangible pen-on-paper planner. A few years ago (I think it was 2104 to be more precise), I got myself on the wait list and picked up one of the seriously coveted Day Designer planners. (I mean, come on, there was a wait list for a planner!) I was really really excited because of the unique daily layout featuring both a schedule and a to-do list. At just shy of $60, it felt like a small investment of sorts and I was so worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but all of that was for naught. I loved my Day Designer and I’ve been a loyal addict ever since.
Last year, with a newborn in the mix, I made a slight change and started using the Blue Sky edition of the Day Designer. It packs a lot of the same punch as the original Day Designer including the helpful worksheets at the front to help you get focused and organized for the year. Where it differs is in the layout, which is weekly instead of daily. So instead of one day per page, this version features one full week per spread, but still features a really handy schedule with a to-do list for the week and the top three tasks you need to tackle each day. Since having the baby, my weeks are much more fluid and entirely less regimented so being able to see the whole week at once is a much more useful layout for me at this point in time. Bonus! The price is a little less than half of the original Day Designer, although I have to say, I do feel the Day Designer is entirely worth the price if it suits your lifestyle and needs.
Each month in the Day Designer (regardless of edition) opens with a monthly calendar view that then leads right into the month itself, either daily or monthly pages. This monthly view spread is where I keep a detailed overview of each month. The spaces are large enough where I can keep a written copy of my deadlines, track orthodontist appointments, birthdays, etc. and keep our family and my work obligations all neat and organized in one place. Between the two versions, this is now my fourth year using a Day Designer and I am such a fan that I thought it warranted sharing with you. Also, if you care about such things (as I very definitely do), I am a loyal Pilot G2-05 user and have been since architecture school. (In black, only.) I honestly have not bought any other kind of pen in a solid 13 or 14, possibly even 15 years, no joke. I keep them stashed in my desk, the kitchen drawers, my purse, the diaper bag, my camera bag, and on and on, and very rarely even write with any other kind of pen. My Pilot pens and my Day Designer are a little dream team for the Type A side of my brain. Sitting down to start filling out my week or the month ahead with a cup of coffee is one of the most satisfying things to me and without this planner I’d be chasing my own tail at least 50% of the time. What about you? Any other great day planners you love? What about pens? I sincerely doubt I’m cheating on my Pilot pens anytime soon (please let them never be discontinued!), but maybe you can at least assure me I’m not alone in the crazy pen lady department?
[Art direction + styling by Cyd Converse | Photos by Alice G. Patterson.]