Author Archives: saramackay23

Stocking Stuffer Gifts 2016

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Here are some of my favorite things, perfect for sticking in someone’s stocking next weekend…or for treating yourself :)

Blanket Scarf: I love this scarf I received for Christmas last year and I looked forward to getting to use it again this fall and winter. It’s so warm and cozy! I like tying it around my neck to go outside or just wrapping it around my shoulders to keep warm inside. It’d be a great scarf to keep on the back of your desk chair at work. (I think these similar autumn plaid or ivory plaid scarves are also pretty.)Stocking Stuffer: Blanket ScarfRubber Twist Ties: These reusable twist ties are great for organizing all kinds of cords in your drawer. I also use them with my headphones in my purse. They are lightweight, but very sturdy and do not loose their shape. Simple and effective!Stocking Stuffer: Rubber Twist TiesDrawstring Shoe Bags: This is such a simple thing, but it’s great to have travel bags for your shoes to keep them from getting the rest of the clothes in your suitcase dirty. It feels a little classier than using plastic bags :)Stocking Stuffers: Travel Shoe BagsMakeup Eraser: This little towel blew my mind! With just warm water and a few wipes, it entirely removes all stubborn eye makeup. I can’t believe how easy it is! I used to sometimes debate whether or not to put makeup on simply because I didn’t want to wash it off later. That is no longer a question for me! Pack this with you when traveling and you won’t have to worry about getting your host’s towels dirty with makeup after you wash your face. Every so often, throw it in the washing machine, and it’s as clean as new. (Here is a pack of two smaller ones)Stocking Stuffers: Makeup EraserGapFit Breath Long Sleeve Shirt and Mockneck Pullover: I now have a couple colors in each style and I put one on almost every day! So does my mom! They are SO soft and SO breathable. I can’t say enough how much I love wearing these tops! When I’ve worn them to workout, I’ve had other women comment that they also have one of these shirts and love theirs. (I also have this long sleeve, available here in more colors, and this pullover hoodie.)Stocking Stuffer: GapFit Breath TopsCast Iron Skillet Scrubber: If you love to cook with cast iron, or don’t because you’re intimidated by cleaning it, you have to have this scrubber! It makes cleaning your skillet after cooking a breeze, easily removing any build-up without scratching the pan. This is a game-changer for cast iron cooking.Stocking Stuffer: Cast Iron ScrubberMagnetic Car Mount for Phones: Do you find yourself holding your phone while driving and trying to look at navigation directions? I was doing that way too often, so it was time for an iPhone car mount. The thing that I love about this one is that it is magnetic, which makes it so quick and easy to attach your phone when you hop in your car. It comes with a thin magnet, which you can stick in the back of your iPhone case.Stocking Stuffer: Magnetic Car MountCard Case: For years, I’ve used this little business card case to hold my driver’s license and credit cards. It makes transferring my “must have” cards to a small clutch quick and simple. I’ve gotten so many compliments at check-outs when I pull this out to pay. Use this to keep your credit cards handy or carry business cards – or both! (I also love this gold or silver card case.)Stocking Stuffer: Card Case

That’s it for this year! Looking for more stocking stuffer ideas? Here are my suggestions from 201520142013, and 2012. Happy Gifting!!

 

 

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Sugar-and-Spice Nuts

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I’ve been making these nuts for a few years and every time they come out of the oven, I somehow still feel surprised at how amazing they are!! There’s something about this combination of sweet, salty and just slightly spicy that’s incredibly addicting…you will love them!Sugar-and-Spice NutsThey come together very quickly by beating an egg white, stirring in the nuts, coating them in a sugar mixture, and baking for 30 minutes.Sugar-and-Spice Nuts I just ate too many nuts again for the third day in a row and thought to myself: I remember why I can’t make these too often…they are SO UNBELIEVABLY GOOD!Sugar-and-Spice NutsA jar of sugar-and-spice nuts is a great hostess gift for a holiday party – just make sure they are hidden away, or they will be gone before the party is over! I generally fill-up a few gift jars right away after I make them so that there aren’t too many leftover for myself to eat…Sugar-and-Spice Nuts

Sugar-and-Spice Nuts

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound walnuts and pecans (about 4-4.5 cups total)
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a jelly roll pan (or cookie sheet) with parchment paper.

Mix together sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon so there are no lumps.

Beat the egg white and water until frothy. Add the nuts and stir until they are coated evenly. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the nuts and stir again until evenly coated.

Spread the nuts in a single layer on the parchment paper and bake for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and break the nuts up as they cool. When completely cool, break up any nuts still sticking together and pour into a bowl. Store in an airtight container.

Slightly tweaked this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

 

Christmas Cocktail Competition

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A few years ago, my family started an annual cocktail competition during the holidays. Each of us finds or creates our own cocktail, which we keep secret until the unveiling on the night of the competition.Cocktail CompetitionWe each vote by ranking the cocktails based on taste, creativity, and name to pick the winner and reigning champ for the year. Here are the cocktails from last year’s competition:Cocktail CompetitionMy mom’s “Siren” took home 1st place!  She had a whole story ready to introduce her drink: “In Greek Mythology, Sirens were beautiful but dangerous creatures who lured sailors with their lovely voices to their doom on the craggy rocks of the island shores. Sipping the ‘Siren’ is like listening to a beautiful song, fresh and lovely, and as the flavors change ever so slightly with each sip, be careful not to be lured to your doom!”Cocktail CompetitionThe Siren is a champagne cocktail with different flavored ice cubes, so that while you sip, the melting ice slightly changes the taste of the drink (inspired by this recipe).Cocktail Competition: The Siren“Pie of My Eye”: We were all a bit skeptical when we saw Smirnoff vanilla vodka on the bar, but this ended up being very good! Turns out, vanilla vodka mixes well with Fireball, apple juice and a dash of cinnamon sugar for a deliciously warm seasonal drink.Cocktail Competition: Pie of My Eye“Edmonton Eskimo Warmer”: a stiff dark rum cocktail mixed with homemade pecan simple syrup, a touch of lemon juice, and a blow-torched cinnamon stick. The pecan simple syrup was as delicious as it sounds!Cocktail Competition: Edmonton Eskimo Warmer“Baconator”: Homemade bacon-infused bourbon mixed with a hint of maple syrup and a few dashes of orange bitters. It was strong and smokey!Cocktail Competition: Baconator“Great Annihilater”: This was easily the strongest cocktail, simply a mix of brandy and two different vermouths. Aptly named according to the mixologist “because this one slips down with such smoothly good intentions that it leaves you utterly obtundated…gently pressing you deeper into the cashmere sofa while also slipping on your silk pajamas.”Cocktail Competition: Great AnnihilaterMy “White Christmas Russian” sadly did not bring me the win, BUT it was requested by everyone after our Christmas Eve dinner. No one could deny that it is festive and delicious!! Unfortunately, the competition last year was very stiff…I made a traditional White Russian and added cinnamon simple syrup for a seasonal twist.Cocktail Competition: White Christmas Russian

White Christmas Russian

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz Kahlua
  • 1 oz Half & Half (or full-fat canned coconut milk for dairy free)
  • 1.5 Tablespoons cinnamon simple syrup*

Directions:

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a glass with a large ice cube. (For presentation points, I rimmed the glasses partly with cinnamon sugar.)

*To make the cinnamon simple syrup: Mix 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a pan, add 2 cinnamon sticks, and heat until a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes. Pour into a glass jar for storing. Make this ahead of time so that it has time to cool (in the fridge/freezer if necessary).

For a description of how we judge the competition or other cocktail ideas, read about our 2014 Cocktail Competition.

Curried Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

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This is my favorite soup I’ve made the last few winters and I just made my first batch of the season a few days ago. It’s just as good as I remembered! I love making a big pot of it to have ready for dinner or lunch the next few days.Curried Chicken and Wild Rice SoupI think the curry flavor is a fun twist to a traditional chicken and wild rice soup. There’s just enough curry to add interest, but not completely take over the soup. Plus, it’s much healthier than the usual cream-based version. Instead of dairy, I use coconut milk to add the little bit of creaminess that keeps this soup so comforting.IMG_9068It will come together very quickly once you start cooking, so it’s easier if you get your ingredients chopped and ready to go.Curried Chicken and Wild Rice Soup IngredientsThis soup is so flavorful and so satisfying, perfect for this time of year! You’ll love it!Curried Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Curried Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Serves: 6

  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice (about 3 cups cooked)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 white onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 medium or 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 4-6 cups chicken broth (sometimes I use up to 6 cups if I increase the vegetables or will add more when reheating)
  • 1 (14oz ) can coconut milk, full-fat or light
  • 3-4 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed*
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼-½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • Optional: cilantro for garnish

Start by cooking your wild rice according to directions on the package. Once the rice grains are just about to start popping open, take them off the stove and drain out any extra water. The rice will continue to absorb water in the soup, so I like to try to slightly under-cook it, maybe 5-10 minutes less than the directions call for.

Once you’ve got the rice going, start chopping all of your vegetables and chicken.

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook until the onion is softened for about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the vegetables from sticking or burning. Then, add the chicken broth, coconut milk, chicken, and spices. Stir so that everything is combined and continue cooking on medium-high heat until the soup starts to boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes (or until the rice is done) so that the flavors blend.

After it’s simmered, turn off the heat and stir in the rice and bell pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro (optional) and serve.

*You could use rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken breasts that you previously cooked. Alternatively, you could cut-up uncooked chicken breasts into 1/2 inch chunks and add them to the pot in the beginning to the heated olive oil. Stir and cook the chicken until it’s lightly browned, then add the onion, carrots, etc.

Favorite Wedding Moments

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I absolutely LOVE weddings! I love the emotions, the personal touches, the speeches, the dancing, all of it! One of my friends recently asked me what my favorite memory is from my wedding day. Tough question! I named off several before I got to my final answer. Here are my top 10 moments that still stand out a year and a half later:

Getting Ready at Home: I look back at the morning of September 27th and remember waking up feeling…completely calm. It was so special and comforting to be hanging around my parents’ kitchen getting our hair and make-up done, sipping the first champagne of the day, and putting my dress on in my childhood bedroom.Getting Ready Wedding DayPutting on my Wedding DressFather Daughter First Look: Walking out in my wedding dress to meet my dad was so emotional! People I haven’t even met have told me they cried along with me during this part of our wedding trailer.Father Daughter First Look: Wedding DayFather Daughter First Look: Wedding DayWalking Down the Aisle: What an adrenaline rush! I can still remember the nerves of the doors opening for my entrance. I might not have made it down that aisle without my dad there to hold me up!Walking Down the Wedding AisleCeremony Performance: This ranks near the top! Our best friends, Ashley and Antonio, performed Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are The Best Thing” as a surprise to Andrew and myself. It was incredible and beautiful. I’m known for laugh-crying, but in this moment, I was laugh-cry-dancing!"Best Thing" Performance: Wedding CeremonyPost Ceremony: Talk about feeling all the emotions! It was so overwhelming to walk back down the aisle married and get a few moments with our bridal party to soak in what just happened. I loved hugging everyone who came to celebrate with us.Wedding CeremonyPost Wedding CeremonyPopping Champagne: We popped bottles of champagne while taking pictures and the boys had some hysterical misfires…Popping Wedding ChampagnePopping Wedding ChampagneOur First Dance: This is my absolute favorite moment of the entire day! Andrew and I shared our first dance to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” outside during cocktail hour surrounded by our wedding party. It was the most joyful moment and I wish I could relive it a million times over!Our First Dance: Wedding PicturesOur First Dance: Wedding PicturesMaid(s) of Honor Speech: Back when deciding who I wanted to be in my bridal party, I jokingly threw my brother in the ranking for a bridal magazine quiz and he ended up winning position of maid of honor! My sister Emily was my actual MOH, but when she got up to give her speech, she called our brother Mike up and they were hysterical. We laugh to this day because Mike accidentally read Em’s final toast.Maid of Honor SpeechDancing to the Band: We had the best band I could’ve dreamed of. The lead singer used to be a back-up for Aretha Franklin and she brought the house down with Etta Jame’s “At Last”. The band also learned a New Orleans song, “Down in the Treme”, for us and called all the ladies on the floor for a rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “I Will Survive” full of sass! I could’ve danced all night long.

Stepping Outside during the Reception: Andrew and I snuck outside for a few minutes to soak in everything that had happened that day. It was a really sweet moment to ourselves to reflect on all of the love we felt.Wedding Reception

I have 5 weddings in the next 5 months and I couldn’t be more excited! I can’t wait to be there to witness all of their favorite moments!!

My Favorite Podcasts

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I started listening to the podcast Serial a few years ago, back when I basically had no idea what a podcast was…and I was hooked! I like to call Serial my “gateway podcast”. Now, I listen to podcasts when I’m walking to work, folding laundry, cleaning our apartment, painting my nails, basically anything mindless. Here are some podcasts that I love and currently listen to:

The Moth: A series of people telling personal stories to a live audience about something memorable that happened to them. Some stories will make you laugh out loud (I’ve done this on the subway!), some are touching, and some will seem too crazy to be true – but they all are! They range anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes and cover all kinds of topics from a police officer accidentally locking himself in the back of his cop car to a chef’s experience when Obama arrived at his restaurant for dinner. These are some of my favorite funny stories:

  • Empathetic Subway Screaming” – a man gets in a fight when he spills his groceries on the subway
  • Look Away – Or Don’t” – a man who faints at the sight of blood is preparing to become a father
  • My Bald & Blue Period” – a member of the Blue Man Group pulled a unique member from the audience on stage and had to improvise
  • Pen Pal” – a father ends up in a dilemma after signing his son up for a pen pal (also, listen to his story about visiting his grandfather’s grave “A Grave Predicament”)

The Moth Podcast

Song Exploder: Each 15 minute episode features a musician dissecting one of their songs. I love getting the inside scoop on what the lyrics mean to the artist, the creative process behind developing the sounds on the track, and the phases a song went through before getting to the version we hear on the radio. These are my two favorite episodes so far:

Song Exploder Podcast

StartUp: Exposes what happens “behind the scenes” when launching a company. The host, Alex Blumberg from NPR, leaves his career as a radio journalist to start his own company and let’s us listen in to all of the issues he encounters along the way. It is fascinating to learn about what it takes to get a business running, from creating your pitch to investors, to building your team of employees, to how challenging it can be to just name your company! You get to be on the inside of all of these discussions and it’s really addicting – I couldn’t stop listening! Start from the first episode:

  • How Not to Pitch a Billionaire” – Episode 1: we get to hear Alex prepare for his first investor pitch, even him and his wife deciding what shoes he should wear, and then his actual speech to Chris Sacca, who is infamous in Silicon Valley

StartUp Podcast

Wondering how to listen to a podcast?

  • On your computer: Click the links above and hit play right on the podcast’s website
  • On your phone: Go into your “Podcasts” app (or “Stitcher” on Android phones), search for the name of a podcast and hit subscribe once you find it. Then, go into ‘My Podcasts’ and select an episode to play.

Bachelorette Party: Manhattan Beach

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In April, I met some of my best girlfriends in Southern California for a killer bachelorette party! We all used to live in LA and spent our weekends together in Manhattan Beach, so we decided to go back to re-live our dreamy California beach memories. Four days with this view couldn’t have been more perfect!Manhattan BeachWe spent the weekend doing all of the fun activities we used to do: yoga at my favorite studio The Green Yogi, biking along the stand, relaxing on the beach, lunching on fresh California cuisine, morning beach walks and taking advantage of the hot tub on our patio!

And of course, we played some fun games! I made this set of Bachelorette Jenga by writing a bachelorette-themed “instruction” on each block. It’s played just like normal Jenga, but when you pick a block, you have to act out or answer whatever is written on it. For example, “Bridesmaid Dress” means describe the worst bridesmaid dress you’ve had to wear or “Fortune Teller: 30 Years” means describe how you picture the bride and groom 30 years from now or “Lap Dance” means perform a 30-second ‘striptease’ for the bride!Bachelorette JengaWe also played “Weenie in a Bottle”, which was hilarious! We tied one end of a string around each girls’ waist and the other end to a hot dog to hang about knee height. The object is to be the first one to lower your hot dog down into the bottle (or cup) without using your hands. It was harder than you’d think, especially after a few champagne toasts! The comments everyone made while trying to get their hot dog in the cup were hysterical…“I just can’t keep it steady!”Weenie in a Bottle - Bachelorette GameWe ordered these adorable tumblers on Etsy, figuring they’d get used during the bachelorette weekend AND when we all fly to the destination beach wedding! Turns out, having our names on the glasses prevented a lot of confusion and dishes for our group of 10. Luckily, we found out margaritas can taste just as good in plastic :)Bachelorette Party TumblersIt’s hard to beat those Southern California sunsets…Manhattan Beach, CACan’t wait to see all these girls again soon for Abi’s wedding in BELIZE!