5 Things I'm Loving Right Now

Alright friends! I'm fresh back from a whirlwind week of traveling and eating myself into the next pants size last week and ready to share some favorite things with you!

Last week I was in Downtown Los Angeles for a work conference and honestly spent the entire week either learning about social media in higher ed, eating, walking to eat, shopping, or lounging in my hotel bed. Although I don't mind traveling alone, I'm not interested in wandering museums or doing touristy things by myself. Those are experiences I enjoy talking and sharing with another person. So I did the second best thing: went where I wanted to, ate a ton of great food and desserts, shopped in stores we don't have in Philadelphia, and slept in the middle of my king-sized bed. I was home for about 16 hours before we left for a last-minute trip to Buffalo, NY, for G to visit with family and friends. I had some SERIOUS jetlag well into this week but everything is starting to fall back into place.

I'm excited to be home and back focused on things I want to accomplish in the coming months. In the meantime, here are five things I'm loving right now:

1. This post about Nurturing your Creativity by The Crafted Life really hit home for me. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen baking for the blog, and not very much time baking for fun or for the people I love. 

2. I was recommended the book The Devil in the White City while at a conference in LA and decided to pick it up while I was there for the flight home. It's fantastic and I read it for the entire 5+ hour flight home. Definitely a must read for anyone interested in true crime. AND I'm hoping this helps with my recent inability to focus on a book for more than 5 minutes. 

3. I wore this Vintage Color Block Necklace that I got for Christmas while I was in LA last week and had never received so many compliments in one day. It's one of my favorite new jewelry pieces (along with these tassel earrings from Little Arrow Studio in cobalt and pink).

4. I purchased two new pairs of clogs a few weeks ago from Lotta From Stockholm and I'm once again wowed by the quality of these. They're super simple shoes and a bear to break in, but once you do they're absolutely perfect. And they have a great sales and seconds section of their website which I purchase from all the time and have never been let down by.

5. Every time I travel and use hotel bath products, I realize how much I love my shampoo. Is that weird?? I have incredibly straight hair (and a lot of it), which I don't like to wash every day. My hair also needs some extra umph from products to not just lay flat to my head. Because of those things, it can be a little greasier than I'd like at my roots while the ends are still a little too dry. But the Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Shampoo is amazing. It's pricey, but a bottle for me lasts a long time. It just makes my hair feel perfectly clean, but not too soft and slippery that it won't hold a style, and that feeling just lasts. It's my fav!

Want to never miss a blog post again? Sign up to get Unusually Lovely blog posts straight to your email! Just submit your email address on the left sidebar under the social media icons!


Cocktail: Lavender Gimlet

Lavender in my food and drink is a hard one for me. I want to love it, I really do. But anytime I've tried lavender ice cream or a lavender latte, it just doesn't do it for me. I enjoy that they smell like lavender, but the taste always reminds me of accidentally getting perfume in your mouth or just too intensely floral. And, one of the very few times in my life that I've abandoned a cocktail when it was 90% full was with a lavender gin and tonic that tasted exactly like hand soap in a glass. I'll just add, that bar has since closed down.

But I was recently gifted a set of bitters, which included lavender bitters, and knew I wanted to find a way to use lavender in a cocktail that I actually enjoyed. So we've going with the less-is-more method here. This cocktail has all the strong herbal and lime flavor of a traditional gimlet, but with just a hint of lavender.

Lavender Gimlet

Makes one cocktail

2 oz gin
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2–4 dashes of lavender bitters

In a shaker with ice, add gin, simple syrup, and lime juice. Add 3–6 dashes of lavender bitters, depending how strong of a lavender taste you want, and shake to combine. Strain into a coupe glass.

I know not everyone is interested in garnishing a drink with dried lavender and other flowers. Feel free to garnish this drink with a thin slice of lime. Cheers! 


How to Build a Bloody Mary Bar

I still remember the first time I ever had a Bloody Mary. I was in New Orleans visiting a college friend and freshly out of a long-term relationship. We were hung over and walking through the French Quarter about to get lunch when my friends suggested we pop into some bar and get Bloody Marys. While we waited, we chatted with a woman who had her dog on the bar and was feeding it milk while telling us how it soothed the dog's upset stomach.*** We wandered through the French Quarter, drinking Bloody Marys and trying to kill off our hangovers while I talked about my life and what was going on.

I don't think I'm alone in saying that a lot of important conversations in my life have happened while sipping a cocktail. I can remember where/what I was drinking on my first date with G, when I helped my bff through her breakup, the first day I moved into my house, and when I found out my other friend was pregnant. I think that wonderful things can happen when you have the right people, good cocktails, great conversations, and maybe a few snacks thrown in.

I'm also here to tell you that Bloody Marys are THE BOMB. They're filling, savory but refreshing, and a damn good cure for a hangover (sorry 'bout ya if you don't like tomato juice). Plus, they lend themselves to a "make your own" situation at a party perfectly because everyone can throw in what they like. When we were planning our Galentine's Day Brunch last month, we decided this would be the perfect addition to our cocktail area and different than the semi-played out idea of a mimosa bar. Keep reading for all the details on our Bloody Mary Bar!

***How does that woman own a dog and think that giving it milk is going to sooth it's stomach? Dairy can make dog's sick! We talked about that for a long time after it happened. I still may not be over it...

Bloody Mary Bar

Makes enough for a small party

Bloody Mary mix (this is my favorite)
Vodka and/or tequila
Optional additions (listed below)

This is my favorite way to make a Bloody Mary. Fill a pint glass with ice. Add vodka (or tequila if you want a Bloody Maria) until the glass is 1/3-1/2 full. Fill the rest of the glass with Bloody Mary mix, add a few dashes of worchestire sauce, and stir to combine. Add a bunch of accoutrements and enjoy immediately.

The fun of having a Bloody Mary bar is that each person can add whatever accoutrements they want to their Bloody Mary. We offered things to stick directly into the drink like pickle spears and celery stalks, but also wooden skewers to string together small add ins like pickled vegetables and gherkins. Each item was arranged in bowls and small platters so guesses could easily choose what they want to add in.

Things We Had For This Party:
Paprika Salt (ground paprika mixed with coarse salt) for rimming the glass
Kalamata Olives
Blue Cheese Stuffed Green Olives
Marinated Mini Corn on the Cobs
Mini Bell Peppers
Marinated Pearl Onions
Worchestire Sauce
Wooden Skewers

Other Things We Didn't Have:
Cheese Cubes
Pickled Green beans
Cocktail Shrimp
Jalapeno Peppers
Lemon Slices

My biggest tips for creating your own Bloody Mary bar are having a variety of options, buying what you like, and raiding the olive bar at your supermarket. You should think about what you prefer in your drink and then what your guests might like. And I found a lot of what we included in our bar in the olive bar section. Those mini corns, blue cheese stuffed olives, kalamata olives, and pearl onions were all picked from the olive bar and ended up being cheaper than buy a whole jar of each thing.

February in Review

February was an incredibly productive month. It started out with a bang, being that I scheduled two back-to-back photoshoot days followed by a flight out of the city for vacation all in the first week. But I'm starting to remember that I love being busy, as long as that "being busy" is primarily made up of things I want to do. I do my best work when time is of the essence. That being said, February has been a month of reflection for me as well. I'm realizing that when things don't go as planned, it's time to change the plan and make it work for you. I've been sitting around waiting for things to happen and not putting myself out there, which leads into my first thing that happened this month:

Melt Downs and Motivations: Soooo, sometimes you need to go down before you go up. Sometimes you need to cry it all out before things become clear. With a little help from G, I took a hard look at what I want and what I need out of my life this month and you know what? It's freaking scary and confusing and hard. It makes me uncomfortable and very nervous, but I think that's okay! Now that the melt down is over, I feel more focused and motivated to make things happen. We'll see how that all plays out.

Trip to Miami: Obviously you all knew my trip to Miami was going to make this list. It was so, so nice and very well needed. We escaped some snow in Philly, we went to the beach, we walked around gardens and feed flamingos, and we ate damn good food. It was just perfect (and incredibly affordable) and it's got me itching to plan more travel this year.

Brunch Photoshoot: Back at Christmas time, Kate and I decided to partner on a photoshoot because we were both feeling tired and unsatisfied creatively. I'm so proud and excited that the Galentine's Day Shoot turned into what it did. We invited a handful of our favorite ladies to be models. I got to decorate a table and cocktail area. 

Shooting with a New Client: Kate and I's side hustle continues! This month we worked with a new client in the suburbs and I'm so thrilled to see where this leads. More on this all later!


Recipe: Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches

Today I've brought you something that's been floating around in my brain for MONTHS now. For Christmas, G gave me the ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid (!!!!) and after looking through a bunch of new ice cream cookbooks and the book that came with the attachment, I decided I wanted my first endeavor to be strawberry ice cream.

This is kind of a strange choice for me. I like strawberry ice cream, but I definitely wouldn't say it's my favorite or even go-to ice cream (for those wondering at home, my go-to ice cream is peanut butter swirl). But strawberry seemed easy enough, better than just plain vanilla, and a flavor that would lend itself to being homemade. Strawberry ice cream from a carton is good, but homemade strawberry ice cream, where you chopped the strawberries and made it that day, would be next level.

But it wasn't until I made these Raspberry-Dusted Lemon Donuts that I discovered the amazingness of freeze-dried fruits (I get mine at Whole Foods). I can't get enough! And, added bonus, they kind of mimic the crunchy bits on a strawberry shortcake ice cream bar! The Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwich was born.

Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches

Makes 12 sandwiches

For Sugar Cookies
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/3 cups flour

Strawberry Ice Cream
1 pint strawberries, hulled and chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 oz freeze-dried strawberry slices, crushed into small pieces but not dust (optional)

Make your ice cream: In a bowl, mix chopped strawberries with 1/2 cup of sugar and lime juice. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 

In a large bowl, whisk eggs until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Whisk in sugar until combined. Add in milk and vanilla extract and whisk until combined. Switch to a rubber spatula and add in strawberries and all the juice. Finally, stir in heavy whipping cream. Pour mixture into ice cream machine and follow manufacturer's instructions. Once ice cream is done, pour into a 9x11 inch baking sheet and spread evenly. Place in the freezer for 2 hours (overnight is even better).

Make your cookies: Cream butter and shortening with an electric mixer. Add sugar and mix until light and fluffy 3-5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk flour, salt, and baking powder to combine. With your mixer on low, add dry ingredients to the butter/egg mixer.

Drop rounded balls of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. I made mine about a tablespoon and a half large. Bake 8-10 minutes or until bottoms just begin to brown. Allow cookies to cool slightly on the baking sheet, about 5 minutes, and then transfer onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Make your sandwiches: Once cookies are completely cool, match cookies of the same size. Spread your crushed freeze-dried strawberries onto a plate. Because I wanted to ice cream centers to be uniform, I used a circle cookie cutter to cut out pucks of ice cream all the same size. I placed each puck onto a cookie and topped with another cookie, pressing them together slightly. If you want to make your sandwiches the easy way, scoop a large ice cream scoopful of ice cream and place it on one cookie. Using the other cookie, press the sandwich together. Either way, they'll be beautiful and delicious.

Over the plate, spoon the crushed strawberries onto the sides of one half of the ice cream center, pressing lightly with the back of the spoon until they stick. Place back in the freeze to harder completely. Once completely frozen, store in an air tight container in the freezer. Enjoy!