Christmas in The Country…

Good Morning! The blogging schedule is going to be a bit off this week, what with the upcoming Christmas (long) weekend. My time over the next few days is going to be divided up between work, holiday parties, visiting with family and delivering gifts to friends across all corners of Massachusetts- so I won’t be able to be online much until it’s time to wrap things up and bid adieu to 2017 in a series of year-end celebration/reflection posts throughout next week leading up to New Year’s Eve!

Some people might think that holiday travel can be daunting- and I’m sure for those who have to fly to multiple destinations- it can be, but I typically drive everywhere- and I love it! I especially enjoy heading out to Western Massachusetts where the scenery is much more rural, old-fashioned, or “rustic”. The old houses, farms, mom & pop shops, bed and breakfasts- and chic little places to stop and eat or hang your hat for a few hours. It’s a breath of fresh air (literally) from the busy, crowded and noisy way of life that comes with city living.

And of course, such a beautiful part of New England never fails to deliver spectacular views when it comes to decorating for the holidays. The photo above was taken in the small town square outside of New Salem, Mass while I was en route (on the back roads, of course!)– heading towards Deerfield this past weekend. It had just snowed a bit, and the lights looked especially beautiful- but beyond the square were rows of barns, churches, and businesses that were all lit up with traditional white lights, tinsel, garland, candles and bows.

If it hadn’t been so cold out- I probably could have walked the streets for hours!

Of course, the city has one thing the country doesn’t- and that’s gigantic Christmas ornaments on the sidewalks- like the one I posed next to on Sunday night after a quick stop at the Prudential Center where I met up with friends for dinner and some shopping!

I’ve got to head into work and prepare for an office lunch with some of my co-workers a little later on this afternoon (and we’re having another party tomorrow!)– but I’ve got another post planned for Thursday morning before I officially break for Christmas.

See you all soon!

xx

– Ashley –

Festive Foodie: Cheesecake Thumbprint Cookies

When I was a kid, my mother used to have a handful of recipes she’d fall back on around the holidays to serve guests or bring with us when we attended family Christmas parties. One of those recipes were thumbprint cookies. My mom would typically make a couple dozen of them at a time and then proceed to fill in the center indentation with melted chocolate or lemon custard. They were always popular and were always one of the first snacks/desserts to disappear once our actual dinner was finished.

And now, years later- I’ve found an updated version of the recipe that incorporates two popular desserts into one bite-sized treat: sugar cookies and cheesecake. With 30 minutes of prep/cook time total- this recipe makes 24 cookies in all- which means you’ll have plenty of them to feed everybody and not have to worry about spending all day in your kitchen!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 20 crackers)
  • 1¾ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

FILLING:

  • 5 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup jam

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. MAKE THE COOKIES: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the brown sugar and sugar until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and mix to combine, 1 to 2 minutes more.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir the flour with the graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt to combine. Add to the mixer and mix just until fully incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Scoop 2 tablespoons of dough and roll it into a ball; repeat with the remaining dough. Transfer the balls to the prepared baking sheets. Flatten each one slightly, then use your thumb to make a deepimpression in the center of each cookie.
  5. MAKE THE FILLING: In a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese with the sugar, egg white and vanilla extract to combine.
  6. Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each cookie. Top each cookie with 1 teaspoon jam and then use the tip of a knife or a toothpick to swirl the jam into the cream cheese filling.
  7. Bake until the cookies are lightly golden brown at the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
  8. Enjoy!

Not only were these cookies really pretty when they were done, but they tasted incredible, too- and definitely took me back to my childhood while I was eating them. I’m really looking forward to surprising my mother with a batch of these for her birthday this coming Christmas Eve. I know she’ll appreciate the tradition being passed down!

Enjoy your Friday and your weekend, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

POPSUGAR Must Have Box Review: December 2017

Good Morning, everyone! I hope you’re all surviving your week and are hanging in there until this coming weekend arrives. Today marks the first day of my pre-Christmas Vacation-Vacation, so I’ll be out and about running errands and finishing up the last of my holiday shopping and gift-wrapping today. I’m pretty excited to get it done!

Before I head off, though- I wanted to share what was in my recently received POPSUGAR “Must Have” Box- which is actually going to be my last box from the company for a while. That’s not to say I don’t simply adore POPSUGAR or enjoy everything they send me- but in an effort to save some money and make more room around my place for things as part of a resolution I’ve developed for 2018- I am briefly halting my subscription following this month’s assortment of items.

Since this month’s box marked the final one not only for myself, but for 2017- I know POPSUGAR were going to go all out to make sure it was memorable.

This month’s themes/inspirations tied into the holiday season/New Year celebration, and included: COZY, GIVING, SPARKLING, TRADITIONS, WARMTH and CELEBRATE.

Alright- let’s see what I got!

Winter is the time of year where I have to show my skin a little extra TLC to keep it from getting dried out when the temperatures drop- and part of that process is making sure I exfoliate regularly. That being said, when I saw this pretty big container of body scrub by LALICIOUS in this month’s “Must Have” Box- I was ecstatic.

Not only is this stuff not harsh at all against my skin (it’s pretty gentle- but effective!)— but it makes me smell like a freshly baked sugar cookie and I am ALL about that this time of year!

I’m kind of a Pier 1 junkie- and most of my home decor is proof of that- but even I was unaware that the company made cocktail-inspired candles. It’s a pretty pleasant surprise- especially since the Moscow Mule one I received in this month’s collection of items is both eerily spot-on in terms of fragrance (and mouthwatering!) but is also super long-lasting and pretty potent.

Now to collect them all…

Out of all the items I received from POPSUGAR this month, this gorgeous gold and crystal bar necklace from Chloe + Isabel might be my favorite. It’s so sparkly, elegant, eye-catching and fun to wear- and it ties together even the most simple or subtle of ensembles.

I have a feeling I’m going to be getting a lot of wear out of this during the coming holiday parties and New Year’s Eve!

No POPSUGAR box is complete without something I can gift to others- and in this month’s “Must Have” Box- I knew my cousin (who just moved into her very first apartment) would get a kick out of this set of four sparkly acrylic coasters from BaubleBar– which resemble a party dress I wore to New York City a few years ago- as well as about several nail polish shades I still actively wear today.

I digress- these are cute and fun and I know she’s going to make good use of them when she has her friends from her sorority over!

I just need to start this off by saying that this thin, sparkly scarf by TILO is priced at $98. Yes, you read that right. $98. I was almost worried to wear it at first for fear it would get snagged on something or have something spilled on it- but once I put it on I couldn’t take it off because it looked and felt so lovely.

I think one of my favorite things about this scarf, apart from the subtle little rhinestones sewn in throughout it- is that the colors match nearly everything in my wardrobe. I can wear this around my neck with any outfit and it will still look chic and festive. I’m in love!

How cute is this set of “FOR YOU” universal gift tags from ASHKAHN? This year I’m really trying to be unique and special with my gift-wrapping instead of just using the same patterned paper and ribbons/bows for everyone- and I thought these tags would be a nice touch to really help my packages stand out when I make the rounds on Christmas Eve to drop off presents for my family and friends!

Snack time! I split this sugar-cookie flavored chocolate bar from Wild Ophelia right away after I’d spotted it- and it was 100% worth the indulgence. Made with natural ingredients, these gluten-free treats taste as good as the packaging looks- and the company who manufactures them focus their profits on providing grants for girls/women with entrepreneurial aspirations.

Delicious chocolate AND they help women excel? I think I’ve found a new favorite candy company.

And finally- some digital loot (and I’ve blocked out the code on one of them!) The first, a $10 off of any purchase from Pier 1 in-store/online voucher, and the second- a 20% voucher for LALICIOUS.

I have a feeling I’ll be stocking up on body scrub and candles over the next few days!

This was another hit from POPSUGAR, and probably one of the best boxes I’ve seen since I first subscribed to the service a few years ago to perfectly close out the year. I’m going to miss POPSUGAR’s monthly surprises- and I hope to re-subscribe someday soon- but I had a great run and I highly recommend it to anyone who can fit it into their budget!

And with that all being shared- I’m off to buy Christmas presents! Have a great day, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

“Walking in a Winter Wonderland…”

Good Morning and Happy Monday, everyone! It’s a short week for me at work- since I took this coming Wednesday-Friday off so that I can get the last of my Christmas shopping and gift wrapping done while spending some time with friends and family leading up to the holiday- so I expect the next 48 hours to be jam-packed with making all my phone calls and sending all my e-mails in advance.

I’m excited, though. It’s always nice to take some time off- especially around Christmastime since it gives me the opportunity to really enjoy all the fun and beauty that comes with the season.

This past weekend marked the first significant snowfall of the Winter season here in New England- totaling about 3-6 inches around various parts of Massachusetts. It was thankfully light and fluffy (and easy to shovel!) instead of the wet, heavy, sleet stuff we typically get. When I was done clearing both my and my neighbor’s driveways and walkways- I took some time to have a late afternoon hike and snap some photos of the aftermath of the storm. It was gorgeous! There’s a couple of my favorite shots below.

I’m sure I’ll be over and sick of the snow within a month, but for now- pre-Christmas- I rather enjoyed it!

After work tonight, I’m having dinner and drinks with some of my girlfriends- where we’re going to have a group therapy session to talk about last night’s mid-season finale of “The Walking Dead”. I NEED a cocktail after that one.

Enjoy your day, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

OOTD: Feeling Festive

Good Morning and Happy Friday, everyone! I’m so excited the weekend is here, since it gives me the opportunity to catch up on (and hopefully finish) the last of my Christmas shopping. I took a partial vacation from work next week- but I had wanted to spend those days off doing some baking, a little decorating and visit with friends instead of hopping from store to store and screaming into the void at every horrible parking situation I encounter on the way.

While the next couple of weeks are going to be filled with Holiday parties- including an annual ‘Ugly Sweater’ gathering and a flannel-themed shindig at work before we break for Christmas- I wanted to share one of my semi-festive but more subtle ensembles that incorporate the classic red, white and green color scheme without making me look like I’m wearing an elf costume.

I had initially bought this knee-length red and white knitted sweater to wear on a flight to Vegas last Fall so I could stay warm on the plane, but it’s quickly become one of my go-to cover-ups when I’m out and about and the December temperatures aren’t so frigid here in New England.

Paired with a forest green beanie and I’m ready for any last minute Yankee Swaps, cookie exchanges or tree-lighting ceremonies. I look and feel comfortable- and not over-the-top with too many layers. or too many Holiday-themed patterns or prints.

And when it gets too cold (particularly at night)– I can just throw a heavy coat on over this and show it off whenever I’m back indoors. I wear this a lot at work or when I’m out running errands- or more recently this past weekend when I had headed into Faneuil Hall with friends to check out the Christmas tree.

I’m sure as Christmas gets closer, I’ll be displaying more of the ugly sweaters, the holiday-inspired printed leggings, or the bizarre accessories- but for now- this is a nice, simple Outfit of The Day that keeps me feeling festive on-the-go.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone! I’ll be back on Monday (assuming the mid-season finale of “The Walking Dead” on Sunday night doesn’t break my spirit.)

xx

– Ashley –

Sleigh Bells Ring…

While I have many favorite Holiday traditions I like to participate in year after year with my friends and family- two of them, without fail- always happen earlier in the month when I’m still coming off the fringes of Thanksgiving weekend. I’m talking about visiting the local tree lots and nurseries outside the city- particularly when they’ve only just started putting out their seasonal items and decorations.

To me, it’s the first real taste of Christmas- and the smell of pine needles, mint and spices always puts me in a festive mood and gets me ready to hang up my lights, grab some eggnog, and start wrapping presents. Although I’ve had an artificial tree for as long as I can remember- I’m hoping someday I’ll be able to commit to a real one. I would have done it this year, but I had heard there was a shortage of trees as a result of the recession a few years ago- so spending an insane amount of money on one was out of the question. Maybe next year!

Regardless, I still stopped by Russell’s Garden Center this past weekend to check out their selection (and marvel at their impressive nutcracker collection!)

My other favorite tradition, and the trick is to timing it just right so you can avoid all the pedestrian traffic- is going to see the HUGE Christmas tree in Faneuil Hall and catch one of it’s timed light displays every half hour. Sean and I headed down right before the last display of the evening this past Saturday night- and although there were quite a few people milling around near some of the bars in the area- we were still able to get nice and close to the tree to snap a few uninterrupted photos and videos.

And of course, as is tradition- we met up with our friend Chris and proceeded to start the long walk to and through Boston Common and down the illuminated Commonwealth Avenue. The city always does such an amazing job with the lights- and I know it’s going to look even more beautiful if and when we get the first legitimate snowfall of the season!

I’m looking forward to sharing photos of my own Christmas display after I’ve finished decorating my tree and my windows this coming weekend. They are nowhere near as elaborate as the ones around Boston- but they’re still nice!

But I’ve just got to make it through the rest of this week, first. Halfway there already!

Enjoy your Wednesdays, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

Festive Foodie: Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

Well hello! It’s another early Monday morning and after a busy few days packed with overtime at my office last week- I’m ready to slow things down a little and get to work at a steadier, calmer pace. The holidays can be crazy enough- what with trying to get holiday shopping done, balancing party plans, and making sure I don’t indulge in too many Christmas-inspired sweets- so I’m trying to keep any work-related stress to a minimum if it’s possible.

So when I stumbled across this “set it and forget it” style crock-pot recipe for cocoa late last week- I knew it was something I wanted to try during my downtime over the weekend. Anything that is advertised as a “drinkable brownie” is right up my alley!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • A dash of vanilla extract

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Pour all of your ingredients into your slow cooker/crock pot. Lightly stir.
  2. Cook the ingredients on low for 2 hours.
  3. Whisk everything really, really well.
  4. Add marshmallows, whipped cream (or both!), sit back in your footie pajamas by the Christmas tree- sip and enjoy!

Creamy, super-chocolatey and indulgent- this cocoa hit the spot after a long afternoon out in the cold with my friends on Saturday. I think the next time I prepare this, I might use mint-chocolate to give it a more seasonally-appropriate taste- but this is definitely going to be my go-to recipe when we start having some serious blizzards here in New England, because I couldn’t think of anything better to enjoy while I’m bundled in blankets and warming up after shoveling the snow!

xx

– Ashley –