Surprise! It’s a…

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Last weekend, my husband and I threw a Ba-By-Q to celebrate the news of our pregnancy with our Texas friends & family.  Never heard of a “Ba-By-Q”?  –Think co-ed baby shower meets afternoon barbecue.  Since it was too soon to call it a baby shower, we deemed it a combo Diaper Party and Gender Reveal.  A Diapers & Dudes / Burgers, Beers & Baby kinda thing.  –I have Pinterest to thank for the idea, of course!  (If you’re on Pinterest too, I’d love to swap ideas…follow me here.)  It was just our luck that my in-laws rented out a casita at the UT Golf Club as their lodging for the occasion and they agreed to allow us to host the party out there.  The space was the perfect place to gather and we loved our weekend out in the hill country.Ba-By-Q Gender Reveal Party theme ideas

Since we would be revealing the sex of Baby Wiese to both our parents during the event, I wanted to create a comfortable atmosphere for guys and girls alike.  I feel like gender reveal parties can easily get a bit of a vanilla-sweet ladies lunch vibe, so I kept the day casual by serving sliders, hot dogs & cold beers.  But, it all had a tie-in with the theme:  the beer chest had a chalkboard “Huggies and Chuggies” sign and the white wine was labeled “Pampers and Pinot.”  Oh, and I couldn’t resist these Barefoot wines with their tiny baby foot imprints on pink & blue labels!Gender Reveal party ideas:  white wine with tiny baby feet on pink & blue labels

Although it was a grill-out, we kept it upscale by serving all organic foods & sodas, i.e. sliders were made of grass-fed, pasture-raised organic lean beef and the hot dogs were humanely raised uncured beef, made with no antibiotics or preservatives.  A rainbow of organic chopped fruit was served kabob-style and rather than a traditional sheet cake, dessert was comprised of mini bundt cakes (cupcake size) in a variety of flavors.  Have y’all tried Nothing Bundt Cakes?  –OMG, so good and moist!  I opted for three dozen of their little “Bundtinis” in chocolate/chocolate chip, red velvet (everyone’s favorite), white chocolate raspberry, and lemon.Baby Gender Reveal Party with mini cupcakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes

Now, for the highlight of the evening:  the big reveal!  We had our friends “Cast Your Vote and Wear It’ by signing a black foam board w/ chalk markers and don a boy or girl lanyard made of a cute little pink or blue lucite charm strung with matching baker’s twine.  Additionally, I drew up a board of clues to help everyone narrow it down…Clue Board for Gender Reveal Party

So…any guesses?!?  The “Old Wive’s Tales” where the responses would indicate boy are written in blue, and girl are obviously in pink.  As you can see, that gaggle of ol’ wives would predict we’re having a BOY.  To keep things interesting, I came up with a way for our voters to get some skin in the game:  I knew that after the reveal we’d be doing a champagne toast, so those who guessed correctly got to cheers with Moet & Chandon champagne from France…those who guessed wrong got Korbel sparking white wine from Cali. ;)

As to how the actual reveal would be done, I definitely did my research to find something new.  I’ve seen the cake-batter reveal (kinda anti-climactic, honestly) and the whole ‘releasing a box of balloons’ thing can easily go haywire (the balloons don’t always cooperate the way you hope ‘em to), so I settled on the balloon-pop idea.  Each set of Grandparents-to-Be got one opaque black balloon filled with either pink or blue confetti.  This way, each of our parents found out at the exact same time and the popping of the balloon visually revealed baby’s gender in a nice ‘Surprise!’ way to our guests.  Gotta say, it went over so well…our dads held the balloon steady while our mothers popped it with a toothpick on the count of three, and the silk rose petals I had placed inside flew into the air and fluttered slowly to the ground.  It was a complete shock to our parents and so much fun to see the excitement on their faces when they found out their future grandchild is a… Baby Gender Reveal Party:  balloon pop with confetti idea

GIRL!!!

Big thanks to those who flew in from out of state, who drove in from Houston, and to all who came out to Steiner Ranch for the party.  It was such a memorable day for our family and I am thankful to share it with each of you.

Pregnancy Announcement Photo Session, part two

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More maternity pics from our shoot with Laura Vogt Photography

I first felt the baby move at 18 weeks and now feel it moving around all the time.  Both my husband and my mother have felt Baby Wiese’s little kicks, too.  We find out the sex in just a few days!  Gender Reveal Party is in Austin on Sept. 6th.

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Pregnancy Announcement Photo Session, part one

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Now that we’ve officially announced the pregnancy, I thought I’d share some highlights from our pregnancy announcement photo session.  We were so lucky to be vacationing in the picturesque setting of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains at the same time as my Sister-in-Law, a talented photographer based in Tulsa, OK.  Laura of Laura Vogt Photography specializes in engagement, wedding, and boudoir photos with an ethereal, soft, romantic quality about them.  She does a lot of outdoor shoots in fields of flowers at sunset, beautifully capturing ‘golden hour’ to give her photographs the essence of a fairy tale.  She graciously took time out of her holiday to shoot some 800+ shots of us, which came out to one click every four seconds!  I’ve narrowed down my favorites and although totally unedited, they truly capture how I’m feeling right now.Pregnancy Announcement Photo Pregnancy Announcement #2 Pregnancy Announcement #3 Pregnancy Announcement #4 Pregnancy Announcement #5 Pregnancy Announcement #6

 

My picks for the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

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My favorite sale of the entire year is here!  The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is now open to the public!  I look forward to this sale because rather than a typical end-of-season clearance, they actually reduce the new fall stuff in advance and then prices go back up to normal later.  I pour over the catalog when it arrives in the mail and always pre-shop in advance of the “Early Access” I get as a cardholder.  There’s always fabulous deals in all the departments so I make sure to look at everything, from shoes to cosmetics.  Here are a few of the things I purchased from this year’s sale and why:

My picks from the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

(clockwise from top left)

1.  Kendra Scott “Elle” Drop Earrings:  The smaller, lighter, (and in my opinion, more wearable) little sister to Kendra Scott’s original “Danielle” style, these earrings give you that classic KS silhouette in the bold colors we all love.  Because I’m wearing a lot of melon (pastel orange) this summer and that I always wear a ton of both bright & burnt orange in the fall, I chose them in Orange Cat’s Eye but they come in a handful of other beautiful fall colors, too.  Sale: $33.90 — After Sale: $52.00

2.  rag & bone “Newbury Bootie:  Footwear favorites of Jessica Alba & Reese Witherspoon, I’ve had my eye on these boots for awhile now.  However, the $500+ price tag has kept me watching & waiting for them to go on sale.  Once I saw them –for nearly $200 off!– in the preview catalog, I immediately put them on my shopping list!  This style from rag & bone has been around for a few years now, but that just proves classic reliability and that they’ll be stylish for years to come.  They’ve got a heel to ‘em but are so comfortable AND are featured in a cool distressed/crackled suede.  This is my most exciting find from the sale.  Sale: $359.90 — After Sale: $550.00

3.  Nike “Free TR Connect 2″ Training Shoe:  If you need new gym shoes, this is the perfect time to nab some fresh new kicks at a great price.  I usually wait to get my athletic shows at Nordstrom Rack, but I had to jump on this super-fun color pattern.  They call it “Black/Grey” but I call it Snow Leopard.  I’m loving all the latest leopard print shoes popping up in various styles but also feeling a more subtle, classic black & white footwear look.  –These shoes are the prefect combination of both.  Besides looking cute in the gym, I’ll also be pairing them with black leggings & a long cardi to run errands around town.  Sale: $72.90 — After Sale: $110.00

4.  Chantelle Intimates “Basic Invisible” Memory Foam T-Shirt Bra:  Two things:  1.) I’m getting crazy irritated noticing bra lines under my shirts and 2.) I really need full coverage these days, rather than my old demi push-ups.  I had an Oprah-like ‘ah-ha’ moment during my first visit to Nordstrom’s Bra Specialists:  she found I was wearing the wrong size all around…both the cup size and my measurement number was off!  These comfy, full coverage bras by Chantelle are a dream to wear — no nip slips here!  I usually don’t buy two of the same bra at once, but I couldn’t help but take home the Light Pink and Toffee colors.  Sale: $45.90 — After Sale: $69.00

5.  Lush ‘Perfect’ Tunic Henley (Juniors):  This simple tunic top has an ultra-flattering cut while still providing booty coverage.  Perfect with leggings & boots in the Fall!  Sale: $28.90 — After Sale: $44.00

6.  The Honest Company Baby Arrival Gift Set:  These Honest Co. products seem to be all-the-rage in babyland, no?  This gift set is a good value at the Anniversary Sale price and is an economical way to try-out the product line-up.  Plus, I feel like gift sets are an easy way to make sure Mom has a nice selection of what she needs, all wrapped up in a nice bundle package.  –The perfect Baby Shower gift!  Sale: $32.90 — After Sale: $49.95

7.  BP. High Waist Seamed Moto Leggings (Juniors):  These bottoms boast an interesting ‘moto’ gathering on the front thigh and an extra seaming detail around the knee.  These textural elements, combined with their unique washed-out coloring, sets this pair apart from your regular everyday leggings.  They are cut for teens (translation:  they run small) so if you don’t get to try them on in-person, I recommend sizing-up.  Sale: $24.90 — After Sale: $38.00

Life[style]: Summertime

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Have y’all been having a great summer so far?  Our May was full of milestones, celebrations, & big changes in the works for us.  First, came a Cinco de Mayo I’ll never forget, an equally memorable Mother’s Day, then our six-year wedding anniversary on May 25th.  June is such a fun month for me, too:  it’s my birth month AND the official start to summer!  As for July, I’ve got plans for a couple visits out to the East Coast in the works.  I’ll get to catch up with family in Richmond, VA next week, and the hubs & I looking forward to our annual visit to his parents’ place in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains at the end of the month.  What trips do YOU have planned for this summer?  To help me survive this long, hot season I like to find new products & practices specially designed to help me beat the heat, so here goes:

1.  Bronzing Lotion:  Even during winter, I use a bronzing lotion on my legs after every shave.  Not the old-school bronzer that was just for color and had problems with streaks & orangey-effect, I’m talking about the new crop of body lotions with a touch of bronzer included in their formula.  I’ve tried several brands over the years and really covet the all-in-one types:  moisturizing, bronzing AND firming.  Usually the firming aspect of that trifecta is unnoticeable, though, and I’ve almost abandoned the idea of a topical cream actually being able to help me out in that department.  Well ladies, I’ve found one that actually works:  “Lipo Bronze” by Fake Bake.  Deemed a “self-tan lotion with anti-cellulite,” it promises a luxurious golden bronze & easy application, all while firming and toning.  Sounds a little too good to be true, but this is actually the most effective firming cream I’ve tried…and I’ve tried a lot of ‘em, honey!  Lackluster to absolutely no results were seen from my experience using Jergens Natural Glow Daily Firming Moisturizer as well as both bliss fat girl slim & fat girl sleep.  Now, this one’s not a miracle cream, but I was pleasantly surprised when my application of Lipo Bronze served up just enough of a result to step out in confidence in shorts at the first sign of summer.  I’ve gotten to where I have to put it on any day I’m wearing shorts or a bathing suit.  Not only does it moisturize adequately (not too much, but just enough), carry a nice color to it, but it actually reduces the appearance of my cellulite!  –Seriously.  It’s an effective, awesome product that actually does what it says it’ll do — y’all gotta try it!  Anti-cellulite cream the actually works:  Lipo Bronze by Fake Bake

 

2.  New arm candy:  This year, my husband was out of town on business over my birthday so he graciously agreed to fly my Mother into Austin to celebrate with me in his place.  Us two girls had a fun time running around the city together:  a pre-birthday celebration at Fleming’s, a surprise invite to a fabulous 4-course dinner & Republic Tequila tasting at Cantina Laredo, a stop by the Kendra Scott flagship store for their regular Wednesday evening “Girl’s Night Out,” and more.  Mother loved KS and not only let me pick out a piece from the new Atlantic Collection as my birthday present, but she found a pair of earrings for herself, too!  (Btw, I take such delight in introducing our out of town guests to Kendra Scott jewels…they are immediately hooked, usually buy a small starter piece on the spot & then find themselves wanting to add more to their collection not even a week after they’ve left!  Since her visit, Mother’s already made it out to the Rice Village location in Houston for a necklace to match her earrings.)  Anyway, I chose a beautiful bracelet –the Ailee Bracelet-- in Abalone as my 32nd birthday gift.  I went with this style because I have small wrists and most of her bracelets fall right off my hand –it’s tough, too, because I’m a bracelet girl–  so when I found one that fit, I pounced!  Plus, all those natural varietal hues in the abalone shell made me feel like this will be a piece that can go with many MANY colors & styles in my closet.  The stones in this collection are supposed to “radiate the beauty of the sea” and with all that the ocean means to my family, it’s just so perfect.  My birthday present:  the Ailee Link Bracelet from Kendra Scott's Atlantic Collection

 

3.  A little something indulgent:  Last week I received a fresh summer trim from my favorite “hair doctor,” Juan at Ron King Salon.  He’s so fabulous and his color artistry created a loyal client out of me.  (More on his amazing balayage to come!)  His well-educated advice and attentive care toward my mane inspired me to treat myself further so I asked him to recommend a single ‘holy grail’ hair product for me to take home.  I’m so tired of having a shelf full of mediocre hair products, so I picked his brain on a must-have product suggestion.  His immediate answer:  Shu Uemura’s Essence Absolue.  I’ll admit, the price tag was a little hard to shallow…the product cost more than the haircut!  But, I was out of Moroccan Oil, was feeling a little indulgent, and figured that one pricey product that’s actually nourishing & effective is worth three or four of those so-so hair elixirs currently collecting dust in my cabinet.  Speaking of Moroccan Oil, I’ve used it regularly for a couple years now but found myself looking for something new & was considering one of those new “dry” oils popping up in stores.  Essence Absolue is actually made of Camellia Oil, providing such a light finish that absorbs right away.  After a week of use, I absolutely love it, apply it on both wet & dry hair, and can really see a difference after I put it in.  It stays out on my bathroom counter, too — I kinda just like to look at it…it reminds me to feel good that I allowed myself to invest in something of the highest quality.  Sometimes I get a little buyers remorse after spending so much on a beauty product, but with this one I feel no guilt…nothing but indulgent affirmation.  A little something indulgent for my hair:  Shu Uemura's Essence Absolue

Mother’s Day recap + Lands’ End Performance collection review

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I fortunately got to celebrate with my mom twice this month:  first, during an early Mother’s Day visit hosting her for a few days here in Austin, and then we got to surprise her with an impromptu visit back home on the actual holiday.  I love that no matter how old I get, I always cherish when Mother can come to the rescue as nurse, soul food chef, and occasional housekeeper.  I don’t mean to call her a maid, but my mom has some kinda knack for cleaning certain things around the house better than I ever could.  The flip side of that coin is she also has a knack for pointing out say, dust bunnies hiding behind the door of our guest bedroom…uh, THANKS for bringing that to my attention, Mother.  But, she showed me how she heats a bowl of tap water to steam up the inside of the microwave first, therefore making it easier to wipe away nuked residue.  In showing me this trick she thoroughly cleaned my microwave…thanks, Mom! :)

Serendipitously (for reasons I’ll explain), a few weeks ago I received some fresh fitness attire to review from Lands’ End.  Did you know they now make Activewear?  I remember this brand from years ago…their catalogs showcasing mix & match bathing suits to fit every shape, size, and color preference.  Well, they offer so much more than swimwear nowadays, and I was happy to get to try out some sample pieces from the debut Lands’ End Performance collection in the gym.  I received the 1.) Regular Performance Sport Crop Pants in Black 2.) Performance Colorblock Tank Top in Soft Pink Painted Stripe, and 3.) Solid Med-High Impact Performance Sports Bra in Black.Review of Lands' End new Performance Collection

Pants:  These workout pants are smoothing, supportive and most of all, SO SOFT!  The wide-leg, capri cut wasn’t great on my chicken legs…I usually go for full-length yoga pants or fitted legging-style crops.  The pockets are a huge plus, though — there’s a hidden zip pocket and a pocket for your iPhone in the back.

Top:  I loved the length…nice and long.  Great bright colors.  Super breathable and lightweight without clinging to my skin.  SIZE DOWN because it runs large and the armholes & silhouette were a little wide for my frame.

Sports Bra:  A flattering, quality piece!  Adore the individual molded cups for “the girls.”  My other beloved high-imapct sports bra by Moving Comfort definitely works, but it is in no way wearable post-workout due to the compression factor.  This sports bra by Lands’ End is comfortable enough to wear both running errands and around the house.

Overall:  The fabrics are fabulous…supportive where they need to be and breathable in the places a girl can appreciate.  I suggest sizing down — I’m a Small in Nike, for example, and in this label I could’ve definitely gone with XS in every piece.  Apparently evolving way beyond catalogs & bathing suits, Lands’ End brings their tried & true standard of quality and performance to workout gear.  It all comes at a moderate, budget-friendly price point and they even have Lands’ End Shops at select Sears locations.

So, back to Mother’s visit:  I showed her Whole Foods Market new location at The Domain, did some cooking at home, watched girly movies, did our nails…ya know, a bunch of girly stuff!  One of the highlights of her trip was our evening checking out a new yoga studio.  Whether as a rental investment or to buy & live in ourselves, at the time we had been actively looking at houses on Austin’s East Side and I wanted to show her the neighborhood.  We decided to experience the classes at a boutique yoga studio called East Side Yoga.  This welcoming, affordable & peaceful studio is located on a great street, representative of the area’s vibe.  Yoga is something both my mother & I have practiced in our own lives for years, and the activity has turned about to be a perfect way to share time together.  It’s wonderful when you can discover new shared interests in your relationship with Mom, right?  I was recovering from a minor medical procedure so we opted for an easy Restoring Hatha class.  I’ve never been to a class where the instructor goes around the room and asks each and every student to speak and share any health issues or requests — kinda different but ensures personalized attention.  The studio is intimate without feeling crowded, and the substitute instructor was so great…such a soothing voice!

Best part: since Mother didn’t have her yoga clothes, she was able to sport those pieces I had just received from the Lands’ End Performance collection!  As I said, they were a touch too big for me, but it all fit her perfectly!  We’re basically the same size, but she prefers her workout clothes a bit looser and with more coverage.  These pieces were so great for her:  fun colors, quality fabrics, and age appropriate.  She commented on the softness & comfort of the pants, especially — she stayed in them for the rest of the evening and they proved comfy enough for TV-watching back at home.  She even brought ‘em back home to La Porte as part of her Mother’s Day gift.  Here she is, modeling their tank at our post-workout dinner:My mom in Lands' End Performance top

After our class, we walked across the street to the cutest European-style cafe, Blue Dahlia Bistro.  This place is consistently satisfying, great for any time of day, and the outdoor atmosphere was fitting for a nice little bite with my mom.  That’s egg salad on toast points topped with capers…it was so light and delicious!  We had a little table with a nice vantage point for East Side people-watching, too.  Miss you, Mother!  Come back to Austin soon!

My Experience Inside an Infrared Sauna

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For my story in the May/June issue of InFluential Magazine, I explored new & innovative ways to enhance my fitness game.  I didn’t necessarily want to cover new moves to try in the gym or what trendy classes to take, but focused more on how to add to what I’m already doing:  what to eat, how to speed recovery, and supplementary spa treatments that are new to the market.  See the full article here:  http://issuu.com/influentialmagazine/docs/influential_mayjune_final_/48

May/June Cover of InFluential Magazine

In doing my research on the topic, I seriously think I’ve discovered the hottest –both literally and figuratively– new way to lose weight:  SmartSweat Infrared Saunas.  I predict that these sauna sessions will be all the range soon, especially when it comes to weight loss & detoxification.  I was truly baffled at my results after just 3 sessions!  Btw, they are NOT sponsoring this post…this is me, just wanting to share more about the experience.  I cover a lot of the specifics (the technology, health benefits, etc.) in my piece for the magazine, but I thought I would share a little more of the personal firsthand details here on the blog…

I first heard about the infrared sauna/weight loss connection when I read it was one of the tricks Rachel Frederickson had up her sleeve to win The Biggest Loser.  You remember her:  the most recent winner of the weight loss reality show who shocked judges at her final weigh-in and went on to win the whole competition.  Well, in the time after they finished taping but before the live season finale, she did a lot of work on her own back at home and got what some thought was too skinny for her final reveal.  I think she looked fit, healthy & happy and she’s added back on just a couple more pounds since winning and apparently has found her happy medium.  Reportedly, regular infrared sauna sessions were one of the tools she used to seal the deal on winning and that’s how the idea first got on my radar.

A few weeks later when I noticed it was offered at the place where I get my spray tans, I knew I had to try it out!  I bought-in on a bundle promotion they were running and snagged three sessions for around $30.  –Definitely worth trying it out at ten bucks a pop, ya know?  They book appointments in 1-hour blocks, and my total time inside the booth was 40 minutes.  A few more things I should note:

–Unlike your gym where a traditional sauna is either unisex (uh, have you ever had a man in a speedo hit on you in the steam room? -gross!) or separated back in the men’s/women’s locker rooms, these saunas are completely private.  You’re in a small room all by yourself where you get to disrobe and sit through your individual session in total privacy.

–These saunas won’t wreck your tech.  I played on my iPhone to get acclimated at the beginning of all my sessions, in fact.  The type of booth I went to (called SmartSweat) boasted an array of digital entertainment choices to keep me occupied:  Apple TV, Netflix, music, and a digital display with the current time, session countdown, and temperature.  See, you can even take selfies in them!  :)Me inside an infrared sauna

–No headaches in this heat!  Even just ten minutes in a traditional sauna can send me to headache city, gasping for fresh cool air upon exit.  They say an infrared sauna allows the body to sweat out less water and more toxins, and in turn, reduces my risk for head-pounding dehydration.  You should still drink lots of water during and after your time in the sauna, though.

–During my first session, I freaked out for a second at the thought of “infrared” and imagined I was like, microwaving my insides or something.  It does heat you from the inside out, but I was assured that it’s the same technology behind baby incubators and completely safe.  So, I just chilled out & meditated on the “infrared” technology benefits:  detoxification, weight loss, reduced blood pressure, improved circulation, and pain relief.

My experience was a bit different with each visit, too…

1st session:  Not too much sweat.  Just relaxed…checked my e-mails & Instagram account.  Left feeling more energized & somehow, in a better mood.

2nd session:  A little more sweat.  Feeling psyched…tweeted about it and took a #selfie.  Experimented with some arm exercises utilizing the provided small 1-lb. hand weights.  Noticed my post-session skintone looked less sallow and more vibrant.

3rd session:  Almost immediate sweat…and lots of it.  Drank tons more water.  Did a pretty legit workout in the booth with their 3-lb. weights:  bis, tris, chest press, calf raises, squats, etc.

My results:  diminished appearance in cellulite (this is a HUGE plus right here, folks!!!), a more toned look to my physique, and glowing skin.  I’m telling all my friends about it and would recommend this to anyone — apparently you can burn up to 600 calories per visit!  Because they’re so new to the market, people have asked me where you can find infrared sauna booths and I’ve noticed they’re at a variety of establishments.  For example, I’ve heard a radio commercial offering it at a local massage place and I’ve seen them at tanning salons, too.  If you’re in Austin, you can experience the very same infrared sauna technology that I did at Aruba SunSpa in West Campus.

 

Passaporto Italia

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I was recently honored with an invitation to attend an absolutely delightful “media preview day” on behalf of this little blog, BlogJoieDeVivre.com!  Yes, I’ve attended many events such as this before, but they were always on behalf of other media outlets I’ve written for:  in college for The Daily Cougar, on the ‘other side’ as a PR rep at Weber Shandwick, and over the past year for InFluential Magazine.  This, however, was my first time to attend a media event on behalf of my very own web site!  Guess I’m a legit “media” outlet now, y’all — lol!Central Market's Passport Italy event

But seriously, it’s so wonderful and gratifying to not only have people actually READ this outlet for my writing, but to now get attention from P.R. agencies seeking my reviews & coverage of their products, ideas, and events.  I’m quickly learning one has to draw a hard line and keep true to yourself & your passions in order to maintain authenticity.  I reply “thanks, but no thanks” to PR pitches literally every day but luckily, a few story opportunities come along that are right in line with the interests of myself & my readers.  As such, Central Market‘s media preview day for Passport Italy was right up my alley!  Complete with samples, sips, an Italian opera singer, and even a live human statue (he was so good — a complete surprise!) the event was very well done.  How could you not enjoy yourself diving into this glorious spread?Italian cured meats & cheeses at Central Market's Passport Italy

Throughout my travels, I’ve truly never tasted better food than while dining in Italy.  France was a close second, but I feel their claim to fame lies more in the gourmet preparation & presentation of cuisine.  Every country has signature fare to boast about, for that matter, but there is something about Italian food that takes the cake.  From the pasta, pizza, wine & cheese, I would love to eat my way through Italy Eat, Pray, Love-style.  This is why I was intrigued to hear about Central Market’s Passport Italy concept:  Starting tomorrow through May 13th, your local (if you live near one of their Texas locations) Central Market will showcase traditional Italian foods & ingredients, along with hundreds of new imported items such as gelatos, breads, pastas, cured meats, wines, cheeses, and olive oils.  It’s a taste of Italy without ever leaving Texas!  And everything’s bigger in Texas, even the Parmigiano-Reggiano presentations:Parmigiano-Reggiano display for Passport Italy at Central Market

Did you notice they’re serving honey with the cheese?  I always forget about this complementary combination!  It wasn’t just any ol’ honey, mind you — it was Italian TRUFFLE honey!  Anything with truffle is guaranteed to taste good, right?  They paired various types of honey with all the different cheeses, actually, truffle (seen below) and even lavender honey.  –What a unique ingredient to serve alongside the cheese tray at your next gathering!Truffle honey at Central Market's Passport Italy

Another unique product showcased during the event was an Italian craft brew called Birra del Borgo “Perle ai Porci” Oyster Stout.  I’ve never had an oyster stout before and was surprised to learn they’re made by actually adding oysters into the mix during the brewing process.  It was described as tasting like a saltwater tootsie roll.  Another cool aspect of the standout flavor born from all that oceanic originality is that the drink actually pairs best not with seafood, but with pork dishes.  I could totally see it working marvelously with a honey-baked ham, for example.Birra del Borgo Perle ai Porci Oyster Stout from Central Market

Check out these fun products over the next couple weeks during Passport Italy — a larger-than-life two-week immersion in the food, wine, and culture of the country.  Top-flight culinary superstars including chefs, vinters, and cheese makers will travel to Texas to share their knowledge of Italian culture and cuisine.  Their prized products and presentations will imbue your regular grocery shopping scene with authentic Italian flavors at all Central Market stores across Texas.  Enjoy all that fresh-made pasta and hand-stretched mozzarella, friends — Ciao Bella!

Life[style]: April

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I sit here this morning with a decaf latte and wrapped in my fuzzy blanket…the perfect accoutrements for a rainy 46-degree day.  We are in full-on April Showers-mode, right?  I actually like that capricious nature of Spring, though:  it’s sunny and in the 70s/80s one day, but grey & windy with a slight chill in the air the next.  The tough transition out of winter (it’s like Old Man Winter does not want to let go!) exudes a renewed feeling, a metamorphosis…all the fresh green leaves & baby birds — this is really my favorite time of year.

1.  Nespresso:  Speaking of that latte I’m nursing, I wouldn’t have been able to make one for myself so easily without our neat little espresso machine.  For our new home, we sought out a high-end espresso maker but at the same time, were so used to the ease, convenience, & individual serving of a pod-system device.  I had ruled out the popular Keurig K-cup brewing system (as one of my designer friends perfectly describes it, “their coffee tastes like plastic”) but my husband didn’t think he’d have the patience so early in the morning to put in the steps involved with a traditional espresso maker.  So, we did our research, and landed somewhere in the middle:  the Nespresso Citiz Espresso Maker from Williams Sonoma.  It won out because according to the reviews, user comments, & blogs he read, it’s considered the best of the “pod” devices.  Nespresso somehow managed to maintain the integrity & quality of the espresso grounds within their single-use capsules.  We threw in the milk frother, too — here’s the exact model we chose.  Now, I press a single button to make lattes & espressos right at home…I adore this little touch of something ‘gourmet’ in the mornings!Nespresso espresso machine from Williams Sonoma

2.  Orphan Black:  Now that we’re past last night’s epic “Purple Wedding” on Game of Thrones, allow me to recommend a new show for you to watch this week:  Orphan Black on the BBC America network.  Seriously, now that The Walking Dead is done until next year, this is the second best show (behind GOT) you’ll find on airing television at the current moment.  They’re marathoning all the episodes of season 1 throughout this week, so set your DVR’s to binge-watch them all before the season 2 premiere this weekend!  Orphan Black returns April 19th at 9/8c.  It’s a little bit sci-fi/detective-thriller with a touch of romance & comedy.  Plus, it’s refreshing as a female-led show and the lead actress –Tatiana Maslany– is so talented it’ll blow your mind.  The writing is exceptional (you NEVER know who to trust!) and the series moves fast throughout the plot with lots of twists & turns.  Trust me, you’ll be hooked just three minutes into the pilot episode!

New show to watch:  Orphan Black on BBC America

Photo courtesy of BBC America

3.  The best concealer money can buy:  As a daily user of concealer, I use it in several ways:  to brighten under-eyes, to conceal redness from a breakout, and to camouflage dark purple spots/scars from previous breakouts.  I get frustrated many MANY times with various concealers on the market that I’ve tried…the liquid ones are easily spreadable for under-eyes, but they aren’t concentrated enough to cover a singular spot.  The solids, however, tend to look caked-on when covering spots and also leave creases in my under-eyes…bah! –I just can’t win!  I finally read enough positive reviews on the Cle’ de Peau Beaute’ Concealer that I caved in and purchased a tube from my favorite sales guy at Nordstrom.  First off, I can’t believe I spent this much money ($70) on basically a lipstick-sized tube of concealer BUT this one by Cle’ de Peau is what make-up artists refer to as a “holy grail” product.  It truly is the best concealer I’ve ever used…it works great for every need, is a solid but never cakes, and covers like magic.  I wouldn’t recommend springing for it if other well-reviewed concealers, such as those from MAC & Laura Mercier, are working for you.  However, it’s nice to know the solution’s out there because although expensive, it is the most effective & long-lasting concealer on the market.Cle de Peau Beaute Concealer the best concealer money can buy

 4.  New fave side dish:  Although I’m currently transitioning into eating meat again, my last six years as a pescetarian still dominate my dinner choices.  I’m pretty great at preparing fish (or so my husband says), a choice most people find fickle & too delicate for regular rotation.  I had to learn to cook it out of necessity according to my dietary preferences, so now I’m proud to count seafood as something I’m good at, in addition to egg dishes & pastas.  We’re having fresh Gulf shrimp from Central Market for dinner tonight, in fact.  I’ll be pan sauteing them with an organic coconut spread I’ve found that’s a great butter substitute…the faint coconut essence tastes great on toast & other breakfast pastries and works well with tropical warm-water seafood, especially shrimp.  Anyway, one of my favorite side dishes to serve with seafood is this couscous from Whole Foods.  The Garlic & Olive Oil kind is easier to find, but the best-tasting variety is their Lemon & Herb.  The lemon flavor is an obvious go-to choice for rounding out all my seafood entrees, ya know?  This organic easy-prep couscous paired with fish & a veggie side makes a great meal that my husband loves, too.  Lemon herb couscous from Whole Foods5.  May Flowers! (in April):  Fresh-cut from the florist or growing wild on the side of the highway, I love all the floral bounty of Springtime.  Here’s a couple recent snapshots I’ve captured of flowers that just…make me happy.  Love those Texas bluebonnets!  I try to take a pic in them every year…  :)pic in the Texas bluebonnets

fresh cut flowers

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