5 Ways to Spice Up Your Coffee

I’m a coffee fiend, there’s no doubt about it. It’s the first thing I reach for (ok, second) after I get out of bed. Then it’s another mid-morning coffee and a third cup around 3:00pm to push me through the rest of the day. If you’re also a coffee fanatic, you’ll love these quick, easy ways to upgrade your morning coffee game. You can find most of these ingredients in your pantry, but the fancier ones may need to be tacked onto your next grocery list. Do what it takes to get on Starbucks’ level, and be your own barista at home with these 5 ways to spice up your coffee.

Spices

Spices are uncomplicated, pure, and beneficial to your mental health and physical wellbeing.

A dash of cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice works wonders in a coffee cup, and in your body. Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties, reduces the risk of heart disease, speeds up your metabolism and it’s high in antioxidants. Nutmeg (in small amounts) can aid in digestion, boost your immune system, sharpen your cognitive function, and increase blood circulation. Allspice can help to prevent infections, reduce inflammation, and even improve dental hygiene.

What’s even better? These pantry-staples are widely accessible and highly cost effective as far as bang-for-your-buck goes. You could conceivably make one hundred cups of coffee (or more) with just one jar of spice.


Essential Oils

If you haven’t already jumped on this train, it’s not too late. While it may sound a strange, essential oils can fuel your body the same way caffeine fuels us all. Some studies have shown that essential oils can lessen anxiety, help alleviate symptoms of depression, and improve your mood. It only takes one or two small drops to elevate your coffee experience. Think: peppermint oil for a peppermint mocha coffee, or an iced lavender latte.

Disclaimer: essential oils are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The absolute KEY to using essential oils is to check (and triple check) that the oils you purchase are food grade, non-toxic to ingest, and safe for human consumption. NEVER consume essential oils that are labeled “not for internal use.” Make sure the oil is pure, with zero artificial substances, and ensure that you don’t have any allergies to the particular type of oil you intend to use. Do your research thoroughly, and only buy from reputable brands that meet the above criteria.

If you like the idea of the enjoying the perks of essential oils that I mentioned earlier (hello, all of my anxiety-ridden friends), but don’t want to take the risk, consider trying herbal coffee. It’s caffeine-free, but the nutritional value and health benefits may replace your caffeine addiction entirely.


Flavored Syrup

This may be straying away from the health-conscious angle I took in the last two ways to spice up your coffee. BUT it is a delicious and indulgent way to achieve that $5.45 Starbucks worthy taste.

Create a decadent seasonal beverage using a pump (or two…) of salted caramel, hazelnut, butter toffee, mocha or vanilla bean flavored syrup. Search for a bundle of syrups to conduct some proper taste testing experiments, like this Classic Syrup Sampler with 6 flavors for $29.99.

What I love about this coffee addition, is that it’s a very easy way to upgrade a drink for yourself, but an even simpler way to impress your guests. I’ve used flavored syrups on hot cocoa bars, in late-night espresso shots, and even in cocktails. I once packed mini flavored syrups with me for a new years trip a few years back, and friends used them the entire weekend.


Vanilla Extract

This method to spice up your coffee is actually going to put us back on the health kick. Are you surprised? Let me explain.

Vanilla bean, a main ingredient in vanilla extract, has anti-inflammatory properties, can aid with stress relief, and reduce anxiety (holla, holla). Vanilla extract is also a great replacement for sugar and coffee creamers because it contains less carbs and calories, while still providing a sweetening effect on your cup of joe. Start with a teaspoon, and add more to taste.


Cocoa Powder

I like chocolate a latte (see what I did there?). The rich flavor blends perfectly with coffee, hence all of the mocha coffee creations out there. A tablespoon or two will dissolve relatively quickly in a hot cup. Add a bit of milk to balance out the thickness of the cocoa and give the coffee a smoother consistency.

Are you ready for the health benefits of this one? They include: better blood flow, rich in antioxidants, improved mental focus and increased attention span, anti-inflammatory, and it also helps with disease prevention. Remember, we’re basically talking about chocolate here. MAGIC!


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Hosting Essentials

Think of this blog post as a beginner’s guide to entertaining; it shares must-have items that every host will need (and want!) when hosting a party at home. If you’re shopping for any of these pieces for the first time, keep in mind that the more versatile, the better. These hosting essentials will see a lot of love for years to come, so you’ll want to invest in items that are both timeless and durable. Follow this checklist for the supplies you’ll want handy for future festivities!

Checklist of Hosting Essentials

Serving Boards

think: agate trays, wooden boards, marble slabs
Hosting essentials: serving boards

Vessels for Fresh Flowers

think: various sizes of glass, ceramic or stone
Hosting essentials: vessels

Unscented Candles

think: tapers, votives, tea lights
Hosting essentials: unscented candles

Nice Serving Utensils

think: cheese knives, serving spoons, mini tongs
Hosting essentials: serving utensils

Champagne Bucket

think: stainless steel, antique brass, acrylic
Hosting essentials: champagne bucket

Drink Dispensers

think: double dispensers, dispenser stands… guests love easy access to batch cocktails or fruit infused water
fruit infused ice in glass

Bar Tools

think: cocktail shaker, muddler, strainer
Hosting essentials: bar tools

Linen Napkins

think: eco-friendly, reusable, elegant
linen napkins

Stemware

think: red, white, champagne, water
Hosting essentials: stemware

Flatware

think: five piece set, butter knives, steak knives
Hosting essentials: flatware

Dinnerware

think: charger, dinner plate, side plate, salad plate, dessert plate
dinnerware

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Tips for Hosting in a Small Space

Hosting a party, or even a small gathering, can feel overwhelming when your home is tight on space. Perhaps you’re living in a tiny apartment, working around roommates, or you’re planning to invite more bodies than your place can hold comfortably. In any scenario, don’t let your small space prevent you from thinking big. It’s taken me a few tries and a few different living situations, but I’ve come to establish a bit of a routine for hosting in a small space. In this blog post, I’ll share a list of tips that I follow to maximize space, reduce clutter, reinvent and repurpose the use of everyday furniture to create an open environment for guests to flow freely. Welcome friends, family and neighbors into your home with confidence, by implementing these tips for hosting in a small space.

Tip No. 1

Establish party zones. Chances are, you aren’t planning to open up your bedroom to guests. Or your linen closet, or any other storage areas that are tucked away behind closed doors. Think of these spaces as the crown jewels of your party. They offer entirely open and usable space to conceal any clunky home furnishings, hide personal belongings, and temporarily store unneeded items that take up too much surface area or floor space.

Determine which rooms you’ll invite guests into, and which rooms will be the main areas dedicated to the party, AKA, the party zones. The majority of house parties tend to rely on kitchens and living rooms as dedicated party zones, especially when hosting in a small space.

Apartment Decor

Tip No. 2

Walk into your party zone with a fresh perspective, as if you’re seeing that space for the first time. What impression do you get from your home? Consider how it makes you feel, where your eyes are drawn to, and what words you would use to describe it.

Pay extra attention to any clutter, piles of empty boxes, overstuffed shelves, unused dinnerware / kitchenware / home decor. You don’t need to tackle these areas right away, but do make a mental (or physical) note of the obvious stuff.

Decor

Allow yourself a healthy dose of criticism, and identify any spaces that aren’t serving their full potential. Untapped potential is going to be your biggest waste of space, so don’t let it rob your party of that coveted square footage!

Evaluate how you could better capitalize on those areas. Do a massive clean out, donate unused or unwanted items, or rearrange any sections of your home that stand out as an eye-sore. Remember, the changes you make don’t have to be permanent. You could always rely on those crown jewels spaces to temporarily store your things.

Apartment Decor

Tip No. 3

Reconfigure the floor plan. Before you roll your eyes at this tip, consider the possibilities. The way you use your space to live your day-to-day life isn’t very harmonious with the way your space is used during a party.

The top changes that will make the biggest difference in opening up your space include:

  • Relocating furniture to the perimeter of the room to develop an open floor plan.
  • Remove extra seating, especially if you’re planning a cocktail style event. Leave enough seats for guests to rest comfortably, but not enough for the same guests to remain seated the entire time. You want to encourage a version of musical chairs 🙂
  • Shift chairs and ottomans around to create vignettes. In a small space, you could use two ottomans and a side table, two chairs, or a couch and coffee table to make your vignettes. These furniture pairings will give guests a designated space to have a more intimate conversation.

Pro-Tip: Use software like AllSeated or Merri to generate a floorplan of your space that’s completely to scale. Or use the Houzz app to upload photos of your space and test out different remodeling options.

Stools

Tip No. 4

Get granular about the dinnerware, platters and glassware that you intend to use. The more that you limit these items, the more minimalistic and streamlined it will feel when guests are actually in the room.

Take your food and beverage presentation for a test run, by setting aside some time to put together a mock table sample. In events, we call call this a design presentation. Though, it doesn’t need to be as elaborate to be as effective.

Plates

Pull all of the items that you plan to use and arrange them strategically on your kitchen table, island, or countertop. Play around with the placement until it’s as concise as possible. Remember that less is more, because once your gathering rolls around, each of those dishes will have food on them and will look much more abundant than empty serving trays.

When your final few trays are left standing, use post-it notes to label those trays with how you plan to use them (i.e. “CruditĂ©s,” or “Petit Fours”). Take a photo of the full set up and revert back to it on the event day. This will reduce clutter by keeping you from grabbing more dishes than you need.

Plates with cards ontop

Tip No. 5

Use vertical space!

Consider your closet, for example. If you’re hosting an event in the winter, folks will likely arrive at your home wearing heavy coats, hats, gloves and scarves, and will inevitably leave them all over the place. If you can clear out any seasonal items from your closet (either in your entryway or bedroom) and temporarily lay those clothes under your bed, you can use the closet space as a coat check of sorts.

Woman holding fur coat

Get that recognition as hostess with the mostess by offering to take your guests’ jackets when they first arrive. Stuff the scarf into the sleeve, the hat into one pocket and the gloves into the other pocket, and hang up the coat in your closet. It’ll stay out of sight during the event, and mitigate one major reason why small spaces fill up so quickly.

More vertical space hacks:

  • Tiered serving trays and risers to optimize food stations.
  • Decorative ceiling or wall installations to maximize standing room.
  • Eliminate curtains or open blinds entirely to draw the eye up and create a sense of more space.
Vanilla frosted donuts with gold sprinkles on tiered stand

Tip No. 6

Don’t go crazy with decor. Negative space is important at any gathering, but especially when hosted in a small space.

Clean, untouched areas give the eye a place to rest. These open areas will help your guests feel calmer, less confined, and eager to keep the party going rather than feel overstimulated and uncomfortable.

Champagne glasses against neutral background

Choose a neutral color palette that evokes a fresh, light and airy vibe. Try to stay away from patterns and stick with solids.

Utilize pre-existing decor in your home, instead of bringing more materials. Think: greenery, white candles, and transparent materials like glass instead of heavy materials like gold. Again, bear in mind that less is more. The perk to this tip, is that it’s really budget friendly!


Tip No. 7

Make friends with the neighbors, but do it authentically! Relationships with your neighbors are everything, and if you buddy up early on, you can often lean on them for a helping hand when you’re hosting.

The favor could be as simple as storing a few bottles of wine in their fridge, or keeping desserts on their table until after dinner. A note on etiquette; if the gathering lends itself to it, invite your neighbor as a guest. It’s the polite thing to do, especially if you’re hosting a more casual affair.

Women popping champagne bottle

Tip No. 8

Do away with the conventional bar or buffet. Instead, disperse drinks, appetizers and desserts throughout the home to prevent heavy foot traffic in the kitchen. Serve a charcuterie board from a coffee table, or a coffee station from the entry table, to help alleviate congestion caused by serving all of the food and beverage from one central location.

Coffee on table near flowers

There you have it! Now go own that tiny space and make something beautiful.


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Valentine’s Day 2021 Ideas

If you’re searching for some low-key things to do at home this Valentine’s Day, you’re not alone. I too have been looking for unique ideas to make Valentine’s Day 2021 special, without needing to leave the house. The good news is, I’ve compiled this list of 5 ways to celebrate love, that don’t require dining outdoors, travel or too much effort. AKA – Valentine’s Day, the quarantine edition.

Breakfast in Bed

Luckily for us, Valentine’s Day 2021 falls on a Sunday, which means that no one needs to be anywhere in a hurry. Take your time getting out of bed, and start the day off with your SO’s favorite breakfast in bed. Or, cook up everything under the sun and create an abundant breakfast spread with a short stack of pancakes, fruit, eggs, avocado toast, turkey bacon, and mimosas.

While you’re cooking, ask your significant other to search for a new show, or that movie that you’ve been wanting to watch. The best part is, you can get back into bed once the cooking is done, and relax together with this simple but special twist on your typical morning routine.

Valentine's Day 2021 Ideas, breakfast in bed

Comedy Club for Two

One of my favorite NYC experiences (back when COVID wasn’t a thing), was attending comedy shows. The communal experience of boisterous laughing and carefree energy was tangible. 2020 was undoubtably a crazy year, and we could all use the wave of positivity that follows a much needed laugh. While comedy clubs might be closed, all it takes is a little time and resourcefulness to recreate this experience at home.

Chat amongst yourselves, and zone in on a standup comedy act that the two of you have never seen before. Queue it up on Netflix, Hulu, or your go-to streaming platform. Dress up a bit; I’m not saying to throw on a dress or suit, but put a bit of going-out vibes into your outfit. Trust me, dressing the part can go a long way!

Dim the lights, and add a subtle ambience to your space. Visit the website of your favorite comedy club, and browse their menu for meal inspiration. Once you land on something you like, see if you can recreate the dish at home, or find a restaurant that offers the dish and order take out. Let loose, and enjoy a few cocktails.

Channel that positive and fun loving aura you exude right before a comedian takes the stage. Then hit play on your standup special, sit back, relax, and enjoy your dinner and a show!


Wine & Dessert Pairings

You might be thinking, why not wine and cheese? Don’t let me hold you back from that classic pairing, but let’s get a little more adventurous, shall we?

Wine and dessert pairings are such an indulgent tasting experience. Think: flourless chocolate torte with a glass of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, classic white cake with Moscato, or homemade cheesecake with a glass of Riesling. Or, prepare a sampling of petit fours, pastries like cream puffs and eclairs, and assorted chocolate truffles with various wines. It would be an idyllic night cap to your Valentine’s Day at home.

Valentine's Day 2021 ideas, wine and dessert pairing

If you happen to be an iconic baker, show off your skills and prepare these desserts a day beforehand, so that you can relax and enjoy the company of your significant other on Valentine’s Day. Though, there’s no pressure to bake homemade desserts. Skip this step by venturing to your local bakery for your favorite baked goods, or order dessert for delivery.


Indoor Campfire

This is one of the coziest Valentine’s Day ideas on my list. If you’ve been rocking the sweatpants and a hoodie look ever since March, and have zero plans to change that, then an indoor campfire may be the best choice for you and your SO this Valentine’s Day.

Find a comfortable, warm and relaxing spot in your home. Family rooms work well, but so do reading nooks, studies, or any other quaint spaces in your house or apartment. You don’t need to have a fireplace, but if you do, this Valentine’s Day theme certainly lends itself to that location! If you don’t have a fireplace, you have a few options…

Option 1

Gather a bunch of pillar candles and some newspaper. Place the candles on top of the newspaper in a cluster, about an inch apart from one another. I’d recommend placing this arrangement about 6-inches or a foot away from a wall, to avoid tripping over it and causing a potential disaster 🙂 It’s a very romantic aesthetic, but cheap and easy to do!

Option 2

Stay with me here, search online for the Sterno S’mores Heat 2-Pack, which is specifically designed to burn bio-derived ethanol fuel and it’s composed of non-toxic ingredients. This will give you an open flame that’s safe to use for roasting marshmallows, without generating harmful emissions.

Option 3

Purchase an indoor s’mores roaster. This is the most expensive option, with miniature personal fireplaces retailing between $95-$425, but that’s the cost of instant ambiance.

One might ask, “What’s the plan for this indoor campfire?” This cozy Valentine’s Day excursion is exactly like it sounds. Prepare some cheese and chocolate fondue (check out my 101 Dinner Party Themes Guide for the full run down of toppings), S’mores, and storytelling. Grab some blankets, get comfortable, and snuggle up together by your own indoor campfire.


Fancy Dinner x Takeout

This is your quintessential Valentine’s Day experience, but pandemic style. Think: insanely gorgeous tablescape, floral arrangements in abundance, several bottles of bubbly, and a candlelit dinner brought to you by Seamless, Uber Eats, DoorDash, or whatever food delivery service you fancy.

Dress up in an outfit that makes you feel your best (now’s the time to break out that fancier attire). Need some inspiration? Check out this TikTok with a step by step voiceover on how to create a romantic candlelit dinner at home.

Valentine's Day 2021 ideas, romantic candlelit dinner

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Galentine’s Day Brunch

Ladies, let’s chat brunch. How many group chats have you been a part of where brunch is mentioned like clockwork? You plan a weekend getaway – Brunch. You’re hosting after a big night out – Brunch. You need an excuse to order a pitcher of champagne with a splash of orange juice and pair it with some Belgian waffles? The answer, ladies, is brunch. So, while I was brainstorming about what to do #forthegirls this Valentine’s Day, I knew right away that brunch was the move. Here’s a list of everything that you need to host a killer Galentine’s Day brunch in celebration of the amazing ladies in your life. Plus, some ideas from the Galentine’s Day brunch that I planned at home!

Color Scheme

Color scheme is super important to the look and feel of your home. It’s also a major factor to keep in mind when transforming your space into a Galentine’s Day brunch aesthetic.

When I think of Galentine’s Day, I’m here for shades of pink, but I find that red can read very serious, romantic, and bold. Even though it’s the predominant color in a Valentine’s Day palette, I tried to lean away from incorporating reds into my Galentine’s Day brunch, and instead, I used it minimally as a secondary accent color.

Exploring other colors, less traditional to Valentine’s Day, can suggest a brighter, more cheerful and feminine ambience. Hues of pink, shades of purple, and champagne tones like glossy golds and coppers embody a chic and joyful vibe. It also makes for an inviting and warm atmosphere, which is why I chose this color scheme to create my Galentine’s Day Brunch.

Remember that this brunch is your version of Galentine’s Day, and you know your group best! Don’t be afraid to mix in other non-traditional Valentine’s Day colors. Your friends are sure to appreciate your own unique spin and color interpretation of the holiday.

Decorations

Is it even Valentine’s Day if flowers aren’t involved? These are a no-brainer for your Galentine’s Day brunch decor. But, just because we love flower arrangements in abundance, doesn’t mean that we want to spend a lot to get that high impact look of overflowing floral. There’s a ton of local florists out there, as well as bodegas and farmers’ markets that carry gorgeous bundles of flowers. My recommendation, is to buy a handful of assorted bouquets from one of those locations (I worked with Freyer’s Florist & Greenhouses) that vary in type of flower and color. Once you’re home, spread out all of the flowers across a wide surface, and create your own whimsical and organic shaped arrangements.

If you have bud vases on hand (which typically hold between one to five stems), consider using these in clusters to create a heavily concentrated row of floral arrangements. These look très chic without requiring too many stems. A singular row of bud vases compliments a narrow surface, like a mantle, entry table, or shelf. If you don’t have bud vases, you can recreate the same effect by repurposing highball water glasses or short round glasses (think: rocks or double old fashioned).

Aside from flowers, consider incorporating some festive balloons in your Galentine’s Day decor. I purchased heart and star shaped balloons as well as XO balloon letters. If you can get your hands on those cute lip shaped balloons, they would look awesome too. Add depth to the balloons by requesting various hues of a certain color. Then, choose one or two balloons that you want to pop against the rest (I chose these XO letters). Purchase those balloons in a metallic color to create a contrasting effect that draws the eye in.

Your Galentine’s Day brunch decor is almost complete between the flowers and balloons. Next, source a few other finishing touches to really pull the look together. Anything thematic, like heart shaped dishes, miniature glass heart paperweights or lip shaped sprinkles can go a long way!

Waffle Bar

I love a food installation that doubles as an activity. It gives your guests something to do, and tends to be a big talking point that doesn’t require a lot of effort. Waffles are my go-to order at brunch (chicken and waffles if I’m feeling fancy), but you can use just about any brunch dish as the focal point of your DIY bar. Here a few other options to consider: omelet bar, açaĂ­ bowl bar, avocado toast bar, the list goes on!

Now, back to my waffle bar. A couple years back, I purchased this white miniature waffle maker from Urban Outfitters, which made its official debut at this Galentine’s Day brunch. I kept the toppings minimal with four main ingredients: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and chocolate chips. The ingredients were served out of these heart shaped dishes that I placed next to the waffles.

I also offered maple syrup, Nutella and whipped cream that were served from their original jars. Guests made their own mini waffles, added their favorite ingredients, and topped it off with something sweet. Again, this is super easy to do and really low maintenance, given that each guest does the cooking themselves!

If you want to take this one step further, double the ingredients to include other options like peaches, honey, caramel syrup, or strawberry jam. Create some simple signage (using a chalkboard or card stock) that lists different waffle recipes. Think: s’mores waffle, peaches and honey waffle, ice cream and chopped nuts waffle… the options are seriously endless.

The final component of my waffle bar featured assorted truffles, heart shaped chocolate lollipops, and chocolate caramel pretzels from Hudson Valley Chocolates (which were insanely delicious that I 10/10 recommend). Some guests chose to eat these alongside their waffle creations, while others enjoyed the chocolates as dessert. This special touch elevated the look and feel of the waffle bar, by bringing in a luxe element that also gave a nod to traditional Valentine’s Day sweets.

Bevi’s

Keep this category sweet and simple by offering classic breakfast beverages like water, coffee and tea, as well as boozy brunch classics like Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, Bellinis, or Sangria (if that’s your groups thing). If you want to jazz it up, scoop up some mini bottles of rosĂ© and matching straws for folks to drink straight out of their own bottle. These also double as great props for Instagram-able moments.

If you’re feeling really festive, create a mimosa bar and invite your guests to enjoy mixing and muddling ingredients like pineapple, watermelon or strawberries for a fresh take on a traditional mimosa. Offer these flavors in fresh squeezed juices as well as whole pieces of fruit to use as garnishes.

Vibe

Despite the fact that I’m type-A and usually want to plan out every last detail of an event, this type of gathering is different. Celebrating Galentine’s Day lends itself to having great conversations, reminiscing and catching up on the latest and greatest.

If you’re looking for a scandalous spin on those conversations, check out For the Girls. Fair warning, this is a drinking game, which some would say is pretty fitting for a boozy brunch but its contents are definitely not for everyone. Think: truth or dare, never have I ever, and rapid fire questions.

Dollar Signs

Galentine’s Day doesn’t have to be expensive to plan! All of these ideas can be toned down or built up, depending on how many guests you plan to entertain and the vibe that you’re after. Take a look at this TikTok of my Galentine’s Day Brunch, which showcases everything I’ve shared in this blog post. To give you an honest glimpse at pricing, here’s what I spent:

  • Flowers: Compliments of Freyer’s Florist & Greenhouses (but I typically budget between $10-25+ per bundle of 12 stems)
  • Balloons: XO letters, two heart shaped and two star shaped from Party City: $35
  • Waffle Mix, Fruit, Mini Cupcakes, Orange Juice, Whipped Cream, Nutella, Syrup: $64
  • Champagne & Mini Bottles of RosĂ©: $83
  • Chocolates: Compliments of Hudson Valley Chocolates (but I typically budget $20 for 16 pieces)
  • Decorative Items (Heart Dishes, Glass Hearts, Paper Plates, Napkins, To-Go Coffee Cups, Place Cards): $0 (repurpose whatever you can from home!)

X O

I hope this post gives you all of the details that you need to plan your own Galentine’s Day at home! This brunch is such a simple yet special way to spend Valentine’s Day and celebrate the friends in your life.

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Most Loved Websites (for Valentine’s Day)

The Most Loved Websites Series lands among my favorite blog topics to write about. It’s essentially a brain dump of staple sites that I bookmark, frequent, and purchase from time and time again, because they’re just that good! Next up in this series, are my top website recommendations for all-things Valentine’s Day. Well, except for floral (shameless plug for NY Florists to Support this Valentine’s Day). What you will find in this roundup of Most Loved Websites (for Valentine’s Day) are chocolatiers, silky pajama sets, CBD sweets, and loads of other goodies.

hudson valley chocolates

Bespoke, wholesome, and decadent chocolates (need I say more?). Hudson Valley Chocolates makes all of their truffles, chocolates, buttery caramels and confections by hand using the highest quality of ingredients that never include any artificial preservatives, flavors or colors.

My personal favorites are their chocolate covered strawberries (try them in dark, milk and white chocolate!), their chocolate dipped Oreos (I’m sensing a pattern here), and their truffles.

I ordered all of my chocolate desserts from Hudson Valley Chocolates for my 25th Birthday Bash. They were hands down some of the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted. An absolute must-try this Valentine’s Day!


maude

If you’re a fan of bubble baths and oil-based massage candles, Maude is the store for you. It’s a forward thinking brand that’s founded on principals of inclusivity and simplicity. Their emphasis on modern design and quality, fuss-free products has attracted rave reviews from Vogue, GQ, InStyle, Refinery29 and tons more.

What I’m trying to say, is that Maude is easy to love, and their products are beyond ideal to help you create an effortlessly romantic evening this Valentine’s Day.


stick with me sweets

I never knew that I could love bonbons as much as I do, until I tried Stick With Me Sweets. Literally, where do I start? The words chic, magical, and #aesthetic come to mind.

Based in lower Manhattan, Stick With Me Sweets is a premiere chocolatier whose specialty is hand-shelled bonbons that take three full days to create before they’re packaged up into cheerful little storybook boxes, shown below. If you’re gifting their bonbons this Valentine’s Day, recipients may think they’re receiving an actual book, because that’s how realistic the exterior of the box looks (except much more enchanting and whimsical). Their smallest storybook box comes with 6 bonbons, and is priced at $25.

PS: Stick With Me Sweets carries more than just bon bons, so if you’re a truffle, caramel or general confections fan, you’re in luck.


summersalt

Couples and singles alike; let’s chat breakfast in bed. This is a total vibe for Valentine’s Day – just those three words sound super indulgent. While it may seem simple, it’s all I’ve ever wanted out of a Sunday, and coincidentally, Valentine’s Day 2021 falls on a Sunday, so you know it’s the right move.

If you’re planning this sweet moment for yourself or for bae, turn to Summersalt for silky pajamas that will elevate your breakie in bed. The Cloud 9 Pajama Set looks like a literal dream, unless the Cloud 9 Boyfriend Sleep Shirt is more your style. Slip into something silky to treat yourself or your SO this Valentine’s Day.


mello

Two words: CBD caramels. And they’re d e l i c i o u s.

Mello is everything you’ve ever wanted out of your caramel, and more. It’s non-GMO, kosher, gluten free and all natural. I love this for Valentine’s Day because it’s such a fresh take on traditional candy, plus the added perk of becoming, well, Mello(w). Each individually wrapped caramel contains 15mg of active CBD, and you can get a box of 20 for only $50. Thank me later!


If you liked this post, view more of my go-to’s on the Most Loved Websites Series.

New York Florists to Support this Valentine’s Day

I’d like to preface this post by saying that if you’re not in New York, this one (sadly) might not be for you. Another preface… I have a LOT of local florists on my favorites list, ranging from boujee boutiques, to mom & pop shops, to Brooklyn-based floral wonderlands. And while I’d love to list every single one of them, we would be here all day. So, I’ve narrowed it down to a handful of New York based florists, each with their own unique style. If you plan to buy your significant other a bouquet this Valentine’s Day, shop these local gems and help support small businesses!

Stems Brooklyn

Organic shaped bouquets with a true Brooklyn feel. Stems Brooklyn carries wildflower arrangements in mason jars, flower crowns, and sweet little plants that are potted in stone vessels. Their floral arrangement style is artistic, cheerful, bright, and airy, with an emphasis on sustainability.

Stems Brooklyn is perfect for the person with a sense of whimsy that embraces a mid century modern vibe. I’m obsessed with this Brass Love Arrangement for Valentine’s Day, as well as their Hand Tied Bouquets.

New York Florist, Stems Brooklyn, to Support this Valentine's Day

Rosehip Social

I used to pass by Rosehip Social each Sunday while running errands. I’d wander into the store aimlessly, and walk around the rustic wooden table in the center of the quaint space to admire the latest arrangements on display. I remember the hanging vines, small soil spills, and overgrown plants… it was a quintessential kid-in-a-candy-store experience.

While the original shop in Brooklyn is under renovation, Rosehip Social is temporarily based in Ridgewood. Their florals are stylish and chic with an eclectic, yet timeless, twist. They carry vibrant stems in bud vases, dried lavender and bunny tail grass, and striking arrangements like this Five Dozen Rose Bouquet; an absolutely breathtaking gift for Valentine’s Day.

New York Florist, Rosehip Social, to Support this Valentine's Day

Freyer’s Florist & Greenhouses

If you’re located outside of Manhattan in the suburbs of Westchester, Freyer’s Florist & Greenhouses is a local gem based in Yorktown Heights along Route 202. Their family owned operation has been in business for over sixty years, with a focus on local weddings, house floral, and holiday arrangements. Fun fact, this is where my family goes to buy our flower arrangements each Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Freyer’s bouquets embody a classic and traditional style that feels both timeless and romantic. They offer tiered pricing options to build upon the size of each bouquet, ranging from Standard, to Deluxe, and Premium. Their Long Stemmed Red Roses are a must for Valentine’s Day. Though, I also love this Say Something Sweet bouquet of two dozen ballet pink roses. Mainly because of how elevated, feminine and luxe it looks, but also because pink is my favorite color!

New York Florist, Freyer's, to Support this Valentine's Day

Designs by Ahn

Designs by Ahn is a NYC based florist that’s located on 5th Avenue and East 28th Street. The owner, Victoria Ahn, was a professionally trained ballet dancer, and her experience is embedded into the unique design approach she takes with her floral arrangements.

While they all have a lush and luxurious appearance, Designs by Ahn offers quite a wide range of bouquets. Some are more rustic and organic, while others have a super chic and modern style. One of my personal favorites is Jubilee (I know, you’re probably so surprised), but I also find this Arabesque arrangement to be insanely beautiful, with just the right balance of edge and grace.

New York Florist, Flowers by Ahn, to Support this Valentine's Day

Ovando

If someone asked me to describe Ovando in 3 words, they’d be modern, dynamic and elegant. Ovando is a bit more widely available; servicing Manhattan and Southhampton, as well as Palm Beach & Miami. The owner, Sandra de Ovando, is a seasoned traveler that brings an exotic flare to her ultra-luxe arrangements.

If you’re looking for the perfect Orchid, search no further (some would even say these are Ovando’s specialty). This Romantic Orchid is an exquisite and striking arrangement to make a statement this Valentine’s Day.

New York Florist, Ovando, to Support this Valentine's Day

Read more from the Happy Hostess.

Valentine’s Day Gift Guide 2021

Finding the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your significant other can prove to be quite the challenge. Either your boyfriend or girlfriend already has everything, they don’t drop hints, or (let’s get real) you’ve run out of options for him or her. I’ve always loved turning to Valentine’s Day Gift Guides to help me brainstorm creative and unique gift ideas. This guide will help take the guessing game out of gifting! Simply follow the list below to discover which Valentine’s Day gift is best for your sweetheart.

This post contains affiliate links.

For the Jetsetter

If you’re planning a getaway together, or if your significant other travels often, this Mini Duffle is a dream weekender bag that comes in beige or black. It has four interior zip pockets, a side pocket and laptop sleeve, so it’s perfect for someone that’s always on the go – $98.

Want to make it a set? Pair it with this Carry All Tote – $78.

Is your SO’s style more sophisticated and adventurous? Try this Logan Overnight – $598.

Pair it with this Logan Travel Case that keeps toiletries organized while traveling, and at home. Or just snatch that travel case up, it stands out on its own – $178.


For the Knowledge Craver

If your SO has mentioned wanting to develop a new skillset, level up at work, or find another quarantine hobby, it’s almost guaranteed that Masterclass offers a course for them. There’s over 100 classes in 9 categories, and new classes are added every month.

With class categories like Sports and Gaming, Food, Business, Music, Home & Lifestyle, Writing, and Wellness, they’re bound to find a topic (or several) of interest. Are you ready for the best part? Masterclass is only $15 per month.


For the Earring Junkie

This simple and chic Earring Ladder comes in Rose Gold, Antique Silver and Antique Brass, and holds up to 12 pairs of earrings – $90.

If your significant other is equally as into bracelets, the matching T-Bar Jewelry Stand is the perfect pairing – $85. 


For the Gamer

This subscription service is a gamers paradise, and the gift that keeps on giving. Rent new and used video games for PS5, XBOX Series X, Nintendo Switch, PS4, XBOX Series One (and more) with a subscription to GameFly. There’s thousands of game options to choose from; your SO can search by Most Popular, Used Bestsellers, Coming Soon and New Releases.

Rush shipping is free, there’s no late fees on returns, and they can swap games anytime. Your SO can also keep the games they love with an awesome discount. Plus GameFly subscribers get early sale access and coupon rewards. Subscriptions start at $15.95 per month.

Signup for GameFly today to get the latest PS4, Xbox and Nintendo Switch games!

For the Trend Watcher

Hoop earrings have made a comeback, and I’m here for it. These Jack Huggie Earrings come in Vintage Gold, Rose Gold, Gold and Silver – $48.


For the Skincare Obsessed

If you hear the phrase “skincare routine” on a daily basis, this Luxe Skincare Fridge is the gift for your SO – $150.

Bonus points to the gift giver that packs this fridge with mini products, like this Jewel Box Kit with three different best selling skincare treatments from Sunday Riley – $36. It will leave them feeling ĂĽberpampered.


For the Sunglass Stealer

Two birds… one stone. Take your sunglasses back by gifting your sunglass stealing SO their own pair. You can’t go wrong with a timeless style, like these Classic Aviators or Black Aviators by Ray Ban – both $154.


For the Crossbody Queen

This black leather Belay Mini Saddle Crossbody Bag with gold hardware by Zac Posen is super chic and edgy, yet still so classic. Bae can dress this up or down with other accessories, and since it’s black, it will compliment basically any attire – $295.


For… “Your Wallet Is Falling Apart”

We’ve all been there. Upgrade your SO’s wallet to something actually usable, that you know will last far past its purchase date. Try the Royce Personalized Men’s Trifold With Double ID Wallet that comes in black or cocoa. Add a special touch to this sleek leather wallet by personalizing it with your SO’s initials – $89.99.


For the Shoe Collector

Timberlands, but make it fashion. If your man talks about Chelsea boots but hasn’t treated himself, this is your moment to shine. Frye carries these leather Bowery Lace Up Boots, which are currently on sale for $249. They’re lightweight yet durable, and ideal for Fall and Winter.


For the Runner

Thinking shoes, but more along the lines of sporty spice?

The new Reebok Nano X1’s are dropping in two different colors on February 3rd, right in time for Valentine’s Day. Don’t want to wait? Try the Nano X Shoes that are designed for “functional fitness” with 6 color varieties – $130.

These Allbirds Women’s Tree Dashers are everything. It’s their “most technical shoe yet,” made from natural materials and engineered for high performance. Choose from 12 colors to find the best match (Blizzard is my personal favorite) – $125.


For the Couple

When life inherently gets busy, as it tends to do, it can be difficult to brainstorm ways to spend quality time together. Remove the step of planning out date night, by gifting yourselves some well deserved wine delivered to your doorstep each month, every other month, or even quarterly.

Join the California Wine Club, and subscribe to one of their membership levels, starting with their Premier Series at $41.95 per month for two bottles of wine. You can choose whether those two bottles are white, red, or a mix of both. They partner with small, family owned wineries, which is how you know you’ll be drinking the good stuff.

I love the idea of eagerly anticipating this surprise. Imagine setting aside one night each month to cook a meal together that compliments the wines you’ll indulge in? It’s about the experience, which is why I really appreciate this gift in particular.

This post contains affiliate links.

Read more from the Happy Hostess.

Valentine’s Day Cocktail Recipes

Expert mixologist Yusef Austin, AKA The Cocktail Architect, graced us once with three fabulous cocktail recipes (check out The Best Christmas Cocktails), and you liked it so much that we had to bring him back for more. Indulge in these three cocktail recipes designed to delight your senses this Valentine’s Day. Hopeless romantics, lovebirds and cocktail connoisseurs, this one’s for you.

Sweet Nothings

Sugar, spice and everything nice.


Ingredients: 2 oz. Gin, 1 oz. Fig Jam, 1/2 oz. Black Pepper + Star Anise Enhancer, 3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice

Garnish: Edible Flower

Add ice to your cocktail shaker, shake and double strain into a coupe glass.

Illustrated by Sarah Ditterline

Tall, Dark and Handsome

The perfect night cap.


Ingredients: 2 oz. Tequila Blanco Infused with Saffron Threads, 1 oz. Chilled Espresso, 1 oz. Dark Chocolate Enhancer, Pinch of Sea Salt

Garnish: Shaved Chocolate

Add ice to your cocktail shaker, shake and strain into a martini glass.

Illustrated by Sarah Ditterline

Matchmaker

Cupid’s Cocktail.


Ingredients: 2 oz. Bourbon, 1 oz. Fresh Apple Juice, 1/2 oz. Fresh Ginger Juice, 3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice, 1/2 oz. Szechuan Pepper Enhancer

Garnish: Dehydrated Lemon Wheel

Add ice to your cocktail shaker, shake and strain into a rocks glass.

Illustrated by Sarah Ditterline

Thank you Yusef Austin for sharing these Valentine’s Day Cocktail Recipes! To learn more about The Cocktail Architect, click here or click here to learn about his virtual mixology classes.

Read more from the Happy Hostess

The Best Christmas Cocktails

Christmas cocktails are arguably the best cocktails. Alas, mixology is not my strong suit. So I asked an expert for his advice! Yusef Austin, AKA The Cocktail Architect, is a Brooklyn-based beverage genius. His emphasis on seasonal ingredients, quality, creativity, and taste generates sophisticated cocktails with a multi-sensory experience. Craft three of his staple Christmas cocktails at home by following the recipes below.

Merry and Bright

Cheerful with a zing.


Ingredients: 2 oz. Local Gin, Hibiscus Tea Mixer (Dried Hibiscus, Cinnamon Stick, Orange Zest, Crushed Cardamom, Cloves) and 3/4 oz. Meyer Lemon Juice

Garnish: Dehydrated Lemon Wheel

Shake and strain into a martini or coupe glass.


The Best Cocktail Recipes for Christmas

Santa, Baby

Christmas spice classic.


Ingredients: 2 oz. Local Whiskey, 1 oz. Chili Infused Honey, 1 oz. Orange + Lemon Juice Mix

Garnish: Orange Flamed Twist & Sphere Ice Cube

Shake and strain into a double rocks glass.


The Best Cocktail Recipes for Christmas

White Christmas

The perfect dessert cocktail.


Ingredients: 2 oz. Vodka, 1/2 oz. Tonka Bean + Vanilla Bean Mixer/Syrup, 1 oz. Chilled Espresso

Garnish: Whipped Cream, Grated Cinnamon

Shake and strain into a vintage cocktail glass.

The Best Cocktail Recipes for Christmas

A massive thank you to Yusef Austin for sharing these Christmas Cocktail Recipes! To learn more about The Cocktail Architect, click here or click here to learn about his virtual mixology classes.

Read more from the Happy Hostess

Socially Distanced Holiday Ideas

Holiday season festivities, but make it COVID friendly.

This post contains affiliate links.

Christmas Tree Tailgate

Gather up a group of your core friends (you know, those folks that you’ve been spending all of quarantine with) and head to a Christmas tree farm with an open parking lot. Some farms are super tailgate friendly, while others will not embrace this idea, so make sure to scout for a solid location before packing up the car. If you’re living on the East Coast, Maple Row Farm in Easton, Connecticut is a great option. Just be sure to arrive no later than 10:30am, because the lot will fill up well before noon on weekends.

Then, delegate your traditional tailgate essentials amongst friends. Here are a few ideas for folks to bring along:

  1. Cornhole – The more festive, the better. This Christmas Tree Cornhole Set is a little pricey, but one of those investments you probably won’t have to make again and can enjoy for years to come.

2. Cooler – Full of holiday bevi essentials. I like this Sagebrush Green Yeti Cooler, especially for its wine friendly packaging. Pack a bottle of bubbly to make some mimosas with; the perfect pairing for your morning Christmas tree tailgate.

3. Snacks – Individually packaged options are the best way to stay COVID friendly. Keep it super simple by purchasing a bulk variety snack pack, like this 50-count Ultimate Snacks Care Package from Amazon.


Movie Marathon

One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is watch the staple movies of the season. Every year on Thanksgiving night, my family kicks off the countdown to Christmas by watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We also watch the classics like A Christmas Story and Christmas with the Kranks.

Virtual movie marathons are a great way to safely enjoy the company of friends and family, and create a virtual spin on holiday traditions. If you have a streaming service that offers multi-viewer options like Netflix, Hulu, Disney + or HBO, you can easily plan a holiday movie marathon from multiple locations using Teleparty. I’m still surprised that not everyone knows about this!

All the Best Moments Socially Distanced Holiday Ideas - Movie Marathon

Download this extension, and follow these steps to set up the application. Then ask everyone to sign into their own individual Netflix accounts. Select a movie, then look for the Teleparty icon. This will sync movie playback across all accounts, and create a group chat feature.

Upgrade everyone’s night in, by sending care packages of classic concession-stand snacks, like Movie Theater Candy or a Variety Pack of Popcorn Seasonings. This pack is the gift that keeps on giving!


Virtual Wine Tasting

Virtual wine tastings have been all-the-rage since the start of the pandemic, but they’re especially convenient for this time of year. They offer a chance to gather with a group of friends, couples or neighbors, and celebrate the joy of the season without risking an in-person get together.

All the Best Moments Socially Distanced Holiday Ideas - Virtual Wine Tasting

There’s tons of virtual wine tasting options to choose from, ranging from free classes (try Coursera’s Course by UC Davis), to just $10 per person (try Corkbuzz), up to $250 (try Matthiasson) and more. The price depends on a few factors:

  • Exclusivity: If the tasting is limited to your private group of friends, or open to anyone who signs up.
  • Inclusions: If the tasting includes a bottle of wine, two bottles of wine, or none at all. Some wineries will ship the wine directly to your doorstep, right on time for the tasting, while others will ask that you go out and purchase them on your own.
  • Vineyard: If the tasting is hosted by a top-end winery, their classes will tend to be more expensive.
All the Best Moments Socially Distanced Holiday Ideas - Virtual Wine Tasting

If you choose a virtual tasting from a winery that doesn’t include any bottles of bubbly, try sourcing wine from Drizly. Order liquor, beer, wine and hard seltzers from the website, or download the application to your phone, and have the drinks delivered directly to you.

Pro-Tip: To easily elevate the experience, research which cheeses pair well with the variety of wine on the menu, and curate a cheeseboard to enjoy during the tasting.

Prop your laptop up at the dining table, bring along the wine and cheeseboard, and raise a glass to this special tasting experience!

All the Best Moments Socially Distanced Holiday Ideas - Virtual Wine Tasting

Read more from the Happy Hostess.

Sunset at the Beach

If you’re like me, it can be hard to stay in one place for long. When you’re eager for a change of scenery, find the nearest beach, and plan a few special touches to elevate an evening away from home. Celebrate life over a glass of rose and good conversation, watching the sunset at the beach.

Sunset Vibes

Sunset at the beach is quite possibly one of my favorite ways to spend an evening. I don’t get to the beach as often as I’d like, so it feels really special when I can block out an evening to getaway.

Beach Moment

Plan to arrive to the beach a few hours before sunset. Typically, two to three hours is the perfect amount of time for me. Though, if you want to spend the latter half of the day at the beach, be my guest!

When I go to the beach for a day trip, chairs are definitely my forte. But when I head to the beach for an evening away, I like to keep it as simple and lightweight as possible. I pack a blanket to cozy up on, and set up a little vignette of the following things.

Lifeguard deck at beach

Bubbles & Bites

Wine, rose, and champagne always taste better at the beach! Chill the bottles beforehand, and add them to a little cooler or insulated bag with ice right before leaving. Always opt to bring acrylic wine glasses or plastic cups over glass.

Wine glasses at beach with beach hat, flip flops and sunglasses, on a blanket

I’m a big fan of a charcuterie board. It feels super indulgent, but it’s relatively low maintenance to compose. Plus, what goes better with wine than cheese?

In the morning, prepare the board with a few cheeses, prosciutto, bread or crackers, and jam. Cover the board with tin foil, pop it in the fridge, and take it out right before heading to the beach.

Don’t forget: plates, napkins, cheese knives, hand sanitizer, and garbage bags for trash.

Pro-Tip: Don’t go overboard; less is more for an evening at the beach. Think: easy in, easy out. The simpler, the better!

Cheese board at the beach

Games & Activities

If you’re going to the beach with family or friends, consider packing a few lightweight games to play when you first arrive. It’s an easy way to break the ice, kick off the evening and keep people entertained. Especially if little ones are involved!

A deck of cards, kite, or a game like ring toss are perfect options.

ocean waves crashing on shore during sunset
Photo by Jess Vide on Pexels.com

Music

Most beaches are pretty lenient on allowing visitors to play music, especially in the evening when it’s less crowded. Charge up your portable speaker, and find a few good playlists to set the tone for the evening.

Music is such a simple way to completely transform the vibe of a space. Plus, it can inspire off-the-cuff moments of singing and dancing, spark a new conversation, or give a little background when the conversation falls as you watch the sunset.

Relax and Enjoy

It’s so important to build in time to recharge and celebrate the small things that life has to offer. What better way to do that than with your feet in the sand, and sunset on the horizon?

For more ideas to elevate special moments, see my blog posts under Happy Hostess.

birds flying under orange clouds
Photo by Jess Vide on Pexels.com

How-To: Make A Self Serve Bar

When gatherings at home feel too intimate for a bartender, self serve bars are the name of the game. They’re an ideal option for guests to help themselves to their beverage of choice, without overwhelming the host with drink orders. Follow these steps on how-to make a self serve bar that’s just as aesthetically pleasing as it is convenient.

Select Beverages

The best piece of advice I could give to determine which beverages to include on a bar, is to think in terms of “knowing your audience.” I pose that phrase to clients and myself all the time, because it’s true!

As a host, you can recount occasions with your specific group of guests that remind you how popular Aperol Spritz’s are, or inform a decision to purchase one pack of beer because you know only two people will drink it.

Consider the guests, their go-to drink orders, and your favorite recipes to share and introduce via a welcome drink or signature beverages at the bar.

Standard Bar Guide

Spirits: Vodka, Tequila (I prefer Blanco), Bourbon, Gin, Cognac, White Rum

Mixers: Club Soda, Seltzer, Lime Juice, Cointreau, Bitters, Vermouth

Garnishes: Lime Wedges, Lemon Wedges, Orange Slices, Maraschino Cherries, Mint, Salt & Sugar

Barware: Ice Bucket & Scoop, Bar Spoon, Cocktail Shaker, Strainer, Muddler, Jigger

Glassware: Rocks, Highball, Red Stem, White Stem, Champagne, Martini

There’s a method to the madness! There are about five, five-ounce glasses of wine in one bottle… A 750 ml bottle of liquor will account for about twenty-five, one-ounce shots… And so on and so forth. Pro-Tip: When in doubt, plan for three drinks and three glasses per person for a two hour event.

Create Mini Vignettes

Once your beverages and barware accounted for, the next step on how-to make a self serve bar is all about organizing.

Group like items together that compliment one another in color, texture, and most importantly, use. Functionality is key for a self serve bar to operate like it’s intended to. Guests will be more inclined to ask the host for assistance, or skip the drink altogether, if beverages and barware are too far out of reach.

Choose tableware that coincides well with the event theme and color scheme. My list of Most Loved Sites for Party Supplies is a great resource for unique finds.

Prepare Cocktail Recipe Cards

Everyone appreciates drink recommendations! Even self-proclaimed bartenders.

There are dozens of vehicles for presenting drink recipes to guests. A picnic might call for a chalkboard, while a cocktail party might opt for acrylic signs in stands. Either option would double as decor on a self serve bar.

Here’s a cheap and cheerful way to create cocktail recipe cards...

  • Format a Word document to a 4×6 layout
  • Add the drink name, along with a photo, to the first page, and list the ingredients and instructions on the next page
  • Design each cocktail card with the font and colors of your choice
  • Save as a PDF
  • Email the file to Staples to print each cocktail recipe double sided (picture on the front, ingredients and instructions on the back), on a high-gloss cardstock. Request they laminate each card to protect them from inevitable spills.

I created three cocktail recipe cards for just under $14. Click the Download button below to view some pretty stellar recipes.

Form a Back Bar

The last thing that any host wants to do is restock a bar, especially in the middle of a party.

Use a ledge, table or shelf as a back bar to house extra bottles of club soda, seltzers and mixers. Keep like items together by grouping beverages according to brand, flavor and use. Juices in one spot, sodas in another!

Get Welcome Drinks on Deck

Welcome drinks with an unexpected twist are a fun way to kick off a celebration. For my Twenty Fifth Birthday Bash, mini margaritas in Patron Silver bottles were a must!

Miniature Bottles of Patron Silver with Pink Flamingo Straws inside
Photo by Mel Barlow & Co. Click here to find Pink Flamingo Drink Straws

I also filled an inflatable pool with a variety of spiked seltzers and a metal cooler with beers.

I left tumblers on the bar, each with their own unique design, for guests to choose from when they first arrived. The tumblers doubled in use as guests refilled water bottles from drink dispensers throughout the party, and took them home as gifts upon departure.

Add Surprise and Delight

Lastly, don’t forget to incorporate some form of Surprise and Delight.

Unique drinks in unexpected places can activate a space, and add value to a design-driven concept. I left guests to discover Jello shots stacked up in a retro cooler that was nestled among lawn games.

Twenty Fifth Birthday Bash

Twenty four was one of my most challenging years yet. A lot changed for me both personally and professionally, but it gave me the chance to make changes in my life that I’m so grateful for. My twenty fifth birthday bash was a celebration of those changes, and the strong group of women who supported and empowered me along the way. It was so special, and I’m thrilled to share it with you.

This post contains affiliate links.

Vibe

When I sat down to think about my Goals for my twenty fifth birthday bash, I knew the vibe would be key.

I wanted guests to have a ton of fun, feel their best, well cared for and thought of, and to create an environment that exuded a playful, carefree energy.

Think: California Girls (@KatyPerry), Colorful, Bold, Happy, Thriving, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini.

Welcome Drinks

Guests were greeted with margaritas in mini Patron Silver bottles, topped with pink flamingo drink straws. A Self Serve Bar was prepped and ready to go with all of the essentials, plus some extras like individual water tumblers and drink recipe cards to mix the perfect cocktail.

Sparkle Baby, Sparkle

There’s something about the first hour of a party that dictates how the rest of an event will run. So when I started crafting the timeline for my twenty fifth birthday bash, I knew I needed an icebreaker.

Queue beauty bar to kick off the celebration, loosen people up, get some live decor in and most importantly, bring out that high-energy vibe. I’m a big fan of make up artistry, so I think this really resonated with my friends, and felt authentic to who I am as a person.

Beauty Bar Details

I filled acrylic organizers with festival glitter and primer, body and face highlight, and metallic liquid eyeshadows. To keep it COVID free, I also included disposable sponge make up applicators as well as eyeshadow applicators, and kept hand sanitizer within arms reach.

Flash tattoos flanked the make up section, which were divided into white-wash wooden trays and gold leaf vessels on each side. I stuck with tropical themed tattoos, while adding some bohemian touches like arrows, feathers, and other free spirited designs.

The metallic freckle tattoos were a personal favorite. Created by Mr. Kate Beauty Marks, they’re made to apply just over the bridge of your nose.

I added natural sea and synthetic sponges to an acrylic pitcher, and filled spray bottles with water, so that guests could apply the tattoos without needing to go inside.

The beauty bar came together atop a Golden Brisa linen from Nuage Designs, with two chairs in front for guests to sit and work their magic.

Custom acrylic signs from Coppice & Crafts read “Beauty Bar,” “Sparkle Baby, Sparkle” and “Glow Up” (because we’re all on that #glowup journey, am I right?).

I finished it off with a full length mirror, turned horizontally, rested against the house, and a handheld mirror for a closer look. I also added in a pack of make up wipes, so that guests could try different looks, and remove all of the glitter before jumping into the pool.

Accessories & Activations

I love a design that doubles as an activation. It gives the design meaning and intention, and invites guests to immerse themselves in the event.

Bonus: guests inherently become a part of the design as they use and engage with activations. It really makes the theme, vibe and goals come to life.

Queue accessories, like vibrant sun visors strung along twine with clothespins, and an assortment of eccentric sunglasses and headbands.

Sun Visors
Photo by Mel Barlow & Co. Visors – Sunnylife
Sunglasses and Headbands
Photo by Mel Barlow & Co. Cherries, Daisies, Shells & Unicorn Headbands – Sunnylife. Metal Heart Sunglasses – UrbanOutfitters. Retro Heart Sunglasses – Paper Source.

Towels, PVC Clutches & Hangover Kits

Resting on lounge chairs and tucked inside a metal basket were Tuscan Yellow Towels from The Beach People.

PVC clutches from Sunnylife in blue and pink were filled with sunscreen, chapstick with SPF, spiral hair coils and barrettes.

Guests took home hangover kits from Bachette with recovery essentials like face masks, under eye patches, Advil, rainbow scrunchies and other goodies. To view the bags and all of their contents, click the Download button below.

Lounge & Lawn Games

A vignette of lounge materials and lawn games created a seamless flow between the pool and deck. Guests used the area to sit, chat, sip and play.

A Polaroid camera stocked with colorful film options inspired photo opps and captured so many candid moments.

Dinner & Dessert

Pizza Luca has the most amazing, authentic wood fired pizza, that’s served out of a blue 1952 Chevy flatbed truck. I opted for a spring green salad, and four types of pizza; Margherita, Bianca, Filetti and Marinara, along with lemon Italian ice. It was a huge hit!

The evening ended with a variety of sweets. I’m a dessert person, so more was more with this one! Not pictured: rainbow chocolate chip cookie cake from Baked in Color & white, milk and dark chocolate covered Oreos and strawberries from Hudson Valley Chocolates.

White bakery to-go boxes were left out for guests to take sweets home, but I was still left with so many extras.

Twenty Fifth Birthday Bash Swan Cake
Photo by Mel Barlow & Co. Swan Cake (Lemon Cake with Layers of Lemon Curd, Strawberry Buttercream and Fresh Strawberries) – Nine Cakes
Twenty Fifth Birthday Bash Tropical Cookies in Sunshine, Flamingo and Monstera Leaf
Photo by Mel Barlow & Co. Sunshine, Flamingo and Monstera Leaf Cookies – Tiny Kitchen Treats
Twenty Fifth Birthday Bash Swan Cake, Tropical Cookies, Unicorn and Glitter Cake Pops
Photo by Mel Barlow & Co. Unicorn & Glitter Cake Pops – New York Cake Pops

Good Times, Good Vibes

I’m so grateful to have celebrated a quarter of a century with such a close group of friends.

Each of them has supported, motivated and inspired me to strive for the best version of myself. Thank you ladies for surrounding me with so much love, and for pushing me towards my goals.

To get a closer look into my twenty fifth birthday bash, and view the deck I created while planning, click here.


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Friendsgiving

A time to practice gratitude, enjoy the company of friends and test your cooking skills.

A Little Background

Choosing to host Friendsgiving was a super easy decision. I had just settled into my first apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and was excited to welcome friends into my new space.

Calendar coordination proved to be quite the task, but once we landed on a weekend, the invitations went out.

Digital white envelope liner with seasonal foliage

Digital Invites FTW

When I’m hosting a personal event, I prefer to send digital invitations for a few reasons, but my number one reason is for convenience.

Digital invites via platforms like Paperless Post offer automated RSVP tracking, enclosure cards, embedded links to external sites, and capabilities to send follow up messages to specific groups of guests (perfect for inquiring about dietary restrictions and food allergies).

A few other reasons I prefer digital invites…

  • Invites can be edited even after they’ve been sent out.
  • Tons of fully customizable and user-friendly design templates.
  • Relatively inexpensive invitation suites compared to traditional printing methods.

Lastly, there are so many aspects of events that are unfortunately unsustainable and not so environmentally-friendly. Opting for digital invites can #savethetrees and reduce waste.

Friendsgiving digital invitation with seasonal foliage boarder and brown and orange writing

Concepting

Somewhere in the process of dreaming up Friendsgiving and sending out the invitations, I started a Pinterest board.

When I need to narrow down theme options and decide on a color palette, Pinterest is usually the best platform for me to see all of the options, and curate the ideal look and feel that I’m after.

These are some of the pins that sparked the most inspiration.

Over the next few months, I populated an Event Deck with inspiration images, household items that I planned to use, and links to products that I intended to purchase.

It was my Friendsgiving deck that led me to purchase my first set of china, which I still love!

Menu Planning

Menu planning is one of my favorite things to do. I find it so satisfying to surf the web and flip through books to create a menu that people will enjoy, and tell a story that they will remember.

As much as I love to cook, I’m also a big fan of convenience. Spare yourself the time and effort where you can, by relying on other people and places to add to the table (no pun intended).

I lean on local businesses whenever possible; the butcher down the street for meats and cheeses, the bakery with fresh pies and cookies, and local floral boutiques, to provide fresh, seasonal products that guests love.

Friendsgiving Menu

AppetizerCheese Spread from Bedford Cheese ShopSparkling Apple Cider Sangria
First CourseRoasted Butternut Squash Soup
Apple, Cranberry, Walnut Salad
Veuve Clicquot
Main Course & SidesTurkey
Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Corn
Candied Yams
Green Beans
Fresh Rolls
Zinfandel, Rose, Assorted Reds
DessertApple Crumb Pie from Martha’s Country Bakery
Ice Cream Sundaes
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snickerdoodles
Moscato

The above menu coincided with a fairly length grocery list, as I’m sure you can imagine. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will note that I found it much more turnkey to list the ingredients and quantities needed under the heading of each recipe, for reference when we began to cook.

Event Flow

I only invited a few friends, who were all coming in from out of town and stayed with me for the weekend.

My timeline officially kicked into gear on Saturday morning. Starting with breakfast at home, into shopping around Williamsburg’s boutiques, to visiting the waterfront, and returning home for Friendsgiving festivities to begin.

Photo of me by the water!
Photo by Alex Munteanu

This is a much looser run-of-show than I would compose for a client, or for an event with more moving parts. Still, referencing a framework of to-do’s and next steps kept me on track as the day unfolded. Creating this in advance also helped ensure I wouldn’t forget anything on the day-of.

Timeline

MorningPrep
– Go to Bagel Smith for Bagels
– Cook Quiches
Breakfast:
– Assorted Bagels
– (2) Quiches
– Corn Muffins
– Seasonal Fruits
– Mimosas
– Coffee & Tea
AfternoonCheese Plate
– Slice Cheese
– Jams in White Ramekins; Refrigerate
– Wash Grapes; Refrigerate
– Nuts in Italy Bowl, White Vase and White Ramekins on Top Shelf of Bar Cart
– Crackers on Top Shelf of Bar Cart
Bar Cart
– Remove Items from Top Shelf
– Square Blue Ravello Plate to Top Shelf
– Cheese Board to Top Shelf
– Chalkboard Cheese Signs on Cheese Plates
– Menu Sign on Gold Easel
– White Pitcher on Top Shelf (Sangria)
– Straws in Water Glass on Top Shelf (from under sink)
– Cocktail Napkins on Bar
– Plastic Cups on Bar
Bake Cookies
– Snickerdoodles
– Chocolate Chip Cookies
– Store in (2) Shallow Bowls and Cover w/ Tinfoil
Whipped Cream
– Place Bottom of Mixer and Large White Vase in Freezer to Chill
– Make Whipped Cream & Transfer into White Vase; Cover w/ Tinfoil and Store in Fridge
Peel and Chop
– Sweet Potatoes
– Butternut Squash
– Yukon Gold Potatoes
Late AfternoonPrep
– Make Sangria and Move to Fridge to Soak & Chill (White Pitcher)
– Light Festive Candles
– Turn on Music
– Netflix Fireplace on TV
– Set Table
– Prepare Apples for Salad
– Decide Team Captains for Recipes; Cook Away!
Dinner– Place Out Cheese Spread and Sangria Pitcher
– Shift Music to Jazz Playlist
Bon Appetit!– Pour Champagne
– Soup in Bowls; Garnish
– Invite Guests to Dinner
– Toast
– Enjoy First Course
– Clear Soup Bowls; Clear Floral Arrangement; Place Wooden Salad Bowl in Center of Table w/ Wooden Tongs
– Guests to Self-Serve Salad
– Enjoy Second Course
– Put Dinner Rolls in Oven
– Clear Second Course
– Invite Guests to Buffet
– Bon Appetit!
Gold and marble bar cart made cheese board for Friendsgiving appetizers

A Little Reflection

Friendsgiving was the first gathering I hosted (back in 2018), and it was a massive learning experience.

It was a team effort between my friends and I to prep, cook and clean everything, (which was no easy feat in a small apartment without a dishwasher!) but we divided and conquered by designating captains to take the lead on each recipe.

Champagne glass with Friendsgiving dinner in the background

We toasted to health & happiness, played a Thanksgiving-themed trivia game, and shared all that we were thankful for. I’d love the chance to host Friendsgiving again soon… though next time, it might be a potluck.

Friendsgiving place setting, with white coupe china, and roasted butternut squash soup in a bowl