Operation Christmas Child: Message in a Box

occCreating boxes for Operation Christmas Child has been one of my favorite holiday traditions for as long as I can remember. Basically you fill a shoebox (any old shoebox will do) with various gifts for a boy or girl, in whatever age range you choose, and drop it off at the collection center nearest to you. The shoeboxes are then collected by Samaritan’s Purse and distributed in third world countries where the need is greatest, and the children would otherwise have received nothing at all. My sister and I often did them with our parents when we were growing up which is such a great way to teach children to share and to have compassion for others. It’s definitely a tradition I’m going to carry on once Justin and I have kids.

I know that it’s not even Halloween yet and I’m going on about Christmas traditions, but this is one that happens very early on in the season; ‘collection week’ is November 17-24. You can click here to see which drop off locations are nearest to you, and here to read a bit more about Operation Christmas Child. If you’re bad at time management like me, you’re also able to virtually create a shoebox here, which is super convenient but quite a bit less fun. I’ve done it online the last few years, but I’m planning to do a few of them this year by hand.

If you’ve been looking for an easy, rewarding way to give back during the holidays then I really recommend giving Operation Christmas Child a try – and if you’re as obsessive as I am about how much good charities actually do, then you’ll be glad to know that they have a 95.9 score on Charity Navigator. which is much higher than World Vision and in line with another of my favorite charities, Save the Children. Let me know if you’re planning to do one, or if you have in the past!

Fall Entertaining

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One of my favorite things about fall and winter entertaining is that it can be totally, unapologetically decadent; it’s like you’re supposed to set the table, use the good china, and eat copious amounts of baked goods, hearty meals and sugary drinks. One of my favorite things in the world is a delicious pumpkin pie, and I like to serve it as dessert whenever possible once fall rolls around. They’re too delicious to be reserved solely for Thanksgiving.

I haven’t actually attempted to bake one yet as I have extremely high standards to live up to; my mother-in-law makes an amazing version complete with maple whipped cream (!) that my husband lives for. I decided that something like pumpkin pie is best left to the experts, so Justin and I have tried quite a few (it’s research) over the years and have come to the conclusion that the pumpkin pie from Sweet Lady Jane is the best in LA, and as close to his mom’s as possible. If you can’t get to their cute little bakery (and are a better baker than I am) then this recipe gets amazing reviews.

My favorite thing to drink with dessert is a mocha, and Starbucks® Mocha K-Cups® make this incredibly easy to do at home. I topped mine with a little too much of this cappuccino whip and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice for an indulgent feeling treat that is actually relatively healthy (so I can save my calories for pie!).

What’s your favorite thing about entertaining in fall? Any exciting recipes? I’d love to hear.

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The rich aromas and sweet flavors you love from Starbucks, now brewing at home. Introducing two new K-Cup® flavors for all, inspired by our café favorites.

LEGAL: Developed in partnership with Starbucks Coffee Company and their new Starbucks® K-Cup® packs. K-Cup® packs for use in Keurig® K-Cup® brewing systems. Keurig, the Cup and Star Design, Keurig Brewed, K-Cup and the Keurig brewer trade dress are trademarks of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc, used with permission.

Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Starbucks Coffee Company, via Mode Media.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Starbucks Coffee Company

Langham Pasadena and Chuan Spa

1 - Exterior AerialWe spent the weekend before last at the gorgeous Langham Hotel in Pasadena, which is just outside of LA. Friends of ours were getting married close by and we figured that we may as well make a ‘staycation’ of it and spend the weekend. I had only been to the hotel once before for lunch, and it was so nice to get to spend some time and explore the property.

We spent Saturday prior to the wedding lounging poolside, where they served a seriously delicious Chardonnay and a great light lunch menu from the nearby Terrace Restaurant. In the early evening we headed to the Ambassador’s Mansion for the wedding; two of my girlfriends and I were tasked with greeting guests and handing out programs, kippahs and most importantly, champagne. I think that is such a nice touch – being given a glass of champagne to sip on during the ceremony really sets a celebratory mood, don’t you think? I wish we could have done that at our wedding, but I suppose it doesn’t really work for a traditional church wedding…drinking in church is probably frowned upon.

All that champagne set the tone for quite a late evening (a bunch of us closed down the lobby bar at the hotel), and so Sunday was a little rough. Justin and I agreed that there was only one logical thing to do, so we ordered room service and headed off to the spa. I had heard great things about the recently renovated Chuan Spa, and it definitely lived up to my expectations. The Chinese inspired spa is vast but welcoming, and honestly every little detail has been thought of. You’re offered hot tea and a warm towel for your hands while you fill out forms, and after your service (I had the Hot Stone Therapy) there’s not just a waiting area with little snacks (and more tea) but a dream room with various cozy beds to just relax in. I had to try very hard not to fall asleep, and it was incredibly tough to pull myself away before heading back to reality.

All in all it was a perfect weekend – my only regret is that I didn’t have much time to take advantage of all the amenities the spa had to offer. I guess I’ll just have to go back!

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6 - Pool (1) Chuan Spa Reception Chuan Spa Inner Waiting Room 13 - Wisteria exterior 10 - The Tap Room 11 - Club Suite 10 - Lobby Lounge Tea Setup 9 - The Tap Room Fireplace 7 - The Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse 5 - Japanese Garden

Chic Fall Decor

pumpkin5 pumpkin4 pumpkin3 pumpkin2 pumpkins1pumpkinsI don’t love fall decorating. I tend to think that a lot of the stuff available at the stores is pretty cheesy looking; too many fake leaves, sparkly gourds and twee signs with words of wisdom and thanksgiving. I just googled ‘Thanksgiving Decor’ and this totally bizarre embellished hedgehog tealight candleholder came up under the ‘Elegant Thanksgiving Decor’ section at Pier One. See what I mean?!  I also don’t really remember my mom (or anyone’s mom) decorating for fall when I was growing up – maybe it’s not really a thing in Canada, and so I just don’t get it?

Either way, I changed my stance on fall decorating when I came across this post featuring the pretty images above. It turns out I do like some fall decorating, like these rustic, understated (okay except the painted pumpkins, but aren’t they fun?) and natural looking displays and table settings. Wouldn’t you love to have brunch at that outdoor table or curl up with that dog by the fire to admire those artful pumpkins? I know I would.

Maybe the key is that you need to sift through the strange decor to get to the good stuff and to incorporate as many natural elements as possible. That’s something I can get behind – less weird hedgehogs, and more woven baskets and heirloom pumpkins. Maybe I’ll get myself a pumpkin spice latte and stop by Pottery Barn this afternoon ; )

World Pasta Day

best-pasta-sauce-recipe-ed1110-daniel-main-mdnApparently it’s World Pasta Day tomorrow. I didn’t know that this existed, but I woke up to an email with a headline proclaiming ‘PASTA DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT’ which I immediately had to open. I’m a firm believer that eating healthy, whole foods (including pasta!) is the way to go; I don’t really understand people with self imposed gluten and dairy free diets or excessive dietary restrictions. I love food way too much too give anything up unless I had a serious health or moral reason to do so. That being said, I also think that the old adage ‘everything in moderation’ is key in regard to food. I typically eat very healthfully, but I definitely let myself indulge.

Back to the email. It linked to this scientific study which states, among other things, that “Pasta and pasta meals are part of healthy, cultural food traditions around the world. It’s time to stop demonizing carbs or any other macronutrient, and start focusing on good taste, real foods, lots of plant foods, and overall common sense.” Amen.

If you feel like celebrating my new favorite holiday (only sort of kidding) then here are a few amazing sounding pasta recipes:

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