{everyone needs a side of sparkle}



As of late, a Side of Sparkle hasn't been very sparkly or shiny or filled with all those pretty things I love sharing with you all! Life happens and my two tots are keeping me on my toes instead of sitting in front of my mac with a hot cup of coffee. So, I apologize if I haven't been posting regularly. I'll post what I can when I can and hope you enjoy it all the same!

With the holiday season comes the need for creative hostess gifts. Sure, a bottle of wine (or better, champagne) fits the bill, but it's the thought that counts, right? So think about your recipient or the occasion and flex those creative muscles. Here's a little hostess gift inspiration. I love the idea of bringing something homemade and this collection is meant to provide the basics for a morning after treat. I know the last thing on my mind when throwing a fete is what I'll have for breakfast the next day. Bake some scones, toss in some preserves (or in this case, cider syrup), add a bag of coffee, a few extra goodies and ta-da! You have a thoughtful gift your host is sure to appreciate!

Just a side note: save the delight of cider syrup from epicurean extinction. Once a New England pantry staple, this classic autumn-time sweeter is rarely around anymore. I made a batch following the post from reading my tea leaves. It came out deliciously and I am looking forward to sharing it with my friends this Christmas. I purchased a slew of these swing top bottles from IKEA for $4.00. Or, if you're really ambitious, a 12 pack. Tie on a tag and a cinnamon stick with some pretty ribbon and you have one sweet little gift.

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upper crust

Once the month of November arrives it's difficult for me to think about anything other than food. Particularly difficult is keeping my fingers away from the dessert category in my cookbooks or my cursor from wondering the many dessert recipes I have bookmarked online. If you know my penchant for pastries, you would not be surprised to find my many recipes for pie. Baking pies with the bounty of an Autumn harvest seems an essential part of life this time of year, especially in New England. To not partake in this annual ritual would just seem un-American. 

An old favorite I keep returning to this time of year is pumpkin pie. Though I'm a sucker for a golden flakey crust, this year I thought I'd freshen things up by making a gingersnap cookie crust. Besides adding a sweetly spicy element to the pumpkin taste, the cookie crust will do away with any fears of a soggy, under-baked bottom crust. The flavor of this gingersnap crust would substitute wonderfully as the foundation for many pies and cheesecakes. It's a delicious way to update an old favorite.

1 1/2 cups finely ground ginger snaps
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Combine cookie crumbs, sugar, and ginger in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir until mixture is evenly moistened. Transfer crumb mixture to 9-inch-diameter pie dish. Press crumbs firmly and evenly onto bottom and up sides of dish. It's helpful to use a second pie dish to place inside to tamp down the mixture. Bake until crust is firm and slightly darker in color, about 8 minutes. Cool crust completely.

image via mccormick
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I break for family

Family's coming to town for a long visit and I am very excited! So excited in fact, that I haven't ben blogging. Rather, I've been gathering recipes (gluten free, btw) and planning activities for all of us and the girls. Oh yeah, and I've been cleaning the house which is taking up way too much of my free time (that I don't have). In the meantime here's a yummy recipe for creme carmel from sweet paul. Until November...
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pantone color report

I just love, love LOVE these colors from pantone's fall 2012 color collection. Especially rose smoke... how gorgeous it would look with french roast or, my favorite stand-by, black. It's refreshing to see some brighter colors too, such as tangerine tango. I will feel confident wearing these gold earrings well into December! Now, I'm on the hunt for a cozy fall sweater in honey gold or rhapsody. Aren't these colors such fun...

image via pantone
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oh, wear! noir

Black feels so comfortable and familiar to me. Wearing black makes me feel safe and sophisticated even if I'm having a bad hair day. Black seems so rote when it comes to party or evening attire, but I always find it classic and appealing. After all, it's not called a little black dress for nothing. Here's my sparkly version... an ode to noir.

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hello, october

October in New England is a gamble; it might be rainy, cold, raw... so miserable that you're begging for those oppressively hot August days. Or, it can be the most beautiful, colorful, crisp time of year... days that are bathed-in-sunshine. Kind days that are made for light weight sweaters, skinny jeans and leather boots, jacket optional. This October's temperament has yet to be determined, but I am hopeful it will remind us New Englanders why we live here and bestow us with the beauty of a kind October.

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birthday postcard project

This past March Hero Hubby celebrated a milestone birthday. I couldn't arrange a big bash as I had hoped to, so I thought an elaborate birthday card would be a great way to gather birthday wishes from friends and family near and far. I created a bunch of postcards and sent them to friends and family with instructions to write birthday notes and mail back to the birthday boy. Here's the note I included:
Dear Friends and Family, I’ve put together a little birthday project for Paul to usher him into his 40th year! It’s a fun project that everyone can participate in. Basically, I’ve printed up a series of postcards that spell out “Happy 40th Birthday to Paul!” Each postcard represents one letter of the birthday wish and each family and friend is receiving one postcard. Please write a note to Paul and pop it in the mail so he can complete his birthday card. Thanks! Love, Marissa
Then, I strung up a bunch of clothes pins and numbered them. As cards came in the mail, Hero Hubby clipped up the corresponding cards and the full message took shape. It was great fun seeing him reading all the heart-felt notes and pictures everyone sent. Well, it's taken me this long to get my act together and finally post the results. Thanks to everyone who made his day extra bright and special! I'm going to post this project as a free printable in a separate post, but in the meantime post a comment if you would like me to send you the file for download right away!

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individual apple pies (sort of)

What is it with individual sized portions that turn us on? I mean collectively - why are we in love with cupcakes, pies in jars, mini quiches, etc. Is it a reflection of our increasingly customizable life style? Are we so used to being able to tailor our lives to our specific needs and wants that we lose the desire to enjoy a slice of the collective cake? I did a Google search for "the psychology of individual desserts" and nothing came up to shed some light on this popular foodie trend.

I really enjoy individual food items as much as for taste as for concept. There's something quaint and delightful about having your very own mini of a grander dish. A mini chicken pie or a single serving peach upside-down cake has a certain charm - like it was made just for me... no sharing necessary. If you're experiencing cupcake fatigue, but love the gastro-separatist concept (I'm coining that phrase), consider these single serving apple pies. They're simple to make, elegant on the plate, and they satisfy the need to have you're very own, entirely complete, individual dessert (you selfish hog) 

4 tart apples, such as granny smith
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 box Immaculate Baking Co. pie crust
2 tablespoons milk (for brushing down pie dough)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cinnamon, ginger, and sugar in a small bowl.
Core the apples down to the bottom making sure not to puncture through (you want the juices to stay in the apple). Peel back the skin by about an inch around the top opening. Stuff each apple with the sugar mixture and top with a quarter tablespoon of butter.

Cut pie crusts in half and cut again into a triangular shape – you will have 4 large triangles when you are done. Wrap each apple in one triangle and pinch the top to hold together. (You may need to roll the dough out a little if you have large apples).

Brush dough with the milk. Place apples in a baking dish and then in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. This helps re-chill the dough, ensuring a flakey crust. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. They are done when the crust is golden and the apples are very soft.

image and adapted recipe via cindab

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color therapy: orange

Orange you glad this color is everywhere this fall? Ok, sorry for the silly word-play, but seriously, I love orange in all its various hues and I'm so happy to see it popping up every where this fall. A classic autumn color, orange looks fabulous with french roast (one of the Pantone color picks for fall 2012). There's a burnt orange silk blouse hanging in my closet just begging to be worn with a pair of skinny grey jeans and these boots. How do you plan of wearing orange this season?

image via 
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best ever carrot cake. ever.

These cooler evenings and crisp mornings leave me feeling a little love lorn for those warm August days. Days that felt like my favorite sweater wrapped around my shoulders - just the right weight of wool to keep the mere thought of a shiver away. Now that September is in full effect, I'm folding away the shorts and fluttery tank tops in favor of the long denim and corduroy blazers. The sandals are almost packed up and the boots have started to appear in the hall shoe tray. My morning coffee routine has shifted from making it iced in favor of hot.

As the last bottles of rosé are savored while the street lights start popping on before 7pm, I am comforted, as summer draws to a close, by all the delicious tastes fall brings. Ripe apples, late and juicy peaches, preserved berries and garden tomatoes, apple pies, mulled wine and carrot cake. Though not  favorited by everyone, carrot cake is high on my list of must-have fall delights. I've made many, but the recipe that follows is the tried and true method I look forward to concocting every time the air turns chilly when the September sun disappears behind a cloud... every time that favorite sweater of mine gets unpacked from winter storage... and every time I want my coffee hot in the mornings.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup grapeseed oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrot
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple, drained
1 3 1/2 oz can flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Glaze (recipe follows)
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Line the bottoms of 3 9" round cakepans with wax paper; lightly grease and flour wax paper and sides of pans. Set pans aside.

Stir together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Beat eggs, sugar, grapeseed oil, buttermilk and vanilla at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Fold in carrot, pineapple, coconut and nuts. Pour batter into prepared cakepans.

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Drizzle Buttermilk Glaze evenly over layers. Cool in pans on wire racks for 15 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring often, 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla.

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1 3 oz package cream cheese, softened
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until smooth.

recipe adapted from Southern Living Magazine. image source unknown.
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who has tomorrow?

My stepmother has a phrase: "who has tomorrow?" As we remember the people who perished eleven years ago today, let us not forget that tomorrow is never a guarantee. Let's honor the lives and sprit of all of those who died by appreciating the good things we, the living, have in our lives. Hug your children, call your friends and your family and tell them you love them. Hold onto the people you love and live each day in gratitude of them. Hope springs eternal and love conquers all... hold onto hope and love. Find them in your life and in this world. Appreciate the basics of life. Smile, be happy, find peace and share it. No one has tomorrow, but we all have right now.

image source unknown
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on diamonds

Diamonds get a lot of attention. Are they the prettiest of all gems? Both answers to that question are valid. I used to resent just how much swoon-worthy attention diamonds got, but after working with the icy-sparkly stones for the past month I understand their allure. Here's a fun analysis of why it's drilled into our heads we recognize that diamonds are a girl's best friend. Thank you, Marilyn, but a woman's best friend is a positive can-do attitude, imho.

Nevertheless, a few of these babies on your ears wouldn't be so terrible. I've been wearing a white quartz pair nonstop - it makes me feel fancy... and fancy's just fine with me! For the month of September use code LOVEDIAMONDS to enjoy 10% off the new Marissa B. pave diamond collection (nope, it's not too early to think about holiday shopping)!
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happy {long} weekend

Happy Friday and happy long weekend! I will admit that my mind has been elsewhere this week. I'm   planning to make this blueberry tart for our Labor day festivities... maybe I'll get to this diy project too?

It's time for a coffee break and to daydream into this long weekend...
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to have and to hold

Hero Hubby and I will be celebrating the union of two friends in September. I love weddings and a destination fall wedding in New England is the loveliest of times. Yes, a weekend without the littles means my clothes have a fair shot at not being stained by food, poop (sorry, but it happens) or any other goo you don't want to be wearing, never mind cleaning up. For two days and two nights I get to be an adult... eating hot meals, having conversations (and finishing them) reading a book, drinking hot beverages without peril of being burned or burning someone, wearing earrings, and, my favorite, bathing on a whim.

So, what to wear for this glorious weekend of sanity? Here are a few compilations to inspire...

the last two sets were created by amandammorris 

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the taste of patience

Garden grown tomatoes are the product of patience. In fact, that to me is what patience tastes like - a juicy, savory-sweet, home grown tomato. Unlike their supermarket counterparts, homegrown tomatoes  live a luxurious life; never prematurely picked, they hang proudly off their vines, bathing in sunshine until they are ripe. "You haven't eaten a tomato until you've eaten one from the garden," my father once said to me. With an abundance of ripe tomatoes at farmer's markets right now this recipe for a tomato tart seems the perfect way to showcase the bright flavor of this summertime delight. Aside form tomatoes, the other main ingredient is the crust and I would trust none other than Immaculate Baking Company's pie crust for the job.

Summer Tomato Tart

2-3 ripe garden grown tomatoes (about 1 pound), sliced thin
8 ounces sliced fresh mozzarella
1 Immaculate Baking Co. pie crust
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Press pie crust into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Line the bottom of the tart shell with sliced mozzarella. Arrange the tomatoes over the cheese in a ring around the edge of the tart and a second ring in the center. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese has started to brown in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes. Remove side of tart pan and slide tart onto a platter before slicing. Sprinkle with freshly chopped basil. Tart may be covered and kept at room temperature for 6 hours.

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dinner tonight: quinoa salad

There's something about these late summer evenings that lull me into working less and daydreaming more. Maybe it's because fall is lurking around the corner and a new season with new responsibilities is about to start. Maybe it feels like the last chance for those lazy summer days I remember having as a kid - that precious week before school started and the end to sleeping in. No one sleeps in around here, that's for sure, but my secret in reclaiming some lazy days is to plan simple, light dinners that take little time to put together and yield excellent leftovers for next day's lunch. Quinoa is a new favorite in my house. Once I figured out how to tame it's bitter tendencies and add the right combinations of spices, it has become my go-to grain. Fancy it up with a supporting cast (such as this grapefruit and avocado arugula salad) and you've got yourself a winning combination of taste and nutrition.

Quinoa Arugula Salad

1 cup quinoa
4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup olive oil or Avocado oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 shallot, minced
1 pinch salt and black pepper to taste
4 cups baby arugula leaves, washed and dried
1 avocado - peeled, pitted and diced
1/2 grapefruit, peeled and sectioned

Toast quinoa in a dry skillet over medium heat until it has a nutty aroma. Remove from heat, rinse well and drain in a fine mesh strainer. Bring water to a boil, add salt, and slowly add toasted quinoa. Cook until tender and whitish outer rings appear on the grains, 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and place in a large bowl to cool.

In a small bowl, combine cranberries, lime juice, olive oil, honey, garlic, shallot, mint and 1 tablespoon chopped arugula. Stir into the cooled quinoa and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Place a generous handful (or more) of baby arugula on each salad plate. Top with quinoa mixture, avocado, and grapefruit. Additionally, you could add crumbled goat cheese or mild feta.

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house: day 34

It's day 34 here at the new house and my big focus has been getting the house finished. For the past two months Hero Hubby and I have been flat-out working, fixing, painting, nailing, chopping (more on that later), sawing, screwing (not that kind), moving, assembling, cleaning... The list of tasks go on and on. I realize that with a monumental task such as this there's no "finished." It's a process that leaves little time for playing.

It's time to get my ducks in a row and structure my weeks more so I actually schedule play time in. Many of you may be bristling at the thought of scheduling play time - I know I am! Naturally one to just go with the flow, I realize that in order to stay on top of the house projects and be a good mum I need structure. I'm not quite sure how I'll arrange my schedule or how I'll be at sticking to it, but here are some inspiring posts to help me get started. How have you organized your days? Also, I found some great DIY recipes for all things play-time (more on those later) and I'm putting this DIY teepee on my to-do list. What kid wouldn't like a teepee in her room?

How does you brain work via organized everyday
How I clean my house via mom of 6
21 day challenge via bowl full of lemons

Oh, and these activities might just save my sanity. The littlest one is thirteen months now and she is into everything!

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been a while + wordless wednesday

"Gimme back my Wordless Wednesdays!" read the text from my cousin and devoted a Side of Sparkle reader. Meghan had traded the paradise of Hawaii for two weeks of unpredictable New England summertime for a family visit not too long ago. I felt so lucky to host her and her gorgeous (and I mean gorgeous) little boy at the new house. After catching up on all sorts of things she asked me about the blog situation - or, lack thereof! Well, I'm back to posting regularly after a break that allowed me to focus on moving the family, renovating the house and starting anew. So, Meghan and all other Dear Readers out there, please excuse my hiatus. I have lots and lots of house news to share (everyone likes a good before and after, right?), kid updates, recipes, fashion posts... and, yes, Wordless Wednesday:

one | two | three

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how to stay sane {while we do this house thing}

Sometimes the enormity of one situation overshadows the rest of life's goings on and calls for a handful of shortcuts to manage the chaos. What do I possibly mean by this? Well, buying and renovating a house is a big task that has been taking most of my brain space for the past month. As we gear up to the big move, there are still many last-minute negotiations and financial matters to be ironed out. All of this is exhausting when you have two little kids running around demanding attention, food and diaper changes. I've managed to make arrangements with our broker while cleaning up spilled juice under the kitchen table, juggle baby wipes and apply diaper cream while negotiating interest rates, and (my favorite) serve up time-outs without skipping a beat in discussing the terms of our closing. All of this adds up to a very sore neck, two semi-neglected kids and one very tired mama.

The time has come for a plan. I've never been a big planner, but children will turn you into one whether you like it or not. My plan for the next several months of *house* is:

  • Have enough healthy prepared food as most of my free time is occupied by telephone calls and work. As much as Violet has enjoyed being handed fistfuls of Hershey Kisses to keep her "happy" while I'm on the phone, it's really not a habit I want to continue!
  • Limit phone time. understanding the objects for a phone conversation can ensure that the call will not go longer than is necessary. Though I do enjoy hearing about Aunt Mildred's 99th birthday party and how the eclairs were painstakingly homemade, I've got a ticking clock and need to keep things short and sweet.
  • Limit screen time (and by "screen" I mean my beloved mac). It's fun perusing Pinterest for home decor ideas, but it can take hours away from the time I would normally be working once the kids go to bed.
  • Focus on the task at hand. Whether it's doing the dishes or playing with my kids, staying focused on what I'm doing is key to staying sane. It's how to avoid putting your car keys in the freezer and the ice cream container in your diaper bag. That happened. Really.
  • Go to bed. It's alluring to think I have a five hour stretch of time after the kids go to bed to do chores and get work done. The reality is - I'm tired! I just want to take my shower, raid the refrigerator for something sweet and curl up with a sudoko before exhaustion overtakes my eyelids and I slip into a state of slumbering bliss. I sound like a 90 year old woman, I know... but a girl's gotta get her rest!
  • Schedule tasks around babysitting, nap-time and bed-time. If I'm wise about what's really essential, I can schedule the time to complete each task around the free time I do have. My amazing neighbor watches the girls one morning each week which allows me the time to design and ship orders. Nap-times can be used for more random things like a few phone calls, house chores, etc. After bed-time is a great time to focus on personal things emailing friends, scoping out Pinterest and obsessing over this wallpaper.

That's my plan. It's not rocket science, but it's going to be a challenge for someone who likes to just float along with whatever comes along. That said, I'm sad that my posts have been far and few between... Until next time, Dear Readers...

image via design cloud

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It's been a long past few weeks. Lots of anxious feelings and late nights involving calculators, spec sheets, fax cover sheets and wine. Anyway, we're 99% on our way to making a big move - to a new house. The property we'll call home in a few months needs a lot of work, but that's Hero Hubby's expertise and my passion! Some bathrooms will get ripped out and replaced, floors will be refinished ceilings will be torn down, walls will be painted, and some not-so-pretty kitchen cabinets will get a major makeover. And that's just the stuff on the inside. I hope I can keep up with blogging and report from the front lines of how home renovation, motherhood, small business and designing all come together! It will be interesting. I'm getting the wine bottles ready. For now, I've posted some color schemes I'm thinking of for the bedrooms. I love lilac and sherbert together for the girls' room and a light robin's egg blue seems like a peaceful choice for the master bedroom. Am I bold enough to paint the guest bedroom that lovely coral?

one | two | three

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to grow a garden

Hero Hubby and I had a major garden fail last summer - that might have something to do with having our second baby... Anyway, our tomatoes rotted before they matured, our beets vanished (a mole, maybe?) and the few snap peas that actually grew looked like they were giving us the finger. Not a good scene. We thought we had done everything right - rich soil, good starter plants, lots of water. But, we got neglectful and. So, this year we are determined to start everything off right and keep up with it! I loved reading this gardening 101 post over at a beautiful mess. I also  love the idea of planting in containers. It makes everything seem much more manageable and I like how creative I can get with choosing the actual containers!

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