Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Holiday Gift Guide 2015: For The Yankee Swap

It's day two of the Pop.Bop.Shop. Holiday Gift Guide and today we're talking about gifts for one of my favorite occasions, the office Yankee Swap.

My family is Jewish so growing up I never took part in any kind of holiday swap. As an adult, it's been a blast to partake in this annual (sometimes feisty) tradition.

Below you'll find eight ideas for bringing the most coveted gift to the swap.

I'm on the West Elm website at least once a week and when I found these lacquered desktop accessories I had to hold myself back from ordering the entire set! What co-worker wouldn't want some extra shine in their cube?

Also from West Elm, this brass hashtag paper weight. Because #duh.

Continuing the gold theme, I love these dinosaur planters. They are totally goofy, but oh-so-fun.

This year I've been super into pencils (see my 2015 Birthday Wish List) and what better way to encourage a teammate than with pencils that shout, "You got this."

I don't know about you, but I keep track of all my plans and meetings in a paper datebook. I know it's old fashioned, but I swear by it. Since a datebook is kind of a personal thing, instead add a desktop calendar to the mix for the fellow schedulers in the office.

Though I venture out and buy lunch every day, most of my co-workers cook and bring their home made meals. Offer them a stylish way to transport their goods with this Herschel Lunch Bag, sold on Zappos.

Another Zappos find, these gorgeous LAUREN by Ralph Lauren Mohair gloves. Perfect for the commute!

I have saved the best Yankee Swap gift for last. This is particularly brilliant for co-workers who have to travel a lot. I bring you the carry on cocktail kit! Everything you need to make two cocktails, all within the liquid restrictions for carry on luggage.

If you saw something you liked on this list, hurry up and order it! Chances are your office's Yankee Swap is in the next two weeks.

You can find all of these ideas on my Pinterest board and even more ideas in past Pop.Bop.Shop. Gift Guides, which are all listed below.

Happy swapping!

2015 Holiday Gift Guides:
2014 Holiday Gift Guides:
2013 Holiday Gift Guides:

Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Gift Guide 2015: For The Hostess

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Holiday Gift Guide Week!

What better day to kick off a week of gift ideas than Cyber Monday? I hope you score some killer deals today.

Each day this week, Monday - Friday, I'll be posting a new gift guide with a new theme. Today I'm offering 10 ideas for the hostess with the mostess. Over the next few weeks you'll surely be bouncing from house to house and party to party and you can't arrive empty handed.

I squealed when I discovered this set of champagne flutes on Z Gallerie. Each of the six flutes says "cheers" in a different language. These would be particularly fun on New Year's Eve.

For champagne, I also love these blush pink, stemless flutes from CB2.

This next item was actually served to me in a Facebook ad. Thanks, retargeting! Every hostess needs a beautiful tray for drinks or appetizers and this one from Dot and Bo is festive, without being over the top.

This next item, a set of cheese knives, was marketed as part of Anthropologie's Thanksgiving decor (feathers for the turkey theme), but I still like them for the December holiday season. Metallic is always appropriate.

What can I say? I can never resist a sparkly place mat. I flipped for these two designs from Kate Spade which say "Be Merry, Be Bright" and "Spike The Punch."

Moving from place mats to place cards, how adorable are these rose gold reindeer? Surprisingly, these are from Paper Source.

For any hostess friends who are also excellent bakers (which seems to be a common combo), I thought these engraved rolling pins were super fun. There are three designs: blackbirds, chevron (!!) and circles.

Every hostess knows that having a stack of clean dishes towels is a must during a party. Whether guests are wiping their hands, taking something out of the oven or drying dishes, towels are a necessity. Towels that crack jokes? Even better.

These lyric-inspired towels had me cackling.

Now, if you're looking to give a holiday-specific gift, I have you covered. For Hanukkah, this copper menorah wine stopper is a must!

For a Christmas party, offer to bring dessert and wow guests with these Ugly Sweater Cookies from Harry & David. Just be sure to leave enough time for them to ship to your house (or the hostess' house).

And there you have it! If you'd like to pin these ideas to your gift planning boards, you can find all of them on my Pinterest board.

If you're looking for even more gift ideas, revisit the Pop.Bop.Shop. Holiday Gift Guides from 2014 and 2013, all listed below.

2014 Holiday Gift Guides:
2013 Holiday Gift Guides:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dining Out: Armsby Abbey

On Sunday there is only one thing that matters - brunch.

For the past week or so I've been sharing with you some of the discoveries made during my reunion weekend with my college girls (Crompton Collective, Tavolino). Our final group outing was to a place in Worcester, MA called Armsby Abbey.

Armsby Abbey opens for Sunday brunch at 10:00am. Knowing the place fills up quickly, we arrived at 9:45am to start standing in line. There were about 15 other people with the same idea.

When the clock struck ten, all the eager beavers began pushing through the front door. As soon as we set foot inside I noticed the gorgeous exposed brick walls.

We walked through the bar area and were seated in the very back of the restaurant at a high top booth.

Our waitress came over to deliver us menus and talk through some of the brunch cocktail options. Armsby Abbey changes their menu constantly based on what is fresh and in season, so they print new menus every weekend.

Of course my eyes were immediately drawn to the Bloody Mary section. Armsby Abbey lets you design your own Bloody. You can select everything from the spice level of the mix to the type of alcohol to the variety of garnishes.

They also serve six different brunch cocktails, including Mulled Cider and Mexican Iced Coffee (two of my favorites).

The most hilarious boozy option is the "wake-up call!" which lets you add a shot to your morning coffee.

To warm up from the icy cold temperatures outside, one of our friends ordered a cup of tea, which came with the cutest little pot of honey.

We wasted no time ordering cocktails, starting with the house mimosa.

Two of us decided to build our own Bloody Mary drinks. How dramatic are those garlic scapes twisting out of the glasses like vines?

My friend ordered hers garnished with bacon, a truly decadent choice!

My Bloody was topped with the garlic scape, a jalapeƱo slice and a nice, big olive.

I still think the best Bloody Mary is at The Sinclair in Harvard Square, but the Armsby Abbey DIY drink is a valiant contender.

For our brunch meal, we were so enticed by the myriad of menu options that we decided to order a bunch of plates and share everything.

The first dish to arrive was the chicken sandwich. It was house smoked chicken with arugula, pickled hot pepper cream cheese spread and a fried egg on an ale roll with a side of dressed greens.

The girls were raving about this sandwich, calling it "amazing." The group consensus was, "The egg is cooked perfectly. It's the right ratio of bread to goodies. Each bite has a nice kick to it from the hot pepper cream cheese spread."

Next, the root vegetable quiche, packed with parsnips, carrots, sweet potato, caramelized onions, Chevre and fresh basil.

After we each had one bite, we agreed the quiche was a bit dry and that the vegetable tastes were quite subtle.

Then we moved onto the hash, a fennel sausage hash over beet puree, topped with a soft cooked egg. How beautiful are the colors in this dish?

I didn't taste this dish personally, but it was reported to me that, "The sausage in the hash is delicious. It's nice to have the runny egg, which helps bind everything together."

There were two sweet dishes calling our names, but we ultimately decided on the apple cider waffle. It was piled high with apple compote, salted caramel sauce and limoncello whipped cream.

The waffle itself was very tasty and the salted caramel sauce was not too sweet. The apples were a nice, fall touch.

I have intentionally saved the best for last. The most incredible dish of the entire meal was Armsby Abbey's signature mac & cheese. It's made with an assortment of local cheeses, IPA and homemade rustic ale-bread crumbs.

The mac & cheese was so exceptional that we placed a second order and licked both bowls clean.

Maybe it was the cubed bread on top, maybe it was the smoky flavor in the cheese or maybe it was the classic pasta shells - no matter the ingredients, the finished product was superb. I would drive all the way to Worcester to sit at the bar, eat this mac & cheese and then turn around and drive home.

Armsby Abbey was the icing on the cake of a truly perfect weekend. Thanks to our fabulous hostess, I experienced a ton of awesome new places, less than an hour from my front door.

If I could recommend an itinerary for a day trip to Worcester, I'd suggest starting with brunch at Armsby Abbey, heading over to Crompton Collective for a few hours of shopping and farmer's market perusing, followed by a hot drink and a pastry at BirchTree Bread Company.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dining Out: Tavolino

Last week I shared with you my first visit to the incredible artisan market Crompton Collective. That outing was part of a reunion weekend with my college girls, which also included some epic meals. The same day we went to Crompton, we also dined at a delicious Italian restaurant called Tavolino.

The location we visited was in Westborough, MA. While you may not have an occasion to be out that far west, you are likely to stumble across Tavolino's second location, which is in Patriot Place in Foxoboro, MA. I've actually dined at both locations before, but this was the first time I whipped out the camera.

The Westborough location is just off the rotary in the center of town and has a huge parking lot, so it's easy to find a spot and hop right out. 

When you open the doors to the restaurant you step onto their funky tile floor. If you click on their website, you'll notice a similar image of the floor is the background to their homepage. 

We were seated in a cozy booth in the bar area. Our bubbly waitress came over to hand us menus and we got right down to business - cocktails.

Two of the girls ordered the Grapefruit Basiltini which was Deep Eddy Ruby Grapefruit vodka, basil leaves, agave nectar and a splash of grapefruit juice. The coolest thing about the way Tavolino serves cocktails is that they bring the drink to you 75% of the way full and they also bring a small glass carafe for you to refill it! 

I had a sip of one of the grapefruit cocktails and it tastes exactly as the name promises, of tart and sweet citrus.

Next to me a friend had ordered a dirty martini, which she described as, "made perfectly." She too received a refill bottle. 

Another friend toasted with the Sparkling Pear, which was Grey Goose L'Poire vodka, agave nectar, St. Elder Flower Liqueur and prosecco, garnished with a paper thin slice of pear. The bubbles made it feel so festive. 

I took a swig from her flute and the drink mostly tasted of the Elderflower.

For my drink, I selected the Sicilian Sipper, which was Aviation Gin, Villa Massa Limoncello, tonic and fresh lemon. 

I completely understand why they called it a Sipper, because it is so easy to sip (and make it disappear!). It has a simple lemon taste, sort of like a lightly spiked lemonade.

Once everyone had a cocktail in hand, our waitress brought over a basket of bread with oil for dipping. The bread and oil combo reminded me of the bread you get at Not Your Average Joe's.

This bread had a crunchy crust and a doughy center (just the way I like it) and the oil was tasty.

For a starter, the girls shared the crispy fried calamari, which smelled heavenly when it arrived to the table. It was an enormous portion. 

Right away my eyes zeroed in on the pieces with tentacles. I've been a vegetarian for 18 years and few things freak me out, but tentacles are one of them. 

After several bites, I asked what they thought of the dish. One friend said, "It's not the best calamari I've ever had." Another chimed in, "I wanted it to be crispier and less oily." A third added, "I did love that they fried the hot peppers too. However, I wanted some heat from the aioli, but it was nothing special."

Also during the starter round, two of the girls ordered the soup special which was cream of pickle soup. I'd never heard of such a thing! 

When it arrived, I was so curious that I had to have a spoonful. It was shockingly yummy! It had a rich vegetable flavor, almost like a Minestrone. It was really fantastic when you dunked in a piece of the crusty bread.

In the entree round, the friend sitting to my left ordered the roasted beet salad which came with candied walnuts, orange slices, warm goat cheese and mixed greens, dressed in a cranberry vinaigrette. 

After several forkfuls, I asked for her comments. She replied, "I wanted the goat cheese to be warm. The candied walnuts tasted just ok, they actually tasted toasted, not candied. I did like the burst of citrus from the orange, but overall, I wouldn't order it again."

Next to her, a friend was enjoying the wild boar. This dish is actually an appetizer. The boar is slow-braised in Chianti and served over parmesan gnocchi. 

She explained to me, "This dish was actually quite large for an appetizer. It was very tasty, but I normally like my pasta dishes on the more savory side. This had a strong nutmeg flavor, which made it feel more like a sweet, Christmas time dish."

The next seat over, a friend was digging into prosciutto and mushroom boscaiola which was served with, of course, prosciutto and mushrooms, plus tomatoes and peas over penne, in a light marsala cream sauce. 

She said, "This dish had a really nice combination of flavors. The cream sauce wasn't too heavy and the portion size was perfect."

At the far end of the table, a friend ordered one of the evening's specials, mushroom orecchiette. The pasta and 'shrooms were tossed with parmesan, garlic, parsley and white truffle oil. 

Look at the size of those mushrooms! Towards the end of the meal I asked how she liked her dish and she confessed, "I wish there had been more pasta. It's all mushroom. It also felt too oily, like the calamari."

For my entree, I went with something simple - eggplant parmesan. I hardly ever order eggplant parm in restaurants because it always feels too heavy. Tavolino's version was surprisingly light and the eggplant was awesome. It had just the right amount of breading, you could still really taste the eggplant and the ratio of eggplant to sauce to cheese was excellent. The spaghetti underneath was nothing special, but I was really more concerned with the eggplant. 

With the entree plates cleared, our waitress asked if we'd be interested in any dessert. Though I am confident their dessert offerings would be delicious, we knew we had homemade apple crisp waiting for us back at the house, so we passed.

I really do love Tavolino. This was my third time dining there and the whole experience is always top notch - the ambience, the service, the cocktails and the food. Every now and then you get a dish that doesn't match the rest, but that's common.

Have you ever been to Tavolino? Do you have a favorite, go-to dish?
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