Manda Crafts: Monogrammed Straw Tote

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Last summer when I signed up for my CSA, I was determined to find a cute but functional market tote to carry my vegetable haul in each week. I saw this monogrammed tote on a blog I read and fell in love, but wasn’t into the $160 price tag. I’m not an expert level crafter, but creating my own monogrammed bag was surprisingly simple and cost less than $50. I love the bag so much that I use it for far more than just vegetable hauling; and the project was so quick and straightforward that it’s easy to replicate and makes a great gift. I painted one for my mom for Mother’s Day this year — pictures below, along with links on where to buy supplies!

You’ll need:

A straw market basket – I use this one
Two paint colors – I use these
Letter stencils – I use these
Plus paint tape and two paint brushes – one thick and one thin

Use the paint tape to set up a basic grid for your outer stripes. Because the surface isn’t completely flat, be careful as you paint on the edges so that too much paint doesn’t bleed under the tape. Remove the tape when you’re finished. Use the stencils to paint on the monogram, starting with the middle letter to make sure it’s centered. Fill in the center stripe using your second paint color — I do this free hand and find it pretty easy to stay in the lines. Finally, use your second paint color to add some dimensions to your letters. Let the bag dry completely and then strut all over town with it.

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Manda Cooks: “The Best Baked Spinach” (but actually)

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I never really considered myself a spinach fan… until last week. I often find raw spinach a little too spongy for me and cooked spinach a little too wet and droopy for me. I frequently get pounds of spinach in my CSA (multiple pounds of spinach is A LOT, for those of you who are familiar with weighing your own spinach) and would usually cook it into omelettes (despite the sogginess) or make it into a salad (despite the sponginess).

Last week, however, I decided to face the spongy and the soggy head on and solve the problem…AKA go to Smitten Kitchen’s “spinach” section and let her solve the problem for me. At the bottom of the recipe list was “The Best Baked Spinach” – oh really? Yes, really. This spinach dish blew my mind. It was so good that I made it twice last week, and can’t wait to make it again. I used Trader Joe’s Cheddar/Gruyere blend instead of Swiss and don’t think that extra tablespoon of “indulgent” butter is needed (I didn’t use it the first time, but added it the second time and didn’t find it necessary). Otherwise this recipe is perfect. Bring on the pounds of spinach, CSA!

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Pride in Myself

Saw this on Cup of Jo and it is so, so true I had to share.

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Things to add to the list: cooking a recipe from a magazine, hanging my coat in the closet instead of throwing it on the chair, dropping off my dry cleaning, drinking tea.

Manda Travels: Iceland!

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We spent last weekend in Iceland with my sister, my mom and my stepdad. We stayed in a really cute and comfortable cabin in Selfoss, complete with a hot tub that we used daily. A quick run down of our days below, and a few of my favorite pictures!

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Day 1: We arrive!

A lot of flights to Iceland land really early in the morning (like 4am early). Before we drove to the cabin for a much needed nap, we grocery shopped and had breakfast at Bergsson Mathus in Reykjavic. This was one of the few cafes open before 8am but we loved its vibe and the breakfast plate was delicious. After breakfast we drove to the cabin, unpacked and napped for a few hours before our tour of the Icelandic Turf Houses. The tour was given by a man whose family built and grew up in the turf houses and was an interesting look into historic Iceland. Later on, we drove to the Secret Lagoon for a dip in one of Iceland’s natural hot springs. For me, the highlight of our first day was pulling over to pet Icelandic horses! Horses were all over the place and really sweet and friendly.

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Day 2: Golden Circle!

We were lucky that the cabin was really close to the golden circle! The first stop, Kerid Crater, was just ten minutes away. We had lunch at Fridheimar Greenhouse – a tomato greenhouse fueled by natural energy that supplies about 20% of Iceland’s tomatoes! They have a limited menu, which is all tomato based. We each had the tomato soup and shared a few Bloody Marys. After lunch we saw Faxi Waterfall then got caught in a freezing cold rain storm at the Strokkur Geysir – worth it, because we saw it explode, but our down coats were soaked through afterward! The last stop of the day was Gulfoss Waterfall, one of Iceland’s best known waterfalls. While we were there, the sky cleared completely and the sun came out! We stopped at the cabin to change and have some champagne, then headed to dinner at Fjorubordid – a restaurant on the beach known for their langoustine soup and langoustine tails. The tails were sauteed in butter and garlic and were incredible, they tasted like mini lobsters.

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Day 3: Road Trip to Vik!

We saw my two favorite waterfalls on our way to Vik – Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. We were able to get really close to the base of each of these (rather than viewing from the top like the two we saw on Day 2). The rainbows at Skogafoss were so fun and pretty. For lunch we had fresh, local Fish & Chips at a food truck in the parking lot of Skogafoss – probably my favorite meal of the trip! After lunch we stopped at Dyrholaey to see the natural stone arch then continued on to the Black Sand Beach in Vik. There are really beautiful geometric rock formations on the beach and a few cool caves. We rewarded ourselves with beers at a bar in Vik before headed back toward Selfoss. On the way home we stopped at the Myrdalsjokull Glacier – climbing up the slippery glacier was a highlight of the trip! After the long drive home we stopped at Pylsuvagninn in Selfoss to try their famous hot dogs – the one with crumbled cool ranch Doritos on it was a crowd favorite, obviously. Later that night, we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights from the cabin! Amazing and unforgettable.

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next stop: india!

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Now that we are back from Iceland (pictures to come this weekend!), I am starting to plan our September trip to India. So far all we have booked are flights but I am slowly starting to outline our ten day trip. Top on my list is a stay at the Rajamahal Palace in Jaipur – photos below. I can’t get over the colors and the patterns!

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top photo source, rest of photos source

Well Read Women

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Some friends and I re-started our Articles Club from last year and branded it Well Read Women. Each month we read the same article(s), and then meet and chat about them over wine and snacks. In my opinion, it’s much easier to commit to and more fun than a traditional book club.

Last month I hosted and chose an article on manners and we ordered in Posto Pizza (my favorite) and made our way through a few bottles of prosecco and wine.

Next month Rachel is hosting, and chose two Modern Love articles. This one, about using animal training techniques to improve your relationship, and this one, about needing to be with someone vs wanting to be with someone.

Manda Cooks: Chicken Pot Pie

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Chicken pot pie might just my favorite comfort food. When the February issue of Food & Wine arrived at my door with chicken pot pie on the cover, I quickly added it to my to-do list. I ended up using a different crust recipe, because I didn’t feel like hunting down schmaltz (aka “rendered chicken fat”… um no thanks). I also used just a pound of skin-on, bone-in chicken, and substituted chicken breast for the second pound – was less work and still delicious. The finished product was so good right out of the oven and made perfect leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day.

Pie recipe here and Crust recipe here!

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also, side note, the pie crust recipe also makes perfect “blankets” for pigs in a blanket… just saying 😉

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Manda’s… Getting Married!

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Last Thursday Brett (and Moose) proposed to me in Gramercy Park! We celebrated that night with my sister, Pico and (too much) champagne. The next day Brett and I flew to Paris for a surprise celebration weekend. It was overwhelming and over the top in the best way. I’m not a fan of romance or surprises, but I’d repeat last weekend over and over again if I could.

Paris in January was perfect – who knew? It rained a bit each day (the perfect excuse to nap or duck into a cafe for a glass of wine), but in between rain showers the skies were blue! We ate and drank and shopped and then ate some more. We stayed in the best hotel with cute french wallpaper, a marble tiled floor in the bathroom, and views of the Eiffel Tower from the bedroom and the bathtub. Plus, it had the first champagne bar in Paris in its lobby, which obviously called for a champagne tasting on our first night.

We walked underneath the Eiffel Tower, visited the Musee d’Orsay and hiked up to the Sacre Couer.

Coincidentally, a few friends of ours also happened to be in Paris! We had champagne with my friend Sharon, and then dinner and drinks with four friends from London – such fun, unexpected treats on top of the surprise trip!

Although you can’t really go wrong in Paris, some of our favorites are below 🙂

Oysters at Le Stella (which was filled with very chic French people – we felt out of place in the best way)

Croque Madame at Le PoinCare (I still can’t stop thinking about it…)

Literally everything at Frenchie Wine Bar

Cocktails at Les Justes – I had one that tasted like a chocolate covered cherry

Brett bought the cutest (euro) coat at Bilabaris

We loved walking through Fleux – a cool home/accessories store

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Manda Marches: Women’s March On Washington

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When the Women’s March was announced on November 9th, my mom almost immediately booked hotel rooms and marked our calendars. It was amazing to march alongside my mom and sister and be part of the movement. The march definitely forced me out of my comfort zone (see introvert sign below!) but was so, so worth it. Some of my favorite signs are here, along with some links below on how to get (or stay) involved.

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(all images my own except for introverts, from Susan Kaufman)

The organizers of the march are launching a new campaign: 10 Actions for the First 100 Days, which I’m going to try to do!

And a few more ideas, from Cup of Jo:

Check out the Indivisible Guide, for ideas on how to have impact

Support journalism and the press by subscribing! (I’m thinking about signing up for the Sunday Times)

Support organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, through donations

Oh, Meryl

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“This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
– Meryl Streep

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