family

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Love is in the air and, given the barrage of red and pink that’s taken over your local drug store, it’s no secret that Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Some people take the jaded route and scoff at the day, writing it off as a cunning Hallmark scheme, but I’ve always had an unabashed love for the holiday. I love it for the obvious reasons: a sweet card [not always from Hallmark], beautiful flowers, and a romantic dinner with my main squeeze ~ but it doesn’t stop there. My parents always showered us with love on Valentine’s Day and gave us a little something to make the day special [usually a book and candy]. They taught us that it was a day to show your appreciation for the ones you love, be it your family, friends, or significant other. To me it’s a day to be happy and celebrate all the different kinds of love you have in your life.

These are some pretty things that have Valentine’s Day written all over them.

1. Steve Madden Partyy Pump in Fuchsia [$89.95] *helloo date night

2. Ark & Co Elegant Pearl Cocktail Dress [$58] *the pearl details and peak-a-boo back are exquisite

3. Lancôme Juicy Tubes Lip Gloss Set [$29.50] *the original lip gloss

4. Deborah Lippmann Nail Color in Ruby Red Slippers [$18] *va~voom!

5. Michael Kors Watch in Rose Gold [$250] *exudes a strong + feminine air

6. Halston Heritage Deep V Cocktail Dress [$325] *effortless style

7. Schwartz Marshmallow Heart ~ Vanilla with Caramel Bottom [$67.50] *my cousin who lives in New York bought these once for my mom and dad – oh.my.gosh… although the price tag seems steep these are the most delicious, mouth-watering treats + are perfect for a special occasion. my mom got me a box last year for valentine’s day and i about died when i opened the box. {yummmm}

8. Prada Satin Wristlet [$360] *prada is pretty in pink

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[grapefruit]

For me, whenever I see a grapefruit I always think of my grandpap. He ate a grapefruit for breakfast every single morning after returning home from mass [which he faithfully attended at the crack of dawn each day] . There was a quiet comfort in this ritual; I remember his silver jagged edged spoon, the sprinkling of sugar to sweeten the tangy fruit. When I was little I couldn’t stand the taste of grapefruit, it was too tart for me. As it is with most things, I developed an appreciation for it as I grew up.

It’s funny how the smallest, seemingly insignificant, moments are the ones you hold onto the tightest. This is one precious memory I’ve tucked away and will have with me always.

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My family typically does a big [and I mean big] Italian feast for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’re talking eggplant parmesan, lasagna, stuffed artichokes, hot peppers, and meatballs all loaded with my mom’s homemade sauce. Of course we never leave out the traditional American staples of turkey [one deep fried and one oven roasted], cranberry sauce [jarred and homemade, because some people prefer one or the other], stuffing, mashed potatoes, crusty bread, green bean casserole, and on and on and on. What can I say, we’re Italian and eating good food is in our DNA.

With that being said, my family is doing Christmas very different this year. From the venue to the menu, we’re shaking things up. Instead of dinner, we’re opting to do brunch. Everyone seems to be curiously excited about how this will pan out. The ever present pot of simmering sauce will be noticeably absent from the stove, but I trust there will be new tantalizing treats on the table that will have us wondering how we ever did without.

This year I’m making these deeelicious cinnamon buns using a recipe that claims they taste identical to Cinnabons [and they actually do]. Just look at these things [I'm sure that photo above got your tongue wagging]. This was my first stab at making bread [which was the base of the bun], but it was easy enough and besides, I dare you to mess up a recipe that is essentially butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar. They were velvety and sweet and the frosting oozed with decadent gooeyness. I also loved how the kitchen smelled like cinnamon ‘n sugar for the rest of the night.

[fresh from the oven]

Homemade Cinnamon Buns

for dough:

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 packet of dry yeast

for filling:

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

for frosting:

  • 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm milk. Let it stand for 10 minutes, until yeast is foamy. Heat oven to 200F, then turn it off. Mix in the sugar, butter, salt, and eggs. Add flour and mix well. Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands dusted lightly with flour. Put in a bowl, cover and let rise in warm oven for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  2. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter.
  3. Roll dough into a 16 x 21 inch rectangle. Spread dough with butter and sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 400F.
  4. Bake rolls on a lower rack in preheated oven until golden brown, about 12 minutes. While rolls are baking, beat together cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt [note: I actually doubled the frosting recipe and suggest you do the same]. After taking it out of the oven invert the pan so that the drippings re-coat the buns. Spread frosting on warm rolls before serving. Yields 12 rolls.

[into the oven you go]

[sure beats a scented candle]

[ready for their close-up]

*i can’t take all the credit. adapted from this recipe.

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[mom + dad]

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On this Veterans Day I’m very thankful for two things: airplanes and our soldiers. Sending love to my grandpap Eddy Esposito who served in World War II and my great uncle Robert Morasco, a member of the Army 10th Mountain Division who was killed in action in Italy during World War II. Thank you to our brave soldiers who courageously fight for our freedom every single day and enable us to live in the best country in the world.

I’m also grateful for planes and, in particular, Southwest airlines. Southwest made it a breeze to fly home for a quick trip at a price that didn’t break my [fragile] bank. While waiting for my flight, Southwest offered postcards for people to write a message to our troops.

Let freedom ring.

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This weekend I got to spend some much-needed quality time with my sister who surprised me with a birthday visit. We had a lovely ladies weekend from start to finish: we got mani/pedis, we ate delicious meals, we sipped some wine, and, of course, we shopped ’til we dropped.

One of my favorite finds was this Itsy Bitsy Bag for just $18 from Francesca’s Collections on Halsted. I love the snazzy gold chain-link strap and the go anywhere, ready for anything crossbody style. Although teeny, it’s just big enough to hold the essentials. The funny thing is, I must have been subconsciously looking for a similar version of this $228 wonder I’d been fawning over from Marc by Marc Jacobs. Can you point out the pricier find?

Aside from the gold chain, you’d have to do a double take to tell these two apart. They even share the trademark Marc by Marc Jacobs turnlock, and yet the one on the left was a staggering $210 cheaper [almost enough for this pretty retro KitchenAid Mixer in a mod shade like pistachio].

I also snagged these little gold bow earrings for a mere $12 [also at Francesca's Collections] that suspiciously mirror these pricier Marc by Marc Jacobs studs [$38]:

[the look...

... for less]

Without meaning to, I landed two charming copycats for a fraction of the price.

PS: I also picked up this pretty bauble from Mint Julep on Armitage [bad news: that location is closing, good news: everything is 20% off, plus their Southport store is alive and well]

Have a lucky day everyone!

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I love taking pictures. There is nothing better than having once-in-a-lifetime memories captured forever. I recently invested in a new camera and put it to work on my trip home this weekend. This will, without a doubt, become my new obsessive hobby [it already has].

By the way, fellow Chicagoans, if you’re on the market for a new camera or just want to poke around a camera shop, I highly recommend Wolf Camera at Clybourn + Sheffield. Ask for Josh M., he was so very helpful and honest. In a word, my experience was fantastic. I’ll be back for some of the [free!] classes that came with my camera purchase.

Here are some of my favorites:

[vintage dior blazer that my brother used to wear in middle school. it fits perfectly and is coming home with me. thanks evan!]

[brigham our trusty, cheese-loving chocolate lab]

[beautiful birthday cake a few days early]

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[mamma mia]

When I say my mom is the best in the world, it’s no exaggeration. She is the laundry doing, dinner cooking, tissue getting, tea making, knows what you need before you realize it yourself kind of mom. She is just spectacular.

My mom knows everything. Of this, I’m convinced. I remember asking her when I was 15 or so if she could read my mind because it was absolutely uncanny the way she anticipated everything I said. It was downright spooky. When I was hiding something she knew it, and I knew that she knew; it was this kooky unspoken communication that only a mother and daughter can understand.

Growing up, if we ever felt the slightest bit sick, Mom would encourage us to stay home, tuck us in under our cool, clean sheets and say, I’ll bring up some tea. Get some rest. Moments later we’d have a cup of hot, sweet, milky tea waiting for us with honey and some cookies. I treasured these stolen moments with her. She was never the type to question if we were faking or not – and for this reason, we never took advantage. Our mom was on our side, she loved us more than a mother should, and we didn’t need to test this out. We already knew.

I’d also like to add that my dear dad is equally fantastic and the two of them have shown me what it takes to make a lifelong partnership. My parents met at the age of seventeen, married at twenty, and have been together for forty-two years and counting. They’ve lived more of their lives being married to one another than not, take that one in for a second. My family is so lucky. To see the two of them together, it’s as if they met yesterday. They still flirt, they still laugh, and they love each other completely.

My mom [along with the rest of the fam] only lives 5ish hours away. Despite the distance, she still makes me feel special, whether it’s a sweet card or a filled-to-the-brim care package with unbelievable goodies like basil plants, fresh mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, and Halloween decorations [and that was just the latest one].

I think it is so  true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but the truth is I miss my mom, everyday. If your mom is close, let her know how much you appreciate her.

To my dear mamma mia, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of how much I appreciate YOU. I love you more than words.

To you out there, give your mom a call, a prayer – or if you’re lucky enough – a hug,

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Perfection in a few words:

  • The delicious smell of a pot roast plugging away in the crock pot [recipe below]
  • The triumphant feeling of finding a pumpkin patch not too far from Chicago [Bengston's is only an hour drive... totally worth it] – I had to post some photos from our outing:

who doesn't love a good goat on a roof sighting?

bengston's, our patch of choice, + the tiny head of my wonderful bf

  • Homemade salted caramel hot cocoa [recipe below]
  • A great glass [or two] of rich red wine
  • Going to a football game with a thick sweater and a cozy scarf wrapped around my neck
  • Taking a long walk with my mom while watching the leaves fall
  • Catching up on some good books indoors under a soft blanket
  • Hearty homemade chili in front of a roaring fire

What are your ideas of fall bliss?

my darling niece + her pumpkin

Easy-as-Pie Pot Roast for Two [+leftovers]

  • 2.5 lb. pot roast
  • 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup [if possible get low-sodium, that makes it easier to control the sodium content in this dish as it's prone to over-saltiness]
  • 1 package of dry onion soup mix [ditto]
  • 1 can of diet coke [or use regular... diet was just what I had on hand]
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • garlic powder
  • carrots [as much as you'd like]
  • mushrooms [ditto]

Rub roast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder [it's okay if roast is frozen]. Drizzle some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, drop in garlic cloves. After several minutes remove garlic cloves and add roast to pan. Sear on both sides.

While roast browns up, pour diet coke in crock pot. It sounds bizarre, but trust me this is the secret ingredient that no one, absolutely no one, will be able to put a finger on… I think the carbonation tenderizes the meat and the sweetness lends additional flavor. Okay now where were we - Line bottom of crock pot with onion slices, mushrooms, and carrots [I will say this is the first time I've used carrots and mushrooms in my pot roast recipe and they add such a depth of flavor - they're an absolute must from now on]. In a bowl, mix mushroom soup with onion soup mix. Remove roast from pan and coat in mushroom soup mixture. Place in crock pot with a layer of onions on top. Throw in garlic cloves and the rest of your mushrooms and carrots. Fill the [now empty] mushroom soup can with water and pour around roast.

Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-7 hours. Pour over brown rice or mashed potatoes and dig on in.

Homemade Salted Caramel Hot Cocoa

  • chewy caramel candies [2 per cup o'cocoa]
  • 2 cups milk [use your favorite kind of milk]
  • 1.5 tablespoons sugar
  • vanilla extract
  • handful milk chocolate chips
  • marshmallows
  • kosher salt

In a saute pan simmer milk, sugar, and dash of vanilla extract. Add chocolate chips, a couple marshmallows, and one piece of caramel, stir to melt all. In separate pan melt one piece of caramel with dash of water. Add to chocolate mixture. Pour into a nice, big mug and add a pinch of kosher salt on top. Yum!

Wishing you the coziest of fall nights,

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[ode to andrew]

Blogging is fun… unless your domain host is a royal mess [coughcoughFatCowcoughcough] and causes your site to crash on a whim for no apparent reason. It becomes exponentially frustrating when there is no foreseeable solution to the problem after emailing, live-chatting, and speaking with multiple customer service representatives to the point of stalking. Must… breathe…

That’s when having a tech-savvy brother really comes in handy. My brother Andrew single-handedly saved my sanity when he swooped in and, with a wave of his magic mouse, transferred me to a new host [who I absolutely love... bluehost I'm talking to you] and adeptly maneuvered through hopelessly confusing html-codes to ensure that, through it all, I would retain ownership of my precious domain navyandcream.com. It was like a busted up custody battle and thankfully, we came out on top. One victory for the little people!

Andrew, thank you for being my knight in shining C++ code.

My first ever post is dedicated to you.

[photo above was taken in positano along the amalfi coast on a family trip to italy. the four siblings from l to r: andrew, evan, jessica, + elizabeth.]

To family,

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