Ever since we first moved into our house, we knew that we wanted to transform parts of the exterior in some ways. Initially, we did only minor adjustments, but recently, we were able to make changes to the front walk and driveway that we envisioned from the beginning.
We had the concrete steps and path removed and replaced with cobblestone. The color variation of the stones fits right in with the texture palette of the house, and creates a very rough natural look.
We also replaced the concrete of our entire driveway, which was really in need of attention. The timing of this project came right after our neighbors had just completed a large addition to their property. We had to figure out how to create a privacy screen of some sort to replace the wall that they had knocked down.
We ended up going with a wooden fence, and put a row of trees in front of it. In order to provide a warm ambiance, we hung solar powered lanterns from the posts. The new additions to our property further enhance the space for entertaining, or just relaxing outside on the patio as the sun goes down.
Having a baby has been an immediate excuse to crochet to our hearts content for both my mother (who taught me the craft), and myself. I focused on making a couple of blankets and some hats similar to those I’ve made in the past, while my mother created some lovely blankets, clothes, and toys.
As soon as I found out we were expecting a baby girl, I started planning this granny square flowers blanket for her nursery. This was my first time making a granny squares blanket involving four colors per square, and to this scale. It took more hours than I care to count up, but the finished product is perfect for her room.
Even before finding out the sex of the baby, my mom got busy making blankets and clothes for our little one. I absolutely love the variety in patterns and colors, and have already made great use out of them for taking her outside and wrapping her up for daytime naps.
Here are just some of the beautiful clothing pieces my mom crafted. Each blanket she made also has an entire matching outfit to go with it – including pants, bloomers, hats, and shoes.
Another project my mom tackled was making crochet toys for Eva’s baby gym. I sent her an image of crochet fruit that I found online, and asked her if she thought she could make something like it. Sure enough, she had these all done by the end of that same day, and her versions are undoubtably more detailed and better constructed.
I’m so happy to have these lovely pieces for Eva, and something tells me that this baby girl has more handmade crochet items coming her way from her mom and grandmother. Having the pieces made with so much love makes them even more beautiful, and we will treasure each of them for years to come.
We’ve tried to grow a few vegetables and herbs in our backyard, and we’ve had a bit of success, but one thing that we have that is well established is our orange tree. Now that they have started to ripen, we will have fresh produce at our fingertips for a few months. They aren’t very sweet just yet, but in the meantime, we can enjoy some orangeade by juicing them and adding water and a bit of sugar.
It’s fascinating to watch the transition unfold from the blossom to the ripened fruit, and the aroma of the flowers is delightful to take in. We have no idea how long this tree has been here, but we are very lucky to have it, and we look forward to eating its fruit each year.
On February 2, 2018 we welcomed the newest addition to our family – Eva Paiz Dastoli. We were not expecting her arrival until late February or early March, so it was all quite a surprise when I went into labor on the night of January 31. My water broke just as I was finishing up organizing her nursery closet, and 34 long hours later, she made her appearance at 5:02 a.m. weighing 5 lbs. At 4 weeks premature, she is very small, but we are so grateful that she arrived healthily and we were able to bring her home the very next day.
We were all set to have my baby shower in our backyard that very weekend, but Eva decided she had other plans for us. A couple of my closest friends had it all planned out, and James put together these invitations that were fitting for the orange tree in the yard. That, and several other things we had planned for my maternity leave before her arrival quickly went out the window, giving us our first lessons in adaptability as new parents.
Each day has brought with it a new challenge, but also a new milestone. She is the sweetest little girl, and we can’t wait to watch her grow into a wonderful person. Welcome to the world Eva, we love you so much.
Ever since we purchased our home, we designated one of the bedrooms as the nursery. Though we knew it would be a couple of years before we would be ready for children, we decided to leave that room untouched until the time came. That time came this past summer when we found out we were expecting, and the opportunity to design this final room in our home has been one of the most exciting projects during my pregnancy. The room came together slowly over the past few months, and now that we’re mere weeks away from meeting our baby girl, we can at last say that it’s ready for her arrival.
The anchor piece to the room is this lovely mural that James hand painted above the crib. Adventure awaits our little one as she sets off on a ‘voyage extraordinaire’ to the furthest recesses of her imagination.
We will of course be spending a lot of time in this room as she grows, and having a comfortable spot for feeding and reading is an essential. After looking at various chairs, we decided on this wingback chair that didn’t feel too bulky, and fit this corner of the room perfectly.
Opposite the window we set up a changing station with a simple shelf above it to fill up the empty space. Owl hooks above the changing pad will be used to hang up her clothes for easy access as we get her dressed.
A variety of toys and animal friends are used throughout the room to make the space welcoming. One of my favorite touches is the blocks spelling out her name on top of the bookshelf. The blocks use Spanish words such as ‘gato’ and ‘buho,’ which will come in handy raising bilingual children.
We also used some decor pieces from Guatemala, like the wooden mask we brought back from our travels, and an adorable tiny pitcher and teacup that my mother brought from Guatemala on her latest trip.
Even when it came to practical items such as a hamper, we took the opportunity to make it a fun and endearing element by picking one shaped like a cute elephant.
Another instance where we took something practical and made it more whimsical was in hiding the baby monitor inside a painted birdhouse. This solution is not only a more pleasant visual touch, it allows us to securely hold the monitor in place where it can look over the crib, while also hiding away cables.
On the wall by the door we put up a small decorative mounted coat rack to easily access coats and jackets when we’re heading outdoors. I love how it gives us the opportunity to display more of her adorable tiny clothes.
Though we know that this room will continue to evolve as our baby grows up, it’s just right for welcoming her to her new home. We are so grateful that we have this space that she will be able to call her own.
I’ve been making this holiday spiced chocolate babka for the past few years around the holiday season. It is a great treat to make during chilly weather when you have a whole day at home to spare. I love adding cinnamon and nutmeg to compliment the dark chocolate, creating an indulgent melt in your mouth flavor that’s excellent for this time of year.
Ingredients: 3/4 cup milk, 3 tsp active dry yeast, 3/4 cup and 2 tsp sugar, 3 1/4 cups flour, 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3/4 tsp salt, 15 Tbsp softened butter, 1 Tbsp heavy cream, 8 oz finely chopped dark chocolate (72% cacao), 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg.
Instructions: warm up the milk in a saucepan until it’s warm but not boiling. Add milk and 2 tsp of sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir gently, then sprinkle the yeast on top. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until it’s foamy. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and beat with a paddle attachment until combined. Add 2 whole eggs, 1 of the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, and 1/2 cup more of sugar while beating constantly. Continue beating and add remaining flour in small increments. Gradually add 10 Tbsp butter until everything is completely incorporated. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in turned off oven for 2 hours.
Once dough has risen for 2 hours, remove from bowl and cut in half. Sprinkle countertop with flour, and roll out the dough with a pin until you have a large rectangle. Beat the remaining egg yolk in a small dish with the heavy cream, and brush along the sides of the dough. Spread 2 1/2 Tbsp butter on the dough, then sprinkle 4 oz of chocolate, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp nutmeg over butter.
Roll the dough towards you, and seal along the edge. Then make a circle out of the log, sealing on the ends. Quickly twist the circle twice, and place the dough in a bread pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Cover dough with a new sheet of plastic that has been lightly buttered and place back in the turned off oven. Repeat with the other half of the dough and leftover ingredients. Let loaves rise for another 2 hours.
Remove loaves from oven and pre-heat to 350F. Remove plastic and brush tops with remaining egg wash, then lightly sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
The babka will keep for a couple of days to be enjoyed in the morning with hot coffee, or as a dessert in the evenings.
Autumn is our favorite time of year, and New England is one of the best places to take in the colors of the foliage. We just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to my home state of Rhode Island, and we had a wonderful time admiring the sights of the season. Here are some photos from the autumn trips that we have taken over the past few years.
Downtown Providence, as well as the campus of my alma mater, Brown University, are great places to take a leisurely stroll along tree-lined streets.
Of course, the best way to experience the foliage is to go for a walk in the woods. Hearing the distinctive crunching sound of the dead leaves under your feet is always a delight.
The color green isn’t entirely absent. The mossy texture on some of the fallen trees compliments the browns and reds around it.
My parents have a house with a large wooded area on the property, and some of these logs fueled the wood oven for our Thanksgiving meats.
The Newport Mansions are a sight to behold at any time of year.
When I think of the Rhode Island of my youth, I will always picture it with the colors of autumn leaves, and the feeling of the light chilly wind blowing in my hair. That window of time after the humid summers, and before the brutal winters, is New England at its best.
Beans were my very first solid food, and to this day have remained one of my very favorite foods. There isn’t a type of bean I don’t like, and going more than a few weeks without having some form of them is rare for my family. When it comes to white beans in particular, this flavorful and hearty stew beats out all other recipes for this legume.
The stars of this dish are of course the beans themselves, and the dry guaque chiles that give it it’s rich and moderately spicy flavor.
Ingredients: 1 lb white beans, 1 lb pork ribs, 1 1/2 guaque chiles, 3 tomatoes, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 yellow onion, 4 small tomatillos, 3 garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs thyme, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 Tbsp dry oregano, salt and pepper to taste.
Instructions: Slice the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion, and peppers, and place on a hot griddle along with peeled garlic cloves. Turn over after 2-3 minutes, allowing the undersides to slightly char and soften. Add grilled vegetables to a blender with a cup of water and blend until smooth.
Add the beans, ribs (cut into smaller pieces), bay leaf, thyme, cumin, blended ingredients, salt and pepper to taste, and enough water to just cover everything to a pressure cooker. Cook for about 45 minutes, and slowly allow pressure to release. Add the oregano and stir. If you would like to thicken the stew you can take out some of the beans, blend, and re-add to the stew.
Serve hot with rice, and garnish with cilantro.