Painting the Bathroom Walls

We were finally ready to start painting again after a short hiatus from the holidays. The bathrooms have had bare drywall since we moved in, and we wanted to do our due diligence to research the proper moisture-resistant paint.

We stopped by Dunn Edwards to pick up 2 gallons of Vinylastic primer and 3 gallons of low sheen white paint. We kept it simple and chose plain white instead of hemming and hawing over which shade. We’d rather use that time to actually paint.

We also ordered more paint brushes from Amazon, paint kraft paper to protect our tiles, and paint rollers. Each time we start a new project, we realize how much we’ve learned from before. This time, we were much better about applying coats consistently and cleaning up immediately.

Our friends Kat and Jeff also came to lend a hand which made the entire process much easier. They painted our guest bathroom while we did the master bathroom.

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The end result is gorgeous and exactly what we wanted. It’s clean with just enough shine. The Dunn Edward paint is noticeably higher quality and we’re excited to use it on the cabinets in the bedrooms. Onto the next project!

Valentine’s Weekend in San Diego

We spent our annual Valentine’s Day weekend in San Diego with the pups. It’s a tradition Alex and I have enjoyed since we started dating. Our plans stay generally the same, and it’s one of our favorite holidays to reflect on the year before.

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We drove down on Friday night after work and stopped for carne asada fries (as always) before checking into our Airbnb. This time, we discovered El Zarape after a quick Yelp search and it ended up being the best one we’ve had so far.

Our choices of Airbnbs are limited to dog-friendly locations, but we tend to stay around the Mission Bay area. This time, our Airbnb overlooked a canyon and we could even see the ocean in the distance.

Saturday morning was spent at Fiesta Island dog park. It’s kind of what I imagine heaven to look like. It’s 2.5 miles of gated dog park surrounded by the beach. The entire island itself is 5.4 miles. It’s clean, there’s plenty of parking, and this time it was super lush thanks to the rain lately. All the dogs stayed in their packs and literally bounced out of the tall grass and bushes. Shabu loved frolicking and zooming around the hills while Chef stayed close with us, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at our go-to: El Pescador in La Jolla. We got there around 11:30 – no line and plenty of open tables. I always order the halibut sandwich and Alex got the seared ahi tuna sandwich.

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Within walking distance, there’s a popular bakery/brunch spot called Sugar & Scribe where we grab coffee. Coincidentally, my cousin’s husband just started as a baker there.


After a quick nap, we headed to the mall. It’s actually a special place for us that reminds us of when we were first dating. We once went to this mall together for a SD day trip to hunt down the Hello Kitty Cafe food truck. At that time, we also bought hoodies from American Apparel that I DIY’d into Sully and Boo hoodies for Alex’s birthday trip to Disneyland.

Dinner was spent at our usual spot: Cafe Coyote in Old Town. It was a quick 20-minute wait, and the best part are the handmade tortillas as you wait in line. For just a few dollars,you’ll get handed a couple fresh, piping hot tortillas. Everything on the menu is amazing and we always share a margarita.

We were also able to catch up with my cousin Jason at Extraordinary Desserts (who just moved to San Diego in September). The last time we saw them was when they were living in Tokyo.

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After one more trip to Fiesta Island on Sunday morning, it was time to head back to LA and prep for dinner. Alex’s family came over and we made another batch of kimchi jjigae (stew) with kimchi sent directly from Uncle Jae Joon in Korea. Full weekend, full hearts.

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What the Heck is "Hygge"?

While everyone else is Marie Kondo-ing their homes and figuring out what sparks joy, I’ve been cozying up to the concept of hygge. It’s just another reason for me to love Denmark more than I already do (have I mentioned how obsessed I am over Nadine Redzepi and her cookbook “Downtime”?).

In essence, hygge is a Danish and Norwegian word to describe a mood of coziness and wellness. It’s about enjoying the simple things in life and embracing the comfort of home. One of the podcasts I listened to actually described hygge as a verb. While Americans tend to think of “coziness” as a noun and a state of being, the Danes think of it as something that’s actively pursued; quite literally, hygge loosely translates to “to cozy.” The word “hug” even directly stems from hygge.

Over the past month, we bought armchairs and a floor lamp – the finishing touches to bring together the living room and unintentionally boost hygge. We’re talking throw pillows, a fleece blanket with both dogs nestled beside me, a good hardcover book, an Anthropologie candle, smooth jazz on Spotify, and the recent LA rain gently pitter-pattering against the window pane. Pure bliss.

Here are my favorite ways to indulge in hygge.

Candles

Studies have shown that Danes burn more candles than any other European country. The hygge is real! After the holidays, I scored some deep discounts on candles at Home Goods, World Market, and Pier 1 Imports. And don’t forget to save your candle jars to use as pots for plants. Eco-friendly and cozy!

Lamps

SImilar to candles, lamps are an important part of creating the perfect atmosphere. The Danes take great pride in light fixtures and strategically plan where to place their light sources. It’s more important to have small pockets of intentional light rather than a central light source that overpowers your space. Keep it light but not too bright.

Boyfriend Sweaters

I raided Alex’s closet and have been wearing some of his oversized sweaters to work. The baggier, the better. Just tuck it into a pair of high-waisted, fitted jeans. For those of you braving the polar vortex, don’t forget to accessorize with fleece socks, mittens, and a cute headwrap. [sources: Chellysun, Belletag/Nordstrom]

Homemade Bread

The feeling of pulling something fresh out of the oven has hygge written all over it. The warmth, the smells, the joy of sharing with your loved ones. And even if it’s not bread, any comfort food like pasta, soup, or cookies also work. Ramen pictured is from Ippudo!

There’s a fine line between coziness and laziness, but the beauty of hygge is that you can make it your own. Whatever brings those warm fuzzies to your heart and mind.

January in Review

2019 is off to a strong start – pushing ourselves at work, adding finishing touches to the living room, and tackling new home improvement projects. It’s hard to believe that at this time last year, we were just getting started with house renovations. A few highlights from this month…

We took it easy for New Year’s day. Over the following weekend, we took the dogs to get their annual checkups.

I changed my name on my driver’s license.

We saw “Wicked” for the second time.

We got a new camera to take nicer photos of the house and for our travels.

I got a new basil plant to keep indoors (my previous basil plant never flourished ever since I moved it outdoors). I also tried to rescue the lettuce in the raised veggie bed from mold, but alas, they succumbed.

I made more bread, including a stuffed focaccia. Now I’m trying to figure out how to make larger air holes in my bread now for an even better crumb.

We arranged a gallery wall of photos (motivation to finally print our wedding photos), bought a West Elm lamp for the living room, got armchairs from Amazon, and hung up a wall clock from Muji.

And finally, we celebrated Alex’s 30th birthday at Tres by Jose Andres (followed by dessert at Milk Bar), Osteria Mozza, and Dave and Buster’s.

Easy Beginner-Friendly Milk Bread Recipe

Soft, chewy, and light as a pillow, milk bread is probably #2 on my bread list. I have very fond childhood memories of picking up a loaf from Mitsuwa and smothering it with salted butter. This recipe is super easy and pretty hands-off (if you have a stand mixer and kitchen scale). It’s also really fun to watch the dough rise at each step. The roux-like tangzhong is a crucial step that gives the milk bread its signature fluff.

Ingredients

Tangzhong

  • 3.25 oz milk

  • 0.65 oz bread flour

Dough

  • 5.25 oz warm milk

  • 2 tbs sugar

  • 2¼ tsp (1 pack) active dry yeast

  • 12.1 oz bread flour

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 room temperature egg

  • 1 tbs unsalted butter, softened

Egg wash

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions

  1. Activate Yeast : Mix the warm milk, sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes.

  2. Tangzhong: In a small pan over medium low heat, combine the milk and flour to make the tangzhong. Stir for a couple minutes until it thickens. Remove from heat and let cool.

  3. Make Dough: In a stand mixer bowl, whisk the bread flour and salt together. Crack the egg in, add the yeast mixture and the tangzhong. Stir until it roughly comes together.

  4. Knead: Set the stand mixer on low and knead for 5 minutes. Add the butter and knead for another 5-7 minutes. The dough should be sticky and springy.

  5. First Rise: Cover the mixer bowl with a towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft free place for 1 - 1½ hours or until it doubles in size.

  6. Shape: Divide the dough into 3 equal parts and shape each into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it becomes a long oval. Fold one side (lengthwise) into the middle and then fold in the other side as well. Flatten with a rolling pin. Gently roll the dough into a cylinder and pinch the seam at the bottom. Place it seam side down into a greased 9" X 4" loaf pan. Repeat with the remaining two dough.

  7. Second Rise: Cover and let rise again for 1 - 1½ hours or until double in size (or top of dough has risen over the top of the pan by about an inch.

  8. Bake and cool: When the bread is ready to bake, brush the top of the bread with egg wash and bake for 30 minutes at 350º F. Remove the bread from the pan, let it cool on a wire rack, and take lots of Instagram photos! It’s so beautiful and you did so, so good!

Christmas in Tahoe: 2018

To celebrate our holidays as a newly married couple, this was the first year that Alex and I have ever spent Christmas together. I joined his family for a week on their annual trip to Lake Tahoe. Although it was a little strange to not make the trip home to Chicago like I have been for the past 10 years, this was a more relaxed celebration after our crazy busy year.

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We left on the Saturday before Christmas with a rental car full of snowboarding and skiing gear, the two dogs and their toys/food/bed, our duffel bags, the Instant Pot, and boxes full of groceries. The drive was long but relaxing, as both dogs fell asleep in our laps and enjoyed having our full attention.

Since we were staying at dog-prohibited area in the Hyatt, we had to keep the dogs at a pet hotel in Truckee. We missed them so much, but it was the best solution and we knew they were in good hands. The Truckee-Tahoe Pet Lodge was the nicest pet hotel we’ve ever booked for the dogs. It was cozy, the staff was super friendly and responsible, and Chef and Shabu were happy to be together in the same room. We even went to visit them for a day and took them out for a few hours, and they actually seemed eager to go back to their room.

We snowboarded a total of 3 days at Diamond Peak. I haven’t nailed carving yet, but I’m not giving up! I’ve still watching YouTube videos and am excited to try again on our next snowboarding trip. I am, however, able to consistently depart the ski lift without falling which is a BIG win for me. I’m not a pro yet, but I’m definitely improving.

On Christmas day, we even soaked in the jacuzzi after our snowboarding runs and then huddled around the fire with hot chocolate.

But for me, the highlight of the trip was Uncle Soo Hyun’s cooking. Over the years, I had heard so many stories of his creative and delicious meals — much like Thanksgiving — and I was so excited to enjoy it firsthand. Just a few of our meals:

  • Chile verde

  • Gumbo

  • Prime rib + crispy potatoes + homemade focaccia

  • Homemade pizza

  • Kimchi jjigae

  • Budae jjigae

  • Apple pie

We returned home a week later, eager to relax at home, clean, and eat veggies. The dogs were also VERY happy to be home and immediately tucked themselves into bed.

50-Step Guide: Our Path to Buying a House AND Remodeling It

It’s crazy to think that at this time last year, we were just barely getting started with our contractor and frantically planning the initial stages of renovations. As we reflect upon everything that 2018 has taught us, it’s the perfect time to post this step-by-step list that captures a rough timeline of the entire process. Now flashback to Oct. 2017…


When we started this process, we kept everything as private as possible. We didn’t tell our friends until April when everything was officially moving in the right direction. But through it all, we kept track of our progress to share some knowledge we’ve learned along the way.

  1. Visit open houses. We visited probably close to 20 open houses between September and October. Our #1 rule was to NOT get emotionally invested in any of the properties to avoid any extra stress or disappointment alter.

  2. We made an offer in early October.

  3. We didn’t get the house. (mid-October)

  4. We made another offer. (end of October)

  5. Negotiations began.

  6. Escrow began. Our escrow period lasted 45 days. In that time, we worked extremely closely with our escrow agent. She was detail-oriented and needed paperwork ASAP. This meant we had to dig up old W-2s, 1099s, previous landlords’ contact info, and all the stuff you throw into storage bins for that “just-in-case-this-piece-of-paper-ever-matters” moment. After about 30 days, all signs pointed to us getting the house so we started creating vision boards for each room. This helped us get an idea for how much we wanted to renovate now, the overall theme of the house, and general budgeting. We also got a head start on giving the cabinets a facelift.

  7. Escrow ended. We met our escrow agent in-person, signed a buttload of paperwork, and submitted our downpayment. (Dec. 17)

  8. We got the keys. After the downpayment was processed, we met with our real estate agent to get the keys to the house. (Dec. 18)

  9. We got 3 trees removed. The massive sycamore tree was in the front yard and blocked the entire house from view. Also, its roots were most likely interfering with the pipes that drained to the street, so we knew it had to go. We also removed 2 dead trees in the backyard (a palm tree and a ficus tree that was covered in poison ivy). (Jan. 2)

  10. We got mold removed. There was a lot, and it was gross.

  11. We interviewed contractors. Many were condescending because they could tell we’re a young couple. Others were untrustworthy because they were unrealistic with the budget.

  12. We hired a contractor.

  13. Demolition began on Jan. 15.

  14. We replaced all the electrical in the house because it had not been updated since 1950.

  15. We also replaced the plumbing in the house because, you guessed it – the pipes were old AF.

  16. We got the gas line installed because whaddyaknow – no gas line either! The previous owners were super paranoid that it would make the house explode or something. So we submitted paperwork with the city and got the line and meter installed (but no actual gas set up yet).

  17. Bathrooms demolished. Not part of the original plan, but due to LOTS of dry rot and mold, we knew it was the best decision. It was great to have the freedom to completely customize the bathroom configurations, but also a huge headache. Where should the toilet go? Which direction should it face? Which bathroom should have a tub? Both? Neither? We sketched tons of layouts, called Alex’s mom for her thoughts, and met with our plumber to visualize it in-person with a measuring tape. (early Feb)

  18. We got window measurements done and gathered quotes to replace them all too. The windows were super old, flimsy or missing, and poorly insulated.

  19. More plumbing and electrical surprises and decisions. Where should the exterior lights go? How many outlets do you want? Which lights should have dimmers? Where do you want the internet installed? We spent every weekend making multiple trip to Lowes and Home Depot to look at light fixtures and buy whichever ones caught our eyes. Then we would go to the house, unbox them, and hold them up against the wall. If we liked it, we would label the box very clearly so our contractor would know where to install it. Otherwise, we would return it and keep trying to find the best lights that were bright, efficient, and within budget.

  20. Final window measurements. They double checked that all the window measurements were correct (a few were a little off).

  21. Framing. The final wall in the kitchen was knocked down which made us very happy!

  22. We bought the front door, glazed it ourselves on my birthday, and had it installed that week. (end of March)

  23. First round of Inspections. It was cancelled 3 times which meant that we spent an entire week waiting and making zero progress. That also meant that we would definitely not hit our projected move-in date of March 31. Patience level is at an all-time low.

  24. Drywall & stucco began (2 days). The materials needed to patch up all the holes were another unexpected cost.

  25. Inspection for drywall & stucco (1 day).

  26. Skimming for drywall & stucco (3 days).

  27. Hot mop in shower and bathtub (1 weekend). The house is starting to look like a house again. (early April)

  28. Another layer of cement poured into the master bathroom.

  29. Install tiles (2 days).

  30. Install laminate floors (3 days). We were very fortunate to get our hands on this backordered laminate flooring. After many phone calls, we were even able to get to the top of the waitlist.

  31. Install windows. This took an entire week because we needed to install a “metal waterproof pan.” Our contractor told us this would be required in order to pass inspections, so it was up to us to confirm with the window installers. Well, of course they had no idea what we were talking about, so we kept repeating ourselves until they finally got in touch with our contractor. Definitely one of those instances where we had no idea what we were talking about, but we just needed to say it and get it done right, no matter how dumb it sounded. (mid April)

  32. Install cabinets for the kitchen island and fridge panel. This was one of my favorite days, but also anxiety-inducing because 1) there were at least 10-15 dudes working on the house 2) we were praying that we had bought enough quartz (two jumbo slabs) and 3) that all the measurements would line up and fit our appliances which we had bought just a couple weeks earlier. It also at this point that we started calling, texting, and emailing our contractor every morning and night to make sure he stayed on schedule.

  33. We spoke with fabricator about the countertop design. Originally, we had wanted to add an extra slab on top for a contemporary bar area like this, but after realizing it would cost at least another $4k, we quickly abandoned that idea. We’re so glad that we did too because the pure white quartz is enough of a statement on its own.

  34. Scheduled + passed the first round of inspections (1 day).

  35. Install exterior doors and locks (3 days). Also frantically made a run to Home Depot to purchase the new doorknobs to go along with them. You just really never think about all the parts that go into a house. It was extra fun because Home Depot didn’t carry the matte black color we wanted. Neither did Amazon. So we had to order it through build.com which worked out great!

  36. Finished electrical for inspection (install ceiling fans, outlets, exterior and interior lights). It was a huge pain. (1 day)

  37. Patch any holes or blemishes in drywall (1 day)

  38. Install sinks and countertops (1 day). Things started moving pretty quickly at this point because we had already bought all the fixtures, labeled where they should go, and stored them in the garage for our contractor to install. (end of April)

  39. Install toilets and shower heads. (1 day)

  40. Finish plumbing for inspection. (1 day)

  41. Install kitchen appliances and turn on gas. (2 days)

  42. Install shower doors.

  43. Install cabinet handles on kitchen island.

  44. Install backsplash.

  45. Install island hood vent.

  46. Final inspection! We passed!!! Which meant that we could officially move in. (April 30)

  47. Install water heater. Yes, we moved into the house without hot water.

  48. Install chandelier and outstanding lights.

  49. Schedule appointment with the gas company to install the meter and hook it up with the appliances. This took an entire month. In the meantime, we took hot showers at Alex’s office gym or boiled water in the electric kettle and brought pots into the shower.

  50. Cook a meal on the gas stove and take a long, hot shower!!! (May 10)

Our First Keurig Coffee Machine

Alex and I are avid coffee drinkers. We each drink at least two cups a day (maybe even more since Alex is working from home). Even though we have a cold brew infuser, we found ourselves craving hot coffee now that the weather is colder. Cyber Monday was the perfect day to treat ourselves to our very first Keurig.

I'm pretty obsessed with how easy it is, and I love having the option to add foam at the push of a button. Hence why I decided to learn how to make milkbread for optimal coziness.

Christmas Spirit!

Bringing home a Christmas tree was one of the things we've been looking forward to all year. It was totally out of the question last year, but now that we're settled in, we can actually make the space cozy and enjoy the season. We bought our Noble Fir from Armstrong Garden Center (with a handy $10 coupon) and borrowed decorations from my mother-in-law. This is hands-down the nicest tree I've ever gotten so we're giving it lots of TLC and photo opps.

We also stopped by Home Depot to pick up some trellises and snap peas. The goal is to train the vines across our brick fence to make the wall lush and fruitful.

And in the spirit of Christmas, we went full-on holiday mode and went to Disneyland with Léna, Diaeddine, and Rachel. It was a combination of celebrating Léna's birthday, showing them around Disneyland for the first time, and taking a day to just have fun. We really miss having an annual pass, but now all of our "fun" money goes straight into the house (see "snap peas" above). It was a very sweet, nostalgic day re-tracing our steps around Disneyland and remembering where we often daydreamed about our future house and family while waiting in lines.

Fall/Winter Reading List

Every year, one of my resolutions is to read more. Now that I’m 4 weeks into my new job, I’m establishing a new schedule with new habits like listening to more podcasts on my commute and making a conscious effort to come home every night and spend at least an hour reading. Here’s what’s on my reading list.

1. Downtime - Nadine Redzepi

I’ve been obsessed with Nadine Redzepi ever since I saw her in Ugly Delicious on Netflix alongside David Chang’s wife Grace. I guess I have a thing for chef’s wives. Nadine’s book is beautifully designed and photographed and even comes with 3 ribbon bookmarks in the binding to keep track of your favorite recipes. Her cooking philosophy is especially relevant to us now as we nurture a casual, communal atmosphere in our open layout kitchen. She also values using fresh ingredients and giving them a sophisticated yet simple twist. 10000% recommend.

2. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - Mark Manson

I will always read books that have curse words in the title. Now, I don’t agree 100% with everything in this book, but the biggest takeaway for me is to not stress over the small stuff. I’m the type of person who will replay moments throughout the day in my head before I fall asleep and beat myself up over how I should have reacted or what I should have said. An hour later, I’m still tossing and turning. I’m halfway through this book and it’s an important reminder to stop caring about things that don’t matter.

3. The War of Art - Steven Pressfield

I was gifted this book by a former coworker several years ago, and it isn’t until now that I’m finally getting around to finishing it. My new job is a lot less creative than what I’m used to, but it’s also a huge learning experience with its own set of roadblocks. Reading this book is also a reminder for myself that all writing — whether its campaign manifestos, social copy, roadmaps, pitch decks, banner ads, meta descriptions, or site-wide banner callouts — literally anything with words is an artistic craft and creative challenge.

4. Manage Your Day-to-Day - Jocelyn K. Glei

I read this book years ago and loved how calm and organized it made me feel. Every office is chaotic, some more than others, and as I’m transitioning back into the startup world and learning the complexities of a tech startup, I’m finding that this book is a great way to stay grounded.

5. UX for Beginners - Joel Marsh

Like I said above, this new job is exposing me to certain areas in which I have minimal experience like UI/UX. So I’m taking it upon myself to read as much as I can and catch up to the rest of the team so I can start contributing even more. I checked out this handy book via Libby (I love my library card) and can quickly breeze through a few chapters every night. It’s a funny, entertaining light read but I also know that I’m absorbing so much information and looking at websites and apps completely differently.

Thanksgiving 2018

We loved hosting Friendsgiving and ate leftovers for the entire week leading up to actual Thanksgiving. However, that didn’t hold back our appetites.

Alex’s uncle Soo Hyun is a very talented chef and plans a gourmet menu for the occasion. This is what he spoiled us with this year.

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I baked two loaves of sourdough in the morning: one to eat with the cheeses, the other for sourdough stuffing.

Everyone lent a hand, the entire dining table was set to the brim, and everything turned out so delicious!

Then in keeping with tradition, we went to bed by 11PM and woke up at 5:30AM to hit the Camarillo Outlet Mall for some Black Friday deals. I bought more mature, business casual attire and am really trying to upgrade my wardrobe.

On Saturday, we met up with Leslie and Matt at the Anaheim Packing District, and I finally checked out Morning Lavender boutique in Tustin.

And then on Sunday, the gardeners returned to finish clearing the backyard. This weekend, we’ll be building our raised beds and planting new trees.

Friendsgiving 2018

We started planning our Friendsgiving feast a month ago, almost as soon as we returned from Bali. Léna, Rachel, and I planned the menu in a Google doc, giggling like crazy at our desks and assigning dishes. The idea was to introduce Léna and her husband Diaeddine to a true American Thanksgiving since they had never quite experienced one before. But then in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we expanded the invitation to our other friends from abroad, Ezequiel and Pastora, as well as other close friends like Arya and Daniel. In total, we had 10 hungry mouths to feed!

The turkey was once again Alex’s pride and joy. We bought two huge turkeys from Costco a week ago (one for Friendsgiving, the other for actual Thanksgiving), conveniently avoiding the pre-holiday mad rush this past weekend. Two days prior, he carefully brined the bird with his special recipe, including salt, dried rosemary, thyme, and fresh oranges. When the day arrived, he spatchcocked the turkey and simmered the spine, neck, and giblets for 6+ hours to create a stock for the homemade gravy. Since the turkey was now butterflied, it only took about 2.5 hours to cook and stayed extremely moist and flavorful.

We’ve been to our fair share of disappointing potlucks so we wanted to make sure every dish was made from scratch yet still easy. I had made it a personal goal to master sourdough by Thanksgiving, and indeed, I did with a few weeks to spare! I made two loaves: one to eat fresh with brie and the other to use in sourdough stuffing. Léna also brought additional decor to deck out the table and even generously gifted us a set of wine glasses so we’d always have plenty to host with.

As our friends arrived, the kitchen island truly proved itself to be the heartbeat of our home. We’re so thankful that our open layout allows guests to move freely between the kitchen, dining room, and living room. It’s casual and comfortable, and we’re so proud of all the manual labor we put into painting the cabinets and designing it a year ago. The kitchen is our most used, and in my opinion, most loved room in the house and we’re so happy to share it with guests.

The menu:

It was a much-needed night of friendship, food, and laughter and we’re so thankful for everything this year has brought despite moments of hardship. Cheers to the official start of the holiday season!