Green tea + Jasmine cherry preserves, for our independence.

Ahhh, Independence Day. A day where Americans can reflect on what our forefathers went through to create this nation, and to remember how far we’ve come. But mostly just shoot off fireworks and get hammered. Totes legit. Go ‘Murica.

Anyway, because I’m certifiably insane I usually like to make red, white & blue themed desserts for this weekend. Like a sweet cherry cream pie, or strawberry shortcake cupcakes, or blueberry hand pies. This year I wasn’t feeling it- it’s actually too hot to have that oven on. So I did something totally different. I made cherry preserves. Because I have a lot of cherries, in case you didn’t know.

Shout out to The Washington State Stone Fruit Commission and Rainier Fruit Co. once again for their gorgeous fruit. I love being a Canbassador!

Rainier Fruit Co. cherries! I put 'em into some green tea + jasmine cherry preserves!

But, because I’m a wackjob, these are not just ANY cherry preserves…

They’re cherry preserves made with green tea + jasmine!

Green tea + jasmine cherry preserves.

I had this tea series my dad got me for Christmas, the Boston Tea Company‘s Boston Harbour Series. And seeing that and putting that together with Independence Day, plus all these cherries I have… it gave me an idea. Why not go back to my old standby for making preserves: infusing them with tea!?

The Boston Tea Party was pivotal in the formation of the United States, after all. It should get some credit!

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Blueberry lemon lovin’.

This is a recipe I’ve made quite a few times, except I’ve never changed it up before. It’s actually a favorite of mine, especially in the summer. Lemon is super refreshing and summery tasting, and this is a pretty simple recipe to throw together quickly before a party/barbecue.

I found myself with a pint of blueberries & I thought, I should really use them for something before they go bad. I actually had no idea what that something would be until the very morning of a family get-together I was having. About 6 hours before our families were due to arrive, I just decided, hey! Lemon + blueberry. That works! And I pulled out this ol’ recipe.

Blueberry lemon cakes with lemon glaze!

It’s actually a Starbucks lemon loaf knockoff recipe I found ages ago on the internet. I’ve since made it so many times however it’s been maybe 6 years since I’ve had the Starbucks version. So long that I can’t really honestly remember if this one does indeed taste like the Starbucks one; but I said it did once so I believe it.

The best thing abut recipes like this- and I say this all the time- is that its totally customizable. Once you make it, you begin to think of what else you can do with it. This particular lemon-y flavor lends itself beautifully to fresh berries.

Which makes it great for summer!

Lemon cakes, with or without blueberries, with a lemon glaze.

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Cherries in the snow- uh, syrup.

Cherries in a light almond-y syrup. #sweetpreservation

Remember that Revlon lipstick, Cherries in the Snow? I believe they still make it. I remember as a kid my mom wore it, and I loved the name. What a great name for a lipstick. It was one of their best sellers for many, many years by the time I came along. Anyway… I always think of that lipstick when I see cherries, so it was more than a great name, it was great marketing!

This post isn’t really about Revlon or makeup or anything related to it at all, actually. It is, however, about cherries. Sweet, perfect cherries from the Rainier Fruit Company. And of course, part 1 (part 1… yes, there will be more) of what I did with them!

Rainier Company cherries! #sweetpreservation

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DIY lemon vodka.

DIY lemon infused vodka.

How much do you LOVE the summer light? Wow. It always impresses me. You can be an awful photographer, and in the summer as long as you use the light to your advantage, you’re golden.

Anyway, as you see from the title of this post and the above picture, this is all about vodka. Lemon-infused vodka. The perfect thing to sip on with some ice & maybe some tonic, as you enjoy this beautiful summer light. Preferably enjoyed outdoors, at twilight or right before the sun begins to set, on a humid yet pleasant summer night.

Lemon vodka DIY.

Because why pay for flavored vodka when you can make it yourself? If you get a bottle of good vodka, and some organic lemons, well you’ve got yourself a party.

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Raspberry cinnamon basil jam.

Did you know how many types of basil there are? In my short life experience with growing it, I’ve grown Thai basil, Genovese basil, sweet basil, amethyst basil, Greek basil & cinnamon basil. And there are plenty more varieties. This year, we kept it to 3 kinds; sweet basil, purple ruffles basil (which has deep purple ruffled leaves & has an almost anise smell to it) and cinnamon basil. And it’s not just basil I love experimenting with. We have two types of dill, two types of oregano, three types of sage…

I love having them around, especially to sneak into jams and preserves. They’re always unexpected, and leave the taster saying, “Wait.. what is that flavor?!”

Small-batch raspberry cinnamon basil jam.

Two years ago I did it with blueberries and regular basil. The year before that? I popped some cilantro into raspberry jam with jalapeños. Last year I made my dad an experimental small jar of mixed berry jam with cinnamon basil, and it was such a hit I decided to try it again. This time, I’m doing a plain raspberry jam… with a sneaky little bit of cinnamon basil strewn in.

Cinnamon basil -which is also known as Mexican spice basil- smells like a strange combo of basil & cinnamon; moreso cinnamon. It’s a very unique smell & flavor. It actually contains the same chemical (methyl cinnamate) that gives cinnamon it’s flavor. When popped into a jam, it really helps the jam straddle that line between sweet & savory.

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The garden life.

Living the garden life, 2015!

Well, last post was about the start of my married life, this post is about the updates to my garden life.

I’ve had gardens for years. You all probably know how I feel about this, but I’ll say it again: if you have a piece of land, you should be growing SOMETHING on it. If you have a terrace or patio or small deck, you can grow some small peppers or patio tomatoes. If you have a window box, you should be growing herbs. There are no excuses! I started growing herbs myself, outdoors on a bigger scale, in “container gardens” in 2008. In 2010, I expanded to create an entire veggie container garden with a few tomato plants, a few pepper plants, and some zucchini, eggplant and cucumber. I really didn’t know what I was doing, to be honest, and while I got one or two paltry cukes, the zucchini didn’t give me anything that year. I later learned that the zucchini wasn’t being pollinated, and I would have to do it myself, which was unsuccessful. I did get some zucchini blossoms out of it, however.

In 2011, I had quite a large setup and everything was doing awesome! I had even gotten some cukes that year! But my nana had passed away in July, and then thats when Hurricane Irene hit us in August. And while she wasn’t as bad as we expected, she was bad enough. She decimated my plants, ripped the growing eggplants off, and ruined a few things. But that year I realized that the best results come from attracting lots of bees!

By 2012, I had learned a thing or two more about how things go, and what should go with what. I planted basil with my tomatoes, and the tomatoes were sweet and juicy, and the peppers were amazing. I wasn’t an expert yet by any means, but I was headed in the right direction. The next year, 2013, I just grew herbs. It was a transitional year for me in a lot of ways and I just didn’t have the heart to have a lot of things to “take care of.”

Baby leaf spinach.

And last year brought my  new raised garden bed! Jay agreed to build it for me and it turned out to be his new hobby/favorite thing ever. And so we really expanded. We ended up with TONS of veggies & herbs… and a few lessons learned the hard way; i.e. cucumbers should be by themselves because they will over take EVERYTHING, and tomatoes and dill should not be planted in the same area! Whoops.

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“A little party never killed nobody…” (whoa- I’m married!)

Marilla + Jason | Pixel Perfect Photography | New York City Hall wedding

Union by Robert Fulghum

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Holy crap. Yes, we’re married. I’m a Mrs.

First kiss as a married couple! | A New York City Hall wedding (Photo by Janai McNeil of Pixel Perfect Photography)

We finally did it. After almost 12 years together, knowing each other for almost 15 and with  almost 2 of those years being engaged, we tied the knot/jumped the broom/took the plunge/bought the cow/hooked up the ball & chain/got hitched on Friday, April 3, 2015. And what a beautiful day it was.

Not so much weather wise. It was definitely still a mixture of “March” & early April (April showers & all that) in New York City weather time. And so it was rainy, but not heavy, just an annoying off-and-on drizzle that made NYC look even moodier than usual. It was gray, but it wasn’t even that cold (around 60° F), despite getting snow less than 2 weeks before. I didn’t so much mind the weather, to tell the truth. No one did. I actually quite liked it.

Dancing in the streets | A New York City Hall wedding (Photo by Janai McNeil of Pixel Perfect Photography)

We planned this wedding in roughly 2 1/2 months. A little less. That’s it. Granted; I had already bought my dress a year before and we basically knew exactly what we wanted. But after I was so sick in December & hospitalized for two days, I realized we were stupid to wait any more. I mean, why? Add to that the deaths of the two NYPD police officers on December 20th, combined with the fact that the doctor told us about a patient with what I was close to- a thyroid storm- going into cardiac arrest and being resuscitated, I thought, WE ARE STUPID FOR WAITING. Why the hell didn’t we just do it right after we got engaged? No clue.

But we did it.

And we did it our way. Click on through to read EVERYTHING! And I do mean everything, so be prepared- there are a LOT of pictures here… A LOT. So here goes: my big fat wedding post!

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