A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to pair up with a friend whose style I admire immensely (Joanna Meyer of Baked by Joanna), and between the two of us we concocted this wildly colorful yet serene, jewel-toned end of the year celebration. We've been waiting patiently (or not-so-patiently, ha ha) to share this with all of you reading this here, AND with all the readers over at the lovely Smitten Magazine, who is doing us the honor of sharing our images and words today over at their always-inspiring site!

This party inspiration shoot is all about sharing a small, intimate New Year’s Eve. The holidays can be such a whirlwind of huge parties, we really loved the idea of a small gathering of a handful of your nearest and dearest instead of a big bash. This could easily be a romantic dinner, a reunion of best friends, or even a family get-together….anyone you want to start the new year with! We chose our dramatic, private desert setting because the vivid colors of the sky as the sun dips below the mountains provided the perfect backdrop for our lush, warm, jewel-toned gathering….and besides, can you imagine a more beautiful spot to watch the last sunset of the year from?

Glitter-bombed, oversized, shiny plastic parties are fun, but they're another conversation for another blog; our styling concept for this shoot was all about natural materials and ingredients. Everything from the florals to the hand-passed snacks and even the dishes they're served on was inspired by the warm, the tactile and the real. Warm wood and gold tones, ceramics and jewel-toned glass struck just the right notes for our desert rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne'. After the sun heads down for the last time in 2015, it's all about great conversation, raised glasses and some really stellar shared small plates for dinner.

This cranberry, rosemary and gin concoction tastes like a perfectly chilled Christmas tree, and was my holiday go-to cocktail pick all season long....get the recipe here, in my Thanksgiving post.

The full menu for our 'Jewels of the Desert New Year's Eve' follows (seen here on hand-calligraphied, individual menus, dip-dyed in a saffron hue for an extra pop of color at each place setting)...


Cranberry + Rosemary Gin Cocktail


Blood Orange + Beet Relish

Beet Hummus

Kale Pesto

Warm Feta with Honey + Dates

Endive Cups with

Persian Jeweled Rice


Wine Poached Pears with Sweet Mascarpone

Midnight Toast:

Champagne + Saffron Sparkler

Elegant, shareable dishes like our long crostini board with kale pesto, blood orange & beet relish, and goat cheese with dates and honey make up not only the main course of the meal, but the centerpiece of the table as well. Ours is loosely inspired by the lush, table-dominating creations of Heirloom L.A., a favorite of Joanna's and mine, whose signature crostini spreads have inspired endless hours of inspired brainstorming between the two of us. Saffron-hued rice studded with ‘jewels’ of pomegranate seeds and pistachios (looking for the recipe? Find my take on Saffron Jeweled Rice here in this recent post) echo the vivid color scheme, and the deeply red wine-poached pears we served up as dessert complete the meal perfectly. Finally, how do you re-invent the champagne toast without venturing into already very well-traveled territory? My answer was simple: CANDY. A sparkling wine cocktail made vibrant with saffron rock candy and pomegranate seed garnish is the perfect toast to a colorful 2016!

Hearty Kale Pesto (see the recipe here) and Saffron Jeweled Rice in pretty little endive cups (find the recipe here) are some of my new favorite party treats, pretty much ever.

Joanna's amazing Beet Hummus is rich, earthy and wonderful....and it's live on her blog today! Get the recipe here.

Warm Feta with Honey and Dates hits all of my pleasure points at once: Salty, YES. Sweet, YES. Cheese, YESSSSS. This elegant little dish couldn't be easier to put together....and it's another one of Joanna's lovely inventions! Get the recipe here at her blog, Baked by Joanna.

Lastly, we really couldn’t have pulled off this shoot without the contributions from our amazing vendors! The long, rustic farm-style table from Tremaine Ranch helped to literally set the stage for our dinner, while brass flatware from Fancy Lou echoed our rich warm tones with just a hint of sparkle. Lush, asymmetrical florals by Hoot & Holler added a touch of drama to the table, while classic wine goblets and champagne flutes in an unusual black finish, sourced from our favorite shop FOUND by domestic bliss , brought elegance and mystique to the scene.



I'll be the first to admit, I don't always get it right. 

Case in point, there's a forlorn bulb of kohlrabi languishing in my fridge right now, due in large part both to the fact that we recently joined a CSA and also that I have absolutely no idea what to do with kohlrabi*. Life via social media can look tantalizingly crisp and glossy, but it's important to remember that the reality might look more like sweaty pajama bottoms for the third day running, or a nonstop crying jag because I'm almost thirty-four and I'm never gonna figure any of this adulting out or because I just broke that handmade plate** or because taaaaaaaxes, man. Sometimes the onions burn. Sometimes I have to admit my powerlessness over caramelization. Sometimes the best laid plans go awry, sometimes the path the night is taking can only lead away from a homecooked meal and straight to the door of a Szechuan takeout place. Sometimes vegetables wilt unnoticed in the crisper and get furtively thrown away before their time, to be replaced by a fresh infusion of guilt and a new weekly box of produce.

[ *Shortly after writing this, I peeled, cubed and roasted the sucker with some onions and a drizzle of maple butter, snuggled up in the pan next to a whole chicken. Highly recommended. ]

[ **Almost immediately after taking the photographs above, while gingerly hand-washing and whispering to myself don't don't don't break it please, I broke the beautiful handmade blue plate seen here into three brutal pieces. Boom. Done. C'est la vie, c'est la guerre, c'est la frickin' pomme de terre. ]

Just please know that there are times when I'm standing in the kitchen, hair in disarray and a desperately clutched saucepan in hand, thinking I can't, there's no way, I have absolutely no idea what to feed my family. And also know that at this point, that family only consists of two adults and two small dogs (who eat identical bowls of kibble at nearly every meal).

But then. Oh, then. There are those sublime times when I figure out how to make delicious truffles out of juicy dates, tender coconut, rich dark chocolate and flakes of smoky sea salt. These are the times when I feel like I get it very, very right.

I can feed these to my gluten-sensitive friends. I can offer them to my paleo-observant warrior mom. I can & will pop one of these delightful date truffles into my mouth, crackling dark chocolate shell giving way to sticky, chewy date filling made more intriguing by a hint of coconut and light sweetness. And then maybe one more--straight out of the fridge at midnight--to celebrate the fact that I am a mostly-functional adult person who does have a few things figured out, after all.

Chocolate helps. The magical combination of sweet dates, dark chocolate and delicate flakes of smoked sea salt helps even more.

Date Truffles with Coconut and Smoked Sea Salt

Makes about thirty small truffles

1 1/2 cups pitted Medjool dates
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, plus more for rolling
3 tablespoons almond meal
2 tablespoons honey (or maple syrup/agave nectar/sweetener of choice, if you'd like to make these vegan)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 oz. dark chocolate

Optional, but recommended: smoked sea salt, for sprinkling over the truffles. Mine is super-fancy, super-flakey Halen Môn smoked sea salt from Wales, but it's also available from a number of other places.

Place dates & coconut oil in bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine until a rough paste begins to form (it should not be perfectly smooth but instead should have bits of fruit still visible, try to keep the blending to a minimum). Add almond meal, honey and salt, pulse a few more times to combine.

Roll mixture into balls about the size of a quarter (mixture will be sticky; it may help to throw the entire bowl of date filling into the fridge for about thirty minutes prior to rolling), set aside on a sheet of parchment.

In a double boiler over medium heat or in a microwave-proof bowl, gently heat the dark chocolate until just melted, stirring vigorously until smooth. Remove from heat. Drizzle over each ball of date filling, sprinkle with smoked sea salt (if using), and allow to harden until set.

If you're chocolate-averse, these are also amazing simply rolled in shredded coconut, as also shown here. Either way, good for the soul.