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Thursday giveaway!

Today's giveaway is a BIG one! EmersonMade, the gorgeous fashion line from New Hampshire, is offering a $1000 shopping spree to one lucky winner! Eeks! They make beautiful clothes (including skirts and dresses and T-shirts) and accessories (like flower pins and gold coin necklaces). I'm in l-o-v-e with their jeans, and Toby wears their baby clothes! Their whole countryside life looks so dreamy and makes me want to move to a farm, wear a flower brooch and raise chickens. :)

For a chance to win, visit EmersonMade's online shop (and consider signing up for their Facebook and twitter), and leave a comment below telling us your favorite pieces. A winner will be chosen at random tomorrow. Good luck!

Update: Blogger allows a maximum of 5,000 comments -- apologies to those who wanted to enter but arrived too late! Mai from Seattle is our lucky winner. Thank you so much! xoxo

Embroidered book covers

How breathtakingly gorgeous are these embroidered book covers by Jillian Tamaki? She made them for Penguin Books, and rumor has it that they'll be available this fall. SO beautiful. (I'm sure Jane Austen would have wholeheartedly approved. I love Emma's little freckles!)

P.S. More + amazing + book covers.

(By Jillian Tamaki, via Black Eiffel)

Wednesday giveaway!

Today's giveaway is from Moop, the Pittsburgh studio that makes beautiful handmade bags for men, women and kids. Their bags are soft and roomy and perfect for adventures around town. I'm lucky enough to have their blue market bag, and their new waxed canvas collection and Very Useful Tote (both pictured above) are gorgeous. They're offering one lucky winner any bag from their shop--you get to choose!

For a chance to win, please visit Moop, and leave a comment below telling us your favorite bag. A winner will be chosen at random tomorrow. Good luck! xo

Update: Melissa Hall is our lucky winner. Thanks for playing.

A handy guide to creating the perfect cheese plate

I may or may not be obsessed with cheese (are you, too?), so the fact that we live down the street from Murray's Cheese, the most amazing cheese shop that ever existed, is fabulous and a little dangerous. The shop is packed with incredible cheeses, meats, chocolates, breads and ice creams, and the cheesemongers are geniuses (and give samples!). Toby and I venture over there at least twice a week, and we're both fatter and happier for it.

So, my darlings, I'm thrilled to present this handy guide to creating the perfect cheese plate! I met with Murray's head cheesemonger Sydney Willcox to discover her tried-and-true tips, and the lovely Jamie Beck took photos. Here goes...
Overall pointers for putting together a cheese plate:
* When you invite friends over, buy one ounce per person per cheese; and stick to five to six cheeses total.
* Choose a fun variety of cheeses: different textures, countries, and all three milk types (goat, sheep, cow).
* Serve all the cheeses on one big board. You want your guests to start with the mildest and work up to the strongest, so place the cheeses in "clock order"--12 o'clock being the mildest and 11 o'clock being the strongest.
* Take the cheese out of the fridge at least an hour before serving. Cheese should be eaten at room temperature, when it's at its full flavor and texture.
* Put out a few different knives. Goat and blue cheeses crumble if you use a regular knife, so cheese wires are the best thing to use--if you don't have one, you can use dental floss! Softer cheeses work best with a butter knife. Harder cheeses, like parmesan, are good with a triangle-shaped knife. Cut circular cheeses in wedges, like a pizza.
* If you have leftovers, don't store the cheese in Saran Wrap, which will make the cheese sweat and leave a plastic-y taste. Cheese is living and needs to breathe, so wrap it in parchment or wax paper, and keep it in the most humid part of the fridge (usually the vegetable drawer).
Six cheeses for the perfect basic cheese plate:
(pictured clockwise from top)

1. Cremont is a bloomy, rindy, mild cheese, which debuted last year in Vermont. (The name "cremont" is a mix of "cream" and "Vermont"!) The cheese has both cow and goat milk. Luscious, coats your tongue, fudge-y, cake-y.

2. La Tur is the little black dress of cheeses! Everyone loves it. It's a mix of goat, sheep and cow--which is is pretty unusual. Flavorwise, you get a hint of all three animals--tang from the goat, lingering buttery fat from the sheep, milky sweetness from the cow. The texture feels almost whipped, like savory ice cream! At a party, this insanely popular Italian cheese will disappear first.

3. Pyrenees Brebis. Every single person I've has ever met loves this sheep's milk cheese. It's a huge crowd-pleaser. A lot of flavor, but very harmonious. Nutty, salty, floral, semi-soft. From the southwest region of France, where there are huge herds of sheep.

4. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Cabot makes lots of cheddars, but this is their artisanal (read: fancy!) line. What's cool about this cheese is that it's a partnership between Cabot and the Cellars at Jasper Hill--Cabot makes the cheese, which is then aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill. There's actually a staff of guys (football-player size!) who flip these cheeses everyday, so they'll age evenly. The cheese is wrapped in cloth, which is a more English style of making cheese. Super strong cheddar; you get little crystals. You'll taste peanuts, caramel, earthy flavors. Eat from the inside out; then take the cloth off and then eat the rind--it almost takes like dirt, but it works so well with the other flavors. (P.S. It would make the best grilled cheese you'd ever have in your life.)

5. Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Made with raw Jersey cow's milk in Wisconsin. Very fruity and smooth. The American Cheese Society just named it "Best in Show" for the third time (it's the only cheese to have been awarded Best in Show more than once!). You've gotta try it.

6. Cambozola Black Label is a very, very delicate blue cheese. Just a tinge of that mineral flavor; very buttery with a bit of a cashew flavor. A great beginning cheese for people who think they might not like blue cheeses. (Once you put it on bread and add a grape, it will mellow out, if you’re feeling timid!) Blue cheeses and chocolate also go together really well--a great balance of salty and sweet.

Pair cheeses with: Dried cherries, walnuts, marcona almonds (I love these!), fresh grapes, crackers and French bread.
Yummy! Thank you so much, Sydney and Murray's! Have you tried any of these cheeses before? Do you have a different favorite cheese that you'd recommend? I'd love to hear...

P.S. More cheese-y posts!

(Photos by Jamie Beck for Cup of Jo)

Paris daydreaming

Let's go lie on the cool grass and play a game of Would You Rather. Who's in?

(By Emily Nathan)

Do-it-yourself cloud artwork

Since Alex and I are giving our bedroom a makeover, we've been thinking about new artwork. Well, this is genius: Amber took her a snapshot of clouds and then blew it up on glossy poster paper for $30. Then she framed it in an IKEA Ribba frame. The whole project cost less than $60, and it's gorgeous! Double thumbs up! I'm super inspired.

(Photos by Amber Interiors, via Little Green Notebook)

Tragedy of the first position

This adorable video has been making the internet rounds, but I can't help reposting it! She's trying so hard! Ahh, I can't stop laughing. What a sweetie. :)

P.S. Ballet boys and marshmallow willpower.

Have a smoochy weekend.

My darlings! What are you up to this weekend? This week, Alex and I went to the insane play Sleep No More. It felt almost like a haunted house: Everyone in the audience had to wear white masks, and you wander silently around a four-story warehouse in Chelsea. The whole warehouse is designed to look like the setting of Macbeth, and it's incredibly elaborate--from children's bedrooms to a detective's office to a moonlit graveyard. You go up twisting staircases, open creaky doors, explore empty rooms, open drawers and rifle through papers, feel your way down dark hallways...it's really spooky! I made Alex hold my hand the whole time and only freaked out once when there was a strobe light. Now and again, actors will come into the room, and everyone will watch them, until they dart off again. It was, as Alex would say, "a trip." (New Yorkers, you can read more here if you want to go!) Anyway, hope you have a fun weekend, and here are a few great posts from around the web...

Liking these quirky braids.

Awesome dinosaur.

Peanut butter and jelly cupcakes.

Regarding Mad Men: agreed!

What a beautiful wedding dress.

Just got this polka-dot skirt and love it.

The cutest way to tell your parents that you're pregnant!

And a sweet way to announce an engagement.

Organic fruit delivered by bicycle. Awesome.

How to make twins.

Good to remember when you're feeling passionate about something.

An Iceland video if you're feeling wanderlusty.

Love this identity.

A beautiful farm wedding.

And a big thank you to Refinery 29!

(Photo credit unknown, via Leigh)

Toby gets the giggles

A little video from last weekend. Apparently the word "gulp" is secretly very, very hilarious.

P.S. Toby's laugh has changed so much! Here was his very first giggle at two months old and a belly laugh at four months old.

Ocean print

Alex and I are giving our bedroom a little makeover, and we've been looking for artwork to go over our bed. How calming and lovely is this ocean photograph? Laura Bell took it while on a ferry in Scotland, and the circular shape makes it feel like she's peeking out a porthole window. Beautiful, don't you think?

Street style cutie

Pink lipstick. Men's watch. Wide-leg jeans. Sold.

(Photo by the Daybook, via Wit + Delight)

Spring dresses

Now that spring has arrived, I'm looking for some dresses to wear to dinner or picnics. Toby and I walked over to Urban Outfitters yesterday evening, but nothing fit very well. ASOS's online shop has a really cute selection, don't you think? I love the stripes!
Where do you shop for summer clothes? Any stores you've been liking lately?
(Dresses here, here, here and here)

Baby baths

My sweets, I wanted to share a little post I put together for Beso about my favorite baby bathtime products. For you mamas out there, I especially recommend the genius Puj tub, which fits into a bathroom sink and then stores flat in a closet. It made bathing a newborn so much easier. (Toby's first giggle was in the bath!:)

(P.S. Photo above of the cutest shark robe)

Our first date

Alex and I were reminiscing last night and realized that we went on our very first date exactly four years ago! I remember feeling giddy and nervous as I walked over to meet him at the Angelika Film Center. We saw The Lives of Others, the suspenseful German film about the East Berlin secret police. It was really intense and my heart was in my throat as we watched it.
Afterward, we took a cab over to Cafe Cluny, one of my favorite restaurants ever, and ordered steak and scallops, followed by two glasses of port, since it was one of Those Great Long Leisurely Dinners.
Then Alex walked me home, and, although I was usually a pretty slow mover (I'm a Michigan girl!), we kissed outside my apartment. The funny part? We were on Bleecker Street, so even late at night, crowds of people were passing by. Three drunk guys passed us and yelled, "Look at the lovers!" Romantic. :)

Another funny thing was, since we both really liked each other, we were searching for signs during the date that the other person was (or wasn't) into it. I got nervous when Alex offered me a bite of his steak, but then placed the piece of steak directly onto my plate; did he not want me to eat off his fork? And he later admitted that he thought the date was shot when I didn't lean on his armrest at the movie, but instead leaned toward the other side. So funny how nervous people can be when first dating!

Needless to say, it worked out, despite the armrest gaffe. And now he lets me eat off his fork:)

What about you guys? What did you do on your first dates with your main squeezes (or past boyfriends/girlfriends)? I'd love to hear...

Dinner in the sky

Dinner in the Sky is a Belgian company that hosts dinner parties high above cities around the world. They hoist up the table with a giant crane, and three chefs cook an amazing meal. The photos are thrilling, but would you dare?

P.S. Alex has a fear of heights, so he'd never do it. (My phobia is elevators, so I'd be ok:)

(Via Black Eiffel)

Braided top bun

Whenever I'm walking around downtown New York, I see tons of cute girls wearing buns on the tops of their heads. Well, what could be even better than a top bun? A braided top bun! My friend Caroline, a hair genius, came over to explain exactly how to get this easy spring look, and the fabulous Jamie Beck took photos.

Here are Caroline's easy steps...
1. This simple hairstyle is perfect for a warm spring day, when you want to keep your hair cool and off your neck. First, part your hair in a deep side part (instead of combing it back smoothly). This makes it look a little less fancy, perfect for bike rides or Sunday picnics. Then gather your hair into a ponytail on top of your head. The higher, the better.

2. Make a loose braid all the way down the tail. Don't braid it too tightly; a little messy is perfect and it will help it look less "ballerina." Secure the end with a rubber band; I recommend these clear elastic bands, since they'll blend into your hair color and won't be as visible.

3. Creating a circle on top of your head with the braid. You don't want to wrap it tightly like a bun; instead you want it loose and open in the center, kind of like a braided pillbox hat! (If your hair is really long, you may have to double up the braid, one in front of the other.) When you reach the end, tuck the bottom of the braid under the circle you've created to hide it.

4. Pin the braid in place with mini bobby pins, since they're easier to hide and won't be as noticeable.

5. A few suggestions: I like to make the look a little messier by pulling little strands of hair out at the back and sides, but if you prefer it cleaner, you don't have to do that. And if you'd like, you can pin your bangs out of the way with bobby pins.
Voila! Here's the look, beautiful and timeless. What do you think, my darlings? Thank you so much, Caroline and Jamie! xoxo

P.S. Past hair tutorials, including three twisted buns, the perfect side ponytail, a messy French bun.

(Photos by Jamie Beck for Cup of Jo. Caroline's shirt is from Cardigan, her jewelry is from her own line Brvtvs, and her blush is Tarte cheek stain in Tickled.)

First day of spring!

Today is the first official day of spring! Aren't you excited for warm days and spring flowers? Speaking of, I adore these dried flowers from etsy shop Flores del Sol. They are just as beautiful as fresh flowers, but last way longer. I'd love to put them all around our living room.

(Via Spicer and Bank)

For Japan with Love

The reports from Japan have been devastating, and my heart goes out to all the people and families affected. I'm honored to be part of the Bloggers Day of Silence today, organized by Ever Ours and Utterly Engaged.

Please consider donating here.

P.S. Other ways to get involved:
* A Help Japan print.
* A Help Japan poster.
* An SOS Japan necklace.

Bill Cunningham documentary

Bill Cunningham is the street-style photographer for the New York Times. He's a hilarious, eccentric guy who rides his Schwinn bike around New York City (rain or shine) and captures fabulous people with his camera. Well, a documentary just came out about him. Here's the trailer. I can't wait to see it!

P.S. Movie times around the country, if you'd like to see it on the big screen.

(Film still by Richard Press)

Wednesday giveaway!

Today's giveaway is from 20x200, the incredible art shop that sells artist prints starting at just $20. They're offering one lucky reader a $100 gift certificate to choose her favorite artwork and decorate her walls. (My favorites might be these dogsNew York taxis, and Portugese beach.) Also, 20x200 has this breathtaking Japan benefit print, where the proceeds will go to the Japan Society's Earthquake Relief Fund.

For a chance to win, visit 20x200 and leave a comment below with your favorite print. A winner will be chosen at random tomorrow. Good luck! Update: Evelyn P. is our lucky winner. Thanks for playing.

Plus, a bonus for all readers: Get 10 percent off your order by entering the code CUPOFJO10 at checkout. Good through March 31st.

Toby notepads

We just made this photo notepad on Pinhole Press (my friends' company) and I wanted to share. We're totally in love with it, and I can't stop staring at it on my desk. :) Now I want to make a bunch more with wedding photos and our favorite snapshots.

You can make your own photopad here. P.S. (Wouldn't they make adorable Mother's Day presents for moms or grandmas?)

Lemon, sausage and chard lasagna

We had a couple friends over on Saturday night, and Alex made this lasagna that I had spotted in Martha Stewart Living. It was ridiculously amazing: No tomato sauce, but instead lemon, sausage, and Swiss chard. The balance of flavors was pitch-perfect, especially with the tart lemon. I would highly, highly recommend it.

Where are your favorite places to find good recipes? Magazines? Cookbooks? Blogs?

Breastfeeding love

I'm totally in love with this nursing photo and can't stop looking at it.

Moms, how long did you breastfeed your babies? And moms-to-be, how long do you imagine you will? Three months? Six months? A year? Toddler-age? Or not at all? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

(Photo by Michal Rubin)

Birthday decor

My dad's 60th birthday is coming up, and our family is renting a house in the Poconos where we can come together to celebrate. I can't wait. I've been brainstorming decor ideas and love this photo from Martha Stewart Living.

What did you do for your parents' sixtieth birthdays (if they've had them yet)? It's a big one!

P.S. Birthday cheese, and a birthday installation.

Toby at the playground

My lovelies, how's your week going? A few readers have asked for an updated Toby photo, so here he is at the playground down the street. We joke that he looks like a tourist in his camera sweatshirt and taxi legwarmers. :)

One sweet update: At nine months old, he's started getting separation anxiety. He wants me around all the time, and when I leave the house (or even the room), he completely freaks out and dissolves into tears. I have to say, it's pretty endearing (at least I know he loves me:). But if I'm working from home and need to go into the living room, I have to tiptoe by him and the babysitter with a pillow covering my head so he won't see me! I feel like I'm in a Charlie Chaplin movie. Mamas, have your little ones gotten separation anxiety?

(Toby is wearing a sweatshirt from Smallable, a bike onesie from A Little Lark, striped wool pants from Mabo, taxi legwarmers and the welcome hat from Oeuf. Since most of his clothes so far have been gifts, he's usually way better dressed that I am!)

Overheard on the Titanic

This heartbreaking print "Overheard on the Titanic" was made by blacking out words in a newspaper article with a Sharpie marker. Beautiful.