Dates to Save

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For the first taste of the Cara + Alex wedding brand, our save-the-date mailings needed a detailed differentiator. Traditionally received as a basic reminder--wedding couple, date and location--our version begged for creativity and clean, sophisticated production to set the stage for our March affair.

I'm lucky to spend my days alongside a team of brilliant creatives at DCA, a Memphis-based creative communications consulting firm. They've treated my and Alex's wedding as a formal client with brand attributes and applications; and the save the date mailer and wedding website were the first steps of the process. Pairing DCA's design with The Stovall Collection's talented production team was a match made in heaven. Stovall's copper foil and embossment expertise marked the best introduction for our out-of-town wedding guests.

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We needed a Caramelized touch to the trusted package, of course; so a candied dates recipe was featured to help "save the dates." I hope you'll try it out!

Makes 24 dates

1 lb. (about 2 dozen) pitted medjool dates ½ cup raw walnuts, halved 1 cup unrefined organic cane sugar ¼ cup water

1. Make small length-wise cut in each date and insert walnut half.

2. Lightly brush each date in water.

3. Roll dates in sugar individually until well coated, then place on parchment paper.

4. When dry, dates can be stored in muslin bag or airtight container.

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Winslow's Home (St. Louis)

I've selfishly taken a restaurant review hiatus -- partially due to my real-time raves on Instagram and otherwise due to my excessive eating-out habits that drive me off-track. Thanks to my iPhone camera roll, I am rewinding to review the highlights of Spring and Summer. Nonetheless, these spots are timeless. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

In early April, my friend Madeline and I took a girls' weekend getaway to St. Louis, where we lofted at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel and ventured in every neighborhood in between. My closest childhood friend Sami, who attended Washington University in St. Louis, insisted that we try Winslow's Home for brunch. We ventured to the University district and joined the thirty-minute ordering line that felt oddly entertaining; perhaps it was the walls of curated kitchen gadgets and goods, rustic urban decor, or bakery displays of award-winning chocolate chip cookies and pastries.

The locally milled unbleached flour comprised our berry galette, which we snacked on during the wait. The pastry was dense yet so sumptuously light at the same time. Sprinkled with raw cane sugar, the berries' sweet and sour contrast made for a perfect morning bite.

5018346d1ba5a.imageSince it was almost 11 a.m., we opted for more savory entrées at the ordering counter. Avocado toast and kale salad were the winning choices -- simply prepared yet done so right at Winslow's Home. We pleasantly observed local ingredients, clean presentation (with extra grated parmesan), and timely delivery at our marble table for two.

I've been told that the adjacent "Cellar" space offers private dining for up to 36, and the restaurant's dinner menu impresses with ingredients from Winslow's Farm, which sits 35 miles west of the city. Though Madeline and I only dined for one morning, we truly felt "home" at the red-brick establishment. It's a cozy, comfortable feeling that still remains with me.

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Peach and Pork Belly Pizza

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I've had my fair share of restaurant-style pork belly, whether on steam buns at Momofuku DC or in a piping hot bowl of ramen. Whole Foods' local meat offerings prompted a riskier Saturday routine: slow roasting pork belly until perfectly tender with a crackled caramelized crust. Though the finished product could stand alone or spotlight Asian-inspired dishes, I opted for an appetizer-style pork belly pizza.

The starter stole the hearts of every house guest -- I should have prepped three more pies.

Do not feel intimidated by the time frame for this show-stopping summer pork belly pizza. Enjoy the process!

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Makes 6-8 servings

1 whole wheat "thin and crispy" pizza crust 1 peach, sliced 2 cups fresh arugula 4 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella 2 garlic cloves, roasted 1 2 lb. pork belly, skin-on 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided Sea salt and black pepper

1. Prior to roasting, remove pork belly from paper packaging. Score pork belly skin and sprinkle sea salt generously over pork (skin side up). Leave uncovered to dry out for 2-6 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place pork belly on a roasting pan and massage 2 tablespoon olive oil into skin. Roast for 1 1/2-2 hours in oven. Then, turn up heat to 400 degrees to crackle and crisp skin for approximately 45 minutes. Remove pork belly and allow to cool on roasting pan for at least 30 minutes. Leave oven on 400 degrees.

2. Place pizza crust on a baking pan. Drizzle olive oil on base of pizza crust and top with fresh arugula and roasted garlic. Tear mozzarella into pieces and place over arugula. Arrange peach slices throughout.

4. With a sharp knife, cut pork belly (against the grain) into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange 8-10 slices on pizza. Save the rest for a homemade fried rice topper or bacon breakfast substitute.

5. Place pizza crust in 400-degree oven for 8-10 minutes until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden brown. Slice and serve immediately.

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This post is brought to you by Whole Foods Germantown. Thank you for being supportive of my sponsors!

Last Minute Fourth of July Entertaining Tips

I'm heading to the beautiful Washington, D.C. to celebrate a patriotically perfect Fourth. But if you're in charge of your Sunday or Monday holiday gathering, have no fear -- my last-minute entertaining tips (featured today on StyleBlueprint) require neither a Party City haul nor messy DIY. Crostini3_Caramelized

Let the ingredients fulfill your patriotic color palette. Rather than stress over striped and polka-dotted red and blue serve-ware that only suffices for the one-day holiday, use white and wood palettes as a canvas for a bold menu of blue and burgundies. A pitcher of sangria, watermelon and feta bruschetta on a wood board, and a blueberry compote baked brie on marble make for show-stopping holiday hues.

Picture above -- Radish Goat Cheese Toasts

Pictured below -- Cherry Crostinis Crostini2_Caramelized

Celebrate your independence—from the kitchen. Save sautéing and simmering for another day. This Fourth of July is about no-mess menu planning! Provide room temperature-friendly bites, like a top-your-own crostini bar, cheese boards or mason jar stacked salads.

Pictured below -- Nautical Beach Picnic with Art in the Find

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Ginger Ale Summer Cocktail

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Cara_Melized-3 Cara_Melized-19 Let the pre-July Fourth week commence. Alex and I are heading up to D.C. for a long holiday weekend, where we'll be patriotically celebrating the Fourth as well as Alex's birthday and our five-year anniversary! Yes, what a doozy.

If you're hosting an outdoor gathering this weekend, I know just the right beverage to fill your coolers or mix into a cocktail -- the all-natural Bruce Cost Ginger Ale.

Photos by Christen Jones

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Each bottle is made from whole fresh ginger (rather than the ginger oil or other manufactured products used for the gingery flavor). Naturally sweetened with pure cane sugar, the beverage line offers flavors from pomegranate hibiscus to jasmine tea and passion fruit.

Concepted in Bruce Costs's James Beard-nominated kitchen in San Francisco back in 1995 and later served in Chicago, the ginger ale is now brewed and bottled in Brooklyn. Now, it has made its way to my Memphis doorstep, and I'm finely impressed!

I'm making Fourth of July cocktails with my Bruce Cost twelve-pack, but note that you can sip the original flavor to alleviate nausea, aid digestion, and even fight the common cold. Talk about benefits!

Keep scrolling for my peach-infused summertime Moscow mule, served in darling copper tumblers that'll keep our cocktails plenty cold. Enjoy the celebrations this weekend -- Cheers to the simplicity and festivity of summertime.

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Makes 2 cocktails

1 bottle of Bruce Cost ginger ale, chilled 3 ounces vodka, divided Juice of 1 lime 2 lime wedges, to garnish 1/2 peach, sliced

1. Divide vodka among two tumblers. Add two slices of peach to each and muddle. Then add a few cubes of ice.

2. Pour ginger ale in each tumbler, followed by a heavy squeeze of fresh lime juice.

3. Garnish with lime and peach. Cheers!

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This post is brought to you by Bruce Cost Ginger Ale and Christen Jones Photography. Thank you for being supportive of my sponsors!

How to Keep a Clean Kitchen All Summer Long

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Cara_Melized-159 copy It's inevitable -- one of the biggest entertaining "fears" of our time is the post-meal process of clean-up. We're supposed to be the hostesses who can juggle prep, presentation, and conversation all at once, right? Now as a homeowner, I have a whole new respect for my mom's graceful -- if not effortless -- portrayal of dishes and miscellaneous dinner duties while growing up. And thanks to So Fresh and So Green Clean, I understand how simple and cerebral the concept of post-party cleanup can be.

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The Memphis-based green product line was created by an adorable couple who has specialized in housekeeping for five years. For owner Lauren Parks, her company is not just about cleaning houses; it's about making someone else's life just a bit easier.

Realizing that some "natural" cleaning products contain quite a few undesirable ingredients, Lauren and her husband Andrew decided to create their own organic products with only pure essential oils that have a cleaning purpose. All of the So Fresh and So Green products are handmade in small batches—even the Castile soap that goes into them.

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I picked up their "everything," "stone" and "glass" bottles last weekend at the Farmers Market, where the Parks family now sets up shop every other Saturday. Andrew threw in the castile and avocado soaps, too, which my guests now enjoy in the bathroom off of the kitchen.

After a Sunday evening garden party-inspired dinner, where we choose to picnic on pillows around the lucite coffee table, I gave the "glass" spray a whirl. Stains instantly vanished without one visible streak, and the mint aroma was far more enjoyable than the typical Clorox wipe. I think I'll have to forego the back-up fragrance spray, since these products manage to clean and perfume the room.

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The "stone" bottle has become my new best friend for the marble countertops, which require careful attention throughout the cooking and serving process. A splash of coffee or spilled crumbs from a cobbler can be wiped off in an instant, boasting a pure aroma of oregano.

And for those of you who simply don't want to decipher which bottle is appropriate, grab the "everything" spray, which works on...yes, everything. Citrus scented and full-proof tested, the orange label stands out and stands up to spills during dinner parties and cheese board-focused happy hours.

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Here's my kitchen hostess clean-up routine. What's yours? Check off the list with So Fresh and So Green Clean.

  • Wipe down counters with "stone" spray.
  • Wipe off wood table, the sink and cabinets with "everything" spray.
  • Don't forget the glass coffee table, where guests placed their tumblers and toothpicks. Spray with "glass" spray.
  • Discard leftover and expired party ingredients, and wipe down shelves with "everything" spray.
  • Empty trash.
  • Wash your hands with castile soap.
  • Pat yourself on the back.
  • Plan your next summer fête.

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This post is brought to you by So Fresh and So Green and Christen Jones Photography. Thank you for being supportive of my sponsors!