A Feast for Three: Making Holiday Dinners Easy and Intimate

While Christmas is often a time for families to gather and for everyone to embrace the lovely chaos of having cousins, siblings and grandkids all at once, it's also wonderful to share an intimate dinner with family in which everyone can share stories at the dining table, where all the candles are lit, the fireplace is warm and a joyful Christmas music fills the air. 

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While I personally love the chaos having come from a large extended family back in the Philippines and where Christmas is celebrated as our biggest "national holiday" (we eagerly celebrate Christmas as soon as the "ber" months arrive and traditionally wait until past mid January to pull down the Christmas decor), I also welcome a lovely intimate holiday dinner for it allows us to create our own family tradition and truly reflect the meaning of the season. 

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To create a nostalgic dinner, set the right atmosphere. For us, this means lighting up the Christmas tree as well as setting up the table with glittery decor and vanilla-scented candles. Although we now live in a warmer climate where a fireplace is no longer a necessity, we still yearn the warm glow so we turned on Netflix's "Fireplace for Your Home" to help set the mood. A joyful Christmas music makes a whole lot of difference to add cheer while prepping for dinner. Make this experience a family affair so it has meaning to all. While Brian was in charge of the kitchen, Ariana and I baked caramel walnut cookies and decorated the dining table. 

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Make sure to add a centerpiece to the dining table. It doesn't have to be an expensive Pottery Barn decor, but a large candle on a gold oversized charger will do the trick. In fact, for this centerpiece, I simply used a silver tree ornament and recycled a wire pom-pom ribbon to add a little accent to an otherwise non-holiday candle. Glitter-dusted Christmas balls help finish off the overall look.

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Make every detail count. To help carry the gold theme throughout the dining table, I used gold chargers which provided a lovely contrast against a plain white plate. For a romantic touch, I wrapped the silver utensils with doilies and added a pine cone ornament on top.

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Although it's easy to get tempted to over-complicate the menu, make it festive but fuss-free by opting easy-to-fix recipes. A delicious soft Brie cheese appetizer topped with apricot jam and crushed roasted cashew nuts, for instance, makes a lovely wine pairing without the need for cooking. Plus, it's a wonderful prelude to the honey-glazed ham that is traditional during Christmas dinners.

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Ah, the desserts! Instead of store-bought pastries, Ariana and I decided to bake at home so we can have a bonding moment. Topped with ice cream, this Ghirardelli chocolate brownie with walnuts and caramel topping was the perfect way to finish off a lovely Christmas dinner!

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Finally, after an intimate family dinner, we've made another Christmas tradition by recreating Ariana's first photo by the Christmas tree. Oh goodness, it's crazy to see how time flies and how much our little one has grown! It reinforces the importance of creating a family tradition that we all can fondly remember as the years go by.

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How about you? What are some of your Christmas family traditions? While Brian thought a simple, candle-lit Christmas dinner was nostalgic of his own childhood, Ariana enjoyed the intimate family dinner really well. In fact, as I tucked her in for bed that Christmas night, her bedtime words were: "Tonight was the best night ever!" Hope yours was just as lovely. Happy holidays! 

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Cheers and Sparkles: Shopping for the Perfect Little Holiday Dress

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Oh, there's nothing more adorable than to dress up your little one for the holidays! I absolutely love the sparkly, sequined and velvety little dresses that adorn most of the shopping racks around this time of the year. I must admit, I get a little guilty spending a whole lot on children's apparel, but a lovely holiday dress is a once-a-year splurge so it can be justified even for a bargain-hunter mommy like me.  

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In shopping for Ariana's dresses, I tend to keep returning back to proven-and-tested shops I know I can rely on for adorable dresses. Two of my favorite mall destinations are H&M and Gap Kids. They can be on the pricey side, but if you know when to shop, you can get really cute but deeply discounted dresses. I suggest getting on the mailing list of your favorite children's shops so you'll be the first to get seasonal sale alerts.

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For this photo shoot, Ariana is wearing a sparkly Gap Kids dress in lime color. Although it's common to see holiday dresses with full skirts (Ariana adores them as they are perfect for a princess twirl), I love the minimalist look and structured silhouette of this dress. It's simple enough for weekend dressing, but elegant enough for a holiday party.

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Do not rule out online shopping. Many online stores carry a varied line of kids clothing. Even if I don't often shop online, I like to browse what's out there, so I sometimes stalk online shops like Thumbeline, Fawnshoppe, Sweet William and Shan and Toad

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Finally, to complete your little one's holiday look, make sure to add a few lovely accessories. Because we opted for a minimalist holiday dress, it was easy to add bead bracelets in holiday colors and a metallic multi-band headpiece to finish off Ariana's holiday look. The best accessory of all? A joyful face. Spread the holiday cheer by always leaving a trail of sparkle. From our family to yours, happy shopping and Merry Christmas to all!

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