Behind the Brand: Brittney from Hosting and Toasting

When I first started my blog, I reached out to a few people for advice about joining the blogging world. One of the most helpful people I spoke to was Brittney (also known as BAC) from Hosting and Toasting. She gave me some wonderful advice and real insight into what it takes to be the founder and creator of your own site. We communicated mostly via email, but I have since then met her a few times in person. Brittney is as sweet in person as she was throughout our email correspondence. I just knew I had to include her as one of my Behind the Brand features, cause y'all really need to get to know this girl and her blog, Hosting and Toasting.

Last month I started Behind the Brand, because there is so much more to a brand other than the site you see or the posts you read. The person quite literally behind the brand pours hours (mostly unpaid) of time into what they do, so it's only fitting that y'all get to know the person who makes it all happen. For June, I interviewed Brittney Ann Cardillo, the founder and creator of her own business and blog, Hosting and Toasting. Scroll down to learn more about Brittney and Hosting and Toasting….

Kristyn: Let's get to know a little more about you... Where did you grow up?
BAC: I was born and raised in the sunshine state... Tampa, Florida!

Kristyn: That sounds wonderful! I'm not sure why you'd ever want to leave, ha! So how long have you been here in Washington, D.C.?
BAC: A lifetime. Kidding! I've lived here permanently almost 6 years, however, I spent two summers interning in DC during college so it feels much longer than that! Like most people, I thought I would stay "a year or two" and here I am still 6 years later…

Kristyn: I feel like everyone says that! I know you said that you graduated from Virginia Tech with a Bachelors in Communication and Political Science. Other than blogging of course, what is your full time job?
BAC: I'm a full time event planner during the day! I also host events on the side for Hosting and Toasting. People can hire me to plan their event here!

Kristyn: That is great!! I've seen some of the events on your blog that you've hosted… like a meet-and-greet with the College Prepster, and most recently a trunk party for Sweet & Spark!. If you could plan a party for anyone, no matter who it is, who would you plan the party for?
BAC: Oh, this is a tough one! So many ideas running through my head. I think I would love hosting Pippa and Kate Middleton, BUT if we're talking a hosting AND toasting party, I think that Hoda Kotb would be an absolute blast to host at a girls brunch with bottomless mimosas and french toast!! She was in my sorority's chapter, so her composite was right outside my room's door. She spoke at graduation and I've always admired her and tune into the fourth hour of the Today Show whenever I can!!

Kristyn: That sounds like a party I want to attend! Obviously you love hosting and toasting, so what made you decide to start your blog and business?
BAC: I was originally inspired by my aunt to start H&T. She received her guardian angel wings in 2012 and my blog is dedicated to her. Growing up, she always threw fabulous soirees and was super "over the top." (Read more more about the dedication here.) I was also the brand director for an online magazine and worked with brands and bloggers before H&T launched. I've been entertaining friends and giving advice on hosting and event planning topics for years. I was always asked "Why don't you blog about this?" It seemed like a natural fit that I would start my own blog eventually!

Kristyn: Well I for one am so glad you started H&T, and I know many others are too! Blogging is a very rewarding experience, so what has been your most exciting moment as the blogger behind H&T?
BAC: The most exciting part of H&T has been getting to know other bloggers from all over the country, working with brands I've always admired and hearing from readers who are inspired to do their own hosting (and toasting too, I hope!). 

Kristyn: I would agree! We all know that you host some fabulous parties and toast at some amazing events, but a girl has got to have some "me" time away from it all. What do you like to do in your spare time?
BAC: I love traveling! There are still so many cities and places around the world I haven't been, so I'm always up for a trip anytime I can fit it in. I also enjoy taking barre classes (hello, Barre Tech!), running errands around my Georgetown neighborhood and posting up poolside for some sunshine during the summer months.

Kristyn: Who doesn't love to travel?! Speaking of, the Fourth of July holiday is coming up and hopefully you'll be spending it on vacation?
BAC: YES! I'll be traveling to New York to visit with some friends. No hosting this year, just toasting!

Kristyn: That's great!! So naturally I must ask, what are some of your best tips for hosting a Fourth of July gathering?
BAC: You definitely need a signature drink, some festive attire, pom pom cocktail stirrers, sparklers and of course, burgers (hold the bun for me! #glutenfree) on the grill! I also love to work with unique items and mix and match things I find for all of my parties. For swag and other fun printed items, I adore working with Nico and Lala! They just did my sister's engagement party invitations too!

Thanks Brittney for being First Impressions' June Behind the Brand! Y'all can learn even more about Brittney, catch up on some of the recent events she's hosted and hire her to host your next gathering! Visit http://hostingandtoasting.com for more info!

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Make your own Focaccia Bread

A few weeks ago I attended an all day workshop with my blogger friend Julien. The Gathering Project (more on that and recap coming next week) is an all day event geared toward the creative entertainer. We learned things from painting our own dinnerware, to whipping up the perfect summer dessert, and making focaccia bread. I've always been a little terrified of making bread, simply because of the whole "feeding the yeast" process. Yeast, or fermented dough, is something that only lasts for 7-10 days in the fridge and must be fed if you want to keep it longer than that.

I can't even take care of the plant on my patio, let alone dough in the fridge. However, Melinda Friend from Knead and Know made me change my thinking when it comes to being a bread maker. Whether it's simply learning about all the "additives" in grocery store bread or the fact that she made it easy for me to understand, I've decided to give it another go.

Over the Weekend I attempted to use the fermented dough we were given at the workshop to make my own focaccia bread. While I was intimidated at first, the end result made me fired up to keep "feeding the dough" and try my hand at being a bread maker. The taste of the finished product alone has me hooked. While I do have some practice to do, as far as timing and "feeding," I am one step closer to no longer being scared of the dough. It really is easy, and I believe anyone is capable of doing it! Scroll down to learn how to make Melinda's olive oil focaccia bread.

Olive Oil Dough
Large mixing bowl, small mixing bowl, scoop, plastic bread mixing tool and gram scale
If you have a gram scale, you can zero out the weight each time. This will allow you to pour ingredient after ingredient using one mixing bowl.
685g white bread flour
25g cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp of dry yeast
15g salt
60g olive oil
425g water
250g fermented white dough (optional - fermented dough is basically dough that has sat in your fridge for more than a day. It takes 24 hours for dough to become fermented)

Now Follow Me...
Place bowl on scale. Add ingredients, weighing each one.

Mix by hand with a plastic bread mixing tool or in a stand mixer. Knead (pull the dough up by the top corners, slap dough down on a flat, hard surface, and fold over) continuously for 3 - 5 minutes.

Place dough in a large container and cover. Allow to rest 1 hour at room temperature or up to 12 hours in the fridge. After making my bread this past weekend, I highly recommend letting it rest overnight in the fridge. The longer the time it has to rest, the thicker your bread will be.

After your bread has sat for the desired amount of time, turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and give each side a "fold" in toward the center. Turn right side up and cover with a cloth and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.

The bread is ready to stretch.

If you're going to make focaccia bread with your dough, you'll need a few additional items.
Cookie sheet and more olive oil
Sea salt, poached garlic, roasted red peppers... really any sort of topping you wish to put on your bread.

Oil a rimmed baking sheet. Gently stretch the dough toward the edges, being careful not to tear the dough and keeping the same thickness throughout. You may have to let the dough "rest," before attempting to stretch it again. Stretch and then wait a few minutes and come back to it. Stretching the bread is all about the waiting game. It takes time to make good bread.

Once it's stretched, allow dough to rise in a warm place for 20 - 30 minutes (**Confession: I forgot to let my bread rise this past weekend when I made it, resulting in very thin bread). Dimple top of dough with fingertips. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil or poached garlic oil over entire surface. Add any combinations of toppings you like. Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 20 minutes or until crust is a deep golden brown. Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Cut the bread and enjoy. One batch of focaccia bread makes a TON. Share with friends or your coworkers... this bread will surely make a wonderful impression on them!! Also be sure to checkout Melinda's website and if you're in the area, you can schedule a personalized class with her!!

Some things to keep in mind:

Fermented dough can last about 7 - 10 days in your fridge. You can feed it in order to last longer, by taking out of the fridge and adding an equal amount of water to its weight and double the amount of white bread flour to what it weighs. Simply knead the dough and put back in a container, and store in the fridge.

Bread will taste better if you use some portion of fermented dough. However, it's not required.

You can make poached garlic olive oil by taking a head of garlic, simmering it in olive oil on your stove top for 45 minutes. Mash up the garlic and stir. Store in your fridge and use when you want to. Disclaimer.. poaching garlic can smell up your kitchen. If you live in a small apartment, this may not be the best idea.

If your dough starts to bubble, that's GOOD! Just means the dough is feeding on itself, which is supposed to happen.

If you have any questions, let me know! I'll do my best to answer them or consult the real expert, Melinda from Knead and Know.

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Over the Weekend, Officially Summertime

While most of us have been celebrating summer for the past month or so, it wasn't officially a new season till Saturday. Over the Weekend my friend Liz and I celebrated the end of spring and the start of summer by spending the day in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. While ideally we would have loved spending the day poolside, the weather had alternate plans in mind. It was a cool, overcast day, which was perfect for a morning of walking around downtown Old Town and lunch by the water. We shopped some of my favorite stores and searched for fun additions to our new apartment. Spending the day in Old Town was the perfect way to  celebrate the start of summer.

Since we knew we'd be doing a lot of shopping, I wanted to make sure I was prepared to tote all of my new goodies. As our purchases started to add up, so did the number of bags. It was great having my new Crabberrie tote to carry everything in. When Crabberrie sent me my new bag, with little blue crabs all over it and orange accents, I knew it would be the perfect carry all for a day of shopping or for my upcoming beach trip.

Photo Credits to Liz Whitley 

I was thoroughly impressed with the durability of the bag, the size is HUGE, and the light weight feel of it. I feel like I have soooo many tote bags and carry alls, but most are poor quality and break very easily. The Crabberrie tote is my new favorite bag for trips to the grocery store or afternoons shopping, and it'll definitely be my carry on for my vacation next weekend. When I carried it around Old Town over the weekend, I got sooo many compliments and questions as to where my bag was from!

Thanks to Crabberrie's generosity, you can win one of these amazing tote bags for yourself!! All you have to do is enter the giveaway below. Also be sure to checkout their website to see all the totes they offer and find a location near you that sells them. Found all across the southeast, you can purchase one for yourself! For those sorority girls, they even offer bags with your letters on them!! No matter what you plan to use the tote for, you'll get lots of compliments on your stylish bag! The days of having countless reusable bags cluttering up your space are over. You only need ONE bag for your everyday use, and that's Crabberrie.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
**This is a sponsored post by Crabberrie.
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Summer Beach Bag, with Kate Spade NY

In a little more than a week I'll be heading off to my "happy place," Hilton Head Island, for a week of fun in the sun. It has been a family tradition for many years now to spend the week of the 4th laying by the beach, riding our bikes throughout Sea Pines, eating dinner in Harbour Town and watching the fireworks off the golf course. Hilton Head is my happy place and where I would go any day of the year. 

While I am counting down the minutes till my flight takes off, I am absolutely dreading the amount of time it's going to take me to pack for this trip. While most people can throw as many bags as they want into a car for the road trip ahead, I am limited to one checked bag and a carry on. It might sound like a lot of packing space to some, but for me it will be a challenging adventure. 

While I'm still mapping out my plan of attack for my actual suitcase, one thing that has been pretty easy to figure out is what to include in my beach bag. I found the ultimate, and I mean ultimate, carry all for a day by the ocean or poolside for those not heading toward the coast. I've featured this gem recently here, here, on my Instagram here and here... I just cannot get enough of this Kate Spade tote. Apparently neither can most bloggers (checkout some other places this bag has been spotted... heremy favorite here, oh and here). It's lightweight, so not too heavy to carry once everything is thrown inside. The bag is made out of a plastic and canvas type material, which will be easy to clean up if it gets wet or sand gets inside. It really is the best bag for a day by the water or in the sand.

While the bag is my absolute favorite thing in my closet right now, it isn't going to keep me dry at the beach, protected from the sunscreen, or provide me with entertainment throughout the day (although it is fun to look at).  That is where my "beach bag essentials" come into play. See some more photos of my summer beach bag below and find out what items are my must haves for a day by the water.

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A Half Year Bloggerversary!

Photos by Julien 

Today marks HALF A YEAR and 70 posts since I created First Impressions Blog!!!!

 When I first thought of the idea to start a blog, I never in my wildest dreams thought it would grow to what it has today. I started with a few readers (pretty much my parents and roommates), and have now grown to a combined 1,500 followers and more than 22,000 page views!!!

To recap the past six months, I thought I would highlight my favorite thing about blogging, the biggest challenge I've had to overcome and give you a little insight into what's in store for First Impressions!!

My Favorite Thing
One of my favorite things about blogging is the people I encounter through it. I have made some pretty good friends because of my blog; ladies I would have never met if it wasn't for First Impressions. Some I met through the Twitterverse, other's at local blogger gatherings and some through mutual friends. No one understands the world of blogging better than other bloggers. It's great getting together, because these girls definitely don't judge me for taking pictures of my food and they truly understand the concept of taking "outfit photos" before dinner. It's the friendships I have made throughout the past six months that keep me motivated and excited about the future of First Impressions.

Julien from It's Julien / Meaghan from District Sparkle / Amanda from 2 Girls in 2 Cities

Biggest Challenge
The biggest challenge, and something I deal with in my personal and work life as well, is being patient. Whether that's patience in hearing back from a brand outreach, patience in the outcome of readership, and probably the biggest struggle is being patient with the success of First Impressions.

I have always been someone who wants to reach prime success as soon as possible. No matter what it is I am doing, I want instant satisfaction. For my blog, I constantly feel the pressure of... "am I good enough?" There are days where I feel like no one reads my post, or I constantly refresh the page so I can see how many people have viewed my site. It's the desire to have 10K followers on Instagram or receive an email from well known brands every day.

The struggle is real when it comes to "is it worth all of this time and effort?" However, the constant support from fellow bloggers, family and friends, is what gets me through those moments. I have to realize that successful bloggers have been exactly where I am now. No one becomes an instant sensation over night (unless you're Kim K. or J Beebs). It takes hard work, dedication and persistence. I know that First Impressions will eventually reach the success that I so desire, but it's going to take patience and time to get there. 

Looking Ahead
I get the question a lot... "What do you want to come out of blogging?" When I first started First Impressions, I really just wanted an outlet to keep up my love for writing. The more I get into the world of blogging, meet experienced ladies in the business, and work with brands, I have started to form a list of goals I hope to accomplish. 

While the list is still being written, what I can say is that I absolutely love the blogging world. I am not sure where this blog will take me, what doors will open in the future, but I know that I want to keep working hard to make First Impressions the best it can be. Whether that's turning it into a business, joining a more creative field like event planning, partnering up with other bloggers for a future business collaboration... we'll just have to see. The opportunities are endless, and to me that's the exciting part.

To let you in on a little bit of the fun, you'll start to see a lot of future posts geared toward home decor and adventures in moving. My dear friend Liz and I have signed a lease for a new apartment, so obviously I am going to share with y'all the process between now and our move in date in August!! I also have a lot of fun trips coming up... vacation in Hilton Head Island, trip to the Outer Banks with friends and spending fall break in the windy city, CHICAGO (this will be my first visit!!)!!!! So stay tuned for plenty of beach themed posts, pics and preparation posts for all of my upcoming trips!!

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for reading, following, providing words of encouragement, and for supporting me throughout this journey. While my blog is still very young, I really feel that it has accomplished a lot over the past six months. I cannot wait to see where First Impressions is by the time its 1st birthday rolls around in January. There are so many fun things and exciting moments in store. I hope that you continue to follow me on this journey, and never hesitate to introduce yourself!!

Much love to you all, Happy Monday and God Bless!

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