Easter Tablescape Inspiration

Happy Thursday y’all….if your week has been like mine, you are counting down the seconds until the weekend is here! We quickly went from no Easter plans to hosting dinner for 6 (maybe 8) overnight, so my mind is going into planning mode!

So, what’s on our menu?

Appetizers & Nibbles:

Deviled eggs & Mediterranean platter

Jelly beans & Jordan almonds

Main Menu:

Baked ham

Chilled asparagus,  roasted brussel sprouts & scalloped red potatoes

Spinach, fruit, walnut & goat cheese salad

Desserts:

Homemade brownies, coconut macaroons & strawberry shortcake

Yummy, right? We’re in charge of the ham, salad, apps & desserts. Our guests will be bringing sides and of course, lots of wine!

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{marble + wood cutting board / textured bowls / long wood bowl / wood + ceramic dip bowls}

One of my favorite parts about hosting is of course the table setting…however, living in a small 900sq ft apartment with no dining table proves to be a challenge. Luckily we have a 6′ folding table that fits directly over our coffee table so we’ll just move the sofa out back & place some chairs around it. Hey, you gotta work with what you have!

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Easter Easter Table Decor with White Hydrangeas and Tulips Cente

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How beautiful are those tablescapes? Whether you have the space or not, here are a few pieces to help you build a classic, pretty table for your guests:

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{table runner / gold flatware / wine glasses / white dinner plate/

gold salad plate / cake stand}

What’s on your Easter menu?!

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Favorite Christmas Cookie Recipes

Happy Monday y’all! How is this the last weeke before Christmas?! Oh my gosh time is flyingggg by. If you’re like me, this week will be spent doing some last minute shopping & baking! Let’s be honest, we all love Christmas cookies. Whether you’re a novice baker or super talented in the kitchen, I’ve got you covered. Here are 10 of my favorite cookie recipes (almost all are tried & true) along with some cute ways to package them:

  1. Coconut Cream Bars: These no bake, freezer friendly are basically giant almond joys. YUM! I’m considering making these for our annual cookie swap.
  2. Basic Sugar Cookie: It’s my family’s annual tradition to bake & decorate these (we do Christmas trees, angels, snowmen, etc). I made a batch last night & they’re quickly disappearing!
  3. No Bake Chocolate Balls: These are great to freeze & then hand out to people. I made a bunch last weekend to give to my fiance’s clients.
  4. Paleo Magic Cookie Bars: Paleo and vegan friendly, these cookies are a great option for your super healthy friends or coworkers. Disclaimer: I attempted (and failed) a batch of these; however, I’d like to try again because I think they could taste really yummy if done right (think I over-baked them).
  5. Red Velvet Shortbread Cookies : I have yet to make these, but I hope I can find the time to make some this year. Red velvet cake is one of my favorites, so I’m looking forward to these!
  6. Oreo Cookie Balls: Need an easy, delicious cookie guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser? These are for you. I made these for the cookie swap 2 years ago & people still talk about them. After all, let’s be honest…who doesn’t love oreos?!
  7. White Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Cookies: A twist on the classic, these are soft, delicious and taste like Christmas. Serve with a glass of milk & call it a day.
  8. Christmas Cookie Bark: Oddly enough, bark is one of the holiday desserts I’ve never tried to make. I’m not a huge chocolate lover (gasp, I know), but these are great because they make a huge baking sheet & good for kids to help. Throw the broken pieces in a mason jar, wrap a bow & give to any neighbor or coworker.
  9. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies: Okay, so these aren’t technically “holiday” cookies, but in my book peanut butter cookies are always a good idea (also, see #2: I added a spoon full of peanut butter + chopped walnuts to a small portion & made my own peanut butter cookies)
  10. Versatile Cookie Dough: If you’re limited on time or want to make a variety easily, try this idea- it’s 1 basic dough, 4 types of cookies. Genius, no?

As far as packaging goes, there are a million cute ideas out there so I’ve picked 3 I liked:

  1. Fill clear bags & wrap with seasonal decor via MaiTai
  2. Use clear tubes to stack cookies like Paula
  3. Take a tip from Tessa & decorate craft boxes

Happy Baking!

48 hours in Montreal

After spending three days/two nights in Montreal, I really feel like I got a grasp on the city. It definitely has a European feel all around- small cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, cute coffee shops all around, everyone speaking French…maybe that’s one of the reasons I loved this city so much? It takes me back to Europe and even though you’re a mere 60 miles across the border, you may as well be 6000 miles away.fullsizerender-9

{Notre Dame of Montreal}

DAY ONE

We stayed at Le Westin Hotel in Old Montreal & I can’t recommend this hotel enough- it’s perfect location for walking around the city, the rooms are huge & comfortable and the staff is awesome. We brought the pup and they showed up with this adorable dog bed & food/water bowls so she would feel at home. How adorable is that?!

{Mela loved Montreal, both in the Westin & in the park!}

We started Friday evening with a pre-dinner drink and appetizer from Tiradito. We stumbled across this place by chance and I’m glad we did. Recently open, this bar-only seating restaurant had a very NYC vibe. It was a dim, sultry, swanky, funky spot. It’s a self-proclaimed Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant. For drinks, I had a pisco sour (typical South American cocktail) and it was amazing! He had a bourbon based cocktail, also creative & delicious. For our app, we had halibut ceviche- so fresh & delicious. I would love to go back and dine at this place.

{Notkins menu – Tiradito drinks – Notkins oysters}

For dinner, we hopped across the street to Notkins– an oyster bar that came recommended by a friend. Fun fact: the owner (I believe) holds the record for most shucked & cleaned oysters in an hour. It was over 8,000- can you even imagine!? After we heard that story, we knew we were in good hands. The place has a sophisticated, yet casual vibe. They’ve got a big raw bar, an even bigger wine list, and a live DJ spinning slow jam lounge music. It was a fun date night spot! We splurged on oysters, halibut fish tacos, cold lobster tail & frites. The service was excellent, and although it was a bit pricey, we both felt as though it was money well spent.

DAY TWO

We started off our next morning the way every day in Montreal should start- with a jog around the Mount Royal park (gorgeous park with tons of hiking trails, grassy areas, picnic tables & killer views), followed by some St Viateur bagels. I gotta say, I didn’t realize how doughy & fresh & light bagels could (should?) taste, until I had these. Words can’t describe how awesome they are- we sampled whole wheat, everything & rosemary. Surprisingly, the rosemary was my favorite. The flavors were baked into the dough & every bite was so delicious…

{Watching the guys make bagels in the huge oven}

After spending the next few hours walking around town, exploring local shops, park & stores and checking out the Montreal Olympics site, we decided to pop into Les 3 Brasseurs & chill for a bit. We shared a flight and, of course, poutine! (This is obviously a *must do* when in Montreal. There are countless places that claim to be “Montreal’s best poutine” so why not try a few?! I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong!)

{Exploring cute streets & buildings around Old Town Montreal}

{Run in the park + poutine = balance}

Based on the suggestion of a stranger (thanks, Chris!), we went to dinner at  L’usine de Spaghetti. Holy deliciousness! I’m not sure if it was the two glasses of house red I had, or the warm, quaint, European feeling vibe this place gave off, but the lobster linguini that I had was the best meal of my trip! The bf got grilled lamb chops over pesto spaghetti and he didn’t seem to complain either-we both happily licked our plates clean & then polished off a piece of tiramisu. Vacation for the win 🙂

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{Our awesome table in front of the impressive wine cellar}

On Sunday morning, we wanted to grab a quick, healthy meal before hitting the road. Thanks to Instagram, I found Olive & Gourmando: an adorable coffee shop on old street in Old Town with awesome home goods shops, restaurants & clothing stores. It’s got a very local, funky vibe with organic & healthy feel. I got a cha-cha-chia bowl: cute jar with layered chia pudding, coconut flakes, fresh banana & apple slices, quinoa, granola & cranberries. After my decadent Italian dinner the night before, this was exactly what I needed. If you like healthy, cute coffee shops (who doesn’t?), this is your spot.

{O&G’s interior – cute Halloween decor – world’s best chia bowl}

One thing I loved about Montreal (similar to Europe) is that while the food can be rich & decadent, the portions are small. Given that we chose to split most of our “splurge” dishes and that we walked all over the city (15K steps both days, woo hoo!), I didn’t leave feeling “gross” or “blah”. I felt like I experienced the culture, I tasted a few local treats, and I had an overall balanced trip.

Montreal, you’re adorable. I can’t wait to be back!

Austin, TX: Eats

Happy Wanderlust Wednesday! A couple of weeks ago, we traveled to Austin, TX to visit one of my favorite couples. Going into the trip, we really had no expectations for Austin and were just hoping to spend a casual weekend catching up with friends. Well, let me just say- Austin blew us away. We LOVED this city!!!

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I have soooooo much to share about this badass country-hipster town that I’m breaking it up into two separate posts. First up: Austin Eats.

Austin is one of those cities where you can’t have a bad meal. And if you do, you’re doing something wrong. We just ate and ate and ate, one fabulous meal after another. If you’re a foodie or love exploring local spots, this is the city for you.

STOP #1: FOOD TRUCKS

There are an abundance of food trucks in Austin (isn’t this where the “food truck” trend started?). There’s one attached to every bar with an outdoor space & there are multiple food truck parks. And y’all don’t be fooled- the food is legit. I had the best fish taco of my life at the food truck park. The guys split a Monte Cristo & couldn’t stop raving about it.

{my photo was too overexposed to share, but this is what they had}

We had the most amazing breakfast tacos (“migas”) at Veracruz. If you visit Austin, you HAVE to go here- their tacos are probably my #1 recommendation. We sat outside on picnic tables in the 80 degrees to enjoy these flavorful & authentic babies.

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STOP #2: TORCHY’S TACOS

We were told by multiple people that Torchy’s is THE taco place in Austin. Ask the locals? You will get some differing opinions. Nonetheless, we obviously had to try it. Enter: taco brunch. One Migas (remember those?) and 1 shrimp. Ah-mazing. Go here!

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{The bf was none too pleased that I made him pause pre-first bite for a photo. HaHa!}

STOP #3: MEXICAN

I know what you’re thinking- you just had tacos? Tacos Ø Mexican. Those of us Southerners know this to be true! This, my friends, is Mexican:

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{Please excuse me while I pick up my drool from the floor}

STOP 4: BBQ

If you’ve got access to a car while in Austin, I highly recommend the following. Head to Driftwood Estates Winery and enjoy a little sun & wine tasting (only $12!). It’s no Napa, but the wine was tasty, the views were gorgeous and the weather was just perfect.

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Our crew at the vineyard 🙂

From there, we headed a few doors down to Salt Lick BBQ. HOLY BBQ YALL- this place is unreal! What an experience. To start, I just loved the vibe. It’s a huge indoor-outdoor space with multiple family-style seating at picnic tables. While waiting for your table outside, it’s BYOB (the wait can be hours) and there’s a guy playing live music. You really feel like you’re in a friend’s back yard.

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{via}

Once you head inside, you’ll see the largest fire pit with all of the meats smoking- sausage, beef, chicken, ribs…you name it, they’ve got it. And the food doesn’t disappoint. We had wayyyyy too much and every last bit- from the pickles to the chicken to the ribs to the blackberry cobbler- was out of this world. Can’t recommend this spot enough!

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{Allllll of the food}

Also worth mentioning:

  • We ate at Justine’s in East Austin, which had really stellar French food (think steak frites, mussels & a world famous pork chop). The ambiance is super sultry & dark- a really fun spot. Get a dirty martini if you go.
  • If you are at all a sparkling water lover, you MUST get Topo Chico! I legitimately drank like 5 every day. It is the purest, most refreshing tasting sparkling water I have EVER had and I’ve been on an intense search for it since I returned.

 

Who’s booking a trip to Austin now?!

Sicily Part 2: Exploration

As I mentioned in Sicily Part 1, I was a “plus one” on a work trip, so we were fortunate enough to have about 5-7 excursions to pick from (we got to choose 3). I chose (1) spa day…obviously, (2) biking & cooking lesson on the winery and (3) guided tour through local town of Agrigento. (I think the other options were history tour, deep sea fishing, golf lessons, for example)

What amazing choices these ended up being.

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I spoke about the spa in part 1. I’m not sure about you, but to me one of the best parts of being at a nice, tropical resort is relaxing at the spa- using the steam room, taking a yoga class, enjoying a massage, etc. Nothing like a spa day to rejuvenate me, both physically & mentally.

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We were pleasantly surprised at the tour of Agrigento. Usually, I’m not one to take guided tours (blame it on my short attention span/intense desire to wander off) but the guide made this. I remember Lorenzo like it was yesterday- his energy, his enthusiasm, his love for life! He was a true gem and made the trip. He showed us the beautiful history of the town- from old ruins to the restored opera house to the hole-in-the-wall bakery.

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{the temple of Juno, Agrigento}

We then enjoyed an outstanding lunch at a local restaurant. It was your typical, delicious Italian meal- bread with olive oil, huge green olives, arancini balls & homemade pasta. One thing that surprised me was the method in which they cooked this pasta- they actually put the noodles, sauces & cheese into foil and baked it. The taste was amazing! Have you ever had pasta this way? (read more about it here)

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What blew me away most about the excursions was the bike tour. We rode a bus (led by the wonderful Lorenzo!) to the local winery, where we were outfitted for our bikes. Let me tell you, as a person who goes to spin at least twice a week…this ride was no joke! It was through gravel roads int he country, through dirt paths across the winery & up hill after hill to reach the top. What a view:

Sciacca is a beautiful and historical town in province of Agrigento, known for cercamics, the port, the wonderful beaches, the beautiful hisotrical center, the carnival

{The Port of Sciacca in Agrigento}

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{I didn’t get the memo to wear workout clothes}

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{I made it to the top via bike!}

Arriving back to the winery home after our 2 hour ride (we stopped along the way to take pics, etc), we arrived to the most spectacular view & meal of the week.

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Ahhh, this must be Heaven on earth.

We were wined & dined. Literally. The 4 course meal (this was lunch!) started with amazing eggplant caprese (layered baked eggplant/tomatoes/mozzarella) and a local wine. Then we had 3-4 homemade pastas, family style, that just melted in my mouth. Followed by a delicious baked fish & vegetable selection. Both were accompanied by more wine, of course. Even though I was stuffed at this point, I made room for the homemade desserts (and limoncello!) that were presented at the end. I wish so badly I had pictures of this, but I don’t 😦

I can assure you that this experience was a once-in-a-lifetime one that I will not forget. The people, the scenery, the food, the company- a true Italian experience that I am forever grateful for and will never forget.

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Have you ever been to Sicily?!

Weekend Wishlist: Grilling Edition

Happy Friday y’all!

As we enter the prime of summer (pleeeeeeeease summer, slow down!), I am on a grilling spree! I may or may not have snuck a little hibachi grill onto my outdoor patio for some easy weeknight grilling. Best decision ever.

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(haha, jk- I wish! #dreampatio)

FOOD

Some of this week’s dinners (above): chicken, fish, pizza, veggies… you name it, we’re grilling it.

Here are some fabulous grilling accessories:

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{galvanized trays // grill brush // kabob skewers // tool set}

And some delicious grill-specific recipes:

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{grilled pizza // shrimp & pineapple skewers // grilled peaches // grilled salmon avocado <–best EVER!}

Enjoy & happy weekend!

5 “Must Do’s” in Capri.

Welcome to this week’s edition of Wanderlust Wednesday!

Capri is hands down one of the most magical, beautiful places I have ever laid my eyes on. The perfect turquoise water, the lush, green mountains, the huge, bright yellow lemons growing from every tree…it’s sheer perfection! Throw in the delicious smells of homemade pizza & pasta and the delicious sights of local gelato & there’s just no reason to leave!

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When I was working my way down the Amalfi Coast, I opted to take the ferry over from Sorrento to Capri and spend 2 days/1 night on Capri. Looking back, I would probably recommend to a friend to spend a full day on Capri, but then head back to the mainland for the night. Reason being? (1) Capri hotels are insanely expensive (2) the nightlife is pretty dead during most seasons (3) the true treasures are found during the day.

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Given that Capri is small, I’ve listed the 5 things I would recommend you must do while there:

1. Take a boat tour around the island

We splurged for a private tour instead of a group tour. Best. Decision. Ever. It was worth the 100+ Euro to have the 3 of us on a private boat vs 25Euro to be squished like sardines. We found this adorable older man, Jerry, who took us out on his gorgeous boat- we took our time and had a 2+ hour tour with him. He told us stories, he showed us celebrity homes, he took us to multiple grottos (see below for blue grotto info, but there are many others- spectacular!) and we got some amazing pictures! He was funny, jolly & informative. I cannot recommend him enough. He truly made our day!

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That’s Jerry!

2. Go see the Blue Grotto

It’s touristy, I know. But it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Trust me when I say, you will be glad you paid the 10Euro, squeezed into that little canoe & went in- it’s just beautiful. I didn’t have the best camera, so the pictures really don’t do this place justice. Go see for yourself!

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(guys waiting to take you into the grotto- you lay down in those tiny boats)

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(pictures don’t do it justice, I promise!)

3. Take the chairlift up to Anacapri

You will take this ski-lift type ride up to the top of the mountain! It’s really scary but fun (you’re basically on this old metal chair with little security). The view on the way up is awesome- you’ll get a birds eye view of the olive trees, lemon trees, ocean & more. Enjoy it!

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There’s not much at the top of Anacapri, but you’ve got the photo opp of a lifetime! We had caprese sandwiches & beers at the top of the lift, took some pics & then headed down. This was my favorite pic from the entire trip:

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(@ the top of Anacapri-> we took the boat down by those huge rocks in the sea)

4. Explore main town Capri

This city is a playground for the rich & famous. From celebrity weddings (G&B!) to 5 star restaurants to designer stores, it’s a sight to see. There’s a main town square and then winding side streets filled with shopping- Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, to name a few. Sure, it’s out of my of our price ranges (unfortunately), but it’s great to see and filled with beautiful flowers & yummy bakeries! Keep your eyes open- you may see a celeb!

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lo shopping

5. Enjoy dinner on the cliff at sunset

Of course, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of our restaurant. But it was delicious! We had wine, caprese salads, homemade pasta & to-die-for desserts. The best part of the whole meal though…the view! The wall of windows opened and we felt as if we were dining cliff side over the Mediterranean.  Breathtaking.

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(This was the only pic I had & taken on an old camera phone- so let your imagination wander as to how beautiful this sunset really was)

Bottom Line: GO TO CAPRI!!! If you ever find yourself in Italy, along the Amalfi coast, or on a Mediterranean cruise, be sure to include Capri. It forever holds a special place in my heart!