Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 travel in review

I know, everyone is doing a 2015 year in review type thing right now all over social media and the blog world... as commonplace as it is, I think reflecting is a great habit. mostly because I can never remember anything. also as a reminder to be grateful for where you are in life and what you've accomplished. rather than do a comprehensive year in review (even though it was a great year!), I wanted to reflect on my travels this year.  from my last trips with spanx in paris and new york to my first few trips on the new job, plus some awesome vacations in between including cuba - it was a good year for travel. 

as of now I have one work trip to croatia in 2016, which I'm looking forward to - other than that, we have a few weddings to attend and will mostly be trying to save money for big purchases to come. cheers to 2016 - let's see where it takes us!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

key west holiday

we spent the first part of holiday break in key west with stephen's dad and family. the flight down from atlanta was a rough start as we were offered $800 vouchers from delta since our plane was overweight - they needed 16 people to get off the plane. we were so ready to get to key west so we stayed on the plane.... and then our flight was cancelled due to mechanical difficulties! go figure. once we finally got back on the plane, we had a few margaritas on the flight down and everything was made better. stephen's sister was smart enough to take the $1,000 voucher that delta offered her oversold flight the day before.

the first few days were a bit overcast and we walked around a lot since the temperature was perfect, we spent time catching up with family and toasting to good health and happiness. then the sun peeked out for a few days and we hit the beach. key west in december is honestly perfection. the weather can not get any better, everything is walkable, and it's a little respite from the hustle bustle of city life.

Monday, December 28, 2015

meatless monday: baked potato soup

mmmm there is something about homemade baked potato soup that just cannot be duplicated. I love my baked potato soup thick and chunky, which is not usually how it's made in restaurants. this is a recipe that my mom made in the winters growing up and I've tweaked it a bit - notably by substituting soy milk for milk. I'm not a fan of milk and I think the soy milk thickens it up even more than skim milk anyway.

this recipe makes a huge pot of soup, enough for multiple servings and lunch leftovers. so pour yourself a glass of red and whip up a batch of homemade baked potato soup for the week, you won't regret it. and hey - if you happen to cut a few extra chunks of cheese to put on the potato skins and eat them while cooking, I won't judge you.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

christmas tablescape

it's always a bizarre sort of feeling when christmas has come and gone. I know I try to stretch it out a bit, leaving my tree lit until new year's eve and keeping my holiday cards on display. it's just that january comes in hard with level setting... like it's no longer okay to eat 5 cookies in one day and I must get back to working out. boo.

we had a lovely christmas eve and christmas day in georgia. I love to set the table and kept it a bit simple this year, with just two floral arrangements and candles. my mom bought these glittery chargers before thanksgiving and I think they go with everything!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

key west butterfly conservatory

last year, we went to the key west butterfly and nature conservatory for the first time. I normally like these kinds of places but last year, I was not feeling very well that morning. I went anyway to prevent FOMO and I was so glad I did. it was unlike any place I've been, with thousands of butterflies frolicking peacefully everywhere. butterflies flying in front your eyes, landing on you, opening their gorgeous wings... it was a sight to be seen for sure. of all the places I've traveled in the world, this butterfly garden is one of my favorite places to visit.

it's no surprise we wanted to visit the butterfly conservatory again this year during our trip to key west. I love the blue morpho butterflies, the ones with the bright blue interior wings. on the outside, they are brown and sort of average looking in terms of the butterfly competition. but when they open their wings, it's game over. these butterflies are the fairest of them all. it's extremely difficult to get a photo of these since their brown wings show when they sit still. the blue color of their wings shows while they fly, too fast to capture on camera. this year, one of these gorgeous butterflies landed on me by surprise and my day was made.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

brunch at sarabeth's key west

I first heard about sarabeth's from a colleague who lived in new york for a while. she would rave about the sarabeth's jams and so I made a point to visit sarabeth's on one of my new york market trips this year. I chose the chelsea market location and got there as soon as it opened. it was already hustling and bustling. overwhelmed, I quickly ordered an almond croissant and coffee from the to go counter. it was the best croissant I've ever had, but I was really wanting to have more of a dining experience at sarabeth's. I did pick up lots of jams, coffees, hot cocoa, and a cookbook while I was there. the story of sarabeth and her amazing goodies is a cause I can get behind!

finally, we had a chance to slow down and enjoy sunday brunch at sarabeth's key west. is it the exact same nyc experience? no. but is it equally awesome? yes. not to mention, the whole eighty degrees brunching on patios in december thing definitely wins points.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

the apple maple old fashioned with whiskey girl

I've teamed up with whiskey girl to share an amazing cocktail with you - the apple maple old fashioned. I love a strong cocktail and the old fashioned is definitely up there on my list of favorites. oddly enough, I never make my own old fashioned at home. the old fashioned has been reserved for elite bartender crafting in my mind. I think the real reason I've never tried an old fashioned at home is because I'm never tempted to buy whiskey since there's not a brand that I personally like. sure, we have whiskey at home, but it's stephen's whiskey and try as I might - I just can't convince myself to like it.

...then I discovered apple maple whiskey girl.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

holiday reads

we are heading to the keys for a few days over the holiday and beach time means book time! here's my list of holiday reads this season, I can't wait to read mindy's new book because her first one felt like a hug from your best friend that you haven't seen in a while, so I'm sure this one will be too. she's hysterical, if you still haven't read her first book - start there. stephen surprised me with the girl on the train which I had almost bought myself but backed out since it required extra processing time and I didn't think I'd get it before our trip. imagine my surprise when he showed up a day later, completely out of the blue, with the book I wanted and hadn't even told him about!

as for my other picks, I've really got to step it up. books aren't cheap and these babies have been sitting on my shelves collecting dust, I hate to admit. this holiday season, I will read them. in fact, I'm signing off now to start grab a glass of wine and a book! I hope that you find some time during your holiday, however long or short it may be, to relax and unwind with the book of your choice.

the girl on the train by paula hawkins
crazy rich asians by kevin kwan
why not me by mindy kaling
we were liars by e. lockhart

Friday, December 18, 2015

fashion friday: fab tops to ring in the new year

normally NYE means donning my sparkliest dress, tights, and a leather jacket - but this year, I'm doing something different. I scooped up a black and gold metallic peplum top at galeries lafayette in paris this january and have been dying to wear it for oh you know 11 months now. it's a little too much for my usual friday or saturday, and it's with great willpower, that I have yet to wear this fabulous top. 

not to mention, NYE is usually a cold night. my beloved parisian top got me thinking about the modern top + pants combo. elegant, understated, effortless, and warm. I loved wearing my new sparkly dress to my work holiday party - but come NYE, you'll find me as comfortable and shiny as ever in my little gold top (LGT) and little black pants (LBP). 

now that my outfit is planned, I should probably figure out where exactly we'll be going, before I find myself all dressed up with nowhere to go.
other festive tops I'm coveting this season:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

pasta making class at bellina alimentari

last week, I went to a pasta making class at bellina alimentari over in ponce city market. I'm not sure where to start. first, if you haven't been to bellina - definitely put it on your list. the funghi panini is the bomb (and vegetarian!) and you absolutely must have a rocky marciano cocktail to start your night. the small, intimate setting is perfect for a girl's night or date night. they have even cute little booths for two. 

we showed up for our class a bit early and grabbed a drink at the bar to start. then we were shown to the back room to get cooking! mmmm just looking at this pasta makes me hungry.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

small surprises - coworker gifts 2016

I love gifting small surprises to friends and coworkers during the holidays, especially since it really gets me in the spirit but I can give away all the treats I make instead of hoarding them and eating them myself.
in the past, I've gifted mini apple pie candles and homemade chocolate dipped pretzels. 
this year, I found these adorable tins and decided to bake my gingerbread kisses and chocolate cherry cookies. I love the way these turned out, cookie tins can be hard to find these days and these are the perfect size!

do you give small gifts to coworkers or friends? if so, leave a comment - I love new ideas!

Monday, December 14, 2015

chocolate cherry cookies

some foods just bring back memories. these chocolate cherry cookies remind me of college, specifically of living the soho (sorority house). we had a cook named debra who made breakfast, lunch, dinner and two desserts daily. I loved the desserts. I was even known to forgo dinner in lieu of dessert in my room. it sounds sad, but I assure you it was awesome. why would I eat fried catfish when I could cut to the chase and go for the lemon poppyseed cake?

every year, the sorority house hosted a christmas morning breakfast before all the girls left for break. we anticipated this morning as much as the real christmas morning, except instead of presents - we got food galore, and fellowship of course. our house mom would play christmas music throughout the house, many of us showed up in our pajamas, and just like I liked - there were lots of sweets from debra. these chocolate cherry christmas cookies became a favorite of mine. before I graduated, years ago, I remembered to get this recipe from debra. now that I have been long gone, and debra has retired, I still make these cookies and remember my college days.

Friday, December 11, 2015

gingerbread kisses

surprisingly, I am not a huge holiday baker. other than baking for coworkers or get togethers with friends, I usually don't bake for just stephen and myself. I have no willpower and would eat all the cookies myself so I just avoid it. however, I have been really craving gingerbread lately. it's not something I usually eat or crave so I decided to give in and try something new! these cookies were really good, with the taste of gingerbread but the texture of a soft cookie. let's be honest, hard gingerbread cookies are not good, no matter how festively they are decorated. these gingerbread cookies are the perfect cross between gingerbread taste and soft cookie texture. 

my friend siobhan hosted a sinterklaas party over the weekend and so I had a perfect excuse to make these gingerbread kisses. I froze the other half of the dough and will probably make them for our trip to the keys over the holiday. if you plan to make them, just a head's up that they require a minimum of 2 hours of chill time so don't wait until the last minute!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


I had the best time at my dutch friend's holiday party over the weekend! this holiday get together was something totally unique, inspired by the dutch tradition of sinterklaas. not only did I learn about a different culture, but I also laughed super hard (thank you, gl├╝hwein) since the tradition requires gift giving and poem writing. more specifically, we all wrote sinterklaasgedicht for the surpriseavond.

sinterklaas is celebrated annually with the giving of gifts on december 5th, you can read more about the tradition of sinterklaas here. for this sinterklaas party, we were assigned someone's name with the task of buying them a $20 gift and writing a poem. the gifts were to be anonymous, given by sinterklaas, but most of us figured out our gift-giver. especially since I was assigned stephen and I not-so-secretly disappeared from him in macy's for 20 minutes earlier that day. then he asked me point blank and I confessed. I am a terrible liar.

Monday, December 7, 2015

meatless monday: broccoli cheese soup

sometimes the weather just calls for soup. it's been such a dreary, rainy fall in georgia. with the days shorter and darker, I find myself wanting to leave work and cuddle up at home on the couch and not much else. I've been cooking a lot lately, so don't worry about me, I do get up from my lifetime movies and shark tank episodes. 

one of my favorite veggies is broccoli, I could eat it every day. I love it with cheese smothered on top. broccoli and cheese is the perfect combination of healthy and yummy. when we talk about broccoli cheese soup, there is no comparison to homemade. a great part of making your broccoli cheese soup is that you can cut the broccoli size to your preference. a lot of restaurants puree the broccoli so thin, you can barely taste it. if you're like me, you wonder how much broccoli is actually used in those soups. in my opinion, the broccoli should steal the show, so I left mine in large chunks. did I mention we've been buying french bread loaves on the reg lately? slice a loaf up and pair it with this soup or buy individual bread bowls and cut out the centers to serve the soup inside. not to mention, this soup only takes about 30 minutes to prepare... which gives you just enough time to get in your pjs before digging in. no judgement here, friends!

on another note, three more days to enter the giveaway! if you haven't already, make sure to enter!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

christmas china collections

if you need a little holiday table inspiration, look no further! I was casually looking at christmas china the other day [am I in the market? no, but go with it] and stumbled upon this tartan plaid print lenox collection that I just can't stop thinking about. some people rent storage units for furniture, but me? I am contemplating a storage unit for china. and it's on sale at macy's. ok, I digress. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

apple cider sangria

along with bringing my sinful sweet potato casserole and s'mores cookie squares for thanksgiving, I also made a new cocktail. last year, I concocted pomegranate champagne punch which was something I'd never tried before and turned out really well - and this year I decided to bring a tried and true apple cider sangria.

my friend jackie served this delicious fall sangria at her halloween party and I loved it since it was refreshingly light. the spiked apple cider I usually make, a recipe from my friend casey, is so delicious but must be made over the stove and kept warm. since there are never spare burners on our stove during thanksgiving, I decided to bring this apple cider sangria instead and it was a hit with everyone! add some festive straws cut in half for extra pizzazz.

by the way, have you entered my first ever giveaway yet? five more days to enter!

Friday, December 4, 2015

fashion friday: the office holiday party

'tis the season for loads of holiday festivities, including the annual office holiday party. if you're extra lucky, you'll attend your significant other's office party too. personally, I like to be covered for these occasions, which usually means sleeves or at least a tank style silhouette. it's not worth risking a wardrobe malfunction, especially if you plan on hitting the dance floor. 

I've rounded out a few of my favorite options that could also do double duty for other occasions like new year's eve or a winter wedding. and if you happen to need a new pair of black tights this season, take my word and invest in these spanx haute contour tights. they have a yummy, super soft, double layer, wide waistband that doesn't dig in and creates a smooth look under tight dresses. not to mention, the shaper is cut like a thong so there's no chance of your shaper showing - even with the shortest of hemlines or the boldest of dance moves. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

a few of my favorite things 2015

I've rounded up my top five favorite finds of 2015 to create a simple and special gift list of items that are sure to impress even the most difficult person to buy for this holiday season. some of these pieces evoke memories from trips or events this year such as the stainless steel martini glasses I found in seaside, florida or the tabletop terrarium that my mom and I fell in love with at the piedmont park arts festival

if you know me, you know that the spiralizer has become one of my most used kitchen tools this year. I've had a lot of fun in the kitchen spiralizing zucchini, parship, broccoli, and more. if you're feeling generous, pair ali maffucci's inspiralized cookbook with the inspiralizer to make a great gift. lately, I'm love with all things kitchen and entertaining, I recently picked up this gorgeous striped marble piece and it's already one of my most favorite things.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

giveaway! celebrating 1 year of laurensparkle

I can't believe I've been blogging for one whole year. I'll admit there have been days that I've wondered whether I should continue, blogging as frequently as I do definitely takes time! not everything is perfect as I blog in my spare time and use my iphone to capture all of my shots on the fly... but all in all, it has been a good experience! I love exploring blogs written by others and I never struggle to think of content, so I'll keep it up :) I have learned a lot over the past year about coding and general blog logistics, the cool part about that is there's in the blog space. I also like being able to look back and see what I was doing at any given time in the past, we all know my memory is terrible. AND...drumroll... I'm super pumped to offer my very first giveaway as a thank you for reading.

one lucky winner will win $25 dollars to marleylilly (the place for monograms!), a year's subscription to southern living magazine (my fav!), a golden pear soap and body wash set, a drybar VIP pack with three different goodies for great hair days, and a sweet tote from the dreamy etsy shop dreamstate. all you have to do is comment on this blog post with your favorite thing about the holidays (keeping it easy for ya!) and for additional entries, you can comment on any of my other blog posts and follow me on bloglovin'. good luck and THANK YOU for reading laurensparkle.

Monday, November 30, 2015

cyber monday and black friday with marleylilly

I almost forgot it was cyber monday! I'm not sure I'll find time to do major damage today, maybe after work. I also need to stop by the mall to pick up an angel kid from the salvation army angel tree, one of my favorite traditions.

if you are cyber shopping today, check out marleylilly for this gorgeous statement necklace, free with any $50 purchase. I can't wait to wear this necklace with my holiday party dresses!

meatless monday: eggplant meatball subs

for my second vegan dish from but I could never go vegan cookbook, I chose the eggplant meatball subs. I tried to start out with more filling choices so that stephen would see he wasn't going to go hungry if I toned down or eliminated meat in our dinners. mission accomplished with these babies!

disclaimer, this recipe did take every bit of one to one and half hours to prepare and I couldn't make this on a weekly basis - but they were extremely good, especially with the chunky tomato sauce. this recipe would be a great sunday dinner, served alongside some crispy homemade fries and sweet potato fries. did I mention this was my first time cooking with eggplant? I love the novelty of trying new things, even if it's just preparing a new type of vegetable. it's pretty amazing how close these eggplant balls resemble meatballs, the consistency is spot on with the help of the amaranth.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

small business saturday on the beltline

my sister and I spent small business saturday walking the beltline, mostly because we needed to work off holiday meals and also because we had stashed our credit cards in our yoga pants. we stopped at ponce city market, which has a mix of large retailers including anthro, williams sonoma, and west elm - but also is home to lots of small business restaurants. we grabbed an iced coffee at spiller park and walked around a bit more before having lunch at bellina. their funghi panini is to die for if you like mushrooms. mmmm.

after exhausting ponce city market, we headed back home and stopped at paris on ponce. I've always wanted to check it out and finally got the chance. we checked out all the vendors and I picked up a little air plant terrarium because why not?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

thanksgiving tablescape

if you read the november issue of southern living, you saw the flower arrangements using pears... which I decided that I would recreate this year. I bought the pears and told stephen he couldn't eat them at least ten times. of course, thanksgiving rolled around and I went my more traditional route and nixed the pears. sorry, stephen, you can eat them now.

this year, I found gorgeous light green hydrangeas with splashes of purple from [who would've thought] kroger. I've never seen a hydrangea like these, so unique and beautiful. I also found some gorgeous purple carnation-type blooms and red berries to mix in. my mom picked up some new glittery champagne colored chargers and taper candles to go with her silver lenox china. the combination was gorgeous!

Friday, November 27, 2015

our thanksgiving menu

while everyone is posting black friday deals, I'm still talking about food! I'm not a huge fan of turkey and luckily for me, my family knows how to whip up some awesome sides and desserts. the best part about today? I went to a workout studio but didn't actually get a work out in. pure barre kennesaw is coming soon!

here's what we noshed on yesterday...

apple cider sangria (recipe coming soon!)
baked brie with cranberry sauce
cranberry sauce
brown sugar glazed carrots
twice baked potatoes with cheese and bacon
III forks' creamed corn
green bean casserole
macaroni and cheese
pumpkin cheesecake
chocolate chess pie
southern living's red velvet thumbprints

Thursday, November 26, 2015

happy thanksgiving from my family to yours

thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, it is truly a day to spend with family and friends [food and football] celebrating all of the reasons for which we are thankful.

I am always thankful every day, and this thanksgiving, it seems I am even extra thankful. this year, the big change for me was starting a new job and I could not have made a better decision. I had no idea what to expect and my willingness to take the plunge paid off in countless ways. allow thanksgiving to be a time of reflection - perhaps you want to make a change. get those ideas flowing and by new year's, make your plan for 2016! it's your life - make it the best you absolutely can, fill it with all the people you love and things you genuinely want to do.

from my family to yours, happy thanksgiving. thank you for reading my little blog, I'll leave you with a sneak peek of our christmas cards!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

sweet potato casserole

I'm so happy to share this recipe with you guys! as simple as this recipe may be, this sweet potato casserole marks the beginning of my own family traditions to come. perhaps sweet potato casserole is already a staple in your family's holiday lineup, but as for me, we never had sweet potatoes growing up. as I got older, I was definitely aware of the normalcy of sweet potatoes for the holidays and looked on fondly from the sidelines but still didn't partake in sweet potato festivities personally.

fast forward to a thanksgiving potluck in 2011 at engauge, a marketing agency I spent some time working with during grad school. this was not your average potluck since our office basically had a fully functional kitchen with ovens. [awesome for spontaneous cookie baking, not awesome for anything to do with fish]. one of my coworkers made this sweet potato casserole and it was then that I had my very first bite. ever since that fateful day, I've been hooked. every year, I make them for thanksgiving and I like to think that each year, I force my family members to slowly like sweet potatoes more and more. the recipe makes a 9x11 casserole dish, which is always way more than enough for my family. even though I could probably half the recipe, I end up making the full amount and of course - sadly - throwing half of the casserole away after thanksgiving.

this year, I baked half in a glass pie plate to take to my parents' and the other half in a portable, metal 8x8 pan to give to my coworker. his family just moved down to georgia from new jersey this year and it will be the first time he won't be with his parents and relatives for turkey day. when I heard that, I just knew the other half of these delicious sweet potatoes had found a loving and worthy home!

Monday, November 23, 2015

meatless monday: sweet potato and bean quesadillas

I'm aware this may not be the most appetizing shot of quesadillas ever created, but to be honest, I couldn't wait to eat these! I had been waiting all week to make these sweet potato and bean quesadillas and stephen came home pretty late from work so I snapped one picture and we dug in. 

I love this recipe for so many reasons. first, these quesadillas require 4-5 ingredients, that's it. second, they are ready very quickly once you get your sweet potatoes cooked. and third, this recipe makes a ton which means ample lunch leftovers. the cumin in the sweet potatoes really takes the flavor up a notch. sweet potatoes are so often used to make desserts around this time of year, and I happen to really like the spicy contrast in these quesadillas. sweet potatoes are so versatile and satisfying.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

gift guide: the monogrammed necklace

as you may know, I guest blog over at marleylilly's the monogrammed life as part of a panel of bloggers with a shared love of monograms! grab a cup of joe and jump on over to the monogrammed life to check out the blog and the other bloggers on the panel, definitely a fun way to spend your sunday morning. 

so the holidays are quickly approaching and the gals at marleylilly gifted me a gorgeous pearly white and gold monogrammed necklacesometimes it's hard to tell from photos how a piece in white will turn out, will it be too translucent or too stark? luckily, the pearl white in this necklace turned out to be totally elevated and subtly shiny. the monogram is nice and thick - the perfect balance of dainty yet substantial. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

my 5 favorite shippable treats

if you find yourself looking for a yummy holiday treat to ship in the mail this season, whether it's for work colleagues or in-laws - these goodies are sure to impress. I've personally enjoyed each of these treats (painstaking hard work) and many of these options are totally budget friendly.

1. racine danish kringle, so many different flavors from fruity choices to pecan turtle and more, $30.

2. traditional fruitcake from texas' collin street bakery, $30-$80.

3. chicago's savory lou malnati's deep dish pizza, 2 pies for $60.

4. southern delicacies from savannah's riverstreet southern sweets, pecans to pralines and bear claws.

5. cheryl's frosted cookies, the best frosted cookies on the planet plus festive flavors and themes for gifting.

have you shipped treats in the mail, for personal or corporate gifts - what are your favorites?

Friday, November 20, 2015

s'mores cookie squares

I've been craving s'mores ever since our north georgia mountain weekend trip. we had the best time, staying at an adorable b&b, visiting natural waterfalls, drinking wine on a vineyard patio, watching the stars from the hot tub... the one thing we didn't do was make s'mores. I even brought all the necessary supplies, and they stayed in my trunk the whole weekend. we stayed busy the whole trip and never found an accessible open fire, so I let the dream of s'mores go...

...until now. I scoured the interwebs until I found a recipe that sounded more like s'mores and less like cookies, because I really wanted that s'mores graham cracker-y crunch. the recipe called for mini marshmallows, but you know I'm not going to waste the jumbo marshmallows I already had, so I just ripped them into fourths by hand and it worked perfectly. so if you too have s'mores on your fall bucket list and don't think it's going to happen, here's your alternative! and by the way, these were to die for.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

thanksgiving china picks

confession: I am obsessed with formal china. I may be one of the few girls left who feel this way but I seriously want to one day own approximately 10-ish sets that I can mix and match, throw dinner parties, and make tablescapes like a crazy woman. my mom even gave me some beautiful mix and match china for my last birthday, so you know I'm serious here.

lately I have been lusting over fall and holiday china. don't even get me started on tartan print christmas china. come to think of it, I believe my recent infatuation started with an impromptu trip to anthropologie, the dining sets and serving plates are spot on right now. these gorgeous fall sets are on my wish list, just as soon as I get more cabinet space!

Monday, November 16, 2015

meatless monday: mushroom stroganoff

growing up, my sister loved beef stroganoff and this recipe makes me think of her. I never really got into beef stroganoff and I suppose it was probably due to the beef. so when I started searching for meatless dinners and came across a mushroom version, I was sold. I love mushrooms.

it was a rainy, dreary fall day and I think everyone in the office wanted to be at home in bed all day, especially on a monday. I was planning to make something different for dinner but stephen said he was in the mood for pasta, comfort food to cope for the beginning of the week. I used slightly more noodles than the recipe calls for and we had enough for seconds for stephen and lunch leftovers for me. unlike some of the other dishes I've made lately, this meal was ready in about 30 minutes which is weeknight perfection. I think I'll add a dose of sriracha when I reheat mine to kick it up a notch.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

holiday appetizer: cowboy caviar

a few months ago, my friend jen requested this recipe on the blog - so jen, this post is for you! wish you were closer so we could gobble this dip up together with a glass of wine.

with the holidays around the corner, it's nice to have a quick, unique, and delicious appetizer recipe up your sleeve. sometimes appetizers sort of blend together, I think we've all been to parties with upwards of five different cheese dips. I'm not complaining because obviously I love cheese - but this appetizer sets itself apart, no worries of blending in here.

it's simple and delicious but also upscale and sophisticated [olives = sophisticated, right?]. oh and by the way, there are lots of recipes out there called cowboy caviar and they are very different from this one. given that I'm from texas, I can claim this as the real cowboy caviar! so go ahead, give it a try at your next cocktail party or holiday potluck. PS. another tip for holidays parties - I always stock up on serving platters from the dollar store like the one pictured below. that way, I can bring dishes to parties and not worry about getting them back.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

5 things to do in college station, texas

stephen and I went to college station, home of texas a&m, last weekend to watch the a&m vs. auburn game. we love our SEC rivalry. last year, I enjoyed beating auburn at home and this year, he loved beating a&m at home. one of us has to lose, but it's definitely fun either way.

it was stephen's first time to college station and he was so excited to check out the newly redeveloped kyle field, the fourth largest stadium in college football. I have to say it was quite breathtaking. college station is a pretty large college town so if you find yourself in aggieland - be sure to check out my top 5 things to do! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

merry mailbox season

growing up, I loved opening all of my parents' holiday cards. in most cases, I didn't even know who the cards were from but I always enjoyed ripping through the envelopes to check out the photo cards and well wishes. one year, I organized all the cards in a little brown wicker basket and placed it on an end table in the living room. the next year, I hole punched the corners and put all the cards on a key ring for easier flipping. I wanted all the cards to be preserved through the holidays, didn't everyone want to peruse the cards like I did?! luckily I'm not a hoarder and the cards got recycled after new years. I still have a special place in my heart for snail mail holiday cards, even though I receive no where near the amount of cards my parents did. I don't need a filing system as they all fit nicely on my pin board and on my fridge. 

ever since college, I've sent my own holiday cards to my friends every year. we all live so far away and I think it's a genuinely nice gesture. I usually buy pretty cards and write a message inside but this year, I jumped on the photo card bandwagon. here are a few of my picks from, and yes, I ordered one of the cards below... just in case you enjoy the suspense of opening holiday cards like I do, I won't ruin it for you here. merry mailbox season, everyone!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

warby parker atlanta visit

warby parker has been around for a few years now and while I've wanted to check them out, I have been clinging to my $800 glasses from a few years ago before WP existed. I rarely wear glasses since my prescription is pretty bad and I'm just not in the habit of buying new glasses as they are normally so pricey. 

it just so happened that my mom needed some new glasses and I suggested warby parker. I had some extra money in my FSA and the reasonable prices at WP definitely have had me tempted... I offered to go with her knowing that I may find a pair of my own too. both of us ended up finding the perfect pair, and not surprisingly, they look pretty similar. like mother like daughter.

Friday, November 6, 2015

georgia apple bread

a few years ago, I had this amazing apple bread from a b&b in the north georgia mountains called glen ella springs. I had never tasted apple bread before and it was amazingly delicious. so when we went to the mountains a few weekends ago, I picked up some tart granny smith apples from an orchard with the intention of making this bread. we happened to have a halloween party at work and it was the perfect time to bring the apple bread. the recipe makes two full servings, so I was able to bring the second cake to another halloween party with friends that weekend.

you may not have noticed but I have made a lot of domestic progress lately, feats include: chopping my first onion, buying a food processor, and cooking with new ingredients such as eggplant and chickpeas. this recipe requires a bundt pan, especially if you want to serve it unsliced, which looks more beautiful than slicing. in order to make this happen, I not only used my food processor but also had to invest in a gorgeous nordic ware bundt pan. big things happening in my kitchen! 

ok, back to the apple bread. I sliced it and brought it to work as pictured below. by the end of the day, there were maybe four slices left. I'd call that a workplace win! if you're looking for something festive and different than pumpkin, go ahead and give this apple bread a go.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

5 things you must do in the north georgia mountains

the north georgia mountains are a short hour and a half drive away from atlanta and will for sure be an annual trip for us going forward! one tip - don't go during the apple festival weekends. we unknowingly planned our trip during that weekend and while we were extremely lucky and were always going the opposite direction of traffic, there were so many people trying to pick pumpkins and apples with jampacked roads! in my opinion, a trip to the mountains just isn't the same with a million of your closest atlanta neighbors.

you can experience so much during a weekend in north georgia, especially if you're willing to drive a bit between towns! so without further ado... 5 things you must do in the north georgia mountains!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

gift guide: the monogrammed scarf

it's definitely getting cooler here in georgia, hopefully the weather is starting to hit that sweet spot wherever you are too! breezy temps, leaves falling, light jackets... but not actually cold. at least, that's how I like my weather. 

the gals at marleylilly sent over a super soft, monogrammed scarf to wear as temps get cooler and we move closer to winter. as you may know, I guest blog over at marleylilly's the monogrammed life as part of a panel of bloggers with a shared love of monograms! 

obviously, I love this scarf for myself since it's black and white and I've never not loved anything black and white - but how perfect is this monogrammed marleylilly scarf for holiday gifting! it's officially november, which means holiday shopping has commenced... there are almost 70 solids and prints to choose from, plus 8 different monogram font choices, and over 30 thread color options. all of these choices add up to one gorgeous, personalized gift.

Monday, November 2, 2015

meatless monday: chickpea sloppy joes

when I get my head stuck on something, I want it like yesterday. my sense of urgency and lack of patience come together with a bang! recently I decided I needed a vegetarian cookbook, went to the bookstore [thank god those still exist] and came out with a vegan cookbook. I don't know how it happened but I only had a few minutes and this vegan cookbook but I could never go vegan caught my eye. 

I know what you're thinking... I just posted a chicken noodle soup recipe, sausage ball recipe, yea yea I hear you. I've been more of a flexetarian since I rarely eat red meat and typically default to cheesy alternatives, a vegan book was a big step. while I doubt I'll be 100% vegan from here on out, I will definitely add more vegetarian meals to the blog going forward!

I chose this chickpea sloppy joe recipe for my first foray into veganism. the best part was that I really didn't need to buy any specialty items, just some extra spices and pure maple syrup. this dish is totally man approved and reheat approved, I paired it with a half of a baked potato for lunch leftovers.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

cartecay vineyards

on our saturday in the north georgia mountains, we first ventured out to amicalola falls - the largest cascading falls east of the mississippi. we were in for a long, strenuous hike and afterward, we were ready to wind down. we headed straight to cartecay vineyards for a wine tasting, cheese plate, and outdoor live music.

we had planned to visit at least one more winery that afternoon, but as it turns out, we ended up staying at cartecay, drinking our bottle of chimney red wine and snacking on cheese, crackers, jalapeno jam, and sausage. it was the best saturday we've had in a long time!

Friday, October 30, 2015

amicalola falls

as I mentioned, I did do some pre-planning for our trip to the mountains. I made a google map of local vineyards and apple orchards and that was the extent of it. as stephen and I were packing for our trip, I mentioned we might want to bring some active gear. luckily, we did because as soon as we got to our b&b, our innkeepers told us about amicalola falls - the largest cascading falls east of the mississippi river.

stephen was immediately interested and my wineries didn't open until 11am so we did have some time to kill. the falls were about an hour away from our b&b and were well worth it. we hiked something like 700 steps to get to the top of these beautiful sights.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

the lady gala suite at hearthstone lodge

for our recent north georgia mountain weekend getaway, we chose the lady gala suite at beautiful hearthstone lodge. each of the three bedrooms at the b&b [lady gala, sir mcintosh, and jonagold] are uniquely appointed and comfortable. on the hearthstone lodge reservation site, the lady gala suite is described as a romantic french dream wrapped in black and white french toile with crystal chandeliers including a private bath with a claw footed tub.

all the rooms looked like a perfect getaway but I suppose the words romantic french dream sold me on the lady gala suite...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

hearthstone lodge b&b

stephen and I were in serious need of a weekend getaway to unwind after a busy few months of work and life in general. north georgia has beautiful fall foliage and abundant apple harvests this time of year and is a short hour and half drive from atlanta. we picked a b&b, did some minimal pre-planning, and set out for one of the best weekends we've had in a long time.

we chose hearthstone lodge - a well appointed, three bedroom, straight-out-of-southern-living bed and breakfast. having never been to a b&b before, we didn't really know what to expect. it turned out to be a comfortable and fun experience and we would do it again! it's especially great since you really don't have to go to the grocery store because a gourmet breakfast is included every morning. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

a gourd-geous hor d'oeuvre turns out that cutting and cleaning a gourd does take some time. I recently attended a little halloween get together and thought I could easily bring some palmetto pimento cheese inside of a gourd bowl to save time instead of baking.

I know, I know, this is how busy and tired I've been lately. such a great excuse to try out a new pumpkin recipe but I couldn't muster the energy. of course, it ended up taking me an hour to prep the gourd. I'm filing my experience under user error and first timer problems - so don't be discouraged. it turned out very pretty!

Friday, October 23, 2015

festive fall hostess gift

a bottle of wine or flowers is always a nice hostess gift, but sometimes it's fun to do something a little different. we recently attended a couples shower for our friends casey and david and it was the perfect occasion to bake my delicious pumpkin bread. since the recipe makes three loaves, I decided to share one of the loaves as a hostess gift. all you have to do is pick up a festive dishtowel (this one is from target) and that's pretty much the extent of the extra effort, provided you have parchment paper and twine already.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

a night on lower greenville, dallas

please tell me this has happened to someone else....

you go back to your old stomping grounds years later, only to find out that it's no longer the cool place to be. by that, I mean, your restaurants and bars are tired [and dead] and you have no clue what to recommend instead. no offense to past memories [ahem, glory days], but when you're trying to show someone around, it's not ideal. "wait... how old am I?! how many years has it been?!" enter my local friend, elizabeth, who saved the day and rescued us to lower greenville avenue. so next time you visit dallas, direct your uber driver to lower greenville, just trust me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

spooky spirits

a festive alternative to pumpkin beer is a well-themed bottle of red wine, whether you're drinking at home [while watching hocus pocus] or bringing as a hostess gift to a halloween party - I've got five seasonal picks for you! 

add a gift tag to the bottle, but nix the decorative bag since these bottles speak for themselves. holidays aside, I've been non-stop drinking the spellbound petite sirah after discovering it at pour bistro in brookhaven a few weeks ago. the notes of cherry and vanilla make it the perfect, luscious fall choice.

Monday, October 19, 2015

shredded chicken noodle soup

you know that sometimes I like to pull an awesome homemade meal out of left field on a weekday... so here we go, homemade shredded chicken noodle soup. does it take longer than 10 minutes to cook? yes. is it worth it? yes. especially on a dreary fall day, perfection!

I told stephen I was making chicken noodle soup this week and he asked me if it was a side dish. silly boys. this soup is full of tender, shredded chicken and veggies - plenty to fill you up! with the cooler fall breezes gracing us, I love to whip up some hearty soups. this chicken noodle soup along with baked potato soup are my go-to choices.