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.