Traveling Light: European Edition

Oh hai, world travel! I had a drought of almost 9 years where I didn’t get to do any international travel and damn…that’s long enough. Life is short and I’m turning 30 in a few weeks, so let’s see the world! This year, I managed to get myself to France, Sweden, and the Bahamas  via some press trips and consequently got to do some pretty amazing things. I have ridden horseback through vineyards in St. Emilion (France), met an Absolut vodka brand ambassador who was also a Swedish countess, and eaten conch salad and drank LOTS of rum in the the Bahamas. These trips all deserve their own blog entries (and they’ll get them over the holiday break hopefully!), but for now, let’s go over some travel tips that hopefully will help ya’ll not break the bank while seeing the world.

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Checking Bags

I’ll be honest: I almost never check a bag since most airlines have ridiculous checked bag fees now. You can always gate check something for free if there is limited overhead space (neat little trick to get out of paying to check a smaller suitcase!) Normally you get at least one bag checked for free on an international flight, but since I’m not interested in trying to find underwear in another country, I try to survive with just a carry on. However. See that picture above? I felt very cool on my first trip of the year to Bordeaux, France. I bought a GIANT suitcase for this trip because I found out I would get a free checked bag, and what if I wanted to buy everything in the entire country?

Lesson 1: Just because you CAN check a bag doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Guess what: most old European hotels do NOT have elevators. You know what they do have? A lot of stairs and cranky porters who grumble about “huge American suitcases” while they schlep your crap up narrow staircases. Take one carry on sized bag and one purse. Lesson learned. Honestly, most of the people that drove me around and helped me out were awesome and very nice about it, but it was a press trip. It was their job to make sure I had fun, which I absolutely did, mostly because I didn’t have to carry my own suitcases.

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What to bring

  • See those shoes? So cute. So chic. So PAINFUL. I ended up with blisters while still IN THE DULLES AIRPORT because I hadn’t broken them in. Dumb. Lesson 2: Break in new shoes so that your first stop in France doesn’t have to be une pharmacie française to buy French band aids and disinfectant spray. The second stop was Foot Locker (distinctly uncool American) to purchase some Converse. Fun fact: Converse are like $100 in France because they’re imported. I hated my life that day.

    These helped. Plus ALL THE BANDAIDS.

    These helped. Plus ALL THE BANDAIDS.

  • Don’t worry about packing shampoo, conditioner, or lotion. They take up a lot of room, are annoying to get through TSA, and are provided 9 out of 10 times when you stay in a hotel. Not worth it. Plus, I got some awesome souvenirs fo’ free!  The one item I needed on all these trips was a small travel sized bottle of Febreeze, which you can obviously decant from the spray bottle under your sink into a travel sized bottle. I got a tiny bottle of Gain fabric refresher at Walmart for a buck. It helps keep your dirties in check and refreshes anything you need to wear more than once. This matters when you are horseback riding and out of clean socks. Or wearing a bathing suit a couple times in a row.
  • Lesson 3: Always always always check to see if you will need plug adapters for your electronics. ALWAYS. I read some misinformation online before traveling to Sweden and didn’t have an adapter for the entire trip. I was writing using my iPad, using social media, and taking pictures constantly and desperately needed my phone and iPad to stay charged. Obviously this was next to impossible, and I missed some amazing pictures on the most amazing night because of this. If you do happen to go to Sweden (or most other European countries), they are used to Americans forgetting adapters and hotels normally have 1 or 2 at the front desk. Be nice and you might get to borrow one for free. Otherwise, many times you’ll have to put down a deposit that you get back once it is returned.

    Pack lightly. What if these leggings need to come home with you? (Bergerac, France)

    Pack lightly. What if these leggings need to come home with you? (Bergerac, France)

  • Finally, check the weather and pack accordingly. Bring a cardigan/sweatshirt for the plane. Bring a couple versatile pieces that you can mix and match, like black skinnies, a white button down shirt, and a denim jacket. You know what I’m saying. Don’t pack your entire wardrobe, because you are going to buy souvenirs and then may be forced to throw away valuable press materials at the airport because your checked luggage is over the weight limit. Woops.

    Halfway through writing this…I decided to split it up! Check back next week for a few more suggestions on better ways to travel the world. Next time we’ll talk about why all-inclusive resorts are the bomb, cool places to stay in Stockholm, and why you should take a food tour in Nassau!

Citrus Rosemary Gin Fizz

IMG_2776

Bar accessories are addictive. Why doesn’t anyone warn you about that? When I started getting tattooed, everyone explained that I would want tons of them (they were right). So it turns out the same advice applies to bar glasses, cocktail shakers, and frankly…booze. Anyone that has ever looked up a drink recipe knows that some of them call for a lot of random liquors and bitters and infusions and…whatever else you put into drinks. That stuff accumulates (in the most delicious way!).

So I got these glasses. I’d been looking for the perfect bar glasses with gold accents and had gone through several imperfect iterations. These came from TJ Maxx and completed my life in a way I didn’t know bar glasses could! They sat on my bookshelf for a few weeks until Thanksgiving rolled around. I needed a little something to to sip while baking gluten free crescent rolls (which failed spectacularly due to sad expired yeast!) so just whipped up a drink with what I had. Which, because of all the drink recipes, turned out to be kind of a great variety of things.

One note: The simple syrup I used came from making these candied clementines from Saveur. I didn’t have enough clementines and ended up with extra two mason jars of syrup. It’s SPECTACULAR in drinks or drizzled on cake. YUM. So if you don’t decide to make those, although I hope you do, just use plain simple syrup and a very small dash of vanilla extract and some orange extract or juice.

I love drinks that aren’t too sweet, and this is a great one. Grapefruit with notes of vanilla and clementines, laced with fresh rosemary and a few bubbles made this a great little cocktail for the holidays. Also, the next time I have a yard sale, people are going to wonder what in the world is going on in my house and why I have 10 sets of cocktail glasses.

IMG_2774 Citrus Rosemary Gin Fizz

1 part Hendrick’s Gin

2 parts pink grapefruit juice

simple syrup to taste*

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Splash of tonic or club soda

Put the gin, juice, and simple syrup over ice and shake to chill. Strain into a glass and top with a splash of your choice of sparkler and the rosemary.

Butternut Squash Soup with Goat Cheese

It’s finally kinda sorta cold in Virginia. It’s chilly and rainy at least, so it’s kinda sorta fall! My fave. I spent today thrifting with my mom, found a super cute antique coffee table, and found myself wanting a nice hot dinner. Butternut squash everything is all over Pinterest right now, and I had some other produce to use up, so this soup is what I came up with. A true “what I had in my fridge” recipe if there ever was one. Plus I got to use my immersion blender, which is always fun!

Serve this with some toasted bread and butter for dipping. If you have a snoring pug to sit next to while you eat, it tastes even better!

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Butternut Squash Soup with Goat Cheese

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large sweet apple, peeled, cored, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
olive oil
4 cups chicken broth

chilled goat cheese to top

1) Combine squash, sweet potato, apple, onion, and garlic with 1 tsp of salt  and two tbsp olive oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot. (I use a heavy dutch oven for soups, always!). Cook on medium for about 15 minutes, covered.

2) Cover with broth and add spices. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 15-20 minutes.

3) Remove bay leaf and transfer to blender. Blend until smooth. I use an immersion blender because you can safely blend hot soup right in the pan! They’re inexpensive and awesome. I have this one.

4) Serve hot with crumbled goat cheese on top. Relax. Your day is about to get better.

Roasted Cauliflower with Smoked Paprika and Parmesan

So I live in Harrisonburg again. Ping ponging around Virginia just seems to be my lot in life, and I’ve just accepted that I’m a rambler and am seldom happy in one place for very long. The best part of this move is that I got to keep my job in Northern VA and am now a full time telework employee! I love the freedom this allows me, especially in terms of my meals. I appreciate the fact that I can easily make something healthy and cooked, rather than trying to subsist on salads or leftovers nuked in the microwave. I also got a pug named Mini, and she gets walked 4-6 times per day around our neighborhood, which is so much more fun than sitting in an office.

Now that I’ve unpacked most of my stuff and have settled in, I am finally cooking again and cooking well. South Beach is coming back in a big way in my life, so vegetables are where it’s at! One great thing about moving back to this area has been the availability of fresh produce, as well as the fact that I can walk to the farmer’s market. So even though I’m in a house that has mice, a tiny kitchen with no counter space, no dishwasher, and window AC units (I do not love these), I do have a lot of fresh food and that’s a big deal.

Today I arrived home after a wedding and didn’t feel much like cooking. The problem was, I ate like crapola all weekend because I was traveling. I needed vegetables. I looked in the fridge and realized I had two heads of cauliflower, which is one of the all time easiest veggies to prepare and is low carb and South Beach friendly! Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and within 20 minutes I had dinner ready to go. Try this the next time you have zero desire to cook but need something healthy in your body. I ate about half of it with some sliced tomatoes and cucumbers for dinner and feel completely satisfied. Cauliflower is a perfect blank canvas for the strong tangy parmesan and zippy lemon to play on, spiced up by the smoked paprika and garlic.

Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower with Smoked Paprika and Parmesan

1 head of cauliflower
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper
Garlic powder
Smoked Paprika (I used Penzey’s)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
juice of half a lemon

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.

2) Trim the leaves off your cauliflower. Slice cauliflower into florets and spread on a baking sheet or a casserole dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and garlic powder.

3) Bake for 20-25 minutes.

4) Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese and lemon juice. Try to save some for lunch the next day if you can stop yourself from eating it all in one sitting!

What I Love: Small Batch Prints

It’s time to feature another amazing friend with an amazing business. Allie Hasson did this interview with me forever ago, and I am just now getting around to blogging it, but the plus side is that my lazy assness allowed her the time to get a gor-ge-ous Etsy shop up.…go laziness? Let’s also talk about her unbelievably beautiful website. I can’t even with this girl, she’s much too talented.

This is Allie. She's so pretty.

This is Allie. She’s so pretty.

So Allie makes these custom hand lettered signs, stationary pieces, invitations, etc. THEY ARE INCREDIBLE. Buy them. Buy all of them now before she is so famous that you can’t afford her anymore.

Obsessed with gold leaf things right now!

Obsessed with gold leaf things right now!

 

1) What is your business all about?

I’m a hand letterer and graphic designer making graceful and approachable correspondence and communication for print and for web. I make logos, invitations, maps, monograms, custom paintings, illustrations, and bespoke stationery. After several years of research (working at the National Postal Museum), I use my knowledge of and knack for casual and elegant lettering styles to create work that features letterform design specific to each client.  Custom work is made beginning with a conversation between my client and I where we find out what their vision for the piece is or, if needed, we create a vision for the piece together.  From there, I make work that is both classic and thorough, as well as fresh and well-aligned with its function, purpose, or meaning.  

Invitation

2) Do you have a day job in addition to your “fun” job? If so, what is it?

Yes!  I’m fortunate to work at Columbia College in Chicago, where I manage a large interactive space in the Art + Design department called the Materials Lab.  There, I curate a collection of materials (of all kinds) for the students to come and take from and be inspired by and use in their projects.  The materials come as donations from all over Chicago, many times they’re material samples from architecture firms, and they vary widely from paint chips to fabrics, resin, stone, glass and paper goods, and are free for students.  It is fascinating to see/touch/smell so many new colors, textures, patterns, and resources on a daily basis.  I think it keeps my aesthetic eye fresh and discerning.
Map
3) Where do you find your inspiration for what you do?

In addition to my work at Columbia and a long-nurtured fascination with handwriting (I took a calligraphy course in elementary school), my paramount source of inspiration for this project was my time at the National Postal Museum.  Prior to moving to Chicago, I was so lucky to work in DC at Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum.  During my time there, I made digital images of thousands of historic stamps and letters from all over the world that were being prepared for exhibition.  For that year and a half I would spend the day at work and getting so jazzed about seeing the amazing hand-lettering or intricate design up close, and then go home and try to develop my own interpretations of those styles.  The stamp layouts and patterns (particularly the ones from the 1940’s) also really stuck with me.  


Illustration

4) Tell me something about your business that you wish everyone who bought from you knew?
I think I’d like people to know that each piece of my work, and specifically custom pieces, is a labor of love.  One of my favorite parts of this process has been getting to work with people on making pieces that commemorate something important in their lives, whether it’s illustrating words from their love story or crafting an heirloom family crest.  I feel so fortunate to be able to spend time on these projects, and I really enjoy creating work that can exist indefinitely as a reminder of the best moments in life and ideally can be passed down through generations.
Family Crest

Healthy Butters

You guys. It has been a bajillion years since I updated. Life got in the way, yada yada blah blah. The truth is that I really needed to focus on my freelance writing and the thought of writing for fun made me gag a little. But writing for money couldn’t keep me away forever, and here I am again!

So newsflash: I have gained about 40 pounds in the last year through a winning regime of couch sitting, night eating, and a lot of wine. According to Hailey’s Helpful Hints, I have a “spare tire tummy”. Caused by lack of exercise and eating the wrong foods. I’ll admit to too much wine, eating at night, and being lazy as all hell over the last year. I know what’s wrong. What I couldn’t figure out was how to fix it. I’ve tried many things at this point with no luck and was starting to get pretty depressed that I couldn’t shift even one pound. When the little Hispanic ladies in my building start asking if I’m pregnant…sigh. That’s a definite sign it’s time to get serious.

I went back to Kazaxe this week. I can’t even explain the amount of pain I was in after two classes in a row! But it was the good kind of pain, like “Hey! Way to not let your muscles atrophy from lack of use!”  Here’s what the class looks like:

It is the best, most fun work out I’ve ever done. I’m quitting the gym. It’s that fun. Friends in the DMV area: if you want to go, the first class is free. Check it out.

The other thing that is helping is my doctor told me to try the South Beach diet. So far I miss wine, sugar, carbs and fruit, but thankfully this part is temporary and some of that will come back soon. To get some healthy fats in my diet, I decided to make some treats.

Jars of hippie amazingness

Jars of hippie amazingness

So here’s some fun stuff I made this week. I love almond butter and I’m allowed to have almonds on the South Beach thingy, thank GOD. I decided to make my own the food processor!

Almond Coconut Butter
Makes one small jar

1 cup raw almonds
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of sea salt

1) Throw in food processor

2) Process for about 12-15 minutes or until it’s smooth.

3) Yes, that’s it!

Easy right? And it’s so good. If it’s too thick for you, throw a little melted coconut oil in it or something. If you want it sweetened a bit, add some honey, agave, brown sugar, whatever you’d like. You could also dry roast your almonds for some roasted flavor. Yums.

Amazingly, the coconut cream concentrate is even easier.

Coconut Cream Concentrate

1 bag of unsweetened coconut chips

1) Throw in the food processor and process until it looks liquid, about 15 minutes. Scrape the sides down periodically to help it all get processed.

Here is a great recipe to use this in. I honestly just ate a spoonful of it by itself…oops. might try mixing it with some unsweetened cocoa powder…this is getting dangerous.

So there you have it. Some healthy butters to use in your times of 40 pound weight gain! This week, one pound down, 39 to go. What kinds of diets have ya’ll tried?

Goodwill Fall Fashion

ImageNew purse. $11. BAM. I wanted something neutral but not white or brown or black…erm. Grey was perfect. I am in love, it’s in WONDERFUL shape. 

ImageThese Jeffrey Campbell heels were unfortunately not my size but my friend might like them. If she doesn’t, they’re going straight to ebay so that I can take a profit off them 😉 

ImageFinally, my new TOMs. And yes, they’re new! Tags still on. Go me. 

 

Happy Labor day weekend, my loves. I hope you’ve all managed to find some great deals and enjoy some QT with your families!