to put it simply…

…it’s been a while.

2020 has turned out to be quite the year so far. Between a pandemic, adapting to working from home and trying to plan a wedding, I felt like I needed to take a break from simply gray to focus on the only positive aspect of the current global situation: extra time with my fiancé and my family.

Contributing to and maintaining a lifestyle blog over the past several months just did not feel right to me. Whenever I wanted to post something, I would second guess it because there was so much sadness, anger, hurt and fear in the world. I couldn’t justify posting about wedding planning, travel guides or home decor because I felt like people would not want to read about things like this in a time of such uncertainty and unrest.

As the months have gone by, I have realized just how much I have missed writing for simply gray. It was always a creative outlet for me, and I realize now that despite the fact that this year continues to be full of unknowns, simply gray has the potential to be an outlet for others as well. I am excited to be back and sharing content again, and I hope that you all continue on this journey with me!

ain’t no party like a bridal party!

Three months ago today, Connor proposed to me in Napa and made me the happiest woman alive! It is crazy just how quickly time is passing by, but with our wedding coming up in November, we are in full-time planning mode!

We are having so much fun with the wedding planning process, but one part of wedding planning that I was really looking forward to was “proposing” to my bridal party!

I used Connor’s idea of proposing in wine country as inspiration for my bridesmaid proposal by inviting my sister (MOH-to-be) and seven of my best friends (bridesmaids-to-be) over for a wine / cheese / dessert night. I started spending all of my free time on Etsy, and I decided to make baskets for each one of them, filled with the below:

  • A mini bottle of rosé with Maid of Honor and Bridesmaid labels
  • Stemless wine glasses customized with everyone’s names (I got one that says Bride, and my sister got one that says Maid of Honor!)
  • Cards that say “ain’t no party like a bridal party!” (which reminded me of Michael Scott’s famous line from The Office about Scranton parties — fitting, as Connor and I met in Scranton!)
  • Shirts (inspired by the cards) that say “Wife of the Party” for me and “The Party” for the bridal party
  • Baskets to hold all of the gifts — gold for my Maid of Honor and white for my Bridesmaids

I wanted everyone to have the same baskets, but I wanted to do a little something extra for my sister since she is my Maid of Honor. I added in an Eternity® Rose from Venus ET Fleur® for her in her basket!

After spending quite a bit of time elbow deep in shredded paper, glitter tulle ribbon and cellophane with my mom and sister, the baskets were created. I set out snacks, made a cheese board and kept the wine flowing as the girls arrived for the night.

For the most part, the girls all had a feeling the “proposal” was coming, but it was still so special and fun to spend the time with them talking about bachelorette ideas and discussing wedding plans! Each one of the girls I asked has had a profound impact on my life and has been by my side since the day I met each one of them. I am so excited and blessed to have these girls stand with my on one of the best days of my life, and I cannot wait to continue the wedding process with them!

we’re engaged!

The past month has been the most beautiful whirlwind. Connor and I went to California in October, and he proposed while we were in Napa! We have been so overwhelmed with love, happiness and excitement — and it is just the beginning!

Our date is set, our venue is booked, but I still cannot stop thinking about how perfect the day of our proposal was.

October 21, 2019 will forever be one of my favorite days.

Connor and I spent three days in San Francisco before driving to Napa on October 20th, our seven year anniversary. While our San Francisco itinerary was packed with places to see, food to try and things to do, the Napa portion of our trip was meant to be much more relaxing (a full travel guide is coming soon!).

We heard about how beautiful Stags’ Leap was, and knew it had to be part of our Napa trip — after all, it is rated one of the Top 5 Most Romantic Winery Destinations by Sonoma Magazine! Unfortunately, when we were booking our trip, there were no available tastings and tours for the day. A few days later, Connor said he checked the website again, and there was an opening. I was so excited! I later found out that the open spot was created for us as part of a much bigger plan.

On Oct. 21, we went to Boon Fly Cafe for the most delicious breakfast and mini donuts before heading back to our hotel to get ready for our tasting and tour at Stags’ Leap Winery. While at Stags’ Leap, we toured the beautiful Estate and sipped on several different wines throughout the afternoon. After the tour was over, Connor and I had planned to stay to enjoy some more wine before heading to dinner — it was our last day, so we wanted to soak in all that Napa has to offer before flying home!

We went out to the porch that overlooks the vineyard and had a glass of wine. Connor wanted to get a picture together before we left, so we walked through the vineyard to find the perfect spot (little did I know, Connor had this all planned out!). We turned down one row, and Connor took a selfie of us,  put his phone down and looked at me.

“This has been really great,” he started. I jokingly interjected (as we do when one of us unintentionally says something that sounds so “final”) and said, “Please don’t tell me this is where you leave me — right in the middle of a 240-acre vineyard!” He laughed, looked me in the eyes and said, “I don’t want to leave you, I want to stay with you forever.”

In that moment, I realized what was happening, and I just couldn’t believe it. I was crying, shaking and smiling as the love of my life got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was such a beautifully intimate moment that I will treasure forever.

Best Proposal Wineries in the Napa Valley - Stags Leap Winery, Yountville - CA

Best Proposal Wineries in the Napa Valley - Stags Leap Winery, Yountville - CA

Best Proposal Wineries in the Napa Valley - Stags Leap Winery, Yountville - CA

After I said yes, he sprung another surprise on me — he turned me around and pointed to a photographer that he had hired to take our proposal and engagement photos! I could not believe all of this was happening! Our photographer, Christophe Genty, captured one of the best moments of our lives together, and I am forever grateful for that.

In between our engagement photos, Connor told me all of the details of the proposal — from how he asked my dad for his blessing to designing my ring and coordinating the day with Christophe and the winery. The start of our forever was one of the best days, but our best day ever is going to be in just under a year! I cannot wait to marry my best friend!

happy one year, simply gray!

It is hard to believe that it has been one year since I made the decision to launch simply gray! For a long time, I was looking for a creative outlet for my writing, photography and ideas, and after a lot of deliberation, simply gray was born. I never realized how much work it would be to balance a career, family and social life, and a blog, but I have learned so much in the process and I am so grateful for it!

When I launched simply gray, the most important thing for me was to create a space where I could remind readers to take time out to enjoy the little things in life. I hope that as readers, you have felt that way, whether it was through discovering a new recipe to make with your family, some party ideas for the holidays or travel tips for you and your friends. I am so excited to continue to share my thoughts, ideas and experiences with you all as simply gray enters its second year. Thank you to everyone who has supported simply gray since it has started, and I hope you enjoy what is to come!

southern inspiration: biscuits & mac

Last week, I celebrated my friend’s bachelorette party in my favorite city: Nashville, TN! From spending a night at Tootsies to doing yoga with goats and sipping on the sommelier’s best recommendations at Belle Meade Winery, I was able to visit so many new places in Music City on this trip. Nashville has so much to offer, and it truly never disappoints! Check out my travel guide for Nashville if you want to read about some of my favorite experiences so far!

One of the best parts about Nashville is the amazing food you can find anywhere you go in the city! I have been craving some southern comfort foods ever since I got back, so I decided to share my favorite recipes for homemade biscuits and mac & cheese! Hopefully these recipes help you feel like you are chowing down in the south!

Buttery Biscuits
• 3 cups of all-purpose flour
• 4 tsp of baking powder
• 3 tbsp of sugar
• 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
• 1/2 tsp of salt
• 3/4 cup of butter, cold, plus additional butter to melt
• 1 cup of whole milk
• 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Prepare the cold butter by cutting it into small squares so that it is easier to work into the biscuit dough. Keep the butter in the fridge until it is needed.

Combine all dry ingredients into a large bowl. Then, incorporate the cut butter into the dough. Small pieces of butter should show through the mixture.

Add in the milk and the egg, and mix it together to combine. The dough will have a sticky feel, and the butter pieces should still be visible.

Flour a surface where you can roll out the dough. Sprinkle additional flour on the dough and knead it — add more flour to reduce stickiness if necessary.

Roll the dough until it is about 1 inch thick to cut into round pieces. If you do not have a biscuit cutter, you can use the rim of a glass (it makes a perfect circle every time!).

Once the biscuits are cut, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Melt down butter and brush the tops of the biscuits before putting them into the oven.

Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. For an extra buttery taste, cut the biscuits open before they cool and place a small square of butter inside to melt before serving!

Mac & Cheese

• 1 box of large elbow macaroni
• 1/4 stick of butter, melted
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• 2 1/2 tbsp of flour
• 2 cups of milk
• 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
• 1/4 tsp of dry mustard
• 4 cups (or 1 bag) of Sargento 4 Cheese Mexican blend
• Breadcrumbs (Panko or Plain!)
• Salt and pepper, for taste

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Boil a pot of water and cook one box of shell pasta. Once the pasta has been cooked and drained, sauté the onion over medium heat.

In a large bowl, add the pasta, melted butter, onion and flour. Then, pour in the milk slowly.

Add the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper.

Mix all ingredients, and add in the shredded cheese. Transfer the mix to a pan for baking and top with breadcrumbs.

Cook for 30 minutes, covered. Once done, sprinkle some extra breadcrumbs on top. Serve and enjoy!

red, white & baking for the 4th

Bring on the parades, parties and fireworks! Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and I am so excited to spend the day with family and friends, honoring this country, our freedom and those who have fought so hard to protect America and its people.

My family has been hosting a party on the 4th of July for as long as I can remember, and it is definitely one of my favorite family traditions. The celebrations kick off tonight with a sleepover at my parents’ house before walking up the block to my town’s parade the next morning. After the parade, we switch into complete party-mode! From making sure the flag is waving proudly to constructing a menu of foods that everyone can enjoy, it truly takes a village! With a full night and day planned, the easier the menu items are to make, the better!

One of my favorite desserts to make for parties is a trifle dish — and no, I am not talking about Rachel’s English Trifle; I am talking about my Stars, Stripes & Trifles dish! It only requires six ingredients, a trifle dish and a knack for stacking! Read on for how you can make this dish to bring to your own 4th of July BBQ!
Note: I used a small trifle when constructing this dish. 1 cake mix will be good for a large trifle, but you may need to double the rest of the ingredients!


Stars, Stripes & Trifles

Ingredients
• Yellow Cake Mix
• Vanilla Pudding
• Cool Whip
• Fresh Strawberries (large container)
• Fresh Blueberries (large container)
• Jar of Cherries (1 large)

Directions

Bake the yellow cake mix according to package instructions; let it cool completely before assembling dish.

Once cake has cooled, cut into small pieces. Layer the cake, covering the entire bottom of the dish.


Spoon in vanilla pudding on top of the cake, completely covering it.

Cut strawberries into quarter inch pieces and layer to cover the pudding layer. I double-stacked strawberries here!


Add a layer of cool whip to cover the strawberries.

Layer blueberries on top of the cool whip layer.

Repeat the layering process until almost at the top of the trifle dish — cake, vanilla pudding, strawberries, cool whip, blueberries. Keep in mind that the point of the dish is to showcase the red, white and blue stripes layered throughout, so try not to put too much pressure on each layer as you are adding on, otherwise the layers will merge together.

Once the dish is almost filled to the top, cover the final layer with cool whip.
Note: Try to use cake or strawberries as the final layer, as blueberries will be used on the top of the dish.

Use the jar of cherries to decorate the rim of the trifle. Be sure to dry the cherries before placing them on the cool whip layer to avoid the juices dripping down the dish.

Once the cherries cover the entire outer rim, fill in with blueberries.

Keep the dish refrigerated until ready to serve.


God Bless the USA — and trifle dishes! I hope you enjoy this patriotic twist on dessert! Happy 4th of July everyone!

celebrating dad!

Father’s Day is just a few days away! Here are some fun ways to celebrate dad and remind him just how much you love him!

Dad and I at Top Golf – another great activity to do this Father’s Day!

Simply Surprises

Sonos Beam
Give Dad the gift of cinematic sound in the comfort of his own home. If your dad is anything like mine, he loves ending the day catching up on a sports game or binge-watching the latest and greatest of Prime, Hulu & Netflix with my mom. Help amplify the experience with this soundbar. Offering high definition sound and the ability to sync Amazon Alexa / Google Home, the Beam is a great choice for Father’s Day!

Cuisinart BBQ Tools Set
Fire up the grill and get ready for burgers and hot dogs galore! Gift dad this 14-piece set of tools, including a spatula with a bottle opener, brushes, tongs and corn holders. This set comes in a metal case that dad can always take on the go! The best part about this set is that it is currently 20 percent off!

Treats from Milk Bar
If your dad has a sweet tooth, he will love one of these special desserts from Milk Bar in NYC! Everything Milk Bar has to offer is absolutely delicious, so send him something he will truly enjoy! From their “Top Pop” cakes to pies and truffle boxes, there are plenty of options to put a smile on dad’s face. Free shipping is available on all orders over $75!

Simply Enjoyable

Bury the Hatchet
I have recommended Bury the Hatchet before, but it is such a fun place to go! Pick up a hatchet, throw it at the board and see if you can beat dad by being the first to get a bullseye! Bury the Hatchet is BYOB and BYOS (bring your own snacks!). Make sure you make a reservation in advance, and remember, parties of 9 or more will get a private bay, so invite the whole family to join in on the fun! Check out Groupon for up to 15 percent off!

Warwick Winery
For those of you who are close to the New York area, Warwick Winery is one of my favorite places to visit. It is a great place to spend the day with dad and the family, because there is something for everyone! From wine and cider tastings to a distillery tour and tasting, everyone will be able to enjoy their favorite beverages! Plus, there is outdoor seating, but you can bring a large blanket, some food or snacks (also available at the winery). buy a few bottles of the best things you tasted throughout the day and enjoy a picnic together. There is also live music from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. every weekend. What more could you ask for?!

Simply Sweet

This recipe is from Savory Magazine, and it is so worth sharing! It is a huge hit, especially if you are looking for a heartier breakfast with a sweet twist! Dad (and the rest of the family) will love it! Savory Magazine is available in Stop & Shop stores and online.

Baked Berry Banana Oatmeal Casserole

Ingredients

• 3 tbsp melted butter, divided
• 1 ½ cups low-fat milk (I use Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk)
• 1 large egg
• ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 tsp baking powder
• ½ tsp cinnamon
• 1/8 tsp salt
• 2 ripe bananas
• 1 ½ cups Rolled Oats (I use Trader Joe’s brand)
• 1 (10 oz) bag frozen Nature’s Promise Organic Berry Medley, thawed and patted dry (If you do not have a frozen medley, substitute with 10 oz of mixed frozen strawberries and blueberries).

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Grease a 9×13 pan (or 8×8 if you want a thicker oatmeal casserole) with 1 tbsp butter.

Whisk together the milk, egg and the remaining 2 tbsp of butter. Add in the brown sugar, vanilla, baking powder and cinnamon. Season with ⅛ tsp salt.

Chop the bananas and add to the bowl, along with oats. Stir to combine.

Split the berry mixture; arrange half of the mixture on the bottom of the pan. Add in the oatmeal mixture and spread it across the fruit in an even layer. Top with the remaining berries.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until set.* Serve warm.

*Whenever I make this recipe, I find that it needs 30-35 minutes until it fully sets. Start with 20 minutes, and add on time as needed depending on your oven!

celebrating mom!

Mother’s Day is less than a week away, and while you should always be showing the special woman in your life just how much you love her, here are some ideas to help celebrate her a little extra on May 12th!

Simply Surprises
Shower mom with some gifts that are sure to put a smile on her face!

Lé Mini Eternity Roses® by Venus et Fleur
Eternity Roses® from the Lé Mini are the perfect gift to show Mom that you are always thinking of her! These roses require no maintenance, smell amazing and last at least a year. You can choose the type of arrangement you want, and you can pick her favorite color for the rose(s). Order by Tuesday, May 7 to get your Eternity Roses®  by Mother’s Day!

Living Lockets and Charms by Origami Owl
Customize a Living Locket from Origami Owl for Mom to give her a gift that truly comes from the heart. Choose a locket design and charms that fit Mom’s personality best. From birthstones and animals to hobbies, sports and travel, there are charms for every Mom’s lifestyle! Don’t forget to order a chain as well!

Relaxation Spa Gift Basket by 1-800-Baskets
Give Mom the ultimate way to relax at home with this spa gift basket. Including wine, tea, a robe, scrubs and lotions, this basket will help Mom continuously unwind whenever she pleases! Order within the next three days to get this basket before Mother’s Day!

Simply Enjoyable
Take Mom out for some of these family-fun activities that everyone can enjoy!

Top Golf
Whether you are a pro-golfer or have never picked up a club in your life, Top Golf is a game that everyone can enjoy. Challenge Mom or the whole family to see who can score the most points by hitting targets all over the driving range.

Broadway Show
Scoop up tickets to a Broadway show that will keep Mom entertained for hours! Tip: If you go into the city on the day of the show, tickets are usually available at a discounted rate! Head to John’s of Times Square for some pizza before or after the show!

Escape Room
Challenge your family to work together on solving mysteries in order to unlock the door of your escape room! There are local escape rooms everywhere, so be sure to do some research and find a mystery that intrigues your whole family!

Simply Sweet
Cook Mom a delicious breakfast treat that she is sure to enjoy! This recipe from Savory Magazine is a family-favorite, and my mom has already requested it for breakfast on Sunday. I’ve shared it as an option for holiday brunch in the past, but it is a great meal year-round! This recipe is just five ingredients, and you can even prep it overnight and pop it in the oven first thing in the morning!

 French Toast Casserole

9B29D753-CA6F-48FC-B08D-3D66EC75D80D-e1545662651335.jpg

Ingredients
1 loaf (16 oz) of cinnamon swirl bread (Pepperidge Farm)
¾ of a container of blueberries
5 eggs
2 ½ cups of half and half
1 tsp of vanilla extract

  • Cut the entire loaf of bread into approximately 1-inch pieces. Use a 13 x 9 non-stick pan and lay the cut pieces of bread across the bottom. Once the bottom is covered, continue to layer the bread on top of itself until the full loaf is in the pan.
  • Scatter the blueberries over the bread.
  • Mix the eggs, half and half, and vanilla extract in a large bowl, and pour the mixture over the bread and blueberries.
  • Let sit in the refrigerator overnight or one hour prior to cooking.
  • Preheat the oven to 350º. Cook the casserole for 50 minutes.
  • Sprinkle powdered sugar over the top and serve immediately!

skin care essentials

Good skin care habits are so important to maintain, and now that we are one month into spring, it is time to get your skin ready for those warm, sunny, summer days! These products are my go-to skin care essentials that I use either daily or weekly, and they are perfect for both women and men! Give them a shot, and watch your skin transform!

img_9971.jpgExfoliKate by Kate Somerville

I initially tried this exfoliator after I received it in one of my fabfitfun boxes, and I have not used any other exfoliator since. The scent reminds me of Christmas, and I absolutely love it. Using this twice a week drastically improves the appearance and smoothness of my skin.

img_9984.jpgPurifying Charcoal Wonder Mask by Rituals

This is the best face mask I have ever tried. This face mask set comes with mask powder, a bowl and a brush to mix together the mask. Combining just one tablespoon of the powder with several drops of water will help you create a mask that will exfoliate, cleanse and smooth your skin in just 20 minutes. Any time my face starts to feel dry or like it needs a little extra care, I use this face mask for skin renewal.

IMG_9975.jpgBienfait Multi-Vital SPF 30 Day Cream by Lancôme

I have been using this moisturizer for years now, and I absolutely love it. My face always feels hydrated and smooth with daily use, and the SPF is an added bonus. No matter what brand of makeup products I use, this moisturizer is always my starting point. The Bienfait Multi-Vital Night Cream is also another favorite of mine!

img_9969.jpgBrightening Face Serum by WILL

This is another fabfitfun find, and I am so grateful for it. This serum brightens and smooths my face, and it is perfect for everyday use. Whether I am rocking a full face of makeup or going au naturel, this serum makes my face look and feel so much better!

IMG_9985Hyaluronic Acid Eye Mask by BLAQ

I have always been skeptical about the power of eye masks — until I tried these charcoal eye masks by BLAQ. After a night of ugly-crying to a Grey’s Anatomy episode, I woke up the next morning with extremely puffy under-eyes. 15 minutes after using this eye mask, my eyes looked good as new, and the puffiness was completely gone. These masks are my go-to solution, whether it’s to cure an hour-long cry session from Grey’s Anatomy or a late night out with friends — with these masks, no one will ever know!

chicken stir-fry

3a3c5fa4-14ec-4bb2-a842-6589132180e5.jpgQuick, easy dinners are my favorite; especially because I tend to cook most of my meals in the mornings before I have to be at work. This chicken stir-fry dish is tasty, healthy and simple to make! Plus, this recipe is great for two, with plenty for leftovers! Happy cooking!

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons of chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon of orange juice, no pulp
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 bag of brown or white rice

014e6ce6-aa5e-43eb-acd8-08b63b025b66.jpgAdd the olive oil to a skillet over medium heat, then add in the chicken and sauté for four minutes. Remove the chicken, and add in the onion. Once the onion is translucent, add in the peppers. Cook the peppers and onion for three minutes before adding the chicken back in.

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetIn a bowl, whisk together the chicken broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, cornstarch, orange juice, ground ginger, black pepper and salt. Once combined, pour over the chicken, peppers and onion. Continue to cook for eight more minutes.

In the meantime, cook one bag of brown or white rice, depending on your preference, and add it to the stir-fry once it’s done. Mix everything together, and enjoy!