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

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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!

travel tips for weekend getaways

Saturday’s weather in Jersey finally felt like spring, and there is just something about a sunny, warm day that makes the travel bug in me start to grow.

Traveling is one of my favorite things in life. I firmly believe that everyone should take the time to travel — whether it is to a new city or state, a quick weekend getaway near or far can help you clear your mind and give you some new perspective on life.

While the weather in NJ is still fluctuating between the 17th installment of winter and the beginning stages of spring, I am already working on my travel plans for the coming months. Read on for some of my best travel tips for a weekend getaway!

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  • Do your research, but don’t over-plan: As someone with a type-A personality who cannot live without a planner or iPhone calendars, this was hard for me to learn — but once I did, I realized how much more I could see and do when visiting a new place. Look up a couple of restaurants and some activities that are unique to the area, and then leave the rest up to chance. Speak with people who live or work in the area, and ask them for their recommendations. From visiting Welcome Centers to speaking with hotel staff and Uber drivers, I have found some of the best places to visit. There is nothing like great recommendations from locals!
  • Get up and go!: While vacations are notoriously known for being a time to relax, you do not want to sleep your entire trip away, especially if you are only away for a weekend. Set your alarm, head out early and take advantage of having a full day to explore.
  • Give yourself a day to do nothing: Exploring a new place is the best part of traveling. When Connor and I visited Charleston, we set aside one day to spend downtown, walking through parks, popping into boutiques and checking out rooftop bars. Having no schedule gave us an opportunity to see all that the city has to offer without having to rush from one place to another.
  • Plan one nice night out: Whether you are away for two days or four, planning a night out where you can get dressed up, wined and dined is always enjoyable. Whether I am with Connor or my best girlfriends, our travel plans always include one night like this! It is a great way to unwind, reflect on your trip so far and enjoy a great night out, celebrating your relationship or your friendships with one another!
  • Put the phone away: There is nothing worse than missing out on what is right in front of you because you are spending time on the phone, staying up-to-date on everything happening back home. Turn your phone on airplane mode while you are out, and use it only for photos. Being a little disconnected from the world for just a little while is incredibly refreshing, and it gives you time to appreciate everything around you.

Try out these travel tips for your next weekend getaway. Happy traveling!

oh ship! cruising to the caribbean

Ahoy! I just returned from my first cruise vacation with my best friends, where we were soaking in the rays and swimming in some of the bluest waters the Caribbean has to offer. From stunning sunsets in the middle of the ocean to snorkeling in a coral reef in Turks & Caicos, this cruise exceeded my expectations, and I am ready to start planning my next one!

I have to admit, this cruise vacation was my idea, but I was skeptical. Up until the cruise, I had an irrational fear of sailing on large boats, and I am prone to motion-sickness — I mean, I take Dramamine and wear Sea Bands in Disney and Universal just to tolerate even the most basic rides. Despite all of that, a cruise vacation is something Connor and I have talked about for a long time, and I finally agreed to try it out.

Planning the Cruise

One of the most important aspects in terms of travel to Connor and I is that we see as much of the world as possible, whenever possible. We always try to plan trips to new destinations whenever we have the opportunity, and planning this cruise was no different. After some research, we found a 5-day cruise through Carnival Cruise Line that lined up perfectly with the travel dates we wanted. The cruise was to the Eastern Caribbean, stopping in Nassau, Bahamas; Half Moon Cay, Carnival’s private island in the Bahamas; and Grand Turk, the capital of Turks & Caicos. The cruise would be leaving from Miami the day after my birthday, and we would return just days before Connor’s — happy birthday to us!

5F4370DA-DB30-47B3-A93D-D3292B47FA49We reached out to some of our friends from college, who immediately agreed to come on the cruise with us. We decided to fly to Florida the day before the cruise, but the flights to Miami were ridiculously expensive (hello spring breakers). We opted to fly to Fort Lauderdale and take a car to Miami instead.

We booked a room at Hotel Riu Plaza Miami Beach, located right on Collins Ave. The hotel is a quick walk or ride away from restaurants and bars all along the strip, and beach access is a very short walk from the hotel property.

The last step in planning our vacation was choosing an excursion for the trip. Carnival’s website was informative, and the reviews from past cruise-goers were extremely helpful when it came to picking the best one! We decided to book a snorkeling and private beach excursion in Turks & Caicos — with hundreds of glowing reviews, we knew this was our top choice!

Note: We debated purchasing the Cheers! beverage program on the ship, which would have included all spirits and cocktails priced below $20, as well as sodas, coffee and other bottled beverages, for $51.95/day + an 18 percent gratuity added. We chose not to purchase this program, and we ended up saving money!

Tip: To avoid charges for water (water is only included when you are dining), bring a refillable water bottle on the trip!

Day 1 — Miami

After stopping at the hotel to drop off our bags, we headed to Dolce Italian for my birthday dinner! The food was absolutely amazing, and we certainly did not feel rushed as we dined through several courses of meals. I highly recommend trying the Caprese and the Sunday Gravy Pizza as appetizers, and the Lobster Ravioli for dinner.

Day 2 — Departing Miami

We woke up the morning of the cruise, packed our bags and headed to Market at EDITION for a delicious brunch. Try the Eggs Benedict, the Guava Cream Cheese Donut or the Cinnamon Bun — it was all so, so good.

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After brunch, we headed to the Port of Miami where we checked our bags, checked into the cruise and boarded the ship. Check-in was relatively quick and easy, and before long, we found ourselves soaking in the sun on one of the top decks of the ship with drinks in our hands. One muster drill, a Dramamine pill and a couple of hours later, Carnival Sensation finally left port, setting sail for the Bahamas!

We were able to get into our rooms (which were all in a row!) not long after we boarded the ship. Our friends surprised us by having the room decorated for our birthdays and getting us a cake! They truly are the best! Our steward even made us a birthday cake out of towels and left us cards to help us kick off our celebration!

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9F1A0655-483E-41BF-8C2D-6E464AB6FB67Day 3 — Nassau, Bahamas

Our first day off the ship was in Nassau, and we disembarked in the middle of a bunch of shops and stands, with Atlantis nearby. We headed to a public beach where we were able to sit right by the water, grab a few drinks and enjoy the Bahamas weather. We also stopped at Señor Frogs for some food and drinks on our way back to the ship!

Day 4 — Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Our boat anchored down near the coast of Half Moon Cay, and a smaller boat picked us up and brought us to land. Half Moon Cay is Carnival’s private island. The beach was amazing, the water was a beautiful shade of blue and there was plenty of space to soak up the sun! Lunch was provided on the island, and drinks were plentiful whether you were on the beach or sitting at Captain Morgan On the Rocks Island Bar. After sipping on some Miami Vice’s and swimming in the ocean, we headed back to the boat to take off for our third destination of the trip!

4C36F11B-E1ED-4737-91A8-3C30684BF6AADay 5 — Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos

Connor and I agreed that our day in Grand Turk was definitely our favorite part of the trip. Our entire day was spent on the excursion we booked, and it was such a great experience. After popping into a store or two, we boarded a 100-person catamaran and set sail for a coral reef in Turks & Caicos. After grabbing the GoPro, we descended into the water and swam with a school of fish. Getting the chance to get up close and personal with the sea life was amazing.

Once snorkeling was done, the rum punch was brought out, and a dance party ensued on the way to a private beach. The catamaran docked on the beach, and we were able to get out and swim in the crystal clear waters for a while. Eventually, we sailed back to the dock and boarded the ship for the last time on our trip!

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Day 6 — Day at Sea

To be honest, we thought we would have to wake up extremely early to snag a spot on deck for our day at sea, but after having some breakfast, we wandered up to the pool deck and found five seats together right away. We spent the day in the jacuzzi, reading, drinking, snacking and going down the water slides.

By far, my favorite part of our Day at Sea was the Alpha Male Competition! After some convincing, Connor agreed to enter the contest. He competed against other men on the cruise in three rounds, and he won!

Aside from being crowned as the Alpha Male, he also received a bottle of champagne (that we popped on the top deck at sunset) and a trophy of Carnival Sensation — the trophy is already on display in our living room!

7C2B6CDF-CAA7-444A-A638-4143ABEEA05DDay 7 — Miami / Fort Lauderdale

On our final morning of the cruise, we grabbed some breakfast at the buffet before we disembarked. We went to the airport to check our bags early, and then headed toward the beach for some lunch. We went to Rock Bar in Fort Lauderdale for a few 45 oz margaritas (we shared!) and some fish tacos, and we enjoyed our last few hours of warm weather before heading back home to 20 degree weather!

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Dining Options on Carnival Sensation

Breakfast

For most of the trip, we chose to eat breakfast at the buffet because of the wide range of options available, and because it was usually the quicker dining option for us. From scrambled eggs and omelets to breakfast burritos, bagels, hash browns and waffles, there was something for everyone here! On the days that we had a little more time, we ate in the Fantasy Dining Room for a sit-down breakfast. Here there were options such as Eggs Benedict, French Toast and Frittatas.

Lunch

We were always off the boat at lunch time, so we picked up lunch or snacks on land; however, our two favorite stops on the ship were Guy’s Burger Joint and the Soft Serve machine at the buffet — thankfully, both were included in our cruise package! It doesn’t get much better than unlimited fries and chocolate swirl in a cone!

Dinner

When we booked the cruise, there were several dining options available for dinner: Early, Late or Your Time Dining. We chose the “Your Time” option, which meant that we had a window from 5:45 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. to go to the dining room for dinner each night. Our group was seated in the Fantasy Dining Room, and with a versatile and sometimes adventurous menu, the food was great! From Shrimp Cocktail and Ox Tongue (yes, I tried it and actually liked it!) to Fried Portobello Mushrooms, Spanakopita and Seafood Pasta, each meal was delicious. I can’t forget the Chocolate Melting Cake for dessert each night! It was definitely our group’s favorite dessert!

The staff in the Dining Room also celebrated my birthday and Connor’s birthday whenever they had a chance! Each time they celebrated our birthdays, we were given a small cake, and the restaurant would sing happy birthday. It was such a sweet gesture!

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Entertainment on Carnival Sensation

E4F0BAC0-BC0C-4992-9AD1-FAF0F47E950EThere was always something to do while we were on the ship every evening. From the Welcome Party and a Murder Mystery event based on Clue, to a game night, comedy club, dance club and casino, we had plenty of activities to partake in throughout the cruise! There was even an adult-themed scavenger hunt, which provided us with a lot of laughter and a very interesting night!

Our group’s favorite part of being on the boat was the professional photographers’ stands — and it showed. We must have taken well over 100 photos between the five of us, and you know we had a great time doing it!

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I am happy to report that after five days at sea, I am over my irrational fear of sailing on large boats, and my motion sickness did not get the best of me. Our cruise was absolutely amazing, and I am already brainstorming ideas for our next cruise vacation!

simply local: french baking

IMG_8061It was a quiet Saturday morning in Sur La Table, except for the whirring of a food processor and the clanking of the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer as dozens of macarons were being prepared in the kitchen.

Connor and I signed up for our first baking class together, and we had such a great experience. We were lucky to be two of five members of the early morning Valentine’s Day-themed macaron-making class. Our chef for the day welcomed us and showed us a demonstration of exactly how to prepare our macarons, and then we were on our own to re-create the recipe.

The instruction was informational and thorough, and our chef was standing by in case we had any questions. We learned the proper way and order in which to mix our ingredients to create our macaron shells, how to properly pipe the macarons and how to make our own fillings — champagne buttercream and chocolate ganache with strawberry jam!

IMG_8062The macarons were absolutely delicious, and it was such a fun date for Connor and I! We loved trying something new together, and we are excited to try making them again on our own!

If you are interested in making your own macarons, combine these five simple ingredients to make 35 sandwich cookies, and fill them with your favorite type of filling!

  • 4 oz of almond flour
  • 7 oz of confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 oz of egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/8 tsp of cream of tartar
  • 3 1/2 oz of granulated sugar

Preheat your oven to 300º.

Combine the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar until blended (either in a food processor or mixed in a large bowl). Sift the mixture and separate it into thirds.

Using a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, pour in your egg whites and add the cream of tartar directly in the middle to start making your meringue. On a medium speed, start to slowly add in your granulated sugar. Continue to whip until you reach a stiff peak. Note: If you are going to add food coloring into your mixture for your macarons, add it in between medium and stiff peak of the meringue.

Then, take a third of the flour mixture and fold it into the meringue mixture. Once it has been combined, pour in the rest of the flour mixture and continue to fold it into the meringue. Combine until it is glossy and the batter reaches the consistency of a brownie batter.

Pour your mixture into piping bags and pipe with a plain, round tip onto your baking sheet. These cookies should be about the size of the bottom of a shot glass. Be sure to keep your piping bag straight up, at 90º.

Let the macarons sit out for about 30 minutes or so, until a firm skin forms on them. To make sure they are ready to be baked, lightly graze the tops with your fingers. If there are no dents, they are ready!

Bake for about 16 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let sit and cool before removing from the pan and adding filling.

Happy baking!