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!

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!

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!

valentine’s day gifts: procrastinator’s edition

0abd7fcd-af06-41ae-81a1-e9e309abad30.jpgValentine’s Day is just three days away, love is in the air and chocolate is everywhere you go. If you have procrastinated getting your significant other a gift, or are just looking for something small to add onto what you have already purchased, you can thank Amazon Prime for getting you out of a pinch. Check out the gifts below that are guaranteed to arrive by Valentine’s Day and put a smile on your S.O.’s face — it’s a win-win!

For Him:

Beard Grooming & Trimming Kit for Men Care: This six-piece kit contains a brush, comb, oil, conditioner, wax and scissors — everything a man needs to maintain a soft, well-kept, full beard!

Mahogany Row Italian Tie Collection: This collection of five ties and two tie clips are the perfect gift for any guy who needs an assortment of ties for work. The high-quality design coupled with a neutral color pattern is extremely versatile no matter what the occasion!

Travel Duffel Bag: Whether your man travels for work or for pleasure, this canvas duffel bag with leather trim can be used as a carry-on or a weekender bag!

For Her:

Michael Kors Jet Set Large Crossbody Bag: I own this bag in Gold, and it is my go-to choice whenever I am running out to the store, going out for the night or jumping on a plane. There is plenty of room inside, and with so many color options, it is sure to match any girl’s style!

Bath Bomb Gift Set: This gift set by LifeAround2Angels contains 12 bath bombs with therapeutic and moisturizing effects. Plus it has a five-star rating with thousands of reviews!

Tarteist PRO Palette (PRODUCT) RED: This matte eyeshadow palette includes 16 long-lasting shades that are perfect for transitioning from the winter months into the spring.

For Both of You:

Cravings: For your next date night, take a page out of Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook! Whether you want to try making hearty dinners or delicious breakfasts together, the recipes in Cravings can certainly help you get there!

Red Wine Glass Set: This set of red wine glasses is a perfect pairing with the cookbook mentioned above! Who doesn’t love a night in of being wined and dined? Don’t forget a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or your favorite red wine to pair with this gift!

Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Instant Camera: Any time you and your significant other take a trip or have a date-night-in, snap a photo with this mini instant camera. The pictures will be fun to look at in years to come!

If you are like Connor and I, gifts may not be something you do for Valentine’s Day. Instead of giving each other gifts, we typically choose an activity or a trip for the day or weekend. This year, we will be taking a cooking class over the weekend, where we will be learning how to make macaroons! More on that next week, but for more ideas of what you can do for Valentine’s Day (or Galentine’s Day for the BFFs out there!), check out my post, love is in the air.

 

love is in the air

Love is in the air, as Galentine’s Day (thank you, Leslie Knope) and Valentine’s Day are fast approaching. Whether you are spending these holidays with your best friends or your significant other, there are plenty of ways to celebrate! Instead of going out for a night of dinner and drinks, consider these options to help you celebrate love, friendship or togetherness this month!

  • Take a class: Do something that is outside of your comfort zone by trying something new with your partner or friends. Whether there is a dish you have always wanted to learn to make or a SoulCycle class you have been dying to try, take the leap and sign up! Look up local classes in your area for some ideas.
  • Cook a three-course meal: Getting wined and dined at a restaurant is great, but it can be even better at home. Plan out a menu to cook together that includes an appetizer, main course and dessert. Pour the wine and get to cooking!
  • Travel somewhere new: Sometimes last-minute trips are the best trips. Hit the open road and plan a quick weekend trip to somewhere you have never been before. Exploring a new city, whether it is in your home state or a neighboring state, is bound to bring you a weekend of adventures!
  • Host a party: Who doesn’t love a good excuse for a themed party?! Have your guests come dressed in red or pink, throw on some classic love songs, serve some festive drinks and let everyone mix and mingle! Spread the love by asking guests to bring red or pink sweets for all to enjoy!
  • Simply Local recommendation: Bury the Hatchet: If celebrating Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly your thing, try a different take on the day. Grab your friends and head to Bury the Hatchet for some good, old-fashioned axe throwing. Bury the Hatchet has locations in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Kansas.

No matter what you choose to do or who you spend the day with, I hope you have a great Valentine’s Day filled with love, laughter and fun memories!

a simply wonderful new year

Isn’t it splendid to think of all of the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive — it’s such an interesting world.

— Lucy Maud Montgomery

When I was younger, my grandma always told me that when she would lay down at night to go to sleep, she would close her eyes and imagine a blank notebook. As she lay there, she would imagine filling the pages with words, doodles, pictures — wherever her mind would take her — and then she would slowly drift to sleep. Every time December 31st rolls around, I think of the new year in the same way.

To me, a new year is a blank notebook waiting to have its pages filled with memories, experiences and lessons learned. A new year is a clean slate with infinite possibilities of how it will be approached, shaped and carried out. It is entirely unknown what a new year will bring; however, each individual’s personal experience has the ability to be enhanced by making resolutions and goals.

Every New Year’s Eve, I look back on the year and reflect on all of the things that happened. All of my experiences, whether good or bad, shaped my year and brought me to where I am today. As I reflect on the previous year and look forward to the next, I think about everything I hope to accomplish. Whether it be to read one book a week, live a healthier lifestyle or travel more, I work to set realistic goals and expectations for myself.

No matter how much determination you have to accomplish your resolutions in the new year, sometimes it feels as if it is all much easier said than done. While sticking to your resolutions can always be difficult, there are some ways you can keep yourself accountable and work on achieving all of your goals. Here are my tips for staying on track and maintaining your goals in 2019:

Do it for yourself

The number one way to be successful with your resolutions is doing it because you want to. The minute you try to make changes in your own life because of others or for others, it becomes more of a chore than something you want to do, and it makes it much harder to implement those changes. Evaluate the goals that are important to you and focus on those. At the end of the day, you only have to answer to yourself!

Be specific about what you hope to accomplish

New goals are always inspiring, but they can also become overwhelming when they are too broad. Take a different approach to setting resolutions by being more specific about what you hope to accomplish. Not only does that make your goals feel more attainable and manageable, but it also leaves room for improvement or modifications to your goals.

Plan ahead

Talking about your goals for the new year is great, but writing them down will help hold you accountable. Try keeping track in a notebook, on your phone or on your computer, and update your progress toward your goals throughout the year. It will help you stay focused on what you want to accomplish, and it will also be fun to look over at the end of the year to remind yourself how much you can do when you set your mind to something.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

— Theodore Roosevelt

Establishing goals can be tricky. Sometimes we set unattainable standards for ourselves, and it can be heartbreaking when we do not reach those goals. Do not be so hard on yourself if your year does not go the same way you planned it in January. There are an infinite number of factors you are not able to account for yet that will also influence how your year turns out. If you fall off track with your goals or they suddenly become unattainable, take a few steps back, re-evaluate what you have been doing, and modify how you approach these goals. Remember, at the end of the day, you are doing this for yourself, so continue to work toward your new goals at your own pace!

Whether you have a list of what you hope to accomplish this year or have yet to think about it, I do hope that 2019 brings you all happiness, health, love and success! Happy New Year!

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breakfast with santa

Merry Christmas Eve! It is hard to believe that Christmas is tomorrow! It is no secret that I love this time of year, and no matter how old I get, nothing beats the feeling of waking up early on Christmas morning and spending time with loved ones.

Once the presents are opened and the coffee is consumed, breakfast is the next best part! Read on below for two sweet treats to make on Christmas morning!

French Toast Casserole

This French Toast Casserole from Savory Magazine is been my go-to breakfast for the holidays, and it is too good not to share! The recipe is just five ingredients, and you can even prep it overnight and pop it in the oven first thing in the morning!

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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!

Pop’s Pancakes

Growing up, my dad always made pancakes for my family on Sunday mornings, and whenever possible, Connor and I continue that tradition for ourselves! Pop’s Pancakes are a twist on the classic Aunt Jemima recipe. His modifications create a much thinner pancake — perfect for stacking on your plate!

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Ingredients
1 cup of Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of half and half
1 egg
1 tbsp of vegetable oil

  • Mix all ingredients into a bowl and whisk until the batter is smooth.
  • Preheat the griddle to 350º and coat with a little butter.
  • Pour batter, cook the pancakes evenly on both sides, pour on the syrup and enjoy!