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

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


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!

fall favorites

IMG_5704This past weekend, Connor and I celebrated our sixth anniversary! I feel so blessed to have someone like him by my side each and every day, and I am always amazed by how much we have done and accomplished together — being in love with my best friend is truly something special. We have shared so many memories and milestones over the years, and our anniversary is the perfect excuse to celebrate all of that!

IMG_5706In the past, we have always tried to travel somewhere new for our anniversary, but this year, we chose to do something different. Life has been pretty busy these days, and our work schedules are completely opposite, so we decided to take a step back and have a relaxing, fun weekend at home. 

From pumpkin picking and carving to dinner and a movie, we spent the weekend doing some of our favorite things together. 
We had such a great weekend, and in the spirit of celebrating, I wanted to share some fun activities that you can add to your fall bucket list. Grab your significant other or a group of friends and hit up some of my favorite spots before the season ends!


Processed with VSCO with a5 presetDemarest Farms
Demarest Farms is the perfect place to spend a crisp fall day. Hop on a hayride to search for the perfect pumpkins to carve for Halloween, and on the way back, grab a bite to eat. Make sure to pick up some apple cider donuts before you leave, and heat them before you eat them! They are so delicious!

Tip: if you visit Demarest Farms earlier in the season, you can also go apple picking there! Connor and I have some apples that we are planning on baking into a pie this weekend!

Angry Orchard
This is a great place to go with a group of friends! From cider tastings and treehouse tours to live entertainment and lawn games, Angry Orchard has a great property for all-day entertainment.

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Warwick Winery
Warwick offers wine and cider tastings, as well as a distillery tour and live music. In the cooler months, there is an indoor tasting room complete with a wood-burning stove; when the weather is warmer, there is plenty of outdoor space to enjoy drinks and food with friends!

Pennings Farm Cidery
There is a variety of ciders on tap here, offering a variety for all palettes. Pair your favorite with lunch or dinner and enjoy! Starting in November, the tasting room is only open on the weekends and for adults 21 and over.

BE5945FC-8B6C-417D-85EE-B65B78C09FDE.JPGBear Mountain Oktoberfest
This is your last weekend to visit Bear Mountain for Oktoberfest (it closes Oct. 28). Grab a stein, fill it with beer or cider and snack on some pretzels while hanging out with friends!

Brownstone Pancake Factory
Brownstone is great any time of year, but it offers amazing fall-themed dishes! From Pumpkin Cheesecake Nutella Pancakes to a Halloween Ultimate Shake, you will be drooling over all of the options!

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Movie Night
Halloween is the perfect movie to get you into the fall spirit this season. Michael Meyers makes his chilling return to the big screen in this classic series, and it is definitely worth the watch. Movie theater popcorn is always an added bonus!

Netflix & Chills
Netflix has several Halloween movies available for binging, but this season, give your full attention to The Haunting of Hill House. This show may have given me nightmares for days, but it is so good. Cuddle up with some hot cocoa and light a few candles, because you will not want to watch this one in the dark!

Almost all of my suggestions are for locations that are open throughout the year, but I do love visiting these places in the fall! Let me know if you have visited any of these spots or have any suggestions of your own in the comments below or on Instagram by tagging @ livingsimplygray!

chocolate covered oreos

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetI have to admit, I am a chocoholic, and I have my mother to thank for that. For as long as I can remember, my mom has been making and decorating chocolate. From chocolate-covered ice skates for one of my birthday parties to bridal shower favors and holiday-themed creations, she has both a passion and a knack for this craft. Over the years, she has passed down that love of making chocolate to me. While we always love making chocolate for events or holidays, lately, our go-to has been to make chocolate-covered Oreos.

Chocolate-covered Oreos have proven to be a hit at any gathering, whether it be a work function, graduation party or holiday. Chocolate-covered Oreos take two classics — chocolate and Oreos  and combine them in a fun, delicious way for all to enjoy.

To make approximately 35 chocolate-covered Oreos, you will need the following ingredients/supplies:

  • Oreo molds (I purchased mine from a local chocolate store, but Amazon has a similar mold available for purchase)
  • 1.5 – 2 lb. of chocolate melts (I prefer milk chocolate, but use your favorite type!)
  • 1 package of Oreo cookies
  • Colored chocolate melts
  • Small squeeze bottle(s) for decorating

D8FA519E-F605-413A-932D-0B7C38FFEDD1.JPGWhen it comes to melting chocolate, my mom and I have found that melting a handful or two of the chocolate melts at a time in the microwave is the fastest and most efficient way to work. We start by microwaving the chocolate in a small bowl for 30 seconds. We then stir the chocolate, and put it in for another 15 seconds. We repeat the stirring process and continue melting the chocolate for seconds at a time until it has a nice, smooth consistency. Every microwave is different, so be careful when heating the chocolate. If you overheat the chocolate, it will burn.

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Once the chocolate is melted down to the right consistency, we spoon it into the molds.We have found that this process works best for us in terms of coverage within the mold. The last thing you want are cracks in the chocolate once the Oreo is submerged!

It is important to work fast when it comes to filling the molds, as the chocolate tends to harden quickly. Once you have covered the bottom and sides of the mold, add an Oreo in, and cover it with more chocolate, so that it is completely surrounded by chocolate. Tap the middle of the mold to flatten out the chocolate on top of the cookie if need be. Repeat this step until all of the molds are filled.

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetOnce that is complete, place the molds into the freezer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes are up, remove the molds from the freezer and turn the molds over to remove the Oreos. Lightly pressing on the mold should release the Oreos easily. Place them on wax paper for decorating.

Here is where you can get creative. Melt your colored chocolate down using the same process you used for melting the chocolate for the Oreos. Once the colored chocolate reaches the same smooth consistency as the regular chocolate, put it in the squeeze bottles and have fun decorating!

Once you are finished decorating the Oreos, be sure to keep the cookies in a room-temperature environment. Putting the Oreos in the refrigerator for storage can cause them to crack, so keep them in a container on the counter until you are ready to serve!

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