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!

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!

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.

 

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!

 

winter slumberland

Connor and I absolutely love the Christmas season, and celebrating with our friends is one of our favorite parts about this time of year. To officially kick off the holiday season and the countdown to Christmas, we hosted our second annual Winter Slumberland event!

Winter Slumberland is a brunch idea that we came up with where everyone invited shows up in their best Christmas jammies and we eat, drink and be merry! From brunch, mimosas and holiday-inspired desserts to Christmas movies and spending quality time with each other, Winter Slumberland is definitely one of our favorite parties we have ever hosted! Read on below to see how we prepared for this fun holiday brunch!

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To get ready for Winter Slumberland and the holiday season, we decked out the apartment with Christmas decorations. This year, we decided on a blue and silver Christmas tree. With some neutral decorations and pops of red, we worked to transform our apartment into a winter wonderland!

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Once the apartment was decorated, it was time to focus on the menu for Winter Slumberland. From French Toast Casserole and bagels, to quiche, monkey bread and Oreo truffles, there were plenty of options and sweet treats! We also made some holiday treats that were almost too cute to eat! Read on below for some of these fun holiday recipes!

Christmas Tree Brownies

This recipe was so much fun and simple to construct. Start by making your favorite type of brownies and let them cool (for approximately 15 people, we made two boxes). Once cooled, cut the brownies into triangle shapes and add in a small piece of candy cane at the bottom for the tree trunk. Then, we used food coloring to dye vanilla frosting green. With a piping bag, we created a zigzag pattern on the brownies, and we topped them with some crystal and pearl sprinkles for ornaments! Last, but not least, star sprinkles for the tops of each tree!

Santa Hat Pancakes

Another easy holiday recipe! Stack several mini pancakes on large toothpicks (we used six to eight pancakes per stack). Cut the tops of strawberries off to remove the stems and create an even base. Slide a strawberry on top of the pancake stack, and top it with a mini marshmallow! Sprinkle some powdered sugar over the pancake stacks before serving!

Snowman Donut Kebabs

These snowman donut kebabs only require 4 ingredients to make! Stack three mini powdered donuts on a kebab stick. Use a piece of fruit rollup to tie a “scarf” on top of the second donut. Then, add an orange gumdrop nose in the first donut and two green gumdrop buttons in the other two. Finally, add in eyes made out of coal by using black food coloring!

With tons of food to eat, mimosas, coffee, and hot chocolate flowing, and a room full of friends, we spent the day lounging, laughing and celebrating the true meaning of holiday spirit: togetherness.

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holiday gift guide: under the tree

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”

Now that you have found the perfect stocking stuffers for all of the guys and girls on your list, let’s move onto the gifts that will be under the tree this year!

For the Jetsetter

The Carry-On
This suitcase, sold by Away, is great for anyone who has the travel bug. This suitcase features two compartments and a durable outer shell, as well as an ejectable battery that can charge phones up to 5x. The Carry-On also comes with a TSA-approved lock built into it.

Beats Solo3 Wireless
Help the travelers in your life settle into relaxation mode with these Beats headphones. With excellent sound quality, these wireless headphones will help them tune out the sounds of planes, trains and buses and focus on music or audiobooks until they reach their next destination.

Catalina Canvas Weekender
The Catalina by Lo & Sons is the perfect bag to use for long weekend trips. Available in four colors, this bag is equipped with a separate bottom storage compartment, which is perfect for packing shoes, toiletries or other items you may want to keep away from clothing. The Catalina Collection is comprised of three different weekender bags, and the other available options can be found here.

For the New Homeowner

Keurig Coffee Makers
Coffee, coffee, coffee! Keep your loved ones caffeinated with Keurig’s Special Edition Single Serve Coffee, Latte & Cappuccino Maker. Don’t forget to throw in some pods as well! Keurig’s website is running a special offer of two free boxes of pods with the purchase of this coffee maker by using the code: FREEPODS4ME. If you are looking for a more classic coffee maker, check out other Keurig models here.

11-Bottle Graphite Wine Rack
This hexagon-shaped wine rack fits 11 wine bottles, and is a great gift for anyone who has recently moved into a new home or apartment. Add in a bottle or two of wine to get the collection started!

Eclectic Mercury Votive Holders
Transform the vibe of any room with these white and silver candle holders. This set of 6 votive holders will provide any homeowner with a festive candlelit display.  Add in a set of 6 LED White Votive Candles by Ashland to complete the gift.

For the Homebody

Homebody by Joanna Gaines
With the help of Joanna Gaines’ book, every homebody on your list will feel inspired to create spaces that they will never want to leave. This book pairs well when read with a comfy blanket and a hot cup of coffee in this #Shiplap coffee mug.

Cozy Pom Pom Throw
You can never go wrong with gifting a nice cozy blanket for the holidays. These Pom Pom Throws from Pottery Barn come in three neutral colors that will accent any home space!

Red Cast Iron Fondu Set
Give the gift of a fun night in with this fondu set from Crate&Barrel. Whether your family and friends are cheese lovers or chocolate lovers, this gift is sure to put a smile on everyones’ faces!

For the Hostess

Monette Monogram Cheese Board
Add a personal touch to any kitchen with this monogrammed cheese board from Anthropologie. It is sure to be a hit with the recipients and their guests!

Celine Wine Glasses
This set of four wine glasses are a beautiful addition to any entertainer’s home. Add in a nice bottle of wine and a festive wine tote to the gift, like this one found
here.

Home Cocktail Bar Set by BARMIXXO
This bar set includes everything needed for a night of entertaining at home. From a cocktail shaker to a strainer and bottle opener, this 10-piece set has it all. It even comes with a recipe book of more than 150 drink concoctions.

For the Chef

Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines
If you are a Fixer Upper fan, you will love Joanna’s recipes just as much as you love her decorating style! This cookbook contains everything, from breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes, to appetizers, soups, salads and desserts. This is a great book for anyone who is looking to be a little more adventurous in the kitchen!

Artisan Mini 3.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer
This mini KitchenAid Stand Mixer is the perfect addition to any kitchen! It is 20 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter than the full-sized mixers, and they come in 18 different colors. These mixers are currently on sale through the KitchenAid website.

Atlas 150 Aluminum Pasta Maker
Give the gift of homemade pasta with this pasta maker from Crate&Barrel. From spaghetti to linguine and lasagna, the options are endless for pasta lovers.

For the Fitness Fanatics

Apple Watch
Apple Watch released its Series 4 model, which has been redesigned with a  new look, improved health apps and data, and more connectivity options for users (did someone say Walkie Talkies?!). Grab one with a sports band for the gym-lover in your life.

Fitbit
This year, Fitbit released the Charge 3, the newest addition to the slew of trackers available for fitness lovers. Charge 3 is an advanced fitness tracker with goal-based exercise modes and 24/7 heart rate monitoring. Fitbit also offers the Versa, Alta HD and Iconic models, and each one has distinct features that will have anyone excited to be working out! If you are looking to help the kiddos get fit this holiday season, Fitbit also offers the Ace model for kids 8+.

Himalayan Salt Massage Stone
Gift this to the workout fiend who needs a bit of muscle relaxation and tension released from his or her body. The stone can be heated in the microwave or cooled in the freezer, depending on the type of massage desired. This is a great on-the-go solution for relieving tension knots!

For the Sports-Obsessed

FanChest
For the NFL, NHL or College sports fans in your life, FanChest sells boxes filled with apparel, fan gear, licensed merchandise and more. Choose a team and the type of box you want to send out and watch the recipient rock their favorite teams’ gear all season long! Keep an eye on FanChest, because it looks like NBA and MLB boxes will be added to the site soon!

Game Tickets
There is nothing like a live sporting event! You can never go wrong with gifting tickets to a game for the holidays. Whether the game is the following weekend or months away, the anticipation of seeing your favorite team play is always exciting.

Sports Fan Blankets and Throws
Give the gift of a cozy blanket representing the recipients’ sports teams of choice! They will love curling up with one of these blankets while watching their team play on the big screen!

For the Artists

Prismacolor Premier Double Ended Art Markers
This set of 72-count fine and brush tip markers from Prismacolor will kickstart the artistic inspiration in anyone. Add in this set of two sketchbooks and watch the masterpieces unfold.

Walls Notebook
Bring out the creative side in the artist you know with this unique gift. The Walls Notebook is filled with textured urban walls so the artist can draw in his or her own graffiti-style drawings and other doodles. 

Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure and Coloring Book
For the drawing-challenged, this adult coloring book is the perfect alternative. Plus, coloring has proven to be a great stress reliever! Pair this gift with a set of colored pencils!

For the Gamers

A40 TR Headset & MixAmp Pro TR
Help the gamers in your life feel like the pros with this headset that is compatible with PC, Mac and PS4. With Dolby® surround sound processing and voice chat capabilities, this headset also offers comfort and durability for any gamer.

Logitech G903 Wireless Gaming Mouse
This wireless gaming mouse utilizes LIGHTSPEED wireless technology to deliver high-performance capabilities for gamers. This lightweight mouse has up to 11 buttons, has great responsiveness and provides accuracy time after time. 

HyperX Alloy Elite Keyboard
Round off your gifts to the gamer in your life with this keyboard. The HyperX Alloy Elite includes features such as dedicated media buttons, dynamic lighting effects and a detachable wrist rest.

For the Card Players

Phase 10
This Rummy-style card game from the makers of Uno requires players to pass through 10 different phases or levels of play. The person who passes phase 10 first, wins! This game will have groups of friends or family playing for hours!

What Do You Meme?
G
ift the opportunity of out meme-ing friends and family with this picture-style card game. There are several add-on packs available for purchase as well!

Cards Against Humanity
It does not matter how many times this game is played — it never gets old! If everyone on your list already has the original Cards Against Humanity game, consider gifting some of the expansion packs to add onto the fun!

For your Coworkers

I Am Very Busy Coffee Mug
The mug says it all — gift this to the coworker who always seems to be working on something in the office!

Live Assorted Succulents
Spruce up any desk space with this set of four live succulents from Urban Outfitters. Succulents thrive in indoor and outdoor environments and do not require extensive care, so they are perfect for any office space!

Life Hacks Desk Calendar
Give the gift of 365 days of fun facts and life hacks with this desk calendar. Your coworkers will love learning all of the tips this calendar has to offer!

For the Pets

BarkBox
Give the dog(s) in your life the gift of a dog-party all month long! BarkBox sends out boxes that include toys, treats and a chew that match a particular theme each month. Snag the Grinch-themed box for the holidays before it runs out!

KitNipBox
KitNipBox is a subscription service that sends out boxes for cats that include toys and treats! Gift one box or a 3, 6 or 12 month subscription to your favorite kitties!

Bon Appetit Pet Mat
Help the pets in your life eat in style! This is a black and white rubber mat that will help pets keep the floors nice and clean while they chow down or grab a quick drink!

holiday gift guide: stocking stuffers

It truly is the most wonderful time of year, and with our Christmas tree up and decorated, I am in full Christmas mode. While four weeks may seem like a lot of time to go shopping for everyone on your list, time always seems to go by so quickly at this time of year. If you are anything like me — a holiday-shopping procrastinator who goes crazy looking for the right gifts for all of her family and friends — then perhaps you need a bit of guidance in finding the perfect gift for your loved ones.

To help you get the present ideas flowing, I will be posting gift guides to give you some ideas for the holiday season! This week is all about stocking stuffers for all of the girls and guys on your list!

Stocking Stuffers for Her

Tinsy Hoop and Stud Earring Set
Every year, Free People comes out with new earring sets that are the perfect stocking stuffers. This set comes with hoops and studs that are versatile enough for everyday wear. These earrings come in five different colors, so you can easily match any girl’s jewelry style!

Emily Jeffords Monogram Trinket Dish
This monogrammed dish is a beautifully hand-painted item that can be used to display jewelry. It can even be gifted as an add-on to the Free People earring set that is listed above!

Stella & Grace Anti-Wrinkle & Energizing Eye Masks
These eye masks are great to use after a late night out or when wanting to look revitalized and rejuvenated (because let’s be honest, who is really getting 8 hours of sleep every night?). These eye masks are sold in 12 and 24 packs.

Dark Magic Eyeshadow Palette
Morphe eyeshadow palettes always include beautiful colors, and the quality is always amazing. With 10 different shadow colors, this Dark Magic palette is just what a girl needs for the holiday season!

Women’s Ribbed Beanie with Faux-Fur Pom-Pom
This hat will keep any girl warm this winter, whether she is skiing down the slopes or braving a winter storm at home. The best part about it is that it comes in a variety of colors so you can pick her favorite!

Texting Gloves in Everyday Cashmere
The best part about gloves made for touchscreen use is that your hands can stay warm while you use your phone, watch, tablet or other devices! These gloves come in a variety of colors and are great for commuters or girls who are always on the go!

Monogram Candle
Candles are always a great gift, no matter what time of year! This monogram candle from Anthropolgie has a Sparkling Grapefruit scent, and it is a stylish addition to any home, apartment or dorm decor!

Snowman Bomb Bomb
Lush’s bath bombs are the stocking stuffers you need if the girl in your life needs some R&R. If you are looking for a cute holiday-themed stocking stuffer, gift her this Snowman Bomb Bomb bath bomb, which comes with two bath bombs that can be used separately or together! For more bath bombs scents, click here.

Suite One Studio Mimira Mug
For the girl who loves to kickstart her day with a cup of coffee, these Suite One Studio mugs are just what she needs. Help her stay caffeinated all winter long with these hand-painted mugs!

Stocking Stuffers for Him

BirchBoxMan’s Limited Edition Set: One For All
Let BirchBox do the work for you by choosing one of their carefully-curated boxes to fill up any guy’s stocking! From face and body care to shaving and beard care, BirchBox offers a ton of options to choose from. Once the box arrives, instead of wrapping the box for him to open under the tree, fill up his stocking with the products for a great surprise! Check out some of their other collections here!

Men’s Society Stow Away Travel Kit
F
or the guy who loves a weekend getaway, this travel kit filled with face wash and cream, a mini toothbrush and toothpaste and disposable face towels is perfect. This is a great stocking stuffer for the guy who always likes to be prepared for anything!

Cashmere Seedstitch Beanie and Navy Windowpane Alpaca Scarf
Keep him warm this winter with this hat and scarf combo! Who doesn’t like to be cozy and warm during these chilly winter months?!

Leather Gloves
Sticking with the “keeping him warm” theme, gloves are a great stocking stuffer! These leather gloves from Nordstrom are even touchscreen compatible!

Not Lost Canvas Passport Holder and Luggage Tag
A passport holder and luggage tag set is the perfect gift for the traveler in your life. Send him off on his next trip in style!

Native Union: Lightning Cable Collection
This Lightning Cable Collection will help keep all of his technology charged, whether he is at home or on the go. This collection comes with a keychain charger, a 4-ft charger and a 10-ft charger and is compatible with Apple-Lightning. There are additional options that can be found here.

The Art of Shaving: Beard Maintenance Kit
For the guy with a bit of scruff, this beard maintenance kit from The Art of Shaving includes beard wash, beard conditioner and beard oil to keep his beard clean and smooth all of the time!

Case-Mate Apple Watch Bands
If your guy wears an Apple Watch, chances are that he is using it for his workouts at the gym. Help him polish up his look from fitness fanatic to date-night ready by adding in a leather watch band in his stocking!

Swell Bottle with Personalization
Keep your man hydrated in style with a personalized Swell bottle! Other color and design options can be found here.

JCrew: Fabric Magic Wallet
This fabric wallet, available through JCrew Factory, is a great stocking stuffer for the guy who does not want to worry about the bulk of a wallet. Don’t forget to slip a dollar in for luck!


I hope these stocking stuffer ideas help you this holiday season! Happy Shopping!

the one where we plan friendsgiving

One thing I have learned over the years is the importance of celebrating friendships. Your friends are your chosen family, and what better way to express your gratitude for them at this time of year than by hosting friendsgiving?

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The rules of friendsgiving are simple: the hosts cook the turkey, gravy and any other menu items they would like, and the rest is up to the guests! From appetizers to side dishes and desserts, it gives guests the opportunity to choose what they would like to bring.

Connor and I have both hosted and been guests at friendsgiving, and no matter what, it is an enjoyable evening filled with good food, laughter and memory-making. Here are some tips for hosting your own friendsgiving event this November:

  • IMG_0181Plan the menu: There are Thanksgiving staples that everyone loves, but writing up a few suggestions will help your friends think outside of the box for other foods to bring if you have a larger guest list. Surprisingly enough, there is such a thing as too many mashed potatoes! Also remember to include food options that cater to any diet choices your friends may have, including vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or gluten-free options!
  • Ask your friends to prepare dishes ahead of time: Cooking the turkey is hard enough; having to worry about friends preparing their dishes at the same time that yours is finishing up can definitely get hectic. Instead, have your friends bring their already-cooked meals to the house, and set up sternos for food items to keep everything hot before and throughout dinner!
  • Set up the food buffet style: While setting the table is lovely, with a large group of people and a plethora of food, buffet style just makes everything easier. To make the table setting feel cozier while everyone is dining, light some candles and scatter some small pumpkins and other fall decorations on the table.
  • Processed with VSCO with acg presetMake the event BYOB: Having a few staples on hand is great, but asking friends to bring their favorite types of wine, beer or liquor contributes to the potluck vibe of the evening, and it gives everyone a chance to share their favorite beverages with the group! If you are feeling creative, add a signature drink to the menu, like this apple cider mimosa: apple cider, champagne and a brown sugar rim is the perfect combination for a festive, fall beverage!
  • Go around the table and ask everyone to say one thing they are thankful for: Everyone is going to be so excited to dig into the amazing dinner and desserts that have been prepared for the evening, but it is important to remember why you are all together — to celebrate your friendships and express gratitude for each other. After all, this is what brought you all together for friendsgiving in the first place!

I hope these tips help you host a wonderful friendsgiving event this holiday season! Here is a sample menu to help you get started with the planning! Hope you enjoy gobbling up these tasty dishes!

friendsgiving menu

appetizers
• veggie platter
• meat and cheese platter
• chips and dip / salsa

main course
turkey
gravy
mashed potatoes

• sweet potatoes
• stuffing
• cranberry sauce
• salad
• green bean casserole
• corn and/or other veggies
• mac and cheese
• pasta
• chicken or eggplant parmesan
• dinner rolls

desserts
• apple pie with vanilla ice cream
• pumpkin pie
• pecan pie
• brownies
• cookies
• doughuts

drinks
• red and white wine
• beer
• cider
• sangria
• soda
• hot apple cider
• hot chocolate
• coffee
• water
• signature drink