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!

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!

winter getaways

It is way too cold out.

I love the idea of winter. Waking up to the sun shining through the blinds on a cold winter morning, sipping a hot cup of coffee in bed or snuggling up under piles of blankets and watching a movie are some of my favorite parts about this time of year. It is nice and cozy inside, but ask me to go outside in this weather, and I immediately want to hop on a plane and go somewhere warm.

I have to wait another seven weeks until I am in paradise again, but in the meantime, I want to share some of my favorite all-inclusive vacation spots for a winter getaway! If I can’t be on a beach soaking up the sun’s rays in this extraordinarily chilly weather, at least writing about it makes me feel like I am!

Secrets The Vine Cancun

This trip was the epitome of relaxation. From lounging by the ocean and swimming in the infinity pools to exploring an island and getting the best massage ever, we had an amazing time!

The Resort:

Our trip to Secrets The Vine Cancun was by far my favorite trip we have taken together. This adults-only resort is beautiful, the rooms are incredibly spacious and there is so much to do on the property. With five gourmet restaurants, a buffet, a grill and a cafe, there are plenty of different options for dining for all guests. There is also entertainment offered every night, so after finishing a nice dinner, that was definitely a great way to unwind before the next day’s adventures!

The view from our room!

If you are traveling for a special occasion, be sure to tell the concierge! Connor and I booked this trip for our anniversary, and after our first day on the beach, we came back to our room decorated for the occasion! Our door had a Happy Anniversary banner on it, we received champagne and we had a complimentary breakfast delivered to our balcony any morning we wanted! It was definitely a nice surprise!

What to Do

We loved the resort so much that we spent almost our entire trip there! Our typical morning included waking up early, grabbing breakfast from the buffet and heading down to the beach. There was never a concern about grabbing chairs first thing in the morning because the beach was staffed with attendants who bring you to chairs and set up an umbrella for you if needed! There were also waiters available to take any food or drink orders if you did not feel like moving from your oceanfront seats!

If you were ever looking to step away from the sand and surf for a bit, the buffet was open throughout the day, as well as an oceanfront restaurant and bars. There are also several heated pools at this resort, including two infinity pools that look out to the beach.

We dedicated one day to an excursion while on this trip. We decided to go snorkeling and take a boat ride to Isla Mujeres. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not ideal for snorkeling that day, but the captain made the best of it for us. Before we reached Isla Mujeres, he stopped the boat to let us all swim in the ocean for a bit! Once we got back on the boat, we sailed the rest of the way to the Island, where a tour guide took us around for the day. It was such a beautiful trip, regardless of being unable to snorkel! You can’t beat this view!

The view from Isla Mujeres

We also booked a massage at the spa while on vacation, which was one of the best decisions we made! We chose a wine therapy couples massage, and it was an incredibly relaxing and refreshing experience! Before the scheduled massage, we were also able to use the spa facilities at our leisure. The spa was beautiful, clean and well worth the price.

All in all, this was an amazing trip. This truly is the perfect place to stay if you are looking to satisfy all of your vacation needs in one location! From amazing food (our favorite was Italian!) to beautiful views of the ocean, we could not ask for much more! We cannot wait to go back again some day!

Majestic Elegance – Punta Cana

Our first all-inclusive vacation we ever booked was to Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana. This adults-only resort was filled with fun activities, great excursion packages and wonderful rooms and dining options!

The Resort:

Majestic Elegance is a beautiful resort located in the Dominican Republic. Adjacent to Majestic Colonial, a family-friendly resort, the Majestic property is massive. We only visited Majestic Colonial to try and win some extra cash at the casino, but unfortunately, we did not have much luck there!

The rooms at Majestic Elegance were great — we had a jacuzzi inside and a balcony with a view of the large pool area. The hotel also has six restaurants and 11 bars — plenty of options for even the pickiest eater! We tried to sample as many restaurants as possible, but our all-time favorite was El Asadito Steak House, an Argentinian steak house!

The view from our room!

What to Do:

img_7690.jpgOur hotel room was about a five minute walk away from the beach, and once on the beach, there were chairs available to bring over to the ocean, or there were tiki huts to sit under to escape the sun for a bit! After spending our days by the ocean, we would wrap up the day at the swim-up pool bar before heading in for dinner and nightly entertainment.

The entertainment at Majestic Elegance was great. Our favorite night was the circus night! We sat back and watched people perform tricks and trapeze artists swing high above the ground. We even got to hang out with this man on stilts before the show!

In addition to spending time at the resort, we also booked two excursions on this trip. The first excursion we went on was such an amazing experience! We hopped on a boat and set sail to swim with sharks! We even got to hold a sting ray! That is definitely not something you get to do every day!

Our second excursion involved driving through the Dominican Republic to zip line through the trees! The views were amazing from the treetops, and we had a chance to see more of the Dominican Republic than we would have if we just stayed on the resort property. Our tour guide for this excursion gave us so much history and information about the culture and lifestyle of the people who live here. He also brought us pure cacao beans to try, and we had an opportunity to explore and do some shopping before going back to the resort!

We had a great time at Majestic Elegance, and we met some really great friends that we are still in touch with today! We were very happy with this trip, especially since it was our first all-inclusive vacation! We definitely got the travel bug after this trip!

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Our next winter getaway is a little different than these trips — we will be setting sail on our first cruise together, with some friends, to the Eastern Caribbean! I cannot wait to go on this trip and document it all to share once we are back! I am counting down the days until my next winter getaway — when and where will yours be?

 

travel guide: nashville, tn

Nashville is by far my favorite city I have ever visited in the U.S. The country music, hot chicken and live bands almost everywhere you go are just some of the reasons that I fell in love with this Tennessee city.

I went to Nashville with a few of my friends in 2017, and since then, I have been itching to go back (thankfully I am going back later this year!). From doing a pedal tavern in a rainstorm and celebrating the Nashville Predators winning two Stanley Cup games, to talking about how we pretended to be a bachelorette party on the radio, it is safe to say that our trip to Nashville was full of adventures! Read on below for some of my favorite activities and places we visited while we were there!

Where to Stay

Courtyard by Marriott Nashville Downtown
Just two minutes away from the historic Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, and a short walk to Lower Broadway, the main street of bars and restaurants downtown, the Courtyard is a great location to stay at while in Nashville. The hotel has clean, comfortable rooms and a Starbucks — the perfect combination to kickstart a full day in Music City!

What to Do

Grand Ole Opry Tour
Normally, I would recommend seeing a show at the Grand Ole Opry if possible, but unfortunately, there were no shows scheduled when we visited. I still wanted to check out this important piece of Music City’s history, so my friend Allie and I jumped in an Uber and spent an afternoon touring the Grand Ole Opry. Having the opportunity to go backstage and even step foot on the Opry stage is something I will never forget! Find out more about the backstage tour here!

Join the Studio Audience at The Ty Bentli Show
Formerly known as the Ty, Kelly & Chuck show, the Ty Bentli Show on Nash FM is one of my favorite radio programs to listen to. When I found out you can be a part of the studio audience, I knew it was a must for my trip to Nashville. As someone who works in media, it was great to see Ty and Chuck in action. They were incredibly welcoming, and they even gave me an opportunity to be part of the show! After the show, we got to tour the other studios in the building, and we even learned how to line dance with Shawn Parr from Nash Nights Live! Whether you listen to Ty’s morning show every day or hear it for the first time while in Nashville, this is an experience I highly recommend! Click here to learn more about how to join the audience!

Nashville Pedal Tavern
When you walk around in Nashville, you are bound to see groups of people pedaling through the streets, singing songs and drinking. While there are several different pedal taverns to choose from, we chose Nashville Pedal Tavern and had a great time. Unfortunately, it was pouring out the day we were scheduled to ride, but Nashville Pedal Tavern employees provided us with ponchos and a driver who made the day so much fun despite the bad weather! The Pedal Tavern also stopped at a few bars along the way, giving us an opportunity to explore parts of Nashville we had not been to yet. Book your bike tour here!

Lower Broadway
Lower Broadway is a must for your Nashville getaway. No matter where you go, there is live music playing all day and night. The bands are so talented and they all take requests. Some of our favorite spots include Tootsies, Honky Tonk and Nudie’s!

The Gulch
Have you ever seen pictures of the famous wall murals in Nashville? My favorite is this one pictured here: “What Lifts You?” created by Kelsey Montague! You can check them out in person by visiting The Gulch. A short ride away from downtown, The Gulch also has some great boutiques and restaurants, including a few of my favorites: Kittenish and Biscuit Love.

Belle Meade Winery
Belle Meade Winery just exudes southern hospitality. We booked a food and wine pairing with one of their sommeliers, and it was such a great experience. We got to taste Belle Meade’s award-winning wines, pair them with foods and learn about the proper ways to taste wine. After our pairing, we were able to enjoy the property while sipping on a few bottles of wine and snacking on some cheese and crackers. The best part is that they ship wine to almost all states, so you can enjoy Belle Meade’s wines long after you leave Nashville!

Shenanigoats
Two words: Goat. Yoga. This is definitely not something I ever thought I would try, but when I visited Nashville for my friend’s bachelorette party, this was at the top of the agenda. The goats are incredibly cute and playful, and are ready to climb all over the yogis in the room! They are even willing to pose for some fun pictures at the end of the session!

Where to Eat

Biscuit Love
We may have waited two hours in the hot, Tennessee sun, but Biscuit Love was well worth the wait. This is the first restaurant we stopped at once we hopped off the plane, and from fluffy biscuits to large mimosas, Biscuit Love did not disappoint! Make sure you try a Bonut (fried biscuit dough) while you are there. I promise you, you will not regret it!

Pancake Pantry
This was my favorite breakfast spot we ate at while in Nashville, and we all agreed that the food was amazing. I am a big fan of breakfast, and Pancake Pantry exceeded all of my expectations. From the best crepes to melt-in-your-mouth hash browns, I am still dreaming about this meal!

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken has some of the best hot chicken around Nashville. You can’t go wrong with a hot chicken sandwich and a side of pimento mac & cheese!

Burger Republic
Declared one of Zagat’s 50 Burgers in 50 States, the Tennessee burger at Burger Republic is one of the best burgers I have tasted to date! Topped with a Jack Daniel’s honey glaze, maple bacon and crispy onions, this burger was absolutely delicious! Definitely make this one of your stops while in Nashville!

5th & Taylor
The drinks, appetizers and dinner coupled with a cozy, family-style ambiance makes 5th & Taylor the perfect place to go to celebrate a special occasion. Everything is delicious, especially the duck wings appetizer and the pork tenderloin with rattlesnake beans, peach and jalapeño.

These are just some of my favorite spots we visited during our weekend in Tennessee! I hope this travel guide inspires you to put on a pair of cowboy boots, blast some country music and travel to this amazing city!

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!

how to maintain long-distance friendships

Growing up, one thing I always took for granted was just how close my friends and I all lived to each other. Almost all of my friends lived anywhere between a 5 to 20 minute drive from my home. As we have gotten older, those quick drives have turned into hour-long commutes, whether it be by car, bus, train or plane. Living far from friends can be difficult; however, the friendships are not impossible to maintain. Here are a few tips for keeping your long-distance friendships stronger than ever:

IMG_6104Find the halfway point between you and your friends
A long commute is not that bad all of the time, but now and then it can become tedious. Find the halfway point between all of you, and start researching the towns in that vicinity. Not only will it cut down the time it takes you to be reunited with your besties, but it also gives you an opportunity to explore new places together!  

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Plan a trip
Visiting a place you have never been to before is a great way to be reunited with your friends and satisfy your travel bug. Whether it is a new city or a new state, vacation time with your friends gives you something to look forward to and plan out together.

Send a care package
If you have friends who moved far from home, they may be feeling homesick, especially at this time of year. If your besties cannot make it home for the holidays, send a care package with their holiday and hometown favorites to cheer them up!

Schedule time to see each other
With everyone having lives of their own, plus the distance between you all, the days of calling up your friends 15 minutes before you want to do something are long gone. Whether you meet for dinner and drinks or an afternoon of binge-watching Netflix in sweats, planning a day to get together in advance guarantees you and your friends will get to spend time with each other.

FaceTime
By far, this is the easiest way to get your best-friend-fix when you cannot see each other in person! While a spontaneous FaceTime call is always welcome from friends, setting aside planned time each month helps make sure you stay in touch and up-to-date on each other’s lives. FaceTime also now has a group chat option, but if you don’t have an iPhone, try using Snapchat’s video chatting feature!

I hope these suggestions help keep you and your friends closer than ever, despite the distance between you all! Do you have other ways you maintain long-distance friendships? Feel free to share them with me in the comments below!

travel guide: austin, tx

This April, my friends and I hopped on a plane to Austin, TX for a girls’ weekend. Our trip to Austin included a lot of BBQ, beer and bats — read on to find out more about our favorite Austin spots!

Where to Stay

Hyatt Place Downtown: We had a great experience with this hotel. It is located in downtown Austin, so everything we needed was always a quick car ride away. The rooms were clean and spacious; there was more than enough room for the five of us! The hotel staff was also incredibly friendly and helpful. We planned this trip for our friends’ birthday weekend, and the staff helped us kick off the celebrations by bringing champagne and some cake up to the room as a surprise!

Where to Eat

Kerby Lane Cafe: This was our first stop once we landed in Austin, and we knew we were in the right place when our waiter suggested we order queso at 9:30 in the morning. I would do anything to get that queso in Jersey! The food was so good, that we had brunch here twice!

Gordough’s Public House: Gordough’s has a food truck and a restaurant, but I recommend heading to the restaurant. Pitchers of Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s were plentiful, as was the food here! Hands down, this was one of the best meals I have ever tried: crispy fried chicken, a potato pancake, warm cream corn, candied jalapeños — all on top of a hot donut. What more could you ask for?!

Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden: Banger’s is an awesome spot for dinner and drinks. With outdoor seating and a menu of 30 homemade sausages and more than 100 craft beers, it is a great place to hang out with friends, have a few laughs and share a tasty meal!

Torchy’s Tacos: This is the best taco spot we found while we were in Austin! The menu has a huge variety that will cater to anyone’s taco cravings, and while there might be a bit of a wait, it is definitely worth it!

Truluck’s Steakhouse and Seafood: One thing we have learned while traveling on long weekend trips is that we should set aside one night to wine and dine ourselves. Truluck’s was the perfect choice for that. The wine list was extensive, and the food was absolutely delicious.

What to Do:
Bat Watching
: Admittedly, I was skeptical about watching bats, but when a handful of people recommended this activity to us, we had to check it out. There are 1.5 million bats that reside under the Congress Ave. Bridge in Austin, and around dusk, they fly out in swarms. Most people were lined up along the entire bridge, while some even sat in boats nearby to watch this phenomenon. If you are looking for an experience unique to Austin, this is it!

Graffiti ParkThis was our last stop before we left Austin, and it was one of the coolest things we saw while we were on this trip. The original location of Graffiti Park is on Baylor Street, but there are plans to move it to a new location. We were able to visit the original location while we were in Austin, and it is safe to say we left our mark in Graffiti Park! It was so much fun to look at all of the art that was created here, while making some of our own! I cannot wait to see what the new location will look like once it is launched!

UnBARlievableThis was our favorite bar in Austin, and it was 100 percent because of the “Fun Slide!” Besides an actual slide in the middle of the bar, UnBARlievable has a great atmosphere, live music and good drinks!

Lucille: This bar is set in a renovated house and has an outdoor space with hammocks and lawn games. We stopped here on our first night out in Austin, and we had a great time!

Recess Arcade Bar: This is a fun bar to visit on 6th Street during the day if you want to channel your inner child. From giant Jenga to Skee Ball, there are a ton of games to play while having a drink with friends.

We had a great time in Austin, and we cannot wait to go back and visit again some day!

travel guide: charleston, s.c.

I like to say that I leave a little piece of my heart everywhere I travel, and that is definitely true of Charleston, y’all!

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This summer, Connor and I traveled to South Carolina for a family wedding, and we immediately fell in love with Charleston! We decided to stay a couple of extra days after the wedding so we could explore this southern gem, and from some of the tastiest foods to the liveliest night life, Charleston certainly didn’t disappoint! Read on for some of my recommendations for a charming weekend getaway!

Where to Stay:
King 583: Located on King Street, King 583 is a suite-style boutique hotel that is never more than a few steps away from a good meal, a cool drink or a strong cup of coffee. The rooms are clean, spacious and are equipped with a kitchen and fireplace. What more could you ask for?

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetCourtyard Charleston Waterfront by Marriott: Located near the French Quarter, this Marriott is a quick ride away from downtown Charleston. This hotel has greatwaterfront views, a pool and a nice outdoor space to enjoy a late night snack while reminiscing about the day’s adventures.


Where to Eat
:
Toast: The food at Toast was so good, we went back twice! If you have a sweet tooth, try the stuffed French toast, but if you’re more of a savory foodie, the Eggs Meeting Street option is the way to go!
Another Broken Egg: This was a great breakfast spot to pop into while walking around downtown! The infused mimosas are a must!
Blossom: This restaurant is a short walk away from Rainbow Row. The blue crab ravioli at Blossom was amazing, and the drink menu was full of great options.
Hall’s Chophouse: Conveniently located on King Street, this is a Charleston-must for all steak lovers. With a wide variety of steak options, full-sized sides for the table and delicious desserts to top off the evening, you cannot ask for much more! I highly recommend making reservations before you go!
Indaco: Located on King Street, this restaurant offers a rustic environment and great Italian meals. Try the Corn Mezzaluna for a great twist on the classic ravioli dish!
Stars: Connor and I popped in here on our way home from dinner, and we stumbled upon a cute rooftop bar with fun drinks like frozen bellinis! I recommend getting there early if you want a table, but even on a Friday night, there was plenty of room to stand comfortably while taking in some downtown views!

Where to Grab a Sweet Treat:
Jeni’s Ice Cream: This is the only ice cream shop I have ever been to that offers a flight of ice cream: three half scoops of whichever flavors you would like, plus a piece of a waffle cone! This was my personal heaven. The ice cream here is packed with flavor – some of my favorites were frosé sorbet, cream puff and darkest chocolate. Jeni’s was probably the spot we frequented most on this trip!
Carmella’s Café and Dessert Bar: If you have a sweet tooth, you must try Carmella’s! The desserts here looked so good, that it was hard to choose just one! We settled on the coconut raspberry cake and the tiramisu (one guess who picked the mini cake…and finished it later that night…). Not only does Carmella’s offer desserts, but it also offers a full bar and specialty cocktails!

What to Do:

8beb215d-9c39-40ee-9981-393cf5558313-e1538669366986.jpgBoone Hall Plantation: America’s most photographed plantation is bursting with history and picturesque views. Upon entering the plantation, you will drive through the Avenue of Oaks, a beautiful path of oak trees that John Boone, the original owner of the plantation, started planting when he lived there. Once on the grounds, you will see that nine of the 27 slave cabins that were present on the property are still standing today. All nine have been turned into exhibits to educate visitors about the lifestyle of the slaves who once lived there. After exploring the cabins, head over to the mansion for a tour. Hint: you may recognize the mansion from The Notebook – it served as Allie’s family’s summer home. End the day with a walk around the gardens, and a wagon tour of the property.
Rainbow Row: This is Charleston’s famous line of pastel-colored row houses. Located right near The Battery, it’s the perfect place to stop after walking along the water and learning about Charleston’s history!

Historic Charleston City Market: This market extends four blocks and is full of vendors selling products. There are so many things to see and purchase, plus there are plenty of other shops and food places to pop into along the way!
Second Sunday: If you happen to be on Charleston on the second Sunday of the month, then you are in for a treat! King Street shuts down so people can walk through the street freely. All shops are open and musicians and other artists line the streets, providing entertainment for all those exploring downtown! Maybe you will even find Charleston Max enjoying a mid-day treat!


We had an amazing time in Charleston, and we cannot wait to go back and explore more of this beautiful city! I recommend you walk as much as possible while you are there, so you do not miss out on any of the southern charm that this city has to offer!

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