Friday, August 28, 2015

The Two-Toned Kitchen: Trendy or a New Classic?

Our kitchen is a master of disguise. We've gotten compliments on the tile floors, granite countertops, and sleek subway tiles, but the truth is that the floors and counters are actually laminate, and the tile backsplash is a mess when you look at it closely.

So this week, we embarked on the process of updating the space. We're keeping the white Ikea cabinets, which we love, but replacing the countertops, sink and faucet, backsplash, and floors. The counters were installed yesterday, and they're gorgeous—the Cambria Torquay quartz looks a bit like marble but is a lot more durable. But here's the thing: Our new bright white countertops make our cabinets look off-white. And I don't love it.

It's an unexpected curveball, but it also may just be the perfect excuse to try out a look I've been noticing more and more: two-toned kitchen cabinets. I don't want to invest in anything too trendy, but I'm really drawn to these kitchens. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Six Stylish Walking Shoes for Europe

Travel Shoes: Europe

1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 * 6

We're about a month out from our next trip to Europe, and while I've booked our plane tickets, apartments, and even picked out some restaurants, there's one little detail I haven't put too much thought into: What to wear?

Our vacations typically consist of two things: Eating and walking—for miles each day. And I have yet to find an attractive pair of shoes that can stand up to the amount of walking we do. I'm so baffled by the bloggers who gallivant around Europe in their cute little sandals and heels. Do they keep a pair of sensible flats in their oversized (and equally impractical) purse?

These are the shoes that I've run across in my search for cute and comfortable options. I'm still not completely sold on any of them, so if you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Traveling on the Whole30: 4 Survival Snacks

Whole30 Travel Survival Snacks

Being on the Whole30 is stressful. Traveling is stressful. When you put the two together, you're almost setting yourself up for failure.

I had to travel to Boston last week for work, a trip I'd been dreading all month because of my diet. Not only would I have to deal with the stress of traveling solo, but I'd have to find compliant food in the airport, in my hotel, and on the road. Without a car or grocery store, I was at the mercy of my surroundings—and I wasn't sure if I'd make it. 

Luckily, I took the time to prepare myself, packing more snacks than a soccer mom. And I can proudly say that I survived the trip with only a couple of small slip-ups. (Wine turned out to be a necessity—sorry not sorry.) Here's what I sipped and snacked on in those moments when I just wanted a candy bar and a Coke.

Larabars — Not all Larabars are compliant, but a bunch of them only have nuts and fruit. On the day when the office ordered pizza for lunch, I munched on a side salad followed by a coconut cream pie Larabar—and I didn't hate it.

Plantain Chips — You've got to search for a bag that isn't made with cane sugar or non-compliant oils, but plantain chips are sweet, salty, and satisfying. With a can of La Croix, they quickly quell any snack craving. 

Black Iced Coffee — When I lived and worked in Boston, I survived off of Dunkin's large iced coffees with a generous amount of cream and sugar—it was one of my favorite treats. I really wasn't sure if I could switch to black coffee, but it turns out, if it's good coffee, black is almost better. Grabbing a coffee at the airport and in the mid-afternoon at work kept me happy and energized.

Dried Figs — They may not be pretty, but figs are gooey, chewy, sweet, crunchy, and delicious. Perfect for packing and snacking.

Bonus Tip: The Appetizer Menu — Especially at nicer restaurants, chefs tend to embrace seasonal foods and experimentation on their appetizer menus, which often means creative, veggie-packed dishes. When eating out, you may have more luck ordering a couple of appetizers instead of a traditional entree.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Whole30 Week 1: 5 Things I Couldn't Live Without

Whole 30 MVPs

I just completed Week 1 of the Whole30, a 30-day diet that eliminates all sugar, dairy, legumes, alcohol, and grains. Why would I do that to myself? Because the program promises increased energy, balanced metabolism, weight loss, improved gut health, and—most importantly for me—control over cravings. Todd and I both also wanted to stop being so dependent on eating out, something we do way too often.

So what does that leave? Meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts (except peanuts), and healthy fats like olive and coconut oils. Week 1 felt surprisingly normal for me, and I was almost never hungry (although I have missed my after-work wine). We had taco salad, steak, stuffed peppers, Nicoise salad, and lots more, and spent more time together in the kitchen than we ever have before. We even travelled over the weekend then had friends over for dinner with no problems at all. Here are the five ingredients that kept me going through the week!

  • Eggs — I. Love. Eggs. Scrambled, hard-boiled, poached, sunny-side up—you name it. I ate veggie-packed scrambles for breakfast, hard-boiled eggs for snacks, and a frittata for lunch. 
  • Avocados — I made guacamole several times throughout the week and piled it on top of fajitas, chopped veggies, and turkey-lettuce wraps. It tastes so good, I feel like I'm "cheating," but it's 100 percent compliant.
  • Spinach — Whether eaten fresh in the form of a salad, mixed in with scrambled eggs, or simply sautéed with some garlic and coconut oil, spinach is versatile, delicious, and packed with nutrients.
  • La Croix — I was so happy when I learned that La Croix is allowed. We bought several cases at Target and I drink one when I'm craving sweetness. The coconut is by far my favorite, but they're all good. 
  • Zucchini — It's in season, cheap, and crazy versatile. Zucchini chips, zoodles, and simply sautéed as a side. We have some growing in the garden, and I can't wait until it's ripe enough to eat!
P.S. This is my favorite recipe from the week. 
Also, this post is why I decided to take the plunge. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer 2015 Bucket List

The other day, I was thinking about how I couldn't wait for summertime. Then, of course, I realized that it's been summer for awhile here in Richmond. I guess I've been too busy to notice.

Before the season slips away, I thought it might be wise to give myself some goals with a Summer Bucket List. I'm already looking forward to this fall, but I don't want to miss out on everything that I love about summer. Without further ado, my hopes and dreams for Summer 2015:

  • Bike to a Flying Squirrels game, drink local beer, and watch fireworks.
  • Spend an afternoon lounging on the rocks by the river on Belle Isle.
  • Host a wine and cheese night on the front porch.
  • Take a tour of the Brew Ridge Trail
  • Make at least one full meal from the veggies in our garden.
  • Learn to use the manual settings on my camera.
  • Become a regular at the neighborhood pool during adult swim time.
  • Actually use the tennis courts down the street.
  • Take the nephews to D.C. for the day.
  • Perfect three new summer cocktail recipes (starting with this).
  • Hike Old Rag Mountain.
  • And, in direct opposition to most of the above goals, I'm also planning to do the Whole 30 at some point. Wish me luck.
What's on your summer bucket list? 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

7 Affordable Airbnbs in Paris

I know that I've shared my love of Airbnb before. Some people may be scared off by the idea of staying in someone else's apartment, but I think it's one of the best—and most affordable—ways to get a feel for what it's really like to live in a city. What many people don't realize is that you can often find Airbnb rentals that aren't the owner's primary residence—I tend to look for these types of properties.

We are beginning and ending an upcoming trip to Europe in Paris, and spending just over a week there. Wanting our time in the city to be absolutement parfait, I've spent hours sifting through hundreds of rentals throughout the city, and a few really stood out. My criteria:

  • Under $110(ish)
  • In a typical Parisian neighborhood (walkable, near metro, with nearby shops and cafes)
  • Real bed (I'm way past my pull-out couch days)
  • Wi-Fi
  • Good ratings from Airbnb guests
  • Bonus points for washing machine, nice kitchen, balcony, and a view

Thinking of planning your own trip to Paris? Here are my top seven picks!

This sweet little spot is in one of Paris' hippest neighborhoods, Le Marais, and boasts an incredible view of the rooftops. Plus, it has an espresso machine.

It doesn't get much more central than Ile St. Louis, a little island in the middle of the Seine. This apartment is just a three minute walk from Notre Dame.

At $139/night, this apartment was pushing my budget, but I love its colorful, funky style. 

This Montmarte apartment is where we're spending our last two nights in Paris. It looks a lot like a hotel room, non? Except it has a kitchen, a sweet spiral staircase, and it's $87/night.

This one has a fabulous view of Sacre Coeur. Mon dieu!

I love the details of this little flat

We booked this one for the first leg of our trip. It may be basic, but it's smack dab in the middle of the bustling Latin Quarter. Just look at the street view!

One last tip: If you're not sure which neighborhood you want to stay in, Airbnb has a really helpful guide for that, too. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Eurotrip 2015: Itinerary Whittling

I've started planning for a trip to Europe this fall, and as always at the beginning of the planning process, I'm overwhelmed by the possibilities. I'm tempted to return to Spain and Portugal because I loved our last trip so much, but I'm also drawn to the idea of going somewhere brand new. Here are a few of the options I'm considering:

Paris is the only definite on my list right now. Although I've been before, it was only for a day or two and at the tail end of a long trip, so T. and I were both worn out. I want to give the city the time and attention it deserves, and stay for at least four or five days. I've even found an Airbnb in Montmarte with a view of the Eiffel Tower for under $100! Who says Paris is expensive?

Brussels is just a two-hour train ride from Paris, which makes it perfect for a beer- and chocolate-fueled day trip. But the more I read about Belgium—including places like Brugge, Ghent, and the Foret des Soignes—the more I think the country might deserve a trip in itself.

After a few days of city living, I think we'd be ready for the slower pace of Provence. Avignon is a three-hour ride to Paris via high-speed rail, and from there we could rent a car and village-hop. There's so much to see in Provence, I don't know where to begin planning. First off, we'll need a place to stay—recommendations are welcome.

Now comes the hard part: Deciding what comes after France. I've always wanted to go to Venice, but the more I read about it, the more it sounds like it's been overrun by cruise ship tourists and souvenir shops. Is it worth it?

A more low-key option may be the Italian Riviera, including Portofino. I'd also love to return to Cinque Terre.

On the other hand, Croatia seems magical (and cheap)...

...and Prague has been on my list for years.

Then again I just can't shake the idea of returning to Portugal.

I'm thinking we might need more than two weeks for this trip.