Thursday, December 31, 2015

5 Things I Loved About Paris... and What I Wish I'd Done Differently

There's a reason Paris is the No. 1 tourist destination in the world: The city is breathtaking, with some of the most incredible food, architecture, shopping, and culture you'll find anywhere. I've been hoarding photos from our September trip, waiting for a rainy day to sift through them and get nostalgic. Here's what I loved most about our trip, and what I wish we'd done differently.

1. We ate well and often. We didn't have a bad meal in Paris. I did my research and had a list of places that I wanted to visit, but more often than not we trusted our instincts and enjoyed some truly memorable meals throughout the city. We started most days with cafe and croissants, ate a whole lot of croque monsieurs, and when we got tired, we stopped for wine, pastries, espresso, or ice cream.

2. We stayed in an apartment. Because we were in Paris for over a week, we knew we wanted to at least pretend to have the experience of living there. We wanted to go to the market and cook dinner in our kitchen, to lounge in our living room, and watch the world go by from our balcony. Our fifth-floor walk-up in the Latin Quarter was a fun place to call home.

3. We didn't let the weather get us down. I don't know if it was just the time of year, but we got a lot of sudden rainstorms during our trip. So many, in fact, that we often found ourselves literally running from the rain (and more than once, we didn't make it). While we had our share of sunny days too, we made the most of the gloomy ones by strapping on our rain gear, heading out to explore, and ducking into shops and cafes when things got really wet.

4. We biked to Pere Lachaise cemetery. This was one of my favorite things we did in Paris. While the first part of the trip was dicey by bike (see below), as we got closer to the famous cemetery, the streets got narrower, quieter, and more typically Parisian. Inside the gates, the cemetery was showing the first signs of fall. I couldn't take enough pictures.

5. We wandered at night. Paris can get frantic during the day, especially in the major tourist zones. But after dark, the city takes on an otherworldly quality. We walked the grounds of the deserted Louvre, found a brass band practicing along the Seine, and slipped into boisterous cafes to share the evening with Parisians. Our late-night wanderings meant we didn't see much of Paris in the morning, but je ne regrette rien.

OK, maybe that's not entirely true. There are a few things I wish we'd done differently, like...

I wish we'd skipped the Eiffel Tower. We visited the tower and even went to the top on our first trip to Paris years ago. This time, the visit felt more obligatory, and we found ourselves frustrated by the hordes of tourists crawling around the grounds. There was also a lot of construction going on around the tower, so we got caught in a bottleneck trying to get there. If you ask me, it's just as enjoyable—if not more so—to take in the view from other vantage points throughout the city.

I wish we'd stayed in Le Marais. I chose our apartment in the Latin Quarter because it was central, and rented a place in Montmartre at the end of our trip. But I really wish we'd just gotten an apartment in Le Marais. This medieval neighborhood is by far my favorite in the city, with some of the coolest shops and restaurants we ran across. Every day I found myself wanting to return there over other areas, and wishing we could begin and end our days on its colorful winding streets.

I wish I'd mastered Velib. I had visions of zipping around Paris on an adorable Velib bike, but here's the truth: It was terrifying. Paris is a massive city with some insane drivers, and somehow we kept finding ourselves trying to navigate the most high-traffic areas during the busiest times of day. More than once I jumped off the bike in frustration and refused to ride it any further, which in turn frustrated Todd. I still think if we'd stuck to the quieter arrondisements, I would have fared better.

I wish we hadn't eaten out so much. I almost can't believe I'm admitting this, but we got a little burnt out by eating out in Paris. French food is decadent and rich, and it's also expensive—we spent $50 on lunch more than once, and much more on dinners. By the end, I was dying for a salad or some grilled veggies. I wish we'd cooked more in the apartment and had some simple picnics. I also wish we'd branched out more into other cuisines—one of our favorite meals was at a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place in Montmartre.

I wish we'd day-tripped. In all, we were in Paris for nine days. And while there was plenty to keep us busy for much longer than that, I wish we had hopped on a train and experienced some other parts of France. Paris is exhilarating and inspiring, but it can also be overwhelming in its scale, and it would have been nice to take a breather in a smaller village or a chateau in the countryside.

That said, I'd go back in a heartbeat. Thinking of visiting yourself? Check out my blog post on seven great Airbnbs in Paris, plus my Paste magazine round-up of 10 more.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The 10 Things I Wear Almost Every Day

Over the last few years, I've accepted the fact that I'm completely predictable when it comes to getting dressed in the morning. I look past about 75 percent of my wardrobe and reach for the same few pieces that I really love to wear. My typical uniform may not be worthy of a street style snap, but I generally feel comfortable and confident in my clothes, and I wish I'd embraced this style of dressing years ago. Here are the 10 pieces that get the most wear in my wardrobe.

1. J. Crew's Toothpick Jeans — These jeans have been my go-to for a couple of years. I own four pairs in different colors, but the black is my favorite—I wear them at least three days a week.

2. Target Odell Leopard Ballet Flats — At just $15, I usually buy these flats two pairs at a time. They're lightweight, super comfortable, and they add a bit of pattern to my mostly solid wardrobe.

3. Madewell Slub V-Neck Pocket T — I've bought many V-necks over the years, but I love this fit so much I got it in at least half a dozen colors.

4. Vintage Leather Coach Purse — I found this at a thrift store years ago and have been carrying it ever since. I'm always browsing for new bags, but I can never find anything that I love more than this classic piece.

5. Flannel Shirts — In the colder months, I wear flannel almost daily. The above shirt is a favorite from J. Crew (last season), but I've found great (and much more affordable) flannel shirts at Old Navy and Forever 21.

6. Derek Cardigan 7021 Glasses — I've gotten so many compliments on these glasses over the years, and I love the subtle punctuation marks.

7. Striped Shirt — You didn't think I could do this roundup without including a striped shirt, did you? I rarely invest a lot in these because they get so much wear. I've found good ones at H&M, Target, and J. Crew Factory.

8. Aerie Undies — TMI? Too bad. I spent years searching for a pair of undies that were cute, fit well, and didn't cost a ridiculous amount. These are my favorites, even if they do come from a teen store. I buy them five pairs at a time.

9. Grey Grandpa Cardigans — Nope, they're not remotely sexy, but long, grey cardigans see a lot of play around here. I usually find them at The Gap and wear them until they fall apart.
10. Forever21 Cat-eye Sunglasses — My sunglasses get a lot of abuse, so I skip the expensive brands and buy them in bulk at Forever21. Most pairs cost around $6, so it doesn't matter if they eventually get scratched or broken in the bottom of my bag.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Whole30 Experience: The Good, The Bad, and The Results

After years of promising myself that I'd get in shape, I ordered the Whole30 book on a whim and decided to do the challenge. A month after finishing, I have mixed feelings about the diet — but I'd do it again. Here's my take on the pros and cons of the Whole30. Let's start with the good.

I proved that I can do it. I've never really stuck with a healthy diet before. I'm very quick to give in to my cravings. I proved to myself that I can stare down a steaming hot slice of pizza and reach for a salad. 

I cooked a lot. I'd say that I typically cook a moderate amount, but we're quick to eat out or order in when we don't feel like cooking. For these four weeks, I cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost daily, and I really enjoyed being in the kitchen (for the most part). We discovered some new recipes that we'll use moving forward.

I bonded with Todd. He didn't really need to lose weight, but it helped so much to have someone to talk through the challenges and triumphs. And I loved how much time we spent cooking together and eating leisurely meals on the patio.

I lost weight. I'm currently down six pounds, and although it's not as much as I hoped for, I can definitely see and feel a difference.

I changed my habits. I was afraid I'd go right back to my old ways, but it's been a month and I haven't felt the urge to do that. We've started eating out again, and I have milk and sugar in my coffee and the occasional sandwich, but overall our eating habits are significantly healthier, and my weight has continued to drop.

And now for the bad:

It was a lonely road. It's really tough to go out and socialize on this diet. Technically, you can eat out, but it can be difficult to find restaurants that serve truly compliant food. And of course, drinking is out of the question, so there goes happy hour unless you want to sip a seltzer while everyone else drinks wine. Our social interactions were pretty minimal for the entire four weeks.

I spent so much time in the kitchen. Like I said, I loved cooking so much, but sometimes it felt like I was spending all of my spare time in the kitchen either prepping ingredients, cooking, or cleaning up afterward.

My energy didn't increase. In fact, there were a couple of days I was so tired that I had to take a nap. 

My skin got worse. Significantly worse. Usually my skin is pretty clear, but I had a major breakout a week or two into the diet, and it's only now beginning to go away.

Overall, if you're looking to make a major change to your diet, I'd recommend trying the Whole30. I don't agree with all of the rules, but ultimately it helped me go from merely talking about getting healthy and losing weight to actually doing it. Having explicit rules and a specific goal helped me immensely.

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.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Walking Richmond's Floodwall

One of my favorite things about Richmond is how it's so tied in with its natural surroundings. The James River winds right through the city, offering some of the only Class IV rapids you'll find in an urban setting. The James River Park extends for miles along the river, through meadows and forests, and past a historic cemetery and Civil War POW camp. Last weekend we took a stroll along the Floodwall, which has some of the best views of the city I've seen. With Legend Brewing and Blue Bee Cider just up the street, it's got everything you need for a lazy summer afternoon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

6 Things to Drink in Lisbon, Portugal

Since visiting Portugal nearly a year ago, I've had a story idea bouncing around my brain. At the risk of sounding like a lush, it's about all of the wonderful things you can drink in Lisbon, from its distinctively dark coffee to its fizzy "green" wine. I finally pitched the idea to Paste, and it was published last week. You can read it here, and check out my previous blog post on Lisbon here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jetsetter Style: What to Wear to the Airport

Remember when people used to dress up to fly? No? Me neither — that was long before my time. Nowadays, most trips to the airport feel like an extended episode of What Not to Wear. And while it's certainly fun to observe the eclectic runway of fashion misfires, I for one prefer to wear real pants when I fly (or any time I'm in public, for that matter).

No, you won't find me teetering around in high heels or squeezing into a pencil skirt for a six-hour flight, but I do like to make somewhat of an effort to not look like I just rolled out of bed (even if I did).

Here are my necessities:

Jetsetter Style

  • Dark skinny jeans with a moderate amount of stretch — cute but comfy on the plane. 
  • Several layers of shirts (tank, long-sleeve, sweater) — for easy changing upon arrival.
  • Mid-sized purse with carry-on necessities
  • Ballet flats.
  • Sunglasses — make fun of me if you will, but fluorescent lights suck at 5 a.m. Plus, it's great for people-watching.
  • Massive scarf — doubles as a blanket on the plane.
  • Lipstick — makes any outfit look more pulled together.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Favorites: Cleaning House

I love everything about this kitchen
Happy Friday, y'all. Have any fun plans? I'll be catching up on a bunch of freelance articles that I'm pretty excited about. Here are some things I'm enjoying this week:

  • It's still January, which means I'm still in purging mode. This Apartment Therapy article has some good ideas for getting rid of tons of stuff that's probably cluttering up your house.
  • I wrote about some weird but tasty beers for Paste magazine. I've also recently started blogging for their Design section
  • I've been slowly moving toward more organic/natural foods for awhile now, but this Tedx talk by Robyn O'Brien (which is a couple of years old) really inspires me to go all in.
  • This is a meal I'm eating a lot lately.
  • To be honest, I rarely use cookbooks, but I love to have them in the kitchen. This one is gorgeous.
  • When Todd's out of town, I watch a lot of British dramas. This is my current fave.