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Surprise! I went to Paris for the weekend

A few weeks ago I was drinking french wine with my friend Lauren and I jokingly said, “Hey, I wonder if flights to Paris are cheap right now since it’s winter.” It turns out yes, yes they were. So I made the wise and mature adult decision to buy a last minute flight to Paris for the weekend (I swear they were on sale!). 

Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

The goal of this trip was to only do things I haven’t done before. I walked/ubered/scootered past soo many of my old favorites and I forced myself to keep going. Paris has almost 20,000 restaurants, I do NOT need to keep going to Les Deux Magots every time I’m there. So, here’s what I did on this trip that was different from what I’ve done before:

La Jacobine

This is a classic french bistro in my favorite little hidden alleyway in St. Germain. It’s right next to Le Procope, which is my favorite restaurant in Paris (but that I did NOT go to this time). I had the goat cheese salad, the salmon, and the raspberry crumble. They were all AMAZING and so quintessentially french. 

Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

Airbnb Experience Pub Crawl

I met a lovely girl from NYC named Lisa on the train (more about her below) from the airport to the city center and she told me that she was going to a pub crawl that she found on airbnb experiences. I immediately signed up for it, and it was a BLAST. There’s just one gritty picture from the night but if it was crisp and clear that would NOT be a clear representation 🙂 Our host did an awesome job showing us around her super cool neighborhood, from what I can remember

Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

Lime Scooters

Have y’all tried these? I was honestly just utterly terrified the first time, since these things go up to 20 mph and Paris has really bumpy cobblestone type streets. But after about my third time on one, it got a lot easier and less terrifying. For your money, it’s the quickest/cheapest way to get around an urban city.

Alizée Crêperie Gourmet

I researched ‘best crepe places in Paris’ and this one was just the closest to my airbnb, one neighborhood over in the Latin Quarter. It was a 45 minute walk made longer by the fact that halfway there I realized I forgot my wallet 🙁 BUT the crepes were AMAZING once I finally did get there, and it was well worth the many miles of walking. The crepes were amazing even though we had to sit outside, but there was heaters and blankets and it was super cozy. 

Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

Delacroix Museum

Delacroix was a french painter in the 1800s. There was just a Delacroix exhibit at the Met in New York that I went to several times because I loved it so much, so this museum was a no brainer. Also, it’s free on Sundays! It’s very small – it’s actually in the last apartment he had before he died in 1863. It had a lot more memorabilia and photos of him than it did his actual art, but it was cool to continue learning about him after his huge exhibit at the Met. 

Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

Hemmingway Bar

This bar, located within the Ritz Carlton hotel, has the coolest story of any bar I’ve ever been to. The story goes that Ernest Hemmingway himself liberated this bar from Nazi rule in World War II. I’m not sure how that even works but I am sure that the drinks were amazing, the bar was elegant and rich in history, and I felt incredibly swanky. 

Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

Open Air Market

To be honest I did not plan on this, but it was super cool and brought me back to my study abroad years. My absolute favorite item to buy at a french market is dried strawberries. You canNOT get these in the US, I swear. They’re not freeze dried – they’re dried like how you can get dried apricots or peaches here. They taste like gummy bears and are just so good. 

Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

Stay at an Airbnb room in someone’s house

This was a bit weird. But I figured it would be good for me to live with people who know I came home every night, since I was a solo traveling female. This room was RUSTIC y’all and I’m not bragging about how posh it was by any means, but it got the job done and was less than $200 for two nights in central Paris. My host was adorable and gave me croissants every morning. 

Make friends with a stranger

Walking out of the airport, I noticed a lost looking American girl and an old french dude who was not being helpful. ‘Go ask that girl over there’ he told her. And that girl was ME! Turns out this girl is from Texas, lives in NYC, and was on my same flight coming and going. We hung out basically the whole weekend and it was so fun to have a friend on a trip I thought I’d be flying solo on. We also made friends with so many other people at our pub crawl, and I think this has shaped my view of traveling along. You won’t be alone long if you make friends! Thanks for making this trip even better, Lisa!

Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

So now, if you’re wondering how I packed everything into essentially a two day trip, here’s what my schedule looked like:

Friday: 

  • Flight takes off at 10:30 p.m., sleep on the plane with the help of Pinot Noir and Advil PM

Saturday: 

  • Flight lands at 11 a.m.
  • Sightseeing, dinner, pub crawl from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. that ends up lasting until 2:30 a.m. (yikes)

Sunday: 

  • Sleep in and suffer the consequences of last night’s pub crawl, but other than that a full day of sightseeing
  • On Sunday night, I did. not. sleep. I went to bed around midnight, and ended up tossing and turning until about 4:30 a.m.

Monday: 

  • Wake up at 6:30 (so yes, 2 hours of sleep), sightsee until 2:30 and then went to the airport
  • Flight leaves at 6:30 p.m.
  • Flight lands in NYC at 8:30 p.m.
  • Arrive home by 10:30 p.m., immediately fall fast asleep on top of the covers  

Tuesday: 

  • WORK BY 8 A.M. *I love my job I love my job I love my job*

This trip was an absolute whirlwind but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love Paris with my whole heart, and will go whenever I get the chance. If you ever need any advice about traveling to France, please let me know, or ask questions in the comments below. 

tori leigh blog paris
Paris Weekend, food, museum, pub crawl, lime scooters, crepes, open air market, Airbnb, friends with a stranger, cheap flights

KonMari Method and 6 Other Ways I Thrive in 450 Square Feet

Good morning friends! It has now been almost 8 months since I moved from my lavish (ok, well lavish is saying a lot, but it was giant) 1000+ square foot apartment in Brooklyn to a crazy tiny 450 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side. But that’s ok! It’s taken me almost these 8 whole months, but I think I’ve finally managed to master the art of small living, and I wanted to share my little tricks!

KonMari Small Space Organization

We’ll go in order of relevancy here instead of chronological order of when I figured out all these tips and tricks, because the #1 thing I want to talk about is:

1. The KonMari Method

Unlike most Americans now obsessed with ‘Tidying Up’, I actually read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, many years ago, and it inspired me to slowly go through my first Dallas apartment and throw away all my non-joyful things. It’s been a while since that happened, and watching the show has inspired me to redo the whole process. Luckily in a tiny NYC apartment, this takes an afternoon and not the 30+ days it takes some people on the show. I walked three giant bags of donations to the Goodwill 3 blocks from my house over a series of 3 days, and threw away two giant bags of trash (recycling as much as possible!). I used to use bins under my bed to store shorts and shirts and I now don’t need those anymore! Now I can see everything in my drawers and it’s AMAZING. Folding laundry does take about 50% longer, but I’m one person so it’s ok.

2. Keep your spices where you can see them

I love these magnetic spice holders SO much. They solve so many issues. They free up space in cabinets, you don’t have to rifle through a million spices to find what you’re looking for, they all match and are sooo aesthetically pleasing, and you can easily see how much of a spice you have left since the labels are clear. I bought these spice holders on amazon, and these labels. Even if I live in a mansion one day (doubtful lol), I’ll still probably do this.

3. Over the Door/Cabinet Everything

Personally, I hate over the door storage and think it looks cheap. But your point of view quickly changes when you live somewhere so tiny. I have an over the door mirror, over the door shoe rack, and over the cabinet door pot lid holders and towel holders and little holder for our saran wraps and stuff. I don’t have any pictures of ours because this is the MOST boring category, but clicking the links will get you there 🙂

4. Floating shelves for shoes

I’ve always loved the idea of floating shelves for shoes, if you have to store them in your room and not in a closet, like I’ve always had to in NYC. I currently have three separate locations I store my shoes (flats and sandals in my over the door hanger, tennis shoes and boots under my clothes rack, and then heels on my floating shelf. I love my desk area, and the shelf above my desk is basically like another piece of wall decor. I only store heels up there, since they’re the prettiest 🙂

5. Go custom if you have a weird space you can utilize

When we first moved in, there was this awkward looking little ledge next to our kitchen counter. It would’ve been so useful if the counter would’ve extended over the ledge, but of course it didn’t. So, I custom ordered a piece of wood from a lumber store downtown, sanded if, stained it, and coated it, and ordered four legs from IKEA, and now we have three extra feet of countertop! Also, the ledge now acts as storage below the counter.

Above our little DIY counter, I ordered two pieces of wood as shelves, and treated them the same way I did the counter, so they’d look alike. I bought brackets from Home Depot, and heavy duty wall anchors. From before to after, there is soo much added storage, and that makes a world of difference.

6. Buy furniture that can double as storage

I did this with my bed frame that’s built to be a storage bed, our IKEA ottoman, my bedside table, and our coffee table. We do not have room for a bookshelf, and so storing our books in a pretty place where we can see them is the perfect solution.

7. Organize your kitchen drawers

We have ONE drawer, yes one. And, it’s so small, not a single Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, etc. store had a drawer divider we could use. It was SO unorganized!

So! I created my own using cardboard from a box, fabric from a shirt I didn’t want anymore, and a hot glue gun.

I guess I stopped taking pictures of this project before finishing the dividers, but you’re an adult human, you get the picture. I love this little divider and it makes our stupid tiny cabinet so much more organized.

I know it’s not a lot, but just a few little fixes contribute to a WAY better experience living in a small space. Especially coming from a very spacious home in Texas, moving to Manhattan was a massive adjustment, but I think I MIGHT have it under control 🙂 Thank you for reading!

Goals, Joys, Stressors, and Paleo Coffee

Good afternoon, friends! I know I’ve been MIA for about 30 years but I’m back on the blog and determined to keep y’all updated on my life, New York City, recipes I’ve found, and how I attempt to decorate my 450 square foot apartment 🙂 

GOALS

Have you made your 2019 goals yet? I use a method that I learned in business school, the S.M.A.R.T. method. Goals must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. New years resolutions are great and all, but they need to be realistic, action and results oriented or *listen closely*: they will. not. happen. So here are my three specific, measurable, and attainable goals for 2019:

  • Not to spend above my means: 
    • Action: Stick to my budget and only use debit card for spending;  I have a bank account for spending money and I ALWAYS go over what I allot myself and put things on my credit card. It’s so bad and that ends TODAY. No. More. Tips/advice/encouragement in the comments are much appreciated
    • Measurement: Savings account growth! I use my savings to pay off credit cards ALL. THE. TIME. NO MORE. And probably more packed lunches 🙁 
  • Get stronger: 
    • Action: Work out for at least an hour, at least 3 times a week (cardio + resistance)
    • Measurement: gain 5% muscle mass, be able to do 20 push ups not on my knees (right now I can do six. Which I think is really good! But we’ve got a ways to go…)
  • Adapt a paleo lifestyle:
    • Action: Complete whole30 in January and afterwards carry on with a 95%/5% Paleo lifestyle
    • Measurement (or as they’re referred to in whole30, Non Scale Victories): Lower body fat, clearer skin, better sleep, more energy, less anxiety, less hangry 
    • Here’s my pep talk to myself on this: ‘eating healthy’ CANNOT be a phase or a fad, it HAS to be a lifestyle shift. Barring the occasional necessary emotional ice cream eating and chardonnay fueled girls nights out, I fully intend on committing to this lifestyle change that I’m already very familiar with

What are your goals for 2019? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section so we can hold each other accountable!

JOYS

Friends, family, Max, Dixie, and Jesus

Two of my very best friends from childhood, Devon and Jillian

You guys. I just spend three blissful weeks in Texas surrounded by family, lifelong friends, Dixie, and Max. There is nothing on earth that fills me with more joy, and I definitely cried after my mom dropped me off at the airport on Sunday (airports and me crying are like peanut butter and jelly – I guess they could happen separately but it’s much more common together). 

Getting to spend time with my family before my sister leaves for Africa for a year was very important to me, and we soaked up our time well, with long walks, late night talks, and plenty of home cooked meals and cuddles with our puppy Dixie Belle. 

Our sibling and puppy Christmas Morning mimosa walk!

I rarely talk about Max on here, but over New Years we got to escape for a few days to one of our favorite places we’ve discovered together – Fort Worth; and it’s worth writing about. Don’t judge us for vacationing to a town only 45 minutes away – this town is Texas to the core and so adorable. We rang in the New Year at a Randy Rogers concert at Billy Bob’s – the world’s largest honky tonk, and it was so refreshing to spend some quality time together. (Now only 34 days until he comes to NYC!)

There was a photo booth at the concert we went to! We never get pictures together but for some reason we LOVE photo booths…go figure 🙂

STRESSORS

Living in New York City – I love living in New York City, but for my own mental health, I think it was imperative that I left for a few weeks. Something that I didn’t realize would effect me so much in NY is how fast paced and high anxiety of a city it is. Everyone and their dog is stressed out in New York, and it rubs off on even the most easy going of girls (Max, this is not the time to tell me I’m not easy going). I’m taking it day by day, and trying not to let the downsides of this amazing city get the best of me. 

Winter – New York is COLD and dries my skin out and I’m OVER it. I hate static electricity and bundling up just to check the mail. I won’t even begin to ask the question, ‘when will it end??’ because I know the answer. The answer is May. *takes 1000th sip of hot tea today*

One thing I will say though – New York in the winter can be beautiful!

PALEO COFFEE

And my last thing. I’ve developed the habit of adding half and half to my coffee over the past year and I have been STRUGGLING to adapt to almond milk (vom). But! I’ve developed a recipe over the last year or so that I whip out when I’m eating Paleo, which now hopefully is until further notice. It’s so delicious, and throw in the amazing craft roasted coffee that was a part of my Christmas present from Max, it’s AMAZING. Here it is:

  • 2-3 cups of fresh brewed coffee
  • A dash of Trader Joes pumpkin pie spice (unless you’re using flavored coffee)
  • 1 tsp of 4th & Heart Vanilla Ghee
  • 1 scoop of collagen powder
  • As much almond milk as you want

And then you put it all in the blender and you’ve got yourself a delicious and nutritious coffee drink. Do I do this every morning during whole30? YES!

I love drinking my paleo coffee whilst surveying my vast property
JK this was on a camping trip and guess what? That’s black coffee womp womp

Thanks for reading everyone! As I say every time I take a lil break from blogging, I’m excited to hopefully get back to it and write lots of more good stuff! See you soon!

Five Places to Visit Outside Barcelona

Apologies again for this INCREDIBLY pic-heavy post, but trust me, it’s worth it. During our stay in Barcelona, we took two day trips a couple hours outside of Barcelona, all within the Catalonia region of Spain.

Catalonia is a region in Northern Spain, sort of like a state but from what I understand the regions of Spain are different than the states of the United States and our tour guide didn’t want us thinking they were the same. There is a lot of political turmoil right now because many Catalonians want to secede from Spain and I’m not good at explaining it but here is an article that explains it quite eloquently.

This was one of many political displays we say throughout the region.

We went on two separate day trips in the Catalonia region with two AWESOME tour companies:

  1. Costa Brava, Girona, and Pals with In Out Barcelona Tours – This was a very small tour in a van with a personal tour guide. It was us 5 girls, a retired Australian couple, and our tour guide Paul. BEST dynamic ever. 
  2. Montserrat Monastery and Oller Del Mas Winery with Castle Experience Wine Tours – This was a big bus tour but once we got to the places, we split out among four separate tour guides, so it made it a lot more manageable. 

These two day-long tours were amazing and allowed us to see so much more of Spain than we ever could on our own., with the added benefit of having an incredibly knowledgeable guide. I would highly recommend both of these tours.

So, without further ado, here are the five places to visit within 2 hours of Barcelona!

ONE | COSTA BRAVA

Proximity to Barcelona: 1-2 hour drive depending on where you stop

Recommendations:

  • Go cliff jumping (if/where it’s SAFE and you maybe get help from some Spanish teenagers)
  • Eat seafood at a restaurant overlooking the water

This is quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It’s one of the places I’ve always seen in magazines and on instagram like Positano or Greece, and I never thought I myself would actually get to visit. I’m still pinching myself!

We went to lunch at a restaurant on the water, and it was AMAZING. I wish I remembered the name of it 🙁

The ceviche, tuna tartare with caviar, burrata, fried clams, and LOTS of Spanish white wine was the most divine combination. And, it made for the best state of mind to go cliff jumping afterwards! I’ve been trying really hard to be more adventurous as of late (I think it started when I…you know…moved across the country to NYC), so this was such a fun thing to do.

This is the view from the cliffs we jumped from. Not too shabby!

TWO | GIRONA

Proximity to Barcelona: 102 km (1 hour 14 minute drive)

Recommendations:

  • Either go on a guided tour or print a really good self guided tour. There is SO much history here that you’d never know about, and its easy to get lost 🙂

This is one of the locations that Game of Thrones was filmed at, and although I’ve never seen Game of Thrones before, I recognize the significance of this for sure! Recognize this?

Also, you know, it was built by the Roman Empire in 300 AD so also I’d say that’s pretty significant. At least significant enough to put on the 10 euro bill!

This city has so much history and is honestly breathtaking. It was founded in 79 BC! So many different people, from the Romans to the Moors to the Visigoths have inhabited this small little town, and seeing all their influences from thousands of years combined is very cool.

THREE | PALS

Proximity to Barcelona: 131 km (1 hour 34 minute drive)

Pals was a nearly abandoned medieval village until the late 19th century when a local wealthy doctor invested millions of dollars in restoring the village to its former glory.

Now, it’s absolutely stunning, so much so that I used my precious international data to immediately look up real estate there. You can get a 1000 year old house in the middle of the village for $400,000…not bad! The church in the middle of the village at the top of a hill is simple yet beautiful, and I love how all the architecture ties together in the whole town, including the church.

This town is literally on the coast, so if you’re headed to the beach, stop by Pals to see a bit of history before hitting the water, it’ll be worth it!

FOUR | MONTSERRAT MONASTERY

Proximity to Barcelona: 61 km (58 minute drive)

Recommendations:

  • Watch the Montserrat Boys Choir perform daily in the church at 1 p.m. It’s a short performance and they sound heavenly! Make sure to get there at least 15 minutes early if you want a seat
  • Then, do the liquor tasting for 2 euros at La Botiga
  • Suck it up and make the 20 minute uphill walk to the Cross of Saint Michael. Allegedly the best views of the Monastery (see picture above for yourself below!)

Montserrat is a mountain right outside Barcelona, and it is arguably one of the most beautiful natural land features I’ve ever laid eyes on.

It literally translates to ‘serrated mountain’ in latin and that is the most accurate way to describe it. After doing lots of research, I really think the monastery is the best landmark to hit on the mountain. If you do a tour to the monastery, you can easily do a bit of hiking around it, and see so many gorgeous views. Plus, the monastery is so beautiful, and rich in history.

FIVE | VINEYARDS

Proximity to Barcelona: 65 km (55 minute drive)

Recommendation:

As I’m sure you’re familiar, Spain is known around the world for their wines. They’re actually the third largest exporter of wines in the world, behind Italy and France. Tempranillo, grenach, and syrah are arguably the most well known Spanish grape varieties, but even some cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are grown in this region.

The vineyard we went to was an organic vineyard and it was very interesting to see a lot of the science behind their agricultural practices.

We toured the vineyard, and the caves, and then did a tasting. The bottles we tested ranged from $10-$40 and you honestly couldn’t tell! My favorite was the cab sauv, I think it was $15-$20.

. . . . .

And those are the five places to go outside Barcelona! I had such an amazing time on my first trip to Spain and I have a funny feeling I’ll be back 🙂

I watched Eat Pray Love on the airplane headed here and while I’m honestly not the biggest fan of the premise of that movie (aka how she divorces her husband), one thing that movie reminds me is how important it is to just marvel at something. I feel like these places throughout Spain allowed me to just be in awe and marvel over and over and over again.

I’m not sure how many times in one week a person should be able to think to themselves *This is the most beautiful place I have ever ever seen*, but I am so lucky that this trip to Spain was filled to the max with marveling at God’s beautiful creations that he made for us.

Thanks for reading!

How Volunteering in East Harlem Has Shaped my Experience Living in NYC

Happy Monday friends! Today is a good day because Reading Rangers started back up today! What is Reading Rangers, you ask? It’s the program I have the joy of spending every Monday volunteering at, through a partnership with the New York Junior League and the Supportive Children’s Advocacy Network (SCAN) in East Harlem, New York.

I’ve been volunteering with Reading Rangers since literally the week I moved to New York City, so for exactly a year now. In September 2017 I transferred from the Junior League of Dallas to the New York Junior League, and chose Reading Rangers as my committee for the year. I had no idea I would love it so much, but I look forward to volunteering every. single. week. Initially, I’m not going to lie, I was determined to find a committee with the least amount of work possible. In my defense, I had just moved to New York, and wanted to have ample free time to explore, make friends, try new things, etc. But I was guided to a totally different, way more fulfilling route, and I am laughing now at how I thought I needed so much free time.

Backing up a bit: as I’m sure you know, because I’ll talk your ear off about it if you’ll let me, I went on a trip to Ghana in West Africa last August to teach business classes to micro-loan applicants, with an incredible organization called Videre, so that these micro-loan applicants could better understand how to use their loans to prosper their businesses.

My translator Salumi and I teaching a budgeting lesson in Africa! 

It was a pivotal experience in my life, but I realized that this girl is definitely not called to go all the way to Africa to fulfill my passion of serving others. Lord have MERCY on the amazing people who devote their life to serving all around the world, but I feel like it is absolutely my purpose to be serving here, in my city, 15 blocks from my apartment, on a long-term, consistent basis. To be ingrained into my everyday life, my weekly routine, and not just during one 2-week trip. And let me tell you – it completely is now that I’ve found Reading Rangers.

Reading time! This was the week we made paper crowns during arts and crafts 🙂 

To me, this cause is important in two different ways: enhancing literacy, and mentorship. This weekly program provides consistent one-on-one mentorship the likes of which these children may never have had before. It is crucial for our kids to be able to count on adults, to trust that we will continue showing up for them.

Additionally, we read one-on-one with the kids every week, which has been shown to be imperative to development and building lifelong reading skills. We do our best to instill the love of reading into our kids and it’s so cool to see them build their confidence, and their love of reading. Lastly, this community center provides a meal and a safe place for the kids to hang out after school.

My mentee, NanaLee, has improved her reading skills and confidence reading aloud drastically since last fall, and she’s just my favorite little buddy <3 When 6 p.m. on a Monday rolls around and I’m feeling tired, I remind myself I get to go read with Nana and it give me an extra little boost. Plus – her current favorite series is Junie B. Jones – heck yes! I’ll read that all day long 🙂

Volunteering with SCAN has really shaped my perspective, living in New York City. It’s crazy to me that a very short walk north from my Upper East Side apartment, there is such need that so many people don’t know about. No 18 hour flights to Africa, no fundraising letters, no packing Larabars and tuna packets and water purifying tablets. Just a 15 block walk, and so much work to be done.

New York City, much unlike the suburbs of Dallas where I grew up, is home to EVERY different kind of person. Every possible religion, ethnicity, origin, demographic, skin color, or way-to-be-differentiated-that-I-didn’t-list has a place in New York, and being able to take myself from my ‘Tori’ place to this place each week is important for me, but even greater, important for these kids, that women like me spend quality one-on-one time with them, week over week. Plus, the once-annual bonus of cookie decorating (and eating)!

I always joke that if I win the lottery, I’d devote my entire life to philanthropy. While that’s a long way off from my current reality, and this is only a few hours a week, I feel so lucky to be be living at least a little piece of my ideal ‘if-I-win-the-lottery’ life right now 🙂

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

– Hebrews 13:2

 

PS: TWO THINGS TO NOTE:

  1. All children pictured have a photo release signed by their parents. Don’t worry!
  2. If you’re looking for ways to help Reading Rangers, we have a book wish list of books that our kids have expressed interest in. You can find it here.

Travel Diaries: Barcelona, Spain

Hello from my gate at the Paris airport! This grand European trip I’m on is coming to an end, and I am SO sad. BUT! I have two beautiful hours to before my flight home boards, and I figure there’s no time like the present to fill you in on our trip to Barcelona, how we planned it, what we did, and what we liked! I will be writing later this month about our day trips, my trip to Paris, and my trip to Champagne. But first…BARTHELONA!

WHERE WE STAYED:

  • Neighborhood: El Born. This is a super trendy, centrally located neighborhood that’s great for shopping, food, nightlife, and culture. 
  • Nights 1-2: Park Hotel Barcelona. I got here two days before the rest of my friends and stayed at this adorable boutique hotel. It has a really decent breakfast, an awesome rooftop pool, is in the most absolutely perfect location, and was reasonably priced. Need I say more? Also, they had Haribos in the mini bar and yes they restocked them daily 🙂
  • Nights 3-6: airbnb in El Born. This is an excellent, inexpensive way for lots of people to stay together without getting multiple hotel rooms. When split between six people, the price per night isn’t bad at all. I think it was literally less than $30/night for each of us, which is insane. Yes, it was cramped quarters but you get what you pay for. Six girls in a two bedroom apartment means lots of compromise, and also lots of money leftover for the important things in life like SANGRIA! Also, here’s a joke for you: How many advertising majors does it take to figure out a European washer/dryer? The answer is apparently 5 lol 

WHERE WE ATE:

  • El Chigre: My tour guide on the first day said this is the best place in El Born for Vermouth. We went there after the tour and yes, it is VERY good. I just had vermouth here, but apparently the tapas are also delicious.
  • Bormouth: Excellent place for tapas in El Born! This is a very highly rated tapas bar and it is very delicious. The goat cheese and roasted red peppers (pictured) is amazing, but definitely made to share, as it’s super rich. 
  • Lots of little tapas restaurants I can’t name, but are very delicious. Just stay away from places right on Las Ramblas, right next to Sagrada Familia, etc. They’re very overpriced and my tour guide said at the super touristy places, they literally freeze the paella and just thaw it out when people order it…not so authentic!!

WHERE WE WENT:

  • El Born: This is such a fun neighborhood to get lost in, have fun in, and explore. In my personal opinion, this is where all young people should stay when they come to Barcelona. There’s tons of shops, restaurants, nightlife, and sooo much history. The streets are very narrow and it’s traditionally where the artisans have lived in Barcelona for centuries, so the culture and the little shops along the streets are so vibrant and artsy. There’s lots of great self guided walking tours on the internet, or do like I did and take a tour of the neighborhood with a local! It was the best two hours I spent and I’m so glad I did that right when I got here. Look how cute the streets are!
  • Sagrada Familia: There was no good way for me to take a picture of this entire basilica. It is insanely huge, insanely gorgeous, and just beautiful. ADVICE would be to buy tickets weeks in advanced if you want to go to the top of the towers (which you should, I’ve heard it’s breathtaking but I was a dummy and bought my tickets the day of, so they were sold out 🙁 )
  • Parc de la Ciutadella: This is a stunning park that was built by the government of Spain in the mid-19th century. It is massive and beautiful park that many compare to Central Park…I have no comment on that 🙂 
  • Gothic Quarter: Again, the Gothic Quarter is also known for its narrow streets. It’s the center of the ‘Old Town’ of Barcelona, which together with El Born used to be surrounded by a large protective wall. It was massively restored in the 19th century so I guess it’s not really ‘gothic’ anymore, but the bones are still there and it is a stunning neighborhood. The cathedral, pictured right (or below on mobile), is absolutely gorgeous.
  • The beach! I didn’t take any pictures of the beach because I was terrified to bring my big camera, but we went about 5 miles north of Barcelona on electric bikes that we rented, and those beaches were a lot more secluded. The sand in Barcelona is interesting, it’s not as fine as in Florida, but not rocky or pebbly. I sort of like it because it is sand but you don’t have that ‘sand everywhere’ feeling since it’s way less fine, and easy to brush off.
  • Get out of the city! We did two day tours that were honestly the highlights of the trip. I’m writing a whole post on these next week, so stay tuned! We went to Girona, Pals, Costa Brava, Monsterrat, and did a winery tour in the mountains during these two day trips. The highlight for me? Cliff jumping in Costa Brava! A very non-Tori thing to do, but when in Rome, eh? 

WHERE MY FRIENDS WENT AFTER I LEFT: Most unfortunately, I had to go to Paris a couple days before the rest of my friends left Barcelona (such a tragedy…), so they had a couple extra days to explore. While I haven’t been to these places myself, they said great things about:

  • Las Ramblas – I’m sort of bummed I missed out on this one but it was a bit far from El Born and I decided Sagrada Familia was more important for the time I had
  • Picasso Museum – This is in El Born and apparently is a really good, smaller museum
  • Nightclubs along the beach – Severely not my cup of tea, but they had a blast. Barcelona is apparently a great city for nightlife.

HOW WE PLANNED:

GOOGLE DOCS GOOGLE DOCS GOOGLE DOCS! If you’re not a millenial, I’m not sure what to tell you, but you should probably get on board 🙂 HERE is a template of the google sheet we used to plan our trip. We had a MILLION tabs on this by the end, but I stripped it down to just four key tabs that any group of OCD girlfriends can use to plan a big trip like this (I made the template for up to 8 people and up to 8 days). Then, we had two planning meetings in the two weeks preceding the trip. We used these to finalize our day-to-day plans and discuss everyone’s priorities and such.

Thank you so much for reading! If you have anything you’d like to add about Barcelona, or planning big trips with lots of girlfriends, please share your tips below!

 

Gluten Free Chickpea Pasta with Veggie Packed Sauce

Hello friends! I cooked up an amazing meal prep meal last weekend I just couldn’t WAIT to share. I posted it on my Instagram stories and got so many responses wanting the recipe – and here it is! I’ve been eating it all week and I still have meals of it for all next week before I leave for Europe, so I won’t have to go grocery shopping (don’t worry, I froze them, they won’t have been sitting in my fridge for 2 weeks hehe).

I’m excited about this recipe because I LOVE pasta but it’s just so so bad for you. I’ve been big into paleo and whole30 lately and while this is NOT that, I’ve still been encouraging myself to eat tons of veggies, cut back on grains, and focus on protein. This recipe takes all those principles, but still lets me eat pasta, with Banza Chickpea Pasta!

Aside from the Banza Chickpea pasta, my other favorite part of this is the sauce. It has SEVEN veggies in it (if you count basil and garlic), and it’s so packed with flavor. If my calculations are correct, there’s 2 servings of veggies in each serving – of this PASTA dish! Amazing.

I’m not a big gadget person, but I did use these three pretty much optional gadgets to make this sauce come to life:

  • Immersion Blender – This is an invaluable tool in my kitchen, and I use it every morning to mix my ghee/almond milk/collagen powder into my coffee. I used this to make the sauce less chunky after the veggies have cooked a bit, but you can just pour a portion of the sauce into a blender and blend it that way.
  • Food Processor – This was a hand-me-down from my Aunt Linda and it still works perfectly! The link is for the full size one, I have the ‘little’ version but I don’t think they make it anymore 🙁 I used this to get the carrots very, very finely chopped. But, you could always cut them, or maybe put them in the blender? Not sure about that one..
  • Multi-Chopper (similar here) – The dicer function on this one is the best and I used it to chop the bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

You can make do by chopping all the veggies with a good ole knife and cutting board (there’s just a LOT of veggies to chop), and a regular blender.

I’ll be honest, after a week of eating this, I’m afraid it could use a good ole can of tomato sauce to make it a little more sauc-ey and a little less chunky. So, maybe try that and get back to me? Hey, this blog is about me figuring things out, not trying to make it look like I’ve got them figured out!

Anyways, here’s the recipe, I’d love to know what you think! If you’re interested, here’s the MyFitnessPal recipe link so you can track those macros

[Printer Friendly Version Here]

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, chopped (with my Williams Sonoma Multi Chopper)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, pureed in food processor
  • 9 oz of carrots, pureed in food processor
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped (with my Williams Sonoma Multi Chopper)
  • 3 pounds of tomatoes, chopped NOT drained (with my Williams Sonoma Multi Chopper)
  • 8 oz chopped spinach
  • 1 tbsp of parsley
  • 1 tbsp of oregano
  • 1 tsp of crushed red peppers
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch of basil, finely chopped
  • 1 lb of ground beef
  • 1 lb of italian sausage
  • 2 boxes of Banza chickpea pasta

Directions:

  1. Add the olive oil and onions to a large saucepan and simmer on medium-high heat for 5 minutes
  2. Add the carrots, bell peppers, and garlic and simmer for another 5 minutes
  3. Add all of the chopped tomatoes, chopped spinach, parsley, oregano, and crushed red peppers, and stir thoroughly
  4. Bring mixture to a soft boil, then reduce heat to low, and cover
  5. Continue stirring every so often
  6. After one hour, add the basil and stir
  7. Start cooking the beef and sausage together; cook until no longer pink, and then drain the fat (into a jar, NOT into the drain)
  8. Before adding the meat, blend about half the sauce. The best way to do this is with an immersion blender, just stick it in and blend until it’s smoother, but not all the chunks are gone, depending on how chunky you want it to be.
  9. Add the meat to the sauce and stir
  10. Cook the pasta according to package directions, and strain and rinse
  11. After the sauce has been simmering for two hours, add the pasta
  12. Let cool a little bit and then divide up into your meal prep containers! Or, freezer ziplock bags are my favorite if you’re not going to eat them until next week

One thing I’ve been really trying to monitor lately is how much my recipes cost. For most people in the US, this cost will be substantially less. But I buy organic groceries at Whole Foods in New York City, or order delivery on Amazon Fresh (which also is a lot of Whole Foods products), and that’s just crazy expensive compared to conventional groceries in suburbia :(. But even still, this meal comes in pretty inexpensive!

I created a google doc with the cost breakdown per serving, total groceries cost for this meal (counting things like a bottle of olive oil that you have to buy the entire thing up front). Here is the link to the doc, I hope you find it useful! This recipe cost me $3.02 per serving, which is AMAZING for NYC, and I’d venture to guess if you live in Texas and/or don’t use organic veggies, it would be less than $2/serving.

Please please give me any feedback if you make this recipe, I’d love to hear what you thought, what you tried differently, etc! Mostly, I hope this inspired you to make healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods – you can take almost ANY food and make it just a little bit healthier by swapping a few ingredients 🙂

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

As always, here’s your handy recap of resources for this recipe:

  1. Printer friendly recipe
  2. Grocery list and cost breakdown
  3. MyFitnessPal nutritional info link
  4. Gadgets/Equipment I used:
    1. Food processor
    2. Immersion blender
    3. Williams Sonoma Multi Chopper

How to Be Your Very Best Wedding Guest Self

Hola chiquitas!

This post is was a long time coming, but I am SO excited to finally recap my summer trip to Texas for three super special weddings: Madeleine and Brooks, Devon and Corey, and Shea and Michael (in order, below).

Listen, as a (in-a-long-term-relationship) female in my mid twenties, I’m always itching to talk about weddings. The weddings I went to this summer were all so so fun and special in their own unique ways, and since I went to three so close together (within 8 days!) I clearly became such the expert in being a wedding guest 🙂

So, without further ado, here’s my list of ways to be your very best wedding guest self:

*Oh! You should also know that I worked in the wedding industry for 6 years through high school and college and so have been on the other side of this as well. Most of these tips have been a long time coming.

  1. Don’t wear any white at ALL – Don’t wear a white skirt and a darker colored shirt, don’t wear a dress with some white flowers and some pink flowers, don’t wear white shoes or a white headband…DO. NOT. WEAR. WHITE. Actually, wearing black is ettiquete-ly speaking, totally acceptable at a wedding. I’d urge you to reach for the blacks in your closet before you reach for the whites. Please.
  2. Prepare thyself mentally for the heat – Look. If you’re going to a summer wedding in Texas, do not speak one complaint out of your mouth. HELLO. Were you not aware it was going to be hot? Just suck it up and prepare yourself. Complaining will get you nowhere – focus on enjoying the occasion.
  3. If you’re early you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re late – DO NOT BE LATE! Ya RUDE! There’s plenty to do before the wedding. Sign the guest book, grab a good seat, talk with your friends, read the programs. Just DO NOT be late. Be at a minimum 15 minutes early. 
  4. Have a plan for getting home – One of the weddings I went to this summer was in a super small town, and the cops all knew a wedding was happening and they had checkpoints for speeding and drunk driving. Tickets aside, drunk driving is SO dangerous and it’s always best to have a plan. My best friend and I started planning for how to safely get to and from Devon’s wedding literally months in advanced. You should totally have as much to drink as you please at a wedding, but you should have a plan for getting home before you have a single glass of celebratory champagne. Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, standing, shoes and outdoor
  5. HAVE. FUN. – My biggest takeaway from this summer’s weddings is that weddings are NOT about how much money was spent, how big the flowers are, how fancy the drinks are, how big the ballroom is, etc. It’s a CELEBRATION! You should be singing, dancing, laughing, catching up, and having a genuinely good time. I know sometimes we drag our feet because we don’t really care that our husband’s co-worker or our 2nd cousin’s second cousin is getting married, but even if you stumble into a strangers wedding on the street – you should be celebrating. 
  6. Be helpful but don’t be in the way – If you can help tear down, help clear plates, refill the ice, etc. you should! Just don’t be in the way, don’t go bother the mother of the bride with a million questions, etc. If you see an opportunity to help, go for it as long as it actually is that – helping.

These summer weddings made for such a sweet trip home to Texas, and I am overjoyed for my friends who are finally married! Madeleine and Brooks, Shea and Michael, and Devon and Corey – I am so happy for each of y’all and it was so fun to share in your beautiful celebrations.

 

 

 

 

P.S. This is a rare post where a lot of these photos are not my own. Actually, it may be one of the only times I’ve ever posted pics that weren’t mine. So, here’s a list of all the photographers for each of these stunning weddings:

Madeleine and Brooks – May 26th on their family ranch – photographed by Allison Taylor Photography

Image may contain: 4 people, including Madeline Ruhman, people smiling, people standing, wedding, flower and outdoor

Shea and Michael – May 27th at The Windsor

Devon and Corey – June 2nd at Morgan Creek Barn – photographed by Emily Chappell

Image may contain: 2 people, including Devon Lindsey Cox, people standing, wedding, outdoor and nature

 

Creamy Avocado Dressing | Paleo Gluten Free Whole30

Several months ago, my sister and I went on vacation to Seaside, Florida (you can read about it here!). We rented a little cottage and cooked almost every meal ourselves instead of spending money on overpriced beach town food. One of our favorite meals that we made was with fresh gulf shrimp we picked up at a seafood market about a mile and a half from our house (yes, we walked) and this delicious homemade creamy avocado salad dressing.

One of our favorite ways to add creaminess to paleo foods is with avocados. That was the basis of our salad dressing. We only had a small amount of olive oil left in the little mini container our airbnb host provided, so this recipe overall doesn’t have a ton of olive oil. The marinade was mostly lemon juice, and the dressing mostly avocado and water (but the garlic totally makes it for both!).

I remade the salad dressing the other day, because salad dressings from the grocery store contain SO MUCH SUGAR! It’s so bad for you and I’d much rather know exactly what’s in my food.

My favorite way to make things like dressings, dips, spreads, soups, etc. is with awesome super cheap immersion blender. It’s so easy and really is the easiest way, especially in a very tiny NYC kitchen like mine.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we enjoyed creating it! P.S., if you want to add it on your MyFitnessPal, here’s the recipe link!

[Printer friendly version here]

Makes 5 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium ripe avocado
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1+ tbsp of lemon juice (to taste)
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients and half of the water to a wide mouth jar
  2. Blend thoroughly
  3. Add rest of water little by little until it reaches desired consistency (will depend on size of avocado you bought)

My meal prep tip: I split this into 5 sandwich ziplock baggies and freeze it to preserve the avocado. Then, I bring a packet to work and let it thaw in my lunch box, and snip off a corner of the ziplock to pour the dressing on during lunch!

What are you going to add to your salad with this yummy dressing?? Let me know in the comments below! I think I’m going to make a taco salad with it this week 🙂 Have a happy hump day everyone!

Finding My Perfect Upper East Side Apartment

Good morning Upper East Siders!

(Mom and Nana, that’s a Gossip Girl reference, it’s ok if you don’t get it. P.S. Nana remember when we came to New York when I was 14 and we saw them filming Gossip Girl on the steps of the Met and I was an extra?? Anyways, back to the story…)

Today’s post is all about my journey to finding my new apartment on the Upper East side.

When I moved to New York, I moved into a friend’s apartment in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn because they were looking for a 3rd roommate.

I do miss this most perfect little street!

The timing moving to Brooklyn last year was amazing, I didn’t have to deal with brokers, and I just moved right in. The apartment was spacious, and a great price, but it was very far from my office, and I spent 1 1/2 to 2 hours commuting every day 🙁

My room in Brooklyn was SO tiny but SO cozy! This is basically all of it right in this picture.

About 6 months ago I realized I wanted to move to the Upper East Side, since the real estate is cheap for Manhattan (that’s right, you think I’m fancy because I live in UES but really it was the most affordable option for me), and it’s a really quiet, nice neighborhood.

3rd Avenue around my apartment has everything I could ever need. It’s incredible

Fast forward to today, I’ve been in my apartment for 2 months now and I LOVE it, but the process to getting here was the opposite of easy. I’m excited to finally share my journey to the perfect Manhattan apartment via several tips below. The story sort of unfolds as I go 🙂

I love my new little stoop!

PRO TIP 1: Set up StreetEasy notifications early

The first thing I did several months before it was time to start looking was set up StreetEasy updates for my desired neighborhood and budget. It was important to me to get to know the real estate, so I could become an expert on the area and make sure I negotiate a fair price for what I’m getting. At the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted a roommate or not, so I set two notifications, one for studios, and one for two-bedrooms. I ended up living with a friend from college, Meaghan, who is an awesome roommate. More on that later 🙂

PRO TIP 2: Decide if you want to pay a brokers fee or not

When I set up my StreetEasy listing, I made sure to check ‘no fee’. Basically in NYC, to see an apartment you have to contact the real estate broker. Most brokers charge a fee up to 15% of one year’s rent. That literally makes me want to vomit and I will not pay that, but that’s just me. Some people want to stay in the same place for years and so the fee is diluted, some people think fee apartments are cheaper, and that’s all valid. But I chose no fee, and that’s what I ended up with.

PRO TIP 3: Be prepared to see some stinkers before you find the right one

The first place I saw was a 200 square foot studio that was so small, my first reaction was to just burst into tears on the spot. And it was $1950/month??? Heck to the no. The next place was super dark, gross, right next to a construction site, and also over budget (both great locations though). I just had to have faith that no, I will not be homeless, I will indeed find a place to live soon.

PRO TIP 4: On the contrary, be prepared to pounce on a place and sign same day if it’s the right one

Picking this apartment happened VERY fast. That’s one thing you HAVE TO be prepared for. When I was actively looking, about 3 weeks before I wanted to move, I would get to work early to check StreetEasy every morning. When my future roommate Meaghan and I saw the place we’re in now, I called the broker immediately and had him meet me at the apartment that morning.

My street on the Upper East Side! It’s so quaint and quiet 🙂 

PRO TIP 5: Pay attention to the little details

Here’s where I messed up: I was so wrapped up in the you-must-move-quickly-or-someone-else-will-take-the-apartment mindset that I didn’t thoroughly check the apartment. I saw it, said YES I WANT IT, and we went back to the office in midtown. Well…it wasn’t until we got to the office in midtown that I realized…wait I don’t think that apartment has an oven. I ALMOST GOT AN APARTMENT WITHOUT AN OVEN BECAUSE I LITERALLY DIDN’T EVEN CHECK. Like…this is what happens if you’re too hasty, and brokers 100% capitalize on that. I dragged my broker back to the apartment because he claimed he didn’t know if there was an oven or not. I call BS on that one. He’s the exclusive broker for the building, of course he knew, he just wanted me to sign the dotted line before I realized. We got back to the apartment and sure enough, no oven.

PRO TIP 6: Negotiate 

I acted super mad and told him I didn’t want the apartment anymore (but really though I did…tricky tricky). He got all freaked out and said the real estate company would buy us a countertop oven, and we could put it next to the sink where there was a little ledge. I said no still, and to lower the rent $100. He said they couldn’t do that, but they could give us a month free, which actually saves us $120/month overall so…I’m very confused but sure buddy, have it your way.

PRO TIP 7: Compromise

So, we got the countertop oven, which my boyfriend calls my Easy Bake Oven (he also pronounces cuisinart ‘cuisine-art’, so I’m ignoring him on this front), and I built a custom countertop for it to live. (Yes, you heard that right! Shoutout to Midtown Lumber and 2 IKEA legs). It’s honestly a great little oven and I do not miss having a full sized oven. This thing fits a full 16″ pizza, and allegedly a whole roast chicken. It’s big and cooks well.

I also built those shelves, put the anchors in the wall, and installed them ALL BY MYSELF. Seriously I’m so proud. I can’t wait to show you more of my apartment! For now, the kitchen is the most ‘done’ part about it, we still need to work on the living room and my bedroom still has a few things I need to add.

I’m glad I finally got to type that all out, I’ve been dying to recap that whole crazy experience, now that my blood pressure has returned to normal and I’m safe and sound in my new ovenless yet perfect apartment 🙂

xoxo,

 

 

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