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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,

 

 

Family Vacay to Gulf Shores and Why I’m Obsessed with the Gulf Coast

Hey guys! Told you I was going to start blogging again 🙂 My goal is a post every Tuesday and Friday, and so far I’m 2 for 2! Wednesday is when I’m hoping to send the weekly email with that Tuesday and the previous Friday’s post. The BEST ways to get live updates are to:

  1. Subscribe to the weekly emails if you scroll down a bit on the torileighblog.com homepage
  2. When you leave a comment below (please do!), click ‘Notify me of New Posts by Email’. Those go out the very minute I post something

Anyhoo, back to the real reason I’m here, to recap our amazing quick (half of my) family getaway to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Of my 3 siblings, Luke and Ali couldn’t join but my youngest sister Julia, and our cousin Abigail who is Julia’s age came. And it was such a fun dynamic, even though we missed Luke and Ali a lot 🙁 And yes, I’m recycling this pic from last week’s post because I think it’s super cute and fun 🙂

Contrary to popular belief, I really do think the Florida/Alabama part of the Gulf Coast has the BEST beaches in the country. Gulf Shores, Perdido Key, Seaside, Destin, Pensacola, all of those places have blue waters, squeaky white sand, and smaller waves than up here in the northeast #safetyfirst. My sister Ali and I LOVE Seaside, and we went back in March. Here’s my post on Seaside if you’re interested! Below is a pic of Seaside, where I went in March. It was a really eerie foggy morning but still gorgeous.

My family does Gulf Shores a lot simply because it’s the closest of these awesome beaches to our home in Dallas. And for me, it’s less than an hour from the Pensacola airport, so that’s super ideal when I fly in to join the fam from NYC.

When we’re on the Gulf, we always rent a condo, buy groceries, and cook all our meals together. It’s a super sweet time since most of us have moved out, to be all together drinking wine (NOT Luke and Julia, but definitely the rest of us 🙂 ), attempting to put together giant puzzles, cooking, all with stunning views of the ocean right outside our window.

Check out this salad with fresh gulf shrimp my sister and I made in Seaside, it was like one of the best culinary experiences of 2018 I think. Look at that creamy avocado lime dressing we made in her VitaMix (that she brought on vacay with her, yes you read that right #extra). It was AMAZING. We love to experiment with fun foods when we’re down there, and it almost always involves a trip to the local seafood market. You better believe those shrimpies were swimming that morning!

From our experience, there’s three main ways to rent a condo in this area:

  1. Airbnb – My sister and I used airbnb for Seaside for this little back guesthouse and it was SO adorable. You’ll get $40 off if you use THIS link! Our cottage had an adorable porch and was pet friendly!
  2. VRBO – What my family used this last time we went to Gulf Shores. It’s owned by the larger brand, HomeAway (based in Austin, Texas whattup). My mom liked it because there was a keypad on the door instead of picking up a key, which saved time and hassle. The views from our condo were stunning! And there’s mom and dad making mom and dad friends by the grills 🙂 
  3. Meyer Vacation Rentals – A professionally run rental and property management company down on the coast. You go to the office in Gulf Shores to get the key to your condo first, so that’s a drawback, but we like the comfort of knowing it’s a professional management company.

We’ve collectively used all three and have had great experiences with all of them.

Our last night I was there, we all made s’mores on the charcoal grill and it was SO fun!

They were seriously delicious and I ate more than I care to mention.

Unfortunately, it was a quite short trip for me because there’s a lot of changes going on at my job right now and it was terrible timing to take time off. But that’s how life is sometimes! Seeing my family was incredibly important to me and all the travel time, flight delays, and airport food was 1000% worth beach swims with my sissy, crawling into my parents bed at 8 a.m. like a 5 year old, and so so so many good laughs *coughwhiteswimsuitincidentcough*. I love you fam, and Gulf Coast, I’m sure I’ll see you very soon 🙂

Feeling Inadequate in 2018’s Blogging Culture

Hey there readers and fellow human beings going through life right now!

I haven’t written here in a while, and I’ve been thinking a lot this week about why I’ve been unmotivated to blog lately. Several people have told me they miss reading my blog, and getting my posts in their inboxes. And that makes me feel super good! I say, ‘I know, I’ve just been so busy!’ but to be honest, I’ve been feeling very inadequate lately. I’ve sort of felt that anything I write wouldn’t compare to those other bloggers out there, to the other people on social media, to the people in New York City.

I think I had this notion of what a ‘New York City Lifestyle Blogger’ is or should be, and realizing I am NOT that, I felt inadequate. But that’s ok! Who in the HECK says I have to be that! There are sooo many ways to try to fit myself into the box of ‘lifestyle blogging’, but all I can do is just write about my life, my passions, my experiences, my ups, my downs (clearly), and what makes me ME. Call it whatever you want to call it, fitting into a box is too boring, and frankly produces cheap content. I’m definitely going to get more back into blogging, and to the things that make me Tori and that I love and want to write about. Some of those things are:

  1. Interior Design/creatively living in small spaces (I really want to do more of this!)
  2. Philanthropy
  3. Faith
  4. Healthy cooking/generally staying healthy
  5. Working out/training/running
  6. Exploring NYC

I don’t think a time will come where you’ll ever see me blogging about fashion or the Nordstrom anniversary sale or trends or makeup. I am not the expert and I know that’s what the ‘blogging’ world is about but I will continue to be oblivious to that, post adorable pics of my Pottery Barn sale finds, and continue wearing my 2012 Banana Republic pencil skirt to work – because that’s what Tori does 🙂 Btw speaking of Pottery Barn sales…sneak peak of my new Upper East Side room – do you love or do you LOVE? My favorite part is that my bed doesn’t touch 3 of the 4 walls *praise*

headboard | bedding | throw blanket | curtains | lamp | end table | starburst mirror

Back to inadequacy, I’ve been thinking of how to tackle this in my life, and I think it boils down to three key things:

  1. Cherishing the Positive People – We need to surround ourselves with people who exude the love of Christ onto us. Who understand we may have flaw (as God 10000% understands), but love us anyways. What I’ve really tried to tell myself lately is that we need to surround ourselves with people who fill our tank, not drain it. We need to make a point to foster the friendships and relationships of people who genuinely care for us, who text us back, who make us feel secure and pretty and special, etc. So make the time, cherish your good friends, and make sure you’re taking care of those friendships! Exhibit A: My two Texas besties Tru and Jenny! They are the sweetest most supportive friends and our friendship is SOOO important to me.
  2. Letting Go of the Negative People – Step two, we need to un-surround ourselves from people who make us feel inadequate or unwanted. I really don’t think it’s bad to let go of a toxic friendship. You don’t have to be mean or rude about it, but generally pulling back from people who you don’t think have your best interest in mind. My friend Jenny (above on the right) has a great litmus test. She says, “If something really great happens to you, and you question if that other person is truly happy for you, they’re not your friend”. I think that’s such a good benchmark, and I’ve been paying attention to that more lately. It’s so simple and true.
  3. Clinging to Jesus – I have found such rest in Deuteronomy 33:12, which says, “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.” We are so blessed that we don’t need to seek approval from anyone other than God, who has approved of us from day one. A-freakin-MEN! There is so much comfort in that for me, and clinging to Jesus in tough times, no matter how big or small, will always get us through.

Thanks so much for reading this! My life really has been crazy lately, but I’m excited to get back to blogging very very soon. My family just went on vacation to Gulf Shores, and that’s what my next post is about and I’m excited to reflect back on that this week. For now, here’s my favorite picture from this trip. Love you mom and dad!

Oh! Lastly, I have a very cool announcement coming up in the next month or so, so stay tuned! I hope if you’re feeling inadequate or not good enough, you would turn to God and the people in your life that fill your tank and love you. Repeat after me, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”.

Love you guys!

If You’re Gonna be Busy, Might as Well Go All the Way

Hi friends! I know it has been a while since I’ve posted on here. I’ve been doing some things! My life has been crazy busy lately, so I thought I would catch you up 🙂

5 things I’ve been up to in April and May:

ONE | I’ve been traveling 

I went to Texas in late April for my sister Julia’s dance spring show. She is an officer for Plano Senior High’s Planoettes, and she is a BEAUTIFUL dancer. The show was incredible. Then, I headed down to Austin to see some friends. It’s one of my favorite places on earth and I always love to be able to sneak down there after visiting family in Dallas. We went paddle boarding and ate SO MUCH mexican food, and it was a really great weekend.

TWO | I’ve been apartment hunting

I’m officially moving by June 16th, the only question is…to where. I am looking for apartments in the Upper East Side, either with roommates, or for studios to live by myself. I love my sweet Brooklyn neighborhood (below) but it’s just too far from work, and I really REALLY want to see what it’s like to live in Manhattan.

THREE | I’ve been studying

I officially started my first grad school class last week – and it’s kicking my booty! I’m taking a class at Arizona State Online in Nonprofit Management. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the nonprofit sector, so if this class goes well and I can properly balance my life, I’m hopefully applying for admission to ASU’s Nonprofit Management program for the fall.

FOUR | I’ve been hosting

My roommates and I had our big spring fling party a couple weekends ago and it was quite the hit! I’m always hesitant to have a big party, but they’re always fun. I can’t count the amount of times we’ve had to swiffer since the party, but I’ll call it worth it, maybe for the last time 🙂 I also had a friend in town that weekend so my hostess hat was on in full force. It was nice to have one last hurrah before grad school started, and one last roomie party before I move, and to see some old friends and meet new ones.

FIVE | I’ve been shopping

I bought this adorable end table and matching coffee table for my future apartment (but now may return the coffee table and just keep the end table, we shall see where I end up living). Wayfair was having a HUGE sale and this was less than $100 and looks close enough to the overpriced West Elm version to satisfy me 🙂 I love love love it SO SO MUCH and for now it’s doing a good job of end table-ing in my current Brooklyn apartment.

SIX | I’ve been cooking

I am doing whole30 for the second time (well, I’ve done it 1.5 times before because the technical second time I did it, I quit after 13 days oopsies). With whole30 comes SO MUCH COOKING. I think the favorite thing I’ve cooked lately are these collared green spring rolls that my sister Ali inspired me to make. They’re amazing and I dip them in this whole30 ‘peanut’ sauce (which is actually with almond butter shhh). My next blog post will be the recipe for this, so stay tuned! For now, there’s a similar-ish but NOT whole30 version here.

 

So there you have it! I’ve been really busy but I think I’m starting to find a little balance in the chaos. Prayers for clarity of mind, being able to balance all my commitments, and probably most importantly to find a good apartment with clean, kind and considerate roommates, would be very appreciated!

Showing My Family My Two Favorite NYC Dives

A couple weeks ago now for my younger sister Julia’s spring break (the high school sister, not the Ole Miss sister), my mom, our cousin who is Julia’s age, and my mom’s twin sister/my Aunt Kimmy, came to NYC! They’ve had this trip planned for a long time – since before I knew I was moving here, which was actually sort of nice because it took the pressure off me a little, and they had a hotel in midtown close to my office I crashed at 🙂 (That’s me below with my sister Julia on the left)

They got in about 5 hours after I got in from Seaside – talk about a tight turnaround! I had enough time to drop my stuff off at home, clean EVERYTHING, go to a quick class at the gym, and then meet them for dinner near their hotel. We did a ton of really fun, classic NYC things when they were here, but I was most excited to show them my favorite little divey places around the city. Anyone can go to a great NYC pizza place or a Broadway show, but I really think (and hope) I gave them a bit more of a local flavor than they would’ve gotten otherwise. So, if you’re ever in the city looking for some local eats, try these places and let me know how you like them! I am OBSESSED and my wallet is happier for it 🙂

Tom’s Restaurant

On Saturday, it was St. Patrick’s day and I strongly urged my fam to come to Brooklyn for the day and therefore avoid the mass chaos that is NYC on St. Patrick’s Day. My all time favorite restaurant near my apartment is this old school cash only diner called Tom’s Restaurant. I’m moving in a couple months and I’m by far the most sad about not being close to Tom’s.

It’s like the Prospect Heights version of Luke’s from Gilmore Girls, and my heart is filled with happiness when I walk through the door (even if I’m standing in a long line!).

They serve classic breakfast food, and also have a lunch menu, although I’ve certainly never looked at that. My absolute favorite thing here is the chili cheese omelet (severely not whole30 but food like this is good for the soul). Also on my shortlist, is the chocolate cake french toast (pictured below), the cinnamon roll pancakes, and the western omelet. Their coffee is amazing and they’re known for making their own butter, make sure to ask for it because every meal comes with a side of toast. Not sure how something so simple can be SO good!

Info on Tom’s:

  • Neighborhood: Prospect Heights/Crown Heights in Brooklyn
  • Address: 782 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238
  • Must order: Chili cheese omelet, toast with their homemade butters, cinnamon roll pancakes
  • Yelp page

FIAT Cafe

My friend Audrey recommended this place one night after we proceeded to spend $60/person at Rin Tin Tin (soo good but soo $$$). It’s our other Nolita favorite and about half the price.

Their salads are what really gets me going (same with Rin Tin Tin), when I was there last I had their Radicchio salad with apples and Gorgonzola and I inhaled it.

Another staple there is their prosciutto and mozzarella, as well as their bruschetta.

Oh, and the fact that a bottle of decent Chianti is $28, in the middle of NYC, totally floors me. That’s less than $6/glass!!!

Lastly, the FIAT pasta is what I get if I’m super super hungry or find a friend to split it with. It’s got sausage and peas in it which seems so random but makes for a great combo.

Info on FIAT Cafe:

  • Neighborhood: Nolita (just north of Little Italy)
  • Address: 203 Mott St, New York, NY 10012
  • Yelp page
  • Must order: FIAT Pasta, prosciutto and mozzarella, any salad, a cheap bottle of Chianti, the chocolate mousse

Do you have any favorite little known local places I should try? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading, fam 🙂

Travel Diaries: Seaside, Florida

When I first moved to New York, I received a great piece of advice: have a February/March beach trip planned so you don’t get stir crazy in the cold when the NYC winter is STILL dragging on in full force. So about a month after I moved, my sister who goes to Ole Miss Law and I planned a vacation to Seaside, Florida during her spring break. It was so rejuvenating and exactly what I needed – especially because a full fledged blizzard came and went in NYC over the course of our beach trip.

To get to Seaside, I flew into Birmingham, and her and her golden doodle named Goose drove from Ole Miss to pick me up, and then 3 hours straight south to the beach. We drove through Alabama backroads the whole time and the clouds were puffy and beautiful, it was exactly what I needed after 3 months in New York City with all my transportation taking place underground.

We decided early on that this trip would be all about health/wellness/de-stressing from our crazy lives. We cooked whole30 dinners every night (with the exception of red wine), read our bibles every morning, went for long runs on the beach, and lived life slowly.

We stayed at this adorable guesthouse behind this big house on one of the main streets in Seaside, Tupelo Street. Come to find out, the house our guesthouse was behind was the founder of Seaside’s house while they were building the town! And our street was the first street in Seaside – SO COOL!

We found our house on airbnb, and it was one of the only options that was within our budget and could accommodate a pup. If you’ve never used airbnb, you should check it out! You’ll get $40 off and I’ll get $20 off #blessed if you use this link. Our house had a cool loft area for the ‘bedroom’, and a cozy little kitchen only one person can really fit in comfortably, so we took turns cooking meals for each other. We loved hanging out on the porch in the mornings with Goose in the little yard.

On Monday we went to an adorable coffee shop to work/study a bit. It was too cold for the beach on Monday, so this was the perfect indoor activity.

I know some people say when you’re on vacation to totally shut down your work, but I say do whatever makes you less stressed. It totally made me happy and de-stressed to work for 2 hours, check up on things, and get ahead on a couple projects while my sis studied. Also, how would I have discovered this Salmon toast if we didn’t go to this coffee shop to study??

Several of my friends and co-workers have asked me about my overall experience in Seaside, and if I’d go back again. The answer is a resounding YES. I’ve come to the conclusion that the ideal time to go would be in early May when it’s warmer and when kids are in school. See my pros/cons list below for details:

 

Pros:

  • The beach/water is incredible. The water is turquoise and the sand is squeaky white. I love Florida panhandle beaches but this water is for some reason the most pretty of all of them
  • The town itself is almost utopian it’s so perfect. It reminds me of Main Street USA at Disney World. It’s just SO cute there are no words
  • There’s lots of similar surrounding resort towns we got to visit. Seagrove, Watercolor, Rosemary Beach. They’re all on this road called 30a. Apparently lots of people in the south are obsessed with the 30a beaches. It’s a thing. They have bumperstickers. And I can totally see why.
  • There’s a church and it’s beautiful and perfect and the pastor did an excellent job of preaching a sermon catered to all denominations and to believers and non-believers alike. It was an incredibly well rounded sermon, and a breathtaking chapel building. 

Cons:

  1. This town is overrun by teenagers! Not college kids, but high schoolers who I guess are there with their parents? Or their friends invited them on their family vacation so there’s big groups of kids? I’m not sure of the logistics but there’s representation from every college prep high school in the south and they’re all going to run you over on their bikes
  2. The traffic is terrible. Basically plan to not drive. Do like the teenagers do, and bike (or walk like we did)
  3. There’s no really good foodie food. And the food is expensive…and a little greasy. I mean I live in New York so I guess it makes sense to be underwhelmed by beach town food. But we made most of our meals because it’s cheaper anyways, and I’m NOT complaining about our food! My sister literally brought her Vitamix so we could make acai bowls and bulletproof coffee…now that’s commitment! Also, I’m writing another post soon about our gulf shrimp salad we made. YUM!

Neither pro/con but worth noting:

  1. Everyone in the town gets around by bike. Driving is pure hell because there’s one (yes, one) big street in the whole town
  2. It’s not as warm as the rest of Florida like Miami or Palm Beach. This is great in July, but in March it means can be 55 degrees still (not always, but it can be, and it was for us). Hence the jackets and pants and cloudy skies in a lot of our pictures
  3. It’s basically all houses/vacation rentals. This was perfect for us because we had Goose, and we wanted to cook a lot. But if you’re a hotel person you may be out of luck. But luckily the houses are cute!

To wrap up, here’s a list of all the places we went that we would recommend in the Seaside/Santa Rosa Beach area:

  1. Grayton Beach Area:
    1. Black Bear Bread Co. (Coffee shop; 26 Logan Ln Unit G)
    2. Chiringo (Coastal/Spanish sitdown restaurant; 63 Hotz Ave)
  2. Seaside
    1. Amavida (Coffee shop; 2236 E County Hwy 30A)
    2. 45 Central (Wine bar; 45 Central Square)
    3. The SEASIDE Style (Store; 121 Central Square)
  3. Misc
    1. Goatfeathers Seafood Market East (Seafood market; 4042 E County Hwy 30A)

That’s all folks! Now go plan your vacation to Seaside! Thanks for reading 🙂

Family in Town: Food Edition

This week was super eventful because my cousin Rachel was in town for a conference last Saturday, and then the very next day, my sister Ali and her boyfriend Reed came to visit for 4 whole days! I seriously love getting to show people around NYC, it’s half the reason I started this blog, to be able to build up recommendations of my favorite places in New York City.

Originally, this post was going to be a little longer, but I got super sick on Monday and didn’t go to nearly as many fun restaurants as I had planned on 🙁 BUT I hope you still enjoy the 4 I wrote about below, and head on over to my NYC page for a full list of all my recommendations throughout the city!

 

SERENDIPITY 3

I took my cousin Rachel here, because it’s pretty centrally located close to midtown and it’s such an iconic NYC restaurant. Frequented by celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, and Jackie O., this restaurant is very famous and very yummy.

What it is: American restaurant, famous for dessert

Where it is: Upper East Side (60th and Lexington)

What to get: Challah french toast, frozen hot chocolate

Why I love it: It’s the most eccentric little restaurant, you never know when you’ll see a celebrity, and the whipped cream covered in chocolate shavings on top of the frozen hot chocolate is HEAVEN

How much it costs: It’s a pretty standard priced restaurant for New York City. Entree’s typically between $15-$25.

 

JAVELINA

Ali and Reed and I came here after church Sunday night because it’s super close to my church. It’s New York City’s truest Tex Mex and honestly one of the best margarita’s I’ve ever had. I had my birthday dinner here and have gone back several times since, including with Ali and Reed, to ease them into NYC life with some comforts from home.

What it is: Tex Mex

Where it is: Gramercy (18th and Park)

What to get: Bob Armstrong Queso (white or yellow, they’re both amazing), habenero peach margarita (or any frozen margarita)

Why I love it: It is the closest Tex-Mex to the real deal that NYC has to offer. Still not quite exactly like home, but such a close second that I’ll take it any day when I’m craving my Texas

How much it costs: It’s a pretty standard priced restaurant for New York City. Entree’s typically between $15-$20. Bob Armstrong queso was $7 (I’m pretty sure…), and the classic frozen margarita is $11.

 

SHAKE SHACK

Yes, this does exist in places not NYC, but it certainly doesn’t exist in Mississippi, so Ali and Reed were super excited to try it. There’s one really close to my apartment, so it’s the first place we went when they got here. I love how you can get your burger wrapped in lettuce instead of having a bun.

What it is: Burgers, hot dogs, custard, milkshakes

Where it is: All over town

What to get: I love the burgers wrapped in lettuce, they are whole30 approved if you get the plain hamburger! This time I got the smokeshack and it was amazing (but NOT whole30 approved).

Why I love it: It’s cheap, it’s yummy, it’s on my way home from work

How much it costs: $7ish for a bugers, a few more bucks for some fries

 

FIAT CAFE

I’m such a sucker for good Italian food, and although this place is technically in Nolita, not Little Italy, it’s still my favorite one in the area. It’s a really small restaurant, everything (especially the salads) is very reasonably priced, and it’s close to my other favorites, like Mother’s Ruin and Rin Tin Tin.

What it is: A low price, Italian cafe

Where it is: Nolita (On Spring St. btwn Mott and Elizabeth St.)

What to get: We got the prosciutto parma and mozzarella appetizer, and I got the FIAT pasta, which is super yummy and has sausage and peas in it. TBH that’s the only thing I’ve ever ordered there but it all looks amazing.

Why I love it: It’s very reasonably priced and I love the hustle and bustle and the ambiance and the small restaurant feel.

How much it costs: Very reasonably priced. Salads all under $10, most pasta was $10-$15. Wine is a little expensive, my cab sauv was $9 but thats still pretty good for NYC

 

What are your favorite NYC restaurants? Let me know in the comments below…I’m always looking to try new places!

The Importance of Christian Community in a New City

Hi friends! This is my first blog post I’m doing specifically about my faith, but it’s really important to me to talk about this HUGE part of my life. So here goes…

Moving to a new city is absolutely daunting. You may not have friends, you don’t know where anything is or how to get anywhere, and everything can seem new and big and scary. Having a community of friends to get you through this challenging transition is absolutely crucial, but what if you don’t have that in your new city yet?

I have always been a part of a church community and a bible study since I was in 6th grade. My bible study I joined in 6th grade carried me through middle school, high school, and even into college. I met my very best friend in the whole world Nicole through this bible study, and I got to stand next to her as her bridesmaid when she got married last year.

(This is a picture of my middle school/high school bible study at Nicole’s wedding. I refuse to post the picture I found of us when we were in 6th grade because it’s HORRIBLE. Anyways…)

Christian community is a crucial part of my weeks and having a group of fellow believers to vent to, learn with, laugh with, and do life with is priceless. When I moved back to Dallas after college, I ran into my friend Jill (the girl on the far right, above) at a frozen yogurt shop by our neighborhood and she invited me to a bible study at the church we grew up at. That bible study became my absolute family over the year I lived in Dallas. I can pick up the phone and call any of them at any point and they were SUCH encouragers in my life. In all reality, it took a WHILE for me to really feel comfortable and get into that ‘friend’ phase with all of them. And that’s ok! I think some people may give up easily or feel like you don’t quite ‘fit in’. And I totally get that feeling and maybe it is valid, but I would encourage anyone to stick with a group for a while to sort of get out of that hump.

(This is my Dallas Young Adults bible study at my going away party. I miss them sooo much!)

Fast forwarding to today, I am SO fortunate to have been able to find a bible study so quickly in New York City. I started going to the Apostles Church Union Square location (I can’t wait to share my journey of finding Apostles with y’all, I’ll do that soon :)) literally the very first Sunday that I moved to New York. The following Wednesday, I went to a bible study (connection group, or CG as they call it) that I had found out about through their website. With this group I’ve shared my high highs and low lows, studied God’s word, eaten a million cookies and chicken nuggets, volunteered and laughed with, and it’s only been 4 months! My church volunteered with Hope For New York this Christmas to give toys to underprivileged families, and it was the most fun way to spend a freezing NYC Saturday.

Going on a retreat with these kids in November really bonded us, and that’s one thing I highly recommend diving right into when you start going to a new church.

This I want y’all to know that I am so happy in New York, and very largely due to this church and it’s congregation. They listened to me week after week vent about how hard moving to New York was, until the week I showed up, looked around, and realized it all made perfect sense. I am meant to be here and in this community, at least for the meantime. Who knows what the future holds, but in the present, this church and my Jesus are holding me, and that is enough.

Amen!

 

 

Paris and Bordeaux in the Wintertime

As my facebook timeline has so cruelly been reminding me, I was in France this exact time last year AND the year before. But alas I am currently stuck in a tunnel on the Q train headed to work in New York, and certainly NOT in Paris. I’ve been to Paris many times, but I’ve gone twice now in the winter, and there’s a reason I went back a second time. Yes, it’s cold and it gets dark super early. But there’s $350 flights from JFK so yes I will take an early sunset in exchange for saving $400+ any day.

The first time I went to Paris in the winter was December 2015 through New Years, and then we went down to Bordeaux in January. It was sort of a last minute trip, I had been saving up for a puppy and had a massive epiphany that I as a 22 year old college senior can’t handle a puppy, so I booked a very cheap flight to Paris the next day (I was super rational back then) since my friends has been begging me to come with them for their New Years trip. These friends I’m referencing are absolute professionals when it comes to traveling in France.

We were all French majors together, except for the one friend who had graduated and was living in France teaching English in Normandy (that’s her below on the left).

My winter in Paris 2017 trip was with my sister Ali and we went right before she started her study abroad trip in Italy. This was much more of a sightseeing trip since she had never been to Paris and I am not as much of a seasoned professional like my friends who studied abroad and/or lived in Paris are.

I’ve been reflecting back on my winter France trips, talking to all my friends about it, and we’ve come up with a pretty comprehensive guide to France in the Winter. I hope you find it helpful!!

NOTE: Anything below that starts with a (B) is about Bordeaux. While this post is MOSTLY about Paris, Bordeaux is a 2.5 hour train from Paris, has some of the best wines in the world, and is full of culture. I highly recommend going to Bordeaux if you get the chance.

 

PLACES TO GO

These of course are great year round, but for France in the summer there would be a million parks, gardens, and vineyards on this list. These are all the great indoor places I’ve been to in winter, and considering France has some of the best architecture in the world, you’re not missing too much by sticking to indoor activities, even if it is the summer.

  1. Musee L’Orangerie in Paris (€9, 1er): This is my second favorite museum in Paris, only behind le Musee Rodin, which is a summer museum for me as its mostly outdoors. L’Orangerie houses impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and it’s the official home of Monet’s water lily paintings, and also has a collection of my favorite painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. 
  2. Palais Garnier (€12, 9ème): This is the famous opera house that Phantom of the Opera is based off of. Either see a show here, or just take the self guided audio tour. The architecture and history is breathtaking, and if you’re walking from the 1er arrondissement, you pass tons of shopping along the way.
  3. Eiffel Tower (€10+, 7ème): It doesn’t matter what time of year, this iconic landmark is breathtaking, and it lights up every hour at night (which comes sooner in the winter).
  4. Centre Pompidou (€14, 4ème): The Centre Pompidou houses Europe’s largest collection of modern art. The architecture is really cool, and VERY different from your typical Parisian architecture. It’s in a really cool area of town, but still really central. 
  5. (B) Bordovino Wine Tasting Class (€49): We took a wine class in Bordeaux and it was incredibly informative, fun, and entertaining. Because Bordeaux is such an outdoor city, this should be at the top of your list for a winter trip there. This same company also does vineyard and wine tours when its not winter.

NOTE: I would not recommend the catacombs for winter, if it really is cold outside. The line can be hours long, which generally IS worth it, but my sister wore flats that day we went in January (ahem, see below…never do that) and the older sister in me was terrified she was going to get a frostbite.

 

PLACES TO EAT

  1. Angelina for Hot Chocolate and Pastries (1er, expensive): This place has the best, richest, thickest hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It’s like if you add milk to brownie batter I’m not even joking. The line tends to be quite long which isn’t ideal for winter but sometimes it’s not. This is also close to L’Orangerie!
  2. Vin Chaud Street Cart (throughout central Paris, €1-€4): Vin chaud is mulled wine, it’s super hot and super yummy. They sell them from streetcarts all over Paris. I’ve seen these streetcarts most notably in the 6ème on the Boulevard Saint-Germain outside l’Église de Saint Germain des Prés, and also at Place de la Concorde right by L’Orangerie in the 1er. While you’re at it, go ahead and get a crêpe also. YUM.
  3. Bistrot Victoires (2ème, inexpensive): This Place is my secret and I can’t even believe I’m sharing it with you. If you want $13 steak and $6 creme brulee, $4 wine, and unlimited free bread in a very authentic french setting, go here. And don’t get there before 7 p.m. or they will yell at you despite the fact that their door is unlocked…
  4. Akash (4ème, moderate): Yes, this is Indian food. However you’re still very aware that you’re in Paris, and it’s honestly some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had. So if you’re sick of bread and cheese, stop in for some chicken tikka and you’ll feel like a whole new person.
  5. (B) Le Wine Bar (moderate): We just thought the name of this place was funny, so we stopped inside. It’s super clean and fresh looking while still maintaining the authentic french look. It’s right smack in the middle of Bordeaux.
  6. (B) Cock and Bull (inexpensive/moderate): Chill bar in Bordeaux. Nothing too special, but really solid fun vibes. Of course, all of my friends are super well connected and one of them knows the owner of this place. Go figure.
  7. (B) Maison du Vin (inexpensive): This place. YOU GUYS. They have wine direct from the surrounding Bordeaux vineyards and they do small pours so you can taste a lot, so the cost per glass is quite cheap. Oh, and the cheese. And the bread. What a time to be alive…
  8. Paul (All over, inexpensive): Oh, I have so much to say for Paul. It’s like the Starbucks/Panera of France. They have coffee, pastries, bread, sandwiches, pizza-type-things, and most importantly, QUICHE. It’s a quick grab and go, or sit down place, and it’s just…wonderful. And just like Starbucks, I swear there’s one on every block.

 

WHAT TO PACK

  1. All Black – Everyone in Paris wears black especially in the winter. Or dark neutrals at the very least. Don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Don’t bring your American flag ski jacket…
  2. Lots of layers – It’ll be cold outside, the heat may be cranked up too high in a museum, and an old church you’re touring may not have heat, so it’ll be warmer than outside but not warm enough for just a shirt. I’d wear a coat, a sweater, and a light shirt underneath, at the least.
  3. Scarf/gloves/hat – This is just my small amount of winter weather experience here. You’ll hate yourself if you don’t have gloves or something to cover your ears.
  4. Boots – Everyone in France wears boots, boots are comfortable, they go with everything. Bonus points if they’re black also.
  5. Sinus and allergy medicine – It might just be me, but my allergies go crazy every time I go to France and I’ve been known to get back to work only to have to take more time off when the inevitable sinus infection crops up 2 days later.

 

WHERE TO STAY

My hands down favorite neighborhood is Saint Germain de Pres, which is in the 6ème Arrondissement (Arrondissement = Administrative District). But here is a more well rounded view based on my experiences in and out of the 6ème.

  1. 1er Arrondissement – Stay here if you want to stay in a very touristy area in the center of everything. Walk to the Louvre, The Tuileries Garden, tons of shopping, Opera, the Seine, Orsay, etc. My sister and I stayed at the Saint James Albany Hotel and Spa when we stayed in this area. 10/10 would recommend.
  2. 6ème Arrondissement – Stay here if you want to stay in a quintessential super Parisian super central residential area. I’ve stayed at two different airbnb’s here and they were both very nice and very clean for a decent price.
  3. Bastille – Stay here if you’re ok being slightly more far out/want to save money/want more space

I’ve been asked about airbnbs vs. hotels vs. hostels. I say it depends, I’ve done all of the above. Do airbnb if you have kids or are planning on saving money via cooking some of your own meals. I stayed in an airbnb with my french major friends since we were in college and wanted to save money, and then again with my 14 year old sister because I knew she’d be happier with €2 buttered noodles than with fois gras and steak, so that was a huge money saver. On the flipside, I’ve stayed at a hotel before with my other sister who was about to embark on a study abroad trip revolving around European culture…it was important to us to eat every meal at a different type of restaurant so we could soak up all the culture and cuisine. It depends a lot on your priorities and where you’re willing to give and take.

 

WHERE TO NOT STAY

It’s no secret that there are bad areas of Paris. So so many people have visited Paris and then come to me after and said, “Tori, I don’t get why you love Paris, its dirty and scary and not like I imagined,”. My first question is always, “Well where did you stay?”. There are a few areas of Paris that I would recommend avoiding at night or staying in. This is only two of them, but my point is do your research, and stay as centrally as your budget allows if you want the quintessential Parisian experience. This is NOT me being judgmental, this is my personal experience and my gut feeling as a young American woman in Paris, combined with research and crime statistics.

  1. Do NOT stay in Montmartre – I might get some backlash for saying this. You should visit Montmartre. You shouldn’t stay there. Yes, Montmartre is near the Basilica de Sacre Coeur, which is a super cool place, but it is frigid in the winter anyways because it’s so high up, and especially for an American college girl, this is not the place you want to be walking home to late at night especially if you’ve had a drink. Go during the day for the views, go during the summer if you don’t want to be freezing. Go shopping in the vintage and discount stores. Don’t stay here. (Yes I have stayed here before and am only talking from experience)
  2. Do NOT stay by Gare du Nord – My friend and I stayed here the second time I ever went to Paris, and we had no clue what we were doing. We found a hotel that was shockingly cheap despite the fact that it was a 4-star hotel, so we booked it. The hotel was super swanky, the location made us want to sprint from the train station home every night. Other people I have talked to share the sentiment, avoid this area.

 

WHAT TO BUY

France has some amazing products that I feel like you just can’t get the equivalent of here. I stock up on these things when I’m there, and whoever I’m with thinks I’m a crazy person, but I’m very satisfied with that, because I’m buying French things in France and I don’t care what people think

  1. Skincare – You’ll notice pharmacie’s all over France by the large green square cross sign outside the building. Walk inside, and yes you will be able to get advil and melatonin. But you also will find a mecca of inexpensive, top notch skincare you can’t get in the US. My favorite toner and facial cleanser are both La Roche Posay from French pharmacies that I have been using since I was 20. Yes, they sell it in the US now, but it is not the same.
  2. Sour candy – The sour candy in france is LEGENDARY. Sour sketti, the little sour smurfs, and any sour haribo product will change your life, it will melt in your mouth, you’ll be in heaven. Buy all of it. To my knowledge, US Customs and Border Patrol has no law about sour candy, so load it up!
  3. Wine – The technical US Customs and Border Patrol rule is 1 liter, so please keep that in mind. This is why I ship my wine home instead of taking it in my suitcase. I don’t have to worry about wine soaked clothes or breaking federal laws 🙂 Wine directly from France lacks sulfites, which is the preservative that ALL domestic and commercially imported red wine contains. And it makes your hangovers worse. So do yourself a favor and send yourself over some sulfite-free wine.

 

OVERALL PROS OF GOING IN THE WINTER

  1. Flights are 30-60% less expensive
  2. Hotels are infinitely less expensive, ex: my sister and I paid about $170/night for our room at Saint James in January. I just looked to book it for my upcoming trip in June, and the same room is $750. So go figure. If you clicked the link and wondered if we’re rich because we stayed at such a nice hotel, the answer is NO, we went in the winter. RIP my budget 5 months from now when I go to Paris in June…
  3. Less crowded

 

OVERALL CONS OF GOING IN THE WINTER

  1. Winter weather delays: You never know when you’ll be stuck at O’Hare for 7 hours due to a blizzard…
  2. Cold
  3. Gets dark earlier
  4. (B) Vineyards are closed

 

So there you have it! I hope this was super helpful, and please comment below if you have any other Paris or France questions, winter or not 🙂

New Years Resolutions, a Blizzard, and Paleo Potato Salad (Bear With Me)

Hey fam! Happy new years! I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been crazy busy, traveling, and having some well needed family time…I got back from visiting Texas for Christmas about a week ago and since then, the year has changed, there was a HUGE blizzard, and I started Whole30! I feel like in recent years past I haven’t really made any resolutions but this year (for some reason) it was more important to me. Maybe the fact that I’m more of an adult now than ever before has made me realize I need to set goals…I’m not really sure. Did any of you get that feeling as you got older? I think the word for that is ‘maturity’ but also there’s no way that’s actually what’s happening to me, so we’ll just roll with it. Anyways…

My new years resolutions are:

  1. Make my bed every single day – I’ve sort of/basically been doing this lately but this year, it will happen EVERY DAY. It just has to be the VERY first thing you do in the morning. I’ve sort of been trapping myself into doing this by waking up and immediately throwing all of my pillows onto the floor while still half asleep, because then there’s no room to walk in my little room until I make the bed and arrange the pillows back again. (Please don’t mind the teal duct tape, we’re having some snow-coming-in-through-the-window issues but don’t worry I’m fine).
  2. Church every Sunday (even when traveling or sleepy or busy or WHATEVER) – It’s easy to go to church on Sundays in New York because I have so many friends at Apostles, but when it’s 0 degrees, or I’m slightly hungover (sorry mom), that motivation to see my people mysteriously disappears. I’ve been to some cool churches in London, France, Africa, etc. and I don’t want traveling to stop me either. Witnessing people worship God all over the world is amazing to me.
  3. Explore NYC More – I made my first step in doing this by going to the Met after work yesterday, just on a whim. I need to do that more instead of just going to the gym and then home to bed. I live in an AMAZING city, and I want to get to know it inside and out
  4. Read a book a month – I just got a NYPL library card, and I’m going to use it!
  5. 750+ credit score – I’m so close! That Executive World Elite American Airlines credit card is calling to me…
  6. Be way better about Paleo eating – I killed this goal when I first moved to NYC, and I (think) I looked and felt great. But after discovering the magic of Seamless, this deteriorated rapidly and my diet consisted of sushi, pizza, and chinese food delivery. Eating paleo is SO GOOD FOR YOU and I felt so great when doing it. Which brings me to…

I started whole30 on January 2nd! 

This is the second time I’ve done this, and if you’re one of my Plano co-workers, I apologize that I’m once again gabbing on about whole30. If you want to do it, I highly recommend spending a good chunk of time educating yourself about it by reading It Starts with Food, and Whole30 by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig before your start. Whole30 is like pushing the ‘reset’ button on your eating habits, where you only eat a very certain list of foods for 30 days. It’s excellent for if you feel sluggish, bloated, have acne, potential allergies, digestive issues, or just want to look and feel better. For 30 days, you cut out:

  • Dairy
  • Grains
  • Alcohol
  • Legumes
  • Added Sugar
  • Carageenan, sulfites, MSGs

Y’all, it sounds weird and SO restrictive (which it is) but it’s AMAZING. Well like it sucks. But the amazingness weighs out the suckyness.

So I started whole30 on 1/2, and then on 1/4, the northeast got a MASSIVE blizzard. It was insane, and my office told us to work from home. So of course I worked very hard at home for 8 hours, but on my lunch break I just had to wander outside into the snow, and it. was. INSANE. you couldn’t even see our building’s stairs because it was covered in snow, it just looked like a giant slope

Our street, sidewalks, stoops, roofs, cars, piles of trash, everything was covered in so so so much snow, I surely have never experienced anything like it.

My street is beautiful even on a mediocre day, but today, it was breathtaking.

I got a little bored inside working from home on Thursday, so I decided to make up a recipe with some ingredients I had laying around…can you guess what all of these are about to make?

I think this is one of the best whole30 recipes I’ve ever concocted, and trust me I’ve tried some weird foods trying to avoid that inevitable food boredom, but today’s product of winter storm Grayson’s kitchen experiment is Whole30 Chipotle Potato Salad.

Y’all, this stuff is so good, I’d eat it all at once but that’s probably not advised. I got to work boiling a couple potatoes and a couple eggs while I tried to figure out what exactly I was going to make. I had purchased some Primal Kitchen Chipotle Lime Mayo before starting whole30 and was dying to try it. If you’re adventerous and want to try this, here’s the recipe, completely made up from the brain of Tori:

[Printer friendly version here]

Ingredients (makes 3-ish servings):

  • 2 red potatoes, chopped into 1/2″ cubes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 strip of Smithfield whole30 compliant bacon
  • 1-3ish tbsp of Primal Kitchen Chipotle Lime Mayo
  • A couple shakes of garlic powder
  • A couple shakes onion powder
  • A couple shakes of salt
  • 15-ish cranks of black pepper

Directions:

  1. Boil the eggs
    1. Put the eggs in a pot and cover with cool water
    2. Put on the stove on medium-high and bring to a boil
    3. Once the water starts boiling, turn the stove off and let the eggs sit for ~15 minutes
    4. After 15 minutes, take the eggs out with a slotted spoon and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking
  2. Cook the potatoes
    1. Bring a pot of water to boiling
    2. Put the potatoes into the boiling water
    3. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until tender with a fork (these are pretty small pieces so shouldn’t take that long)
    4. Take off stove, strain in a colander, and put in a mixing bowl the fridge for about 20 minutes
  3. Cook one strip of bacon, transfer to a paper towel, and let cool completely
  4. Chop the eggs into small pieces and add to the bowl with the potatoes
  5. Chop the bacon into bits, and add to the bowl
  6. Add the spices, and give everything a quick stir
  7. Add the mayo, 1 tbsp at a time, until it’s reached the amount you want

So there ya have it! My take on a whole30 compliant version of potato salad. If you’re on whole30, remember to pair this with veggies and a protein to make a complete meal out of it. If you try it, please let me know what you think!

 

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