National Letter Writing Month

April marked National Letter Writing month where snail mail and stationery lovers unit and attempt to send thirty letters in thirty days! This is my second year participating and I have looked forward to it since last year's stationery parade ended. I've been collecting cards, envelopes, and stamps galore. 

My grandmother is the one that fostered my love for letter and card writing. She always sent my brother and me cards growing up; she still sends them almost weekly! They make my day each time I arrive home to a hand written note and they mean more to me than most people know. I have kept all of the cards and letters people have written to me over the past several years. Every now and again I will pull them out to just remind myself that I am surrounded by people that love me and are encouraging me every step of the way. 

Here are a few of the cards and envelopes I put together for letter writing month! If you're interested in joining along with the fun next year, you should look into Egg Press and Hello! Lucky Cards. They are two letterpress companies that team up together to encourage communities across the country to participate. It's quite fun and I have connected with new pen pals from across the country. 

 

 

27!

I turned 27 yesterday! My day was spent with my family and Ryan having afternoon tea and cake, followed by some downtime and reading my newest book. We wound down the day with dinner at The Floridian, a free birthday pop at The Hyppo, and drinks at The Ice Plant; then, we finished the day by watching Bridget Jones' Diary with some microwave popcorn, my favorite :) It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday and I'm so thankful my little family and how special they all made me feel. I love you all, thank you for making yesterday so wonderful! 

^A few of the lovely gifts I received! Some new plants I've been wanting called string of pearls, the new Floret Farm book from my friend, Katie (it's so beautiful!), a new letter board from my friend, Britni, and an Iris Apfel brooch from my mom (we saw her documentary together at the Tampa Theatre a few years back!) 

Birthday Taco Crawl!

This week in every sense ended up going in the complete opposite direction of the way in which it was planned. I was supposed to head home for a weekend with my family, but as fate would have it, we ended up staying in St. Augustine and my family will be driving up tomorrow afternoon for a little cake celebration. I was bummed not to be able to go home and spend time with them, but Ryan and a few of our friends turned my entire week around with a little impromptu, pre-birthday taco crawl.

We mapped out six different taco places between Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Ryan made us a taco score card which labeled all of our stops and five taco icons for us to rate each stop; five tacos being amazing and one taco being not our exact cup of tea (luckily no one gave any place one star!) 

We hopped in the car late morning and drove up to Jacksonville for our first stop: Flying Iguana. I've heard from multiple people around town that Flying Iguana has the best tacos and I at some point had to go. Now was the time! I ordered a fried green tomato taco with black eyed peas and pimento cheese sauce and a chipotle shrimp taco with a mango salsa. Ryan had a fried chicken, gravy, pickled okra and slaw taco and a pork belly taco with pickled onions and watermelon. Kyle tried the steak taco and the same fried chicken taco that Ryan had. Lastly, Katie had the fried green tomato taco, the pork belly and an achiote chicken. We all really loved the tacos and I'm fairly certain we all gave it a 4 star review. 

Next stop on our list was Corner Taco in Jacksonville! I love the atmosphere in the little shop, the flowers on all of the tables in recycled Coca Cola bottles, and the tacos are pretty good. Ryan and I have been several times but this was Katie and Kyle's first time eating there. I tried the daily special, a fried shrimp taco with habanero sauce. Ryan had the dijon buttermilk fried chicken taco, which is his usual go to whenever we make a stop in. Katie had the homemade chorizo taco while Kyle had a homemade chorizo taco and a fried catfish taco. Kyle and I gave Corner Taco three stars, Ryan gave them five and Katie gave them four. 

The third stop we made was at Pepe's Hacienda. Ryan had been once before, but it had been quite some time since he'd be back for lunch or dinner. It had been on our list for months to try and now this was the perfect opportunity! We tried the chips and salsa, the chips were pretty nice and crunchy, you could tell they were fresh, but they weren't my absolute favorite. We each ordered one taco which was called the Taco Pepe. It had your choice of meat, avocado, cilantro, onion and sour cream. I ordered mine with just the veggies, Katie had pork, Kyle had steak, and Ryan had chicken. This place was easily our favorite out of all the stops. It was authentic, the service was great, and the tacos were amazing. Not to mention, the entire store is covered in colorful bunting and next door is a grocery store filled with rows of produce, cheeses, tortillas, sodas, candies and other imported items you cannot really find at most other places. We all gave Pepe's a five out of five taco stars. 

Stop number four was Nalu's Tropical Take Out in St. Augustine! Ryan and I had each been here once before, but again, it was Katie and Kyle's first time eating here as well. Ryan, Katie and I each had a baja fish taco while Kyle tried the lower trestles taco which was a seasoned chicken taco with lettuce, beans, cheddar jack cheese and baja sauce. Katie, Ryan and I really loved our fish taco, but Kyle wasn't wow'd by his taco, he said he wished it had more sauce and it was bit dry. Kyle gave Nalu's a two star review, Ryan and I gave it four stars and Katie stuck with 3.5 stars.

We decided we would make Mojo's, our fifth stop, our last stop of the evening; at this point, we had been eating tacos on and off for almost six hours. Per the suggestion of the cashier, Katie and I both ordered the avocado taco, Ryan had a chicken taco and Kyle ordered the mahi mahi taco. All of Mojo's tacos come with on a flour tortilla that is layered with a crunchy tortilla and held together by melted cheese. The tacos are simple, but in my option still really delicious! 

In lieu of going to Taco Shop, we've all been before, we walked next door to the Circle K and were lucky enough to find four choco tacos waiting just for us. It was the perfect way to end the day and I believe we all agreed, five out of five stars would choco taco again! 

Here are our final score cards! 

Taco 'bout a pretty wonderful day! 

On the Road to Michigan Part II

After we left Nashville, we headed into Indiana and straight on up the state to Fort Wayne. The photo below is of the sunset the evening we arrived into town. It was almost a sign that we were right where we should be and it was a reminder to try and soak up every last minute of this trip together. 

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The next morning, we woke up to the sun shining and we took off to get back on the road to drive up to Auburn, Indiana. The second photo below with the red barn was one of the homes my dad lived in just outside of Fort Wayne. It was the second home he ever lived in. They used to own a couple of donkeys that they kept at the farm and my favorite thing about seeing that home is the fact that my grandfather named the barn; you can just make out some of the white lettering on the side of the barn. To this day, the barn still keeps that same name. The people that live there now may never know it, but the fact that they still kept the same name made my heart so very happy.  

On our way into Auburn, we passed the Cord Car Museum. One of the homes my dad's family lived in when they first moved to Auburn was actually the Cord Family home that Mr. Cord built. As we were driving by, we decided to take a last minute detour and stop into the museum for a look around. The best thing was the entire drive up the road to the museum, we were closely followed by a white Porsche. When we pulled into the museum, so did the driver of the Porsche. The gentleman driving got out of his car, he was probably in his late 70's, and he had a big beard and wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. He left the keys in his car...while it was running, to stop into the museum as well. Only in Indiana. Anyways, back to the museum! The museum itself is two stories and is packed wall to wall with all sorts of antique cars. My dad and I were shocked at how old some of them were and from the exterior, they were all so beautiful. Below are a few of my favorites: 

Before heading into downtown to take a look around, we decided it was time for a milkshake and coke float break. 

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This is downtown Auburn. My grandfather used to own a factory that made harmonic balancers for cars and they lived there for a bit before he moved the factory into Michigan, not too far from Detroit. We parked the car and walked around the main square for a bit. There wasn't too much to see, a lot of the shops were closed, but I could imagine how wonderful and lively it must have been back then. My dad told me the story about he and a friend, Tommy Bryant, used to bring their red wagon down to the square. They would walk office to office and sell bags of popcorn for like 10 cents a piece. Finally, after so many times of doing it, the Mayor called my grandmother and told her they had to stop selling because they didn't have a license to do so. I thought that was the greatest. Dad- you are such a trouble maker! 

I asked if we could take home the vintage fridge with us..but sadly it wouldn't have fit in the car to begin with. 

This brown brick home below is the second home they lived in while they lived in Auburn. 

This home is the first home they lived in that I mentioned earlier, it was the Cord Home. This is probably one of my favorite things that happened during the trip. Right next door to the home is a plant nursery. My dad and I parked at the nursery and inquired if any of the workers there knew much about the family that lived next door. To our surprise, the owners of the nursery are the ones that live next door. We asked if the owners were around and sure enough, to our luck, the wife was just getting ready to leave the house. My dad politely stopped her and explained that he used to live there for a bit when they first moved to the area from Fort Wayne. Immediately, without any hesitation, she invited us to come in for a tour and to take a look around. We couldn't believe it. Once again, only in Indiana :) they sure are nice up that way. I know my dad was so excited as she took us into every room and my dad talked about what each room looked like while they lived there. The photo below of the tile is in sort of a sun room that was off to the left of the house. Apparently, some of the people that lived there in-between my dad's family and the current owner, put carpet over the tile out there. The current owners thought it was  a shame and had it removed to reveal the original tile from the 50's/60's. I thought it was so sweet and surreal to take a look around and to imagine how beautiful of a house it was then, I imagine my grandmother to have impeccable taste when it came to those sorts of things. It was so sweet of her to let us in and I am so thankful that that sort of hospitality still exists;  it certainly made our day. 

On to Michigan we go! Next stop Port Huron here we come! 

On the Road to Michigan!

What do you do when you have a week off of work and your dad looks at you and says, "let's go on a road trip?" You say an immediate yes and you have the best time ever. My dad is originally from Indiana and Michigan and we decided to take a 7 day trip to visit a few of the towns he lived in growing up. We kicked off our trip and headed straight up to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We arrived in the evening, checked into the hotel and headed out on foot in search of dinner. 

We were able to grab a table at Public House, where I ordered up the house salad with shrimp and my dad had the steak & fries. I am fairly certain my dad licked his plate clean he loved it so much. I wish that I had been able to take a photo of the interior, it was really beautiful and they had the coolest lamps in there that swung out several feet from the walls...but sadly no photo to show you. You'll have to stop by and see for yourself sometime! 

The next morning, we woke up early and headed out for a walk over the Walnut Street Bridge to take in a bit of the city before breakfast. There was a triathlon that morning and we stopped for a minute to take a look at the swimmers as they swam under the bridge. Once we made it to the other side we had breakfast at Milk & Honey. My dad ordered the french toast and I tried the oatmeal with blueberries and fresh cream. The oatmeal was amazing! A few years ago when I went to London, I tried porridge at a small local restaurant and ever since then I've been looking for an oatmeal recipe that would compare, and sure enough I had not yet found one...until Milk & Honey answered all of my prayers. It was so delicious I could not stop thinking about it for the rest of the trip. 

Back over the bridge we went and onto the next Chattanooga adventure, to see Rock City! We drove up to the top of the mountain and decided to pay the hefty entrance fee for the self guided tour; it was worth it though. They have three different trails that you can take, essentially you see all the major sights regardless which one you take. The best was the gnome and fairy tale caverns that were filled with miniature gnomes and fairy tale settings such as Hansel and Gretel, The Three Little Pigs, Snow White, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, and so many more. The husband and wife team that originally built Rock City, had a love for fairy tales and German folk lore. At one point in the 1940's. they hired Jesse Sanders, a sculptor from Atlanta, to build out the cave and many of the fairy tale scenes. You can see some of the original work that he did still on display when you stop by for a visit. 

This above bridge is a swinging rope bridge! They have two options for crossing between the two rocks, one was via this bridge and the second was via a stationary bridge. This way was a lot of fun until some guy started purposefully jumping up and down and swaying trying to get the rope bridge to swing back and forth. I practically ran back to the edges as quickly as possible while my dad stood on the stationary side laughing at me. 

One of my favorite parts about the tour were these incredibly tight crevices that you had to squeeze through in order to get to the other side. This passage way specifically was called "fat man's squeeze." There were definitely points that I thought there was no way I would be able to fit through. You had to turn to the side and shuffle through. I let my dad go through first to make sure he'd fit ;) The second passageway shown below was called "the eye of the needle" I believe. That one you had to duck through at multiple points, it was so tiny! 

After seeing Rock City, we packed ourselves back up into the car and headed north to Nashville. We didn't have time to stay overnight, but my dad agreed to stopping at two places for food. First up: Five Daughters Bakery. I had seen their photos on instagram and boy did they look delicious. My dad is a big fan of donuts, so it hardly took any convincing to get him to stop here. We picked up four donuts, two of them were maple (my dad's favorite.) We both agreed that they were pretty good, but they were more like cronuts than anything else. They were VERY sweet; so sweet, I think we each could only handle about three bites before we were done. 

Our lunch spot was a no brainer, hot dogs in a VW bus- YES! This amazing little gem is called "I Dream of Weenie" and as soon as we saw it's existence online, we knew we had to go. On the weekends they do a weenie brunch with hotdogs topped with all sorts of amazing toppings such as: an eggs benedict, hashbrown casserole, and french toast weenies. They also have simple hotdogs that you can pick your own toppings. But if you're really hungry, you should always check out their daily specials on Facebook. I saw earlier that they have pizza and mac n' cheese weenies. This place was amazing and so much fun, I would highly recommend it if you ever stop in Nashville or plan a visit. I only wish I could have driven away with it! 

That was all for our time in Tennessee that day! Next stop: Indiana! 

Mother's Day

Mother's day was quite some time ago, but that doesn't mean I can't still relive it and celebrate my mom each day :) 

This year, my dad and my brother were at a playoff hockey game for the Tampa Bay Lightning so my mom dropped them off at the arena and headed out to an afternoon of fun. It began with a trip to Sea Critters over in St. Pete for a dockside lunch of our favorite crunchy almond shimp salad. I've posted about Sea Critters on here before, but it truly is my favorite spot to go to when I am back in town. It's a little bit of a drive for anyone that lives in Tampa, but if you are up for some pretty amazing seafood and a trip to the beach or an evening to watch the sunset, make the drive over! And do not leave before ordering the crunchy almond shrimp! 

When I was little, my mom used to surprise my my brother and me by taking us bowling after school. She was always a really great bowler and I for some reason made it up in my head that she used to even be part of a bowling league for the Sheriff's Office...sorry mom, I have no idea where I came up with that, but I definitely told everyone that until about three years ago. She was just that good ;) So this time, I took her bowling and we made a bet: the loser of 3 games must buy the winner the popsicle of her choice at The Hyppo in St. Pete. 

How fun is this bowling alley! I loved the pink exterior and it was just as much fun on the inside with the coordinating color blocked walls and carpets. 

See below for the bowling champion...to be fair I did beat her in the first game! The other two were pretty close as well ;) 

How sweet she is! She even offered to buy ME a popsicle even after I lost; but, alas, a deal is a deal and I held up my end of the bargain. Here she is with her black pepper cantaloupe trophy!  

She is easily the most selfless person I have ever met and I hope that I can one day spread as much kindness as she exudes daily. She really is the greatest for all she does for myself and for our family. I love you mom and I am so thankful to call you my own! 

The Refinery

a while back my mother found out that she was cancer free for the tenth consecutive year in a row, which officially makes her a survivor :) She and I celebrated by trying out a place that had been on our list for a while, The Refinery. Before heading over to meet my mom after work, I stopped into Florist Fire to pick her up a little celebratory bouquet. If you live in Tampa, they have the most beautiful flowers and the sweetest workers that are willing to help you arrange the perfect piece. I found that a bouquet of pink flowers was only fitting and she was surprised and delighted to say the least. 

I met up with my mom at the restaurant, where we chose to sit upstairs on the outdoor patio. Just as we sat down it began to rain one of those beautifully, calming summer evening rains that just made the experience that much more enjoyable. We started with a bowl of their tomato soup that was garnished with blueberries, a surprisingly tasty yet unexpected combination. We decided to order a few of the small plates vs. ordering just one entree so that we could try a variety of items. A few of the dishes incorporated zucchini, squash, and several other summer vegetables. One dish was similar to a ratatouille, which I have never tried- we loved it. Our favorite entree though was the grilled cabbage salad; it was vinegary and sweet all at the time same time- I loved it. Finally, we finished off by ordering one of each dessert they were offering that evening. One was a housemaid orange sorbet and the other was a chocolate brownie with a side coffee drink that I believe was infused with lavender and salted caramel. Whatever it was was absolutely amazing and easily my favorite thing that we ordered all evening. I would go back just for the drinks and to order the dessert. If you go in the evenings, make sure you sit outside! It's worth bearing a little bit of summer heat! 

Charleston: Day 3

On our last day in Charleston we woke up early to beat the breakfast crowd and the rain that was heading our way. We walked up to Callie's Hot Little Biscuit and I had two biscuits with butter and blackberry jam while Ryan had the egg, cheese and bacon biscuit. I do have to say, I think Callie's may be hit or miss depending on the menu items listed for that day. Nonetheless, it was a nice "southern" way to star off the day. 

From breakfast, we took our umbrella and headed out to brave the rain by walking around the city and onto get coffee at Black Tap. Along the way, we stopped for a minute to admire just how beautiful College of Charleston's campus is. Fun fact, CofC was one of my top choice schools when applying for colleges from high school. I toured and loved the campus with my dad my senior year and I had forgotten just how gorgeous their campus is. We then walked back uptown to visit a big sale called the Jumble Sale which featured about a dozen local businesses selling product at more than 60% or so off of original prices. There were goods from Sideshow Press, Sleepy Jones pajamas, candles, clothing, bags, and decor galore. Neither Ryan nor I left with anything but it was nice to visit and talk with a few of the local business owners. They offered up a few great restaurant recommendations, a few of which we had already been to over the weekend. My foodie research had paid off ;) 

Last, but certainly not least, we absolutely had to stop at Jeni's before leaving town. JENI'S, WHY DON'T YOU HAVE A SCOOP SHOP IN FLORIDA YET?! For now, I will have to settle on a few of my favorite flavors sold in pints at Fresh Markets in the area. I won't complain though! Ryan and I each did a triple scoop of ice cream on a cone. I tried the brambleberry (my favorite!!), wildberry lavender and pistachio + honey. Ryan tried intelligentsia espresso, churro and chocolate? maybe it was peanut butter...whichever it was was delicious! After eating dessert first, we picked up the car and headed out of town and back to St. Augustine. Before we could make it too far out of town we decided to stop for lunch at Boxcar Betty's for burgers and fries. We rolled our way out of Charleston for the weekend, but it won't be long before we are back! 

Charleston Day 2

The next morning, we woke up bright and early and walked up to Butcher & Bee for breakfast. Easily, Ryan and I would say this was probably our favorite meal of the entire trip. I know they serve breakfast and lunch but I believe that they just recently moved locations since visiting and are now open for dinner. We cannot wait to go back again next time we are in town. We'd probably eat all three meals their and be okay with it ;) I also believe they have a Nashville location as well! It was a casual restaurant where you order at the counter and take a seat wherever you'd like while they prep your food. I believe it's BYOB as well considering the couple next to us whipped out a bottle of champagne and orange juice from her bag. I tried the shakshuka and Ryan ordered a house made breakfast biscuit with egg, pimento cheese and bacon. I've never had shakshuka before and holy cow, where has it been all of my life? It was amazing! It was just a dish of tomatoes and spices cooked down in a cast iron skillet with cracked eggs on top and served with freshly made split pita bread. It's nothing super fancy or ground breaking but it's so simple and delicious. I'm currently opening a second google tab to look for recipes as I type...see found recipe here

^^hahaha. totally caught red handed sneaking a photo 

We picked up an iced coffee to go from The Daily which is a coffee and quick service market style restaurant owned by Butcher & Bee. Their coffees are all delicious and they serve made to order dishes and also have a full refrigerated section with grab and go items such as cheeses, salads, sandwiches, fruits and veggies and speciality beverages. 

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A little VW bus posted right outside from Butcher & Bee! He must have known it was my birthday and wanted me to have an extra special day ;) 

From breakfast, we ventured on down to shop where the locals do. First up was a little vintage inspired accessories store called Candy Shop Vintage. They sell an array of vintage jewelry, a lot of their vintage pieces are seen below, as well as vintage inspired jewelry designed by the owner of the shop. They had some beautiful pieces that I haven't seen before. If you are into that kind of style and looking for someone who has a great eye when picking out vintage pieces, check this place out! 

Next up was Mac & Murphy-one of my most looked forward to shops in Charleston! Mac & Murphy is a locally owned stationery shop with cards, desk accessories, prints, and other papers galore. Although I work at Paper Source, it was VERY easy to purchase a large collection of cards that we don't sell in our store. Not to mention, the staff was so incredibly sweet. We met Ms. Lacey, the brains behind the blog "A Bit of Charleston." Lacey uses the blog as a way to connect with Charleston locals and tourists alike. She keeps readers up to date on new restaurants, entertainment and happenings in the city. If you are planning on visiting Charleston, she has a little survey on her website that you can fill out with all of your food and entertainment preferences and she will reviews your selections and plan a personal travel guide for you! You can also follow along with all of her Charleston adventures here on her instagram

We quickly swung into Flowershop on Spring Street to pick up a little birthday treat. They had the most beautiful wraps and dried flower crowns and boutonnieres. I spent quite some time staring at all of the arrangements trying to decided which one to pick. I finally thought it would be best to go with one of the dried boutonnieres that was tied with the daintiest coral velvet ribbon. I have no clue when I will wear it, but I thought it was so beautiful and special and I wish everyone wore one on their lapel no matter what the celebratory occasion.  

After Flowershop, Ryan surprised me with a big 'ole hummingbird birthday cake from Sugar Bakeshop. It smelled heavenly in there and if he hadn't ordered a cake I may have ordered one of everything. By the way, if you're in town you MUST go here. The hummingbird cake was one of the best I have had, possibly even better than Wright's and I have never said that before! Not to mention taste completely unrelated, all of their cakes were so minimally and beautifully done. They wrapped it up in a little white box with twine to go and I felt so special grinning ear to ear walking home carrying that cake. 

A few photos from some other shops we stopped into but didn't purchase anything: Blue Bicycle BooksWorthwhile clothing and Candlefish

*We also shopped at Indigo and Cotton and Proud Mary; both of which Ryan and I really loved. We even had a chance to talk to the owner of Proud Mary and if you are ever in Charleston you must go! She designs amazing pieces of clothing and accessories that are handmade by skilled artisans from Latin America and Africa. They practice fair trade ethics and works diligently to promote craft preservation. I wanted to take one of everything home with me seeing as it was all made with such delicacy and care that you knew you were purchasing an heirloom piece that would last for years to come. 

For dinner, my one request was that I wanted a lobster roll. I had researched a few places that had them and everyone said that without a doubt go to 167 Raw. Every last person that recommended it and wrote a review about it online was right, it was delicious. We went pretty early too figuring it was a Saturday and would be crowded and sure enough we had about a 30 minute wait before being seated up at the bar. The inside and is very, very small with seating along the oyster bar, the bar where the chef cooks and I believe there may have been 2-3 smaller high top tables. We sat right in front of the guy who was shucking all of the oysters which was entertaining to watch as well. We ordered the chips and guacamole to start with, followed by one lobster roll, one shrimp po' boy, one shrimp taco and one fish taco. We kind of went all out and just cut everything in half to share it, which is the best way to do it when you want to try practically everything on their menu! The lobster roll was one of the best ones that I have had in quite some time, but honestly I think the shrimp po'boy and taco were my favorite. They were both similar in toppings, but the best part was a beet remoulade that was on top. 

After dinner we walked around the Battery and downtown near Rainbow Row before calling it an early night for birthday cake at the hotel. We walked pretty much all over from sun up to sun down and it was the perfect way to spend the day celebrating my birthday.

Thank you to my adventure co-pilot, Ryan for always going with the flow and helping to make each adventure even more special than the last! 

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Chuck Town!

Waaaaaay back in March, Ryan and I took a little two and a half day trip up to Charleston for my birthday. We had originally booked a tiny house AirBnB cabin and the week of our trip the owners messaged us to say that it had been sold and they unfortunately had to cancel our reservation. We had so been looking forward to our weekend out of town and we weren't sure if we would still be able to go considering it was right in the middle of spring break and almost every hotel and other AirBnB in the city was booked. Thankfully, we ended up finding a room at a hotel in downtown Charleston which ended up being the perfect location as we could walk anywhere in the city that we wanted. It was such a fun and wonderful weekend filled with lots of beautiful houses, delicious food, and more walking than our little feet could handle at times. Charleston is only about a four hour drive from St. Augustine, making it the perfect distance if you're looking for a new place to check out for a last minute get away. Here were a few things we were up to while we visited: 

On the drive up to Charleston we stopped in Jacksonville to have breakfast at Community Loaves. Each time I go, I leave already craving the next menu item I want to try on our next visit. Their bagel sandwiches, which is what Ryan had, are amazing and I went with the quiche this time around. I have no idea what type of dressing they put on those salads, but whatever it was stole the show seeing as I ate every last crumb on mine and Ryan's plate. After breakfast, we walked over to Vagabond Coffee to pick up one of their sprinkle Friday pop tarts. I've had a few of their pop tarts previously but have never been in town on a Friday where we have time to stop and get one of their special sprinkle ones. It was a strawberry pop tart with vanilla frosting. Ryan and I were practically licking the bag afterwards making sure no bite went uneaten. We immediately decided that we needed to try making out our own pop tarts when we got back into town. It was the perfect way to kick-off a celebratory weekend. 

Alas! Four hours and some change later and we were finally checked into our hotel and ready for some exploring! We set out without any plans and just decided to wander around downtown until we were hungry for dinner. One of my favorite things to do while we were there was to just mosey up and down different streets looking at all of the different colored houses, window boxes and front courtyards. I found myself saying "this one is my favorite!" only to turn the corner and find a new favorite on that street as well. I love the ivy colored walls and the bright window shutters. I can only imagine what this city looked like in it's earlier years and I love that current homeowners have kept up with the traditional southern charm. The house at #10 with the mint colored door, lion door knocker and ivy covered steps was certainly one of my "top 10" from the trip. I also loved, loved the beautiful courtyard filled with pink and white flowers and a navy door that was set down a few steps below. Let's be honest, they were all my favorites ;) 

Once we had worked up a bit of an appetite, we stopped into The Gin Joint for a drink and an appetizer. I had read several great things about their craft cocktails and how it was a must visit while in the city. We each ordered a different drink and ordered one of the pretzel appetizers. We loved the drinks! the pretzels, not so much. But back to the drinks! My favorite thing about their menu was that they have a "bartender's choice" list where they provide about 10-12 different adjectives describing tastes and flavors and you pick two adjectives. The words range anywhere sweet, tart, and fruity to sour, bitter, and strong, The bartender will then make you a drink based off of those two words of your choice. I loved seeing what our bartender came up with and I enjoyed the drinks he came up with on his own more so than the preset drinks we ordered off of the menu. All in all, the bar had a cozy atmosphere great for a small group to enjoy a few shareable appetizers and cocktails that you wouldn't find at most other places. 

After The Gin Joint, we walked up to Leon's Poultry and Oyster Shop. Ryan is obsessed with anything chicken biscuit or sandwich related and I knew this would be right up his alley. I have been once before when I visited Charleston last year for a bachelorette party. The weather was perfect so we opted to sit outside and we ordered up one chicken and one fried oyster sandwich. I wish I had a photo of it in the daylight because the restaurant, inside and outside, are so beautiful. After gobbling up our sandwiches, we contemplated ordering a second round they are that delicious, we opted instead for a vanilla soft serve cone. Leon's offers vanilla and chocolate soft serve cones that either plain or with chocolate or rainbow sprinkles. Clearly, we opted for the rainbow sprinkles and after the waiter brought it out, we split a cone, I looked away for MAYBE 20 seconds and in that time frame Ryan had EATEN ALL THE SPRINKLES. Obviously, I am still in shock considering NO ONE does that! Sprinkles make everything 200 times better and to eat them all to yourself and not share...I'm looking at you Ryan Tempro. However, I digress, not long after the waiter was sweet enough to bring us an entire extra side of sprinkles and he saved the day! Thank you mr. waiter! 

After dessert, we walked back to the hotel to crash for the night before another day filled with shopping all of Charleston's best local shops and restaurants! 

 

 

New York Trip: Days 2 & 3

We kicked into the rest of our New York weekend with a trip to Tipsy Parson. We all had coffee and breakfast before heading over to the Javit's Center for NY Now. We walked around the handmade portion of the show for a bit and then decided it was time for a coffee break at Blue Bottle inside of Gotham City Market. We stopped into the photo booth at the Market and took a few photo strips to add to our little collection. We then hopped in a cab and drove over to China Town for mine and Ryan's first taste of dim sum. Britni and Bobby's favorite dim sum restaurant is The Golden Unicorn, amazing name, and the restaurant itself is several stories tall. We were sent to the fourth floor and seated at a table where we were eagerly greeted with ladies making their way throughout the tables with carts full of various flavors of dim sum. We picked up several different types from each cart that went by, some were sweet while others were your traditional savories. The table favorite was easily the little piggy sweet buns featured below. I have zero idea what was in them, maybe some sort of taro paste? but it was delicious none the less. 

On our last day in town it was Ryan's birthday, and there's no better way to kick off a birthday than with a bunch of donuts. Britni and Bobby took us to a tiny donut shop located inside of a car wash. I loved the fun combination of the two, being able to watch the cars go through the wash while you wait in line for donuts. They have a small variety of flavors, maybe 5 or 6, and we each picked out a few to try. The best was the car wash special which is glazed and is topped with colored stripes that look like the soap stripes used when you have your car washed. 

After breakfast we went back to NY Now to walk the upstairs section. Below I took just a few photos of some of my favorite booths. I loved being exposed to brands that I had never heard of and I loved seeing brands booths that I was already familiar with. My favorite of all the booths was Loopy Mango, which specializes and knitted wool sweaters, hats, scarves and blankets. I've never seen anything like it and the colors and knits were so beautiful! Those knitting needles were almost as large as I was! 

One of Ryan's friends was working the Tattly booth and was sweet enough to give us a few sample tattoos for his birthday. The pizza neck tattoo was clearly pretty amazing- so many people asked him if it were real and were sadly disappointed when they discovered it was only fake. 

Of course I had to stop by the Rifle Paper Co. booth to see which new products they have arriving in stores soon. It was heart eyes all around for their new calendars and planners. 

After NY Now, we took the car over into Brooklyn to have lunch at Court Street Grocer's. Brit and Bobby had taken me previously and I absolutely loved their broccoli reuben. We took Ryan their for lunch and it was just as delicious as it had been the last time. I wish we had more places like it at home. 

After lunch we went to the Brooklyn Flea, followed by a few games of shuffle board at the Brooklyn Shuffle Board Club. Ryan and I played against Brit and Bobby and my horrible game play cost us two ice cream cones next door at Ample Hill Creamery. Too much talk of biscuits and keeping out of the kitchen for me! I wasn't the best but it still was a lot of fun and I would love to play again sometime. 

To end Ryan's birthday celebrations, we went to his requested Shake Shack for dinner. Only the shops in NY have their new fried chicken sandwich and Ryan had his usual burger with a side of chicken sandwich on the walk back to the car. I didn't try it, but it looked delicious. One of Ryan's favorite movies is The Royal Tenenbaums and it was filmed at a house up in Harlem. We took the drive up that way and jumped out of the car for a few photos. 

Finally when we arrived home we wrapped up the day with a chocolate, chocolate birthday cake- Magnolia Bakery sure does make a delicious cake. Funny story, I had forgotten to bring candles so I ran to the corner CVS and they legitimately only had the numbers 5, 0, and 6 and all of the 5's were broken right in half. I turned the corner, and the only other candles they had spelled out the word "congratulations," I took my bets on it and figured we could spell out something using the letters, but the only thing we could come up with was RDT, Ryan's initials- haha. Also, month's ago, I had picked up gold mylar balloons that spelled happy birthday. I brought it with me to the city so we could hang it up for his birthday. While Britni and I blew up all of the letters I realized that something wasn't looking quite right. There was only one H in the entire package...so it either spelled out "Appy Birthday" or "Happy Birtday." Such a theme, I could not stop laughing...between that and the candles. We ended up just using the birthday portion of the letters...as you can see. Good thing Ryan has a great sense of humor and it ended up being the best way to end such a fun weekend. 

New York Trip: Day 1

The last weekend in January is Ryan's birthday, so we took a big fun adventure up to NYC for a few days! We stayed with my friends Britni and Bobby, thanks again guys! I'm going to break the trip up into a few days worth of posts because I have so many photos that I really wanted to share. If you're heading to the city for a few days and need some recommendations I've included links to all of the places we visited. 

Here we go! 

The first morning when Brit and Bobby went to work, Ryan and I headed down to Chelsea for breakfast at Bubby's. I've been thinking of their pancakes since my last visit to the city and I knew they had a chicken biscuit that had Ryan's name all over it. My favorite thing about Bubby's is that they have an old fashioned photo booth in the basement downstairs. That photo strip is one of my favorite keepsakes from any of our trips together. 

 

Post breakfast, we met up with my friend Sarah, SJS! at McNally Jackson's. It's a store composed of anything and everything your office and desk could ever need. Pens and pencils, lamps, organizational accessories, and the like, I wanted all of the things. After we did a bit of shopping we headed to get some lunch at J's Pizza. When Ryan lived in NYC for a summer, he would go to this little pizza spot at least once a week. The worker's knew his order each time he stopped in and the best was that they recognized him this time as well. We gobbled up a large cheese pizza and a couple of sodas and hit the pavement to swing by the David Zwirner and Joshua Liner galleries. I loved the squiggly line installation, it's probably called something totally different, but it looked like sprinkles and made me happy so there's that. 

We said so long to SJS for the afternoon and Ryan and I hopped a train over to Brooklyn to meet up with the guys at The Arm, a letterpress shop. Ryan's followed their work for quite some time but has never made it over to visit their studio. We were both warmly welcomed by the shop pup, Henry the dalmatian. The Arm is a studio where they have half a dozen, and then some, different makes of letterpress machines. You can take classes with them or rent time to use the machines for whatever projects that you are working on. If you are in the market to buy a press, they'll find you one and even restore it as well. It's a really cool concept and I know that Ryan was eating up every minute of the time we spent with the guys there. 

For dinner, we met up with Britni and Bobby after they finished work. We headed to Urbanspace, a large interior space that houses a dozen or so different mini restaurant stands. They had anything from Dough, Sigmund's Pretzels, Roberta's Pizza, and then some. I had tacos from a place I can't remember, it probably wasn't the best choice. Ryan had a pizza from Roberta's and the Brit, Bobby and Ryan all had a chicken sandwich from Delaney's- they looked and smelled amazing. We walked over to Momofuku Milk Bar afterwards on the way home. Ryan and I had a compost cookie and Brit and Bobby had cereal milk ice cream. If you've never had Momofuku before, but you've probably heard the hype, I would say take it or leave it. We all looked at each other after we ate it and started laughing when we realized that the others were thinking the same thing but didn't want to say it out loud. Brit and Bobby thought we really wanted to go there and we thought the same about them. I would say to try it once, but if you want ice cream or desserts, there are hundreds of other places to try that are better (Big Gay Ice Cream was a favorite last time.) 

That's all for day one! We went home and watched TV and sat talking for a few hours, the best way to spend time, in my opinion. Until tomorrow! 

Parksdale Strawberry Market

It's strawberry season here in Florida and there's nothing better than a classic strawberry shortcake this time of year. Just before the strawberry festival kicked off, my dad and I drove out to Plant City to pick up a flat and test out the shortcake at Parksdale Market. The place was packed with eager shoppers, so we picked up our flat and a few other fruits and headed over to order our afternoon snacks. My dad had the original strawberry shortcake and I ended up ordering the sliced strawberries with fresh whipped cream. Behind the counter in the kitchen were tubs and tubs of fresh cut strawberries sprinkled with a bit of sugar. The smell was enticing in and of itself, but once you tasted the berries you realized why the market was so crowded in the first place. It was delicious! I tried a bit of the shortcake at the bottom of my dad's bowl and I wasn't disappointed. It's a nice way to have a dessert while still feeling like you're eating a bit healthier ;) If you are over in the area before the month of April ends, stop by! The market is open all year round, however, they only sell the shortcakes, milkshakes, and other desserts from January-April.   

After dessert, we had lunch at Johnson Barbeque. I don't have any photos but if you find yourself over that way and need a lunch recommendation, we approve! My dad had a pulled chicken BBQ sandwich and I had bbq mahi fish tacos. We both agreed it would be worth a trip back over there for lunch. The interior was decorated in true southern fashion, the food was delicious, and the service was as nice as they come. 

Valentine's Tea

This Valentine's Day, Chocolate Pi hosted an afternoon tea chocked full of sweets, scones, and savory tea sandwiches. My mom and I jumped at the opportunity to go and we were so happy that we did. When we arrived, we were seated outside at a beautiful little table covered in fresh flowers, live acoustic entertainment, and the most delicious tea was soon delivered. You can see a few of the few photos below of the display that was served. There were deviled eggs, cucumber and caprese sandwiches, sweet scones, eclairs, macarons, and probably 15 other treats I am leaving out; they were all delicious and my favorite was the raspberry and lemon curd macaron. I also loved the blueberry scone with lemon curd, clotted cream, and jam. My mom and I were very impressed and it was such a wonderful way to celebrate the day together. I wish they did tea every weekend! 



A Day with Mey Mey

While my friend Sarah was in town around the holidays, we took an afternoon and met over in downtown St. Pete for an afternoon of lunching, catching up, and antiquing. We started off the day with lunch at Casita Taqueria. I had visited for dinner a few weeks prior and I had the most amazing Siracha shrimp taco...sadly it was just a daily special and wasn't on the menu when we went for lunch. We each tried one fish and one shrimp taco, with a side trio of queso, salsa and fresh guacamole, of course. Everything was delicious and with full bellies it was time to hit a few antique stores. 

While I don't have any photos of each one of the antique stores, There was a strip of about 5-6 antique stores all in a row right down from where we ate lunch. Our favorite was the Lion's Paw as they had everything from clothing, decor, and furniture. Sarah was obsessing over their selection of fur coats. She left with a silver champagne bucket and small purse, I left empty handed, however I found treasures at one of the other shops. One store, I cannot remember the name but it was just a few doors down, had some of the most beautiful antique jewelry I have seen in a while. They had a decently sized collection of art deco rings which have always been one of my favorites, it reminds me of my great grandmother's rings. 

While I don't have any photos of each one of the antique stores, There was a strip of about 5-6 antique stores all in a row right down from where we ate lunch. Our favorite was the Lion's Paw as they had everything from clothing, decor, and furniture. Sarah was obsessing over their selection of fur coats. She left with a silver champagne bucket and small purse, I left empty handed, however I found treasures at one of the other shops. One store, I cannot remember the name but it was just a few doors down, had some of the most beautiful antique jewelry I have seen in a while. They had a decently sized collection of art deco rings which have always been one of my favorites, it reminds me of my great grandmother's rings.  

After antiquing for a bit, we took a break to grab a juice down at Bodega. I was back and forth between two smoothie flavors, the mango and the lola rico, and the girl behind the counter kindly did a hybrid smoothie for me and did a combination of the two-which was delicious! I really love the juices and smoothies there, it's the perfect stop for a little snack that is healthy yet somewhat filling. Plus, the interior is too cute with that subway tile and neon, "You bet your sweet grass," sign.

The last store we stopped into for the day was China Finders. I had passed by this place several times and was always curious to stop in and see just what they had to offer. With Sarah being a blue and white china and Wedgwood collector, we had to stop in. Little did we realize just. how. much. china. they. had. It was row upon row upon row of every brand and style china you could imagine. I wasn't in the market for any china but it's an amazing place to keep in mind if you own some of your grandparents or even great grandparents china and you may be missing a piece to the set. If China Finders doesn't have the piece to complete your set, they have specialized workers there to track down the piece or pieces that you are looking for. 

Lastly, we absolutely had to stop into Hyppo for a popsicle. I will never be in the neighborhood and not stop in for one! Sarah has never tried it, but has most certainly heard all about it...from guess who? ;) She picked the guava hibiscus pop and I tried the guava tangerine; both were light and refreshing, I would recommend them! 

 

Thank you Mey for spending the day exploring about town with me! Come back to the Sunshine State ASAP, please! 

Orange You Glad...

We went orange picking! Ryan drove down from St. Augustine and I drove up from Tampa and we met somewhere in the middle-ish in DeLand, FL. I had never visited before, and I don't think Ryan had either. The Pastor at Ryan's church is part of the family that owns a citrus you pick farm, Gordon's Grove. They have a wide variety of oranges and grape fruits, so many I have absolutely no memory of what we picked, other than the fact that they were all delicious. We arrived relatively early and worked our way around the dozens of rows that were separated by each variety. We each had these long picker poles that were made of giant wooden dowels with hooks on the ends. Some of the best fruit was towards the tops of the trees, making it difficult to reach without one. Most times, I had to stand on my tippy toes to even reach 3/4th of the way up the tree. 

^^ the family's cute pup, Bella. She looked a bit frightening at first, but she was as sweet as they come. 

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We left with two Home Depot buckets filled with oranges, satsumas, and a variety of grapefruits. The cost per bucket was only $10! We both had oranges and grapefruits for at least another week and a half. The satsumas were my absolute favorite. They are just like the cuties you purchase at the store, easy to peel and incredibly sweet. Fruit picking has easily become one of my favorite activities. I've crossed blueberry and orange picking off of my list. Next up, I would like to go strawberry and apple picking. 

After orange picking, we hopped in our cars and headed to a secret lunch location that Ryan had picked out. We arrived at the DeLeon Springs State Park, headed down a few pathways to park, and found ourselves at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Pancake House.  Each table is equipped with one to two griddles for you to make your own pancakes, eggs, sausage and bacon. Their pancakes are all you can eat and are brought to your table by the pitcher. You could chose between an unbleached flour or a stone ground whole wheat blend. You can also order an unlimited amount of toppings for your pancakes. We ordered one of each of the batters and picked blueberries, chocolate chips and peanut butter for our pancakes. The stone ground mix was a table favorite, as we each ate about 5-6 pancakes. They were absolutely delicious and it was the perfect meal to eat after a cold and rainy afternoon outdoors.

I would love to go back during the spring or summer when the temperatures warm up. Our waitress told us that large groups will come and swim in the springs or walk the trails as they wait for a table for breakfast or lunch. She said sometimes they work on a four to a five hour wait time. She said families love it because they arrive early and can put their names on a waiting list, go play in the park or springs, and then when their table is ready, the restaurant will call over a speaker system that can be heard outdoors. She did also mention that if you are out walking the off beaten trails to be careful for black bears; apparently the park has several dozen roaming the area. I'm sure they are out and about just looking to make some pancakes as well ;)

A few fun things about the park, they rent tubes, kayaks and canoes to explore the springs. You can paddle the kayaks and canoes down to the Wildlife Refuge where there are over 200 species of birds, dozens of alligators, and even the occasional manatee. The spring itself stays 72 degrees all year round, making it an ideal swimming hole during the winter months. They do charge for rentals, as well as parking when you enter the park, but it's absolutely worth it to go and explore for the day. And if you go during orange picking season, do not miss out on the chance to stop by and pick a few of your own at Gordon's Grove

hello, 2016!

Well, the start of 2016 came and went in a flash..so much so that here we are in the middle of February and I still haven't posted about New Year's Eve and New Year's Day yet. To keep a long story short, I worked on New Year's Eve and drove straight up to St. Augustine from work. I arrived into town pretty late so Ryan and I both decided that Chinese food would only be fitting. We came back home to eat dinner and to decorate Ryan's apartment for when the clock struck midnight. We had party hats, ALL the confetti, and we even made our own balloon drop. Even a month later, Ryan is still finding confetti all over his apartment ;) 

On New Year's Day morning we woke up and had breakfast at Les Petites Pleasures, a little french bakery and restaurant in town. Neither of us had been before so we thought we would start the new year off with a new to us restaurant. Ryan had a dessert style crepe with bananas and nutella while I opted for the quiche loraine with spinach and gruyere cheese. Both of our dishes were delicious and while the wait for food was about 30-40 minutes, it was worth every last bite. We'll be back! 

After breakfast, Ryan and I hopped back on the road and headed straight over to Tampa for my grandmother's traditional pork and sauerkraut dinner. It's probably my favorite family tradition that I look forward to each holiday season. For as long as I can remember my grandmother has always spent the entire day roasting pork and hot dogs in the biggest beds of sauerkraut I've ever seen. The one year I lived in Atlanta and couldn't make it home for New Year's Day my grandmother called and gave me her recipe and advice for making her traditional dishes. The trick is to just keep the sauerkraut in the oven alllll day long, consistently taking it out every hour or so and stirring it up with a little brown sugar. My mouth is watering now just thinking about it. After gobbling up almost all the sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, pork, biscuits and corn possible, we finished it all off with dessert and headed home for the evening. Spending that time with my family in my grandparent's home is something I cherish deeply. I wish New Year's Day came around more often so we could enjoy her holiday cooking more often, but the wait just makes it even more worthwhile in the end. 

Although we all dove head first into the new year, I hope it's proving to be a happy and healthy one for all thus far! 

Downton Abbey Preview

Back in December, the Tampa Theatre hosted a free Downton Abbey Viewing event. They previewed the entire first episode of the newest (and sadly the last) season. When I received the email for the event, I knew that my mom and grandma would especially love to go. I've watched the show since day one, and while I absolutely love it, I believe my grandmother is quite possibly the biggest fan. On the evening of the show, we all met up and headed downtown for a slice of pizza at Sam and Eddy's pizza. After dinner, it was show time! All of the Downton Abbey fans were  over the moon with excitement. The Tampa Theatre was the perfect setting for the show and the audience was certainly not disappointed. 

After dinner, we stopped for dessert at Village Inn. A co-worker of mine kept mentioning an infamous candy cane pie, which I had never heard of before. After hearing amazing things about it, I knew it would be the best place to stop so that we could all try a slice. Thankfully, they were not sold out and each ordered one slice for ourselves. We were all in heaven at first bite. It's almost like a french silk pie meets peppermint pie. There's a flaky, chocolate crust that is filled with mousse and topped with dark chocolate and peppermint colored chips. My mom and grandma both approved ;) 

Mom's Birthday Celebrations

My mom's birthday is a couple of weeks before Christmas, and while we celebrated on her actual birthday with a family dinner, our plans for her requested Lunch on Limoges birthday lunch were postponed when she found out she had to work. Without fail though, we rescheduled for the end of December and it was to Dade City we went to celebrate for lunch. My mom and grandmother have been taking me to Lunch on Limoges from the time I was a little girl. It has always been a very special place to me, as I'm sure it is to many other people in the Dade City and Tampa area. With it's unique decor, delicious take on southern favorites, and their sweet as can be staff, it will probably always be a place I hold very close to my heart. This last trip to Lunch on Limoges will be no exception, seeing as my grandmother was able to join us as well. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, surrounded by great food and two of my favorite people. I'm very lucky to have such wonderful women in my life, and I'm glad to be able to celebrate with them. 

We had traditional raspberry iced tea and miniature muffins to start off with followed by an appetizer size of fried eggplant with a creamy lemon caper sauce. For our entrees, my grandmother had pecan crusted grouper, my mom chose crab cakes, and I had blue crab stuffed shrimp with eggplant casserole and garlic potatoes. For dessert, because no birthday is complete without dessert, my grandmother had the strawberry cake, my mom chose the coconut cake, and I had a pan seared butter poundcake with poached pears and strawberries. Everything was sinfully delicious and I can't wait to celebrate again already next year :)