Packing The Perfect Carry-On

This week I’m headed home to visit my family and attend a christening, so though it would be a great time to share some of my travel tips! I’ve travelled quite a lot in my relatively short twenty-three years. My first flight was when I was only three months old, and traveling abroad with my family growing up has made me unusually comfortable in an airport. Recently my trips have been to my family in the northeast and back, but in just a few months Cameron and I will be moving to London for grad school.

To clarify, this post will not be about packing a carry on suitcase, but rather your extra personal item. I’m a terrible over-packer, and almost always end up checking my actual suitcase (if you have any tips to avoid this, I’d love to hear them below!), but when it comes to what I will be lugging with me through the airport, I like to pare down to just the essentials.

For my carry on bag I use my large purse, which I dump out out re-pack pre-travel so I have only the essentials, and don’t risk a forgotten item delaying me at security. I definitely recommend a tote bag because it makes accessing your items much easier; that being said, it can also make it easier for others to access your items, so try to find one with some sort of closure at the top whether a snap or zip.

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This one is from Gigi New York, and I love it!

Once you have your bag its time to decide what you actually need versus what you think you need. The list of what you actually need is always significantly shorter than the latter, at least it is for me. I’ve found that its easiest to break down your items into three categories: work/entertainment, toiletries, and essentials. The key here is to be decisive, adding only what you are positive you will use, with one or two exceptions.

Work/Entertainment:

When I traveling I always bring my iPad or computer so I can do work, or watch a movie if I get stuck in the airport. The key here is to make sure your electronics are fully charged so you can carry as little as possible. Besides this I bring a book, always paperback, a notebook (I’m a constant list-maker, and have to write everything down), and some headphones.

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Toiletries: 

Even though the TSA allows you a gallon-sized ziplock bag I like to use a 20oz instead. I’ve found that if I have extra space I’m much more temped to fill it with things I think I may need, rather than what I know I will.  In mine is a toothbrush and dental floss, my contact lenses (for after I land), extra solution and eyedrops, hand lotion, a really good lip balm, and my go-to color of lipstick (to perk up lips or cheeks). If you think you don’t need a toothbrush pack it anyway- I was once had a short flight get cancelled last minute and had to sleep in JFK. The toothbrush made me feel more like myself in the morning.

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Essentials:

This category is definitely the most fluid. In fact, your idea of essentials may be completely different from mine, which is fine. This items are the things I always have/need in my bag. They include my wallet (obviously), a pair of sunglasses, and an ’emergency’ kit with bandaids, eyewash, bobby pins, feminine products, a few safety pins, and a small mirror. If you have room, definitely add a mobile charger! It may be a lifesaver if your flight is delayed.

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That’s it. The only things I add are a small snack, and a bottle of water. Bringing your own snack is great because it will not only save you money, but will help you steer clear of junk food. Water is absolutely essential. For every hour I’m in the air I try to drink at least 16oz. Yes, this seems like a lot, but your skin, and your immune system will thank you when you land!

Is there anything I forgot? What are you go-to travel items? Let me know in the comments!

Basil Collins

So you may remember from my post about the Bee’s Knees that gin is not usually my go-to sprit of choice. However on a warm, humid night a gin drink can be incredibly refreshing, and the perfect antidote for a long day.

Cameron loves gin, so much so that one of his favorite drinks is a gin and lime (yes, it really is what it sounds like), and so it is definitely a staple of our bar cart. I am always on the lookout for new gin cocktails that we can both enjoy, and was doing just this when I happened to stumble upon one that called for a basil simple syrup. The rest of the cocktail was quite complex, and I definitely was not up for getting ingredients I probably wouldn’t use otherwise, so I decided to get creative and make something new.

The resulting drink is closest to a Tom Collins, which has gin, lemon juice, some simple syrup, and some club soda. Really though, a ‘Collins’ can describe any drink with a citrus, spirit, and club soda, which makes them super fun in the summer months because you can get really creative with the ingredients.

This version calls for basil simple syrup, which is super easy. Simple syrup is made by combining sugar and water in a 1:1 ratio and heating over a low flame until the sugar dissolves. To make a basil version simply add 1/4-1/2c of fresh basil leaves (mine were from my herb garden), and heat until the leaves have wilted and the syrup is the desired strength. I recommend adding slightly more water in this application, as the syrup can veer into too-sweet territory pretty easily. Chill until you’re ready to use; it should last about a week in the fridge in an airtight container.

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Ingredients:

• 3oz gin

• 1-1.5 oz basil simple syrup

• Squeeze of lemon (or lime)

• Blue Sky seltzer to taste

Directions:

1. Pour gin, lemon, and simple syrup into a class with ice. Stir gently

2. Top with seltzer to taste

3. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf or citrus wheel

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Cheers!

Definitely the Best Biscuits

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Despite not technically being a ‘southerner’ there’s something about a flaky, warm biscuit that makes breakfast better. Add some raspberry jam and you’ve got a recipe for a fantastic morning.

When I stopped eating eggs and dairy I said goodbye to biscuits, that is until I came across this recipe by the Minimalist Baker for what truly are the “best damn vegan biscuits” I have yet to find.

 

Beyond the delicious results, the recipe is simple, and like just about all of their recipes,requires only one bowl, which means its totally feasible that I can bake these spur of the moment for Saturday or Sunday morning brunch, or any other day of the week that strikes my fancy. My point is- you need these biscuits. They are wonderful on their own, but would also make a great breakfast biscuit.

 

Ingredients:

• 2c unbleached flour (I’ve also made them with up to 1/4c whole wheat flour and 1 3/4 c unbleached all purpose with a good result, but too much whole wheat flour will make them rather dense)

• 1Tbs baking powder (fresher is better as it helps them rise)

• 1/2 tsp baking soda

• 1 generous pinch sea salt

• 4Tbs non dairy butter (the Earth Balance sticks work really well here because theres a bit less water in them)

• 1c unsweetened plain almond milk + 1Tbs fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar  (this will make them rise)

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Even better, all of the ingredients are pantry staples

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450°F

2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl

FullSizeRender 63.  Add cold butter (sometimes I’ll put it in the freezer for a few minutes so it’s extra cold) to the dry mix, then use fingers or a pastry cutter to mix them together until its the consistency of a fine sand.

4. Stir in the wet ingredients into the dry using a wooden spoon. I generally work in about three batches.

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead until everything is just incorporated. It’s really important not to over knead them!

FullSizeRender 26. Using your hands form the dough into a 1inch thick disk, and use a biscuit cutter (or cocktail shaker) to cut biscuits. Then re-from the disk and cut one or two more.

7. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet so that the edges are touching each other (this part is important), then lightly press down the center of each.

8. brush with about 1tbs melted non-dairy butter, then bake for 10-15 minutes until the tops are golden.

 

Your whole kitchen will smell heavenly! It’s quite a challenge not to eat one immediately after you take them out of the oven, but I do recommend letting them cool for at least 5 minutes, if only so you don’t burn your tongue. The outside should be crisp with a flaky, delicious center.

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Enjoy!

Dark and Stormy

True, the weather here has been a bit dark and stormy for the past week, but this post is about something much more exciting (and delicious)- the dark and stormy cocktail.

The drink, invented in Bermuda after the first world war, must be made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum, a ginger beer of your choosing, and a lime wedge. Why this type of rum specifically? The recipe and name are trademarked by the Gosling company. And while this may seem a bit odd I must say that, having had quite a few different knockoff versions, the true version made with Gosling’s black seal dark rum is so much better. If you’re want to know even more about this check out this New York Times article.

Once you have the rum, then it’s time to find the right ginger beer. The Collin’s company now makes their own ginger beer (Gosling’s Stormy Ginger Beer), but I’m quite fond of Fentimans or Regatta. Fentimans is fairly easy to find, and has a strong ginger flavor. Regatta can be a bit harder to find, but is definitely worth it if you can- it’s my favorite for both cocktails and enjoying on its own. Whichever ginger beer you chose, make sure it’s nice and spicy to balance the strong flavors of the rum.

And the best part? It requires only two ingredients, which always makes a cocktail recipe a keeper, at least in my opinion.

IMG_0003Ingredients:

• 3oz Gosling’s Black Seal rum

• Ginger Beer

• Wedge of lime

Directions:

1. Pour rum into a glass with ice

2. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge.

3. Enjoy!

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The finished product!

These are especially good in the warmer months, particularly when enjoyed outside (whether the weather is dark and stormy or not) with some good company.  Cameron and I sat outside and enjoyed these as even more dark clouds rolled in, but I hope you enjoy them with some sunshine!

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Cheers!

Cheekwood Date-Day

This past weekend was absolutely gorgeous- sunny and the perfect temperature. Cameron and I have been talking about going to Cheekwood for quite a while now, and when I read Springing Into Nashville’s post about the 100,000 tulips event going on I knew we had to go.

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Cheekwood is beautiful any time of year, but all of the tulips made it especially so. From far away they were like vibrant paint strokes against the green grass. It was definitely a bit crowded, but there are so many places to explore that there were stretches of time where we were the only ones around, which was lovely.  If you are in the area any time soon I definitely recommend checking it out before the tulips are all gone- there were a few areas that had lost their petals.

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The rest of the week here is supposed to be cloudy and rainy, so I will be reliving this beautiful sunny day for the foreseeable future.

Hope y’all are having a great week!

Chocolate Chip Cookies for One

Some days I wake up and everything feels wrong from my head to my toes. Fortunately Cameron is has some sort of talent for getting me to feel like myself again, and usually answers my stress with a funny story or joke that snaps me out of it long enough for me to realize that everything is fine. Sometimes, however this doesn’t work quite as well, and I continue in a sort of downward spiral, feeling like everything is terrible. A few hours later I’m usually back to a being a normally functioning person, then and feel extremely lucky to have such amazing support.

It was just one of these days that lead me to this chocolate chip cookie recipe. I’d planned on baking Cameron my chocolate chip banana bread as a ‘thank you for being so great’ surprise, but we had neither enough bananas, nor chocolate chips, so it was time for a change in plans.

I’ve made similar recipes for small batch chocolate chip cookies before (usually so I can ear the raw cookie dough out a of a mug) but this particular recipe, which I found at Top With Cinnamon, was new to me. Aside from a few tweaks I made, I really like it. It uses one small bowl, takes about 20 minutes from start to finish (only 8 of those are actual prep/mixing), and makes four perfectly sized cookies.

Ingredients:

• 1Tbs coconut oil, softened

• 2 Tbs raw sugar (you could use any sugar you’d like here, but I wouldn’t use a liquid sweetener as I’m not sure what would happen to the consistency of the final result)

• 4 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour

• 1 pinch or ~1/8 tsp baking powder

• small splash of vanilla extract

• 1Tbs nondairy milk (I used coconut, but the original recipe calls for water)

• 2 Tbs chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate

• Sea Salt (ideally large flake)

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Ingredients

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F

2. Cream together sugar and coconut oil in a small-ish bowl

3. Add flour and baking powder, mix with a wooden spoon, then your hands until its sort of like sand. It should feel a bit like biscuit dough.

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The dough after adding the flour and baking powder

4. Add the nondairy milk (or water) and the vanilla, mixing until incorporated. You may need to use your hands

5. Knead the dough for a minute to be sure everything is mixed, then gently knead in the chocolate chips.

6. Separate the ball of dough into four parts, the flatten them into discs on a parchment lined baking sheet, top with a sprinkle of sea salt, and bake for 10-15 minutes until the bottoms are golden.

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These cookies are amazing. The outsides are crisp with a chewy interior, and have the perfect cookie to chocolate ratio. If you’re a bit wary of the salt, don’t be- it really makes the flavors pop. Honestly, it was difficult not to eat all of these myself! I will definitely be making these again. Perhaps I may even use them to make two mini ice-cream sandwiches?

It Feels Like Summertime

Lately I’ve been on a bit of a cocktail kick, but the other night when Cameron brought home a bottle of wine I quickly remembered why its my standby. A cool, crisp glass of white wine in the summertime is definitely one of my favorite things. I tend to drink mostly red wine during the winter, and switching to white again in the springtime is always a bit like rediscovery.

This week has been unusually warm and humid, and so sitting on the porch with a glass of wine and a nice breeze was just what I needed to end the week. There’s something about the longer days that makes me what to stay outside as much as possible. Thankfully we have a great little porch off of our apartment that functions more and more as another room as the spring turns into summer.

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Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc, in my opinion, is a great wine for warmer weather. The Kim Crawford is one of our go-to options because it’s perfect for sipping, goes well with summery dishes like grilled veggies and salads, and under $15 a bottle its a great choice for a relaxed night in. It has some fruit notes, but is balanced with citrus, so the slight sweetness at the start becomes crisp and refreshing at the end.

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This one has a sort of floral aroma, that’s just lovely in the springtime

Glass of wine in hand, and a nice breeze hitting our balcony, the long week is definitely melting away. Sure, the rest of the weekend will be filled with more active outdoor activities, but right now this is definitely my favorite.

I hope y’all find some time to do the same!

The Best French Toast

Cameron and I have a sort of weekend tradition- almost every Sunday we make french toast. Sometimes we have pancakes (I love a good pancake), but about 99% of the time its french toast. It’s a nice way to end the weekend, sort of like a mini-vacation, and its the day of the week I don’t focus quite as much on having super healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I’ve been working on this recipe for quite a while, and I think it’s just about as perfect as I can get it. Occasionally I’ll get lazy and decide I can eyeball the ingredients, but it never turns out quite as well- I think I alway end up adding too much liquid.

The recipe below makes 4-5 slices, or enough for two with an extra piece for later.

I generally make these in a pan, but you could definitely use a griddle. If you do use a pan, then I suggest preheating your oven to 200°F so you can keep the cooked slices warm while you finish cooking the rest.

Ingredients:

• 3/4 c flour (I use about 1/2c unbleached all purpose, and 1/4c whole wheat)

• 1c + 2tbs non-dairy milk (I like unsweetened almond milk)

• 1 tsp egg-replacer (I use Ener-G, but you could also use a flax egg here)

• 1Tbs raw sugar or other sweetener

• pinch of salt

• 1tsp vanilla extract

• 4-5 slices of bread (homemade is ideal, but thawed ezekiel bread is also great)

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Directions:

1. Place dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk lightly to combine

2. Add almond milk and vanilla extract to bowl and mix well. You may need to switch to a spoon or spatula to mix. At this point you can add the extra almond milk if the mixture is too thick, but don’t thin it out too much or it won’t stick to the bread as well.

3. Heat your pan or griddle to medium heat. If you’re not using a non-stick pan, add a bit of coconut oil to keep the bread from sticking.

4. Coat each slice of bread (I generally dip them into the mixture, knocking off the extra), then cook until golden on each side.

5. Serve with dark maple syrup and earth balance

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The results

Enjoy!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? You took all of my free time with you.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for several months, but I kept forgetting about it until recently. My boyfriend read it when it first came out an loved it. This, combined with the time it took me to finally read it, and the overwhelmingly high praise by critics and readers alike, left me with fairly high expectations. Maria Semple’s character’s, full of eccentricity and snappy dialogue, are enthralling. If you’re in the market for a “summer book” but are searching for something with substance and wit, I think this makes a lovely choice. It toes the line between humorous and serious with remarkable agility, and is truly a pleasure to read.

The story, told in a construction of emails, notes, and various other “evidence” took me a page or two to adjust to, but soon had me hooked. In a matter of two days I was already 2/3 of the way through. As much as I wanted to know about what exactly happened to Bernadette, and how her family coped with her disappearance, I couldn’t help but try to wait. The sooner I picked the book back up, the sooner I would finish reading.

Of course I had to pick the book back up, not only to unravel the mystery, but to check in on characters I’d quickly become quite fond of. In a recent conversation with Cameron, I remarked  that it’s really a shame that one is able to see or read something for the first time only once. Some things that came to mind were the Harry Potter series I read through my childhood, and the magic of watching a classic movie like How to Catch a Thief for the first time. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? may very well make the list.

The ending was as perfectly unexpected as the rest of the book, and left me wishing there were more, but without any unresolved plot lines. I will miss this book and all of its wonderfully eccentric, creative characters.

Making Time for Myself

I try to take a few minutes out of each day for myself- whether that means sitting down for breakfast, or spending a few minutes reading before bed. Of course, this doesn’t always happen, but it’s wonderful when in does. Sometimes, however, I need more than a few minutes, so I decided to give myself half of a day to do some more serious self-care.

There’s something I find especially relaxing about treating myself to a massage at a nice spa or wellness center. A few weeks ago Cameron surprised me with an awesome gift for my birthday- a massage at The Lotus Room in East Nashville. I’d been hinting for months that this would be an amazing present, at times subtly, but probably mostly not at all. I was so excited- I couldn’t wait to book it; Unfortunately my schedule had other plans.

It was difficult finding a chunk of time to actually schedule my massage (work, doctor’s appointments, and life kept getting in the way), but I finally did it! I arrived early and so was reading until it was time. Jenna, the masseuse and owner, greeted me warmly, and after speaking briefly, my massage began. It’s been a while since I last had a massage, but I think I can safely say this one was one of the best I’ve ever had. The whole experience was extremely calming- the soft music and a bit of burning sage were instantly relaxing, and the geranium and spearmint essential oils at the end of the massage left me feeling refreshed and ready for the rest of the day. I definitely plan on going back again soon, and highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area and in need of some relaxation.

All in all, I would say my half day of relaxation was a success, well, mostly. I’ve always found it hard not to feel at all guilty when taking some personal time- my tendency to make lists always tries to creep in and remind me of all the things I’m not doing that still need to be done. I find the best thing to do in this case is to take a breath, and to remind myself that this is important too.