Pumpkin Carving Party

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October is my favorite month of the year. The crisp, cool air…the colorful leaves on the trees…oh wait, that doesn’t happen in Florida! Every year, I make a desperate attempt to celebrate autumn despite the 80° temperatures. I invited a few friends over to carve pumpkins but ending up spending most of our time hovered over the food table. I mean who wouldn’t be impressed with a Jack-O-Lantern shaped veggie platter and bloody knife cupcakes? The rest of our night included sipping on cider, enjoying the beautiful weather and everyone cramming onto the couch to watch Halloweentown.

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Flower Power

Back in April I received an invite to a DIY party hosted by Urban Outfitters in Tampa. Since music festival season is in full swing, the project that month was to create colorful flower crowns. It was such a fun night with the DJ spinning in the store, perusing the sale racks in between crafting, and ending the night with lovely handmade flower crowns. Now if only I could hop on a plane to Coachella…

We stopped for some treats at a new bakery in town called Dough. They have everything from Nutella lattes to macarons to bacon doughnuts. The red chandeliers, purple booths, and black and white striped awning make this the trendiest place in town to pick up dessert. I got a mini box of macarons and a root beer float doughnut complete with a sugary glaze and striped paper straw.

Locals Only

There’s something so wonderful about being a tourist in your own town. You wander the streets with open eyes, wanting to explore new territory. Farmer’s markets are one of the only reasons I’ll get out of bed early on a weekend (well, that and brunch). Rows of fresh produce, tents full of orchids and succulents, local bakeries convincing you to buy sweets at 9am, and a quirky local band playing some early morning tunes.

Image^^Nothing better than margaritas + this beautiful view.

Image^^My favorite British coffee spot in downtown Dunedin.

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^^Touristy mugs at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.

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I’m So Glad I Live in a World Where There are Octobers

The autumn festivities are officially in full swing. November greeted us with surprisingly cold weather. I could actually see my breath outside last night! It’s been a nice change from the usual 80 degree afternoons.

I spent the entire month of October participating in Halloween-related activities. Between farmer’s markets, pumpkin patch excursions, costume making, autumn baking, and pumpkin decorating, I would say I have completed my fall checklist.

Halloween week was full of parties. Mariah turned 21 so she hosted a birthday + Halloween celebration. On the evening of Halloween, I co-hosted a “A Nightmare on Azeele Street” with my friend Alissa in South Tampa. What a spook-tacular night it was!

I debuted my Kate Middleton costume and was thrilled when everyone loved it. I was quite shocked at how many people didn’t actually know who Kate Middleton was. Most of the guys thought I was the Queen of England. Someone needs to brush them up on their pop culture!

Mariah celebrated her 21st birthday right before Halloween so another party was completely necessary! We spent a lovely evening with her family and friends while my brother whipped up some amazing food and I made my first “real” birthday cake for her. I’m really considering opening a bakery in my future after all the time I’ve spent baking this past month!

My proudest accomplishment of the month was winning 2nd place at the Idlewild annual pumpkin carving contest! I carved a Mockingjay from The Hunger Games and it was a huge hit. There were so many other amazing designs and I would have awarded first place to the Gangham Style pumpkin. So creative!

There is Nothing Like Fifth Avenue

I spent my final week in NYC packing boxes, selling furniture, and saying goodbye to some of my favorite places. The first night my mom arrived, we took the train over to Hoboken, New Jersey to meet some of my friends for “Pretty Little Liars” trivia night at a local bar. Beforehand, we decided to make a pit stop at Carlo’s Bake Shop from the TLC show “Cake Boss.” After waiting in line for an hour, we were finally granted access to the coveted pastry shop. It was a complete madhouse inside but we ended up with a box full of cannolis, cream puffs, and a mini red velvet cakes.

At trivia that night, we originally won first place until a few minutes later they announced there was a calculation error and we had actually won second place. I was just impressed with how many questions we got correct. Looks like we are true Pretty Little Liars fans. I even got a shout out on Twitter from the show’s producer Marlene King who congratulated us on our win!

Throughout the week, I was lucky enough to spend time with most of my close friends. I had dinner at Empanada Mama with Alyssa, lunch at Peanut Butter & Co in the West Village, strolled through Washington Square Park, had a soft serve cone at Mister Softee, visited the September 11 Memorial, indulged in mini cupcakes at Baked By Melissa, and spent Thursday night at Brother Jimmy’s and Bourbon Street.

On Saturday night, we bought tickets to see Jersey Boys on Broadway. I had heard amazing things about the show but my mom had been dying to see it so she could sing along to all of Frankie Valli’s hit songs. After the show, we did a traditional post-Broadway meal at the iconic Sardi’s which has been a popular NYC landmark for the past 90 years. In true New York fashion, we didn’t finish dining until the clock struck midnight.

It’s always hard to say goodbye to a place you’ve lived in for several years. I spent my last day on my favorite street in all of Manhattan, Fifth Avenue. After a morning brunch, we wandered from E 79th Street down towards The Plaza Hotel. We stopped at Ladurée for macarons, did some shopping in Henri Bendel’s, and strolled along Central Park. With an arm full of shopping bags and the rain pouring down, we decided to call it a day. After a few hours of relaxing, we met Lauren at Shake Shack in Madison Square for my “last supper.”

I said goodbye to the apartment I had spent the last two years in. As bittersweet as it was to leave, I didn’t feel very sad cause I knew I was returning to the land of large closets, central AC, and full size kitchens. Mom and I spent many hours in the Delta Lounge at Laguardia Airport since the Florida thunderstorms delayed our flight 3 hours. I can’t complain since the lounge provides you with an open bar and free food. After a quick stop at Chick-Fil-A in Tampa, I was happy to finally be home.

My favorite blogger Emily Schuman of “Cupcakes and Cashmere” even sent me a welcome home tweet! What a great way to spend my first hour back in Florida.

Goodbye to You

I’ve spent the last week cramming in as many fun activities as possible. I have finally checked off everything on my “NYC Bucket List” and feel like my time here is almost complete. I had brunch last weekend with three of my best girlfriends Alyssa, Lauren, and Christen at a gorgeous place in Chelsea called The Park. You felt as if you were sitting in an enchanted forest underneath vines and pretty winding branches.

I won tickets to the Sex and the City bus tour a few weeks ago at a trivia night. My friend Gabby and I finally redeemed out vouchers and went on the tour around Manhattan. We were the only locals on the bus but thoroughly enjoyed the trip around the city. We stopped at Buddakan where Carrie and Big had their wedding rehearsal dinner in the Sex and the City Movie. We stopped in the West Village for some Magnolia’s cupcakes and shopping at Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs. One of our final stops was at Aiden’s bar “Scout” where we cooled off and enjoyed cosmos.

This past week Courtney and I made dinner reservations at Lady Gaga’s parent’s restaurant Joanne Trattoria. Of course I wanted to visit this restaurant because of it’s relation to Gaga but the chef, Art Smith, is the former personal chef to Oprah and Jeb Bush.

We walked into the restaurant and Lady Gaga’s mom, Cynthia, was sitting at the front bar. It’s pretty scary how much they look alike except her mom was wearing more than Gaga’s typical leotard and heels. As I walked up to the hostess, I realized it was Gaga’s younger sister, Natali. She showed us to our table and after we finished the wonderful Italian meal, Cynthia came over to chat with us for a bit. She told me I looked fabulous and that she wanted my dress. What a compliment from the Queen of Pop’s mother! I just found out Gaga was at the restaurant this past Saturday- looks like I just missed her!

I was lucky enough to get 15 of my NYC friends together for my going away brunch. Courtney hosted the event and we held it at one of my favorite Upper West Side spots, Calle Ocho inside the Excelsior Hotel. Their Cuban inspired dishes and unlimited sangria bar are only a few of the reasons I chose this location. It was so fun to get dressed up and spend the day with close friends. I feel so blessed to have met so many wonderful people while living here!

I topped off the weekend with some shopping in Soho and lunch at Tacombi. I’m proclaiming this as the best taco spot in the whole city. They make the tacos in an old VW van and they had the best grilled corn straight off the cob. Georgetown Cupcakes, made famous on the TLC show “DC Cupcakes,” just opened a shop in Soho so of course we stopped by for some peanut butter cupcakes.

My mom arrives into NYC today and we start packing this week. Looking forward to visiting Hoboken today for Pretty Little Liars trivia night! What a perfect way to start off my final week in the Big Apple.

City of Blinding Lights {Part 2}

I’m excited to share this post with you since it has to do with two of my favorite things! There’s nothing like a really great dessert and a brand new pair of shoes. And if you were wondering where to find these two things in the city, you’re in luck.

Five Favorite NYC Desserts

1. Vanilla Cupcakes at Magnolia’s Bakery – Although I prefer chocolate over vanilla any day, these vanilla cupcakes are unlike any other. You can watch the cupcakes being iced right behind the counter. They taste like they were baked in your grandma’s kitchen and there is just something so wonderful about them.

2. Frozen Yogurt at Pinkberry – Pinkberry is located in various states around the country but it was in NYC that I first fell in love. There are several flavors close to my heart- the original tart, mango, and salted caramel. I love the various toppings they put on the frozen yogurt. Here’s a little inside tip- they have cheesecake bites hidden in the back so don’t be afraid to ask for them when ordering.

3. Chocolate Cannolis at Ferrara Bakery – As if I didn’t love regular cannolis enough, they decided to dip these in a chocolate hard shell. If you’ve never been to this bakery in Little Italy, I suggest you stop by as soon as possible. I love ordering the mini pastries so I can try out a bunch of different ones. My other recommendations are the fresh fruit tartlets and cream puffs.

4. Salted Caramel Gelato at Il Laboratorio del Gelato – This is the best gelato I’ve had outside of Italy. There’s something so amazing about this savory sweet flavor. The best part about this spot is that they have over 250 flavors to choose from and they’re all created in the laboratory right behind the counter. This Lower East Side spot is perfect for an after dinner treat. They have all of the classic gelato flavors as well as my other favorites- root beer, cream cheese, and lavender.

5. Vanilla Soft Serve Cone with Chocolate Sprinkles at Mister Softee – I understand that this is a simple ice cream truck that serves basic ice cream cones but Mister Softee and I have a special relationship. Being a huge ice cream lover, it’s great that Mister Softee has about 100 trucks that can be found all over Manhattan. Let me warn you though, make sure you only purchase from the REAL Mister Softee because there are knock-off trucks trying to fool people all over the city.

Five Favorite NYC Shopping Spots

1. Forever 21 in Times Square – I’m a huge Forever 21 fan and what could be more amazing than a five story location in the heart of Manhattan? Despite the tourists and hundreds of preteen girls flocking to the store, it’s still one of my favorite places to shop.

2. Henri Bendel Flagship Store on Fifth Avenue – Every time I walk into Bendel’s, I like to pretend I’m Blair Waldorf stepping into a shopping mecca. I have purchased some of my favorite jewelry inside of this gorgeous store. Every girl needs something that sparkles and this is the place to find it.

3. Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market – Before moving to NYC, I never appreciated a good flea market. I thought they were full of junk and never took the time to notice they were full of treasures. They sell everything from jewelry to antiques to vintage clothing. This weekend market is open year round and is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

4. Topshop – If I was forced to spend all of my money in one store, it would definitely be Topshop. They have the most unique selection of clothing, shoes, and accessories. Although the prices don’t allow for frequent shopping sprees, I can be caught perusing the racks and drooling over the shoes quite often.

5. Century 21 – This Financial District shopping staple is a great place to spot a good deal. I recommend hitting the store during the week when the tourists are at a minimum. My favorite part of this location is the massive warehouse-type room filled with every kind of purse imaginable. Although you’ll spend at least 30 minutes in line for the fitting room, you’ll always walk out with a great purchase.

I Was Made for Sunny Days

The last couple of few weeks have been filled with concerts, nights out with friends, and meals at some of my favorite local restaurants. My friend Lauren received free tickets for the Gavin DeGraw and Vanessa Carlton concert at Webster Hall. This show was in honor of Earth Day and was sponsored by the skincare company Origins. Gavin and Vanessa were both great performers, singing some of my favorite songs that reminded me of my high school days. The coolest part of the night was that actress Sophia Bush, better known as Brooke Davis from One Tree Hill, hosted the event!

I was excited to finally have brunch at Dos Caminos in the Meatpacking District. It’s an upscale Mexican place that is one of the most popular restaurants in the city. We stopped in for brunch recently and had delicious Prickly Pear Margaritas and Mexican inspired dishes.

We spent that morning sitting through 3.5 hours of Titanic in 3D which ended up being so incredible on the big screen. Hard to believe the last time I saw it in the theaters was when I was in 5th grade!

My brother Tyler and his girlfriend Mariah’s friend Katie visited NYC last week. I met up with her and took her to lunch at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. After finding out she was an avid Gossip Girl fan, we stopped by Henri Bendel where she bought a Blair Waldorf inspired headband. Later we toured The Plaza, window shopped on Fifth Avenue, stocked up on candy at Dylan’s, and stopped by Sprinkles for cupcakes.

Last weekend was my roommate Laura’s 24th birthday. Her sister was in town to visit and we had a wonderful time celebrating her birthday all weekend! Courtney and I stopped by the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market on Saturday morning to see if we could find any antique treasures.

On Sunday, I went with friends to see Tyler Hilton (Chris Keller from One Tree Hill) perform at Rockwood Music Hall. In true rockstar fashion, he walked in the front door and through the crowd with his girlfriend in tow about 20 min after he was set to be on stage. It didn’t even matter that he was late because he put on a seriously good show. Before the concert, Lauren and I went to The Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side. This has to be one of the best restaurants in the entire city!

Live in the Sunshine, Swim the Sea, Drink the Wild Air

I just spent the last week and a half back home in Florida. Before I headed down South, I went salsa dancing with a bunch of friends. Although I’ve never “salsa-ed” before, we had a great time. On Saturday, we took a mini roadtrip to New Jersey to shop at Garden State Plaza, stop by Target, and finish off with dinner at Chili’s. Can you tell we miss suburban life? On Sunday morning, I met some girlfriends for the most amazing Cuban brunch at Calle Ocho inside the Excelsior Hotel. Along with the spicy food comes the unlimited sangria bar- the pineapple banana coconut sangria was to die for! That evening I headed to my friend Dana’s apartment down the street for an Oscars girl’s night. I baked some chocolate cupcakes and we munched on appetizers while oohing and awing over all of the stunning red carpet attire.

On my first day back in the Sunshine State, I met up with Mariah for lunch at Moe’s, a little local shopping then some quality time at the pool. The sun felt amazing on my pale skin and the mudslides we blended up sure hit the spot! That evening, we went to dinner at the Columbia on Clearwater Beach’s Sand Key. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in the area and serves absolutely delicious Spanish food. I thought it would be the perfect spot to celebrate my birthday dinner with family.

As soon as I get home, I head out to the ocean. My mom and I went to Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs for a nice afternoon at the beach. Mother Nature obviously had it out for us. The wind began blowing and the sand felt like tiny needles against our skin. Needless to say, we had to leave the beach and retreat to the pool where we wouldn’t be pelted with sand. It ended up being a relaxing afternoon at home. I made white chicken enchiladas and homemade salsa for dinner and we topped off the evening with a round of Scrabble. Plus, I got to spend some quality time with Roxy and Rugby.

During the week, I took advantage of my abundance of free time to visit with friends and family. I had lunch at a great restaurant in South Tampa called Datz. It’s a trendy, upscale deli. They served these pretzel bites with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese that were truly life changing. The Cuban sandwich was good but nothing topped these pretzels. I discovered a pier not too far from my house and took an afternoon stroll out on the Gulf. It’s funny how I’ve driven by this spot hundreds of time in my life but never noticed what a beautiful spot it was!

I spent the day before my birthday with my friend Lindsey getting facials at the spa. On Friday, I celebrated my 24th birthday! I woke up to a beautiful necklace from my mom and a slice of red velvet cake (which I ate for breakfast). I met her for lunch at Bahama Breeze where we spent the afternoon reminiscing and overlooking the ocean. After a little (but completely necessary) shopping at International Plaza, I got ready for the night out with friends. We spent almost 3 hours having a fantastic dinner at Casa Tina’s in Downtown Dunedin. It’s such a fun, festive birthday spot. After dinner, we headed over to a local tiki bar to have drinks on the water. I had an amazing birthday and am so happy I got to celebrate with everyone back home!

As my time came to a close in Florida, I spent one of my last nights out on Crystal Beach watching the sunset. It’s one of the most peaceful spots I know and always reminds me of the setting in a Nicholas Spark’s novel.

On Sunday after church, my mom and I met Tyler and Mariah in Tampa for a rooftop brunch at The Refinery. Mario Batali just traveled to this restaurant last week to meet with the chefs and sample the food. All of their ingredients are grown locally and the menu changes weekly. It ended up being a lovely sunny afternoon with my family.

After a great trip to Florida, I’m back in the city. I can’t complain because it’s been 70 degrees these last 2 days. Hard to believe spring is coming so early this year! I’m looking forward to celebrating my birthday this weekend with all of my friends up here. I like to consider the whole month of March a birthday celebration. Just another excuse to eat cupcakes and dress up.