Sunshine State Summer

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Summertime in Florida can be brutal. You have to occupy yourself with things that involve AC otherwise the sweltering heat can ruin your summer days. There’s only so much time you can spend at the beach so I’ve been discovering new local spots for brunch and dessert (the two most important meals of the day). With a stop in Palm Beach, night strolls along the beach at sunset, gelato at the Italian market, rooftop pool parties, and even more vacations to look forward to..I’d say it’s been a pretty successful summer.

IMG_3479^^The colorful ride at Mazzaro’s Italian Market. The most incredible spot…gelato bar, pastries, homemade pasta, and a wine & cheese room.

IMG_3753^^Indulging in a Nutella-filled eclair after our French-inspired brunch at Piquant.

IMG_2717^^A weekend trip to a Palm Beach palace.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset^^Macarons galore at Chocolate Pi inside the new Epicurean Hotel in Tampa.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset^^Orange creamsicle beers on a sunny day at 7venth Sun Brewery.IMG_2718

IMG_2456^^Old fashioned cocktails served on an antique door at Mandarin Hide.

IMG_2947^^Incredibly delicious spicy Asian tacos at Oxford Exchange.

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A Day in the Life

1. Beautiful glass stars overhead at Red Mesa Cantina. // 2. Celebrating the start of “autumn” with rooftop drinks at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach. // 3. First cool morning so I took full advantage of reading + morning coffee on the porch. // 4. Spontaneous afternoon at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino for a little blackjack. // 5. The best orange margaritas at Casa Tina’s in Dunedin. // 6. My favorite Ladurée macarons shipped straight from NYC. // 7. Fancy dessert night at the Bern’s Dessert Room. // 8. Giuliana Rancic celebrating her one year anniversary at HSN. // 9. The most perfect Florida sunset. The sky looked like it was on fire.

All That Glitters is Gold

I was surprised to find myself so busy after my move back to Florida. I’ve decided after a week of unpacking shoes, purses, and clothes that I should never walk out of a store with another shopping bag again.

One of the coolest things to do on a summer night in my town is to head over to the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and dine out under the stars at “A Night in the Islands.” The streets are filled with tables, lights are strung along the docks, the sponge boats are lit up, and the sound of Greek music fills the air. Alyse and I had a wonderful time catching up and enjoying one of my favorite Greek meals. Afterwards, we met up with our friends Lindsey and Nicole for some drinks at our favorite local bar, Peggy O’Neills.

I planned the last two weeks of my life around the Summer Olympics. My evening plans were determined by whether there was a big swim meet or if the girl’s gymnastics team was competing. I fell completely in love with the gymnasts (as I do every Olympic games) and felt like a part of the audience cheering along with my TV. It was absolutely amazing seeing these young girls win gold. I don’t know if it’s the good looking guys or getting to see them continuously breaking world records, but swimming is also such a fun sport to follow during the Games.

What better way to close the Olympics then with a Spice Girls reunion performance! I was belting out every word to “Spice Up Your Life” and wishing I had my old Posh Spice Halloween costume and inflatable microphone.

I spent last week in the lovely state of North Carolina. It was a long 11 hour drive but completely worth the trip. We spent the weekend with tons of relatives at our family reunion. It’s always fun when family from all over the country gets together. We spent the weekend telling old stories, swimming long past sunset, filling up on comfort food, and playing with all the younger cousins.

We took a day trip to the quaint little town of Mt. Airy for lunch at Barney’s Cafe and antique shopping. Mt. Airy inspired the town of Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.” The cast of the show used to spend a lot of time in this cute Southern town. All of the shops and restaurants are even named after characters on the show. We stopped at the Andy Griffith Museum which I actually found quite interesting. I remember watching the old black and white episodes as a kid.

On Sunday morning, I got up early and enjoyed the spectacular view from the second story porch. Enjoying a cup of coffee while overlooking the mountains isn’t a bad way to start your day. We spent our final afternoon with my sweet little cousins Jeb and Elizabeth in Downtown Winston-Salem. We had Sunday Brunch in the outdoor garden at the Old Fourth Street Filling Station. I had unbelievable Caramel Apple French toast which might have put me into a sugar coma. After brunch, we explored the historic district of town called Old Salem. The weather was absolutely perfect for strolling through the sunflower-filled gardens, savoring afternoon milkshakes, and popping into the little shops.

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.

Out With the Old, In With the New

In the blink of an eye, another year has passed us by. Welcoming a new year is always a perfect time to reflect on the past year. 2011 was an unbelievable year for me and I feel so grateful for all of my blessings and for the unconditional love and support of my family and friends.

Right before I went home for Christmas vacation, one of my best friends Alyse came up to NYC for the weekend. Our first stop was one of my favorite BBQ restaurants, Brother Jimmy’s. We continued our night bar hopping on the Upper West Side and finished off a great weekend at brunch in Chelsea. It’s always fun to play tour guide when friends come to visit.

The next night was our friend Flo’s birthday party. It’s always cool to get a big group together and go out in the city. We started our night at Barramundi, this cozy little dive bar in the heart of the Lower East Side. After hanging out there for a few drinks, we headed over to a new bar in the area called Interstate Food & Liquor. We had the entire loft reserved for our group. It was a wonderful night full of great friends, dancing, and celebrating!

The weekend before I headed back to Florida was a busy one! My friends Alyssa came into the city for the afternoon. Even though I only got to see her for a short time, it’s always nice to spend time with her!

My friend Dana who I met at the NYC Pi Phi Alumni Club (she also went to FSU) hosted a Christmas party at her Upper West Side apartment that evening. She always throws lovely parties, spending the entire day baking and making her apartment smell like a quaint little bakery. I was surprised to see my first real Christmas tree inside a New York apartment. It was much more impressive than the little two foot tree I bought inside Penn Station.

After her party, I met my friend Arielle at Webster Hall to see one of our favorite bands, The Rocket Summer. I’ve loved this band since high school and it sure was a flashback to hear them sing all of the songs I used to love in 2006.

I was really looking forward to being able to spend two weeks in Florida over the holidays. I left dreary, cold New York for warm, sunny Florida. It was so wonderful to see the ocean, palm trees, and sunshine- all things I took for granted while living in the Sunshine State.

I spent my first few days back home prepping for Christmas. My days consisted of Christmas shopping with my brother, holiday parties, wrapping gifts while my cats stuck their noses into everything, consuming massive amounts of my Mom’s famous Christmas cookies, and one of my most cherished traditions- driving around looking at Christmas lights with my family.

Our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traditions are pretty standard for us. We spend our Christmas Eve at an Italian dinner followed by the Candlelight Service at church. It’s always a memorable evening with family and remembering the real reason for the season.

Christmas morning is a bit different from when my brother and I were kids. Tyler and I don’t seem to wake up before 10am even though we know the stockings and gifts await us. Once we finally woke up, we spent the morning opening gifts and enjoying our favorite homemade coffee cake and peanut butter fudge given to us by our family friend. It’s a tradition for my brother and I to receive scratch off lottery tickets in our stockings. He usually wins more money than I do but this year I hit the jackpot and won $120! Santa must have put me on the good list this year.

After spending the afternoon indulging in our Christmas feast, I looked back at my gifts and felt so thankful for everything I had received. My favorite gift was a Nikon D40 SLR camera that I’ve been wanting for a while. You can expect a whole bunch of beautiful pictures in the new year.

And really, what’s better than shorts and sunshine on a Florida Christmas day…

The day after Christmas is meant for gift returns, taking down the decorations, and thinking about the diet you need to go on after eating all of that food the day before. Instead of doing any of those things, I spent the afternoon outside in the beautiful weather. Tyler and I went down to the Dunedin Causeway at sunset and captured some stunning shots of the beach while the sun dipped below the horizon. Being out on the beach is so peaceful and reminds me what I love about being home.

My Annual Christmas Party is one of my favorite things about the holiday season! It’s always so wonderful to catch up with all of my high school friends and of course, participating in the gift exchange, which seems to more intense every year! It makes me so happy to know I’ve been able to stay in touch with many of my friends from home after we’ve all scattered around the country.

As my trip came to a close, I spent my last few afternoons with my Mom out on the water. One day was spent out at the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs lunching on Greek salad and perusing the shops. On my last day, we went out to Clearwater Beach to soak up the sun. The day started off in the high 70’s and was clear and sunny. After a few hours, it turned windy and cold and needless to say, we were forced to put on jackets and retreat from the beach.

I feel so lucky to have grown up in such a scenic town! There’s nothing like Palm Harbor, Florida!

I look forward to this new year; not a new beginning but a continuation of the beautiful life I’m so lucky to already have.

Bright Lights and the Big City

Summer is officially here. This weekend was the first time that the temperatures broke the 100° mark. It was also the hottest it’s been in the city since 1991. The worst part of the warm weather is having to venture down in the unbearably hot subway stations and wait for the next train to arrive. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with the weather though. I complain about it being too hot and then I complain about all of the snow and below zero temperatures. I’m learning to embrace the four seasons and make the best out of each one!

Courtney’s 23rd birthday was in June and of course a birthday calls for a full weekend of celebrations! I surprised Courtney with a party cruise on the Hudson River around Manhattan. It was a perfect night out on the water with breathtaking views of the city skyline. We also spent another night at our favorite bar in the city with all of our friends!

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks back in Florida. It’s always so wonderful to be home, especially in the summertime! I spent my first day back with two of my best friends. The soon-to-be bride, Kate and I spent an afternoon at my favorite Mexican place, Casa Tina’s gushing over wedding plans. That evening, I had a lovely girl’s night with Lindsey in South Tampa. And of course I got to hang out with two of my best buddies, Rugby and Roxy.

Every time I visit, I beg my brother to make his famous tacos and homemade salsa for dinner. Since he’s practically a professional chef by now, I send him all the recipes I’m too lazy to make myself. He put corn on the cob on the grill and covered it in a spicy chipotle cheese sauce…it was to die for! Since we let Tyler and Mom slave over the stove, Mariah and I took care of the beverages- margaritas in a bag! What a delicious family meal.

On Sunday, we decided to do something educational on my visit. We acted like tourists in our own town and went down to St. Pete to the Dali Museum. I never knew too much about Salvador Dali and his artwork but after a few hours in the museum, I instantly became a fan. I loved the double meanings behind each painting and the stories each piece of work holds. The building was an incredible piece of architecture. There was a giant spiral staircase in the middle of museum hall and the outside of the building was made of bright blue glass. On the way back from the Dali, we stopped at Ceviche for tapas and sangria. I felt like we spent an exotic day in Spain!

One of my favorite things about Florida summers are the picturesque sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. There’s just something so peaceful about the colorful rays reflecting off the sparkling water. I went out to Bon Appetit at the Dunedin Marina for dinner one night. After enjoying my meal overlooking the ocean, Mom and I decided to beach hop for sunset. Each beach provided a different view of the sun and made for a perfect summer night.

Since the Fourth of July was on a Monday this year, it was a good excuse to celebrate on both Sunday and Monday. I think I wore every piece of red, white, and blue clothing I own and decided to turn the whole weekend into a patriotic celebration. On Sunday, I went to Innisbrook with some friends to catch the July 3rd fireworks. It wouldn’t be a Florida night without a thunderstorm looming over us. As soon as the fireworks ended, the lightning show began, which was closely follower by a downpour. I spent the Fourth of July watching the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest (which grosses me out after the first 5 minutes), swimming in the pool, and at my friend Kate’s patriotic BBQ! The night ended with more fireworks at Crystal Beach and sparklers.

Two weeks ago, Jacob came to visit NYC for the weekend. Even though he lives in London and always seems to be traveling, this was his first visit to the Big Apple. Courtney and I took him to Times Square at night, walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, and took the skyride to Roosevelt Island which made for the most beautiful views of Manhattan all lit up.

Last week my friend Laura from college moved to NYC. As one of our first city outings together, we decided to stand along the red carpet for the “Crazy Stupid Love” movie premiere at Ziegfeld Theater. We were lucky enough to see and meet some big Hollywood stars- Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Steve Carell, and Julianna Moore. In case you were wondering, Ryan Gosling is even more attractive in person, if that is even possible.

I feel so lucky to have two amazing places that I can call home. The beautiful state of Florida, full of gorgeous sunsets, family and friends, and the warm summer nights…and New York City- bustling streets, new friends, and the city of dreams.