4 Spring Break Destinations Without the Crowds

If you aren’t thinking about where to go for spring break yet, you should be. It’s almost time to embark on a little post-winter, pre-spring getaway. Even I’m going somewhere this year! My trip will be a drive down to Missouri to visit family but it will still be a nice little escape from everyday life. Being someone who doesn’t particularly like crowds, I can understand why most people avoid spring break. There are drunk, obnoxious, college kids everywhere and what you’re looking for is much more relaxing. With that in mind, I’ve put together a couple of destinations so that you can get in a memorable spring break without the insanity of...well...spring break!

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Pasta Primavera | Spring Recipes

Holy Summer! I don’t know what it’s like where you guys live but here in Chicago, we seemed to enter the hellmouth. I was waiting for warmer weather when it was 10 degrees in April but by warmer I meant, 60 degrees and sunny. Not nearly 100! Guys, I’m melting. With the hot temps, my appetite isn’t what it normally is which seems to be the case for a lot of people. Hot weather and heavy food were not meant to be paired together. That’s why it’s called comfort food and we gain ten pounds eating it in the winter. These hot days require, lighter meals like Pasta Primavera.

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Pasta Primavera is simply pasta with fresh vegetables. It’s really easy to cook and is made in the amount of time it takes to boil a pot of pasta. It’s light, it’s fresh and it’s packed with flavor because of all those delicious seasonal vegetables. It’s also a blank canvas. There are no rules for Pasta Primavera other than there must be vegetables. You can use whatever combination is available to you or that you prefer. For this recipe, I included zucchini, asparagus, peas and cherry tomatoes. Garlic, as always, adds lots of great flavor and an anti-inflammatory touch to the dish. Scallions add a brightness and act as a substitute for onions which are generally found in most pasta dishes. Scallions have a lighter flavor than a traditional onion and they can pick up a dish instantly, not that this one needs it.

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Pasta Primavera doesn’t typically have a sauce. It’s just the veggies and some olive oil. Even so, adding a little bit of parmesan cheese with the help of the starchy water from cooking the pasta, creates a light, creamy sauce. It’s delightful and gives it an almost alfredo-like texture without the heaviness of an alfredo sauce. The parmesan is slightly rich and adds a nice tang to the rest of the dish finishing out that balance of flavors. This has honestly become one of my favorite pasta recipes because it’s so simple and so flavorful. It’s also an easy weeknight dinner that whips up quick without heating the house up. Perfect for those hot summer days.

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Pasta Primavera
Ingredients:
1 lb. Fettuccine
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 small Zucchini, halved and sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
1 bunch Asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup Peas
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes
¼ cup Scallions
¼ cup Parmesan Cheese, preferably grated but shredded can work too

Directions:
1 - Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, drop the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and drain.

2 - While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, garlic, asparagus, peas, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes burst and the zucchini is tender. Add the scallions and cook a minute or two longer.

3 - Mix together the pasta and vegetables. Sprinkle in the cheese and add in enough of the leftover liquid, a little bit add a time, until the pasta is wet enough*. Keep the pasta moving until you get a lightly creamy sauce. Serve!

* I used the full cup of reserved pasta water. It’s important to keep the pasta moving until you get that perfect texture otherwise the parmesan will start to clump together as it melts and cools. You want it to create a lightly creamy sauce. I used tongs to mix up the pasta as it was the easiest to maintain control of pasta.

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BBQ Chicken Burgers with Grilled Pineapple | BBQ Recipes

Did you know that May is National Barbecue Month? It’s true! So I hope you’ve been indulging in all things barbecue and grilled. I meant to start sharing these recipes earlier in the month but, as you can relate to, life got in the way. I was also very focused on getting the Official Lattes, Life & Luggage Shop launched and boy am I glad that baby is finally live! I actually have three barbecue recipes to share with you starting with today’s Chicken Burgers. They were all meant to be cooked on the grill but in true Christine fashion, I didn’t check to see if the propane tank had any juice left from fall. So when I went to grill these babies up, the grill wouldn’t start. It’s a great lesson learned but here’s the best part: you don’t have to actually grill outside to get the grill effect.

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Grill pans are the most genius invention to ever enter the kitchen. For those of us who live in locations that have more cold months than warm months, grill season is limited. Being able to grill up an easy dinner inside is convenient all year round. Ever since I started using the Porcelain Enamel Grill Pan from Ayesha Curry’s Target Collection, I’ve begun grilling everything on the stove. Her porcelain enamel kitchenware is honestly the best I’ve ever used. One of the main reasons to grill outside is to keep the house cool. Lucky for us, we haven’t had tons of hot weather yet. A few days here and there but for the most part, cooking inside has yet to pose a real problem. With that said, this recipe works with an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan on the stove.

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Chicken burgers tend to get the side eye. People say that chicken burgers aren’t real burgers. Well, of course not, they’re not beef. But the same idea applies and just because they’re chicken doesn’t mean they can’t blow your mind. In my experience, the most difficult part in dealing with chicken burgers is that they have a tendency to fall apart, especially on the grill. Beef is sturdier than chicken when ground so you have to give it something to firm up the patty. This is where the breadcrumbs come in. It might seem weird that the ratio of ground chicken to breadcrumbs is 1:1 but it’s for good reason. The burgers gain density and they’re bound well which keeps them from falling apart. Add in some dried herbs and garlic, top with a few delightful ingredients like grilled pineapple, and you have yourself one damn good burger. Bon appetit!

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BBQ Chicken Burgers with Grilled Pineapple & White Cheddar
Ingredients:
1lb. Ground Chicken
½ small Onion, finely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 cup Breadcrumbs
¼ tsp. Dried Thyme
½ tsp. Dried Marjoram
4 Pineapple Slices
2 slices White Cheddar Cheese
4 Hamburger Buns
Salt & Pepper
Optional Toppings: tomato, lettuce, aioli, thousand island dressing, barbecue sauce

Directions:
1 - Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Brush with a little oil or spray with cooking spray.

2 - Prepare the chicken patties. In a large bowl mix together the ground chicken, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, thyme, marjoram, salt and pepper. Mix well and form into patties. The breadcrumbs will create a pretty dense patty.

3 - Place each chicken burger on the grill or grill pan. Let cook 6-8 minutes on each side until browned and cooked through. Add the cheese and cover for a minute or so to melt. Set aside.

4 - Add the pineapple slices to the grill or grill pan. Cook 2-3 minutes per side until you see char marks.

5 - Top the burgers with the pineapple slices and your preference of other toppings. I added barbecue sauce for extra flavor but a garlic aioli, Thousand Island Dressing, or buttermilk ranch would be equally tasty.

Roasted Parmesan Chicken with Tomatoes & Arugula | Spring Recipes

Happy Mother’s Day! If you’re a mama, I hope you’re enjoying a relaxing day to yourself or spending it with the little ones. Mother’s Day is like any other holiday in my family. I cook a lot of food and everyone eats it. All the moms get a night off cooking and cleaning, and I add another successful dinner to the books. Normally, Mother’s Day is an ideal time to use all the colorful spring produce and make a pretty brunch or breakfast. Sadly, since winter only ended three weeks ago our spring produce is coming in rather slow which makes recipes like this Roasted Parmesan Chicken with Tomatoes & Arugula ideal. It’s also perfect for moms who need to get dinner on the table quick on weeknights. It’s a light, flavorful meal that doesn’t take long to prepare and only takes a total of 5 ingredients (plus S&P).

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Tomatoes are at their peak season in August but with sustainable glasshouse farming like Chicago’s MightyVine Tomatoes, their accessibility year-round is rising. Tomatoes can add a lot of great flavor and depth to a dish. There’s a reason why Italians use them as the main ingredient for pasta sauce. Roasting tomatoes brings out all that sweetness and bright flavor, making this a great spring dish. It’s also simple and some of the best spring meals are the simplest. A little arugula drizzled with some balsamic and you’ve got yourself a tasty dinner that gets on the table fast.

For the chicken, I like to buy thin-cut breasts. Full chicken breasts are too much for one person in my family and they take much longer to cook. The thin-cut breasts are the perfect size and they cook fast. The less time you need to cook chicken, the less room for error there is. No one likes dry chicken. When the chicken is finished cooking or almost done, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top and return it to the oven to cook a little longer and melt. It will create a nice, cheesy crust that’s gooey and gives the roasted tomatoes something to stick to. The tomatoes and chicken can roast on the same pan. Cherry tomatoes have a lot of great flavor for roasting and they cook fast, especially when they are halved.

Overall, this is a really simple dinner that only calls for a sheet pan to prepare. Use some tin foil to coat the baking sheet and the only dishes you’ll have to wash are the plates! That’s what I call a perfect weeknight dinner. After all, who wants to spend tons of time in the kitchen when you can be enjoying a beautiful night on the back patio sipping a glass of wine? No one. That’s who!

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Roasted Parmesan Chicken with Tomatoes & Arugula
Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 cup Parmesan Cheese, shredded or shaved)
5 oz. Arugula, rinsed
Salt & Pepper
Optional: Balsamic Vinegar (for garnish)

Directions:
1 - Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prep a baking sheet with tin foil.

2 - Rub the chicken (or use a pastry brush) with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the chicken breasts on one side of the baking sheet. On the other, toss the tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

3 - Check the chicken. It should be almost done or just done cooking. Divide the Parmesan cheese evenly over each chicken breast, sprinkling over the top. Place back in the oven to finish cooking and melt the cheese. Once the cheese has melted, remove from the oven and let sit for five minutes.

4 - While the chicken cools, lay a bed of arugula on each plate. Top with the roasted tomatoes and chicken. Optional: drizzle with a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar to finish. Serve.

The Little Paris Kitchen | Cookbooks By Lovely Ladies

Spring might not want to show up in Chicago yet but let me tell you, spring flavors are taking over my kitchen whether they want to or not. I love today’s cookbook feature because it’s a menu using recipes with spring ingredients but it’s also perfect for colder days. The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo is one of the most approachable French cookbooks I’ve seen. Traditional French recipes are given a modern twist using ingredients that are accessible and not so intimidating. This particular menu is perfect for a weekend dinner with friends or family. The flavors are bright and it’s not a super heavy meal but it is comforting and satisfying. All qualities necessary for a cold spring night.

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I’ve only made a handful of recipes from The Little Paris Kitchen but what I have cooked through has been incredible. For example, who knew Mac n’ Cheese was French and that it could taste so good?! I mean, I guess we all know how fantastic Mac n’ Cheese can be, but not when you make it yourself! There’s also a recipe for Meatballs in Spicy Sauce with Alsatian Pasta that is to-die-for. She has salads, desserts, gouters (or snacks), and even breakfast recipes. It’s a well-rounded cookbook that touches a lot of different parts of French cuisine and that’s what makes The Little Paris Kitchen such a great cookbook.

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I know I can only complain about the weather so much on here without sounding like a broken record, but you guys. It was snowing today. I love cold weather as much as Snow Miser but it would be great to walk around without a coat. You know what I mean? On the other hand, I have a few extra winter pounds from all my “comforting” dinners I don’t want exposed just yet. So when I have recipes like the Spring Lamb Stew to give the best of both worlds, it’s a win. On another note, I hope you guys are enjoying these little peeks at cookbooks I’m in love with. It’s great sharing my own recipes with you but I also love sharing my experiences with cookbooks. It’s different and it also broadens my own perspective on ingredients and different cuisines.

The Menu:
Garlic Mayonnaise with Crunchy Raw Vegetables
Spring Lamb Stew
Citrus Fruit Cake

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The Garlic Mayonnaise is the real recipe for the starter. It’s more like a garlic aioli that acts as a dip for freshly cut veggies. It’s a light appetizer that pairs well with heavier dishes or mains that stand on their own like the Spring Lamb Stew. Like many other lamb recipes I’ve cooked through, I substituted beef. I know it’s not the same, I know using lamb is the whole point of this being a spring stew but it’s SO expensive. Buying a 3-pound lamb roast versus a beef cut is like comparing pennies to dollars. Using a beef roast doesn’t ruin this dish though so stick with me.

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Green beans, peas, and carrots brighten this stew and the beef is the perfect substitute for a still-winter-kind-of-spring meal! The flavors blend beautifully and the meat cooks for a few hours making it super tender. It is fantastic for leftovers as well (if there are any left). Serve with a little crusty bread and you have yourself a winning dinner!

Finally, the best part of this post: Citrus Fruit Cake. It sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Fruit cake does not bring to mind happy feelings. Forget that. This is more like a citrus pound cake. It has a similar texture and consistency. It’s got a great citrus flavor because of all the orange goodness but it’s not too overpowering like lemon can get. You know what I mean? It’s easy to make and lasts for a few days if you can restrain yourself to just a slice or two. It’s wonderful by itself but also tasty with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some berries on top.

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Spring Green & Sausage Hash | Spring Recipes

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve shared a hash recipe. They’re some of my favorites because everything is done in one pan and it can be made of any ingredients you’d like. Whether you need to get rid of odds and ends in your crisper drawer or just want an easy prep meal, it’s such a great option for weeknights. This particular recipe is inspired by spring using only green veggies...and potatoes of course. As always, if any of these ingredients are not for you or you have something on hand you’d like to get rid of, feel free to tweak the recipe.

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No hash is complete without potatoes. I had several red potatoes on hand already while making this recipe which I diced and cooked up in grapeseed oil. Note that the larger you cut the potatoes, the longer they need to cook. Dicing them keeps cook time minimal. Since I used my cast-iron skillet, I got it screaming hot before heating the oil. When you use a high heat you want an oil with a high smoke point. So it’s better to avoid olive oil and instead use grapeseed, avocado or vegetable oil. Once the potatoes are nice and cooked in a hashbrown style, add the leeks and chicken sausage. I love browsing the deli section for pre-cooked sausage to use in hash. Chicken Apple is my flavor of choice for these types of dishes but anything will work. At this point, you just want to brown the sausage and heat it through while the leeks soften.

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Asparagus and spinach take hardly any time at all to cook so they get thrown into the pan last. In the amount of time it takes the spinach to wilt, the asparagus will cook just enough so it’s not raw. You want the asparagus to get bright green but you don’t want it mushy. Finish the dish with chives for a little extra brightness and you’re ready to go! Occasionally, I’ll serve hash with scrambled eggs, poached eggs or over-easy eggs. This time I did not but don’t let that stop you! Eggs are a great complement to any hash recipe and they’re traditionally put together anyway.

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Spring Green & Sausage Hash
Ingredients:
2 tbsp. Grapeseed Oil
3 Red Potatoes, diced
1 Leek, halved and sliced (white and green parts only)
4 links Chicken Sausage (pre-cooked), sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 bunch Asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
5 oz. Spinach
¼ cup Chives, chopped

Directions:
1 - In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook 12-15 minutes until almost fork tender.

2 - Add the chicken sausage and leek to the pan. Saute until leeks are caramelized and chicken is browned. Add the asparagus, spinach and chives. Cook until the spinach is wilted and asparagus is no longer raw. Serve.

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Grilled Beet & Arugula Salad | Spring Recipes

Fall might be my favorite season for weather and cooking but spring is a very close second contender when it comes to food. After months of the same veggies and types of dishes, spring comes rushing in with all it’s bright flavors and colorful produce. It’s a welcome reprieve from the common duo of carrots and potatoes. Sure, current technology and preservation allows us to have almost any fruit or vegetable we want year round but if you try to cook seasonally, winter gets old after a while.

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There are a lot of reasons to cook with the seasons. Produce is at its best when it's in season. I’ve bought out of season peaches and asparagus. The peaches were bland and the asparagus was limp. Strawberries aren’t as sweet, watermelon isn’t as juicy, tomatoes aren’t as flavorful. Cooking with the seasons also gives you the opportunity to support local farmers and small businesses. Nothing makes me happier than to wake up early on Sundays and head to the farmers market to buy produce for the week. I also love that our local grocery stores are beginning to include “Farmer Stands” to support local farms.

With all this in mind and different produce slowly making its way into stores, I’ve been able to start playing with spring recipes including today’s salad! I had the chance to watch Rick Bayless perform a cooking demonstration recently at a food expo and it inspired this recipe. He used an indoor grill pan to grill some beets for a minimal side salad alongside a tasty meatball dish. It got me inspired to break out my new square grill pan from Ayesha Curry’s Home Collection at Target. This has actually become one of my favorite pans to cook with and makes grilling year-round easy. This salad is a little bit different from what I saw Rick whip up but it is minimalist like his.

Beets are sliced before getting a veggie oil rub down and seasoned with salt and pepper. Grill them on each side, just long enough so you can see grill marks. They will be soft enough at this point and ready to eat. One of the things Rick said during his demo that stayed with me was that the main difference between home cooks and professional cooks is their use of fire. Home cooks are afraid of heat. I took that as a personal challenge and have been firing up my cast-iron skillet and grill pans without apprehension! However, with a higher heat you need an oil with a higher smoke point. Vegetable oil is good but I love using Grapeseed Oil. I find it lighter both in consistency and flavor. Sometimes you get an odd aftertaste with vegetable oil.

So while the beets are cooking, I’ll rinse some arugula and dry it with paper towels. You can prepare this salad in a large dish for everyone to serve themselves or prep all the individual salads on plates. Make a bed of the arugula, arrange the grilled beets on top and then garnish with a few goat cheese crumbles and balsamic vinaigrette. The combination of tang from the cheese, tartness and acidity from the balsamic and sweetness of the beets is a match made in heaven. This is meant as more of a side dish rather than a main dish. I paired it along with a simple, grilled steak but it would be equally delicious with grilled chicken or pork chops, even fish!

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Grilled Beet Salad with Arugula & Goat Cheese
Ingredients:
3 small Beets, peeled and slice to about ¼ inch thickness
1 tbsp. Grapeseed Oil
4 ounces Arugula
Goat Cheese Crumbles (for garnish)
Balsamic Vinaigrette (for garnish)
Salt & Pepper

Directions:
1 - Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat and brush lightly with oil. Brush the beets on either side with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Grapeseed oil goes a long way so you don't need more than a tablespoon or two. To help control oil usage, pour it into a small bowl and dip a pastry brush to apply instead of directly pouring it.

2 - Place the beets on the grill and let cook about 6-8 minutes per side or until you can see the grill marks.

2 - On a platter or large plate (or on individual plates), create a bed of arugula for the beets. Once they’re finished cooking, arrange over the arugula. Sprinkle with goat cheese and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve.

March Spotlight

How was your first day of spring? In true Chicago style, we dropped below 40 degrees yesterday so our first day felt more like late fall kind of weather. This chilly weather is making it difficult to get out of bed each morning so if there’s one thing I’m looking forward to with the new season, it’s hopefully finding more motivation to get out of bed. I’ve also been on a Criminal Minds binge lately. It’s the one show I allow myself to watch on Netflix and I’ve been a little too eager to catch a few episodes here and there. Instead of continuing to jabber on, I’ll get to the March spotlight! Lots of great stuff to share this month.

Photo Credit:   Levine-Moore Photography

FROM AROUND THE WEB
Getting inspired for my next dinner party with these recipes

Spring cleaning isn’t just for the house with 5 ideas for spring cleaning your life

And speaking of spring cleaning, recraft your workspace for a more calming atmosphere while putting things back together

Desperately wishing I had a house of my own to redecorate the dining room

And while we’re talking about houses, I think I found my new home in this French villa

Prepping for Easter next weekend with sugar on the brain…

Adding to my ever growing book collection with these inspiring suggestions

Embracing my inner romantic and making sure every one of these European cities is on my bucket list

Love these tips for productivity at work to avoid working overtime

Vicariously living my Nicholas Sparks movie dream through this Beaufort, South Carolina feature

Absolutely loving the dog mama gift ideas

Visiting foreign cities through my essential oils! Rome, here I come...

TOP RECIPES
[from top left]
Creamy Pumpkin Pasta
Chicken Milanese with Simple Spaghetti
Harvest Season Chicken Pot Pie
Raspberry Mint Margarita

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WHAT I’M UP TO
Normally I like to update you guys on my book progress but reading hasn’t been a huge priority in the last month. I’m hoping to finish Julie & Julia by Nora Ephron by the next spotlight. There’s nothing against the book, things have just been a little crazy lately. I’m feeling a little extra motivated to get finished though because I was just sent two new books to read and review and I’m pumped. Hot Mess by Emily Belden is her second book but first fictional novel. I read her first, Eightysixed, when it came out a few years ago, provided a review and even did an interview with her! I had the opportunity to listen to her speak at a recent event hosted by Chicago Woman magazine here in Chicago with other influential women in the food community and left inspired, motivated and with a great attitude. I also got my hands on an advance copy of Paris Ever After by K.S.R. Burns which I can’t wait to start reading. Any novel or memoir that’s based in Paris gets bonus points for me. Reading about the characters’ experiences transport me back to the city I vowed to always return to.

Moving on from the book front, it’s been a little crazy lately. I’m in the thick of one of the busier seasons for my day job which has a tendency to take over every other aspect of life. I’ve also been hard at work behind the scenes with a project I can’t talk about yet but and very excited to reveal in the next two months. So even if things get a little quiet on the blog front, know that I’m still working with a fury to get content and other goodies to you. I’m still living that split life - half my time in the burbs and the other half in the city. To be honest, it’s a little exhausting some weeks and I get to the point where I just want to stay in one place. I unfortunately don’t have any travel planned. There’s just so much going on that any travel I planned at the moment would not be fun. It would be stressful and overwhelming so I’m holding off before making a getaway this year.

I saw Love Never Dies the last week it was in Chicago and you guys, if you have a chance to go make it it happen. Something I haven’t talked about too much is my love for musicals, theater, etc. Phantom of the Opera was one of my favorite musicals since I can remember. I saw it live twice and can basically quote the movie from beginning to end. When Love Never Dies originally premiered in London, it was only supposed to be a one-time run. They weren’t going to bring it to any other cities. But then it went to Australia where they filmed it and last year it was announced Love Never Dies would tour the US. The music is incredible and the talent absolutely mindblowing. I was ready to be slightly disappointed since I’m such a fan of Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess but Gardar Thor Cortes as the Phantom really did a phenomenal job. I cried twice and you will rarely see me cry for anything. I was practically sobbing at one point. The emotion was real and you could feel it in your bones. So please, if Love Never Dies comes to your city, go see it. If you haven’t see Phantom, rent the movie on Amazon or something. You won’t regret it, I promise. Next on my radar, the pre-Broadway premiere of Pretty Woman featuring Samantha Barks which is here in Chicago right now!

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WISH LIST
Loving the flowy dresses coming out for spring right now especially this one from The Gap

I’m really obsessed with the Perasima Dinner Plates at Anthropologie in mint and also their Piet Mugs.

I have got to get my hands on the LC Lauren Conrad Madeleine Convertible Satchel but also can’t wait for warmer weather because her Baneberry Sandals and Poem Women’s Flats are calling my name!

My skin went through a lot of issues over the winter with uncharacteristic breakouts, dryness and redness. I started using the Aveeno Ultra-Calming Night Cream and it made a HUGE difference in just one application. There’s no partnership here, just a typical consumer giving a product a go. After the night cream worked so well, I added the gel cleanser to my routine as well and even converted my best friend. Now I want to finish my collection with the daily moisturizer. This stuff is honestly amazing.