Butternut Squash & Bacon Frittata | Holiday Recipes: Brunch

Well hello there! It’s been a hot minute. To say December is a month of insanity is the understatement of the century. It’s the busiest time of year for my day job and the busiest time of year for my personal life which means I have about zero moments to myself most days. I hope your December has been going swimmingly. Even though it can be stressful, it’s also a wonderful time of year where you can feel the excitement in the air. There’s a spark that’s undeniable. From the Christmas music to the movies and the smell of cookies in the air, there’s nothing better than knowing a break is on the horizon. We have two weeks until Christmas and since I’ve been a bit absent these last few weeks, I have a ton of recipes…

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Italian-Style Pigs in a Blanket | Holiday Recipes: Make Ahead

Holy November! You guys, this month went out with a serious attitude. We had Winter Storm Brian come through Sunday night and around 5am Monday morning the power went out. During this power outage, there is a small chance my laptop got fried but it’s oddly the only thing in the house effected and it was on a surge protector. So chances are it just decided to die on me for no reason. So when the power finally came back on in the late morning, which also happens to be the time I found out about my dead computer, I had to dive into new laptop research…

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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.

My Father's Daughter | Cookbooks By Lovely Ladies

My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow is one of the many cookbooks I received for Christmas this past year. It’s one of the almost two dozen cookbooks currently sitting on my bookshelf. This cookbook has gotten the least amount of attention from me since Christmas but the recipes I have made are quite tasty. Today’s menu to highlight the cookbook is a simple and quick pasta with salad. I made this on a Friday night for only me but it’s a great weeknight meal when you need to get dinner on the table quick.

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I put My Father’s Daughter on my wish list with apprehension. Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t someone who you’d think would have approachable recipes. She’s always talking about these crazy ingredients that are hard to find and freakishly expensive. All the reviews I’d read and previews I saw made it see like this particular cookbook was applicable to anyone. I’m not shy to new ingredients, I did cook through A Kitchen In France which had me using things I didn’t even know existed. However, I’m not fond of spending a thousand dollars for one week’s worth of groceries. Flipping through My Father’s Daughter, I realized that not only did Gwyneth share recipes for the everyday home cook, she shared options.

The beginning of the cookbook shares essential tools Gwyneth always has in her kitchen, directions for any kind of special technique, and my favorite...a substitution chart. There’s nothing worse than finding a recipe that looks divine and realizing you need a specialty flour or sugar for it. This chart includes common substitutions for things like spelt, barley and buckwheat flour, non-dairy milks, and meat alternatives. It’s handy for someone like me that might not have a ton of experience with those ingredients and doesn’t feel confident make the switch without guidance. I’ve taken a photo of this chart on my phone and saved it so I can use it with recipes in other cookbooks! It’s such a useful tool.

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Besides the special tools, My Father’s Daughter includes a personal note from Gwyneth, recipes for soups, salads, burgers & sandwiches, pastas, main courses, side dishes, breakfast and desserts, tips on how to use the book, and more. Many of the recipes include little notes from Gwyneth sharing tips, experiences or memories. Many of them also have substitution suggestions and recommendations for cooking like prepping the sauce ahead of time. I chose a few of her simpler recipes to spotlight for this post. I hope you like them!

The Menu:
Italian Chopped Salad
Penne Puttanesca
Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

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Fun Fact: Italians do not eat their salad as a starter or appetizer like Americans do. The salad is instead more of an in between course or final dish after the heavier meat course is served. Personal Fact: My (Italian) family has always served salad as an optional add-on to whatever meal we’re having. I enjoy having it alongside the main dinner course. Case in point, today’s menu! The Italian Chopped Salad from My Father’s Daughter is a light and veggie packed recipe that is both easy to prepare and a treat to eat. Leafy greens are tossed with scallions, tomatoes, tiny balls of Mozzarella (bocconcini or pearl Mozz - whatever you can find), green beans, and a light vinaigrette. Gwyneth’s recipe also calls for preserved artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers and anchovies but I left them out for various reasons. It took no time to pull this salad together and it was the perfect accompaniment to the Penne Puttanesca.

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Penne Puttanesca originated in Naples, not far where part of my family is from. It consists of ingredients that are strong in flavor like anchovies, capers and olives. These three ingredients in particular can have a briney, salty flavor. The sweetness of a basic tomato sauce balances that acidity and saltiness well. Gwyneth’s recipe calls for her Basic Tomato Sauce recipe which I have not tried my hand at yet. But I did buy a jar of marinara from the grocery store. I know most people who are Italian cringe at the thought but I am not above convenience. A batch of gravy takes a day to make and lots of freezer space to store. The only tweak I made to this recipe was leave out the anchovies. I don’t mind using anchovies in cooking because they do add a great depth of flavor but if I’m not going to use the entire can or jar, I won’t do it. I feel like it’s a waste to open up a package for one or two. Not to mention they start to smell if you save them.

The Penne Puttanesca was in one word, delightful. I made this entire meal for myself one night. It was late, I hadn’t eaten a real meal in days and I needed to make the recipes for this blog post. I ignored my lazy - “It’s Friday night”- mentality and got to cooking. I don’t know what I was waiting for because the salad and the pasta together took hardly any time. It was a comforting, yet still light dinner and it reminded me of home (I was living in the city at the time). Another reason this meal was so great...the leftovers lasted for days!

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Finally, Gwyneth has this recipe for Fudgy Chocolate Brownies. They're as healthy as you can possibly get them without sacrificing flavor. Let me tell you, no flavor was sacrificed in the making of these brownies. One requires a giant glass of milk alongside it and they are crazy rich. Little confession, her recipe uses spelt flour and soy milk but I used regular white flour and lactose-free milk. So hers, in hindsight, are probably a bit healthier. I did not make these to go alongside my pasta and salad dinner but I did make them for Tapas Night with the girls and they were the perfect finish.

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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The Ranch: A Review | Dining In Irving, TX

The Ranch at Las Colinas is one of the many phenomenal spots to grab a bite to eat in Irving, Texas. A Texas-style steakhouse, the Ranch is a farm to fork restaurant using locally sourced ingredients and providing a seasonal menu. This restaurant visit was part of a press tour I participated in with the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. The meal was complementary and let me tell you, they pulled out all the stops including ordering every single dessert on the menu! While everyone had the chance to order their main course, we did have several shared appetizers and sweets. There’s a lot of food to get through so I’m just going to dive right in.

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My visit to the ranch was provided complimentary as part of a press tour with the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. All opinions remain my own.

We started with appetizers for the table including the Chef’s “Favorite 4” which consists of Queso Blanco, Branding Iron Rings, Mini Elk Tacos and Fried Green Tomatoes. The Queso Blanco is exactly what it sounds like, traditional Texas-style queso cheese with crispy tortilla chips. Delicious and creamy, I am not surprised this one is a favorite. The Branding Iron Rings come with adobo ketchup and chipotle ranch, both of which I couldn’t get enough of. I love my sauces and these gigantic onion rings were the perfect opportunity to keep dipping. The Mini Elk Tacos had spicy elk picadillo, caciotta cheese, grilled corn pico, cilantro crema and micro greens. They were a unique twist on a traditional appetizer. Finally, who can ignore Fried Green Tomatoes. I’ve only had these once before and it was when I made them myself. Their FGT are local beer battered and served with avocado green goddess and gremolata. TASTY!

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After one too many recommendations, I ordered the Smoked Fried Chicken, a specialty at The Ranch. It’s served with warm roasted marble potato salad, cornbread and coleslaw. Not a potato salad fan, I asked to sub mine for the Buttermilk Chive Whipped Potatoes which they were out of at the moment and so I had the Cadi-Mac’N Chz instead. Much to my satisfaction, they were able to whip up a batch of those potatoes to deliver within moments that I received my meal! Talk about a carb overload.

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Here’s what I have to say about the Smoked Fried Chicken. It’s definitely a unique dish and I don’t recommend taking it home because it’s not the same left over. The chicken is smoked and then fried for the best of both worlds. The flavors are super intense so if you’re not already a fan of smoky flavor, this might not be for you. I personally LOVE smokiness so this was right up my alley. Add the super crunch from the fried skin and you’ve got an almost perfect dish. They give you a ton so I wouldn’t be beneath splitting this with someone if the opportunity arose again. As for the sides, no words. Texas knows how to whip up bomb mac n’cheese. Creamy noodles were topped with buttery, crispy breadcrumbs. It was absolutely divine. And I’m really glad I lucked out on the mashed potatoes because they were probably the creamiest I’ve ever had.

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Dessert was memorable for sure. When you have a wonderful hostess who insists on ordering the entire dessert menu, it’s obvious you’re in good hands. We all tried small bites of each treat for a well-rounded dessert course. And when I say that I tried a bite, I really mean a bite. I was about to burst by the time dessert came. For chocolate lovers, the Old Fashioned Chipotle Chocolate Layer Cake with Sweet House ice cream was decadent and rich with an interesting subtle spice to it but balanced thanks to the vanilla. Country Style Fried Pies gave a true taste of the south. The filling changes to use seasonal ingredients. Ours were apple which was fine with me. You know? I didn’t know what a fried pie was until this particular Texas visit. I hadn’t even heard of them before.

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Next up, another southern favorite...the Route 66 Pecan Pie with praline caramel and a cinnamon crust, served with Sweet House ice cream. Pecan Pie will always be one of those desserts that I will only eat one bite of. It’s so sweet that I feel like I need to dive into a bag of potato chips immediately afterwards. That’s not to say it’s not tasty though! My fellow tour guests who grew up with pecan pie even loved it. The Haywire Homestead Cake is The Ranch’s take on carrot cake from local harvest made with molasses buttercream and spiced pecans. It’s a very rich version of carrot cake with several layers but it’s surprisingly balanced well. Carrot cake is one of those desserts that I’m warming up to the older I get and this particular number is at the top of my list.

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Finally, last but very not least, my personal favorite: the Berry Bundt. It would make sense considering it’s the lightest dessert that we had, fruity and not overly sweet or rich. A classic bundt cake with mixed berries is topped with a lavender cream cheese glaze that is out of this world. The lavender gives the cake an interesting twist with a subtle floral flavor. It’s really quite tasty and this is most definitely the dessert I’d order when I return. Unless of course their seasonal dessert happened to be a cobbler or something else of interest.

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Other than their bountiful lunch, dinner and dessert menus, The Ranch additionally has an impressive craft cocktail, wine, beer, and spirits menu. I had a Riesling with my meal along with several tall glasses of water and a delightful coffee with dessert. The service was friendly and accommodating. The atmosphere is casual yet sophisticated and welcoming. It’s the perfect spot to come with a group of friends, for an intimate date, or even with family. I’m very fortunate I had the opportunity to take part in the Irving press tour to enjoy this restaurant because I may not have found it myself!

April Spotlight

Well, April…I think we can all agree you’re moving a little too fast. How is Easter already past? How has spring been around for nearly one month? I mean, it’s even harder to believe since as I write this I’m wrapped in a blanket and wearing moccasin slippers. Time is certainly not a friend when it decides to fly by. The first quarter of the year is over and while a lot has been going on behind the scenes, I’m more excited for quarter two because you guys will finally get the chance to start seeing all the things I’ve been working on. Until then, let’s get to April’s Spotlight!

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FROM AROUND THE WEB
Obsessing over Joanna Gaines’ latest collection at Target…

Intrigued by this new cookbook subscription service similar to Spotify but for foodies…

Great tips for things you should do before every international trip…

Can’t stop listening to Elton John’s Revamp and Restoration playlist

Dreaming of a new kitchen design. I don’t know how I became obsessed with farmhouse but I can’t get enough!

Down to the wire on your taxes? Take a look at these do’s and dont’s for freelancers…

With my friends starting to scatter around the world, finding new ones has been an interesting new journey…

It’s finally time to start planning road trips! Here’s a little inspiration to get rolling…

And while we’re on the topic of travel, I’m starting to feel the burn to hit up a list of trips to take before thirty…

Finally, while taking those trips, make sure to get the best photos possible

TOP RECIPES
[from top left]
Baby Greens with Chicken, Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, & Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Chicken Parmesan Sliders
Hosting a Girls’ Night In - Taco Fiesta!
Mini Lamb Meatballs with Quinoa & Roasted Veggies

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WHAT I’M UP TO
We’re currently in the process of painting and rearranging bedrooms which means I am in need of a few things! I’m looking for a new desk chair which has been a fruitless year-long search. I’m also looking for new bedding. I’ve tired of what I currently have and am looking for something simple yet chic. I like neutrals and cooler colors in particular so if you have any suggestions, send them my way! The main color of my bedroom will be Magnolia’s Panna Cotta which is a silvery white. It’s SO pretty. The trim, closet and accents will be Magnolia’s Cupola.

In other news, I’m also on the hunt for a car. This is a pretty big deal since I’ve never owned a car before, never really having the need for one. I have a few particular models in mind that I’d prefer but we’ll see what happens. Share any of your car buying tips in the comments below because this girl could use all the help she can get. With a new car on the horizon, I’m finally starting to plan some travel! This year, instead of longer trips I wanted to take smaller ones over long weekends that require...wait for it...a car! I have a long list of smaller towns and cities that I’ve been wanting to visit but hadn’t been able to since renting a car always seemed such a waste of money and I didn’t have a car of my own.

Tonight I’m going to see Pretty Woman at the Oriental Theater! It’s the pre-Broadway premiere of the musical based off the of the movie everyone loves with Julia Roberts starring Samantha Barks. You may recognize her from the movie version of Les Miserables playing Eponine. My friend and I are hitting up Roanoke for dinner beforehand which means there will probably be plenty of Instagram coverage if you’d like to follow along on our girls’ night out!

WISH LIST
Finding the need for a larger stockpot that’s not cast-iron and this one from Ayesha Currey’s collection at Target fits the bill…

Obsessed with these open-toed ankle booties in Taupe and these sandals both from the LC by Lauren Conrad collection…

Patiently awaiting the real spring weather so I can break out a few dresses. Currently loving this one from Anthropologie

Looking forward to the best part of spring - accessorizing!