I found heaven in London....

I had the chance to go back to London a few weeks ago. This is the beauty of having a boyfriend who lives there. That's about the only perk of a long distance relationship that I can think of, I'm grateful it's London and not the middle of nowhere USA, not grateful for the expensive airfare and 6hr time difference... but that's for a different kind of blog post.

This time I told him I didn't want to do too much touristy stuff, I wanted to live for 10 days like a Londoner [not sure if that's a word.]

Sunday morning it was a bright sunny day so we wandered over to east London to check out the Columbia Road Flower Market. Ladies,  l a d i e s. If you love flowers, let. me. tell. you. this place is HEAVEN. I have never seen anything like it. Rows of amazing flowers  at least two blocks long. And the peonies, oh the peonies. Peonies make me happy in this almost creepy way, like I go into this euphoric state and can't stop smiling. This is a must see when you visit London. It runs every Sunday year round from 8am. 

Another great find was a shop + cafe called Pittfield. The troll dolls display pulled us in, but once inside all I could think was, man I need an excuse to re-decorate an apartment in London!




A Green Gift Idea

Sometimes you need a gift for the girl (or guy) who has everything. My friend Blair recently moved in with her fiancé. They have a brand new place in a brand new neighborhood and when two worlds combine like this, space is at a premium so I didn't want to get them anything blukly. Plus, they're getting married this summer so they've already registered for whatever household items they need. Bringing a nice bottle of wine is fine, but I don't know a good wine by the label, I either like the taste or I don't. It could be a $10 bottle of wine or a $100 bottle of wine and I bet I couldn't tell the difference. 

In this case, I opted for something a little different, a house plant. But not any house plant, cacti! I went to the store and saw so many beautiful house plants, especially now that it's Spring. I thought the cacti were the coolest of the bunch. Plus I thought they'd go with the sort of industrial/lofty feel of their new place. I found a cool three-plant pot and then picked out the most colorful of the cacti and planted them when I got home. All in all a success. It's a great gift, affordable, everyone should have plants in their home, and cacti are virtually impossible to kill. Check out my gift and some other inspiring cactus/succulent gift ideas below:

images via: Andrea & Pinterest.com

Addiction

Hi my name is Andrea, and I'm an addict. It's true. You may think this sounds extreme, but I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I can hardly go an hour with out looking at my phone, and if I do it's because I am forcing myself to leave it in the other room in a pathetic attempt to "unplug." Recently on a family vacation where cell service was not easy to come by, I noticed the other 20somethings on the trip and myself would practically jump for joy when we arrived somewhere with FREE WIFI! A few of the adults were excited about it as well, and all in all we looked like a sad bunch, anxiously posting photos, texting friends, and checking email. That's not what family vacation is supposed to be about, we were supposed to "unplug", talk to each other, and enjoy our gorgeous tropical surroundings. I find myself having to make a conscious effort at dinners, or while on a phone conversation even, to stop myself from the powerful urge to "check my phone," feed my addiction. Rationally, I know it doesn't matter and nothing catastrophic has happened in the past 20 minutes, but it's this need to be connected.

I am going to try to make some changes to ween myself off my devices. I don't want to feel controlled by them. I was thinking on my next trip of just leaving my iphone at home during the day, but then I thought.... I'll miss my camera, the ability to find directions easily, look up a menu at a restaurant, etc. Do I really need any of that? maybe not. Maybe I will try and re-learn how to grab my Cannon camera to snap a quick shot, ask someone for directions, and walk in to a restaurant and ask to see the menu. I'll keep you posted on my journey.

Do you ever feel like an iPhone addict? Any plans to try to change your habits? #wereinthistogether

Easy Like Sunday Morning

So I've spent the past 36 hours trying to get my life organized. I've made progress, so this morning I took some time to treat myself to a chocolate croissant, a bowl of freshly sliced super sweet strawberries, homemade iced coffee, and list making. I needed to remind myself that I am perfectly capable of making delicious coffee at home, as I've gotten out of the habit and left that up to Starbucks & King Cafe the past two weeks. I also got some tulips, hyacinth, and carnations to keep me company this weekend, I always try to have fresh cut flowers around on the weekends. I pulled out a notepad and I've been making lists all morning, it's kind of my thing. One is a list is of blog posts I want to get up here, so please come back, there will be fun new stuff coming over the next few weeks! 

It happened....

So here I am, 21 days from my last post and feeling the guilt. I was afraid, before I started blogging, this would happen. I got super out of my routine pre/post spring break trip and really need to get my self back on track! Tonight I'm going to an event with my fellow Windy City Bloggers and hoping that spending some time with them will inspire me to get back on the wagon. I've got some upcoming posts in my head, just need to make the time to get them down, and out to you guys so please don't give up on me quite yet!

In the meantime, my thought of the day, never have truer words been spoken.

BRB - A

Pre-Travel Beauty Routine [we're going there]

Before heading out of town, especially on Spring Break, there are a few beauty treatments I swear by.
1. Eyelash tinting: yes, this is the process of dying your eyelashes. It may seem silly to some, and to those of you blessed with naturally black lashes, unnecessary; but for me it is so worth it! I have been using Latisse on and off for a few months now [thanks to a free sample from my friend Lauren] and my lashes are definitely fuller and longer than ever. However, because of my natural hair color, the ends of my lashes grow out almost blonde and disappear against my skin tone. Dying my lashes dark black really shows the fullness and length with no mascara needed!
Thats not to say I don't pile it on when heading out for the evening, but tinted lashes are a really great alternative to "waterproof" mascara at the beach during the day. [think no more raccoon eyes]
It's also great if you're going to be waking up next to a certain someone, who of course thinks you're even more beautiful with no makeup... I promise he'll never no you dyed them, but he will comment on your gorgeous eyes!

2. Alright, here we go.... waxing. Ouch! I know, it makes me cringe a little just thinking about it. However I have found a method that makes me cringe far less than before. Introducing Sugaring or Sugar Waxing! Ladies, this method has been around for centuries in Middle Eastern countries, I seriously don't know how they've managed to keep this secret for so long. This method is totally natural, much quicker than waxing, and dare I say it... less painful. It still hurts. It will always hurt to rip hundreds of hairs from your nether bits, we simply must accept this. But I promise you this system is so quick and leaves your skin smooth and pain free post-treatment. [my underarms + Brazilian wax were done in about 15 min.]
Yes, I said my underarms. I am telling you, this is the best thing you can do before a beach vacation or a wedding [brides, hear me.] Waxing your underarms not only leaves them smooth as a baby's bottom, there is no stubble, it removes the dark tones so your skin looks even and clear [a huge plus for photos of you rocking out on the dance floor, waving your hands from here to there.] Yes it's annoying to grow it out a bit, but SO worth it!

I am now ready for a week in the islands.... is it Friday yet?

Spring Break Prep

It's the end of March in Chicago and this morning when I was walking to work the "feels like" temp was 13°. So now all I can think about is getting out of here to somewhere warm and tropical! I am very excited about my next trip, it's a place I haven't been in over 10 years and I have been dying to go back ever since... The British Virgin Islands! While I prepare for this getaway, I'm going through my fave beach ware pieces in my closet as well as coveting a lil'somthin new for the trip:

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1.  I love these airy pants by Becca. I got them before last year's mexico girls trip and they were perfect for lounging around it, providing a bit of coverage but still super light.

2. My fave sunnies by Celine, and I love them in tortoise. I think they looks so rich in this color and are a fun alternative to the 'big black sunglasses' look.

3. Floppy straw hat to keep the sun off my face and chest - needed! I'm still in search of the perfect straw hat with just enough flop. [suggestions welcomed]

4. Lifeproof iPhone 5s case - needed! With this case you can apparently take photos underwater! It makes me nervous to try, but I am considering it. I have such a love for photography I would love to be able to snap some shots of the giant sea turtles and other under water creatures we saw last time, but I'm not sure I'm willing to risk the life of my beloved iPhone. [Anyone have experience with this product?]

5. I have become a freak about keeping the sun off my face and sunscreen is a m u s t. I was introduced to the CeraVe products by my dermatologist about a year ago and now I swear by them. Their day cream has spf30, perfect for daily use, and their night cream is light but super moisturizing. Best part? You can find these gems at Walgreens!

6. Ok so these were a splurge... Last spring I kept seeing fashion bloggers I follow with the Chanel espadrilles, and I was majorly coveting them. I found myself in the Neiman's shoe department and was about to pull the trigger when I saw these lovely lace espadrilles by Valentino and I immediately changed my mind. Theses bad boys are the perfect spring/summer shoe and I can't wait to take them to the warm sunny islands.

A Lucky Treat

The one and only Sprinkles Cupcakes gave the girls and I a sweet sneak preview of their St. Patty's Day treats coming to Chicago this weekend only! As Chicagoans know, St. Patrick's Day is a really big deal around here. Irish blood or Irish for the day, this city goes all out to celebrate. The bars and pubs open really early and many offer breakfast with your green beer, and then around 10am the city dyes the Chicago River green! Post-parade the city is basically chaos from north side to south side, green is everywhere you look!

Anyone going to a St. Pat's party needs to bring these delish cupcakes as a treat: Green Velvet (a holiday themed take on their classic Red Velvet) and Irish Chocolate which has Baileys Irish Cream in the frosting, that's right, booze and cupcakes!

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My 5 Favorite Travel Apps

Before every trip I now plan time to get "tech-ready." This means preparing all of my electronics for the trip. Depending on the scale of the trip this can either mean taking a minute to make sure I have my phone charger, or can take some serious planning like making sure I have made room and downloaded movies for flights and chosen helpful apps to enhance my experience. There are literally tens of thousands of travel related apps out there and I am always reading about something cool I want to take with me on my next trip. As I find those I will start listing them here on the blog, but for now, check out a few of my favorite must have travel apps!

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1. Packing can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be. I am a list maker, and if you are you will love this app, and if you're not, well just try it anyway because you're probably disorganized. (Travel List) A Few things I try to remind myself when I'm getting stressed about packing: 1. You will not see the same people besides the people you're traveling with so, yes, you can wear stuff more than once, 2. Unless you're leaving the country, you can pretty much get anything you might forget at home wherever you're going, ie: toothbrush, phone charger, socks... and it won't be the end of the world. Unless you're going to Europe and you forget your bra, in my case, that would literally be the end. of. the. world. 3. Once you've packed, take out 5 things you really don't need, you'll thank yourself when you have to lug that giant suitcase around on your trip!

2. This app is pretty straight forward, and also super helpful. Track your flight, connection, a friend's flight, you name it. You can also set up text alerts to notify you of takeoff, landing, and delays . FlightAware Flight Tracker App

3. Offline Subway Maps are so important when traveling! I use public transport way more when traveling than I do here in Chicago (admittedly) and a lot of the time underground subway, or high roaming charges make it impossible to use standard imaps or google maps. Downloading an Offline Subway Map of the city you're visiting is the best way to stay on track in these situations. (Paris Offline Subway Map App)

4. Oh Trip Advisor... How I love thee. Let's be honest, there is no better way to judge a restaurant or hotel than by previous customer experiences. This app is the mecca of reviews on on everything travel related and is so great not only when planning your tirp, but also while you're traveling. Sometimes your hotel concierge will give you a great restaurant tip, but a lot of times they send you to whomever is greasing their palm best that week, and if you have to pay off the concierge you probably aren't attracting locals with your great food. Use this app to find great attractions as well, and tips like the best times of day to avoid long lines. (Trip Advisor App)

5. So if you travel a lot, or a little, you will likely be trying new restaurants, seeing new sights and exploring new territory. Then, you get home and a few months later your buddy from work says, hey i'm going to [wherever you were last], can you recommend anywhere to eat or stuff to do? and your face goes blank. The Everplaces App not only helps you keep track of your favorite [and least favorite] places visited on your trip, but helps you organize them into categories with photos! Ok, so maybe the organizing and the photos excite me more than most, but seriously, try it out if you're going somewhere cool so you can share your adventure with me!

Bon Voyage!! 

Calligraphy Party [Read: Nerd Alert]

Yes, there is such a thing as a Calligraphy Party. How do I know? Because I hosted one. Maybe the first ever. But definitely not the last. My friends Christine [viewfrom5ft2.com] & Blair [thefoxandshe.com] inspired me to take up calligraphy as a hobby. I love being crafty and I can't draw for sh*t so I thought maybe this was a way for me to keep one of my New Year's resolutions and make time for being creative every week [hence, this blog.] Anyway, it's a relatively inexpensive hobby to pick up, the nibs [pointy metal tips] and pens [aka nib holders] are usually less than a few dollars each and the ink is less than five dollars a pot on average. Other than that all you need is some paper, some inspiration, and some time. While I'm still not very good, and not totally sure I ever will be, I find it really relaxing and kind of get lost in it. All of a sudden I have a few pages of my notebook covered in words and phrases [ie: Mrs. Andrea DiCaprio] written over and over. If you're interested in getting started, here are a few great links Christine shared with me:
http://besottedblog.com/directory
http://www.paperinkarts.com/
 

I also hosted this little gathering because I love playing the hostess, any excuse to cook and get out my champagne glasses.
The menu for our Sunday brunch was:
Spinach & Goat Cheese Quiche
Croissants + Blueberry muffins
Fruit Salad
& Tangerine Mimossas (duh.)

Spinach, Tomato, Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken

I'm always trying to come up with quick, easy, week night dinners. My goals are usually, less than an hour start to finish, and as few ingredients as possible. I hate, h a t e, cleaning up after making dinner, so I figure the fewer ingredients I use, the less cleanup there will be. Does that make sense, maybe not but just go with it.

The other night I wanted something healthy, hearty, and that would make for good left overs for the next day. I threw together some of my favorite flavors in an adaptation of a shrimp dish I used to make all the time. See recipe below:

Spinach Tomato Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken:

1 butterflied boneless+skinless chicken breast (your grocery meat counter will butterfly it for you)

1/2 cup fresh baby spinach leaves

1oz. goat cheese [plain or herbed]

1/2 clove fresh garlic

1 small vine tomato, sliced

1 tbsp EVOO

Salt + Peper to taste

Toothpicks

Prep: preheat your oven to 350 degrees

Always rinse raw chicken and pat dry before beginning the cooking process. Lay the butterflied chicken breast  out and layer on garlic, tomato slices, goat cheese and spinach. Dash of salt and pepper here, if you like.

Next, have your toothpicks ready to go: gather the edges of the chicken and bring them together, using toothpicks to hold the edges together where needed.

Oil your oven-safe cooking dish and place the stuffed chicken in the oven for 30min. (Use a cooking thermometer to be sure the chicken is at least 140 degrees at it's thickest point to be sure it is cooked enough.)

While your chicken is cooking it's a great time to throw together your side dish, salad and/or my delish mashed cauliflower [in place of potatoes]!

Tip: Stuffed chicken sound like more work than you're up for?  [we all have those nights] Just baked a chicken breast at 350 degrees for 30 min, put the spinach, tomato + garlic  in a sauté pan until spinach is wilted and flavors come together [5-10 min based on your preference]. Serve over mashed cauliflower with spinach sauté and crumble goat cheese on top if desired. Leftovers make a great chicken sandwich for lunch or dinner the next day!

London [Part 1]

I visited London for the first time ever this past January. I went for a week to celebrate my birthday + New Year's Eve with a friend of mine who lives there, and I had THE BEST time! I have travelled a lot, and can't believe this was my first time to London. As with any major metropolis, it's impossible to see everything in just 7 days, but I think we covered pretty good ground. We also spent 3 days out in the countryside [which was as magical as I imagined it would be.]

First on my list, after my not so secret love for all things Royal Wedding + Kate Middleton, was Buckingham Palace. My friend/tour guide had never been there and he's from the London area and has lived in the city for over 15 years! I was so excited to see this iconic palace, and if I'm being completely honest, it was a complete let-down. I was expecting gilded greatness and all I got was a boxy grey building. Needless to say we moved on quickly.

Next was my very fancy birthday lunch at Cessoni's, which I highly recommend! We sat at the bar, and the restaurant had the coolest buzz/vibe going. It was the afternoon of New Year's Eve and you could tell everyone was in a good mood and relaxed. We split the burrata [some of the best I've ever had] as an appetizer, his first time trying it and it was a hit. Between that and the rosé champagne I was one happy girl. Fast forward to that evening, after a quick stop off at a local pup for a few drinks, we made our way up to the top of Hampstead Heath, the tallest point in London located in a serene park. From there we had the most amazing view of all of the fireworks going on around the city! 

The next day we had to pick up our rental car, which I was in charge of driving, since apparently no one in London drives so sooome poeple don't get their license's renewed. Being a self proclaimed adventurer I was up for the challenge of driving in the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road. I was so cool calm and collected, until two blocks from the rental car lot where I took the a parked car's mirror off. Let's just say I can laugh about it now, but in the moment it was traumatizing!

Being out in the English countryside was everything I wanted it to be: fields of sheep contained by stone fences. We spent the days walking the fields and the evenings in the charming pubs we discovered on our walks. I hesitate to call our hotel a hotel because it was an old manor turned into a sort of bed+breakfast type place. Incredibly charming, and it didn't hurt that they upgraded us to a suite [how? one of my number one rules of traveling...]

Back in the city early that Saturday, because the stupid Enterprise office closed at noon. On a Saturday. Don't get me started with them. They were horrible through out the entire process. So anyway, back in the city early on Saturday, we were able to make it to a delightful tourist spot: Portobello Market. Located in Notting Hill [yes, I found the bookshop and took a pic] this street market spans a dozen or more blocks of vendors selling everything from antique tea sets to junky I heart London t-shirts, etc. This area is known for the antique dealers and part of the fun is weeding through the crap to find some real treasures! We spent all afternoon just strolling around looking at everything, it was great. By mid afternoon we were starving and stumbled upon a real find, the Electric Diner. He had "the best burger of his life" and I had a really gooey really tasty grilled cheese. He didn't stop talking about that burger for a solid two weeks after. Just yesterday I was remembering this meal and googled the diner only to find out it has a major Chicago food connection! Apparently the same mastermind behind Au Cheval is behind the Electric Diner burger, that explained a lot! Amazing food aside, let's be honest, the second I overheard some fashionista claim that this is where Angelina Jolie eats when she's in town, I was sold.

On my last full day in London we walked. We walked more than we had walked any other day of the trip, which seemed impossible. I had to see Big Ben, Westminster Abby, Tower Bridge and everything in between. It was a great day to walk and see the sites and the rain held off on us. At the end of the night we found a restaurant's patio equipped with heater lamps, candles, and cozy blankets to wrap up in. Needless to say it was a romantic spot to overlook the Thames and Tower Bridge while sipping the best mulled wine I've ever tasted! 

Until next time, London!

[Next time I'm in London To-Do list: Museums, Indian food, Electric Cinema, Crown Jewels, any other suggestions?]

A Pretty Work Space

I have made some tough career decisions in the name of freedom, but they have come at a price. Rather than working 9-5, I am sort of "on-call" 7 days a week from morning to night. The benefit? I can do 90% of my work from anywhere. Today, as most Mondays, I was working from home. When I'm home it's still hard for me to prevent myself from getting distracted. In order to keep myself on track I always make sure my work environment is welcoming and clutter free. Today I brought these beautiful roses from the dining room table to my desk to brighten up the space. If someone could send me two dozen roses every week, that would be great.
Now, any other tips on how to limit my distractions?

Transient

Creamy Mashed Cauliflower

As an alternative to mashed potatoes [one of my favorite foods] I have also been making mashed cauliflower. This recipe makes for a smooth and creamy side dish that goes great with just about everything. Because it's lighter than potatoes it's a great to pair with warm comfort foods that can be heavier.

Creamy Mashed Cauliflower:

1 medium sized head organic caulifower

1/2 cup milk [use skim, 2% or whole based on preferred level of creaminess]

1/3 cup low fat sour cream

1/2 clove fresh garlic

salt + fresh ground peper to taste

Blender

Prep: Steam cauliflower, I use a silicone steamer basket in a pot, super easy to use, clean and store. Add about an inch of water to the bottom of your bot, put in the steamer basket, throw in the cauliflower, put on the lid and bring the water to a boil. Let it steam 5-7 minutes, you want it to be soft but not mushy when you take it out. Add the steamed cauliflower to your blender with the milk and garlic and blend until smooth and creamy. If you need to add more milk do so and blend a bit more, because each head of cauliflower is different you may need a little more or less milk depending on the consistency you want, common sense cooking, you get it. When done blending, poor mashed cauliflower into a bowl and stir in sour cream and add salt + pepper to taste. Vioila! a delicious and creamy side dish done in minutes.

Current Colour Obsession

So I have been looking for a bridesmaid dress for my friend Anna's Mexico destination wedding this fall, and we have been asked to find a short coral beach-wedding appropriate dress. She's going for sort of an ombré look, very beachy. Ever since my search began I have been so drawn to this beautiful shade! I seriously can't get enough of it. So much so that I am planning a big DIY project based on it. Stay tuned for more on the fabulous colour.

[Does it make me sound fancier when I spell colour the British way? Good, that's what I was going for.] images via: Pinterest

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He Saw His Shadow

So apparently that pesky little groundhog saw his shadow, which means 6 more weeks of winter. I think this is all relative to where you live, because as a Chicagoan, I can pretty much guarantee that we'll have chilly weather through April. That in mind, I'm following through on my New Year's Resolution to GET and STAY organized. I travelled so much last month that I hadn't quite started the organizing process until today. Admittedly my Christmas tree just came down this afternoon (put down your judgement, please.)
Anyway, out with the old and in with the new! I've brightened up the focal point of my main room with gold & pink accents for Valentine's Day. These colors remind me that sunshine and warm weather are on their way & that we're in the home stretch!
How do you transition from winter to spring? Am I too early??

Transient
Transient
Source: http://www.beyondtheavenue.com