Category Archives: Personal

A Weekend at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

I’ve had a love affair with tulips for a long time and seeing the tulip fields in Holland has been on my bucket list. Imagine my wonder and surprise when Instagram alerted me to the fact that there are fields of tulips to be frolicked in right here in the USA! Last year I saw pictures of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington State and immediately knew I had to go. It was so much closer than the Netherlands—plus, a trip to the Pacific Northwest would mean lots of great hiking and seafood (win/win). So last April, I planned a long weekend getaway to Washington State.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, La Conner, Washington

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and La Conner

Picking a date for our visit was tricky because there’s really no way to know in advance when the tulips will start to bloom. It would be much easier to visit if you lived in the area, but as a visitor planning from the East Coast, I just had to pick a date and cross my fingers that the tulips would be waiting for me. The festival usually runs for the entire month of April, so I figured picking a date in the middle would be safest. But since we had such a warm spring last year, we actually ended up catching the very tail end of the season! We were very lucky that some of the fields were still in bloom—another week and they might have all been gone.

We flew into Seattle, grabbed our rental car and then headed straight to La Conner for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. There are two large tulip gardens in addition to fields of tulips all throughout the valley. You can see the fields from your car, but the gardens are definitely worth a visit for the best photo ops and to see a huge variety of tulips up close. We liked the formal gardens at Roozengarde, but the fields at Tulip Town were better.

After exploring the tulip fields, we headed to the Wild Iris Inn in La Conner where I ate the most delicious cookie of my entire life. Seriously, best cookie ever. We really loved this inn—our room was comfortably decorated and included an electric fireplace and a porch with an outdoor hot tub. It was so relaxing to fill up the hot tub and soak with a view of the fields and mountains. We walked into La Conner and had dinner in the pub section of The Oyster and Thistle, which was right up our alley.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, La Conner, Washington Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, La Conner, Washington Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, La Conner, Washington

 Deception Pass State Park and Coupeville

Next morning, we drove to Deception Pass State Park for some hiking. We did two trails: Lottie Point to see the namesake Deception Pass bridge and Rosario Beach to explore the tide pools and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. We parked at the Bowman Bay picnic area near the fishing pier, which allowed us to take the short hikes in both directions. We spotted a deer and two bald eagles on our hike.

After our day of hiking, we drove to Coupeville and checked in to the Blue Goose Inn, another quaint and lovely bed and breakfast. This inn served me the best breakfast I have ever had at a B&B. Maybe it’s because I’m eating mostly Whole30, but I noticed that the cook used a ton of coconut products and the breakfast was practically paleo without me even asking! It was two courses (!) including a homemade chia seed pudding to start, followed by local organic scrambled eggs, maple-glazed bacon and coconut pancakes with a coconut syrup! Amazing.

We explored some of the shops and galleries in Coupeville and walked along the riverfront and enjoyed some of the region’s famed mussels at Front Street Grill.

Deception Pass State Park, Rosario Beach, Whidby Island, Washington Deception Pass State Park, Rosario Beach, Whidby Island, Washington Bald eagles in Deception Pass State Park, Rosario Beach, Whidby Island, Washington Deception Pass State Park, Whidby Island, Washington Deception Pass State Park, Rosario Beach, Whidby Island, Washington Blue Goose Inn, Coupeville, Whidby Island, Washington

There are so many other amazing places I wanted to visit in the PNW. Can’t wait for our next trip.

A weekend at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, with stops in La Conner, Coupeville and Deception Pass State Park

Our Northeast Charm Wedding in Maine

Hi guys,

You may have noticed a little bit of radio silence and that’s because…

Caitlin & Andrew's Northeast Harbor Wedding | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Brett & Jessica Photography

I got MARRIED!

About a month before my wedding, I decided I needed a little break from blogging. Because the month before your wedding is when ALL your vendors desperately need your attention to confirm every last detail and talk through every contingency. So in order to have the energy to focus on my full-time office job as well as the finishing touches of my wedding, I just did not have the mental capacity to update this space as well. But here I am and here’s my wedding update! Warning: It’s going to be a long one!

A lot of people asked me how Andrew and I chose Maine as our wedding destination since we’re not from there. The answer is that in the second year of our relationship, we took a trip to Bar Harbor together and fell in love with it (and which each other, duh). Afterwards, we talked about making a trip to Maine a yearly tradition and both strongly felt it was something we wanted to do. As a couple, we love a balance of traditions (like camping every fall or going to the beach for Fourth of July) and exploring new places in our travels. So every year since, we’ve gone to Mount Desert Island together to hike in Acadia National Park, enjoy lobster at Beal’s Lobster Pound, play mini golf at Pirate’s Cove and sip local brews in Bar Harbor.

Our wedding venue was the Asticou Inn, a gorgeous historic inn that’s been open since 1883 and overlooks Northeast Harbor. It has the classic New England charm we wanted to share with our guests from around the country, from its floral wallpaper and antique furnishings to the Adirondack chairs on the lawn. They also happened to have the perfect event coordinator for me. While I did all the planning and design for our wedding, Sue from the Asticou handled the day-of logistics and truly did an amazing job of executing. I realized early in my wedding planning process that I didn’t need an event designer. I knew exactly what I wanted our wedding to look and feel like—I just needed someone to carry out that vision so I wasn’t arranging place cards or directing lighting installation on the day of my wedding! Sue was perfect for that.

Every wedding will experience a hiccup or two, and we were very lucky to have only very minor ones. The first happened on Thursday afternoon, when my maid of honor Meryl texted me to say that the Bangor, Maine, airport was temporarily closed due to a plane stuck on the runway. This caused delays and cancellations for a few of our guests and ended up resulting in my mom and brother not getting in on Thursday as planned and missing the dinner at our favorite lobster pound on Thursday night. And while that really, really sucked, air delays and travel issues are just a natural part of a destination wedding. If 100% of your guests are traveling to your event—as was the case with our wedding—there are going to be issues, and you just have to be ready for that. The important thing is that everyone makes it to the wedding, and my mom and brother arrived Friday afternoon with plenty of time to spare.

Friday morning is also when Andrew and I realized two things about getting married we hadn’t anticipated: (1) Getting married is like being a D-list celebrity. Everywhere you go, people wave at you, smile at you, want to hug you, etc. (2) Pursuant to number one, when getting married, you must budget 15–20 extra minutes into literally everything you do to spend time talking to guests who see you and want to talk to you. Someone will see you while you’re carrying your breakfast to your table and start chatting and hugging you and your breakfast will get cold if you do not extricate yourself. So those are my two nuggets of wisdom for you.

Our wedding welcome dinner was Friday night at the Lompoc Café in Bar Harbor. We called it a “welcome dinner” rather than a rehearsal dinner because all of our guests were invited. This is common etiquette for a destination wedding when all guests travel to the event. We chose the Lompoc Café because we wanted our guests to have an opportunity to check out Bar Harbor and we wanted a very casual vibe, with people mingling, ordering drinks from the bar and catching up. The Lompoc has a rustic cabin feel and there’s a covered, heated porch as well as an outdoor seating area with bocce ball. It turned out to be a great venue and guests mingled while enjoying delicious pizzas and salads made from seasonal local ingredients.

I have to take a moment to compliment our amazing wedding photographers, Brett and Jessica Donar. We did a photo session together in Acadia National Park, they shot our welcome dinner and then our whole wedding day. We could not love the pictures more. Brett and Jessica were laid-back and easy to work with, and their direction was totally natural. I felt comfortable with them right away and I think it shows in the pictures.

Andrew and I spent the night before our wedding together. Though I know the tradition is for brides and grooms to spend the night apart and not see each other until right before the wedding, that honestly didn’t appeal to me at all. I wanted to spend the night before and morning of my wedding snuggling with him, talking with him, being excited with him. Anything else would have felt weird.

The morning of the wedding, we encountered snafu number two. I had ordered custom table signs on Etsy that were supposed to be paintings of places Andrew and I had been together. The vendor, Lefty Lady Chalk Shop, had told me she was shipping the signs to the inn, but then a week before the wedding she stopped communicating completely and never sent the signs. I held out hope till the day of the wedding that they would magically show up in the mail…but they didn’t. (The Lefty Lady Chalk Shop has since disappeared from Etsy and Etsy refunded me, but this girl basically got away with it and never gave me an explanation.) My bridesmaids and I were forced to think on the fly to come up with a solution. I mentioned that I had black and white rough draft pencil sketches from the artist on my computer and my bridesmaid Marisa got to work cleaning them up in Photoshop, printed the signs in the inn’s front office and delivered them to Sue. All of my bridesmaids told me they thought the versions we made turned out even better than the final product would have been, but I was just grateful to have such supportive, helpful friends. The value of amazing bridesmaids!!

Around noon, I sent my Mom down to the tent to check on how things were looking because I knew she would be the perfect person to direct the look. She’s an amazing hostess and her house and table always look like something out of a magazine. When she came back up, the first thing she said was “Caitlin, the flowers are amazing.” I knew if Mom loved the flowers we were in good shape because her house is always full of them. A few minutes later the florist, Annie of Broadturn Farm, arrived with our bouquets and we got a taste of how beautiful they would be. The bouquets were full of vibrant fall colors—reds, yellows, purples—and all kinds of texture, including fallen leaves and eucalyptus. They were gorgeous.

Meryl helped me get into my dress, which was the Watters Beilin lace sheath with cap sleeves. I also wore my grandma’s fur wrap—her brother was a furrier and made it for her and it has her name embroidered on the inside. It was really special to me to incorporate her into the wedding in some way because she passed away a few years ago and we were very close. I also wore an emerald heart bracelet from my Mom as my something borrowed. It was so special to wear pieces from these two important women in my life.

We did bridal party pictures at the ceremony site, which gave me a chance to sneak into the tent and see it decorated for the first time—it looked amazing, honestly so close to image I had in my head. The long farm tables were left bare to let the deep wood show and then a garland ran down the middle with flowers and candles woven in. Each place was set with white china and accented by a vintage green goblet set on top of a custom coaster I created. The makeshift table signs looked great too. In one corner of the tent was a seating area with a deep green velvet couch and three antique armchairs in gold and green. In the center of the tent was the band stage and dance floor and on the other side was a rustic wood bar draped with a garland and the dessert table. The dessert table turned out totally over the top. We had cakes and pies from a local bakery, cookies from a Youngstown bakery and Momofuku in New York, and our family’s traditional dessert, kolache, homemade by my aunt and dad.

Before the ceremony, my bridesmaid Michele had asked me if I thought I would cry and I said I didn’t think so. I felt calm. I was doing great…until Andrew said his vows. Then I broke down and cried all through my own vows. The officiant actually started crying too! Afterwards all of our guests asked us if we knew her and said they had never seen an officiant cry at a wedding before! We used this set of vows that I found a few months before the wedding. I just immediately connected with the language—it was exactly what I wanted to say and captured how I feel about love and commitment. I shared them with Andrew and we agreed they were perfect for us.

After the ceremony, we took a few last pictures together. We followed a little trail behind the inn down to the shore and I jumped through mud in my wedding dress to get out to a rock so we could get a shot of us right on the water. Then we headed to our cocktail hour (more like hour and a half) so we could finally party! We specifically planned the cocktail hour to be a bit longer so we would get to enjoy some of it.

Around 6pm, the guests headed down to the tent, which was set right by the water. It was really, really hard for me to pick a first dance song, but we finally chose Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” which I think was perfect for us. We are really silly together and loved getting to laugh and smile and sing to each other while we were dancing to this. Throughout the night people commented to me on how great Silver Arrow Band was. They had amazing energy and two killer singers as well as a horn section (my personal must-have). Their range was also incredible—they played jazz at cocktail hour and music across the decades and for all ages at our reception. They are all young music students and graduates trying to make a living in the music business and their passion really shows in what they do.

About halfway through the night a bonfire was lit and that became a gathering place for people who wanted a quieter spot to sit and talk. At one of the band breaks, I saw Sue rush in and ask them to make everyone go outside the tent for a surprise. It was fireworks! My Mom and Dad had arranged them for us without me knowing! The fireworks were shot off from a boat in the harbor and honestly at one point I thought the boat was on fire. It was the perfect ending to an amazing weekend.

For those planning your own Maine wedding, my full vendor list is at the bottom of this post. I highly endorse all these people; they were amazing to work with! And feel free to email me with questions about any of them or planning a wedding in Maine—I’m happy to help!

The Asticou Inn. Our Northeast Charm Wedding in Maine | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Brett & Jessica Photography The Asticou Inn. 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Wedding venue: Asticou Inn | Photography: Brett & Jessica Photography | Flowers: Broadturn Farm | Rentals: Wallace Events | Vintage rentals: A Family Affair Maine | Band: Silver Arrow Band | Hair and Makeup: Echo Salon | Transportation: Acadia Transportation Services | Officiant: Malen Hsu of All-in-One Weddings | Rehearsal dinner venue: Lompoc Cafe

A Spa Day Bachelorette + Tea Party Bridal Shower in North Carolina

The first week in August, I traveled to North Carolina for my friend Jae’s wedding. Jae got engaged in April and pulled off an amazing wedding in only four months (and on a budget too)! Now, she has specifically asked me to clarify that a four-month engagement does not mean the bride is pregnant!! Since both she and her now-husband Jason are teachers, she really wanted to get married during summer vacation when she would have a lot of time to devote to planning and could just enjoy the event. And waiting over a year just didn’t seem right for her. Planning a wedding in four months seemed impossible to me, but Jae absolutely made it look easy. I was blown away with how easily she pulled everything together. But I shouldn’t have been—Jae is like the most organized, proactive person in the universe. Her wedding was beautiful and everything came together perfectly.

But Jae’s short engagement did mean that we didn’t have time to dedicate a full weekend to bachelorette festivities…so we decided to pack everything into her wedding weekend! That meant a bachelorette on Saturday, a bridal shower on Sunday, and the wedding on Monday! (One of Jae’s pro tips for getting married on a budget: Have a Monday or Friday wedding!) At first I was nervous about trying to do so much in one weekend. Honestly, I was worried that I would be totally burned out by the wedding reception. But it turned out to be fantastic! I think the key was that each of our events had a very different energy: we had relaxing spa time, a high-energy bachelorette night, a classy tea party. All of the events were so different and I thought we had the perfect balance of relaxing, socializing and fun!

I started the weekend with a plane delay that made me about an hour late for our bachelorette spa day. I have to give credit to the amazing team at Balance Day Spa in Greensboro. I had basically missed my massage time slot, but they were able to move some of their appointments around to make sure I got a 30-minute massage. And after a rough morning of air travel, I SO needed it! The spa is lovely and relaxing, with a peaceful lounge area in the women’s locker room where we set up a mimosa bar and other refreshments. After our massages and manicures, Jae surprised us with thoughtful bridesmaid gift bags. Each bag included a monogrammed silk robe to wear on the morning of the wedding, monogrammed clutches and (my favorite) a personalized framed memento of our friendship, in which she shared some of her favorite memories with each of us. The gifts were so thoughtful—there were definitely a few tears shed!

A Spa Day Bachelorette in North Carolina | Ultimate Bridesmaid A Spa Day Bachelorette in North Carolina | Ultimate Bridesmaid A Spa Day Bachelorette in North Carolina | Ultimate Bridesmaid A Spa Day Bachelorette in North Carolina | Ultimate Bridesmaid A Spa Day Bachelorette in North Carolina | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Monogrammed bridesmaid robes A Spa Day Bachelorette in North Carolina | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Personalized bridesmaid gift A Spa Day Bachelorette in North Carolina | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Personalized bridesmaid gift

Afterward, we headed to dinner in downtown Greensboro at Liberty Oak, then back to the hotel for a bachelorette slumber party. Jae wanted a low-key night with her girlfriends with lots of laughing. We tried to incorporate a lot of Jae’s favorite things into the weekend—for instance, Harry Potter and FRIENDS. For her bachelorette favors, I found these awesome House Bride Harry Potter themed tank tops. Not only did they look great, they were also super comfortable—and the seller even rushed the order to get them to me on time. They were perfect. We started up a marathon of FRIENDS wedding episodes (half of the wedding party can quote FRIENDS on command) and played a few bachelorette games, including the fiance quiz, a bridal mad lib and a wedding version of 5 Second Rule (stay tuned for more on that).

The next morning, we hosted a tea party shower in the lobby of the O.Henry Hotel, which was also the venue for Jae’s wedding and where we were all staying. I cannot compliment this hotel enough. The service was superb. The night before, I must have called the front desk 10 times for different things—could we have a DVD player brought up, could we have a wine opener, oh no one of us is locked out of our room, oh no we can’t figure out how to make the DVD player work! Seriously, if I had any problem, I just called the front desk…and they fixed it for me. They were so generous, thoughtful and helpful. They really made our stay perfect.

For the shower, we served an afternoon tea for Jae’s friends and relatives, and played a “how well do you know the bride” game. Each guest left with a sprinkle party favor with a handmade tag you can download here. We also asked all the guests to bring Jae a recipe on a personalized recipe card and it was so fun to see the different recipes she got. They completely matched the personalities and tastes of the senders, from quinoa salad to ice cream bar cake. (My own contribution was a spice blend I use on everything…and yes, it’s Whole30.)

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Finally, I’ll share a little peek of us getting ready on wedding day in our monogrammed robes!! O.Henry Hotel Wedding | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Bride getting ready at the O.Henry hotel O.Henry Hotel Wedding | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Bridesmaid getting ready at the O.Henry Hotel in a monogrammed robe O.Henry Hotel Wedding | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Bridesmaid getting ready at the O.Henry Hotel in a monogrammed robe O.Henry Hotel Wedding | Ultimate Bridesmaid | Wedding party bride and bridesmaids getting ready at the O.Henry Hotel

Congratulations, Jae!!!

My Charleston Bachelorette Weekend

I recently celebrated my bachelorette weekend in Charleston with my best girls and I am still buzzing with excitement. It was absolutely the perfect bachelorette for me, full of relaxing beach walks, classy specialty cocktails, delicious Southern cuisine, a little bit of dancing and hours talking and laughing with the ladies I love most. You can find my complete list of recommendations for a Charleston bachelorette at the bottom of this post.

The Details
I met up with my MOH Meryl and bridesmaid Michele at the Charleston airport Thursday evening and we headed straight to dinner at Leon’s Oyster Shop, a cool, eclectic space downtown that specializes in oysters and fried chicken. After a delicious meal, we made a pit stop at the grocery store to stock up on the essentials—aka copious amounts of wine, an entire watermelon, and breakfast foods—while we waited for the rest of the ladies to arrive. (Side note: We ran into what was clearly a bachelor party on the boy version of our grocery trip, filling one cart with beer and a second with canned chili.) Our home for the weekend was the Wild Dunes resort on the Isle of Palms. Meryl’s aunt and uncle own a three-bedroom beach cottage there and were so, so generous to offer to let us use it. It was absolutely perfect—gorgeously decorated in beach-chic blues and whites and the perfect size for our group. They even had party cups and a stuffed shark to act as our weekend mascot!

Meryl put together adorable Charleston-themed gift bags for all the guests and Michele was almost instantly dubbed art director for the weekend when I found her artfully arranging the items for a photo. And she did an amazing job styling our photos for the rest of the weekend! Personalized cup in the sand? Her idea. Constantly shifting us around to get good light? She was on it. Though assistant art director Lexy is responsible for the sand writing 🙂

Friday morning, after sleeping off way too much wine, the girls made an amazing breakfast at home and we headed out to the beach for a stroll, followed by pool drinks and snacks at the Wild Dunes Grand Pavilion. It was just a little bit too chilly for sunbathing or swimming, but it was still lovely and the perfect time to catch up, which is just one of the best parts of a bachelorette weekend. Fellow bride Jae and I got to compare notes on our upcoming weddings. I’m pretty in awe of her—she planned her wedding in four months whereas I will be coming up on a year of planning! Definitely more to come from her summer wedding soon!

After a very important power nap (what, we’re old!), we started the evening at Poogan’s Porch, which serves modern twists on Southern classics (I had the crab and shrimp linguini because, hi, learned my lesson from wine on night one: carbs needed!). All of Meryl’s restaurant choices and the schedule she planned for the weekend were amazing and spot-on me. This is probably the only vacation I’ve ever taken in my life where I haven’t planned one thing, Yelped one restaurant or pulled up Google Maps once in a fit of “where the heck do we go next.” It was heaven! Next, we had drinks on the roof of the Vendue and then headed to Trio for some dancing, where the DJ was spinning 90s jams as if he knew we’d be there (plus, JT’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” because I’m obsessed right now).

Saturday was my bridal shower brunch, and beforehand my friends planned a scavenger hunt for me in our beach house. Each clue was written by my bridesmaid Amanda, who is the queen of cute poetry and emoji usage—she created the poems for our popular wine basket shower gift. The clues led me to the shower gifts, which were all travel-themed, referencing places Andrew and I have visited together. The last clue led to my shower, hosted by my amazingly generous friend Nichole, in the back garden of Eli’s Table in Charleston, where we enjoyed a hearty brunch and some much-needed mimosas in the Charleston sunshine. I was so touched by the thought that everyone put into the shower—it was so personalized to Andrew and I and resulted in me making many silly faces while opening my gifts!

After our outdoor brunch, we were in need of a little AC time. Luckily, Nichole had wisely made a midday reservation at The Gin Joint. Because what’s the best thing to do after you finish two pitchers of mimosas? Have a specialty cocktail, duh! The Gin Joint makes cocktails for you based on a selection of words on the menu, so I asked for a “fizzy and refreshing” drink and received an awesome combo of gin, muddled strawberries, lime and ginger beer. Maybe one of my favorite spots we stopped in Charleston!

Next, we took a stroll along the waterfront of downtown Charleston and through the historic quarter to get a look at Charleston’s rainbow-colored homes. The city really has so much charm and there’s a gorgeous garden or wrought-iron gate around every corner. To end our weekend, we headed over to nearby Sullivan Island for a dinner of wood-fired pizzas and on-tap cocktails at the Obstinate Daughter. I cannot believe how fast the weekend flew by, and I already miss my girls. But I’m even more excited for my wedding this October!

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My Bachelorette Guide to Charleston

Stay
Wild Dunes
: We were lucky enough to have access to a house, but Wild Dunes has tons of vacation rental properties as well. The beachfront community has tons of pools, a golf course, tennis, dining—it’s a really wonderful home base with a lot of Charleston charm.

Eat & Drink
There are so many amazing restaurants in Charleston—you can hardly go wrong. We loved:

  • Modern twists on Southern classics in a historic Charleston home at Poogan’s Porch. Try the shrimp and grits and the fried green tomatoes.
  • Brunch in the back garden of Eli’s Table. Their hearty meals and pitchers of mimosas are perfect the day after a night out. 
  • Fresh oysters and fried chicken at Leon’s Oyster Shop. We loved the eclectic vibe of this joint.
  • Wood-fired pizzas at Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island. Try the Old Danger pizza topped with pancetta, mozzarella, a white sauce and a farm egg and one of their cocktails on tap.
  • With creative cocktails like The Studmuffin and The Debutante, The Gin Joint makes for a perfect happy hour stop. We especially loved the “bartender’s choice” option.

Wear
My bridal shower look: Dress | Shoes

Give
Our Charleston bachelorette gift bags: Polka-Dot Totes | Custom Party Cups | Bride Tribe Sunglasses | Koozies: Best Day Ever & I Wanna Party | Mini Champagne Bottles | Charleston Chews

Thank you a thousand times…
Meryl Dann: COO/Team Captain | Michele Fogel: Art Director | Amanda Leith: Creative Director | Jae Haley: Stylist | Lexy Harrison: Medical Advisor/Asst. Art Director | Nichole “If You Won’t Do It, I Will” Burnap: Chief Instigator

My Favorite Reads of 2015

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I had a book review blog. And then I started this blog and it was just too much. Though I was still reading just as much as ever, I couldn’t keep up with Ultimate Bridesmaid and work a full-time job and have a life and blog about books. So my book blog fell by the wayside, but I certainly didn’t stop reading and I definitely didn’t stop having opinions about what I read. I even tried to write a really long recap post of every book I read last year, but it was exhausting. So finally I just decided to share a selection of my favorite reads from last year with you. 

My Favorite Reads of 2015

If you’re looking for something totally different, try The Bees by Laline Paull
Tired of reading about how messed up we humans are? Take a break from the cares of the human world with this book told from the perspective of a lowly worker bee. You immediately get sucked into the captivating but alien world of the hive as Flora 717 struggles to find her place. Born a sanitation worker, she stifles an unnatural urge to have a baby, the sole duty of the hive’s Queen. I ended up learning a lot about bees while also being totally engrossed in the Handmaid’s Tale-like struggle of one bee to rise above her birth.

If you already miss Downton Abbey, read Below Stairs by Margaret Powell.
This kitchen maid’s memoir inspired both Downton Abbey and the older television show Upstairs, Downstairs. Margaret Powell went into service at a young age and eventually rose through the ranks to become a cook. Her exploits include trying to find a nice young man to marry at any cost and her work in several houses across England gives a broad picture of the different circumstances servants endured. Her voice is so witty and fresh and she does a marvelous job of having a laugh at the goings on both upstairs and down. I sped through this book. Reminded me a lot of Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, another really chatty and fun little memoir.

If you’re looking for a vacation read with substance, try The Vacationers by Emma Straub.
Sometimes you’re in a space where you need a certain book and The Vactioners just fit the time in my life when I read it. It’s a little bit like The Corrections lite, but with better scenery. It may have officially renewed my desire to go to Spain, but it’s by no means a fluffy beach read. Behind the stunning portrait of Mallorca is a family in crisis: Franny and Jim are dealing with the fallout from his workplace affair with a much-younger woman, their daughter Sylvia is hell-bent on losing her virginity before she heads to college in the fall and their son Bobby is trying to find a way to ask his father to bail him out of debt from a pyramid scheme he’s sunk his savings into.

If you love dystopian novels, try Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel.
I might have said I was getting a little worn out by the dystopian genre, but then I read Station Eleven and realized I was just tired of poor renditions on that theme. Station Eleven manages to take well-trodden territory and make it fresh. Part of its appeal is the unique premise: a group of minstrels moving through the post-apocalyptic wilderness trying to maintain their humanity by performing for survivors.

If you want a fun, light beach or plane read, try Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t read all award-winning serious literature. Sometimes I just needs something easy breezy and fun. Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians fits the bill, opening a window on a world I knew nothing about: the lives of the super-rich Asian JetSet elite of Singapore. Kwan grew up in this world, so his stories are by no means exaggerations (in fact, he claims he toned it down a little bit).

If you love historical fiction, read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
Wolf Hall manages to add something to the conversation about a period of history that’s been absolutely papered with fiction. I’ve read a lot of books about the reign of King Henry VIII, but this is the first to be told from a perspective outside the royal family (Thomas Cromwell is the novel’s focus). It’s also the first fictionalization of this time period I’ve read that isn’t dominated by the romance, seduction and gender politics of the court. Though that’s certainly still an element of the story, both the religious revolution and feudal struggles for power are given equal weight, which forms a more interesting (and probably more realistic) picture of what was going on in Henry’s court.

If you’re looking for a tragic romance, try Euphoria by Lily King.
A really lovely book with a captivating, unique premise. Euphoria is set in the thirties at the very dawn of anthropology as a science. Established anthropologist Andrew Bankson has made a name for himself studying the Kiona tribe in New Guinea, but feels utterly alone in the field. He meets a young couple, Nell and Fen, who are just starting out in their research and immediately latches on to them in hopes of companionship and maybe more. Bankson helps Nell and Fen find a nearby tribe to study, but it become clear to him over time that Fen feels threatened by his wife’s natural affinity for working with native peoples. Fen’s professional jealousy combined with Bankson’s growing attachment to Nell leads the threesome down a dark road.  

My Favorite Whole30 Recipes

I recently completed my first Whole30! You can read a complete recap of my experience (the good and the bad) here, as well as my results and check out all the details of the program here. Here, I’m sharing my favorite recipes from the Whole30, as well as my approach to cooking for the week.

My Favorite Whole30 Recipes

My Whole30 Approach & Weekly Cookup

I don’t mind eating the same thing every day for breakfast and lunch. I think this would bother some people, but for me it’s totally fine. So for my Whole30, I would cook my breakfasts and lunches for the weekdays every Sunday. For breakfast, I would have a hard-boiled egg and half an avocado with black iced coffee. This is a little bit of a light breakfast for Whole30, but I found it to be the right amount for me. Some days I would have the whole avocado or an extra egg if I needed more fuel. For lunch, I would have roast chicken breast along with roasted vegetables, which I would vary week to week (carrots, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli rabe, etc.). I’d also bring an orange or apple to work to have with lunch or as a snack and would always have a Larabar in my purse (my favorite flavors are Carrot Cake and Coconut Creme Pie). Then, when I got home I would make dinners (though we would usually have enough to have leftovers one or two nights a week).

Weekends were the exception and honestly were harder for me than the weekdays. I think I do well with routine and weekends break routines. Since we don’t have a weekend wake-up time, there’s no set breakfast time. And since each weekend day is different, it’s harder to plan out in advance what you’ll eat. Still, I muddled through. Andrew and I would make awesome breakfasts (my favorite below) or go out to breakfast (by far the easiest meal to eat out on Whole30). One other thing that helped me out was doing the Whole30 in January, a month that’s super antisocial (hi, biggest snowstorm in NYC’s history). We hung out with friends a few times, but it was mostly at their house or ours, so it was pretty easy for me to stay on track.

One challenge was that my work friends wanted to throw a little birthday celebration for me. Our workplace is big on birthdays and it usually includes a breakfast of bagels and smears, an afternoon cupcake treat or a pizza lunch. Obviously, all those things were out for Whole30. I had told my coworkers about my Whole30, so they were aware and supportive and asked me what I would recommend for my birthday celebration. I came up with the idea of ordering in tacos from a great local tacqueria (that makes everything from scratch) and just ate my scrumptious chicken taco bowl with lettuce, salsa and guacamole.

Here are a few of my favorite meals from the Whole30: Continue reading

My Whole30 Experience and Results

My Whole 30 Experience and Results

I first heard about the Whole30 on one of my all-time favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess. Elsie’s post about her experience is well worth the read and a lot of things she said really resonated with me. At the start of her post, she talked about how frustrated she was that exercise never led to weight loss for her. She said:

One of the biggest things I have learned is that fitness and weight loss aren’t the same thing, and they don’t necessarily come hand in hand…[When I was training for a marathon] I was definitely feeling stronger and more disciplined than ever before in my life. I was running long distances leading up to the race (five miles, then six, then eight, then ten….), and it was a great experience! But I did this at my highest weight ever. And I’m not going to lie…it was frustrating in some ways because, even though I felt accomplished and fit, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t lose any weight. —Elsie, A Beautiful Mess

That. Is. So. Me. I could not put it better. I had recently been feeling really betrayed by my body. I had felt as though I was doing the things you are supposed to do: being mindful of what I eat, pushing myself to exercise more and better, but with little to no result on the scale. Over the past two years I made it a goal to up the amount of exercise in my life. I woke up an hour earlier every day and went to the gym four to five times a week before work. I was running faster and longer and my flexibility and strength were better than they had ever been in my life thanks to yoga and Pilates. I could feel muscles forming, I knew I was getting stronger, I had more energy—but I was not losing weight. Far from it—if anything, I gained weight. Now don’t get my wrong, focusing on increasing exercise to my life was NOT a mistake. This routine has become an integral part of my life and I’m 100% grateful for this. Moving your body every day is a good thing, no question about it. But the fact that I was putting in all this time and work and my clothes were fitting WORSE, not better, was very, very discouraging. Why was I waking up early every day, trudging through the rain and snow to the gym, if the result was just that I needed to size up in my pants?!

I also ate what I felt was a pretty healthy diet, mostly by cutting out grains and legumes during the week and limiting when I added dairy like cheese or milk to a dish. I rarely indulged in sweets. But I definitely made exceptions; my rules weren’t hard and fast. I looooove cheese. I regularly indulged in wine or my favorite drink, gin and seltzer with lime (seltzer! it’s healthy, right?!). I felt that indulging in a fancy cheese plate once every two weeks and a glass of wine or two (or more) a night was what I deserved for all the hard work I was putting in. I was willing to restrict things, but I wanted to live a little too, right?! But “living a little” often turned into total derailment on the weekends: let’s have bagels in the park this morning, football time, I’ll just munch on a few of those fries at the bar while we drink a few beers and watch the game, whew, what a day, I’m tired, should we order a pizza?? Drinking led to bad eating decisions as well—hello, cheese drawer, my old friend—and I’d wake up the next morning feeling disgusted with myself. I’d throw myself back into my restrictive eating to try to make up for my misbehavior.

Once I started reading about Whole30, I liked what I saw. You can read all the details for yourself here. I liked that the program was very clear. Some people might be put off by how restrictive it is, but to me this is one of the benefits. Plans that allow you to save up “points” for “treats” just do not work for me. Cheat days do not work for me. I think this is because it’s really psychologically confusing for the body. One day you may have saved up enough calories to have that slice of lasagna. The next day, you can’t. I don’t think your body and mind truly understand that difference. It’s also a very negative loop. Either you’ve “been good,” so you deserve the treat, or you’ve “been bad,” so you can’t have the thing you want. Whole30 has none of that. Foods are approved or they are not. There’s no “this week you can’t have dairy but next week you can have a little bit.” For the 30-day program, you either can eat it or you can’t.

I also liked that Whole30 involves no math. There is no calorie counting. There is a meal template that shows you basically how much protein, vegetables, fat and fruit should be incorporated into a meal, but it’s a rough guideline. As long as you are eating approved foods, you are following the program. You are doing it right! You are also not starving yourself on Whole30. Because you are eating nutrient-dense foods and filling up on them, you not only have more energy, but you don’t get hungry as quickly. One of my mantras while dieting used to be “if you feel hungry, that’s good, it means it’s working.” NOOOOO. No, that was so bad.

Whole30 is also psychologically healing and supportive in a way that most diets are not (they claim to be, but they are not). It sets you up to eliminate guilt. The program is strict for 30 days, but after that, your choices are your own. You can choose to reintroduce the foods you missed—or discover you don’t miss them as much as you thought. The goal is to break bad food habits and addictions you’ve developed, develop new clean eating habits and then give you a baseline health to which you can incorporate the things you love. I know I’m not going to live a life without cheese. That’s just not going to happen because cheese is heaven. But Whole30 gives you a way to eat cheese AND NOT FEEL GUITLY. It helps you get to a place where you don’t need cheese. And this applies to whatever your dragon is: sugar dragon, pasta dragon, pancake dragon, pizza dragon, cheese dragon. Continue reading