The Long and Skort of It

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My job consists of helping people pick out clothes all day. It’s safe to say that by the end of my shift I am just about crawling out of my skin with the need to go shopping myself. An alcoholic would probably know better than to work in a bar, but here I am trying to make a career out of my addiction.

So Friday after work, I decided to trek to Nordstrom Rack in Burlington just to ‘take a peek.’ Well, that peek turned into a two hour frenzy. I know this sounds absolutely insane, but sometimes I have an out of body experience while shopping. Like a person with a full time job and lots of money has possessed me. I think the fitting room attendant wanted to murder me by the end of my shopping spree. I eventually snapped out of La La Land (sort of) and discarded the 270 million items I was holding. I got my loot down to two pairs of shoes, one blazer, and one skort.

I have this unwritten rule that if a rack is annoyingly overstuffed and I’m losing patience, I only look at the items in bright colors or cool patterns. It’s like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” but for clothes. That’s how I found this skort – although it’s black and white, the palm print caught my eye. I’m sure someone out there will roll her eyes when I say it’s Michael Kors, but if I like something, I don’t care if the brand is “in” and you shouldn’t either! Heck, one of my favorite workout outfits is from Walmart. No shame in my game.

I wanted to get some shots of the skort since I don’t have a social life to show it off during, and Katie is leaving her very-short-lived blog photographer position to go back to Florida. We had our final lunch date at Life Alive (obviously) and snapped some photos in the streets of downtown Lowell. I’m so cultured now.

I styled the skort with my gladiator sandals that garner me equal parts compliments and dirty looks and a top from Marshall’s that has had the tags on in my closet for three years. I told my mom I’d get around to it eventually! I swapped my extremely heavy Kate Spade purse for Katie’s adorable Alaina Marie clutch. Alaina is a Maine based designer whose bags are now sold by J.Crew!

To make a long story skort (still long, sorry) the best type of buy is a bargain. Thanks for putting up with me, Nordstrom Rack!

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From Chunky Monkey to Fit Chimp

As much as I try to acquire a taste for yogurt, it hasn’t seemed to happen yet. It’s such a convenient and healthy snack, but something about the taste and the consistency just doesn’t work for me. I love frozen yogurt, of course – anything with unnecessary sugar added to it usually agrees with my tastebuds. IMG_0019

The other night I was craving a sweet treat for dessert without cheating too much. I could’ve gone for some Ben & Jerry’s, but instead I scoured the cabinet for some add-ins to make the lonely Greek yogurt in my fridge more palatable. I decided to put my own spin on the iconic Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor “Chunky Monkey.” With that I present to you…

Fit Chimp Yogurt 

– one individual container of plain Greek yogurt (I used Chobani)

– one heaping teaspoon of peanut butter (I used Teddy’s)

– one teaspoon of honey

– a few almonds

– more than a few chocolate chips 😉

– 1/4 of a banana

– I mixed in a sprinkle of Stevia because my sweet tooth is off the charts

Mix it all together and you’ll forget you’re eating yogurt! I didn’t have the patience to wait, but I’m sure this would taste delicious frozen as well.

This treat is definitely not monkeying around.

Book Review: My Paris Dream

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I constantly dream of packing up and moving to Europe. (Maybe not the packing part, actually, considering one of my biggest anxieties about said dream is how I would transport all of my clothes.)

During the winter I downloaded an app to help me relearn the French that I’ve forgotten since my high school days. I’ve spent countless hours looking online at jobs in London to avoid the language barrier, but there seems to be this weird thing called a visa that employers don’t want to have to worry about.

I’m lucky enough that my parents began taking us kids to Europe when we were little, so I developed the travel bug at an early age. Sadly, though, one of my most vivid memories of my trip to Paris was waiting in line at the Parisian McDonald’s in awe that hot dogs were their biggest seller. Kids will be kids, I suppose.

I’ve always wanted to return to the magical place as a twenty-something, especially since Paris and I have the same thing at the center of our universe: fashion. That, and fresh baked goods.

I didn’t return to Paris while I was abroad in Barcelona simply because there were so many other places I wanted to see. I thought it would be silly to revisit a place rather than check another off of my list. What I’ve realized since, though, is that people with the travel bug experience a constant battle between returning to the places we fell in love with or exploring new territory. Sure, it’s possible to do both… if you are the heir to an oil conglomerate. Cha-ching.11-my-paris-dream-cover.w529.h793.2x

For now, I try to satisfy my wanderlust with books. One of my favorite novels of the past few years is The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a fictional take on the life of Ernest Hemingway’s wife, Hadley.

So when I came across My Paris Dream while hunting for a new read, it was a no brainer. May as well read about someone else’s Paris dream while I’m haunted by my own, right?

The author, Kate Betts, has spent twenty-five years at the top of the fashion journalism industry. She worked closely with Anna Wintour at American Vogue and it was rumored that she was in line to be her successor. In a dramatic twist, Betts left to become the youngest ever editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar. She has since worked for Time magazine and published two books.

My Paris Dream rewinds to Betts’ college graduation from Princeton. She is eager to step out from the shadow of the generations of family before her that all followed the same path. Her self-description at that stage resounds with me now: “I wasn’t a rebel in the usual sense of breaking rules, but I had a hunger to learn something about myself – what that was, I didn’t exactly know.” She decides to jet off to Paris in the hopes of establishing a career in journalism. At first, she has no interest in fashion. Then, she lands a job at Women’s Wear Daily. Swoon.

Betts chronicles the trials and tribulations of adjusting to Parisian life as a young American on her own. She reveals the eccentric and cutthroat style of John Fairchild, the infamous publisher and editor in chief of WWD and the founding editor of W Magazine. Betts’ experiences read like the much more sophisticated, cultured older cousin to America’s Devil Wears Prada. While she isn’t asked to obtain the Harry Potter manuscript for her editor’s children before it is released, there is an unspoken assumption that she will put her friends, family and lovers on the back burner whenever duty calls. And duty calls often.

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Betts and Lagerfeld

On the flip side, Betts’ blossoming friendships with now worshipped designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent are enough to make a reader’s eyes bug out. The relationships weren’t superficial, though. Betts met with Louboutin as a favor to an intern – she describes feeling sorry for the aspiring designer, whose big idea at the time was to cover heels in fish skin. She wrote a small blurb about the designer because he was such a likable person. As for Saint Laurent, Betts describes him as “living proof that putting yourself in a foreign context – real or imaginary – is often the best way to see yourself more clearly.”

As a fairly recent graduate with dreams of fashion, writing, and Paris, Betts’ coming-of-age tale left me with a strange mix of hope and dejection. The best memoirs do, though. Her story isn’t one of sipping café au lait on a picturesque city corner without a care in the world. That isn’t what life is like. I appreciated her candor in that her success didn’t come cheap.

Towards the end of the book, Betts leaves us with a poignant idea: “If you have a wish for something from a young age and you nourish it, if you continually make an effort to nurture the wish and stay connected to this dream, then you will live a fulfilled life. If you believe in something, it invests everything you do with meaning.”

Here’s to all of our ‘Paris dreams.’

Bananas for Nutella

A few weeks ago, I received back to back notifications on Instagram. For a second I thought the app was malfunctioning and had tagged me in the same item twice. I then realized that two of my best friends had tagged me in the same @ChocolateCoveredKatie post: Homemade Nutella Banana Bread Muffins.

Guess I’m predictable, huh?

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I have a dangerous relationship with Nutella. You could cover just about anything in the spread and I would eat it up in two seconds flat. This winter, I had to ultimately ban myself from buying jars of it at the grocery store, because they would just “disappear.” It was like I had a little Nutella-addicted elf raiding my pantry. Turns out it was just me.

It doesn’t take a nutritionist to figure out that Nutella isn’t exactly the healthiest thing on the market. Let’s just say that it’s a good thing you have to walk a lot in Europe – otherwise I would’ve gained 50 Nutella-induced pounds in my four months abroad.

So when I saw Chocolate Covered Katie’s post for a healthy, homemade version of the infamous spread, I could’ve cried with relief. And then to stuff it inside of a muffin? Genius.

IMG_9883I encountered an unexpected challenge, though. I couldn’t track down any hazelnuts! Well, more like my mom and brother couldn’t during their respective grocery store trips. Hey, I can’t do it all. Since the third time is a charm, I got myself to the local Whole Foods. They have everything under the sun, so I figured it would be a no brainer. But even that trip took me a while. There are three nut sections, and I only found one hazelnut option buried in the last section. I thought hazelnuts were pretty mainstream…but I guess they’re all chillin’ in the Nutella factory.

The small, two-cup container of nuts cost me $8. I debated putting them back and putting that money towards my mani/pedi fund, but I’d been dreaming about this recipe for so long that I had to make the sacrifice.I think they call that perfection.

Once I got home and reread the Healthy Nutella recipe, I realized I had to roast the hazelnuts and then take the skin off of them. What had I gotten myself into? The roasting was straightforward, but the skin removal felt like it took me years. By the time that was finished and the muffin batter was made, I was ready to retire to my room to read my new Cosmo.

I continued anyway, and began the process of mixing the spread in the food processor. It takes a while to turn nuts into a buttery substance, and I thought my Dad may kill me if I interrupted the ESPYs one more time with the obnoxiously loud processor. Sweets over sports, as they say. Alright, maybe they don’t say that.

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Chocolate Covered Katie hadn’t posted a cohesive recipe – she posted one for the muffin portion and one for the Nutella portion, but I wasn’t sure about the stuffing step. I googled “how to stuff muffins with Nutella” and surprisingly got a lot of hits. I placed one layer of muffin batter into the liners, then placed a dollop of Nutella, and topped it off with another layer of batter. It looked like a significant amount of Nutella, but spoiler alert, it wasn’t. When the muffins eventually came out of the oven, I was disappointed to cut into them and see the tiny trace of Nutella inside. So use my Nutella-deprived sacrifice to your advantage, bakers, and lay that stuff on thick.

This is probably obvious, but I used the full-sized muffin option in CCK’s recipe and I omitted the chocolate chips. I’m all about chocolate, but I didn’t want to take away from my hard earned hazelnut spread. I doubled the batter because CCK noted that omitting the chips would significantly decrease the amount of muffins you could get out of it.

I reduced the baking time from a suggested amount of 19-21 minutes to 14 minutes, and the muffins came out perfectly.

I had a ton of homemade Nutella left over even after doubling the muffin batter, so luckily I was able to make up for the small amount of stuffing by slathering it on the muffins. Full disclosure: I added some Nutella to the middle of my muffin before taking these photographs!

Clearly wasn't kidding about the mani fund.

Clearly wasn’t kidding about the mani fund.

I’m a huge proponent of microwaving any and all baked goods before consuming, so I put some extra spread on my muffin this morning and zapped it for 12 seconds. Perfection.

Despite my initial disappointment with the muffin-t0-Nutella ratio and the tedious stripping of the hazelnuts, this recipe was DEFINITELY a winner in my book. My mom thought so, too. These are right up my alley and I will totally make them again. They’d be a perfect addition to brunch and are just as decadent when eaten as a dessert! The best of both worlds.

Go bananas, you nuts.

A Whale of a Time

I’m a whaley big fan of Vineyard Vines.

In addition to the bright colors, bold patterns, and preppy styles, I love the lifestyle the brand represents. The company uses an acronym for their motto: EDSFTG. In longhand, it stands for “Every Day Should Feel This Good.” I couldn’t agree more.

Luckily, the store I work at – Irresistibles in Andover – sells Vineyard Vines. Well, not so lucky for my wallet, I guess. While I was working one day I spotted these amazing shorts and knew I had to have them. Called the “Edgartown Short,” they feature a print of Martha’s Vineyard. It is covered in water, whales, boats, bikes, brightly dressed people, salt water taffy, ice cream, and all the other New England essentials. Most importantly – to me, at least – it has contrasting red lobsters throughout.

Since each pair of shorts is cut differently, I had to go to great lengths to find a pair that featured the right amount of lobsters in the right places. You may call it crazy, but I call it dedication.

I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never actually been to the Vineyard. Yup, I’ve lived in Massachusetts for most of my life and have never made the trek. I have already expressed my resentment with my parents. But now that I’m technically the adult and should be planning my own trips, I can’t afford the insane summertime hotel rates. I guess what I’m trying to say is if you have a house on the Vineyard, give me a call.

For now, I’ll just wear my Edgartown shorts and pretend.
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Huge shout out to Katie McLean for having the patience to photograph me. And for dealing with the technical difficulties we encountered. Believe it or not though, I think she would agree that I wasn’t that much of a diva!

I hope you’re all enjoying lobster, ice cream, and beach time just like the little people on my shorts.

Always remember – every day should feel this good.

I’m In Love With The CoCo

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I never turn down a chocolate candy. I just can’t. It’s part of my DNA or something.

Well, almost never. The only circumstance in which I will shake my head at a sweet, chocolatey treat is if said treat contains coconut. That’s how you know my hatred is STRONG.

Or, at least it was. Growing up, I despised it. Almond Joy? Mounds? What, am I some kind of sociopath?

Then, in college, the whole coconut water trend took over. It seemed like campus was flooded with it – literally. One of my best friends was a rep a coconut water brand, so I decided to give it a try. I have to say I didn’t hate it. Plus, when you’re in college, you will take just about any free substance that’s offered to you.

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I’m no longer repulsed by the idea of a smoothie with coconut flavoring in it (here’s lookin’ at you, Life Alive). I even ate a macaroon the other day, by choice. (Not to be confused with macarons – those I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)

In my quest for healthy baked good recipes, I constantly come across coconut oil on ingredient lists. I was skeptical initially, because I surely didn’t want my brownies tasting like tanning oil. Save that for the beach. Or for Malibu Rum. Whatever floats your boat.

I finally decided to give it a shot, and I’m so glad I did. It turns out there are endless uses for coconut oil. A quick Google search will fill your screen with hundreds of suggestions. And I don’t just mean food suggestions. While I have yet to try any of the super out of the box uses, I did start with a few more common tricks.

1) Cooking…duh.

Had to start with this one. I’ve found that coconut oil spreads a bit more easily in a pan than other oils. It’s also less disgusting if and when it gets all over you and your kitchen. But most importantly, I feel less guilty about overdoing the oil when it’s coconut rather than olive or vegetable. That’s probably completely scientifically/medically incorrect, but my conscience is not a doctor. FYI: coconut oil comes as a solid, but melts faster than you can say ‘pancakes, please.’

2) Sunburn relief.

I know, right? I found this trick online recently when I was searching for tips to prevent a sunburn from peeling. I know the best way to avoid peeling is to avoid the burn in the first place, but sometimes these things just happen. My sunburns don’t tend to last long, but the peeling makes me want to crawl in a hole and never go out in public. After cooling my burn down with some aloe earlier in the day, I lathered myself up with coconut oil. Warning: it’s super greasy and drippy once it hits your warm skin, so have a towel ready. Also, make sure you press “play” on your Netflix episode first so you don’t have to move a muscle.

The next morning, my burn was barely noticeable and felt amazing! Best part? It never peeled. I’ve tried this twice now, so I know it wasn’t just a fluke. MAJOR warning though: Do not put this on a serious burn, or a burn that is still hot to the touch! Oil and heat are obviously a bad mix and can cause blistering. I’m no dermatologist, so take my advice at your own risk. I’ve just had great success with it myself!

3) Silky skin.

Pretty much goes along with the sunburn relief step, but coconut oil is so moisturizing that your skill will feel amazing after just one use. As I said, it can get messy, so be careful. The best solution that I’ve found is to apply the oil shortly before showering. Somehow, your skin holds in the benefits of the oil without the mess. Your skin will feel like silk when you get out of the shower, and will last quite a while. It’s the perfect way to get that spa feeling for free!

4) Luscious locks.

I had read that the moisturizing effects of coconut oil are great for hair. I applied it straight from the jar to my locks and left it on for about an hour before rinsing it off. I definitely made a bit of a faux pas. It didn’t feel like the oil was getting on all of my hair, so I kept applying and applying. I apparently put WAY too much on, because it took two days worth of hair washing to totally get the oil out. Part of the problem is that I put it on my scalp as well, because that’s one of the spots I had sustained an unfortunate burn. HOWEVER, my hair did feel amazing. I think if I had followed the Pinterest community’s tip of simply sticking to the ends and used just a dollop, it would’ve been smooth sailing. Pun intended. The comb went through my hair like a knife through butter, which never happens. Just ask my best friend, Rachel, who had to comb my hair when I broke my wrist. Yikes.

I will be sure to keep you guys posted as I venture further into my new relationship with coconut oil. I’d love to try some of the weirder uses I’ve come across, but baby steps, people.

Stay nutty, my friends.

(PS: photo cred in this particular post goes to Google Images. I am not a renowned, world-traveleing photographer. Yet.)

Live Life Alive

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Life Alive Lowell

Living in the suburbs the past year has had its ups and downs.

Aside from the complete demolition of my social life, another aspect that has suffered is my taste buds.

How many sub shops can possibly be placed within a two mile radius, you ask? As Cady Heron would say, the limit does not exist.

If I never see another greasy sub or crappy iceberg lettuce salad in my life, I’ll be a happy gal.

That’s why I’m so thankful to be so close to Life Alive.

Life Alive Lowell

Life Alive is a cafe that serves organic, locally grown foods. The menu is mostly vegan, which scares some people off. But I promise I’m no earthy-crunchy person, and this is pretty much my favorite place ever. I’m eternally grateful to my brother’s girlfriend Katie for introducing me to it a couple of summers ago!

There are three Life Alive locations in Massachusetts: Salem, Cambridge, and Lowell. I’m by far the closest to the downtown Lowell location, so that’s the only one I’ve been to. The cafe is located in a brick building covered with greenery – Madeline style. As soon as you walk in the door, you’re greeted by a vibrant mural on the wall. On certain nights you enter to a wave of live music coming from the small stage by the entrance. The smell of incense wafts into your nose, and the delicate lighting relaxes you right away.

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You won’t find the decor anywhere else. That’s because most of it is handmade. The tables and chairs are decoupaged with unexpected images. Most of the signs and art on the walls are hand-painted. The bathroom is essentially a greenhouse. That’s right, the bathroom. It even has a tub filled with overflowing plants.

I’ll admit that I was a little thrown the first time I went. The array of all-natural products lining the shelves to the left of the counter seemed foreign to me. Bags of ‘coffee’ made with dandelions? Organic laundry detergent? Hemp protein? I told myself that I didn’t really fit in.

But then you meet the staff. They are the nicest bunch of employees you’ll encounter during your day, that’s for sure. They are all so friendly and knowledgable about all of the food and products offered. I was completely overwhelmed by the extensive menu when I first started going to Life Alive, but the employees were quick to offer recommendations to my indecisive self.

IMG_9670The menu consists of grain-based meals (served as bowls, in a wrap, or half portions), salads, grilled wraps, snacks, soups, and sides. As for beverage choices, there are smoothies, fresh juices, teas, and lattes. The options are endless…yet I order the same thing every time.

IMG_9674The first several months of my Life Alive groupie status, I constantly ordered “The Rebel,” which is a quinoa and brown rice bowl filled with a variety of bright veggies. However, it didn’t take too long before I switched to the “Green Goddess” bowl, and I haven’t been able to stray from it since. It’s a brown rice bowl topped with – you guessed it – green veggies. The key to these dishes, besides the amazingly fresh ingredients, is the SAUCE. I can’t rave enough about it. All of the dishes have a different blend of sauces, but the “Ginger Nama Shoyu Sauce” is the reason I haven’t been able to give up the Green Goddess. If crack was organic, I would swear that it was a main ingredient.

I’ve tried a few other meals here and there, and I can honestly say I’ve never been disappointed. I’m just the type that will order the same thing over and over until I get sick of it. Why fix what isn’t broken, right?

I do switch up my smoothie choices, though. My favorites are obviously the sweet ones: the Elvis Alive (chocolate and peanut butter, duh) and the Chai Alive. I don’t even feel guilty drinking an ice-cream-laden concoction, because the “ice cream” is coconut milk based. The fruity smoothies are amazing too though, for you normal folk.

IMG_9677Along with the all-natural products, there are also dried fruits, vegan cookies and candies available for purchase at the counter. You can even pick out teas to take home.

Considering Life Alive has no idea I’m writing this blog, you can trust my glowing review. Or just check my Twitter, where I constantly profess my love for the cafe. (And they usually tweet back!) One time I even vented via Twitter that someone forgot to include the extra sauce in my to-go order, and they requested that I call my location so they could do something extra for me next time. I didn’t call, because they’re just so freaking nice.

The food is colorful, the employees are colorful, and the decor is colorful. And their motto is “Live Life Alive.” Is there a better match for my Life in Color?

“The Rebel” and a “Love Alive” Smoothie

“The Romantic”

“The Udon Miso Masterful”

I hope some of you will check out one of the three Life Alive locations if you haven’t already! What’s better than delicious, addictive, filling food? Oh, right. Food that’s good for your body and good for the planet.

Take that, sub shop around the corner.