Swooning | February Favorites

Hello, lovelies!

I hope everyone has had an enjoyable week thus far! For my first order of business, I wanted to give a shout out to Elizabeth (Instagram name: elisabetaana) for being the blogiversary giveaway winner! She will be receiving a beautiful Volcano candle soon! Congratulations, sweet girl!

This week’s blog post encompasses the things that I am currently swooning over. With Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, I wanted to share with you the things that I heart. Take a peek at my February Favorites List below (two of which are local to Charlotte, NC). Enjoy!

February Favorites

1. { Hop Cakes from NoDa Brewing Company } If you’ve read my blog before, you will notice that I’ve mentioned NoDa Brewing Company in previous posts. It is a craft brewery located in Charlotte, NC and two of their beers made my top ten favorite beers of all time list (check out that post here). However, I would like to revise the list and add Hop Cakes because NoDa has done it again! I can quite honestly say that I have not had a beer of theirs that I disliked…they nail it every time. But let me tell you about Hop Cakes. It started off as a “NoDable Release”, which is a special, small-batch brew that they change out and feature each Tuesday. However, the popularity of Hop Cakes was significant and rightfully so. Imagine a delicious, double IPA combined with the taste of pancakes. Yeah, I said it. Pancakes. NoDa Brewing Company just released Hop Cakes in cans this month and they’re being snagged up like “hop cakes” (see what I did there?). This will be the 4th beer that they’ve released and distributed in four-pack cans (also check out Coco Loco, Hop, Drop N’ Roll and Jam Session). If you live in the Charlotte area, you can pick up Hop Cakes at your local Harris Teeter.

2. { Shadow/Blush in Hot Mama from The Balm } The first product I purchased from The Balm was the Mary Lou Manizer highlighting powder, which was recommended to me by a friend. I instantly became a fan for life – I loved the product, the packaging and the company mission. Their makeup is certainly not easy to find (it’s not something you can pick up in Sephora or Ulta), but if you have some faith and order online, you will not be sorry! I discovered the shadow/blush merely by accident while I was in Barcelona. My luggage was lost at JFK (fiasco) and I had to purchase clothes, toiletries and makeup since I would be without my own for a few days. I went into a makeup store at the mall in Barcelona and noticed there was a whole display of makeup and skincare from The Balm – bingo! I ended up picking up quite a few products but this shadow/blush – I cannot stress how GORG it is. The peachy/blush color is super pigmented and has a slight shimmer that will make your skin look simply radiant. It is one of those universal colors that looks fantastic on every skin tone.

3. { Rectangle Hand Painted Floral Tray in Yellow from The Little Market } So let me start out by saying, The Little Market is a gem that you must know about if you do not aleady. I’m a avid Lauren Conrad blog reader and discovered this company through her posts. I’ve got to hand it to Lauren Conrad, she is a marketing/branding genius and as someone in the industry, I admire her immensely. Lauren Conrad is actually the co-founder of The Little Market, which is a company that was created to build partnerships with female artisans from around the world and connecting them to customers in an online marketplace. It was cultivated to not only empower women but to provide them with the opportunity to support their families as many of them are in less fortunate situations. The mission itself is so heartfelt and touching and the products? Equally as beautiful. From baby gifts to handbags to home decor – there is truly a little bit of everything. I personally love this dainty, hand painted, pale yellow tray (as well as practically everything else on the site).

4. { Lean In – Women, Work, & the Will to Lead from Amazon } Who doesn’t love a good book? I’ve been blowing through them lately and the one that I just finished up is truly life changing. If you are a female professional, it is seriously your right of passage to read this book by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. It was informative, fascinating and I could not put it down for the life of me. I would even be bold enough to say it was probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. Download it on your tablet or pick up a hard copy from Amazon or your local bookstore!

5. { Jewelry from Melvin from Shop Melvin } I came across this company on Instagram and coincidentally, discovered that they are based out of Charlotte, NC — go figure! All of their accessories are swoon-worthy but I happen to have a soft spot for their necklaces. Some of their products have even been featured on the hit HBO series, Girls. The designers get their inspiration from art, culture and travel and its definitely translated in their lines. I tend to get a very tribal and boho vibe from their designs – love, love, love!

6. { Embellished Armhole Scuba Skater Dress in Nude from ASOSI’m a sucker for a. embellishments, b. a feminine frock, and c. anything and everything from ASOS. Therefore, this dress is a home run! For those of you who are looking for something a little more valiant, it also comes in black.

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Travel | Barcelona Round Up

Well hello, friends!

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get to it, but alas, I have summed up our amazing family trip to Barcelona, Spain! Now trust me when I say, there is no way on earth I have covered all of my bases (we were there for an entire week), however, I think I have provided a pretty concise round up on the city of tapas, cava + siestas!


Arrival

We arrived in Barcelona, Spain early Sunday morning (January 18th). We rented an adorable condo in the city with the most miraculous view.

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{ Inside of our condo }

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{ We’re here – oh happy day! }

Basilica of the Sagrada Familia

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Okay, if you are unfamiliar with Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, open a new tab and Google it right now. It’s listed as the 2nd most popular thing to see in Barcelona on Trip Advisor and rightfully so. Please keep in mind, the pictures do not do this place justice. Here is the rundown: it is a MASSIVE Roman Catholic church designed by the famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. He used nature and art as inspiration to cultivate this beauty. The project started in 1882 and guess what? It is still under construction and not projected to be done until 2030. Gaudí spent his very last days working on Sagrada Familia and his tomb is even in the church. This was such a sight to see – I mean, the intricacy of everything, the gorgeous stained glass windows…it was truly magnificent. Fun fact: we went up to the towers (556 ft high) and then had to take a spiral staircase down – and I shook uncontrollably while my family poked fun at me (afraid of heights, much?).

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{ The hubs and I outside of La Sagrada Familia }

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{ Mi familia }

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{ The detail on these doors – I mean…WOW }

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{ I have an obsession with stained glass }

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{ Glorious stained glass windows }

Boqueria Market

Okay, so I was told that the Boqueria Market was a must see when traveling to Barcelona. I thought to myself: Why? A market does not sound all that exciting. Wrong! This place is not like any market you have ever seen. When I say they have everything, I mean…they have everything! From candy, to all varieties of fresh seafood imaginable, to sheep heads (no, I’m not joking), to veggies, nuts, dried fruit and our ultimate favorite – an infinite variety of fresh squeezed juice for just a euro. We kept going back to the juice stand like crack junkies. As soon as I would finish one, I would purchase another. Papaya, coconut, coconut/strawberry…it was a sick addiction. This place was absolutely amazing and I would highly recommend checking it out if you get the chance!

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Dalí Museum

It’s weird, it’s obscure…and totally worth the two hour train ride outside of Barcelona. Even if you do not particularly enjoy art, you will enjoy this museum. It was by far the most interesting place we visited and I am so grateful that we did. From the architecture to the sketches and paintings inside, it exudes Dalí through and through. For me, it was intense just wrapping my head around the fact that I was looking at actual pieces of art that Dalí touched and created: MIND. BLOWN.

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{ Inside of the Dali museum }

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{ Outside of the Dali Museum }

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{ Obscure courtyard at the Dali Museum }

Picasso Museum

This was probably one of my favorite stops. Of course when you think of Picasso, you think abstract, however, he started off doing still life. I even picked up this print from the museum gift shop because I loved it so much. Perhaps on the gallery wall?

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{ Image found here }

Park Guell

Okay, so the walk up to the park was intense. Think: steep San Francisco hills meets outdoor escalators. Let’s just say, it was a lot of work to get to this famous park. However, once we got there, the view made it all worth it. The scene of Barcelona from Park Guell is breathtaking. There is no other way to put it.

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{ The view of Barcelona from Park Guell }

Tapas + Cava

You would be doing yourself a disservice if you did not eat tapas or drink cava in Spain. Period. That’s what they are known for (aside from the siestas). You can find tapas practically everywhere in Barcelona but a notable place to check out that we were blown away by: La Flauta. So, so amazing. The good news: they have a menu in English (score!) however, the selection is super overwhelming and we asked them to just bring out food to us…and boy, did they ever. Dish after dish after dish – it was slightly embarrassing because honestly, we just kept eating. Everything they prepared was delicious. My favorite dishes? Brie skewers rolled in toasted peanuts and topped with a raspberry sauce, patatas bravas, octopus salad, shredded potatoes (kind of like hash browns) topped with an over easy egg – I mean, wow.

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{ Feast your eyes }

On our last day of the trip, we decided to do a cava tasting. For those of you who are unfamiliar, cava is a sparkling Spanish wine that is similar to champagne (but so much better). My friend, Ashley, introduced me to a glass of it several years back and I have been a fan ever since. Spain is known for their cava and what better way to enjoy it than exploring the vineyards, learning the history behind it as well as the art of cava making? Let me tell you, this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Artcava was the company we went through and it only required a 40 minute train ride outside of Barcelona. We met the owner, Eric, and enjoyed a 6-hour cava excursion with our host, Ramon. I can honestly say, we became friends with Ramon when it was all said and done. In fact, we still keep in touch through Instagram! He was one of the most interesting and knowledgeable people I’ve ever met. After our tasting and tour of the facility, we made our very own bottles of cava to take home with us and indulged in a delicious meal that Ramon cooked – it was hands down one of the best meals we had in Barcelona. What an experience!

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{ The scenery }

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{ Ready for our cava experience }

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{ The tasting table is ready to go }

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{ It really does not get much better than this }

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{ The hubs attempting to cork his bottle of cava }

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{ The finished product }


Barcelona in a nutshell:

  • The city was beautiful and this visit will be an experience forever engrained in my mind.
  • There is a great deal of hustle and bustle, people are constantly on the go.
  • It’s interesting to see businesses close in the middle of the day for a few hours and then reopen.
  • The food (particularly seafood) and cava are delicious.
  • I got spoiled drinking cappuccinos over there – it’s just not the same in the States.
  • FACT: the Coke products and McDonald’s taste better in Barcelona.
  • There are bakeries on every corner. With that said, I got to experience a cronut filled with nutella…no shame.
  • You do a great deal of walking in Barcelona – in fact, I was sore almost every day. Either I’m completely out of shape or living in the South and driving everywhere did not really prepare me for this adventure!
  • People believe in “working to live” over “living to work”. Bottom line: they think Americans are workaholics.
  • People genuinely look happy. They pretty much love life.

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Travel | Windy City Round Up

Hello lovelies! I feel like a horrible blogger because I skipped a post last week. But do not fret – I will be posting twice this week to make up for it. In the meantime, I am dying to share our mini vacation we just came back from with you!

I’m coming to find that one of my favorite subjects to write about is travel. The hubs and I just got back from a long weekend in Chicago and let me just tell you…it blew me away (figuratively and literally). Shahin and I are big fans of tradition and although we’ve been together almost 7 years, we’ve only been married 7 months and have wanted to implement customs in our marriage. One we have established is an annual trip with one of our favorite couple friends to an uncharted area (or at least for most of us). Last year, we took on New York City, which was ridiculously fun (will touch on that trip in a separate post), and this year we chose Chicago. Why? We’ve all heard remarkable things about the “Windy City” between the places to see, activities to do as well as the cuisine and social scene. None of us had been there before except Shahin who had only visited when he was much younger.

The hubs and I have discussed many times before that it is not often you find a group of people you can comfortably travel with. Let’s be real for a moment: think about all of your friends. They’re amazing and you love them dearly but consider spending several days with them at a time…how many could you travel with without eventually wanting to pull your hair out? I can assure you, it will probably just be a handful. Erich and Rachel are the perfect travel buddies, we always have the best time together. Even more, we each play an important part in the planning and execution of our vacations. Erich always tracks down the best deals (without fail) while Rachel and I research and choose our activities, restaurants and watering holes (priorities). I like to consider Shahin a “game day” kind of guy. He’s not one to do any initial planning but he will be the spontaneous life of the party when we get to our final destination as well as our GPS (he has an amazing sense of direction).

Here’s a run down of what we did with some notable places and moments:

Thursday
• Had Chicago style pizza at Lou Malnati’s. It was quite delicious but really heavy. In fact, I was almost sick after eating one slice. Glad I gave it a try but I will stick with NY style all day, every day.
• Visited the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), which is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1,353 feet. We stepped out onto the glass box, which extends out about 4 feet from the skydeck – totally worth the sweaty palms!
• Ate dinner at an oyster bar across from our hotel that had a very old school/1920’s Chicago vibe called Shaw’s. We enjoyed oyster shooters and listened to live jazz.
• Found the most talked about new hot spot in Chicago for 2014: Three Dots and a Dash, a tiki style speakeasy in a back alley with no signs on the door indicating where it is with just a bouncer out front. It was essentially an underground playground for adults/secret society of the most beautiful people in Chi town. Lively, vibrant and a very happening lounge with heavenly concoctions in unique tiki glasses.

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Friday
• First thing in the morning we walked to Intelligentsia and had the best cappuccino I’ve ever tasted.
• Stopped at Glazed & Infused and picked up some Maple Bacon Long John donuts on the way back to the hotel.
• Visited beluga whales, dolphins, penguins, and fish galore at the Shedd Aquarium – one of the largest aquariums in the world.
• Took in the most breathtaking view of Chicago seen from outside of the Adler Planetarium.
• Ate Chicago style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches at Portillo’s, which was recommended by a friend (thanks, Mike). Oh and the chocolate cake shake we ordered to go along with it…sinfully good.
• Did a little shopping on Magnificent Mile and hit up the holy grail (AKA Topshop).
• Dinner and margaritas at Frontera = wowza. The Meyer lemon margarita from the special Spring menu was divine.
• After shutting the place down, we decided to continue with the tequila (rule #1 of tequila drinking: you should never mix it with anything else) and popped into Mercadito, where I consumed passionfruit margaritas with a smoked paprika rim…and it was the most glorious drink I’ve ever had.

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Saturday
• Shahin and Erich stayed in their rooms (recovery mode) while Rachel and I picked up some coffee and stopped for a peanut butter cup donut at Firecakes. WIN!
• Did a little more shopping.
• Met the boys over at the Navy Pier where we rode the Ferris Wheel.
• Visited a 2-story Italian market called Eately.
• Ate dumplings and #hotasianbuns at Wow Bao.
• Had pre-dinner cocktails at CH Distillery, Chicago’s only distillery cocktail bar. This place makes their own alcohol and they’ve created a very chic and trendy atmosphere around it. Let me just start out by saying…they completely NAILED it with the drinks. The Moscow Mule Rachel had was ridiculously good and my unique beverage called The Baron Takes Tea (Earl Gray infused CH key gin, lemon, simple syrup, egg white and soda) was unbelievable.
• Had a 10:15 reservation at Girl and The Goat which every food blog, Chicago magazine, social media outlet and local Chicagoans rave about. Not to mention it was rated #1 on Urbanspoon Chicago as the hottest restaurant in town. Done and done. It’s tapas style so each couple had about 4-5 menu items each and we all did some sharing.
Here is what we tried:
o Seared tuna: Incredible.
o Diver scallops: Sweet and delectable.
o Goat carpaccio: Served with smoked trout roe and olive maple vinaigrette – I cannot even deal.
o Ham frites: Served with beer cheese…need I really say more?
o Onion bread: With tarragon butter and pepper chutney alongside it – holy hell.
o Tortone bread: Served with rocoto cream cheese and pepita salad – also amazing.
o Wood oven roasted pig face: Yes, you read that right. And no judging allowed because you never know unless you try. It tasted like the most tender BBQ you’ve ever had in your life – so surprisingly delicious.
o Fried pickles: The only one I was not head over heels in love with. They were tasty but let’s be honest…we are all from the South. Call me biased but they just simply cannot do it like we do.

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Sunday (Our last day but we made it count)
• Walked around and took in some last minute views.
• Enjoyed brunch at The Purple Pig – another one we’ve heard so much about. They don’t take reservations but we waited in line to get in before they opened (True life: we’re not in North Carolina anymore).
This eatery was also a tapas/shared plate restaurant and we had some appetizing bites:
o Meatball slider with parmesan and arugula: YUM!
o Razor clams with oregano, olive oil and lemon: Can you really go wrong with any clam?
o Chicken thigh kebabs with fried smashed potatoes and tzatziki sauce: An excellent combination.
o Octopus with green beans, fingerling potatoes and salsa verde: My favorite item we had.
o Fried pig’s ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers and a fried egg: Made my taste buds dance.
o Fried petit basque cheese with membrillo: Basically a fancy mozzarella stick – so obvi it was delicious.

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What an incredible four days and three nights in the Windy City! It’s clean, beautiful and there is too much to see and do in just a short amount of time…you truly need a lifetime! We definitely painted the town red and made every minute count. On our way back to Charlotte, we were discussing what our next adventure would be! Of course we’ve created a bucket list of places to go but we’re thinking an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or Mexico is a must. Who knows what 2015 will bring but it’s safe to say that we will have many years to come traveling with these two because they’re tying the knot next year. This means there are many couple trips together in our future – yippie!

Our list of places to visit include (but not limited to):

  • Seattle
  • Portland
  • Washington D.C.
  • Boston
  • San Francisco (we can’t get enough of it)
  • San Diego
  • Austin
  • Arizona
  • New Orleans
  • Maine
  • Paris
  • London
  • Ireland
  • Scotland
  • Amsterdam
  • Prague
  • Oktoberfest in Munich (sounds like trouble)
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
  • Machu Pichu
  • Brazil
  • Buenos Aires
  • Istanbul
  • Greece

We may need to start doubling up on trips each year! Definitely cannot wait for our many adventures to come! What are places you’re dying to see or have been that are ridiculously amazing? Do share in the comment section below!

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