Links I’m Loving

Happy Friday, everyone!

Today’s post is short and sweet. Just a few links I’ve stumbled upon this week that I wanted to share with you lovely folks.

  • First up: Mindy Kaling (because she should ALWAYS go first). She made the cover of AdWeek’s Creative 100 (for obvious and well-deserved reasons), and talks about what to expect from her in the near future (the latest season of The Mindy Project, writing her second book, and her dreams to write a movie).

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  • What with all the shark attacks on the East coast in recent weeks, I know there’s concern with safety this beach season, but I’m not sure these shark cages (debuted in the Outer Banks of North Carolina) are the answer…

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  • I came across this Domino’s campaign the other day, to help improve our nation’s emoji literacy, and think it’s just brilliant and so much FUN! What a playful way to take a current trend and let the trend — not the brand — take center stage. Love this, and I might just have to print out a set of my own emoji flashcards.

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  • I love Amy Poehler and aim to be more like her, and this Guardian article only confirmed that further. (I also learned that Brits love Parks and Rec. Cheers, UK residents, for sharing our love for an amazing show!) Side note: If you haven’t seen Inside Out yet, please change that it ASAP. I went to see the film this past week, and absolutely loved it. What a smart, well-done, full-of-feelings movie!
  • Last but not least, my brother-in-law shared this gem of a video with me last weekend, and I just couldn’t NOT share it. (Just try getting this song out of your head once you’ve heard it.):

Have a great weekend!

 

Housewarming Gift Ideas

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My sister and brother-in-law recently moved into a new home, and while searching for a housewarming gift for them to mark the occasion, I came across a handful of ideas I thought y’all might find helpful should you find yourselves in a similar situation. Most of these gifts would work great not only as housewarming gifts, but also as hostess and sometimes wedding/engagement gifts as well.

I think the aim of any good housewarming gift should be for it to be both beautiful and useful. That could mean a pretty plate filled with homemade cookies to be enjoyed as a family moves in, or a lovely kitchen item for them to use for years to come. Of course, it always helps if you know things the homeowner is lacking and can really use, but here I’ve tried to include suggestions would work for just about anyone.

Other great gift ideas, which aren’t listed below, include things like a basket of settling in essentials, such as lightbulbs, paper towels, picture hanging kits, etc. or a home-cooked meal. You can also go the symbolic route, incorporating some form of a pineapple for hospitality, or candles/candlesticks (a common housewarming gift in China, India, and Italy, conveying the wish that the new home will always be full of light). In the classic movie It’s A Wonderful Life, there’s a scene where the Baileys welcome the Martinis to their new home with bread (“that this house may never know hunger”), salt (“that life may always have flavor”), and wine (“that joy and prosperity may reign forever”). Putting together a gift of those three items would be a wonderful welcome as well.

Here are some of my top housewarming gift picks:

Personalized Address Stamp ($39.95), Paper Source: Kevin and I had one of these at our last house, and we loved it! We used it ALL the time, and so I love giving it as a gift to folks who have just gotten a new address. This fun kit allows the recipient to personalize his or her stamp, choosing from 50+ options on the Paper Source site.

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Personalized Whiskey Decanter ($38), West Elm: For a whiskey-loving friend, look no further than this decanter, which you can personalize with a letter or name on the wooden stopper. It’s beautiful but also simple, sure to coordinate with any style of decor.

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Slate Cheese Boards ($29.90 for both), Crate & Barrel: Raise your hand if you have too many cheese boards. (I see zero hands.) This is a gift you could bring to the new homeowner with cheese on it for them to enjoy today, and then let them use the boards for years.

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Medium Aegean Clear Glass Vase ($39), Pottery Barn: Bring this to the new homeowner(s) full of flowers.

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Vintage Wood Serving Platter ($39), Pottery Barn: Anyone who hosts is always looking for lovely serving pieces. Plus, this is another gift you can let the recipient enjoy immediately by presenting it to them with a batch of muffins, brownies, or other baked goods.

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Personalized Welcome Mat ($36), Etsy: What better way to say “welcome home” than with a welcome mat?

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Do you have favorite go-to housewarming gifts and traditions to share?

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

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Often when I bake, I like to make tried and true favorites. Things like the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies my mom always made when I was a kid, skillet almond coffee cake (the perfect addition to any brunch menu), or the always incredible pretzel chocolate chip and butterscotch cookie recipe that’s been a go-to for years now. But I also get an itch to try new recipes to mix things up a bit from time to time, which is the mood I was in last night when I stumbled upon a cupcake recipe that sounded quite delicious.

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Though this recipe calls the cupcakes “churro cupcakes,” to me they’re more reminiscent of snickerdoodle cookies, so I opted for a name change. No matter what you call them, these cinnamon sugar-laden treats are pretty great, if I do say so myself.

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Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
(makes about 15 cupcakes)

Ingredients (for cupcakes)

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup milk

Ingredients (for frosting)

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions (for cupcakes)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin pan with cupcake liners, then set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a fork to break up any clumps. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes).
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, until just combined.
  • Add in the vanilla and oil.
  • Pour 1/3 of the flour mixture over the butter mixture and gently combine until barely combined.
  • Add 1/4 cup of milk, mixing just until combined.
  • Stir in the second 1/3 of the flour mixture, then add the remaining 1/4 cup milk.
  • Finally, stir in the remaining flour mixture, being careful not to over mix.
  • Spoon batter into cupcake liners, filling each about halfway.
  • Bake cupcakes 14-16 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with one or two crumbs clinging to it.
  • Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting them.

Directions (for frosting)

  • Cream together the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a standing mixer.
  • Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating well between each addition.
  • Stir in the cinnamon until thoroughly combined, then stir in the vanilla.
  • Beat the frosting well, until light and fluffy.
  • Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost and top with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.

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Homemade Chocolate-Covered Digestive Biscuits

You know those special foods your parents would give you when you were little that made you feel SO cultured and fancy? For me, the items that topped the list were Clearly Canadian sparkling water, After Eight chocolate mints, and…chocolate-covered digestive biscuits.

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After all, who doesn’t love a British snack? One that’s actually a cookie but is, delightfully, labeled a “biscuit”? We didn’t have these often growing up, but when we did it was a special day, to be sure.

Fast forward to the time I actually got to spend in England: The trip our family and some family friends took back when I was in high school. The semester (and, later, month) I got to live in London’s Kensington neighborhood through a study abroad program in college, and the Christmas my family spent there a few years ago. Each visit included — you guessed it — digestives. Through the years, they’ve solidly remained in the “special” category for me, because they’re a treat I have so rarely, and so often when I do eat digestives it’s because I’m in an exciting, non-American place (we had some in Iceland on our recent trip, for example, as snacks in the car).

Fun fact: These cookies are called “digestive biscuits” because, supposedly, doctors used to think the baking soda that appeared in earlier versions of the recipe aided with digestion. I’m not sure that’s the case, but these treats ARE full of oats, so that’s a good thing. (Right? Practically a health food, these biscuits.)

And so, when I stumbled upon a Food52 recipe for digestive biscuits, I couldn’t not give it a try. Digestive biscuits made right in my very own kitchen? Yes. (I was further convinced when I read that the recipe sharer is British. ENDORSED.)

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If you’re not familiar with digestives, these are cookies that are crunchy and similar to a graham cracker in that they straddle the line between a savory cracker and a sweet cookie. They’re traditionally enjoyed with a cup of tea, but I find they (like any good cookie) pair well with a glass of milk as well. Whatever your beverage of choice, these cookies are best when dunked.

Heads up: I had to hunt down a few unfamiliar (to me) ingredients for this recipe — spelt flour and dark muscovado sugar. I found them both at Whole Foods, but then later saw dark muscovado sugar (the same brand I’d found at Whole Foods) for sale at my local Harris Teeter.

Homemade Digestive Biscuits
(makes 12 cookies)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat spelt flour
  • 1 1/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup dark muscovado sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons milk
  • 4 ounces dark or milk chocolate (optional, but encouraged by me!)

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Directions

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats. Set aside.
  • Put all of the ingredients except the milk into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

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  • Add the milk, bit by bit, and pulse again until the dough starts to clump together. (You may not need all the milk. I only used 3 Tablespoons.)
  • Remove the dough from the food processor and knead once or twice, bringing it together without overhandling it.
  • Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll it out until it’s about 1/4 inch thick.
  • Using a round cookie cutter (or the rim of a water glass, as I did), cut out your biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. (I had to use a small spatula to carefully pry the dough off the parchment paper to keep their shape intact. Be gentle!)

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  • Re-roll the dough until you’ve used it all.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Chill cut-out dough for 10 minutes in the fridge.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, until just golden brown at the edges.
  • Cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to a wire rack to cool completely.

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  • Once biscuits are completely cool, melt chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring well as the chocolate melts.
  • Spoon chocolate onto each biscuit and use a knife to spread it evenly across the cookie.
  • Now it’s tea time! Cheers, mate!

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Fresh Cherry Pie With Buttermilk Crust

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When Kevin and I bought a few pounds of fresh cherries the other day, I initially thought we’d just enjoy them raw. But once we got home, I’d started daydreaming about all the baked deliciousness that said cherries could result in. Plus, Kevin’s parents were coming to stay with us and we had to have something for dessert! And so, the quest for a cherry dessert recipe began.

I stumbled upon this one, and modified it just slightly. Thankfully, it was well worth the uber-tedious task of pitting all those cherries. I love that the cherries remain so fresh and intact (you don’t bake that portion of the pie). It really is an ideal summertime dessert.

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(I wanted to serve the pie with whipped cream, so tried a version of whipped cream that uses a chilled mason jar to make it. Such a great idea, right?? Despite lots of shaking, my cream didn’t come together, so we just kind of drizzled it on the pie and I put the rest in the fridge, still in the jar. The next morning, I checked the cream, and it had totally set! It was amazingly fluffy and beautiful. So I’m not sure that I’m totally sold on this whipped cream in a jar thing, but I might give it another try, allowing some time for it to sit in the fridge before serving! Have any of y’all tried this whipped cream technique and had luck with it?)

Fresh Cherry Pie With Buttermilk Crust

Ingredients (for crust)

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/8 cup buttermilk (keep on hand as you might need to add a bit more!)

Directions (for crust)

  • Line a 9-inch pie pan with parchment paper and set aside. (I used my absolute FAVORITE pie pan, given to me by my friend Bethany. I love having excuses to use this pan! Mine has the “that last piece is mine” hidden quote.)
  • Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add butter, and combine using your hands or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  • Add buttermilk and stir (or mix with hands) until dough is moistened. (You may need to add a touch more buttermilk to incorporate completely into the dry ingredients.)
  • Press together, forming dough into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for an hour. (While you’re waiting on the dough to chill, you can start pitting your cherries! See below.)
  • Once chilled, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Roll dough out (using a rolling pin) on parchment paper to keep from sticking. The dough should be a bit thicker than traditional pie dough, so don’t worry about making it too thin. The result should be a pie crust-meets-biscuit layer of deliciousness.
  • Place rolled dough into prepared pie pan and bake for 10-12 minutes (until edges are just starting to brown).
  • Let crust cool completely and then remove parchment paper (placing the crust back into the pie pan).

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Ingredients (for filling)

  • 4 cups fresh cherries, pitted
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup cold water

Directions (for filling)

  • Pit the cherries, then place all but about 3/4 cup in the prepared crust.
  • Mash the remaining cherries (I used my hands), and combine with sugar in a medium saucepan.
  • Place saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water.
  • Add cornstarch mixture to the boiling cherries, then reduce the heat and simmer mixture until thickened (about 6-8 minutes), stirring constantly.
  • Spoon mixture over berries and spread to cover cherries on the top of the pie completely.
  • Chill pie for several hours before serving.

 

 

Iceland Travel Tips (What To Pack, What To Expect, Etc.)

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I just got back from a 10-day trip to Iceland with my family, and can’t rave about this country enough. I knew going into the trip that it was going to be incredible and memorable and breathtaking, but it was so much more than I even knew to expect. Obviously the scenery and natural beauty of Iceland is beyond compare, but perhaps the best thing about the country is the genuine kindness that exists throughout their culture. This is a country full of people who are patient, smart, and friendly, and go out of their way to make you feel welcome. I came home wanting to be more Icelandic. (Also wanting to move to Iceland, open an Icelandic bakery, and raise Icelandic horses. But that’s a whole different conversation.)

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If you’re planning a trip to Iceland in the near future (which I strongly encourage you to do!), here are a few tips and details that might be helpful to know. I’ve included packing suggestions, foods/drinks to be on the lookout for, itinerary recommendations, and more (with some photos from my trip peppered in):

  • Packing: If you go to Iceland in the summertime, here are a few things I’d recommend bringing along:

-a rain jacket
-a fleece jacket
-lightweight long-sleeved shirts (good for layering under a fleece when it’s chillier)
-a puffy vest (I took this one along, and it was awesome)
-lots of pairs of yoga pants (I wore exclusively yoga pants — no jeans needed)
-a bathing suit (for the natural spring baths as well as public pools, which are amazing and worth checking out)
-good shoes, since you’ll be doing lots of walking (I took this pair and they were perfect — nice and grippy for trail walking and super comfy)
-a second pair of shoes for lounging/less intense activity (I recommend TOMS!)
-warm accessories for activities like whale watching and glacier outings (gloves, scarf, etc.)
-power converter (this one’s cheap and worked well for me)
-eye mask, to help you block out the light at night (I saved mine from the plane ride over)
-snacks for your trip (I packed nuts, Larabars, peanut butter crackers, etc.)
-DON’T bring a hair dryer, as there’s one in every hotel room
-DON’T bring a towel for natural springs/pools, as you can rent them there

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  • Food: You’ve probably heard about Iceland’s legendary, um, delicacies like putrid (fermented) shark and singed sheep’s head, but thankfully those dishes are absent from everyday menus. (I did give putrid shark, or hákarl, a try, and it’s absolutely terrible.) What my family found, though, was pure deliciousness in Iceland. Seriously. Every single meal we had was amazing. (Not just good. Amazing.) Whether it was a hot dog we grabbed at a roadside stand or a hotel breakfast or a dinner for the memory books at the famed Dill restaurant in Reykjavik, everything was incredible. Here are a few highlights my family and I discovered during our time in Iceland:

lamb: Get ready for some of the best lamb you’ve ever had. I don’t eat lamb regularly, but had it several times in Iceland, and it was incredible.
hot dogs: Iceland loves hot dogs, and they’re available everywhere! They’re traditionally served there with fried onions (yum!) and some special ketchup and mustard-like sauces unique to the country.
fish: Being an island and all, Iceland has lots of access to fish, and the result is deliciously fresh fish options in virtually every restaurant. You can always trust a restaurant’s catch of the day to be amazing.
skyr: I’ve blogged about my love for this protein-packed yogurt, and for good reason. It’s truly delicious and — lucky me! — consumed regularly all over Iceland. Get especially excited for skyr cake (a to-die-for dessert reminiscent of cheesecake).
baked goods: Speaking of sweet stuff, Iceland has baked goods down pat. Pop into a bakeri (bakery) whenever possible, and prepare for mouthwatering cinnamon rolls (often bigger than your face and iced with chocolate or caramel), tarts, beautiful cakes (many times with a meringue component), cookies, and more. I can’t wait to try to recreate some of these delicious treats in my own kitchen! Stay tuned for those recipes…
bread: Everywhere we went, we were greeted by freshly baked rye bread (a version far more delicious than what we know as rye bread in the States). It’s served at breakfast to be topped with homemade jellies and fresh cheese, or at lunch and dinner coupled with Iceland’s to-die-for butter.
Einstök beer: By far my favorite of the Icelandic beers I tried, Einstök’s white ale is wonderfully refreshing. I’m in the process of trying to hunt down a U.S. supplier of the stuff!

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  • Itinerary: Our family had the luxury of time, as we had 10 days to spend in the country. In that amount of time, we were able to rent a car and drive around Iceland’s Ring Road, around the perimeter of the country, both starting and ending our trip in Reykjavik. It was a perfect way to experience the country, because we were able to experience so many of its natural wonders, but also got to see both the rural and urban aspects. (It’s not atypical to see towns with fewer than 100 residents. Tiny!) If you’re thinking of taking a trip around the Ring Road, feel free to email me for our full itinerary (hotels, sights, etc.). I’d love to share it with you! My email address is annaskeller@gmail.com. A few call-outs:

-If you have some time in Reykjavik, sign up for a (free!) city walk tour with these guys. It will help acclimate you to the country, and give you a good overview of the city and its history. (Also good for staving off jet lag when you land!)
If you visit Mývatn, please be sure to visit the Nature Baths. It’s cheaper and less crowded than the famed Blue Lagoon, and well worth your time. They have both swimsuits and towels for rent if you need one.
-Another tip for Mývatn: invest in the head nets to keep the pesky midges away (or you can improvise with jackets, as we did):

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-The Iceland Riverjet tour is totally worth doing! (Here’s my family on our Riverjet tour.):

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-If you’re at all into horses, ride an Icelandic horse while you’re there. We took a ride on the coast in northern Iceland and it was incredible.

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Lava fields are totally unreal and make you feel like you’re on another planet. SO cool.
-You’ll see so many beautiful waterfalls it’s insane. Get excited. (You can even walk behind one of them!)

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  • Culture: I mentioned this earlier, but it warrants repeating. Get ready to encounter the kindest people you can imagine. This country is full of fluent English speakers who are proud of their country and working hard to make your time there enjoyable, easy, and memorable. We can all learn from Icelanders, as far as I’m concerned. (Coming back to America was pretty abrupt after so much friendliness!)

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  • Fun Facts: Some cool things to know about Iceland, whether or not you get the chance to travel there:

-The country is so small that there’s one single phone book for the entire nation — and it’s organized by first name.
-There are more sheep than people in Iceland.
-As many as 80% of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves and trolls. (I have to say, I don’t blame them, after visiting their country!)
-The Arctic fox is the only mammal native to Iceland (no polar bears here, although they sometimes float over on icebergs).
-When parents are naming their babies in Iceland, they must pick the name from an approved list. If the name they want isn’t on the list, it’s submitted to the Icelandic Naming Committee for review.
-Iceland is very progressive, and they were the first country to have a democratically elected female president (way back in the 80s).

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Happy Icelandic travels, friends. Skál!

Iceland: Expectations For Our Upcoming Trip

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I’ve mentioned to y’all that my family and I are traveling to Iceland this summer to celebrate my dad’s retirement. After months of anticipation, we’re now just days away from leaving for the Nordic island that’s about the size of the state of Kentucky. We leave on SATURDAY!

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had fun splitting up our itinerary, planning excursions and making reservations at stops along the way. (We’ll be traveling counter clockwise around the Ring Road, for those of you familiar with the country.) Kevin and I sent out periodic “Icelandic Inspiration” newsletters to my family (I know, we’re nerds) as a way to learn some fun facts about the nation we’d soon be visiting. (Some highlights? The fact that 80% of Icelanders truly believe in the existence of elves, the webcam stream of the last McDonald’s meal in Iceland, and learning that all baby’s names in Iceland have to be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee.)

Between putting together our portion of the itinerary, researching facts for the newsletter, and reading blogs of others who have traveled to Iceland, I’ve developed a few expectations for our upcoming trip. I thought it could be fun to share those expectations pre-trip, and then report back once I’m back Stateside on how things actually shook out. So here goes!:

  • Climate: It’s going to rain often. Every blog I read about what to pack for Iceland in the summertime reiterates the importance of as many waterproof items as possible. Temperature-wise, it’s going to be in the 40s and 50s for the most part, which sounds like a positively delightful change from this gross upper-90s heat we’ve been having this month here in the Southeast. It’s also going to be light alllllll day (and night!) long. I’m looking forward to experiencing that, for sure (and am hoping for good blackout curtains at all our hotels).

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  • Culture: Icelanders seem to be hearty and artistic folks, by all accounts. Hearty, thanks to the island mentality and the weather there, and artistic for perhaps the same reason. I remember watching a Sigur Rós documentary a few years ago, and hearing one of the band members comment on how everyone in Iceland was always creating something. If you aren’t creating art, it seems, you are in the minority on this island. They are known as being happy and fulfilled, they value family (though have some different interpretations on family — particularly romantic relationships/marriages — than most of the world), the environment, and healthy living, and seem to be quite modern folks. Most everyone speaks English, which will make our lives much easier. (Interestingly, too, there’s no word in Icelandic for “please.” Apparently the “please” is communicated through inflection.)
  • Food: This part’s going to be fun! Of course, we’re all (and by “we,” I mainly mean Kevin and Marty) pumped to try some famed Icelandic delicacies, such as putrid shark (or hákarl) and sheep’s head, but I’m also excited about the abundance of skyr (which I adore, and apparently is eaten by Icelanders nearly every day, any time of day). I recently learned, too, that hot dogs are EVERYWHERE in Iceland. Gas stations, restaurants, hot dog stands, and the like, with fun toppings like fried onions. YUM! (We have a reservation at Dill in Reykjavik — known for its “new Nordic” cuisine — on our last night in the country, which I’m especially looking forward to.)

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  • Landscape: I fully expect to be awestruck daily in Iceland. There’s such a variety of landscape, from glaciers to geysers (an Icelandic word!) to volcanoes to waterfalls and more. (Did you see the movie Interstellar? The scenes from the lovely and haunting ice planet were shot in Iceland.) We’re also visiting a lava field where NASA sends astronauts to train for moon landings, because the surface is remarkably similar to the moon. Also on the itinerary: whale watching, hiking, and speedboat riding. Can’t WAIT!

Horses being herded through the lava fields near Landmannalaugar in southern Iceland on September 21, 2011. Photo by: Lindsay Blatt / Herd In Iceland About the Project: In September and October of 2010, Lindsay Blatt and Paul Taggart were worked in Iceland on their short film and photographic project documenting the historic herding of the prized Iceland horses.  Each year traditional herdsman take to the  back country to round up thousands of the country's hardy horses, which have spent the summer grazing in the highlands.  Throughout the three weeks of production Lindsay and Paul shot from land, air, foot, and hoof across the vast Icelandic landscape, following and living with the herdsmen.  The team has brought together a collection of media for print publications, as well as a short documentary film.  In September of 2011, the team returned to conduct interviews for the film, and to produce a new selection of large format portraits to accompany the landscapes for future exhibitions.

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  • Driving: We’re renting a van so the six of us can drive around the Ring Road, and my dad and I are the two registered drivers — yikes! I’m definitely going to be watching the speedometer, as speeding tickets are no joke in Iceland.

(And, as a bit of a humble brag, Kevin and I have been listening to the Land Ho! Iceland playlist I shared with y’all back in March, and it’s REALLY good. I recommend giving it a listen if you haven’t already! My favorite artist from the playlist is Ásgeir, who’s kind of like the Icelandic Bon Iver and whose music is mesmerizing. Happy listening!) 

Blogging When I Don’t Feel Like It

When I started this blog a few years ago, it was important to me that it be an outlet I enjoy. After all, I already had a list of things I do because I HAD to. This blog was supposed to be a happy place. A place where I wrote when I felt inspired — not obligated — to do so.

Delightfully, I’ve been able to remain true to that promise to myself most of the time. This blog has become a space for me to share thoughts, recipes, ideas, and more, and the kind words I’ve heard from readers has been beyond flattering. (Thanks to everyone who reads my blog! Y’all are the absolute best.)

I love the actual writing of posts. I enjoy coming up with ideas for posts, and typically have a running list going on my phone, adding to it when I feel inspired.

Inevitably, though, there come times when I feel guilty for not posting — maybe I haven’t posted in a while or something — and also don’t feel like writing anything new. Sometimes it’s because I don’t feel like I have much to say at the moment. Sometimes I just feel lazy and don’t feel like writing. Sometimes I just plain can’t think of anything to write about. (Today is one of those days, by the way.)

So I guess this post’s purpose is twofold:

  1. I think it’s important to challenge myself to write on those days I don’t feel like it, from time to time. I still definitely believe that this blog should be a place that isn’t fueled by obligation, and yet at the same time, sometimes it’s good for me to write when I’m not exactly in the mood — maybe even just to say “hi!”
  2. I’d love to hear from y’all about what type of Curiouser & Curiouser posts you like the most. Do you like recipes? Hearing about my workouts? Reading lists of my latest wardrobe loves? Let me know — I’d love to know what you enjoy the most to help spark ideas for future posts.

And with that, I leave you with a “hi!” and with a hilarious photo of Fulton taken during our drive to Atlanta last weekend. Hey, buddy!

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My MRT Test Experience: Part 1

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There’s something you guys should know about me: I’m a weirdo.

My weirdo-ness exhibits itself in many ways, but right now I’m talking about the type of weird that leads me down strange rabbit holes and makes me rather obsessed about something until I try it. (My friend Jodi calls this trait “curiosity,” which is kind of her.) In this case, it has to do with a food sensitivity test called an MRT.

Y’all know I’m hooked on Pure Barre, and I often read blog posts about fellow Pure Barre lovers. In a blog post back in March, I was reading about a Pure Barre goer’s experience doing Pure Barre while pregnant, and she just mentioned having taken an MRT test, in a bit of a fleeting way. (“I was wavering around a size 8 and later dropped to a size 4 after my dedication to Pure Barre and the results of my MRT test,” she wrote.) I’d never heard of this test before, but became interested as I read more about it.

Essentially, MRT is a blood test that gauges whether certain foods and chemicals/colorings/spices used in foods cause an immune reaction in your body. That immune reaction could exhibit itself in the form of migraines, IBS, poor sleep patterns, and more.

The more I read about others’ experiences with taking the MRT test, the more interested I became in taking it myself. I don’t experience the standard symptoms of having food sensitivities (I don’t have intestinal issues, I tend to sleep well, I don’t have skin problems, etc.), but I kept thinking back to when I was doing the Conscious Cleanse a couple of years ago, which is all about food elimination with the purpose of identifying sensitivities. I’ve never felt better than when I was on that cleanse. I was sleeping better than ever, had tons of energy, and felt strong and healthy.

This is me at my sister’s wedding right after finishing the Conscious Cleanse. I felt great!:

Me at my sister's wedding, right after having completed the Conscious Cleanse

It was that feeling that I got when I was doing the Conscious Cleanse, coupled with the fact that I love all things personalized medicine (knowing what’s right for MY body, not just what’s healthy for MOST people), that made me pull the trigger on getting the MRT test done. Plus, it’s more accurate and complete than traditional elimination diets, and that was appealing. I wanted to learn what foods I should — and shouldn’t — be eating in order to feel my best.

A couple of weeks ago, I got my blood drawn, sent it off to a lab in Florida to be analyzed, and received my test results over the weekend. The results are split into three categories: reactive (red), moderately reactive (yellow), and non-reactive (green). You get a report showing categories of food split into these three categories, along with a card containing all your red and yellow items for you to carry with you for reference:

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A couple of my reactive items (avocado! strawberries!) were a little sad, but I was most upset by my moderately reactive items. Many of those foods are things I consume daily, like grapes, lettuce, apples, and caffeine. The good news was, my red and yellow foods were free of grain, most dairy (aside from cottage cheese), and bean/nut (aside from pintos) sensitivities. I thought it was pretty funny that the chemical I’m LEAST sensitive to of all the ones they tested for was…wait for it…MSG. Ha!

Here’s what the Fruits section of the report itself looks like (for me) to give you a sense of how that information is laid out:

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The next step will be for me to work with a certified nutritionist to work through a few phases of diet, where I try eliminating all reactive and moderately reactive foods for a while, then try introducing moderately reactive foods to see what the right balance is for me to feel my best. I’ll be carefully monitoring what I’m eating and recording how I feel when I eat those things. Eventually, I hope I’ll be able to eat moderately reactive foods from time to time, but may not want to move them back to the “everyday” category for me. I’m interested to see if I notice a change during this process. (I’ll keep y’all posted!)

Have any of y’all taken an MRT test? If so, what was your experience with the test and its results?

Bathing Suit (And Cover-Up) Wish List: Summer 2015

Now that it’s June, we’re into full-on beach season (a.k.a, my favorite time of year).

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Kevin and I spend as many weekends at the beach (our go-to spot is Oak Island, North Carolina) and, in fact, are headed there this weekend with some friends. (Can it be Friday already?)

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With that in mind, I wanted to share a few bathing suits I’m loving this year, as well as a handful of cover-ups I love. (Why is it that good cover-ups are always so hard to find? Does anyone else run into this issue? And, too often, they’re waaaaay too pricey, too. Anyway, I digress. Let’s get to the beachwear.)

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Happy beaching, y’all!

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