Easter 2017

While I’m over here taking my sweet time trying to write up all the fun I had in Nashville last month, I didn’t want to miss the chance to share a cute and easy Easter tablescape from this past weekend! But first, a short life update.

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Sean and I are currently searching for our first house, a process I am already not enjoying very much. (I lack a particularly important virtue, ahem, patience.) Couple that with my always-busy, can-never-sit-still schedule and you have a recipe for unlimited amounts of frustration. Luckily, my laid back, go-with-the-flow husband keeps things in check, both for me and for our budget which I’m willing to blow any time a just-out-of-reach Colonial comes on the market.

Besides the obvious reasons for wanting to own a home, one of the things I’m most looking forward to is being able to entertain. While I do love our current rental condo and will most likely cry unnecessarily when it’s time to move out, the fact that I can’t sit more than 6 people comfortably in our main living area is not conducive to the type of hosting I want to do. (This includes Pizzazzerie-level planning, decorating, themes in case you were wondering.) The possibilities are endless and so are my hopes for this house.

So anyway.

For the big holidays like Christmas and Easter at my parents’ house, my mom and dad are usually so busy getting dinner ready that they have no problem whatsoever relinquishing the table to me. This year, I wanted to keep it simple and highlight the Lindt GOLD BUNNY figures I picked up from a sale at work. My mind immediately visualized the set up: white tablecloth, gold chargers, white napkins, a Lindt GOLD BUNNY, a few chocolate eggs, simple candles and a bouquet of white and/or yellow flowers in a crystal vase in the center.

This table came together in under ten minutes. I used my parents’ good silverware but any would do (maybe even gold flatware if you have some?!) Since everyone was drinking different beverages, I set one wine glass at every place setting to make the whole thing look cohesive and finished. It was simple, elegant, and every one loved it.

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My parents, as always, made an incredible dinner so I brought dessert: a Lemon-Blueberry layer cake with cream cheese frosting (recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction.) It really was the best way to end such a wonderful holiday with our family. Maybe next year I’ll host Easter brunch at my house….

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Do you have any first-time homebuying tips? Ways to not completely lose your mind during the process? Please send them my way!

Boston Wine Expo 2017: Highlights & Favorites

Three weekends ago (seriously where does the time go??) Sean and I attended the 2017 Boston Wine Expo and I think this one was the best yet. This was our fourth year in a row attending and I can honestly say that like a fine wine, this event gets even better with age.

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We arrived for the media and trade hours at 11:00 AM on Saturday and did a quick loop of the floor. This year, we noticed more food and snack vendors flanked the main aisles (shout out to Primizie who makes some super delicious crisps and chips!) We knew we’d be back more than once to this section of the floor because its essential to eat during the four (or in our case, six) hours that the Expo is open.

Each year, the trade floor is set up a little differently. This year was a little tougher to navigate because they did not have the sections set up by region or country as they have in the past. Nevertheless, we hit the ground running with wines from Spain and made it all around the world during the two days. I’ve said it in previous posts about the BWE, but I think its 100% worth it to attend both days of the Expo because the floor is just too large to get through in one afternoon.

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This year, the Expo also had a great “Social Spot” where people could sit and work on tweets and posts or snap some fun photos. It was nice to be able to pull over to a designated area to get my life in order while I was live tweeting and Instagram-storying all day instead of bumping into fellow Expo goers; I hope they repeat this area next year.

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So… the wine. I was pleased to see some old favorites, like 90+ Cellars, as well as some new faces like Res Fortes. Trying wine from all over the world is such a unique and rare experience but it’s fun to branch out to countries like Georgia or Israel when you probably aren’t purchasing and drinking wine from these places on a regular basis.

Here is a look at some of our favorites from the weekend…

90+ Cellars. (Check out some desserts I made with a few of their wines here!)

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Res Fortes.

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Trivento.

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From the country of Georgia.

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Kauzo.

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And from the Vintner’s Lounge…

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Catena Zapata.

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Duckhorn. (Although I was definitely missing their Goldeneye Pinot Noir this year!)

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Grgich Hills Estate. (Especially their Chardonnay!)

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Frog’s Leap.

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Rodney Strong.

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The Vintner’s Reserve Lounge is one of those places where you can’t believe you are tasting wines that could be anywhere from $50 up to over $500 per bottle. It’s quite the experience. This year, we were able to go at noon on Sunday so it was a fantastic way to kick off Day 2 of the Expo. Along with the premium wineries, they also had a showing of restaurants and food vendors like Del Frisco’s handing out small bites.

We were a little disappointed not to see our favorite Rioja region represented this year but with any luck they will be back for 2018. That aside, it was another fantastic Boston Wine Expo and it continues to be one of the best Boston events every year. I cannot recommend it enough to all wine lovers or those looking to experience wine in a different way.

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Spending the weekend with the Backpacking Britts!

Until next year, Cheers!

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I was provided weekend and Vintner’s Lounge tickets to the Boston Wine Expo as part of their brand ambassador program. All images and opinions are my own.

Recipe Testing: Chocolate and Wine

If you’ve found your way to this little corner of the internet, you’re probably a chocolate and wine lover like myself. Separately or together, they are a match made in heaven and (quite obviously) two of my favorite things in the world.

Two weekends ago, I attended the 2017 Boston Wine Expo (highlights & favorites coming ASAP, promise!) We always stop by the 90+ Cellars set-up because they have a huge variety of quality wine at varying price points. They even had a blind taste test which Sean and I totally nailed! They didn’t have my favorite L’Amis Barbaresco on the floor this year and once I saw the color of the wine in my glass my super intuitive deduction skills kicked in. Okay, I’m kidding about the deductive skills, but I did get it right. I got to talking with the company’s marketing manager and soon, we were chatting about partnering up on some chocolate and wine recipes. Who could say no to that?

Surprisingly, I’ve never used red wine when making dessert so I settled on a few simple sweets to test the waters: Red Wine Hot Cocoa and Red Wine Brownies. (I also attempted Red Wine Chocolate Truffles. On account of user error, aka me failing miserably, these were not successful. I ran out of time to try a second round so I will be adding them back to the list for near-future recipes.)

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Back to the things that were successful. First up … Red Wine Hot Cocoa!

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I love hot chocolate, especially when it’s super creamy and extra indulgent. I wanted to see how the 90+ Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (from Argentina, not California) would elevate milk chocolate and dark chocolate so I tried both. By far, the Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa was the best. Hands down. Zero question. The fruitiness of the Cab gave the cocoa a raspberry and plum-esque flavor that’s delicious on it’s own or, if you’re feeling fancy, would be fantastic paired with a cheese plate.

I didn’t add extra sugar to either cocoa because I really wanted to the chocolate itself to shine through and be the sweetener here, but I think I would add a bit to the dark chocolate cocoa.  It might have been that I used a high cocoa bar (70% dark) which made it a little too intense as a hot drink so lowering that cocoa content could also help.

Red Wine Hot Cocoa (makes 2 servings)

12 oz milk (I used 1%)
6 oz half and half or light cream
4 ounces high quality chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup red wine (I used this 90+ Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon)

Bring a saucepan to medium heat on the stove. Add milk and half & half (or cream) and bring to a simmer but do not let it boil. Add chopped chocolate and stir until completely melted. Add wine and continuing stirring until the mixture is hot, about 3 minutes. Serve in two large mugs.

Next up … “Blend” Brownies.

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90+ sent their Big Bad Red Blend and it was clear that using a blended wine in the recipe called for something a little unconventional. I decided to use a “blend” of chocolate – about 3/4 bar of each milk and dark chocolate, melted them into butter and then added the rest of the ingredients. The result was a moist, cake-y brownie that had a subtle and luxurious hint of the red wine. The Big Bad Red Blend elevated the two chocolates and made the brownies irresistible. (Seriously, they were gone in 3 days…)

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Red Wine “Blend” Brownies

1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, melted
About 5 oz. chocolate (I used roughly 3/4 of a Lindt EXCELLENCE 70% Dark Chocolate Bar and roughly 3/4 of a Lindt CLASSIC RECIPE Milk Chocolate Bar)
2 eggs, room temperature
1 & 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4-1/3 cup red wine (I used 90+ Cellars Big Red Blend)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt butter and add chocolate. Stir over medium heat until chocolate is completely melted.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add brown sugar and start the mixer. Gently pour butter/chocolate combination until mixed thoroughly. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Drop the mixing speed to low and add flour and cocoa. Once they just come together, add wine. Start with 1/4 cup and increase up to 1/3 cup if the batter is too thick.

Pour batter into a greased 9×9 square pan and bake until the brownies are set, about 30-35 minutes.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (although I doubt they would last that long…)

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Finally, I can’t end this post without mentioning the 90+ Cellars Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the wine used in the chocolate truffles attempt and then found itself in my glass once all of the testing was completed. This Cab falls under 90+ Cellar’s “Reserve” section of their website as it is at a slightly higher price point than the other 2 “Core” wines I tested. In my opinion, is worth every extra cent. It’s full-bodied with a smooth finish, complimented by notes of mocha and tobacco giving it a slightly smoky edge. This wine would be perfect to serve at a dinner party or make a beautiful gift for a Cab lover in your life. I would know; I want someone to gift this to me!

Are there any chocolate and wine desserts you’d like to try? Leave a comment and they may get added to Round 2 of recipe testing.

This post is was created in partnership with 90+ Cellars, but all opinions and images are my own. Thank you for supporting brands who support Chocolate & Wine!

Chocolate Chunk Deep Dish Skillet Cookie

I first got the idea for this cookie the other night when I knew I wanted to bake but couldn’t decide what. I thought, maybe chocolate chip cookies, but I didn’t really want to make chocolate chip cookies… We’ve all been there, right?

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While I toyed around with making my go-to, tried-and-true choco chip cookie recipe (my husband’s favorite) I realized I didn’t have chocolate chips. Plus, my beautiful, new cast iron skillet we got for our wedding was calling my name. I’ve made cookie cakes before so figured an extra large cookie in a skillet would be doable. I wanted to use a specific type of chocolate and only had a limited amount of sugar, so I tinkered until the dough tasted like heaven. (Yes, I do eat raw cookie dough, judge me as you will.) I also decided to photograph the whole process so it took about 5 times longer to make said cookie than it normally would have. (Side note: People – bloggers, photographers, creatives – who do these things for a living do not get enough credit. It really does take SO LONG to get the styling right and the lighting just so, and what if you spill sugar all over the counter and subsequently on the floor (asking for a friend), and then there is all of the clean-up after your done said styling and photographing and cooking…)

But I digress.

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Back to this cookie. It’s got that amazing soft, chewy, still-doughy-like quality of those cookie cakes I’ve always loved. It puffs up, turns golden brown, and the chocolate melts just the right amount but still holds up. Sean did say that he thought it could use even MORE chocolate, so I think next time I’ll use an entire bar instead of the 3/4 of a bar that I mixed in this time. I used a Lindt CLASSIC RECIPE Milk Chocolate bar  (because, duh.) I’m probably biased but it really is the best chocolate, especially if you are looking for a chocolate chip alternative.

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This skillet cookie was, in short, incredible. It could easily feed 8 people with decent-sized slices, but that didn’t stop Sean and me from polishing it off in a matter of 3 days…

So what if you’d rather not use milk chocolate? Gotcha covered – I’ve already got a few other variations of this recipe in my head, just by switching out the chocolate you use. Like, how amazing would a dark chocolate sea salt cookie skillet be? Or a truffle cookie skillet?? The possibilities are endless. For even more decadence, maybe melt some extra chocolate, drizzle it over individual cookie pieces and serve it warm and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Boom, fancy dessert done. Now excuse me while I go plan a whole dinner party around this cookie.

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Chocolate Chunk Deep Dish Skillet Cookie

Serves: 8 (or 2 over the course of 3 days…)

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
  • ½ cup white granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (3.5oz) bar Lindt CLASSIC RECIPE Milk Chocolate, chopped into large chunks

How-To:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and both sugars until combined and fluffy.
  3. Add in the egg and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed until combined.
  4. Slowly add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Gently stir in the chocolate chunks until evenly distributed throughout the dough.
  6. Place cookie dough into the cast iron skillet and spread around with clean, damp hands into an even layer. (Note: This dough is a little sticky.)
  7. Add extra chocolate chunks on top and gently press them into dough.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.
  9. Cool completely before slicing.

What chocolate combination would your ideal skillet cookie have?

California Dreamin’

As I mentioned in my End-Of-2016 post, 2017 is already shaping up to be quite the travel year. I couldn’t be happier about it. What better way to start the year than with a trip to California? Cue my friend Sara who would always argue that “the West Coast is the best coast.” I debated with her all through grad school but being in California for 11 days and loving every second makes my argument tough to defend these days…

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On the 4th of January, I boarded a plane to LA for a work trip to the Golden Globe Awards. This is the event of the year for my team and we started planning back in July. Seriously, that’s when I booked my plane ticket (on JetBlue for super cheap I may add.) Lindt Chocolate USA is the Official Confection Sponsor of the Globes and as such, we have a variety of activations, both before and on the day of the awards show. Things like special chocolate boxes on the tables for all of the celebrities, a live sampling booth in the lounge off of the ballroom where the show is taking place, and a booth/bar at the Weinstein-Netflix After Party.

My boss, Chandra, and I rented gorgeous rose gold Badgley Mischka dresses from Rent the Runway for the event and felt right at home with the stars. Along with our two Master Chocolatiers, CEO, Lindt team members and bloggers, our chocolate was quite the hit. We chatted with celebs, sampled thousands (and thousands!) of truffles and chocolate bars and even walked the Red Carpet.

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Lindt Team in the Golden Globes ballroom lounge
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The entire Lindt Team at the Weinstein-Netflix After Party

As a longtime Pretty Little Liars fan (anyone else??), one of the major highlights of the night was working with Shay Mitchell (who plays Emily in the show). As our celebrity partner, she took photos before and during the after party and was just an all-around down-to-earth, super sweet person. She even took a Snapchat video with myself and Chandra in it (…dying) and then we took a PLL “shush” picture with her (…more dying). I managed to keep it together pretty well even though the fangirl in me was screaming on the inside.

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Shay Mitchell + Me = Instant BFFs

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After a killer showing at the Golden Globes, the Lindt team flew home on Monday morning and left me behind. Kidding! Kind of. I did stay behind and Sean flew in for a 6-day California vacation. This was the first time in our almost 5 years together that we found ourselves in Cali at the same time. I’ve gone for work twice and Sean for work 5 or 6 times but this was the first opportunity we were able to connect on the west coast. We hit the ground running just hours after Sean’s plane landed and jam-packed our week with things to do, things to see, and PLENTY of beer.

Also pertinent to note that on this trip prior to Sean flying in my team was able to do some fun things, like go to a Laker Game at the Staples Center and eat phenomenal food. We stayed at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. It was swanky and upscale, although not as fancy as some of the hotels in other parts of LA, but I loved the feel and vibe of the place. Their Skybar and Ivory on Sunset restaurant are both winners. A group of us also dined at Del Frisco’s right on the Santa Monica pier. It had a stellar wine list and delicious salmon. I’d love to spend more time in that area on my next trip to Cali.

Los Angeles

On Monday, I checked out of The Mondrian just after noon and took an Uber up to Burbank to check in our hotel, The Tangerine. This place was essentially a glorified motel but it was cute and clean, the staff was friendly, and it was definitely a good budget find at under $150 a night with tax included. Since Sean’s flight was delayed, I had time to take a quick nap. Before I knew it, he had arrived with our rental car and we were off on a 10-minute walk over to Warner Brothers Studios for their studio tour. It was an absolute blast. Being such a huge aforementioned Pretty Little Liars fan, the first part of the tour was a stroll through “Smalltown, USA” better known as Rosewood (from PLL) and Stars Hollow for you Gilmore Girls fans out there. I was pretty much having a meltdown being in both places at once from shows that I’ve been watching for years.

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Welcome to Stars Hollow AND Rosewood!
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Rosewood High School… Not freaking out, not freaking out…
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Anyone recognize this house?

Also on the tour is a walk through their gigantic prop house, as well as an archive of Marvel and Harry Potter costumes and memorabilia. The Harry Potter nerd in me was so excited to see the Triwizard Cup, Golden Snitch, the Marauder’s Map, and even the Privet Drive fireplace complete with Harry’s Hogwarts letters. There’s also an entire interactive exhibit at the end of the tour which includes a lesson on the mechanics of flying a broomstick, a display of awards trophies, and the chance to ride a broomstick or drive a bat mobile motorcycle (which we obviously did.) Needless to say, we had a blast.

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On the “Friends” Central Perk set!

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Can I keep this?

That night, we grabbed dinner at a great little sushi place called Gindi Thai right down the street from our hotel. It was some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten. Even though it was early when we finished dinner, I was practically falling asleep at the table. When we got back to the hotel, I was passed out by 8pm and slept for 12 hours. In the morning, we checked out of our hotel and got breakfast at a super cute eatery called Olive & Thyme. The Eggs Benedict was super yummy – Sean and I both had it – and he ordered a mocha that I was seriously jealous of. Just look how pretty!

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The weather wasn’t great that morning but we took a chance and drove up to the Griffith Observatory; the same place they filmed “La La Land”. The view was all fog, but we still enjoyed walking around and just being there together. I even got Sean to do a few “La La Land” inspired dance moves so it wasn’t a total waste.

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Since we had some time to kill before heading down to Anaheim for the second part of our trip, we decided to be extra tourist-y and visit Hollywood proper for the Walk of Fame and Chinese Theater. I got to see it last year when I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel right on the walk, but since Sean hadn’t, we spent some time walking up and down, seeing some of our favorite celebs’ stars and tracking down David Bowie and Debbie Reynolds, who surprisingly were just a few stars apart.

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There’s also a Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum . I hadn’t been to one since a family trip to London years back and Sean went to the one in Vegas. We were told that this particular museum is completely interactive so we thought, what the heck? Inside, we were like kids on a playground, taking pictures with the celebrity statues and having some seriously ridiculous fun.

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I think Betty White was the MOST convincing figure in the wax museum
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This photo wins though…

Anaheim

After we were done goofing around in LA, we figured we should probably hit the road to Anaheim to make sure we had plenty of time to find the hotel and get ready for the night. The drive was a little grey starting out but the sun eventually broke through and I made it a point to blare the “La La Land” soundtrack as we drove out of Los Angeles.

We arrived at the Cortona Inn & Suites (which wasn’t all that luxurious but was a clean, inexpensive room that we knew we wouldn’t spend much time in anyway) and immediately got ready to head right back out. The first stop on the agenda was a local brewery, Noble Ale Works. Sean, as usual, got a flight and I started with one of their lighter beers before finding my favorite in their Pistol Whip’d Pilsner.

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After the brewery, we got an Uber to get dinner before attending an Anaheim Ducks hockey game. We made reservations at J.T. Schmid’s just across the street from the Honda Center. The atmosphere here was relaxed and casual; they even had a Bruins game playing on one of the TVs. Sean had a BBQ chicken flatbread pizza (which I was jealous I didn’t order) and I had fish tacos, which were good but not nearly as good as the flatbread.

We then headed across the street to the Honda Center for the game. Sean was extra excited because it was his first time in another team’s arena. The Ducks weren’t playing the Bruins but we had fun cheering them on against the Dallas Stars and listening to their hilarious fans all night. They heckled the Stars’ goalie for the entire game, used actual duck calls (like the one Sean uses for hunting) and there was a decent amount of quacking too. The Ducks won, our seats were great and overall, it was a successful first day in Anaheim.

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DUCKS WIN!!

We got up early the next day for our first of two days at Disneyland. I don’t think either of us could’ve been more excited. There was rain in the forecast so we packed our rain jackets and stuffed my sister’s Minnie backpack with extra layers and snacks.

The included breakfast at the hotel was terrible so we opted for Starbucks in Downtown Disney before heading into the actual park. When the Uber dropped us off, we went through security and I practically skipped into Downtown I was so happy. Finally fueled by good coffee, we walked through my favorite World of Disney store before taking our tickets through the entrance of the park. I had Minnie Ears from a trip to Disney World in Florida a few years back and spent a good amount of the day trying to convince Sean to get a Mickey Ear hat to wear with me. (It didn’t happen.)

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I couldn’t get him to buy Mickey Ears, but I was satisfied with this.

Being January, we assumed that the park would be empty, and while it was much much slower than usual, I’d say the crowd was more on the moderate side. It sprinkled for a bit just as the park opened and we sprinted to Hyper Space Mountain for our first ride. And good thing too because that line got long fast. Eventually the clouds passed and the sun came out, and we spent the entire day literally running around the park getting in every single ride we wanted to, some more than once. Never in my years and years of going to Disney World in Florida was I ever able to ride Splash Mountain three times in one day, but in Disneyland in January, we could practically walk onto the ride. I let Sean take the reins in terms of the schedule and figuring out what made the most sense with our fast passes, and he made sure no second was wasted in that park. We ended the day in Downtown Disney at an open-air bar with a beer and a glass of wine. Oh, and almost 30,000 FitBit steps!

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Can’t take us anywhere…
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First Dole Whips!

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The next day, we were up early to do it all again at California Adventure! This time, however, we were in for some rain. Actually A LOT of rain. It poured on and off all day which made it challenging to get on some of the rides at first (like the California Screamin’ roller coaster.) Somehow though, it all worked out. Just like the day before, we were able to ride all of the rides we wanted multiple times and there were even fewer people in California Adventure than the previous day in the main park. Plus, California Adventure has beer, so you know we took advantage of that. Beer + a cheesy pretzel + a dry bench overlooking the harbor + your husband is not a bad way to wait out a rain storm. We did get stuck on the Cars ride in the pouring rain which was slightly terrifying when your car slows way down and you’re still riding along the outside track with very steep turns, but hey, it’s an experience, right?

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When we got home that night, we were both soaked through and freezing, but for the fun we had it was worth it. I climbed into bed with a glass of wine and half of this Sprinkles cupcake – not a bad way to end two incredible days in Disney.

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Side note: I don’t care what anyone says about January being a terrible month to go to Disneyland. No the weather isn’t perfect, but I’d take rain and no lines over sunshine with packed crowds and long wait times any day!

San Diego

We let ourselves sleep in a little bit on Friday morning. We were both completely exhausted from the past two days and ready for a day of trying as much California beer as humanly possible. The drive from Anaheim to San Diego itself was smooth sailing with hardly any traffic and Sean drove the coastline so I could get my first real glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.

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Before getting into San Diego, we took a pitstop in Escondido to visit a brewery that Sean has been obsessing over for years – Stone Brewing. It was tucked into the side of an industrial building but opened up into a massive tasting room and outdoor area. It was noted many times that the breweries in California make the ones in New England look so tiny by comparison. There was over a dozen beers on tap to choose from, not including the guest taps from other Cali breweries. Sean was like a little kid in a candy store trying all of the different beers we aren’t able to get here in New Hampshire. I loved their Imperial Pilsner, which is also not available on the East Coast, so I had to have two tasters of it before we left.

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After Stone we stopped for lunch at In ‘n Out. Double double animal style with non-animal style fries, please. Seriously, I don’t understand why we don’t have this chain on the east coast and then I remember that it’s best for my waistline that we don’t. And no, I didn’t eat BOTH of these burgers; Sean ate the one too.

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When decided the best course of action for the rest of the afternoon would be to drop off our rental car at Sean’s brother’s house and Uber our way around. Our next stop was Ballast Point Brewing, another place Sean had been talking about for months. It was getting close to Happy Hour and the tasting room was filling up so we snagged a high top near the bar. This beer list was massive. I stuck with their three lightest beers and Sean went straight for their IPAs. Sean’s brother Mike joined us just a little while later and took us on the rest of our Tour de Beer.

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Photo Credit: Sean and his fancy iPhone 7 Plus

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring three more breweries that were close by: Green Flash, AleSmith, and Saint Archer. I think my favorite beer of the three was the White Ale at Saint Archer, but all of them had impressive taps. It was a brewery marathon to say the least.

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We had just enough time before picking up my sister-in-law from the airport to take a excursion to Old Town San Diego and grab dinner at Old Town Mexican Cafe. Being just a few minutes from the Mexican border, Old Town is the place to go for the most authentic food. I could’ve eaten an entire basket of warm, freshly made tortillas (with one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had) as my dinner. I opted for street tacos – one steak, one pork – and ended up taking most of it home because the portions were huge. Highly recommended on a visit to San Diego.

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The next morning, we ventured out to the San Diego Zoo and oh-em-gee were we surprised at what we were in for. We’d heard so many wonderful things about the zoo, including that it’s possible to spend upwards of 5 or 6 hours in there. What we didn’t realize is that it’s essentially Disney World for animals. Absolutely massive. Needless to say, we were not prepared. We did have fun wandering all over the zoo, finding our favorite animals (mine was the baby panda and every single species of cats; Sean liked the giant hippos) and taking photos over the span of four hours. However, if we had really understood the size and time commitment of the zoo (aka done the research we should have done ahead of time), we probably would’ve opted out of it on this trip and spent the day at the beach or along the coast instead. After two straight days at Disney just a few days before, we were a little done with the crowds…. and the walking.

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Shortly after getting home, we quickly got ready and turned right back around for an evening at Pacific Beach. Mike and his wife, Celina, have been San Diego natives for a few years but decided to buy a house and move to her home state of Oregon so they had a going away party with a bunch of their friends at a local hotel bar, Tower 23. It was swanky while still maintaining a beachy feel and the Patriots game against Houston was on so it made for an all-around great evening.

Sadly, we had to fly home on Sunday. After a nice breakfast with Mike and Celina, we headed to the airport. I was so sad to see our trip end and definitely had some post-event/vacation blues going back to work that week. The silver lining is I have lots of travel plans coming up (I see you Nashville….) and plenty of places on my list to see.

Next up? Sean’s 31st Birthday and of course, the Boston Wine Expo both happening in February! I’ll be live-tweeting and Instagram storying (TBD on whether that’s an actual verb) from the BWE. If you’ll be there, shoot me an e-mail (chocolateandwineblog@gmail.com) and let’s meet up!

If you haven’t purchased tickets to the Expo, use code WINEDERFUL17 at checkout for 15% off Grand Tasting tickets, weekend passes, VIP lounge, and select seminars! (Code valid through 2/14 at 11:59PM.)

 

Boston Wine Expo 2017 (+ GIVEAWAY)

I can’t believe that’s already the middle of January. Where is all of this time going?

On Sunday I got back from 12 days in California. It was pretty incredible to say the least, and I will have a full recap of my trip coming soon. But now, I’m already looking ahead to February which, despite the freezing cold winters and all of the snow here, is one of my favorite times of the year. Sean’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, a day off for President’s Day, and of course, the Boston Wine Expo, all make for one jam-packed, super fun month.

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A very small part of the giant Boston Wine Expo floor. Also known as the calm before the storm…

I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Boston Wine Expo as a brand ambassador for the past few years. I always say it’s one of my favorite events of the year and one of the best that Boston puts on. It’s no secret that I love wine. Love love. And in the past 2 or so years I’ve really branched out. I no longer only drink Cabernet Sauvignon. I don’t shy away from a crisp Sauv Blanc or a sweet Port. And while I do still gravitate towards red wine more often than not, try to stop me from enjoying a cold glass of Chardonnay on a hot summer day.

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Keeper of the Bubbly.

This year, attending the Boston Wine Expo as a seasoned Expo vet has some definite perks. We have a pretty good idea how to navigate the expo floor (which is gigantic) and we know that snack time is about every 20-30 minutes when you’re drinking wine for 4-6 hours straight. Also, you don’t have to drink every single sip of every single wine you try. (I learned that the hard way in year 1.) Find a pace that is right for you and instead of frantically bouncing from table to table trying to fit everything in in one day (it’s impossible…), spend some time in the regions you love or the regions you may have been hesitant to try in the past.

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So many wines, so little time.

There’s also a variety of other things you can do at the Expo besides stay on the main floor. Treat yourself to VIP tickets to the Vintner’s Reserve Lounge where there are even more wines to try (some very rare, others very expensive). Get tickets to one of the many seminars where you can hone your focus on one particular subject (the Cheese & Wine one looks like it would be right up my alley), or grab a free seat at a live cooking demonstration as different ones are held throughout the day.

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Wine flights at the 2014 Rioja seminar.

 

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The good life in the 2015 Vintner’s Reserve Lounge.
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My favorite wine from the 2016 Vintner’s Lounge (about $50/bottle in New Hampshire)

This year’s Expo is being held the weekend after Valentine’s Day on Saturday and Sunday, February 18th and 19th. Fun fact, this is also President’s Day Weekend so if you’re lucky enough to have Monday off, there are so many good things about this: A) You get a super fun and unique Valentine’s Day date with someone special, and B) you can sleep off all that wine on Monday. Win-win!

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The best BWE date year after year.

I’m giving away a pair of tickets to Sunday’s Expo hours! To enter, leave a comment below telling me which type of wine you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t been able to yet. For bonus entries, follow me on Instagram and Twitter and leave me individual comments letting me know that you did!

BONUS OFF-BLOG ENTRY: Follow the instructions on THIS Instagram post and you’ll have another chance to win!

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Cody!

There’s still time to purchase tickets to the Expo. Use code WINEDERFUL17 at checkout for 15% OFF Grand Tasting tickets, weekend passes, VIP Vintner’s Lounge and select seminars. (Offer expires 2/14 at 11:59 PM)

2016: My Year in Travel

I try not to make New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of every year. I don’t enjoy putting pressure on myself to lose X amount of weight or eat less of this or that. I try to live my life day to day and while I do make conscious efforts to go to the gym, maintain a healthy weight and cook (mostly) balanced food, I do my best not to wait until January 1st rolls around to do so.

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New Years Eve 2015!

BUT, I knew 2016 was going to be a big year for me. Even before it started, I had quite a few travel plans lined up both work and wedding-related. So I made a secret resolution to try to escape from normalcy just once a month during 2016, whether it was by plane or car, just going somewhere different. Even if it was in my New Hampshire backyard or my home state of Massachusetts.

I’m happy to say I kicked that resolution’s butt.

I’m not a “travel blogger” by any means. In fact, I haven’t written much about my travel experiences, but I consider myself a traveler through and through. I love seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, foods, people. And if I’m being completely honest, I love the touristy crap as much as the next person (give me ALL the museums!)

I was very lucky growing up because my family traveled a lot. My dad worked for two international airlines during his life, benefiting my mom, sister and myself with European adventures most kids don’t get to have. I didn’t know it at the time, but those experiences would instill in me a travel bug that would only get stronger as I got older. And while it’s true that I would almost always rather fly than drive (and lots of whining ensues if we do drive), I’ve never turned down an opportunity to travel.

Back to 2016. It brought with it new a country, a few new states, and a vast amount of cities I had never seen before. While I could write a post that goes on forever about every single thing I did and probably bore you to tears, here are the highlights over the course of the year.

January. 2016 started with my first ever trip to California. I knew I’d be hooked the moment I got there. My husband, who was my fiance at the time, joked that we’d probably not get married because I’d fall in love with Cali and never come back. (Spoiler alert: I did come back.) I headed to LA just after the new year for a business trip to the Golden Globes where my company took on the title of Official Confection for the awards show/ (I know, I know… my job sucks.) Though we did work almost the entire time we were there, we did have 1 extra day after the awards before flying home to do some site-seeing (and eating…)

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    Breakfast at the Wanderlust Cafe in Los Angeles. It’s kind of out of the way, but trust me, it’s worth it.
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The Weinstein-Netflix Golden Globes After Party 2016

February. A low-key month. I surprised Sean with a quick trip down to Boston to have dinner at the Top of the Hub to celebrate his 30th birthday. It wasn’t exactly “jet-setting” off to a new place but later that month we also went back to Boston to attend the Boston Wine Expo, which many of you know, is one of my favorite local events of the entire year. We stayed at Aloft Boston, which was new last year (and has since gotten pricier) but it has a super modern vibe and comfy accommodations. Be sure to stay tuned next month here on the blog, as well as my Twitter and Instagram for chances to win tickets to the 2017 Boston Wine Expo February 18-19!

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The Top of the Hub is a great place for a special occasion, but if you’ve never been there, keep in mind it’s definitely high-end and on the expensive side.
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A snapshot of the 2016 Boston Wine Expo!

March. I boarded a flight for another first: Nashville. My boss (who also happens to be one of my closest friends) has family there so we spent a long weekend at her dad’s house and hit all of the typical Lower Broadway bars and hot spots during the trip. We also had breakfast at the famous Loveless Cafe which was every bit worth the 2 hour wait. They have super cute shops to pass the time and I brought home Tennessee-made products as souvenirs which is always something I strive to do when I’m in a new place. No offense to those “Made in Taiwan” trinkets, but those are less my style. Her dad even got us tickets to the Grand Ole Opry where we sang along to Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Rock Me.”

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April. Yet another first: Salt Lake City. This was a work trip but work trips when you do social media and event planning for a chocolate company are never boring. We sponsored a lounge at a blogger conference and also hosted a special dinner for local influencers. It was a hit! I love planning these types of events because it brings so many cool people together and not only are we able to bond over the world of social media but also chocolate. Always a win-win situation.

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Highly recommend Bambara if you find yourself in SLC. Fantastic food and a wonderful staff. Our Lindt Influencer Dinner could not have been better.

May. Two words: Bachelorette Party. Two more words: Portland, Maine. And not just any bachelorette party, MY bachelorette party. My sister (who was my Maid of Honor) and my bridesmaids threw me an EPIC weekend in Portland complete with a low-key sleepover night in with pizza and games, a full day of beer tasting and touring and other special things at Allagash Brewing Company, an amazing dinner at The Old Port Sea Grille and night out where I danced my shoes off at probably the diveiest but most fun bar we could find , and then even more amazing food the next day at DuckFat (get the poutine!!) before rounding out the weekend getting coffee and The Holy Donut for the ride home. Brides, if you are looking for a destination for your bachelorette party, Portland is a must!

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Myself and my beer-loving, bachelorette-partying friends at Allagash Brewing Company at the end of our tour.
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Half a dozen donuts = #WeddingDiet

June. Then I got married. Yup, crazy. They tell you it’s the best day of your life and also the fastest and it couldn’t have been more true. Our wedding took place in my hometown church where I grew up and then our reception was at a country club in a quaint Massachusetts north shore town. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

© Jillian Knight Photography 2016 www.jillianknight.com
Wedding Photography by Jillian Knight Photography

We chased the wedding with 11 days and 10 nights at the all-inclusive Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica. The smaller of the two Couples Negril resorts, it was intimate without being too small or cramped and we had a ridiculous amount of fun. We splurged on a suite which I highly recommend for a honeymoon in paradise. It opened right out to the gardens, was just a short walk to the beach and had a deck complete with a hammock that we laid in to relax and read during a few afternoon rain showers.

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Hammock time!
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Stick your flag in the sand, get a drink. I could get used to this.

In between laying on the beach every morning (bottomless mimosas in hand) and sailing every afternoon, Sean and I also got to explore some of the beautiful island of Jamaica. We spent one morning ziplining and visiting a local mineral spring and another entire day on a special excursion:the Black River safari, rope swinging into the stunning YS Falls and touring the famous Appleton Estate Rum Factory. I couldn’t recommend that all day excursion enough if you ever find yourself in Jamaica. It was quite a drive from our resort but our driver was not only super friendly but pointed out lots of interesting things during the day.

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July. We headed down to Connecticut for a good friend’s wedding. I don’t get to Connecticut much even though it’s only a few hours and 1 state away, but we had a really fun time at the wedding and got to spend it with all of my wonderful dance friends, who by now, are more like family. Plus, we figured out that all of our dress colors made a rainbow. (Just missing the bride who would’ve been the perfect white cloud at the end of this rainbow!)

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August. Another trip, another first. Our good friends invited us to stay with them for a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard and Sean and I jumped on the chance right away. Neither of us had ever been to the Vineyard before but after spending a few days there, I couldn’t believe I waited 28 years of my life to visit. We spent a day at Long Point beach, visited local brewery Bad Martha (which I loved), and enjoyed dinner at The Port Hunter, where the host came over and de-boned my friend’s whole fish dinner in 10 seconds flat. We had snacks and beers at Offshore Ale, late-night drinks at 20byNine, and visited the lighthouse at Gay Head. All recommended for a wonderful weekend away.

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The most perfect day on the Vineyard.

September. This was a crazy month, but not in the travel sense. I took on TWO new dance jobs and got promoted at Lindt. My life went from full time wedding planning to somewhat on the quiet side during the 2 months following and then ramped right back up again into the high gear, fast-paced life that I’m much more used to. But before all of that craziness kicked in, Sean and I got the chance to go down to the Newburyport/Salisbury area of Massachusetts, which is just south of the New Hampshire border, to visit one of our favorite summer spots, The Deck, which also happens to belong to an old friend of mine. They’ve recently expanded their main deck overlooking the ocean and we enjoyed beers, calamari and homemade guac during one of the last really nice days of the season.

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Not a bad place to spend the last of summer.

October. Back to Salt Lake City for work yet again, this time to sponsor the Better Blog Retreat with some of the most influential bloggers in the food and lifestyle space. This conference is much smaller than the one we did earlier in the year in SLC and we hosted a LINDOR Hot Chocolate Bar. It was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up and it was fun to see everyone’s chocolate concoctions. Pro tip: the best hot cocoa is hot milk and 2-3 LINDOR truffles melted and mixed in. Bonus points if you splash in some whipped cream vodka, because why the hell not?

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Just another day at the office.

November. Once a year, Sean and I drive north to spend a few hours in Ogunquit, Maine. It’s a really special place to us for a number of reasons: it’s the spot Sean took me on our first date back in August 2012. The following summer we went back just to walk around and enjoy the ocean and the town. No surprise by now, but it’s where Sean got down on one knee in 2014 and asked me to marry him and where we took our engagement photos in 2015. 4 years later, we took our 5th trip to the Marginal Way walk in Perkins Cove and while it was way colder than year than the 68 degree day when he proposed, it was every bit as special.

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Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine
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The same walk we took on our first date, the day Sean proposed, and for our engagement photos.

This year was also the first time that I did not spend Thanksgiving in Maine with my family. Instead, we took a road trip down to Maryland with Sean’s parents to visit my sister-in-law and her husband. I’m not really a car person and  dreaded the 8-10 hour drive the week leading up to it but thanks to downloaded movies, a few books, and my friend Dramamine, the drives down and back weren’t bad at all!

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Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania and I didn’t even have to wear a winter coat!

We toured Washington D.C. two of the days were there, and had Thanksgiving itself in Pennsylvania with my brother-in-law’s family. We also stopped in PA on the way home to pick up my in-laws’ new Yorkie puppy, Tucker, so it was a multi-state trip and so much fun.

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The whole fam in the Library of Congress.

I got particularly excited about the Julia Child exhibit in the American History Museum. While the rest of my family explored the FOOD section, I hovered around the kitchen and all of the things that went along with it. Safe to say I was fangirling hardcore.

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Julia Child’s Kitchen!!!

December. Maine & Rhode Island both for friend/family/Christmas-related things. Quick ttips in both directions, and nothing particularly huge to write home about, but still a fun few weekends to round out what was probably the busiest (and best!) year of my life so far.

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Our 1st Christmas (Eve) as Mr. & Mrs!

The big question is… how do I top this in 2017? Well, I may not have as many trips on the calendar (yet) but I have a few ideas up my sleeve. I think it’s high time I make my way back to Europe; 5 years is too long to be away. So far, here’s the line-up:

January. California!! Back to the Golden Globes for the 2nd year (we leave this coming Wednesday!) for more fun in the celebrity backstage lounge, throwing an influencer event in West Hollywood, and ending the night at the Weinstein-Netflix after party. Then, when my team flies home the following Monday, Sean is flying in to spend the rest of the week exploring LA, Anaheim (including a Ducks game and DISNEY LAND!), and San Diego with me.

February. No major traveling, but we are spending a weekend in Boston for the 2017 Boston Wine Expo (more details to come!) Be sure to check back in January for a chance to win tickets to this year’s event – it’s going to be another awesome year. And if you just can’t wait for a chance to win tickets, use code BLOGGERTASTE17 at your ticket check out for a special discount.

March. 2 confirmed trips this month! Going back to Nashville for the second year in a row and taking my college dance team to nationals in Anaheim at the end of the month. (GO SNHU!)

April. A trip to Texas for work that may or may not include a quick stint in Waco to visit my favorite HGTV couple, but we’ll see…

May. Down to Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding!

June. One weekend we’ll spend in the seaside town of Gloucester, Mass. for a childhood friend’s wedding and then another weekend down in Providence, Rhode Island for a fraternity friend’s wedding. All the love!

Summer. Potential trip to Kansas to see Sean’s grandparents for a long weekend. Maybe a road trip to Burlington, Vermont to celebrate my 29th birthday and our 1-year anniversary?? TBD.

Fall. England?? Paris?? Buy a house in New Hampshire?? I guess we’ll see what happens!

At this point, I think I’ll make another not-so-secret resolution for 2017 to once again escape the everyday once a month. Even if it’s just to another corner of New Hampshire, I don’t foresee this travel bug going away any time soon.

2016, you were amazing. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!

If you have LA, Anaheim or San Diego recommendations for things to see, do, eat, please send them my way!

Follow my adventures on Twitter, Instagram, and of course, Snapchat (@marietorto)!