Recipe: Lena’s Life-Changing Cookies

 
 
 
One time Lena gave me 7 of these cookies while we were out to lunch and I ate them under the table in the restaurant in under a minute and I don’t know if that says more about me or her bomb-ass cookies.
— Rachael M

There was once a time when I thought I would make Toll House cookies from the grocery store FOREVER.

I didn’t know diddly squat about baking. And when I rolled up my sleeves to make my first cookies from scratch… I forgot to grease the baking sheet and they were a hot, burnt mess that fused to the pan. RIP to that pan. Apparently you shouldn’t use the random baking soda that deodorizes your fridge for your batter either. Hey, I’m no Christina Tosi yet, so bear with me here.

As a newly married man, it’s important to keep your wife happy.
Nothing makes my wife happier than when I whisper those three magic words...
”Lena’s homemade cookies.”
— Jerad D
 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups salted butter (4 sticks)

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 3 cups brown sugar, packed

  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 4 large eggs

  • 3 1/2 cups flour

  • 2 cups oats

  • 1 cup butterscotch chips

  • 1 cup chocolate chunks

  • 1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

  • 1 cup mini M&M’s

  • 1-2 crushed handfuls of Trader Joes peanut putter filled pretzels, salted

 
 

INSTRUCTIONS

Makes ~6 dozen cookies (yeah, you’re gonna want that many)

1) Mix room temperature butter and sugar (2-3 minutes with hand mixer)

2) Add eggs and vanilla (beat for 1 minute)

3) Combine flour, baking soda, and oats in separate bowl

4) Add dry to wet, mixing one cup at a time until all mixed

5) Add extras, mix again

6) Use a cookie scoop to dole out onto a greased sheet pan

7) Bake at 350 degrees for ~10 minutes (every oven is different so just watch them ok)

 
 

TIPS

  • Don’t forget to grease the flippin’ pan! Or use parchment paper!

  • Dough is best baked when refrigerated, so after making the batter, either put the whole bowl in the fridge to scoop later, or scoop them all out onto a sheet pan immediately and chill those babies for minimum 1 hour, best 12-24 hours

  • I like to bake in bulk, so I save one batch for now and the rest for later in labeled freezer bags. Then, when I’m feeling like a delicious homemade cookie ASAP, I can pop them straight from the freezer into the oven WHAT A LIFE HACK FOLKS

  • If you use unsalted butter, add 2 tsp salt to the batter. If you use salted butter, don’t add extra salt #thanksjayme

  • Feel free to get creative with the toppings. Add your own mix-ins, do less of some and more of another, etc. I honestly forget SOMETHING every time I make these, so don’t worry, they’ll survive a little experimentation

  • The best way to store extra cookies its in a tupperware container with a piece of BREAD. Yes I said bread! White bread, wheat bread, bulkie roll, whatever. The cookies retain moisture from the bread and are even softer the day after you bake them. Replace the bread every 1-2 days as it gets hard. This is my all time favorite bake hack for sure!

They are like little discs of crack.
I ate 10 of them at once.
— Dan S.
 
 
They are fucking bomb dot com.
— Jules L.
 
 

Italian Holiday in Rome + The Amalfi Coast 2018

 
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When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…

Was truly the theme of the whole trip. We came. We saw. We ate.

In Rome, we stayed in a super chic, glass floored Airbnb called the Rasella Loft by the Trevi Fountain in Rome for 3 days and at an Airbnb owned by the sweetest couple called Casa Perla in Positano on the Amalfi Coast for 4 days.

One of the highlights of the trip was biking through Rome with Giulia - she was the best guide (and owns a female bike co-op!) and knew all the best spots for food around Rome.

Of course, followed by our ravioli & meatball making class by Vatican City. Serena taught us how to make the most delicious food, and we got to eat it all with a glass of wine at the end!

The Amalfi Coast is famous for its seafood, views, and lemons - two of which we greatly enjoyed. Limoncello, fresh fruit from the market, giant lemons, lemon granitas, and heaping amounts of pasta and pizza from Ristorante C'era Una Volta.

We spent every single day in Positano on the beach - not at the main Spaggia, but at Fornillo beach, which wasn’t crowded and touristy. We climbed 50 flights of stairs to get to the beach and 50 flights back up. PHEW.

Scroll through our photos to get to the food + activity recommendations at the bottom!

 
 

food highlights of ROME:

Roscioli for pastries and prosciutto, grab some from their deli next door to bakery (by Campo di Fiori)

Pasta at Ai Tre Scalini - Cavour 313 - La Casetta a Monti (all in the same neighborhood)

Pizza at Dar Poeta (sit down) OR Antico Forno del Ghetto - in the Jewish section. It looks like a deli, but there’s pizza everywhere. Get the potato one and classic cheese, you order, then pay at the other counter, then grab your pizza. You’d think it’s old stale pizza but it literally changed my life. 

Gelato at Origini Gelato or Blue Ice Gelato (they have kiwi flavor!!!)

Pasticceria Panificio Panella Roma for pastries, also there’s one in the Jewish corner by the Synagogue - Pasticceria Boccione it’s GREAT

Great tiramisu at POMPI by Vatican City

Best cannoli of my MF life (hazelnut) at I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza (by Campo di Fiori)

ACTIVITY HIGHLIGHTS OF ROME:

Trevi Fountain (go early in the AM)

Coliseum (go early in the AM)

Roman Forum

Palazzo della Sapienza

Spanish Steps

Piazza Navona (great for a drink)

Pantheon

Villa Borghese for sunset

Campo di Fiore market

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Chicago Summer 2018 Kickoff

Chicago Summer 2018 Kickoff

Memorial Day weekend and a 25th birthday in Chicago? You better believe it! Check out some good eats, retro bowling, river walks, bike adventures, tiki drinks, and even a HELICOPTER ride!

Springtime in Martha's Vineyard 2018

Springtime in Martha's Vineyard 2018

4 days, 2 photographers, and 1 epic bicycle ride. Check out our adventures in Martha’s Vineyard - firing up the grill, picnicking on the beach, and chasing the sunset before getting Back Door Donuts!

Lena's Guide to Los Angeles, California

Lena's Guide to Los Angeles, California

California: utterly warmer than Boston in November, full of amazing food, lots of beautiful sunsets and mountains and everything in-between. Paul and I are coming up on our 3 year anniversary, and finally took our first BIG trip together to Los Angeles! We balled out for a week and had a blast. If you were following on my Instagram stories, you saw some hilarious videos, lots of food, and tons of bubble tea. Here's your Lena Mirisola guide to LA - including details on everywhere we stayed, ate, and visited! All photos taken in iPhone, all panoramas by Paul ;)

Hello pretty mountains!

AIRBNB #1 - SILVER LAKE DREAM HOUSE

This Airbnb was insane. No right angles in the whole thing! We climbed up tons of stairs past lemon and orange trees to our little piece of paradise - with a 360 degree wraparound porch overlooking the Hollywood Sign, mountains, and Silver Lake. The sunsets were truly amazing.

Silver Lake Ramen = possibly my best meal in LA. Look at that fried chicken. They cook their broth for 16 hours... my stomach is grumbling just thinking about it.

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DesignerCon was happening in Pasadena, and our Johnny Cupcakes family was there... so of course we had to pop over and surprise them!!! We had a blast looking at all the art, seeing our friends on a different coast, and buying some art prints (bubble tea themed of course).

We got lost trying to find the Hollywood sign. Note: the signs that say "no access?" They're serious. We scrambled up to the Griffith Observatory instead with only 20 minutes to spare before sunset (damn you daylight savings) - and boy did we see something spectacular. 

What the f.

So, the next day, we tried to find the REAL Hollywood sign trails. It said 3 miles roundtrip. HA! I can power walk that in Boston in like 45 minutes. Let's do this.

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NOPE. A WHOLE LOT OF NOPE. That hike was almost 1,000 foot elevation climb in the dead sun. I almost died, like 100% fact. We had no idea the hike would be that grueling... and if you didn't know before, I FUCKING HATE HIKING.

I only smiled for 4 seconds the whole time trust me

So after coming back from the dead and showering off the 17 layers of dirt on us, we headed to Santa Monica and Venice Beach.

...and got the famous PHORRITO! Yup. A pho burrito. And yes - it tasted just like the real thing!!! We grabbed tea and mini waffles from Boba Lab to picnic on the beach with. We watch the waves and grabbed cheap hoodies from the vendors in Venice before grabbing a Frose at a rooftop bar for sunset.

And then sat in an hour and a half of bumper to bumper traffic back to Silver Lake #veryLA

Millie's breakfast was wild. That's a whole coconut! So delicious, you gotta go. Although the matcha was very Instagrammable, it was a little watery ;)

I love rocks in the ocean which is why I love El Matador State Park!!! We were killing time before checking into our Malibu Airbnb, so we packed a picnic and drove to this amazing beach.

Below right: the drive up the mountains to the Airbnb, below left: the view from the Airbnb!

All windows baby. You had to drive an extra 10/15 min winding up and down the mountains to get here... it was so remote, but watching the sunrise and sunset from here was awesome.

We've arrived at Malibu Pier! Free street parking too.

Malibu Farm breakfast was out of this world. Coconut milk quinoa oatmeal?!?!? AND THAT VIEW!!! A bit pricey, but what ISN'T in Malibu?

NEW BEACH!!! Point Dume beach was incredible. You can take a tiny hike up the cliffs for stunning views, climb over rocks at low tide for a private beach (Pirate's Cove) and we even saw seals hanging out on the rocks!!!

Had the whole thing to ourselves!

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Quick trip down to Santa Monica (I was going stir crazy in Malibu - it's like being out in the countryside!!! Not much to do but go to the beach!!!)

We caught the sunset, grabbed tea at Volcano Tea, and had some delicious burgers at Pono Burger.

I definitely freaked out upon entering. The view was insane. Mountains on the left, city on the right. This is my dream home. How much is rent!?!?

Paul made us stop at In-n-out and while I'm pretty sure they haven't changed the prices since 1948, the fries and shake were A++++. We started to miss driving our little Porsche down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Sunset in the hot tub = so much yes

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Quarters Korean BBQ - what an experience holy cow!!! The drinks were the best we had all trip and the food was wowwwww! The sesame marinated chicken, bulgogi, and japchae.... WOW.

Grand Central Market was SO COOL!!! SO many hipster venues, and I've been following Eggslut for so long on Instagram it was about time I had one in real life. Unfortunately I ate it on the sidewalk in 37 seconds. #sad

We visited The Broad, which is a free museum... but you have to pay $30 each for the exhibit. We lined up thinking we were buying tickets... WRONG. After an hour and a half (already committed, you know) we finally got to the front - and we still couldn't see the exhibit for another 4 hours minimum. And no, you can't buy tickets for the next day. Oh well! We came back later than night for Yayoi Kusama's show.

The dot room was wicked fun (we touched it all)

Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Koons...

Why not be tourists on the last day? (Only cared about the Disney stars and Judge Judy)

Goodbye LA, you were incredible. Until next time.... XOXO

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FOOD

SILVER LAKE

Silver Lake Ramen
Dinosaur Coffee
Cliff’s Edge
Same Same Thai
Millie’s Cafe
The Thirsty Crow

SANTA MONICA

Komodo
Boba Lab
Volcano Tea
High Lounge
Pono Burger

MALIBU

Malibu Farm
Duke’s 

KOREATOWN

Quarters Korean BBQ
Snow Monster
It’s Boba Time
Mr. Boba
OB Bear

DOWNTOWN

Grand Central Market (Eggslut!)

HOLLYWOOD

Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles

CAR

Turo

(Airbnb for cars - it was SO easy, fun, and cheaper than renting esp drivers under 25!)

ACTIVITIES

Griffith Observatory
Hollywood sign hike
Santa Monica Beach
Venice Beach
El Matador Beach
Point Dume Beach
The Broad Museum
Museum of Contemporary Art
Hollywood Walk of Fame

RANDOM THINGS TO NOTE

Gas is $$$

Valet parking is everywhere. Yeah, you gotta pay to park in a parking lot. It sucks. And don't forget to tip.

The traffic is bad but time things between 10am-2pm on a weekday and you'll be fine.

Wear sunscreen.

Make reservations when you can.

There were 30+ more places on our list to eat and drink, but you can only do so much in a week! If you have more faves when visiting LA, drop it in the comments for my readers!

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France + Germany + Austria Summer 2017

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Hello friends! This August, my best friend and I traveled to Paris, Munich, and Salzburg for a bit of summer fun in Europe. I wanted to share our travels, favorite things, mishaps, and more with you!

Fun fact: I bought a camera especially for this trip then took every single photo with my iPhone! HA!

PARIS, FRANCE

Stayed in: Marais Airbnb, Latin Quarter Airbnb

Ate: L'as du Fallafel, Le Grenier a Pain bakery, Berthillion gelato, Au P'tit Grec crepes, Le Petit Marcel steak frites, Pierre Herme macarons, Bobalitas bubble tea, flan, chocolate, pho, dumplings, baguettes, tartes, quiche, and more

Must do: Sunset boat cruise on the Seine via Bateaux-Mouches, view from Arc du Triomphe

Places to picnic: Luxembourg Gardens

Sights: Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower via Trocadero Gardens, Ile Saint-Louis, riverwalk, The Louvre area, Pompadou area, Palais-Royal Gardens, Montmartre 

Mishaps: Second Airbnb host a no-show at midnight, flight home cancelled and delayed over 30 hours, constantly got lost

Brought home: Chocolate, postcards, magnets, tapenade, caramel sauce

MUNICH, GERMANY

Stayed in: Airbnb 10 min from Marienplatz

Ate: Bratwurst, pretzels, Radler (beer + lemonade), apple strudel with cream, fried potato salad, sweet mustard

Must do: Shop and get sausage, pretzels, and beer at the Viktualienmarkt or Englischer Garten beer garden, climb up to the top of St. Paul's church for 360 views of the city, shop in Marienplatz

Places to picnic: Englischer Garten, Hofgarten, 

Sights: Rathaus (city hall), Marienplatz, Odeonsplatz, Residenzplatz

Mishaps: All stores and most everything else closes on Sundays so that got a little boring

Brought home: 6 jars of sweet mustard, postcards, magnets, nips, a scarf

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA

Stayed in: Day trip via train

Ate: Schnitzel, apple strudel with cream, potato salad, pretzels

Must do: Panorama Tours Lakes + Mountains (4 hours, includes boat ride on Wolfgangsee), view from Kaputzinerkloste church

Places to picnic: Mirabel Palace gardens, Kaputzinerberg park

Sights: Mirabel Gardens, the river, Residenzplatz, Chapter Fountain + Horse Pond, Salzburg Cathedral, Getreidegasse shopping, Furtwangler Park and market

Mishaps: Unknown construction on the railroad from Austria -> Germany - we de-boarded the train, got on a bus, got kicked off the bus, waited hours for another train in the middle of nowhere

Brought home: Postcards, magnets

Random things to note about Europe:

Public bathrooms are not free

Water is also not free, and expensive at restaurants

NO TIPPING AT RESTAURANTS!!!

Beware of pickpockets

Only metal detectors at airport security?!

Baguettes are super cheap

You greet store owners hello and goodbye ALWAYS

People eat dinner at 9/10pm in Paris

Some stores and restaurants close in the middle of the day in Paris

Uber is all over the world and is brilliant

Air conditioning is rare

The views are spectacular.

 

Thanks for reading loves! Be sure to follow all my adventures on Instagram!

 

ChooChoo Camp 2016 // Drift Studios, NYC

In the height of busy season, I left school for a week, packed a bag, and drove down to New York City. In typical Lena fashion, I parked my car in Chelsea, stepped outside, took in a big breath of fresh air... and hailed a cab to Chinatown.

So what were you doing?

I was attending the first ever Lookslikefilm ChooChoo Camp Workshop! Lookslikefilm started as a Facebook group where people could post their digital photos that, you guessed it - looked like film. Over the years, it grew from 1,000 members to an incredible community of 30,000 people supporting each other, sharing knowledge, giving editing tutorials, and conducting interviews with photographers around the world. The founders + leaders of the group, Jacob Loafman and Lukas Piatek announced that there would be a first-ever live three day workshop at Drift Studios in Chelsea, New York City with nine speakers and forty attendees from every corner of the globe. 

Why is it called "ChooChoo Camp?"

When your photo in the group would hit X amount of likes, you would be featured on their daily update. The Lookslikefilm train would roll down the imaginary internet tracks to all the highest rated photos that day and comment "Choo choo!!!" and your photo hopped on the train.

Every day we ate breakfast together, listened to two speakers in the morning, ate lunch, learned from one more speaker, then hit the streets for two live shoots.

Thank you to all the speakers!

Sam Hurd - Nessa Kessinger - Pablo Beglez - Nisha Ravji - Thierry Joubert - Katie Forbis - Mark Pacura - Twyla Jones - Alex James and to the one and only Jacob & Lukas for orchestrating this workshop. I'm so grateful for the wonderful friends I've made and the invaluable knowledge I've gained! Until next time... XO

No time for bullshit when you're in the chair.

Soho / Chinatown adventures! Eating dumplings alone is my superpower.

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6 live shoots with the speakers!

Sam + Nessa being all cute

Watching the master shoot was like watching black magic take place in front of your very eyes. Everyone was so helpful and willing to answer any questions.

High Line at lunch!

Shooting with Pablo!

Shooting with Jacob & Lukas was inspiring and eye-opening!

Freelensing, bright sun, tons of laughs.

36 Hours in Portland, ME

PORTLAND!

I had the pleasure of visiting the relocated miss Barb Peacock at her new home in downtown Portland! Being Instagram addicts and food lovers, we set out on foot through the charming city to explore the best flavors Portland has to offer. Here are our findings:

Duckfat: Don't skip the poutine! There is always a line out the door, but it's more than worth it for these deep fried decadents with the best dipping sauces on the East Coast.

Holy Donuts: That maple bacon and dark chocolate sea salt is a godsend. Also, all their donuts are made with real Maine mashed potatoes, so buy as many as you can before they sell out for the day.

Coastal Maine Popcorn Co: Never thought I'd love lemon chiffon popcorn, but I had to buy a large. You can sample their 50+ flavors - and from glazed cinnamon bun, to maple sriracha, to southwest cheddar, there's something to fall in love with.

Portland Patisserie & Grand Cafe: The mint julep iced tea tasted exactly like its namesake, and the chilled lavender honey macaron was one of the best I've ever eaten (and I've been to France).

Fore Street: Possibly the best dinner of my life??? Appetizer - wood roasted pork belly, french toast, toasted pecans, sugar beet puree, + maple glaze. Entree - marinated half chicken, duck fat fried sourdough bread, shallots, + greens. Dessert - blueberries + lemon curd, whipped cream, + spiced sugar. The kitchen was totally open in the middle of the room and the walk in fridge was all glass! Everyone who worked there was so passionate about food.

Standard Bakery: The. Friggin. Fresh. Baked. Bread.

The Farmer's Market at Monument Square: An epic farmers market, even though I've heard it's a fraction of the market that runs on weekend. Zinnias for $0.75, $1/pound heirloom tomatoes, $5/quart cherry tomatoes, $2/pound for potatoes, rainbow carrots, and green beans. Needless to say, my crock pot will be filled with fresh farmed Maine veggies tomorrow.

Marcy's Diner: Remember that place where the owner yelled at the crying kid? Well now they have hilarious t-shirts commemorating it. The ham, broccoli and cheddar quiche was hot and delicious, and so was their grilled peanut butter apple muffin.

Mi Sen Noodle Bar: Don't skip out on the taro rolls and chive puffs. The Tom Kha soup with vermicelli was perfect, and so was the sticky rice and Pad Thai. 

Bring your walking shoes and an appetite and you'll have a ball!

Travel diaries // Chicago beau

Chicago, the windy city, the chill, chi-town, etc. A grand city that sits beside Lake Michigan, and at night the twinkling lights dance along the river, sparkling for miles. I’ve taken the trip four times this year, and every time has been even better than the last. My dearest Paul lives on the North Side, and we’re too crazy for each other not to fly a thousand miles for a hug and to share midnight Vietnamese spring rolls.

Every trip was packed with activities: walking the Riverwalk during the day and at night, shopping in the Magnificent Mile, getting bubble tea downtown, eating pho and pad thai in Chinatown (complete with more tea, of course), Grant Park naps, listening to the symphony practice in Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, the beloved Bean, getting some famous Garrett’s popcorn, Navy Pier and the scary ferris wheel, swimming at the beach with the skyline behind us, skillet cookies and donuts in Wicker Park, thrift shopping in Belmont and eating some mean cinnamon buns at Ann Sather, the farmer’s market, Taste of Chicago festival, parking garages with views, Wrigleyville walks, peering down 103 flights above the city on the Skydeck, quiet mornings at Loyola Beach, and so much more. 

Here’s the Lena Mirisola list of favorite places to eat in Chicago:

*The Noodle in Chinatown*
*Joy Yee in Chinatown*
ViVi Bubble Tea in the Loop
Cafecito in the Loop
*Fatpour Tap Works in Wicker Park*
Stan’s Donuts in Wicker Park
Dimo’s Pizza in Wicker Park (& Wrigleyville)
Cozy Noodle in Wrigleyville
OH Fusion Sushi & Thai in Wrigleyville
*Blaze Pizza in Belmont*
Ann Sather in Belmont

Stars are the “If you go to Chicago and don’t go here, I will be disappointed in you" category.

Chicago is such an incredibly unique place to visit. Just taking the train downtown is exciting enough. The food is amazing. The buildings are grand. The lake is fantastic. The holidays here were fun (I was there for the Fourth of July and Halloween).

Until next time... XO

And the good old iPhone shots!

Travel diaries // Southern charm

North Carolina: A place I never thought I’d visit.

Well, I did! My best friend moved down there, so I paid her a visit in her new state. Besides the culture shock, the accents, and the heat, the landscape of NC is breathtaking. The sunsets never failed to amaze, trust me friends: we chased them while blasting the classical radio station, which was doing a movie score night, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that I drove after the setting sun while the theme from E.T. played in the background. Magical? I think so.

We went antiquing, sampled the almighty Sonic MANY times (half priced shakes after 8pm, who can resist?), pet some cows, went river tubing in the Appalachians, and ate chicken & waffles for breakfast.

Spoiler alert, she’s moving back to Boston (which is amazing!) - but getting to see the South was indeed an interesting trip.

XO, LM

Sunshine crew // Martha's Vineyard

The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings joy to the soul.

Monday morning at 4am, Hayley and I departed for our first visit to Martha’s Vineyard. Miss Amanda has been working at the hospital on the island and living there all summer, and we really missed our favorite nurse! 

We got in, packed a beach bag, got some amazing sandwiches from Edgartown Meat & Fish Market, and headed off to the sun & sand. Well, it was a lot of sun & sand - we all baked for hours in the sun, which of course didn’t go well for your pale photographer here. I’m quite crispy now even after 3 rounds of sunscreen and laying under a blanket (or rather, a tablecloth from Anthropologie).

Kelsey, Eleni, Hayley, Amanda and I all loved exploring Oak Bluffs downtown, and with steaming hot pizza from Giordano’s, we set up a picnic on the beach and smashed that hot, gooey cheese like it was our last meal. 

These girls were so fantastic, and so was the island! Enjoy the sunshine everyone, enjoy the waves.

2014 // Where in the world is Lena Mirisola

Instead of doing a look back on my favorite photos of 2014, I decided to do my favorite places I visited this year. If there's one thing I love as much as photography, it's getting on an airplane. Here are my top five picks for most memorable trips I've taken in 2014!

NEW YORK CITY 

I was fortunate enough to visit NYC three times this year, on all sorts of adventures. Road trips with Tom Richmond & Barb, a wild day with my girlfriends, and for work on a commercial shoot for Barb! I met Olivia effing Bee at her show opening in Soho in June, walked over the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time, shot on a rooftop, met my other idol/inspiration Basil Vargas in Chinatown for bubble tea, got sweaty in Times Square, and ate amazing food on amazing food. It's all about the food, after all. If you're ever in the Big Apple and want to know where to get the best bubble tea or some kickass dinner, please shoot me a text! I love this place. It's big and loud and expensive but full of excitement with a little twinkle in its eye. Can't wait to move here after college.

CHICAGO

SPRING BREAK! For the crazy kids who go to the coldest city ever instead of hitting the beach in Miami. I flew out with my "brother" Cam on a cold morning to a brand new place for the both of us. It was awesome, to say the least: crashing at a hostel in Wicker Park & a friend's house, riding that super cool above ground CTA train, getting phenomenal food pretty much everywhere, Chinatown with the boys, visiting SAIC, walking around the loop, and most fondly, getting to the top of the Hancock Tower looking at the millions and millions of city lights just wanting to cry. Oh, also where I got my first and beloved tattoo! Photography related, of course. I'm aching to go back and spend more time here. Maybe summer 2015! Open couch anyone?

ENGLAND

England! That country we used to be before we got sick of the monarchy and decided to move to a different continent. It was smashing! In all seriousness, it was straight out of Mary Poppins. The houses and chimneys and streets were so quaint and adorable and I just wanted to pinch England's cheeks! Except for the whole driving on the left thing: SO SCARY! I would doze in the car and wake up and we'd be on the left side of the road with cars coming toward us on the right and boy, would THAT wake me up. I stayed with the fabulous Frances Sales, a fantastic photographer from Kent. We walked her pup through the countryside on the sunniest day, and we got a beautiful blue skied day in London, too! But no fear, it rained the day I left, so I indeed experienced a proper English day. Oh, I also achieved all my dreams by finally getting to sit on a hay bale in a lavender farm. Had to go all the way to England to do it ;)

CALIFORNIA

Where I belong.

California was incredible. I went with my best friend, rented my first car ever (that beanie little red thing that couldn't really do hills), and dove into the Pacific Ocean for the first glorious time in my life. We stayed with the amazing, AMAZING Cat in her home in the Los Feliz part of LA. We hit tons of places: Santa Monica (on the 4th of July), Venice Beach, Hollywood, K-Town, El Matador State Park, Malibu, everywhere. Being there at 19 driving my own rental car on the 405 was probably the most exciting thing I've ever done. I repeat, I frickin LOVED LA.

After that, we flew up to San Francisco and stayed right in Union Square. We did all the San Fran staples: their beautiful and massive Chinatown, that big red bridge, Pier 39 (where there was only one little sea lion swimming around), rode the cable cars, Sausalito, all sorts of stuff. We headed even more north after that, to wine country! I finally met my amazing editor and founder of SheStock, Karen Beard in Petaluma, and I visited headquarters and laughed over the most amazing steak dinner. We got a private after hours tour of Jackson Family Wines in Sonoma, and I did some shooting in Santa Rosa. And lastly, and certainly not the least, we got to see the redwoods up North! THEY'RE SO BIG! We drove through cliffs and mountains to get to them, and boy were we freaking out, but we survived! The beauty in California was unbelievable. Mountains, deserts, cliffs, the ocean, the flowers everywhere... there are so many colors everywhere you turn. We would take walks and oh look, there's a lemon tree in that guy's front yard. A LEMON TREE. 

I'm going to NY first after college and once I get some momentum, my behind is flying to LA as fast as it possibly can and I will be a happy SoCal girl.

FRANCE

How could I describe what Europe was like for the first time... I can't! The history of the land, the beauty of the people, and the architecture, and the Earth...

Mind you, France wasn't even on my top five destinations in Europe. I'm a die hard Germany girl, and France was never a place I dreamt at night about traveling to. Boy, did I underestimate the place. The South of France is unlike anything in the world. We stayed in Boutenac, an its bitsy little town. The food was fresh and amazing. Farm ingredients without all the preservatives in US food... the cobblestone streets, the antique windows and doors, and colorful facades; it was just a dream. It was like being in a dream. Ellen would be in charge of the map (yes, the physical map) and all the girls would just pile in the van and we would drive and go exploring. I dipped my toes in the Mediterranean on the shores of Narbonne, spoke French to the merchants, visited the old men who sat in the town square every night, drove through vineyard after vineyard, and sunflower fields, too, all while looking forward to what Paris had in store for me. Well, I saw the top of the Eiffel Tower and cried. So that was that. I'm unfortunately not one of those eloquent travel bloggers, hence the picture taking thing I do instead: so just grab a warm baguette and enjoy what old world charm looks like.

Tell me where your favorite places were in 2014! I'm compiling my 2015 hit list, I'd love to hear your stories!

Hayley // Morning song

As a photographer, winter can be a bit challenging. Golden hour is at 2:45pm. It's freezing. Everything is dead. And usually there is nasty snow kicked on the side of the roads, not the pretty fluffy kind before the plows come, but that mound of dirt covered ice that never seems to melt from the mall parking lot. Luckily, we haven't had much snow (I hate driving in the snow!) - so inspiration is still rolling in. Stuck in that winter rut? Get up right now and go shoot something. GO! Now! Sometimes we all need a kick in the pants and a good shot to get the creative juices flowing.

I'm dying to visit the Pacific Northwest, where the landscapes are unbelievable and the Redwoods covered in snow give the word "majestic" a run for its money. Alas, I'm here, in Massachusetts. So Hayley & I set off on an early morning adventure to the farm, then up north to New Hampshire. We just drove and stopped every mile or two, jumped out of the car and walked around! I've taken that drive dozens of times to the flea market in Hollis, and we found waterfalls and rivers and farms and the most beautiful places that I've always passed by. It was nice to just slow down and look at what was there. It was beautiful! And so was Hayley <3 

Chasing light // France & England

Bonjour!

This has been one crazy year of travel. And one really crazy month. I've taken eight flights in the past five weeks, hopping from East Coast to West Coast and then coasting through Europe.

This was my first trans-atlantic trip, and it sure was an incredible one.

In the South of France in the tiny town of Boutenac, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and vastness of the landscape, the kindness of the people, the incredible history behind everything... and the bread. Oh, the bread.

Five women were attending Barbara Peacock's photography workshop - Ellen, Mary, Cat, Frances, and me. Six photographers learning from each other, coming together from America and Europe to be French for a week, to immerse ourselves in the beauty of provincial life in France and take TONS of pictures documenting it all. 

We had the best adventures... exploring tiny towns, eating a stupid amount of bread & cheese, shopping at the market for food every day, laughing at night in the living room, picnicking by the canal, learning about each others lives, chasing the golden light as it went down every evening. 

The workshop ended and it was time to travel to the City of Love... Paris. 

I didn't spend nearly enough time there, so I've been looking at ticket prices to go back. Paris was so romantic, flooded with beautiful architecture, and I had the best meal of the trip there during my one night in the city.

Ten days into the trip, another stamp in my passport, and it was off to England to stay with Frances' family for a few days. I loved seeing London, and I died over the shopping - I could have spent ages (and lots of $$$) there. It all looked like the movies, and a lot like Mary Poppins. 

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to travel like this. Going to Europe for my first time accompanied by my best friend was more than I could have ever asked for.

Thank you Janis & Tom for being such wonderful hosts in Boutenac, a little town that will be a big part of my heart forever. And to all the girls! Love you all so much!

And now... for the main attraction! The South of France // Paris // London // The English Countryside.

Jusqu'à la prochaine fois...

All photos of me were taken by the amazing Barb Peacock! <3 Thank you!

Don't miss the Instagrams and silly parts of the trip too here!