20 Hours in Pittsburgh Through Photos

Road trips with my family have always meant a mix of too much time together and countless fond memories. The past few years, road trips have turned into a time to bond with either my mom and dad in order to get my car to and from Delaware. Slowly I have developed a urning to do the drive by myself, and by some miracle my parents agreed to let me do so.img_8325

I originally divided my solo drive from Delaware to Illinois with a stop in Cleveland to visit my friend Caitlyn. I loved experiencing that city, but I wanted to switch it up on my way back. Pittsburgh, which my family had stopped in to break up our drive before, struck my fancy. It is about 7 hours in to the 12 hour drive, making it the perfect location. I was fortunate to have my parents pay for a hotel for the night, but I took it upon myself to explore a bit while I was there.

Pittsburgh gave me a good vibe as soon as I was within city limits, with the bridges and buildings making the drive to my hotel different from what I had expected. I had never been in an American city with mix of mountains and roads before. Snow started to fall soon before I entered the city, so I was excited to wake up to a heavily dusted version of my hotel view. The next morning I visited a highly recommended coffee shop and took it upon myself to explore the streets as I did. Here’s what I found.

Commonplace Coffee On Buena Vista Street

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In true anxious fashion, I went in and out of this unfamiliar coffee shop quicker than planned. Maybe it was my day-two-of-the-roadtrip-“bum” look, or it was my fear that my car was somehow illegally parked, but I only took a few minutes to take in the interior of the shop. That was still enough time to appreciate some of what it had to offer. My dirty chai was a solid 6/10, and my blueberry muffin a 9/10. If I lived in Pittsburgh, I would definitely spend a lot of time here.

The Rest of the Mexican War Streets

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Up the street from the coffee shop, I found some beautiful buildings. I was stunned by their bright, rich colors. I took the opportunity to whip out my Nikon and take some shots. I explored a few snow-covered streets and did not care whether people questioned why I was photographing their comes. They must know what they have, right?

On The Way Out

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I placed my Nikon on the dashboard of my car and occasionally pressed the shutter button, while keeping my eyes on the road, to see what would happen. As expected, most of them were blurry or boring. I was pleasantly surprised by this shot that captured the snow and the diffused light.

I can’t wait to hit the road again, whether it be alone or with some company. Tackling the road alone created a sense of accomplishment that I had never felt before. Having that feeling again, or experiencing a new route and place with friends, is something to look forward to.

I am forever thankful it was a smooth trip both to and from Delaware.

 

Casey

To New Traditions: Sugar Cookies

The hardest part about growing up is realizing that traditions have to change: The whole family might not make it to Thanksgiving; My mom doesn’t like hanging stockings anymore; My little brothers are too big to have their bedrooms doors wrapped shut on Christmas Eve. Within those lost traditions are ones that remain: My dad reading us The Night Before Christmas (no matter how old we get); Mimosas on Christmas morning; Croquettes for Christmas dinner. Those things stay the same and I believe always will in some way.

Recently I find myself sifting through traditions old and new in order to see what I want to carry on to my own family one day. I will make pies for my own family on Thanksgiving, as I have for years now. I hope to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning for years to come.

As a part of tradition searching, this was the first year I made Christmas cookies from scratch. We had always used pre-made doughs, Pillsbury and the like, but they were never really right. The were often hard and the past few years we didn’t really get into it as much. I took it upon myself to tackle fresh cookies that would be more favorable and softer than in years past. I made the dough by myself, but my family still got into the cutting and decorating. The combination of my baking and my family’s help made it the perfect tradition in my book.

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I am developing a serious appreciation for Tasty lately because they yet to have a recipe that disappoints me. I used their sugar cookie recipe after looking at the positive comments and liking the attitude of the included video. I followed it exactly, except I included less almond butter and anticipated that it made much more than the 12 cookies that it said it did. I can thank the comments for those good decisions.

With all of my years of baking, I believe I had only made homemade icing once before this. I was not sure how my meringue powder substitute would go, but (surprise, surprise) it went pretty well. I had to add more water than I expected, and I could have probably doubled the recipe overall to make more. It was not the perfect royal icing that I was hoping to have in order to decorate, but I pin that on my inexperience and I only hope to improve it in order to decorate more intricately.

How They Taste

I knew from the second I tasted the dough that these cookies were going to be good. That hint of almond, which my family took forever to guess, was perfect. dsc_1471Even after baking they retained their flavor and remained soft for the few days that they lasted.

The key was to not roll the dough out too thin, because thicker cookies had a slight fluffiness to them that was perfect. I don’t mean make them thick, but not make them too thin either.

The cookies reminded me of pre-made cookies from years past, while also having a homemade comfort to them that you can’t get from the store. I was concerned about the flavor of the icing, but I ended up going for the iced cookies over the plain ones. I could go for one of them as I type.

Reminders for Years to Come

Here’s a mental reminder to myself to start putting together a really nice recipe book. This recipe would be first thing in the “holiday desserts” section. It’s a classic cookies that takes time but pays off in the end. I would save myself the work and make the dough one day while baking/decorating the next day. The combined mental, emotional, and stomach satisfaction was just what I was looking for. Already excited to give these another try during the next holiday season.

 

Casey

Tried & True: Crab Mac & Cheese

Some people cook on a whim, using the tools their parents taught them or what they’ve managed to come up with for themselves. I, for one, like to follow recipes. It’s what I find comfort in as a baker, so as a novice chef I stick to what I know.

A friend and I recently decided to put our skills to the test (his by far already better than mine considering I didn’t even know how to cut an onion properly) after binge watching some Netflix cooking shows. After some searches, we settled on attempting to make crab mac and cheese. We have Rachael Ray to thanks for our endeavors, as her video and recipe had our jaws dropping at just the site of her finished dish. Let’s just say the results were worth sharing, so here are my thoughts!

What’s Good about this recipe:

  • The veggies: Catch me using this recipe in 10 years to sneak veggies to my kids because the celery and onions in here are just the perfect addition to make me feel a little less guilty for my third bowl.
  • The Panko/Parsley/Hot Sauce combo on top: I grew up hating crumb toppings on mac and cheese, but now I can’t imagine mac without it. I snuck in a bit more hot sauce than called for (I used my trusty Chulula), and it was definitely the right move.
  • How much it makes: In just the first night we scarfed down about 6 helpings worth, and there was easily another 10 to devour. Although the ingredients added up price wise (even with a few things already on hand, it cost us $55 for the rest), we got out money worth.

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What To Change:

  • More Cheese! We just about doubled all of the recommended cheese amount and for the better.
  • More milk! Use a bit more milk than called for, and whole milk at that, for the creaminess everyone dreams of.
  • The crab! Either be very thorough with how you stir it, or add less. I had a few bowls that were just way too crab heavy. You could even do without the grab all together if it isn’t your thing.
  • Although the veggies made me feel healthy, I am curious how this would turn out with healthy alternatives—meaning skim milk and whole wheat pasta. This mac is meant to pig out on, but it’s always a good thing to consider.

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Overall Verdict: It’s a keeper

According to my instagram followers, this mac looked professional when all was said and done. The many ingredients were worth the price because it was just about as intricate in flavor as mac can get. I was proud of myself for kicking butt in the kitchen —even if I had help. Here’s hoping I get to cooking more because I really missed creating (edible) things that I’m proud of!

But really who knows when I’ll post again,

Casey

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons to Wander Paris Without a Map

Paris has been my favorite weekend trip during my time abroad so far. Maybe it was the fact that it was during my extended spring break, or that I was accompanied by my boyfriend. It could have been the constant pastry food coma that I was in. No matter the exact reason why I loved it so much, some of the best moments of the trip happened when there were no plans.

It goes completely against my nature to explore a new city without an exact plan or destination, and I still did manage to route parts of the trip in order to see what a tourist needs to see, but when I got the chance to put away my phone I did. Of course, getting home from where we ended up called for a little technical help. Paris is a beautiful city and I believe now that the best way to see it for what it is is to wander it without a map. Here’s why:

1. The Best Views Are Not Always The Classic Ones

DSC_0505.jpgAlmost everyone wants to see the love lock bridge when they go to Paris, but even better than that is the small park underneath Pont Neuf that provides sanctuary from the constant flow of people at the more tourist-focused locations. The walk to and from the Sacre-Coeur just added to the view at the top, so even walking instead of riding makes for a view.

It’s often right around the corner, behind, or underneath the crowded stuff that you can find the real views that are worth seeing and completely taking in. That is not to say that I did not enjoy the Eiffel Tower or Musee D’Orsay, but they just did not capture my attention in the same day.

2. Each Person Is Different.

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I cannot honestly say that all locals were nice and welcoming, especially this one waitress who was not having our English, but the people that were willing to have conversations with us made up for it all. Upon entering two random, separate stores, we met two people born-and-raised in France who spoke perfect English. It was because of their language abilities that we got to know the people, making us wish we spoke fluent French in order to make interactions like these more commonplace.

The first was a student working in a small boutique and had a great taste in music. The other was a man who owned Pigalle Basketball and loved sharing the sport’s culture in France with us, not to mention throw a few jokes at my boyfriend. Two very different people, and maybe one more interesting that the first, but amazing to converse with nonetheless.

3. You’ll Stumble on the Best Macarons

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You can get Ladurée just about anywhere nowadays, so the real key is following your heart, eyes, and stomach to the local stands. Some of them are gimmicky with their fancy flavors, but macarons come down to the sweetness and consistency to me. I wish I had taken down the name or location of the place that we got creme brûlée and coconut macaroons, but I can say it was a display in the Montmartre area.

The same idea goes for other local cuisine, from pastries to gourmet dinners. Trying a cuisine for the first time makes it hard to decide if it is genuinely good or bad, but as far as my own enjoyment was concerned I was never disappointed by the food we found in Paris. We never tracked down a particular restaurant. Instead we chose what looked best on whatever street we were on. Maybe we got lucky, or maybe Paris is just full of really amazing food.

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4. It Truly Is Romantic

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I was lucky enough to spend three days in Paris with my boyfriend. As college students, opportunities like that don’t come up very often. Leaning on nothing but each other to figure out what step was next was exactly why I wanted to go there with him in the first place. When I felt the need to navigate the city with a map, he pulled me back to reality and away from my screen. I have him to thank for making the trip as great as it was.

**Edit: Only go with a spouse/life-long partner, not a boy who cheats a month after the trip and blames it on you.

5. You Just Can’t Go Wrong In Paris

 

 

Every city has its bad neighborhoods, but there is something about Paris streets that leave me willing to risk it in order to explore. That may sound naive, and part of it may come from the fact that I had a strong, protective male with me, but I also think it shows a shift in my own perspective by the end of the trip. I may not have agreed with my own post upon my arrival the first night, but after even just my first full day I was embracing the city more for what it was; beautiful, interesting, and full of possibilities.

Rain or shine, Paris is full of exciting things on every street. Not with the same excitement as NYC or London, but the kind of excitement that hits home when you see beautiful street art or architecture. I will return to Paris one day. There is no doubt in my mind that I can make that happen. I hope to return with the mindset that I left: leave the phone in my pocket and just keep wandering.

On to the next,

Casey

7 Things to Do in Interlaken, Switzerland

When making my country bucket list for my study abroad trip, Switzerland slowly made its way to the top as I returned to the list over a few months time. I had no desire to ski the swiss alps or explore the water. I just wanted to see the beautiful mountain from the bottom and eat some chocolate. Not knowing who to go with or how to get there, I tried not to get my hopes up until I was booking the trip itself just two weeks in advance.

I found myself being able to go, with my friend Caitlyn by my side, in late February. It almost didn’t happen a couple times, and getting there was a feat in it of itself, but I am so thankful for having made it through the whirlwind trip.

I had less than 48 hours in the country, but I think I used my time wisely enough to be able to pass on my tips. Here is what I consider to be the essential things to do and see in Interlaken, Switzerland:

1. Go Paragliding

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I am not sure if I can do the experience of paragliding justice through my words, but I will give it a try. After what can only be a complete lack of coordination on my end during the first attempt at take off, my pilot Simon and I sailed off the side of the mountain over the city of Interlaken. From the moment we were in the air, I was in awe. The nerves I had were gone and I wanted to soak up the 15 minutes that I had because it was pure bliss to just look out at the lakes, buildings, and mountains. He even pulled some “rollercoaster” moves that would normally ruin anything for me, but I embraced it all. I would recommend paragliding to anyone, and just about anywhere. I hope to do it somewhere warm next time.

2. Don’t Just Eat Chocolate; Make It!

The Funky Chocolate Club offers an experience that takes you from bean to bar. They definitely tailor to the gullible tourist market, but I am not mad about it. Their calling is for a chance to get “chocolate wasted” and they delivered as soon as they gave us our first piece.

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Our adorable chocolate guide taught us about the history of chocolate, how the different kinds are made, and helped us make three bars of our own. It was a chill vibe that also enhanced the importance of the chocolate process. The best part was that because I made the chocolate, it is just a bit easier to ration it knowing I put work into it. I still went through two of the three bars in a week.. oops!

Would also highly recommend their chocolate covered strawberries.

3. Stroll Through Unterseen

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Deciding to get up at 5:45 am on a Saturday, after a full day of traveling the day before, was the best thing we could have done for ourselves. I could not exactly tell you how the larger city of Interlaken is divided besides this area, but the town of Unterseen was worth seeing. There was no one around, even after we took our time getting up and eating breakfast, as we strolled the streets at 7am.

Clouds were everywhere and it could have been warmer, but seeing the unique architecture and shops was nice. It was also our first real look at the mountains. They took my breath away, as we had arrived too late to see them the night before. I had seen mountains in California and Pennsylvania, but these are in a league of their own in both size and density of trees. I was constantly turning every which way in order to see them all.

4. Eat An American Burger at an Irish Pub In Switzerland

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The 3 Tells Irish Pub has the worst nachos I have ever had, thanks to some stale chips and nasty guac, but the biggest and messiest burger I may have ever had. That is a very good thing. It was right next to our youth hostel, Balmers, which is probably why it is so popular. The cheese on the burger had a great taste, the bun was different, and the fries were unnecessary considering the size of the burger but I still scarfed them down. It was kind of our only option to eat at the time, and the service was a little uncomfortable, but overall I can’t complain too much when they serve a quality burger like that.

Shoutout to Barracuda Cafe and Bar, just down the road from 3 Tells, for serving bagels in the morning and mojitos at night.

5. Sneak into the Victoria-Jungfrau

Just make your way through the first floor and even up a staircase or two. We simply wanted to get warm, but it was probably the nicest hotel I’ve been in–even if I didn’t stay there. I spent maybe 40 minutes here while our chocolate cooled, but it was the perfect spot to taste of life of luxury, even it was just from using their bathroom and sitting on some cozy sofas.

6. Take A (Free) Bus To Oberhofen Castle

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Now we are still not sure whether the ride should have truly been free but hoping on and off several buses without being checked for tickets made it easy to jaunt about. Working in several missed buses there and back, and maybe a few panic moments, we found out that Oberhofen Castle was surrounded by beautiful water and a quiet town. It took us about 5 minutes to realize that the only thing to do there that time of the year was take in the view, but making out way out there was well worth it just for that.

7. Check out a Lake or TwoIMG_5618.jpg

The bus ride to Oberhofen offered an amazing view of Lake Thun (pronounced “tune”), but Lake Geneva gave that a run for its money as we made our way to the airport. Lakeside mountains are a combination I never grew up seeing but that I miss already.

 

Here is a look at some of the stuff I mentioned, as Caitlyn captured it all in an amazing video. Let me know if I missed anything… I may need to go back some day when it’s a bit warmer!

Here’s to my next adventure and finally writing about them!

xx Casey

2018 is Going to be Good, but Only If I am Good to It

I started 2017 as I have 2018; about to go abroad and anxiously awaiting for the future to just happen. The only difference now is that I am going abroad for a full semester and I have grown oh so much in the last year.

What Happened in 2017?

2017 brought me to not one but two new continents. It brought me new relationships. I never would’ve seen some of the opportunities I had coming until they were happening. I was truly lucky without always realizing that in the moment.

The end of the year brought some struggles that are hard to admit. My anxiety went from the most manageable it had been to something I had never experienced before. I had some sad, rough days that I cannot explain to this day. Also, I fell in love. I gained some opinions that I was seriously lacking. I learned a lot. I met some amazing new people. All the while I would constantly return to fight with my own thoughts and actions that did not align with what I wanted to be.

2017 may not go down in the history books as a good year, but in my own personal life it was a whole lot of good with just a few sour glimpses here and there.

Onto the Next

That brings me to 2018. I am excited to approach it with simple expectations, but I cannot forget what I learned last year. I cannot get caught up in my head. If my health is of concern, then I need to listen to my body. I can’t let any, dare I say, bad vibes get in my way or knock me down.

2018 had potential to bring me all that I have wanted lately; a peace-of-mind and a path to follow. I just have to give it a chance in the first place so that I am aware enough to see any opportunities in front of me. I cannot be drowning in self pity, no matter how rough things could genuinely get, because I wouldn’t want to regret missing out on everything this year has to offer. I believe that 2017 could have been better if I started that year off with the same idea.

2018 will be in no way perfect, but just the fact that I am finally going abroad at all is a big deal. It feels good to be doing something new and different. I just can’t get caught up in my head.

To be continued.

Casey

I’m Going to London! Setting Intentions for my Spring Abroad

2018 is about to be quite a year for me. Last year I set specific goals, but now I am just going into 2018 as mindfull, eager to learn, and adventurous as possible! I am excited to have some people reading along, so plan to hear more from me as we go!

In what I can only imagine will be a quick 2 and a half weeks, I will be in London. Years of yes, no, and maybe so’s about studying abroad will be exchanged for a whole new set of thoughts as I navigate a new city and try to make it my home in just four months.

Everyone keeps asking me what I plan on doing when I am abroad. Have I got an extensive London bucket list? What am I most excited about? As I get closer, I definitely find myself thinking more specifically about my trip. Even the trips within the trip, considering I have all of Europe at my finger tips. For me, it all boils down to having an overall open mind set without being set on exactly what I will do and how it will go. I know there are some certainties that come with my trip, but the rest is waiting for me once I get there.

What I Know

I will visit five European countries besides England this Spring, but I am open to what countries those are. I have been saving to make sure that I can see the views that until recently seemed so unattainable to see. Greece beaches and Swiss mountains are what I envision, but I don’t want to get set on places that I may not find a companion to go with. I have my base number and I will be grateful to see whatever beautiful destinations I make it to.

There is a whole lot of food in Europe, and I plan to eat as much of it as I can. I will get self conscious about my body here and there, but every food baby should come down to being a sign that I am doing something right. It’s time to eat everything comforting, indulgent, sweet, spicy, and new. The food can be all or one of those things.

I know that my camera will be my best friend because just as it is important to live in the moment, it’s important to follow my passions and remember the entire experience.

What I Intend to Find Out

I may be in an English speaking country but that doesn’t save me from culture shock. I’ll see how they live across the pond, creating an adjustment period that is sure to leave me missing my friends and boyfriend back home. A long distance relationship is something I never imagined myself having to deal with, but on top of that I have to adjust to my life there and focus on myself. It’ll be a bit of a balancing act and a whole lot of learning on my part.

Going abroad for a month in Spain brought me a new sense of independence and confidence that has been dwindling since my return. I can only hope to learn about myself as I am forced to live for myself and make all of my own decision as I adjust and move forward.

Intentions and unknowns aside, I could not be more excited for what is to come. There is no denying that there are going to be tough times, but I know all of the tough times will be met with equally as amazing times. I plan on capturing as much of my trip as possible and sharing it with whatever readers stumble this way.

Here’s to an adventurous Spring 2018!

Casey