Summer Tote Packing Tips

Things I always leave near the front door: keys, junk mail for recycling, an umbrella and my summer tote. I never know when a fun picnic or outdoor party could erupt so I keep a packed tote with the essentials ready so I can grab and go any time. Here's what mine is filled with.

1 - Outdoor Linens
Whether it's a large flat bedsheet or a soft beach blanket, you definitely need one of these. Here, here and here are some options.

2 - Face Wipes
My favorite brand is You Smell Soap Lemon and Aloe, but they are quite difficult to find these days. Burt's Bees is a great runner up. It's gentle on your skin and will leave you nice and refreshed after a long day outside.

3 - Snacks
Skip the cookies and chips, they are just empty calories and won't sustain you through a day outside in the sun. Opt for some fresh fruit (oranges, bananas, berries) or protein bars. I like Kind bars, but there are a million and one brands out there to satisfy your cravings. Also, pack 2 large plastic Ziplock bags - one to collect wrappers and the other to store your phones in. No one likes a litterbug or a sand filled smartphone.

4 - Sunscreen
This really should be the first thing you pack! Don't be a hero, skin cancer is real and it's horrible. I like The Honest Co. sunscreen, but you know there are tons of brands to choose from. Before you buy check out, which does a comprehensive review of every sunscreen out there. You might be surprised at the rating of your favorite brand!

5 - Lip Balm
Like everything else in this post, there are tons of choices for lip balm. I love the little eos spheres because they are inexpensive, fun and most importantly, don't get soft and melty in the heat. 

6 - An e-reader (or book)
I don't go anywhere without my kindle but really, any kind of book will do. Pick them up at used bookstores, libraries or the grocery store. It's good for your brain to read things that aren't plastered on a smartphone screen! A few suggestions: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (yes, that Lauren Graham), Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman, Palisades Park by Alan Brennert and Heat: An Amateur Cook in a Professional Kitchen by Bill Buford.

7 - Sunglasses
Self explanatory, really. A.J. Morgan has an awesome selection of affordable eyewear, check them out.

8 - Football (or any activity to get you moving)
Footballs are fun since you can get a large group of people in on the game, but so are beach balls, frisbees and badminton sets. Just get out there and move. You'll feel better!

9 - Portable Speakers
These are my favorite new thing! Whether they plug into your headphone jack or use bluetooth, they are guaranteed to add some pizzazz to your outing. Here are some under $20.

10 - H20 Bottle
You could buy disposable plastic water bottles but that's really lame for the environment. Invest in a water bottle you can use over and over. I bought a s'well bottle last year and love it. It holds its promise to keep cold liquids cold for 24 hours, so you can sip frosty water all day long. If $35 is a splurge here's another excellent option.

11 - Flip Flops
Old Navy sells these every year for less than $5 a pair, so stock up. Here are some cute ones!

You can throw all of these things in a recyclable grocery bag or backpack, but if you want a fun tote to well, tote around, the internet has you covered. Here are one, two and three options to choose from.

One last tip before you head out to play - if you're hitting the beach, festival or park with a large group stop at your local party store or grocery store and buy an inflated mylar balloon with a very long string. Tie it tight to your tote's handle and voila - instant landmark! This is extremely helpful when it is crowded since you can easily say, "Look for us near the giant pink octopus balloon."

Do you have any tips I missed? Share them below! Happy tote-ing!

I Think My Spirit Animal is Brunch

There is nothing quite like a leisurely Sunday brunch, is there? It really is the perfect meal. You get to wear comfy clothes, sip lattes (or mimosas amirite?), and eat delicious foods that are otherwise odd at other mealtimes. I mean, has a co-worker ever brought in a tupperware of eggs benedict leftovers for a weekday lunch? I didn’t think so.

The only downfall to hosting brunch at your home is the panic attack you might get when trying to prepare an Old-Country-Buffet-sized, must-make-everyone-happy meal. I’m here to make you take a deep breath and get ready to simplify. Brunch at home does not need to be complicated!

You have some options here, none of which involve making customized omelettes for every guest. You can make luxuriously creamy scrambled eggs for the whole crowd or simply boil 1-2 dozen eggs, peel and cut them in half, drizzle them with a small amount of olive oil and sprinkle some sea salt, coarse black pepper and a pinch of paprika on top. It’s perfect really, since folks who don’t eat yolks can simply scrape them out.

Bacon lovers, rejoice. There's an easier way to make bacon for a crowd that doesn't result in grease splatters on your kitchen ceiling. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil, and lay bacon flat, overlapping the pieces ever so slightly. Place in a cold oven and turn it to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 12 minutes, remove from oven and sprinkle with brown sugar. Place bacon back into the oven for another 3-5 minutes or until crisp. Keep an eye on it it at the end, it goes from great to "black smoke pouring out of your oven" rather quickly. Drain bacon on paper towels and serve.

Salad with brunch? I know, weird. Well, the good news is it goes perfectly with the boiled eggs above. Simply toss a mixture of baby spinach and field greens with balsamic vinaigrette, and top with parmesan cheese. Couldn’t be simpler, right?

I’m a complete sucker for buttermilk biscuits. I buy them from a local bakery, but the ones in the twist and pop can will do beautifully. Bake up 2 batches of them, and serve with herb butter and honey. How do you make herb butter, you ask? Take 2 sticks of butter and leave them on the counter overnight to soften. The next morning, chop up any combination of your favorite fresh herbs and mix with the butter (you will need about 2 tablespoons in total). Place the herb mixture in a small bowl for serving and top with a light sprinkle of sea salt and coarse black pepper. Chill covered, for 2-3 hours.

Orange juice, spa water, coffee and tea will do just fine, and if you would like to add a boozy element to your brunch, a bottle of cava or prosecco are great bases for mimosas.

1 pint of strawberries sliced + vanilla greek yogurt + drizzle of honey = light and healthy dessert to send everyone home happy after your beautiful brunch.

PS: Here's your grocery list for the brunch above

  • 1-2 dozen eggs
  • 1 bag baby spinach
  • 1 bag mixed salad greens
  • 1-2 bunches of herbs (thyme and rosemary are my favorites)
  • 1 lb sliced, uncooked bacon
  • 2 cans buttermilk biscuits
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • parmesan cheese
  • 1 large container of vanilla greek yogurt
  • 1 lb butter
  • orange juice
  • 1 cucumber (if you are serving spa water)
  • Coffee
  • Tea