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It’s the time of year for gift-giving and dinners out with friends. . . how do you handle it when it comes time to chip in for that big gift or to split the bill at a fancy dinner? I know in my own experience, I never have cash, and throwing seven credit cards into the middle of the table can be annoying and awkward all around.

If you find yourself wishing that sending money was as easy as sending a text, take a look at Circle, the new, easy and free way to send money no matter where your recipient is.

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I was able to quickly set up the Circle app on my phone, and it makes it easy to connect cards and bank accounts, along with allowing you to add in friends from your phone contacts, super convenient especially if you have a group you’ll be eating or traveling with often!

I recently got to try Circle out for a blogger dinner, which I sadly missed due to an everlasting flu. But I still got to test the app out with other participants and got an idea of how it works.

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The app is also a lot of fun, perhaps taking away some of the uncomfortable-ness that money transfers can bring about. You can send messages and chat in GIFs as you can see in the screenshot below.

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One occasion where I wish I had this app was on my recent trip to Sonoma County with a group of friends. We bought a TON of wine and joined our fair share of wine clubs, some of which we split. We took turns paying along the way and waited until after the trip to figure out how to settle up.  Had we all used Circle, we could have paid in the tasting room and remembered who actually bought what!

A few Circle perks include the fact that there is no fee, even when transferring currencies, which is handy for a family as spread out in the world as ours is. Your account information is encrypted and requires two factor authentication, so your money is safe in the app as well. If you live on your phone like I do and have many occasions where you need to easily send money, Circle is definitely worth giving a whirl.

You can learn more about the Circle app and the story behind it here.

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When planning our recent visit to Royal Sonesta New Orleans, we asked for and received TONS of recommendations on where to eat and things to do in the city. We were appreciative and a bit overwhelmed! One of the best pieces of advice we got was to just get a feel for the city and to go with it, and armed with plenty of recommendations and our own research, we set off to explore new Orleans.

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I tend to obsess over reading menus and looking places up on Google Maps prior to travel, and Café Amelie was actually one of my own finds and the place we chose for our first meal in New Orleans.

We had a rough night before we traveled, with our cat in the vet emergency room until 2:30 am and an Uber to the airport scheduled for 6:45 am. Café Amelie turned out to be the perfect spot to take a breath and exhale deeply while enjoying the quiet of their tucked-away courtyard and the glorious New Orleans heat.

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The vibe was so relaxed, and my shoulders started to drop a little, especially after my first “Sparring with Bubbles” cocktail, a new favorite cocktail, a blend of Ford’s Gin, Averna, grapefruit and pink bubbly. It was so delicious and absolutely perfect for the setting.

Ahhh. . .

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Café Amelie specializes in Louisiana fare, which is just what we were looking for, and we shared a few plates for lunch.

We of course had to try the local baked oysters, which were in a yummy spinach and artichoke sauce with a heaping side of crunchy crostini. We learned we are not huge fans of Southern oysters (Give me tiny, briny New England oysters everyday!) but we were huge fans of the addictive bread and sauce.

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Whenever we travel and know that decadent dining and drinking are on the cards, we sit down at a meal and both say “We need a vegetable”. At this lunch, it was a scrumptious, huge beet salad. I felt a bit healthier after eating it!

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Our third dish is one you must get if you visit Café Amelie. Chef Jerry’s Shrimp and Grits had the perfect bit of spice and the creamiest most devour-able grits. Good grits are pure heaven, and these were beyond.

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The pace of our meal was so lovely, as was the pace of everyone around us. We got chatting to another couple, locals, who call Café Amelie one of their favorite New Orleans restaurants, which we loved to hear.

I grabbed another cocktail to-go, because they were delicious and because I could. As frigid temps set in, I am craving New Orleans sunshine and humidity and some of the incredible food and warm hospitality we enjoyed on this trip.

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Tags: cocktail, cocktails, dining, Food, food blog, gin, New Orleans, NOLA, Travel, travel blog

For the past few weeks, I wasn’t sure if blogging about my September visit to Sonoma County would ever be appropriate. As the fires began to be put out and evacuations were lifted, however, it became clear to me that sharing a place I love, shouting it from the rooftops even, could be one tiny way I can help the region heal and move forward.

When it comes to dining out in Sonoma County, Stark Reality Restaurants  are some of my favorites. Sadly, Willi’s Wine Bar, where I have had many great meals, was destroyed in the fires, but the owners plan to rebuild.

On our September wine country trip, we dined at two Stark restaurants, including Bravas Bar de Tapas, which is a consistent favorite that I discovered on a Savor Healdsburg food tour.  I was excited to bring Healdsburg first timers to their patio on a gorgeous day for a delicious lunch.

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 Tapas with friends is one of my favorite ways to eat, especially when paired with a chilled Hanna Winery  rosé.

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Plate after plate of food made its way on to our table, a beautifully presented gazpacho, a Spanish and local cheese plate, to-die-for bacon wrapped dates with blue cheese, goat cheese toast, a classic tortilla. . . we just kept eating.

 

 

 

 

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Every bite at Bravas is delectable, and the dining experience is just what you would hope for on a wine country getaway, relaxed, coursed out perfectly, and difficult to leave.

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One Stark restaurant I hadn’t been to, Bird and the Bottle, was at the top of my must-try list for this trip, and again, it turned out to be perfect for our group of five. The only downside was that I was impossibly full when we left!

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I passed over the creative cocktail list in favor of a glass of bubbly since it had been a day of wine, but I would love to go back and make my way through the list.

sparkling wine

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We shared cold and briny oysters on the half shell and hot and garlicky local Dungeness crab to take advantage of the West Coast’s bounty.

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And I will never turn down macaroni and cheese, especially studded with fried kielbasa and crispy kale. So good!

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Local corn with miso mayo and fried potatoes were our vegetables. :)

 

 

 

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If I could have eaten more, I would. Going back to Bird and the Bottle to sample the rest of the menu is a priority for our next Sonoma County trip, which will hopefully be soon!

Sonoma County is largely open for business and could use food and wine loving tourists’ visits or wine purchases to help boost the local economy and beautiful spirits.

 

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