Travel + Lifestyle

    Chapters 1 & 2 of Our Story.

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    It’s 5:45 in the morning on the first day of fall. The windows are open and my favorite candle is flickering. HELLO, favorite time of day/year to write. All the ingredients were there, and this story started pouring out. I thought I’d share the first two chapters here to see if this is fun for anyone to read. If it’s awkward, I’ll just write it as a keepsake for us and stick to sharing recipes and decor type stuff on the blog. Maybe it will make you laugh, or start believing in regular life love stories. I apologize for any grammatical errors, this is straight from my journal. If nothing else, it will help you get to know us better. It’s an epic love saga, drenched in steamy drama. You’ve been warned. 

    1. Home-Schooler. 

    The car door slammed behind me. Startled from my gaze of the sprawling campus and little backpacks scurrying in every direction, I jumped and glanced back at the car. My Dad was leaning over, grinning and giving me a hearty two thumbs up from the window. He rolled it down and hollered at me, “Go get ‘em peanut! You’re going to love it here!” I forced a quick smile and gave him two thumbs up, hoping no one would see. 

    Late August in Southern California doesn’t make for the most forgiving temperatures. I could feel sweat on my forehead forming and it wasn’t even seven o’clock yet. My thick, messy blonde curls of hair, arguably my best feature, felt all-together like an involuntary winter hat. Not helping anything, my white cotton dress with thick lace embroidery stood out like the pope at a party. The population appeared to be a mess of dark wash jeans and t-shirts from all the cool brands. I hadn’t gotten the memo. Pretty sure my mom had made my dress. Perfect, the whole look just screamed “home-schooler”. I sighed, hugged my oversized binder wand walked through the giant blue gates, silently praying I’d make one friend. Just one. 

    “A-26. Don’t forget A-26.” My first period class was the one I was genuinely excited for,  Interior Design with Mrs Nikzad. In fact, it was the ringer in my parent’s winning presentation to end my homeschool career. The High School. THE because it was THE only one in our little town. Selling features to this place included Interior Design, and sports. Sports, for me, meant swimming. I grew up in the water. Salt, chlorine or otherwise. Years of all my extra time spent training and competing had proved that by sophomore year of high school, I was on track for a hefty division one scholarship. My parents and I were both a bit starry eyed at the whole deal, especially at fifteen and a half. On top of that, there was an unshakeable feeling we all shared that something important, something big, was out there for me and I might just miss it if I didn’t try the whole real high school experience. We were all pretty certain it was swimming. 

    2. Deskmates 

    I was standing near a group of friends I knew from swim, waiting for the first bell to ring when someone tapped me on the shoulder. Confused, I turned around.

    “You’re Madi, Madi Lanz.”

    “I know who you are. Uh, I mean, I’m Kyle, Hi.”

    He was a tall, lanky kid with a big gray backpack, Volcom t-shirt and royal blue baseball hat on backwards. I recognized his face from somewhere but couldn’t remember from where. On first impression, he definitely didn’t appear to have spent much time at the beach or the pool that summer. 

    “My friend Chris told me we have Interior Design together. First period with Mrs. Nikzad?” 

    “Hi! Nice to meet you. Yeah, I have first period with Mrs. Nikzad!” I tried to over-enthusiastically hide any silent evaluating I had been doing of the whole situtation.

    “Great. We should get going then. I’ll walk you there. The bell’s about to ring and it’s good to be early on the first day to pick out the best desk.”  

    I didn’t care much about picking out the “best desk” whatever that meant, but I didn’t want to be rude. He turned confidently waiting for me to join him. As he turned, I was distracted by how packed his backpack was for the first day. 

    I hustled to keep up with him, “Were we supposed to bring all our books to the first day of school?” I asked anxiously. 

    “Nope, I just liked to be prepared.” He grinned, seemingly pleased with himself. The pace didn’t waver. I had to remind myself we hadn’t actually missed the bell. 

    Not surprisingly, the classroom door to room A-26 was locked when we got there. He glanced at his watch and said, “Cute dress.” 

    Before I could reply, the classroom door swung open and a dark haired, fashionable woman with a thick accent from somewhere I’d surely never been, welcomed us with a big smile and directions about selecting a desk and something about “the person you share your desk with will be your parter all semester.”

    By now a few other students were trickling in. I recognized a girl from elementary school and considered re-introducing myself as I watched Kyle in my peripheral vision furiously scouting all the desks and their prospective views of the whiteboard. He selected the one closest to the front and waved at me. He didn’t seem to even consider that I may not join him as he unloaded his binder and notebooks and arranged them with precision on the desk. He really did seem nice and… driven. What more could you ask for in a desk mate? I smiled back and made my way to the front of the class. We sat together as the teacher explained the grading procedures and all the different topics we’d be covering throughout the semester. I don’t know if it was her musical accent or the silent tension of the whole dress comment, but I stopped listening and instead quietly considered if this Kyle person maybe had an eye for women’s clothing. He did seem serious about this interior design class, after all.

    The backwards hat and farmers tan on his arm begged to differ. 



    Ten Tips for Beginning Bloggers


    Guys. You know what makes me so happy? Okay, so other than Smoothie bowls and Justin Timberlake. I love to be asked, “How do I start a blog?”. Isn’t it rad that the internet allows all of us to share our stories? Rhetorical question, YUS. I’m pumped to give you a few tips on successful blogging for beginners. As a disclaimer, I am unapologetically NOT the most polished or popular blogger. These are a few things I’ve learned as a full time social media do-er and I hope my experience will help you!

    And Hey! While you’re sitting here let me remind you, that the world needs your story! Drumroll…you got this.

    10Start a blog


    Travel + Lifestyle

    Weekend Guide to Phoenix


    Today I introduce a fun new Weekend Guide series here at Dinner and Decor all about quick trips around cool cities! Every other month I’ll share with you, one of our favorite places to go including where to stay, eat and adventure if you’ve only got two days and an early twenties budget.To kick it off, I thought we’d start in Phoenix! Considering we made our home here in November and kinda fell for this bright, southwestern city right away, I thought I’d share our favorite things to do here!

    Phoenix, Arizona: a hub for sports, foodie heaven, gorgeous hiking, and year round sunshine. If it’s not already on your travel bucket list, it needs to be! 

    Weekend Guide Phoenix

    What to Do

    If you like being outside, there’s (surprisingly) tons to see and do in the desert. Now that we’re getting into the summer months, I’d suggest being somewhere on the water. We drove up to Saguaro Lake Ranch to kayak the Salt River a few weekends ago and we can’t stop talking about it. Guys we saw wild horses! Twice! The scenery was covered in lush green grass mixed with giant Saguaro Cactuses, stunning rock formations, and crystal clear water. You can paddle board or tube on the river too and I recommend checking out Desert Voyagers for rentals. Ps you can stay in quaint little cottages along the river there too!

    Speaking of hot weather activities, water parks don’t mess around in Phoenix, some of the hotels even have lazy rivers and giant watersides. If you’re here with kids, or are just forever kids, we think Wet and Wild is the best.  If you plan a trip anytime other than summer, you gotta make time to hike Camelback Mountain and check out the Desert Botanical Garden. Just FYI, both are really great places to take pictures. If you’re up for baseball, Phoenix is kinda the capitol of that. Spring training games are cheap and the weather is perfect that time of year. If you’re here in the summer, be sure to see a Diamondbacks game at Chase Field. 
    The Henr

    What to Eat

    I’ve never seen so many restaurants in one city. Seriously. It was hard to come up with my favorite places to eat, but here they are! First off, Sam Fox. He’s the restauranteur that founded True Food and a whole host of other amazing concepts here in Phoenix. Check out that link for a list of his restaurants and from there, you basically you can’t go wrong.  I’m a big fan of The Henry for coffee dates and fondly call it my office because I work there all the time, I love the decor in there. Here’s us celebrating my mom’s birthday at The Henry!

    Mom's Birthday

    Barrio Queen has my favorite guacamole and Kyle’s favorite churros. Kyle took me there for my birthday and it was real fun. Downtown Scottsdale has a lot going on at night and Barrio Queen is right in the heart of it. Culinary Dropout has a fun quirky atmosphere if you’re hanging out with friends and last but not least, Spinato’s Pizza is the best if you just want to stay home! Ps. Scottsdale Farmer’s Market happens every Saturday morning right in downtown. 

    Air Bnb

    Where to stay

    We’ve had a couple stay cations here in Phoenix and both times we’ve used Airbnb! We love Airbnb lately because it allows us to feel more at home when we’re out of town. It’s also really easy to find a great deal that way.  That being said, I can’t really recommend hotels out of experience but I can tell you a couple hotels based on recommendations and reviews.


     The girls and I had a spa day at the Omni, and it was maybe one of the most amazing experiences ever. I had a pedicure in a zero gravity chair. Most noteworthy; if you buy one spa item, (pedicures included) you get free access to all of the amenities and private pools all day. Be sure to load up on the grapefruit water and order a turkey burger. If you come in summer, these hotels and are crazy inexpensive,and some of them even have full spa’s, pools, beaches, crazy water slides, and lazy rivers to enjoy the heat in. 


    The Omni Resort 

    Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak

    Scottsdale Princess, we’re planning to stay here for our anniversary, so I’ll update this after and tell you how it is! 

    Four Seasons Resort, Scottsdale 


     Lastly, I can’t talk about a trip to AZ without mentioning the Grand stinkin’ Canyon! It’s only a 3 hour drive from Phoenix. If you can make it work, make it work for heaven’s sake. I mean, are there even words? Come visit Arizona! 



    Food + Drink Uncategorized

    Flourless Vanilla Oat Cookies


    These babies are total knockouts. My favorite part? They’re crunchy on the outside and once you take a bite, the inside melts in your mouth. My hubby goes crazy for them. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that our dog does too. The best part? They’re totally flourless cookies! Love to my fellow gluten free pals!  



    Typically, when I think oatmeal cookies, I think chocolate chips, raisins or nuts. PEOPLE. So glad my pantry was empty the first time I made these. I can just picture Kyle with a grin and a cookie raised in the air reminding me, “Plain and simple is best babe!” I can tell you confidently, they really are stinkin’ delicious. Plus, is there anything better than the smell of sweet vanilla and oats floating through your house? 


    Now, lets talk about the secret ingredient so it doesn’t throw you off when you get the the recipe. As much as I love chickens, Kyle and I haven’t been eating eggs lately. Both of us have recently discovered that eliminating them from our diets has totally reversed some chronic stomach pains, acne and low energy levels. We’ve been eating a primarily plant based diet lately and neither of us have ever felt so vibrant and alive. Always room for some cookies though, amen? 

    Yea, I’m tired of reading about other people’s diets too. I’m sorry. All that to say, I use ground flaxseeds as eggs in this recipe and they make for perfectly nutty, fluffy cookies! No understatement, THIS ROCKED MY WORLD. Once you have your head wrapped around that, Google: “health benefits of ground flaxseeds”. Then come back here and let me remind you that this is definitely still a cookie and not a health food. I’m not Santa for Peete’s sake. 


    To make flax eggs: combine 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds with 6 tablespoons of water in a high-power mixer or food processor. Set to high and leave for 5 minutes.


    Lastly, just a few baking tips for ya before ya get after it!

      1. Don’t overmix! When you mix the dry ingredients in with the wet ones, you should mix until it’s just combined so that the flaxseed/water mixture stays fluffy. 
      2. Don’t worry about making perfect cookie dough balls. They will be a play dough texture once the dough is done, and the scoops will be a little messy and imperfect. It’s okay, you can’t mess this up!


    Flourless Vanilla Oat Cookies
    Yields 2
    Write a review
    Prep Time
    20 min
    Cook Time
    10 min
    Total Time
    30 min
    Prep Time
    20 min
    Cook Time
    10 min
    Total Time
    30 min
    1. 1/2 c softened, unsalted butter
    2. 1/2 c cold coconut oil
    3. 1 c brown sugar, packed
    4. 1 c granulated sugar
    5. 1 flax seed "egg"
    6. 2 tsp baking soda
    7. 1 tsp salt
    8. 1/2 tsp baking powder
    9. 1 tablespoon vanilla
    10. inner beans of one vanilla bean (optional, but awesome)
    11. 2 c all purpose gluten free flour
    12. 2 c old fashioned oats
    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set in freezer.
    2. In a large bowl, cream sugars, butter and oil.
    3. Add flax egg and mix gently.
    4. Combine dry ingredients gently and pour to combine with wet ingredients all at once but don't over mix.
    5. Place dough in freezer for ten minutes. Once chilled, scoop onto cold baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes.
    6. Gently press cookies down with a spatula once they come out of the oven and allow them to cool for ten minutes or so before moving them to a wire cooling rack.
    1. Cookies will stay up to 7 days in an airtight container, stored at room temp.
    Madison Gray
     Love to you sweet readers! 



    Food + Drink Recipes

    Plant Power Popcorn


    Okay I get it. You’re probably wondering, “Why the heck is ‘Plant Power’ and ‘Popcorn’ occurring in the same sentence?” I’ll get to that, but let me just humbly tell you right off the bat,YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE HOW STINKIN’ TASTY THIS STUFF IS.

    Plant Power Popcorn

    Savory. Buttery. Seriously it’s delish. Vegan, paleo, four legg-ed or otherwise I’m pretty confident you’ll love it.

    We’ve been making popcorn this way for years now and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the buttery movie theatre kind because I actually prefer popcorn this way! Yes ma’am, you read that right.

    Plant Power Popcorn is made with all natural ingredients, packed with b vitamins, healthy fats and minerals because of a super sneaky special ingredient; Nutritional Yeast.

    If you’ve never cooked with nutritional yeast, it’s a natural source of essential amino acids and variety of vitamins. It has a naturally nutty, buttery taste and is free of gluten, soy, starch, dairy, and artificial anything. I like to use it in recipes like my vegan enchiladas because it adds a cheesy flavor and packs a huge nutritional punch. 

    You’ll find it easy in your local healthy food store, but I stock up on mine in the bulk section at Winco. I paid a couple dollars for a whole pound of it!

    Plant Power Popcorn

    Hope you enjoy this recipe! We sure do!

    Plant Power Popcorn
    Serves 3
    Buttery, savory and all plant based! One of our favorite snacks.
    Write a review
    Prep Time
    5 min
    Total Time
    5 min
    Prep Time
    5 min
    Total Time
    5 min
    1. 1/2 c Popcorn Kernels
    2. 3 tbs Coconut Oil
    3. 1/2 c Nutritional Yeast
    4. 1 tsp Old Bay
    5. kosher salt to taste (I use about a tbs)
    1. In an air popper or in a deep pan, pop the popcorn and pour it in a large bowl.
    2. Drizzle popcorn with coconut oil.
    3. Add yeast, salt and Old Bay.
    4. Toss and Serve!
    Madison Gray