Drawing to a Close

Monday, December 31, 2012

How do you wrap up a year in a single post? It’s something I’ve been mulling over for the past several hours. I’ve created several photo collages and put together a mental list of highlights, but nothing feels quite right. I’m going to honor that feeling. 2012 has been a game changer in many ways, both good and bad. This is the year I started a job that gets me excited to get out of bed in the morning. This is the year I learned to barista. This is the year that I started to feel comfortable in my own skin. This is the year I learned what it is to truly trust God through hardship. This is the year my patience was both tested and strengthened. This is the year that I learned that my limits are far beyond what I would have thought they were.

As this year comes to a close the word that comes to mind is thankful. I am thankful for the victories and the trials. Moments of strength and moments of weakness. This year has changed me for the better and finally, at 25, I feel like I am starting to grasp this whole life thing. Despite all of that, I’m also thankful that the year is coming to a close. I’m ready for a fresh new year. To quote a song, “The best is yet to come, and babe won’t it be fine.”

How are you ringing in the new year? Or, how did you for my friends in a different time zone? This year will be a quiet one for me. After work I’ve prepped a spread of appetizers to enjoy and I’ve got an arm chair to occupy. I’m housesitting for a sweet puppy who is very much not fond of fireworks so I am looking forward to a quiet evening of puppy cuddles and Doctor Who on Netflix.

May the new year bring
The warmth of home and hearth to you.
The cheer and goodwill of friends to you,
The hope of a childlike heart to you.
The joy of a thousand angels to you,
The love of the Son and God's peace to you.

Post-Christmas Debrief

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bûche de Noël

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s the importance of debriefing. Of looking over an event (especially one you plan to repeat) and analyzing what went well and what you would change for next year. So, before I close the books on Christmas 2012 I want to take one final look.

The biggest fail of the year? Not sending out Christmas cards. I had purchased some last year, but I can’t for the life of me figure out where I stashed them for safe keeping. If I’m honest with myself, even if I had found them I probably wouldn’t have sent them. I need to get more organized, to have a detailed list (names/updated addresses) for everyone who I want to send a card to. I need to be kinder to myself and not be upset if I can’t write a full letter for everyone on that list. That’s what being better about correspondence during the rest of the year is for. Goal for next year? Cards in the mail before Thanksgiving.

Overall, this was my best year for gift giving. That is thanks in major part to having a brainstorming session before the holidays and writing out a concrete shopping list of what I wanted to purchase. Next year though I want to be finished sooner. I want to complete my shopping by December 1st to give myself ample time to purchase local and handmade. To accomplish this I want to keep a notebook of the people who I plan to gift and note down their preferences (especially as they mention them casually in conversation). I noticed this year that when I scramble for a last minute gift my mind goes completely blank so I will also start a list of my favorite go-to gifts. I will give fewer gift cards, unless I put more thought into their presentation (this and this come to mind).

On the topic of presentation, wrapping paper. With no pre-planning I had no time to handmake any tags, toppers, or ribbons this year. Goal? To shop for paper now while it’s on sale and plan out my presentation so I actually have time to execute it.

Finally, the baked goods. With my back I had a decent excuse not to be in the kitchen as much this year, but next year I want to make up for that. I want to acquire some cute tins and containers while they are on sale to help the cost around the holidays. Finishing my shopping by December 1st will give me a little extra freedom to bake when the season hits full force. Ditto for Christmas dinner. The goal? No last minute shopping trips to Trader Joe’s when the line is starting to wrap around the aisles.

As always, more photographs!

Those are my goals for next year, what are yours? Do you have a tried-and-true Christmas tips? What do you want to try differently next year?

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

As I ease into the lazy afternoon side of Christmas (I am snuggled with a blanket and adorable puppy as I type this), I want to take a moment to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas! May your holiday be filled with love and joyful memories. ♥

Christmas Eve

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Cup of Tea

Waking up this Christmas Eve morning to a piping hot cup of tea to chase away the morning chill I am reminded of the necessity to slow down and enjoy the simple moments. Early morning walks. Really good scrambled eggs with ribbons of silky goat cheese and dotted with fresh herbs. A comfy armchair and a cute puppy for company. Time to breathe.

I am house-sitting right now and through the rest of the holiday season and the change of pace is nice. My mornings will be looking much like this for the next week or two. I am relishing the time to read and write. To be intentional about setting goals for the new year. To take the time time to reflect on how amazingly blessed I am. It's an answered prayer and exactly what I've been needing.

I am so excited to share what I've been working on, but in the meantime I wish you a Merry Christmas! May these next few days be filled with peace and joy. Take a moment amidst the bustle to take a breath and enjoy the little things that make the holidays special.

Much love to you and yours!

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Andes Peppermint Chocolates

To understand these cookies is to understand that these are the first thing I've made from scratch since August. This is the first recipe I've played with since then too. The why of that is a post for another day, but suffice it to say it feels fantastic to be back in the kitchen again.

The base of these cookies comes from my chocolate chip recipe (which in turn was adapted from Nestle's recipe). The idea of peppermint came up when the first of several holiday potlucks started to loom in front of me. I can make these cookies in my sleep, but they needed a little something extra. A little spark of holiday cheer. In comes the peppermint. After several unsuccessful attempts at acquiring the Andes peppermint chocolate pieces I switched focus to the chocolates themselves which were conveniently on sale.

It was there in the baking aisle that these took shape. After all, what pairs with peppermint better than chocolate? Peppermint hot cocoa. Chocolate dipped candy canes. Peppermint ganache icing. Yum. And, bonus? The peppermint in these becomes a pleasant aftertaste instead of a show stealer. (Too much peppermint to me reminds me of cough syrup so this is very much a bonus in my book.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Nestle)

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter; at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar; lightly packed
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3/4 bag miniature chocolate chips
12 Andes peppermint chocolates; coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F

Start off by combining the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugars until the mixture has lightened in both color and texture, from 3-5 minutes. Mix in the vanilla and eggs until well combined. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients, being careful not to over-mix. Add in the chocolate chips and peppermint chocolate pieces.

Roll dough into one in balls (or use a cookie scoop for more evenly sized cookies) and space them two or so inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for seven and a half minutes, or until golden brown on the undersides. Transfer immediately to a cooling rack. The final recipe will yield approximately 3 dozen.

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Friday, November 9, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I'm not much of a Thanksgiving person. Secretly, I love the Christmas decorations that started going up as soon as Halloween was over. I started actively listening to holiday music back in September. I've already purchased my wrapping paper for the year. I'm ready. And this year, like I'm sure I say every year, I'm determined to make the most of this holiday season.

Things are a little different this year. Last year around this time I was working two jobs that just about covered my bills. I was exhausted pretty much all of the time. I wasn't even home long enough to help decorate the family tree. In a stark contrast, this year my job energizes me instead of wiping me out. I have time to spend with friends and family. I can afford to go Christmas shopping. So I'm making lists. I'm shopping early. And I'm determined to make the most of the season this year.

So, imagine my pleasant surprise when my venture to The District at Green Valley Ranch turned into a holiday treat. The streets were lined with bauble filled trees and the garlands were going up as I strolled from shop to shop. Coupled with a successful shopping trip, Anthropologie is a gold mine of awesomeness right now (I finally found some curtains that I'm smitten with!), and lunch at the Elephant Bar it was pretty much the perfect afternoon.

Silver Bauble

Stripes and Animal Print

Santa Barbara Burger

Are you getting in the Christmas spirit or do you prefer to wait until after Thanksgiving?


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spooky Cake Pops

Have you been “BOOed”? I’ve seen the trend going around in year’s past, but finding some coffee cake and a printable on my desk marks this as my first year participating. To “BOO” someone you leave a treat on their desk (or at their door if you’re doing this in the neighborhood) along with a copy of the instructions (which can be printed out here). That person then makes a copy of the instructions and leaves them, along with a treat, on two more desks/doors. The goal is for the holiday cheer to spread around to everyone by Halloween.

The treats themselves are a fun way to get creative. Since you’re choosing who the recipient is you really have a chance to get personal and leave them something you know they would enjoy. For me the choice was easy. If you know me, you know I’m hooked on The Market LV at Tivoli Village. Upstairs, Cupkates by Kate occupies a charming cupcake-themed space filled to the brim with everything from the sweets themselves to some adorable charm jewelry. They recently started carrying some holiday-themed cake pops that are as cute as they are delicious. Moist vanilla cake mixed with frosting and enrobed with either white chocolate or colored jimmies depending on the style. Yum. When I saw these I knew I couldn’t resist.

Some other fun ideas? Split a batch of homemade pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Grab a muffin from a favorite local bakery to greet your coworkers when they get there in the morning. Hit up a thrift store for some Halloween-themed mugs and pair them with a packet of hot cocoa or apple cider. Put together a mini-bag with a few pieces of their favorite bite sized candies.

What Halloween treat would you most like to find on your desk come Monday morning?

Purple Monster Cake Pop

Launching: Baubles and Bites

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Over the past six months I’ve been slowly working on this space. It’s been something of a whirlwind year. I found a job I’m passionate about. I’m starting to feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. I was in an accident that shook up my life both physically and emotionally. I’ve redefined priorities. It left me thinking about where blogging fit in with those priorities. I’ve had a web presence of some sort for the past ten years, but in the past two it’s become more and more of an afterthought. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed the community of people who are just as passionate as I am. I miss nerding out about this awesome new cheese that I just tried. I miss finding support an encouragement from all over, and I miss giving out that encouragement in return.

It’s taken a shift in some priorities, but I’m back. For those of you that don’t know me (which, let’s face it, is probably most of you), my name is Erica. I work at a church as a ministry assistant and I co-run our coffee shop. I live in Las Vegas, Nevada; a city that allows me the luxury of indulging in my passion for good food. As you’ll come to know, I also have a passion for all things local and handmade. For good books. And more than all of that, for stories. One of my greatest joys is seeing someone’s passion get lived out. This excerpt from Luc Besson says it better than I ever could,

You need to have all your senses open. You need to keep yourself in life, real life… Most of the rich people I’ve met are boring.

I have so much more fun with my boulanger. When I go at 6am for my croissants, the guy’s so passionate about his croissants. “Oh, you must try this one, because this morning I changed the butter!” The guy’s passionate.

Watching old people in the park, talking about their lives. That’s where it comes, from food and talking. I sat on the plane over here with a guy who studied cancerous molecules. He talked for eight hours about it, and I was amazed - the science, and how they separate the molecules, you know? That’s where it comes from. It’s fed from all these people who come from life.”- Luc Besson

And that’s what this space is. A place for me to indulge in my passions. To celebrate the stories that other people are living out around me. What does this mean? Like my sub-heading says, “Eats and treats from Las Vegas and beyond.” Restaurant reviews (which really means more of me nerding out about flavor combinations). Favorite shops. Books. Recipes. Photographs. Stories. Life. This blog is my way of having “all of my senses open.” I’m excited to share this new journey with you.

Welcome to my little corner of the web. As I have been mostly absent from the blogging world for a while now, I want to know: what are your favorite blogs? Whose stories leave you feeling inspired? I'm ready to do some exploring.

Bottles and Burgers

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Originally posted on February 10, 2012.

Sometimes you just need a good burger. The keyword here is good. I’d been trying to satisfy the craving with mediocre (and worse) fast food fare, it wouldn’t quit. So off to Bottles and Burgers it was. I had been there once before without my camera, but I wasn’t going to make that mistake twice.

Stepping into the restaurant you may notice that the atmosphere is having something of an identity crisis. Trust me when I say to overlook this; the dining room is bright and open and the chairs are comfortable. Also important, at least in my book? The staff is friendly and clearly in love with the food they are working with. Very few things make me more excited at a restaurant than an engaging waitress that is willing to offer up sincere opinions on the menu options.

Vignette Wine Country Soda in Rosé

I started off the afternoon with a Vignette Wine Country Soda in Rosé. I couldn’t resist the idea of what is essentially a designer grape soda made with the grapes they would use in making that varietal in wine. I wasn’t disappointed either. This had all of the bright, fresh tang of a rosé without the burn (and price tag) of its wine counterpart. The perfect thing on a warm afternoon.

Block Sixteen

Moving on, the Block Sixteen caught my eye immediately. Caramelized onions and aged cheddar? Sign me up for that. This was complete burger perfection. Well-seasoned beef balanced by the casual sweetness of the brioche and onions. Sharp notes of aged cheddar playing off of the heat of the chipotle aioli. Perfection. This may be a personal thing, but I loved the balance of textures too. The heavier patty (please go with their recommendation of medium!) against the airy brioche left me feeling satisfied, but not sluggish. The crisps were a pleasant surprise, particularly as fries are a la carte on their menu. Thin, crisp, and mildly spicy; the potato flavor shines through.

Mini Cherry Cupcake

Since I opted out of the fries in this case, I decided to treat myself to a little something sweet. Worth it! I had the mini-cherry cupcake with almond cream cheese frosting. Despite being small in stature, this dessert packs a flavor punch. Again, it was the perfect balance between dense frosting and a wonderfully tender cake. The fresh, juicy cherries studding the cake were a welcome addition; I was expecting a more typical addition of dried cherries. Though, at this point I should have known better than to expect the expected. The bittersweet cherries were balanced bliss against the sugary sweet almond frosting. The perfect sweet bite to finish off a wonderful meal.

For me, a perfect meal is something that engages all the areas of flavor and Bottles and Burgers had that in spades. At the entrance of Tivoli Village, this is a new reason to become a regular at what is already one of my favorite places in the city.

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