This Time, Last Year...

Andrew's parents were kind, generous, awesome, (insert every word imaginable to signify their unbelievable graciousness) enough to send us to Las Vegas last year as a wedding/Christmas gift. I really and truly meant to write about it RIGHT AFTER it happened but time got away from me (go figure) and here we are a year later!

We stayed at the The Mirage. The room was adorable and vibrant, and the bed was an absolute dream. I mean it was the softest, most comfortable thing I have ever laid on and I never wanted to climb out of it in the mornings! Not even with our beautiful view. I assume most people prefer a room facing the strip but I was totally glad to have this instead:

We did so much in the short time we were there and almost all of it was on a whim with one exception Andrew planned ahead of time...

A trip to The Gun Store where we prepared for the inevitable possibility of a zombie apocalypse! I did surprisingly well—something I'd never even considered. Who knew? Of course we also did our small, but fair, share of gambling. I loved Kitty Glitter (for obvious reasons) and made Andrew wait each time we came across a machine. We even saved some of winning vouchers worth a whopping 2¢.

It was so much fun both on and off the strip. The food was amazing, the people were super duper nice (because they wanted all of our money), and we were really sad to leave. I can't wait to go back someday! Have you ever been?


Pom Poms & Junk Food for the Holidays

With the return of my most excellent tree, giftmas has completely consumed my world again. I mean it. Andrew and I were in Las Vegas last year, so I guess this is me making up for lost time? Whatever the excuse reason is, decorating has been a top priority in the Santosquez household, specifically with pom poms.

...and I did. Well, more like 50 but for someone who has made two in her lifetime, that's basically the same. Our living room looks incredibly silly now and I love it.

One of my favorite new additions, other than all of the pom poms, is this precious baby I was too weak-willed to stay away from (of course I tweeted about that too). I did make it a full week before going back to buy him. No giftmas of mine would be complete without Dollar Tree decorations, either. The flocked hearts, adorable white trees, and the gingerbread man and cupcake snow globe (!) are all Dollar Tree purchases. All of my wrapping supplies, too!

The itty bitty junk food ornaments covering my Ikea tree were the inspiration behind the "stockings" I just finished making. Nothing like last minute holiday crafts to fill your time while counting down to midnight!

Now that they're filled and hanging over our "fireplace," Andrew and I are just about ready to start the unwrapping. Happy holidays, everyone!


A Not-So-Brief Hiatus

Wow! A full month since my last post... I'm not totally sure, but I don't think that's how you blog? There was a trip to New York (finally!), then I got sick, plus holiday (giftmas) planning. It's safe to say I lost track of time and I've yet to finish my cat face sweater. So, instead of a post dedicated to my shortcomings in the craft department, I'll share some more food I've made recently.

Thanks to one of my favorite sweethearts of the internet, Dorothy, I found this great garlic knot recipe. To accompany the knots, I decided fettuccine Alfredo would be perfect since it's so damn simple. Just throw together equal parts Parmesan, cream, and butter. Just kidding! But only a little...

The recipe makes a simple pizza dough which can totally be subbed by store-bought stuff. Though the dough had to rise for over an hour (90 mins), as all pizza dough does, the process moved along fairly quickly.

The fact that they were absolutely adorable certainly helped.

Once they were all done and slathered in garlicky, buttery goodness, we could not resist! It took us all of three days to eat just over 20. Oh, and the fettuccine Alfredo was good, too. Adding a bit of lemon juice and zest took it above and beyond. A+.


The Battle of the Gratins

While thumbing through an issue of Real Simple I grabbed out of the recycling bin at work, I came across a real simple (lol) recipe for a Spinach and Gruyère Gratin. I've never made (or eaten) a gratin other than scalloped potatoes, so I figured why not? I mean, there's cream, wine, eggs, shallots, and Gruyère in there! All of which I love.

After buying almost 50oz in frozen chopped spinach, it hit me: we were about to be inundated with spinach! Maybe I should halve the recipe?? Of course this is was after I purchased all my ingredients. Luckily, I had everything I needed to try Ina Garten's Spinach Gratin, too. Let the battle begin!

Real Simple's on the left and Ina Garten's on the right.

Real Simple's was much heartier due to the eggs and reminded me more of a frittata than anything. The wine-cooked shallots were delicious and my addition of garlic was smart (duh). Ina's was definitely creamier and more dip-like, but I wish it had a little more flavor. Honestly, I still don't know which one I enjoyed more. We ate both with toasted pita wedges the first day, spread atop a pizza the next, and tossed with capellini pasta, tomatoes and garlic for the next two meals. Surprisingly, we weren't completely sick of spinach by the end of the week!


Kitty Faces on EVERYTHING!

This post is essentially a tangent about finding the source of the so-twee-it-hurts image below, for which I required more info because of the outfits, the ladies, the props and accessories, but most importantly, the sweater! You've been warned...

(Jung Min Hee and Park Sora for Style Nanda)

After a few "cat+face+sweater" google searches, Opening Ceremony seemingly made the adorable sweater they're wearing, but only carried it in men's for a whopping $150. Turns out I was wrong, though. They're actually wearing a Korean knock-off by Style Nanda ($43.93)!

Opening Ceremony on the left, Style Nanda on the right.

Along my searching I found that Opening Ceremony also carries this sweater for $99:

Completely unwilling to pay more than $20 for a cat face on a sweater, I decided I'll do it myself. I don't know which cat face I should try, but I've purchased new floss and two sweatshirts that are in the wash as I type this. So excited for the 9-year-old Cats (the musical) fan in me who definitely owned this shirt.


NOTW: Gradients & Fleck

Remembering back to when I first got into graphic design, I was in 8th grade, I used gradients on ev-er-y-thing. The more knowledgable I became, the quicker I tamed that beast but with ombre everything everywhere (still), it's alright to sneak them in and not be super embarrassed.

The subtle shift in colors with nail polish that's been applied by sponge is so dreamy to me. I really like this manicure and I'll definitely be doing it again! I'm still on my Meteor Shower kick, clearly...

From left to right: Sinful Colors in Cross My Heart and Rain Storm, Wet n Wild in I Need a Refresh-Mint and American Apparel in Meteor Shower.


For the Love of Sprouts

When I was a kid I never ever ate Brussels sprouts, but not because I thought they were awful, my mom just never cooked them. I'm not entirely sure if that's a Latin@ thing or what... I do remember picking one up at the grocery store once and peeling each leaf off while my mom pushed our cart (she had no idea I was doing this (lol)), and that's my entire history with the tiny cabbage.

Imagine my surprise when I saw unpicked Brussels sprouts at Trader Joe's! Both cute and terrifying on their stalks. Lots of little things gross me out often times.

(Photo courtesy of @jozjozjoz)

Last week, I braved through my fear and tested Smitten Kitchen's Dijon-Braised Brussels Sprouts. They were so good I made them again Monday night! I recommend the recipe, hands down, especially because so many recipes call for bacon or bacon fat and I don't eat meat (and maybe you don't either?).

Oh, shallots, how I love youuu. Why do you bring me endless tears? :'(

The sprouts are braised in white wine (I used Yellow Tail Chardonnay) and (veggie!) broth then removed to make a ridiculous sauce with Dijon mustard and cream. I wish I would have made more sauce so the sprouts (I) could've swam in it!

I paired the sprouts with tilapia, our household staple. Normally, I pan fry it with a bit of olive oil, garlic, and onions; instead I broiled it with a lemony concoction of butter, lemon juice, and lots of parmesan. So nice and gooey!

If my mom had cooked Brussels sprouts like these when I was a kid, I'm sure I would have loved them as much as I do now. They're just so rich and full of flavor!


NOTW: Golden Tones

Last week I ordered nail striping tape online after searching locally to no avail. It was time. Hopefully eBay will pull through and it won't take forever to arrive! In the meantime, I had to trust my hands, hold my breath for steadiness, and ask Andrew to help draw the line on my right thumb. Luckily for Andrew (me), I had new nail art pens to help.

Meteor Shower is becoming one of my favorite glitter polishes. I love the gold flake look without the price tag of actual gold flake polishes like the 18K Real Gold Flake Zoya just launched. Don't get me wrong, it's really pretty, but it's just nail polish!

From left to right: Sally Hansen Nail Art Pen in Pearly White, L'Oreal in Gorgeous Gold, China Glaze in First Mate, American Apparel in Meteor Shower, and ORLY in Naked Ivory.

This manicure actually caught the eye of my boss who never notices my nails. It must have been all the sparkle!


Kitchen Experiments: The Fanciest Cake I've Baked

It dawned on me after my cookie post that I have yet to bake a traditional cake from scratch, which is weird. After some recipe searching, I decided to try out Magnolia Bakery's Hummingbird Cake*. A cake made with ripe bananas, pineapple, pecans and cream cheese frosting? There was basically no question, plus Andrew raves about it all the time because he's lucky enough to work near the Magnolia Bakery downtown.

My first time making homemade frosting was quick and painless. I'm sold! Homemade frosting is totally worth the extra effort. I ended up with a smaller amount than I'd hoped for, which was a bit of a bummer. I was dead set on decorating my cake like this beauty, but there's always next time.

As always, I was happy to use my gadgets. I mean, how fun is chopping pecans? Well, chopping pecans with an adorable little baby food processor is THE MOST FUN.

After allowing the cakes to cool, I started cutting down the tops to level them off. Now that took some patience. I had to keep telling myself there's no time to be a perfectionist. Why did I start baking at 8pm...?

I bought my first angled spatula to be fancy. It's totally not necessary, but I felt cool using it (I'm such a nerd). While cutting the excess cake to even out the shape I kept thinking what am I going to do with all these leftovers? They're still sitting in my fridge! Maybe I'll try cake balls.

Not too bad for my first crumb coat, though it seems people usually use less icing.

I was thrilled with the result, and it's wasn't just eye candy either! Be warned: This cake is extremely dense. It's incredibly rich, moist, and fresh tasting, but above all else, it is as dense as can be. I had to take half of it to work because there was no way Andrew and I could ever finish it. Everyone loved it!

*A word of advice if you follow the MB recipe: Don't forget to add your eggs! There is no mention of eggs anywhere other than in the ingredients list. I was about to pour my batter into my cake pans when I realized I had three eggs sitting on my counter.

Do you guys use all of your dishes when you cook and bake, too? Just me? Ok...


Cookies! Cookies! Cookies!

The temperature has been dropping rapidly here in Chicago, with lows in the 40s already! Though the start of fall usually has me conflicted, it also means I should always have something baking, naturally. This week I resurrected one of the most delicious cookie recipes I've ever used: François Payard’s Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies. It's been years since I last made them and I don't know why!

The recipe calls for unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, so I opt for Hersey's Special Dark. The darker, the better (and bittererer). It leads to the most awesome mud-like batter ever.

I was thrilled to finally break out my cookie scoop again, it's so cute and I love the perfect little mounds it creates!

These cookies are really easy to make. They're great for when you're feeling lazy but require dessert immediately, like me and Andrew most nights... They're even easier to eat with their shiny, crunchy shell and gooey brownie-like center. Letting them cool is actually the hardest part. Try them yourself!

P.S. Yes, there are three bikes surrounding my teeny tiny island (ikea shelf). They're almost always there, too.