DIY Infused Vodka

Many of us give and receive homemade goodies around the holidays, right?  Typically lots of baked goods, candy, or maybe a tin of oven baked “Chex Mix.”  Well this year I’ve decided to shake things up a bit and go in a totally different direction… Homemade Infused VODKA!  A jalapeño infused vodka for those on the naughty list, and vanilla bean vodka for those on the nice list!  Do I have your attention??  Here’s what you’ll need:

8 oz mason jars
Vodka of choice
Jalapeño
Vanilla bean

And that’s it! Super simple!

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~For the jalapeño vodka, cut one large jalapeño in half lengthwise and place one of the halves into the mason jar.  Next, pour the plain vodka over the jalapeño until the jar is full, leaving a little empty space at the top. Seal jar tightly with the lid.

**NOTE this vodka is SPICY, if you prefer less spice you can use 1/4 or 1/8 of a jalapeño.  After infusing, if it turns out too spicy for you, add more vodka to weaken the flavor.  Also the longer this one sits, the spicier it will become.

~For the vanilla bean vodka, cut one vanilla bean pod in half lengthwise so that the seeds are exposed and place the entire bean into the mason jar.  Fill the jar with plain vodka, leaving a little empty space a the top.  Seal jar tightly with the lid.

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Let the jars-o-vodka infuse for five days, shaking once or twice.  After that, the vodkas are ready to drink!  The vanilla bean vodka will take on a brownish tint and may have flecks of vanilla beans floating about but, it’s a good thing, don’t worry!  My favorite way to use these infused vodkas are in Lemon Drops!  Just replace plain vodka with the infused vodka.  The jalapeño version would also be great in a Bloody Mary!  All that’s left to do now is wrap the jar up with some twine or pop a bow right on top!  Now if you’re REALLY short on time and you’re giving this as a gift BEFORE the five “infusing” days is up, you can simply put a tag on the jar that says, “I’ll be ready to drink on (whatever date).”  For example, “I’ll be ready to drink on 12/25/2016!”  Once the jalapeño or vanilla bean pod has been removed, the vodka can be stored in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.  Let’s be honest though, it probably won’t last longer than a day.  😉  Happy gifting (and drinking)!

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Cheers!

Traci

 

 

 

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Outfit Inspiration

I try to be fashionable, but have to admit I don’t always know what I’m doing.  Because of this I used to go to Nordstrom in Seattle and get one of their shopping stylist to help me out.  What the shopping stylist does is basically walk you around the store and help you find what you’re looking for.  If you’re like me, sometimes don’t know what you’re looking for, but you know you NEED something fresh.  If you’re in this situation, the stylist will either just pick out the newest items on the floor or maybe pick out a few of her own personal favorites from her section.  Sometimes that would work out for me and I’d leave feeling grateful and accomplished, but other times the outfits she chose just weren’t “me” or the end price was MUCH higher than I had planned on spending.

I still LOVE shopping, but I’ve started a little ritual that has saved me some frustration (and $$$) for when I need a fresh outfit.  To avoid leaving the store empty handed, or with a completely empty wallet, what I do BEFORE heading to the store is hit up Pinterest!  I look up women’s fashion and browse around to see if I can find outfits that include items that I already own.  There are times I find pieces that are so spot on I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot!  It also leaves me thinking , “How have I NEVER put that shirt with these pants or those shoes with that dress and scarf?!  Before I know it I have a brand new outfit without leaving the house OR spending a dime!  YAY!!!!  I like calling these my “PINspired” outfits ❤️ (Pinterest + Inspired = PINspired, I know I’m cheesy, but I love it!!)

Today’s outfit was a hole in one!  When I saw it couldn’t contain my excitement!  I had this entire outfit IN MY CLOSET!  I yelled for my boyfriend to come look at what I found…let’s just say he wasn’t as excited as me (men!) but he did say that I would look pretty cute in it… LOL, thanks Babe!  So here it is!

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Pretty darn good, right?  I’m digging my new outfit, it’s perfect for these chilly days!  And at a bargain too!

My outfit:

Leather Jacket: Michael Kors, found for a steal at Nordstrom Rack! Similar here.

Scarf: GROUPON, yes really! Similar here.

Striped Top: Target. Similar here.

Jeans: Nordstrom, J brand. Similar here.

Leather Boots: Marshalls. Similar here.

 

Next time you need an outfit update, before hitting up the mall I hope you hop on Pinterest like I did and find a “PINspired” outfit hiding in your wardrobe too!

Cheers!

Traci

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Tree Trimming

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There’s just something about a glowing tree just makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.  Like many of you, I’m sure, I have several fond memories of decorating the Christmas tree as a child.  My family always had an artificial tree, so all  my mom had to do was go into the closet underneath our stairs, pull out the boxes marked “CHRISTMAS” and we were ready to rock and roll!  Since moving to California 5 years ago, we’ve only had a Christmas tree once.  Since my boyfriend and I are both from the Seattle area, we typically travel home for the holidays, and to avoid coming back to a dried up tree, or having an artificial tree take up precious closet space during the rest of the year, we just forego the tree and decorate our living space with twinkle lights, stockings, and a few festive odds and ends.  This year my parents, sister, and her boyfriend are visiting US for the holidays.  I’m beyond excited to have my family sharing my home this Christmas!  It’s such a special treat, and it also means after 4 long years we finally get to have a tree again!  And only a real one will do.  You just can’t beat that fresh pine scent!

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Growing up, our tree was always adorn with multi colored lights, an eclectic collection of ornaments ranging from colorful glass balls, hand made projects from school, cartoon characters, and our favorite little gingerbread man shaped ones that smelled like sweet cinnamon cookies.   As an adult, I enjoy having a themed tree.  Smooth and textured glass balls in shades silver and turquoise along with a few icicles and snowflakes.  The colors remind of Seattle and the water, and one special ornament ties it all together.  LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!

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What kind of tree is in your home?  Do you go with the “little bit a everything” route or a themed tree like me?  Real or artificial?  I would love to hear about YOUR tree!  Leave me a comment with your tree details below!  It will be like driving through your neighborhood and seeing glimpses of you neighbors trees in the window!

Cheers!

Traci

 

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Citrus & Sunshine

My parents just arrived from Washington and will be staying with us through the holidays.  So far they are LOVING the weather.  While they’re visiting we have a lot of fun sunny California outings planned, one being citrus picking!  My Dad has been talking about this one for months, so we put it at the top of the list!  This citrus grove is tucked away out of view, behind our house within walking distance.  It’s decently hidden so we had NO CLUE it was there until one of my clients that lives nearby filled me in on it.  What an amazing little secret!  It’s home to several varieties of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarins, and even avocados!  The clemintine/mandarin oranges are a winter crop, so this season is the first time we’ve actually seen them growing, and we are obsessed!  I recently learned that they are nicknamed “Christmas Oranges” because of their winter timeline, how cute is that!  As you can see the trees are abundantly full, so we got to pickin’!20161204_105317

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How well do you know you’re neighborhood?  We lived in our current location for a year before finding out about this precious gem!  So chat with your neighbors and go exploring while on a evening walk, you never know what might be hidden around the corner!  Now you must excuse me, I turned about 90% of our harvest into the most amazing fresh OJ, so you know what that calls for right? MIMOSAS!

Cheers!

Traci

 

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Not Mom’s Meatloaf

Growing up I dreaded the nights when my mom made meatloaf for dinner.  My mother will be the first to tell you that she does NOT enjoy cooking…and with the meatloaf recipe she made me as child, IT SHOWED.  Her version included ground beef, onion, egg, and dry oatmeal smashed into a loaf pan and then covered in a condensed tomato soup.  I couldn’t get it passed my lips, meatloaf night was a night that I was A-OK going to bed without supper.  And since this was my only experience with meatloaf, for YEARS I wouldn’t go near the stuff.  In my mind ALL meatloaf was like my mom’s, and therefore, disgusting.  Unlike my mom, I’ve always loved cooking, and as I got older I learned how to pair flavors together and create my own recipes and eventually decided I was going to give meatloaf another try.  But MY way.  I’ve played around with a lot of ingredients and methods of cooking, but THIS one is my favorite. Here are a few of the key differences that turned a deeply hated dish into a delicious, comforting, healthier dish I look forward to in the colder months of the year.

  1. First off I don’t use ground beef, I’m truly not a big fan of it in general, so instead I use ground chicken.  You could totally use ground turkey as well.  My local Whole Foods Market just always has a great deal on organic dark meat ground chicken, so it’s my go-to.
  2. I fill it with lots of veggies!  I’m much more of a veggie eater than I am a meat eater, so when I DO eat meat I try to fill it with as many veggies as I can!
  3. I don’t stuff in into a loaf pan, I prefer to make it free form, and in this instance make smaller individual portions so everyone gets their own “loaf.”
  4. Tasty flavors inside! Thyme, rosemary, Dijon, Worcestershire, and balsamic all make an appearance!
  5. A savory, smokey,  slightly sweet topping.  In this recipe I used this amazing “bacon pepper jam” (you should really try it, its good on EVERYTHING) but before finding this I would use my favorite BBQ sauce.

 

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Not Mom’s Meatloaf

  • 1lb ground dark meat chicken
  • About 1 tablespoon of oil (I use avocado oil)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/3 cup grated carrot
  • 2 ribs of celery, diced
  • 1/3 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 2 sprigs rosemary (about 1 tablespoon minced)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (plus a pinch)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper (plus a pinch)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (I use a gluten free version)
  • 4 tablespoons bacon pepper jam, 1 tablespoon per mini loaf (find it here) or your favorite BBQ sauce.

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Add oil to a large saute pan and heat over a medium-high heat.  Add onions, carrots, celery,  roasted red peppers, salt and pepper and cook for 5 to 7 mins stirring occasionally until veggies have softened.  Next add rosemary, thyme, Dijon, Worcestershire, balsamic vinegar.  Stir to combined and cook for about 30  seconds.  Remove pan from the heat and let mixture cool slightly.  Place ground chicken, bread crumbs, egg, cooked veggie mixture, and a pinch of salt and pepper to a large bowl.  Use clean hands to mix everything together until well combined.  Divide meatloaf mixture into 4 equal portions.  Place each portion onto a lined or non-stick baking sheet and form into mini “loaves” about 1 inch thick.  Spread 1 tablespoon of the bacon pepper jam (or BBQ sauce)  over each loaf, spreading into a thin layer.  Place the baking sheet into the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes.  Once finished, place each loaf onto it’s own plate and enjoy with sides of choice!

 

If you’ve ever hated meatloaf like me, but wanna give it another chance, I hope you try this one!  And if you do please let me know!  Do you have a loathed childhood dish that you now enjoy as an adult?  I love to hear about that too!  Happy Cooking Everyone!! XO

Cheers!

Traci

 

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Cozy in the Canyons

With the holidays approaching and family coming to visit, my boyfriend Joel and I knew that life was going to be getting extra busy really soon.  And although we are SO looking forward to it all, we wanted to make sure to do something special for just the two of us before we had a full house.  As you may have seen in my last post, “Laguna Stay-cation” we recently celebrated 6 years together, and after 6 years we have A LOT of fun photos together, but nothing professional.  This time of year calls for colorful plaid, cozy, sweaters, and snuggling up close.  So we thought what better time of year than now to do our first couples photo shoot together!  I ran across our photographer, Jessica Kaylene, on Instagram who’s local in our area, and after we chatted about the style of shoot we wanted (outdoors-y, rustic, warm) she suggested Peltzer Pines Tree Farm in Santiago Canyon. So it was set!  Joel absolutely loves the canyons, so he made sure to scope out an area away from the trees where we could also get a shot of the beautiful foothills in all their glory…and I have to say, he did good!! Jessica was so easy and fun to work with, and HER PHOTOS!  She did such an amazing job capturing us as a couple along with all the beautiful surroundings.  I can definitely say our first couples photography was a positive one!

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Have you and your honey been together for a while, or have you recently welcomed a new baby into the family, or even a puppy?!  I encourage you to find a photographer near you, and capture some memories!  Many photographers offer “mini shoots” so even on a small budget you can take home some treasured frozen moments in time.  Joel and I are super happy we did, you will too!

Cheers!

Traci

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Laguna Stay-cation

So as you all know, I love celebrating the little things in life, but this weekend I celebrated something BIG! 6 years with my honey, yep our anniversary!  And how we celebrated was with a little “stay-cation” in Laguna Beach.  Sure it’s less then 10 miles from our house, but it’s gorgeous, fun, and our absolute favorite place in California.  So who cares right?!  We decided to do this semi last minute and thanks to hotelstonight.com  we got a KILLER deal at Hotel Laguna in the heart of downtown right on the beach!  We came to learn that it’s the oldest hotel in Laguna at over 100 years old!  Our room keys were even ACTUAL keys, when was the last time you saw that!?  When we checked in we had originally planned on just dropping off our stuff and heading out to one of the nearby rooftop bars to watch the sunset, but after seeing the view from our room we decided that it was the best place to be.  So we popped open a bottle that we brought with us from home, and enjoyed the beautiful sunset from our room at our own little private table for two.

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Saturday was our full day in Laguna, so to start it out right, we headed across the street to Nick’s for breakfast and mimosas.  If you’re a fan of Chicken and Waffles, you HAVE to come to Nick’s and give their version a try!  It comes with crisp waffles, boneless fried chicken, sausage gravy, diced up nueske’s bacon, and maple syrup.  My boyfriend order it, and even though I’m not typically into Chicken and Waffles, I totally loved Nick’s take on the dish.  The mixture of textures and flavors blew me away, and something about that gravy with the maple syrup just won me over.  The combo might sound a little funky, but believe me, this one’s a winner.

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Once we were sufficiently full, we decided a walk was in order.  We stopped by the Laguna Public Library where I picked up two new books and then headed over to the Saturday Farmers Market.  You guys, the falls colors were bursting out everywhere at this market!  I mean, LOOK at the beauty!`I couldn’t get enough!

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There were rumors that it was going to rain, but you never know what to believe in Southern California when in comes to rain.  So many times rain will be in the forecast and then not only does it NOT rain, it ends up being 85 degrees!  So to ensure we got in some beach time we headed onto our next adventure to Victoria Beach.  Victoria Beach is one of the most private public beaches in Laguna.  It’s a little tricky to find and there is little to no parking, but if you can get there you’ll be greatly rewarded with a special sight.  It’s home to what the locals call the “Pirate Tower” which resembles a mini whimsical castle.

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We explored the little tide pools and splashed around in the bubbly waves until we started feeling rain drops.  At that point we made our way back up to the street as fast as we could and found the closest bus stop. One of the many great things about Laguna is that everyday during the summer and every weekend during the rest of the year, it has a free shuttle.  And as if free wasn’t good enough, it also looks like a little trolley!

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Once we were back at the hotel we dried off, read, and napped until it was time for Happy Hour, at which point we hopped back on the little trolley and cruised over  to our #1 go-to Happy Hour spot, La Casa del Camino.  It’s a hotel that includes a restaurant and bar below, a rooftop lounge above, and the most charming little rooms in between.  We love this place so much that we’ve actually stayed here on another mini “stay-cation”.  And every time we have guests in town we make sure it’s one of our first stops.

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Everything on the menu is served tapas style, and are quite decadent.  We went with the ” lobster meatballs” which are served over bacon lobster mashed potatoes and finished with a lobster cream sauce, as well as the “truffle risotto” which has lobster and asparagus through out.  You might be thinking ” that must have cost an arm and a leg!”  NOPE!  With their “bonus happy hour” menu we got these two luxurious dishes for $9.50….YES, nine-dollars-and-fifty-cents.  Wooooo!!!!  The down stairs area also hosts live music every weekend, so I’m sure it’s easy to see why this place is #1 in our book.  Since this was our last night in Laguna, we had planned to get all dressed up for a fancy dinner, but after happy hour we were so incredibly satisfied that we decided to spend the rest of our night snuggled up in our room listening to the rain and waves outside our window.  It was the perfect finish to our special weekend.

I hope if you’re ever in Laguna Beach,  that you visit a few of these places.  Whether you’re on vacation, celebrating an anniversary, or just out on a Saturday, these little treasured spots will make your time feel extra special.  And don’t forget the bubbly!

Cheers!

Traci

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Thanksgiving Salad

Okay, I know some of you are probably thinking that salad is the LAST dish on your mind at Thanksgiving.  Everyone is looking forward to turkey,  mashed potatoes with gravy, rolls, and pumpkin pie!  Trust me though, you won’t be disappointed having this salad next to all your old favorites.  My “Thanksgiving Salad” salad brings a fresh twist to the table and brightens up your taste buds during this large meal full of rich heavier foods.  My boyfriend and I have salad with every dinner, so Thanksgiving is no exception!  For this salad I’ve taken our everyday salad and just made a few tweaks to make extra special for this holiday.  Swapping dried cranberries for our usual tomatoes in the salad is probably the most festive change I’ve made.  I like to serve this salad with my homemade “Red Onion Vinaigrette”, but it’s great with any basic balsamic vinaigrette as well.  Another nice thing about having this salad and dressing as a Thanksgiving side, is that it’s super simple to double or triple depending on the size of your party, SCORE!

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Thanksgiving Salad

(The size of salad you want will determine how much of each ingredient you need.  It’s salad!  No need to be precise on this one, add as much or as little of the toppings as you like.)

-Spring mix greens

-Dried cranberries

-Toasted pine nuts

-Sliced Persian cucumber

-Crumble goat cheese

-Optional: Chopped Avocado is amazing in this salad as well, but since I’m taking this salad to a party and didn’t want the avocado turning brown before serving, I opted to leave it out.

To toast pine nuts:

Add the pine nuts into a dry pan over medium heat, stirring frequently.  These can burn quickly so keep an eye on them.  Once the pine nuts are nice and golden they are done!  Allow the nuts to cool slightly before topping the salad.  This can be done in advance if you wish.

Red Onion Vinaigrette

-1/3 cup chopped red onion

-1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar

-1/4 cup avocado oil

-1 tablespoon agave

-1 teaspoon mustard powder

-1/2 teaspoon salt (I like using Pink Himalayan salt)

-1/2 fresh ground pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until mixture is smooth and has turned a pale pink color.

The vegetarians and meat eaters at your table will enjoy this one! So if you’re still looking for a dish to bring along to your Thanksgiving gathering, I hope you give this one a try!  If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below!  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Cheers!

Traci

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“The Couple Next Door”

I use reading as a mini escape from reality, so when I choose a book, I want it to grab my attention and suck me in!  So when I saw the title “14 Books You’ll Want to Read in One Sitting” while browsing Pinterest, I had to take a peak!  I LOVE Thrillers, and “The Couple Next Door” was one of the thrillers listed.  After reading the short description, I knew I had found my next read!  I’m a total library girl, so I went straight to my local library’s website to see if they carried this book.  In fact they did, but it was on a wait list!  I was somewhere around the 22nd person on the waiting list. (what?!)  So I thought I wouldn’t be reading this book until sometime next year!  Surprisingly enough though, I received an email on Friday telling me that it was ready for me to pick up.  YAY!  I started reading it Friday night and by Sunday morning I was half way through the book.  If you’ve read “The Girl on the Train” I can tell you right now, at this point in the book “The Couple Next Door”  isn’t quite as suspenseful, but still keeps me turning the pages. Although I have a feeling that the suspense is about to pick up!  I don’t want to give anything away, but if you like getting sucked into thrilling mysterious books like I do, I suggest you go pick this one up!

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Cheers!

Traci

 

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Caramel Apple Martinis

A few years back, a co-worker told me about a martini her husband would make with vodka, apple cider, and the glass rim dripping with caramel sauce.  Right away I knew this was something I HAD to try.  After making it a few times I decided I wasn’t a huge fan of the caramel sauce.  At first it looked cool, but overall was pretty messy.  So that’s when my wheels started turning and I thought, “I’ll put the caramel IN the martini, but not caramel sauce. Caramel VODKA.” So that’s what I did…and it was AWESOME!  Now every October, this martini appears in my kitchen and sticks around through Thanksgiving, and sometimes even into December.  Aside from Champagne, it’s my go to spirit of choice for the holiday season.  It’s a cocktail that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, and it’s not just because of the vodka!  Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean!

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Caramel Apple Martini

~ 1 oz plain vodka

~ 1 oz caramel vodka

~ 3/4 cup of apple cider, Honey crisp apple cider is my favorite (if you can’t find apple cider, unfiltered apple juice is just the same)

~ A sprinkle of cinnamon

~ A sprinkle of nutmeg

Place all ingredients into a martini shaker with ice, shake, pour into your glass of choice, and enjoy!

 

If you try this cocktail, I would love to hear what you think!  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Cheers!

Traci

 

 

 

 

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