How to Make an Espresso Martini

Espresso martinis are having a bit of a revival this year, and I’m pleased to say this is a trend I was actually prepared for. We discovered (rediscovered?) an affinity for espresso martinis on our honeymoon trip in 2019, where our first hotel offered a 2-for-1 martini happy hour and we sampled many fancy flavors on the menu.

There are only 3 ingredients in my household espresso martini, so in the words of legend Ina Garten, I recommend you use “good” ingredients.

What you will need, per drink:

  • 1 part Kahlua coffee liqueur
  • 1 part nice quality vodka
  • 1 part nice strong espresso, cooled

I am a purist with the Kahlua – other brands of coffee liqueur are weaker or may be light in coffee flavor rather than a rich, bold flavor with just enough sugar. I also use this for baking. You can get a mini bottle or small size to try first if you prefer. To be more specific on the other ingredients, I typically use Tito’s vodka and a single classic Nespresso pod (strength 9-12). “1 part” is typically 1 jigger measure, or just about 2 oz, of each ingredient. You can typically get 2 drinks worth of espresso from a single Nespresso pod.

Fill a cocktail shaker about 1/3-1/2 full with ice (for 2 or 1 cocktails, respectively). Add ingredients to shaker, add lid, and shake to mix. Pour into a martini glass and serve!

Fun tips:

  • Give your shaker a vigorous shake to naturally get some air in and create that foamy top of your cocktail once poured.
  • Top your drink with some chocolate shavings or an espresso bean to be fancy!
  • Use 1 or 1.5 oz measures per part or a different glass if you are prone to spilling martini glasses.
  • Try subbing in another alcohol to your preference! In a surprise twist, my taste testers gave a solid thumbs up to a tequila espresso martini.
  • If you’re impatient cooling your espresso, shake it with ice alone first then strain before the ice melts and waters it down. Or try a prepared HyperChiller to cool the hot liquid in seconds! Note only 1 cocktail will fit in the HyperChiller.
  • Try different recipes with the Kahlua – whether cocktails or desserts. This Kahlua Coffee Chocolate Layer Cake is pretty delicious.

Tips for Cooking a Roast Chicken

We have been making this awesome Air Fryer Whole Chicken recipe by Low Carb with Jennifer. In full transparency, this is not for any dietary purpose but because we like the recipe so much and it’s super simple. Here are some tips to really make this great!

1. Use an oil with a high smoke point, like the avocado oil recommended in the recipe. This will help the chicken skin crisp up without burning or smoking before the chicken is cooked through. The same tip applies to any items you may be frying or roasting crispy.

2. Use gloves to rub the seasonings and oil onto the chicken. I prefer lab or similar gloves for cleaning and food prep because they come in different sizes versus those giant plastic food prep gloves. Gloves are great for any prep work for either hygenic purposes or to keep spices and oils from getting embedded in your fingernails.

3. Remove the giblets! This may be obvious if you’ve cooked a whole chicken or turkey before, but be sure to remove any packets that are inside the cavity (center hole) of the chicken before cooking it. You can separately cook or use those, but in this case I discard them.

4. Pat it dry! Pat your chicken (and any proteins) dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture before prepping and cooking. This will keep your meat from getting soggy when it cooks.

5. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness in the thickest part and/or center of your chicken (breast and thigh at 165 on a whole chicken). This is an easy way to check for doneness without any cutting or any other sort of more uncertain technique.

Bon appetit!

Five Items to Level Up Your Kitchen

If you’ve already rounded out the basics in your kitchen and acquired kitchen shears, you might be wondering what other items would help you level up your kitchen to achieve a wow factor. Here are my top five affordable items that have both practical applications and give the impression you have it all together in your kitchen.

1. Automatic wine opener – This little baby is one of my favorite kitchen tools. Most wine accessories give off an impressive air, but this one avoids some of the pretention and helps you avoid looking like a fool using a different opener.

2. Spoon rest – I went years thinking spoon rests weren’t necessary. What better would they be versus a plate or say, your plain old countertop? Turns out they can be super useful as long as you get one you will use! In my case I needed to get a large enough spoon rest to hold my cooking utensils and ladles, and I prefer stainless steel because it is easier to clean or avoid staining.

3. Toaster oven – I grew up with toaster ovens rather than a traditional toaster. While they typically take a little longer than a regular toaster for plain bread, a toaster oven has so many more functions and uses. You can make regular toast, cheesy or messy toast, bake cookies, roast vegetabls, broil, and so much more! Also, how does one even fit fancy bread into a traiditional toaster?? (rolls, croissants, thick cut, etc.) I’ve converted multiple friends, roommates, and family members to devoted toaster oven fans.

4. Food scale – Food scales are super helpful if you’re practicing recipes or do any baking. They help you understand approximate measures, portions, or how to scale your preparations to the ingredients you have on hand (e.g., you have 2 lbs of potatoes and not 5). For baking, it also helps with accuracy, as most recipes are developed with scaling or weighting of ingredients rather than measuring cups. If your flour settles, or maybe your eggs are large, your recipe will be just a tad off. The scale is also super helpful if you have any international recipes using different metrics.

5. Ingredients for a fancy cocktail – Hone in on your favorite drink of choice and get a few “fancy” ingredients to make that happen, alcoholic or not. You don’t need to stock up on a full bar to make a quality and impressive drink. Just one of something like bitters, vermouth, or a fancy soda can go a long way across multiple combinations.

How to Reprioritize Time for Yourself

Hi friends! After a solid 8-month break, I am back. In all honesty, I got busy with real life and decided to take a break. I published 43 posts in just over 6 months – that’s 2 posts per week to author and gather content for someone who works full time. And is not particularly skilled at the visual content component. It got to be too much of a chore so I took a break to reset and bring back the joy in doing this.

So, that’s the topic of my first post back – prioritizing or reprioritizing time for yourself.

1. Set your priorities and make the top ones known, unapologetically.

There’s a popular work-life metaphor about juggling balls in your life. Some are glass, and some are rubber. Some are work, some are personal. This changes all the time, and knowing which ones are rubber and can be dropped any given time is key. This week, you might have a can’t miss personal engagement, while a month from now you might have a critical work deadline.

Set a couple personal priorities or goals for yourself and don’t be afraid to make them known. People will surprise you in their ability to adapt or help you in achieving those goals. For some, a simple time boundary gets people in the mindset to respect your time and even take the same approach in their life – in the age of remote work, maybe you have an alternate schedule to care for family or make certain health/fitness priorities. Or maybe you’re working towards a personal achievement, like a certification, hobby, or fitness goal. Others may share their tips or enjoy motivating one another in success! It also helps keep you accountable to these priorities.

2. Truly set aside time for yourself or your goals.

Most months on the second Friday of the month, I take a half day of PTO purely for myself and get a massage. This is for my own relaxation and the purpose of this half day is no secret to my spouse or to my boss. Sometimes I’ll even take my dogs to doggy daycare that day so I can really have the afternoon to myself guilt free.

Think about what type of time commitment or activity really refreshes or motivates you, and figure out how to dedicate time for that. If your first attempt doesn’t work, revisit what you tried and how you might change that or break it up into smaller steps for success.

3. Budget for your priorities, in both time and money.

This may mean making other tradeoffs or literal trades for what you to get what you want. For my massage indulgence, I paint my own nails and cook a lot of meals at home (including coffee and lunch when I went to a physical office). When I was younger or in any period of trying to save money, I went way less often than monthly.

Consider your own time as money. Are you better off paying for or trading a service to reap the most benefit? For example, paying for a cleaning service to save you time, and potentially earn more money while you work those same hours at your job? Can you offer a trade with a friend or relative (e.g., trade babysitting, cooking, pet sitting hours)?

Can you consolidate any needs? For example, if you struggle from guilt or FOMO taking time to exercise, can you make that a dual purpose event? E.g., take a long walk to get exercise with your pet. Many chores like cooking, exercising, cleaning can be done with a friend or kids to make it social.

4. Find a few things that truly bring you joy and calm. Do them!

For me personally, this is something very different from my day to day work. This means no computers and limiting screens (which is why blogging is a difficult side hobby). I need to keep my hands and brain busy without a screen, so cooking and crafting are big for me. I like to try new recipes and have recently gotten into mini dollhouse model kits.

Flying Tips for Holidays

If you’re traveling for the holidays this year, here are a few of my top tips for holiday travel to help navigate your trip!

Prepare for security

If you haven’t traveled in awhile, make sure your items are compliant for passing TSA carry-on regulations. TSA has a pretty extensive list of “What Can I Bring?” on their website and will also respond if you Tweet or reach out on social media in advance of your trip.

Be ready to take off your heavy coat and boots if you have them (even in pre-check they may set off the alarm). Be careful traveling with gifts as well – TSA recommends having those unwrapped in case anything needs to be inspected.

While you can’t take large liquids or gels in carry-on luggage, you can take pies, cakes, and completely frozen solid items! It’s also helpful if you can separate or easily access specific items that might set off the security machines – this will be anything shaped like a tool/weapon, bulk foods, organic materials (e.g., wooden objects), electronics, and things like printed photos that will trigger a chemical scan. There are also size requirements enforced for metal tools, scissors, sporting equipment, and instruments to name a few.

Know your airline and airport

Do a little research in advance to see what amenities or services are available in your airport, terminal area, and airplane. This is more widely available online today, and sometimes via the app for each specific service. For example, the terminals at ATL are all accessible after security, so if there is a specific meal I want I can go to it. However, at LAX, you can’t go between many of the terminals so you are stuck with the choices for your specific gate.

For airports, do a little research on your airport if you are unfamiliar or have a layover. This can help you prepare for food, travel time, or general things to do! Be sure to check for construction at the terminals; unusual transfers (e.g., inter-airport shuttle); or if you have a very early or late flight if there are any changes to opening times for security, parking, or other services.

Different airlines and plane models also offer different amenities onboard. In ATL, Delta is my go-to provider and their fleet generally provides an entertainment screen, USB port, and AC charger at every seat. They offer free messaging in flight but wifi for internet browsing is a little pricey without a membership. Southwest generally offers their entertainment portal on your own device and a good rate for wifi. But if the wifi goes out, nothing is available, so I always make sure to have downloaded entertainment and a charging bank on Southwest flights.

Prepare for crowds

Airports are traditionally busy during the holidays, and more recently there have been a lot more staffing shortages or other operational issues that can cause delays. Be prepared! Arrive early enough for your flight. Bring your own snacks or food if you don’t want to wait in line anywhere. Having enough time will help you give others a lot of grace who might need it.

If a flight gets delayed or there is bad weather, sometimes the airport itself can start to get crowded. During busy seasons I make sure I have a portable charging bank with me for my phone, and sometimes I will bring my own outlet splitter or surge protector if there is anything else I’ll need to charge to ensure I can get or share an outlet if needed.

Hope you have safe and happy travels!

Easy Holiday Decoration Tips

1. Light your tree easily. There are a few options here – I specificially use net lights, which are a large net of lights instead of strings. These are really easy to fling over the top of your tree and spread out evenly, no tangles. They are often meant for bushes or shrubs so mine are rectangular but they also come in triangles, which is better for trees. Another tip for very large trees is to string your lights vertically instead of around, as it is a bit easier to manage. And finally, you can get a pre-lit artificial tree!

2. Throw pillow covers. An easy way to change up your decor is to change the pillow covers on any throw pillows you have. The spare cases are inexpensive and easy to store the remainder of the year.

3. Use other people’s cards to decorate! My sister made me a clothespin wreath I can attach them to, but you can also string them or just hang them up for festive, easy decor.

4. Smart plug outlets. Save yourself from a lot of hassle and use these to control any lights remotely or on an automated timer. I don’t have a set schedule for mine and like to turn the lights off when I go to bed. This lets me get multiple stories of lights at the same time without going outside in the cold. I can set them to a timer, control them from my phone, or yell at Alexa to turn the lights on/off. The rest of the year I use one for my patio string lights.

2021 Gift Guide – Sales are on Now!

A few weeks ago I shared my top tips for picking out a personalized gift. For anyone seeking concrete ideas for their gift list, I’ve put together a few selections of items at different price points. I either have or have given several of these items myself! In full transparency, I also wanted to practice my Photoshop collages. Retailers are running major sales right now to get ahead of supply chain and shipping delays, so be sure to comparison shop and snag a good deal! Prices listed are as of posting time.

Le Creuset 5.5-qt Dutch Oven ($300, on sale), TRUFF Hot Sauce ($17), Adult Paint by Numbers ($13), Nerds Gummy Clusters ($12.50 for 3), Photo Ornament ($15 on sale), Photo Mug ($10 on sale), DIY Ravioli Kit ($32), Smart Plugs ($16), JBL Waterproof Speaker ($130)
Faux Fur Cable Beanie ($19), Twisted Satin Headband ($17 on sale), Pearl Climber Earrings ($17 on sale), Fresh Lip Balm Set ($25), Himalayan Salt Scrub ($10), Barefoot Dreams Cardigan ($116), Printed Joggers ($10-20 by print), Turtleneck Sweater ($68 on sale), Orthotic Slippers ($16-40 by color), Rebecca Minkoff Leather Bag ($300)
Jack Black Toiletry Set ($48 on sale), WoodWick Crackling Candle ($24), Large/Whiskey Ice Cube Mold ($14), birddogs shorts ($68), Melin A-Game Hydro Hat ($59), Moccasin Slippers ($30), Carbon Fiber Slim Wallet ($125), Flannel Jogger Pajama Pants ($27)
Okay, mostly for dogs and dog owners. White Paw Toy ($14 for two, on sale), Benebone Chew ($11), Photo Mug ($9 on s ale), FURemover Broom ($12), GoDog Dragon Toy ($10-15), Puzzle Treat Ball ($14)

Background graphics from Canva.

How to Wrap Awkwardly Shaped Presents

Now that we’ve gone through how to wrap a normal present in a box, let’s tackle some odd or awkward shaped items!

1. Put it inside a box, then wrap

This works great for smaller items, fragile items, or items with small pieces hanging off prone to breaking. Examples: picture frames, ornaments, mugs or glassware

2. Wrap it like a mailing envelope

Lay your item down and make a loop around it with wrapping paper, similar to wrapping a normal present. Tape the seam. Instead of a traditional fold on the ends, neatly fold it down into a seam close to the end of your present as though you were putting the entire thing in a mailing envelope or a sealed package of chocolate or chips. It’s more important to be neat versus using up the excess paper. Examples: soft stuffed animals, sporting items, kids toys in that are half boxed and half exposed, kitchen accessories

3. Bundle it up

With this you will have excess paper or wrapping material at the top, similar to a gift basket or one of those bundled sacks on a stick. Lay your wrapping paper out, printed side down. Place your item in the center and then bring all the corners to the center and tie it with ribbon or string. You can also use tissue paper, towels, cloth, or other wrapping materials.

4. Use a bag instead

For small to midsize items, forego the wrapping altogether and put it in a gift bag with tissue paper. For larger items, they make soft gift bags (like a Santa sack or pillowcase with drawstring. Plain paper grocery bags are a great alternative to reuse as well.

5. Don’t wrap it at all

Like the crazy commercial people that buy two cars without telling their spouse, don’t wrap the gift at all and just stick a giant bow or some festive decoration on it. Check out my last post if you’d like to try making your own bow! This works great for large items (e.g., bicycles, furniture) or items that already come in a nice box or bottle. If you want an element of surprise, use a sheet or blanket to cover large items without using up a ton of wrapping paper.

How to Make a Fancy Bow

One of my sister’s first jobs was working in a fancy stationery store at the mall, where she had to gift wrap quite a few items as a store onsite that had wrapping paper and cards. She taught me how to make my own gift bows long ago and I still use that method today.

All you need is some ribbon and scissors. I prefer to use wire-edge ribbon around 1.5-2 inches wide as the ribbon will hold it’s shape and you can bend it to adjust. You can use other ribbon, but wire-edged will be easiest to learn with.

Take your ribbon, and leaving it attached to the spool, create a single loop or circle with the loose end at the very bottom center. To determine what size of the bow you’d like, pinch the center of your loop and each side will become a piece of the bow. Once you have the overall size, wrap the ribbon around additional times until you have 4-5 complete loops. For narrow or more slack ribbon you may want more.

Your last loop should line up in a full circle at the bottom, overlapping the loose end of the ribbon. Cut it from the spool at an angle. Pinch your looped pile of ribbon in the center and then set it aside (note, if it does not hold it’s own shape set something on top of it to hold it in place). Cut off an extra piece of ribbon about 6 inches in length. If the ribbon is wider than 2 inches, fold it in half or cut it in half to make it narrower. Set that aside.

Take your looped ribbon again in one hand. Holding it pinched in the center, you are going to cut out a small triangle on the top and bottom of the center point similar to an hourglass cutout. Be careful not to sever the ribbon in half.

Take your spare piece of ribbon and tie it around the other ribbon to secure. Tie a basic knot at the bottom. Now your ribbon will look very similar to a stick-on bow.

Carefully separate the loop layers to create each piece of the bow. Fluff them and twist them into the desired fullness and shape, then use the loose ends of the ribbon tie to secure the bow to your present!

How to Wrap a Present

When I was a teenager, we used to volunteer at the mall as gift wrappers to fundraise for local schools. I put in a lot of hours learning to wrap quickly, wrap odd shaped items, and also make the most of the thin red wrapping paper supplied for the event.

If you’ve never wrapped a gift before, it can be a little daunting and definitely takes some practice! You will need wrapping paper/material, scissors, and tape. You can certainly get creative outside of traditional wrapping material in terms of using paper grocery bags, newspaper, sheet music, or even fabric. For simplicity, in my example and instructions we will asssume you have a rectangular item or box.

1. Size Your Paper

The first thing you want to do is size out the amount of paper you will need to wrap your gift. You want to ensure you can wrap the paper all the way around your item without a gap. Sometimes turning your item 90 degrees or diagonally is the best way to make this work. If you’re wrapping smaller items, you might also want to cut up your paper so you can use a larger piece for multiple items. If you’re unsure something will fit and it’s not fragile, go ahead and just roll the box along the width or length of the paper to check if it will go all the way around.

2. Cut Your Paper

Once you’ve figured out how much paper you need, cut it from the roll or larger sheet to size. Many rolls of wrapping paper have a grid along the back to follow a straight edge. If you don’t have one, roll the paper up a bit so you can use the roll as your guideline. Try to use full size scissors for this as they are easier to glide through the paper than a smaller pair. With a good roll of wrapping paper you can push the scissors straight along the paper as though it glides. If your paper doesn’t do this and starts to tear or wrinkle, fully open and close the scissors to more carefully snip the entire sheet.

3. Center Your Gift and Make the First Folds

Lay your wrapping paper out with the printed side down. Carefully turn your gift upside down and center it on the backside of your wrapping paper. Fold one side of the paper up and over so it is taut along your gift. If needed, anchor the piece with some tape. Fold the opposite side up and over to completely surround your gift item in wrapping paper and secure with tape. If you have too much paper you can fold over or cut off the excess.

4. Mock Fold the Ends of the Gift

Next you’ll tackle the two open ends of your gift. You want those ends of paper to be no longer than the height of the box or space they need to cover. If you’re too afraid to cut them down right away, you can wait until later.

Rotate your gift item so an open end is facing you. Gently push the left and right sides down toward the sides of your gift so that the top and bottom start to move toward the center like envelope closures.

For your first open end, give it a very light fold like above. Do not crease it or tape it – we will come back to it so you can ensure it is taut. Turn your gift vertically with that section on the bottom so your gift is keeping it in place. It’s okay if it’s a little lumpy or messy at this point.

5. Fold the Open Top

Repeat that same folding motion on the now top-facing end of your gift item. As you push the left and right sides down, push the bottom of the paper down so it follows the natural folding motion. Crease the paper to flatten it. Repeat this in a downward motion with the top piece. If your paper is longer than the space you have, cut or fold it down. With the top piece neatly folded over the bottom, tape to secure.

6. Fix the Other Side

Flip your gift over and fold down the other end for real. This will ensure the wrapping paper is actually tight enough on both sides without extra space or air bubbles.

And there you have it! Look out for a few tips coming up to jazz up that gift with a bow or some ribbon!