New Year’s Eve in Vegas

There’s no place like Las Vegas.  It’s glitzy, and plastic, and neon, and fun.

We went to Vegas for New Year’s in 2013 to celebrate my bonus son’s 21st birthday (“bonus son” = stepson, with a more positive connotation; it means I’m “bonus mom”).  It had always been a plan since he was a small boy.  It was a blended family trip, with my husband and me, my bonus son and his college roommate, my bonus son’s real mom and her fiancé (now husband), and my 16-year old son.

What to do on New Year’s Eve in Vegas when you’re celebrating a milestone birthday?

We figured that watching the fireworks from the bar in one of the tallest buildings was the way to go (minus the 16 year-old, of course).  The fireworks on New Year’s in Vegas are truly spectacular; click here for this year’s show summary.  There’s still time for you to get there! 🙂

The fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas are deployed from the top of  a half-dozen hotels and can be seen from everywhere on the strip.  We chose the roof bar at The Palms because the Grill-Meister had been there for a work event a few months earlier, and it was indeed an experience.  Getting through the security there was more stringent than the security at the airport.  We didn’t know what bottle service was (click here if you are just as naive), but it was the only option.  The music was SUPER LOUD, and the patrons were rowdy. The evening was a fun learning experience, something to remember for a special birthday, and not something we need to do again.

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If I was in Vegas for New Year’s this year, I’d go to the Golden Nugget.  It is owned by Tilman Fertitta, a Galveston native and the man Forbes Magazine called “the world’s richest restauranteur” in 2012.  Along with other entertainment options, across the Golden Nugget, he imports a  top-notch jazz group from Houston each year.

During the rest of the week, we did all the typical campy Vegas things:

  • A magic show:  Criss Angel Believe – NOT RECOMMENDED; we don’t believe.  In spite of being associated with Cirque du Soleil, this show didn’t live up to the hype.  The reviews on TripAdvisor bear this out, including mine, in which I said it was “flashy but fluffy”.
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The Criss Angel “Believe” Show:  we don’t believe.
  • A music show:  Blue Man Group.  This show was fantastic. There was never a dull moment, and everyone in our party, ranging from 16 to 50+, was equally enthralled. It is a captivating, interactive, all-ages experience, and very, very funny. There is also a fair amount of “hmmm, that makes you think” social commentary that goes down easy (isn’t preachy). The crowd’s energy adds to the fun, and the audience participation component is delightful, simply and invigorating. Don’t miss this if you go to Vegas – take your family, take a date, or go alone. You won’t be sorry.
  • Walking the strip.  The people-watching is wonderful.

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  • Staying at the Bellagio.  It’s like a cruise ship; it has everything:  restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries, gambling, dancing fountains, and more.

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  • Checking out the other hotels.  It’s like a tour of over-the-topness.

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  • Gambling.  Didn’t spend much, didn’t lose much, didn’t win much.  It’s not my thing.

Overall, New Year’s Eve in Vegas was great, but once was enough.  This year, we’ll be with family in Albuquerque, traveling there from our cabin in central Colorado.


Need more Vegas? Click here to read my Vegas haikus, from a different birthday trip – my mother-in-law’s 80th.

Venturing Forward Into Travel Blogging

Is it travel blogging or travelogue-ing?

Either way, I’m going to start blogging about travel, when I can.

Travel and food are symbiotic.  So many of my favorite recipes have had their start from a wonderful meal I experienced on a trip.

Here’s my new travel page:  click here.  You should visit it just to see the cool retro picture of my mom.

Travel Suitcases

The best meal I’ve ever had was in a tiny restaurant in a tiny town in Italy, Greve in Chianti.  I wasn’t taking food pictures back then, but I wish I had!  The dish was wild boar and pappardelle pasta and it was unbelievably good.  Hopefully I can capture those moments going forward.

What was your best meal ever?

Sandwich Wednesday: New Cookbook

Sandwich Wednesday is a thing at Glover Gardens.

The Glover Gardens Grill-Meister is a sandwich-making king on Wednesdays. Click here to read the original post, which includes a recommendation for a good panini press.

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This cookbook has lots of wonderful recipes for “sandwiches, Italian style”.  Click here to view it on Amazon.

To continue to encourage this wonderful mid-week dinner-making strategy, I gifted him with another cookbook this Christmas.  It’s a winner!

Sandwich Wednesday came early this week because we’re at our cabin in Colorado, Little House in the Rockies, and paninis are quick and easy.  We joined forces and made the recipe on page 30, the Goat Cheese and Roasted Pepper Panini.  It would be a copyright infringement for me to print the recipe here since it hasn’t been shared online, but you could throw together something similar very easily.

The recipe layers roasted red peppers (we used them from a jar – sometimes it’s ok to cut corners) over a goat cheese mixed with herbs on a simple bun. Olive oil, capers, freshly ground pepper and fresh herbs make the red peppers really pop with flavor.

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The sandwich in the recipe is served cold, but we used our panini press and gave the bread a nice crunch.

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Our panini presses at Little House in the Rockies are simply Sunbeam models, but they work just fine

The finished product is a lovely and surprisingly filling vegetarian sandwich that would be good in any season. We served it simply, with clementines and prunes.

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Goat cheese, roasted red peppers and capers make a quick weeknight panini

Other Sandwich Wednesday posts (and recipes):

New Year’s Brunch

I’ve always felt that the way I spend New Year’s (Eve and Day) foreshadows my experiences for the rest of the year.  And it usually does:  we’re either traveling with family, having a special outing with family, or spending time at home with family, celebrating the beginning of a great new year with a great meal.  Last year at year’s-end, we were at our cabin in the Rockies and spent a fantastic New Year’s Eve in Breckenridge watching the fireworks, which we highly recommend.  There’s a Torchlight Parade, with skiers coming down the mountain adorned with red lights on their ski poles, which is a marvelous spectacle.  Then there are the fireworks, which are spectacular.  Even in sub-zero weather, which last year was about -15 degrees.

New Year's Eve in Breckenridge
Photo courtesy of Megan Rehm Photography.
We had a spicy egg and sausage casserole for New Year's Brunch in 2015, complimented by mimosas.
We had a spicy egg and sausage casserole for New Year’s Brunch in 2015, complimented by mimosas.

My Facebook post on New Year’s Day of 2015 read:  “We had a great time in Breckenridge last night but couldn’t last ’til midnight when we got back to the cabin. No worries, New Year’s Eve champagne makes great New Year’s Day mimosas.”  We had a throw down spicy sausage and egg casserole and mimosas for our brunch here at Little House in the Rockies, which really hit the spot.  By the way, I saw Anthony Dias Blue of Wine Spectator on Good Morning America about 25 years ago, and when asked about champagne for mixing in drinks like mimosas, he advocated using inexpensive but decent champagne (like Korbel).  He said that the finer champagnes were wasted when they were mixed with juices or other liquors.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Back to New Year’s Brunch.  There are certain requirements for the menu.  Being a southerner, I was raised on the tradition of eating black-eyed peas for luck on New Year’s Day.  The trouble is, I don’t like them very much.  My parents found a recipe called Texas Caviar years ago that solves this problem:  the black-eyeds are masked by yummy pico de gallo-like ingredients in this a spicy, fresh dip.  I don’t have their recipe, but found one in another blog that looks very close:  click here.

Basically, you have to have lucky foods, which can include pork or fish, both celebratory and extravagant foods, greens, for the color of money, coin-shaped foods, or food that is the color of gold, like cornbread (click here for a neat blog post about lucky foods for New Year’s).  You also need very hearty foods, if it’s a morning-after kind of situation.  And make-ahead foods are always handy if you’re going out on New Year’s, but having guests or a special family meal on New Year’s Day.

So here’s my recommended New Year’s Brunch Menu (which can also be a lovely New Year’s Eve menu if you’re having a party):

My final recommendation:  have fun!  New Year’s is a holiday without the burden of huge expectations or gifts.  Just go with the feeling and start out the new year in a happy and joyful way.

 

 

 

 

 

Hearty Ham & Sharp Cheddar Panini on Jalapeño-Cheese Bread

If you saw my post about Sandwich Wednesday, you know that the Grill-Meister is also a whiz at panini-making.  We’re at our cabin in the Rocky Mountains right now, and panini are definitely on the menu.

Czech Stop Jalapeño Cheese Bread
The Jalapeño-Cheese bread from the Czech Stop is not for the faint of heart! The bread is very important in this recipe.

First-night food when you’re traveling and have landed at your destination needs to be easy.  Right?  That’s why we settled on the Hearty Ham and Sharp Cheddar Paninis.  We brought the last of the Christmas ham with us on our cross-country driving trip, and picked up some wonderfully spicy jalapeño-cheese bread on our requisite road-snack stop at the Czech Stop in West, Texas.  (There’s an upcoming blog about the Czech Stop – it is legendary.)  The Grill-Meister figured that sharp cheddar would compliment the bread and the ham perfectly, and he figured right.  He’s smart that way.

This recipe is so easy it hardly needs to be typed out.  I bet you could make it easily just from these directions:  4 slices of bread, enough ham for two sandwiches, sliced red onion, and a bit of sharp cheddar.  Assemble, brush with olive oil or butter, and press on the panini press, or cook like a grilled cheese.  That is all.

But I’ll be a little more prescriptive, just in case.

Ham and Sharp Cheddar Paninis on Jalapeno-Cheese Bread

Ingredients

  • Four thick slices of jalapeño-cheese bread, or other specialty bread of your choice; make sure the slices are of even thickness if you’re using a panini press
  • 1/4 lb of sliced ham (we used spiral sliced ham leftover from holiday entertaining)
  • Enough sliced sharp cheddar for two sandwiches
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Olive oil or butter for

Cooking Instructions

Heat the panini press to medium. Lay out the four slices of bread on a cutting board. Put a small amount of olive oil in a saucer or small dish, and then brush it on one side of each piece of bread, then turn over. Alternatively, put a thin spread of butter on one side of each piece, then turn over. Assemble the sandwiches:

  • Place a layer of cheddar on two slices of bread, reserving a small amount.
  • Top the cheddar with the ham.
  • Add the sliced red onion.
  • Top the ham and onion with a bit more cheddar. This will help the fillings “stick” to the top slice of bread and prevent the sandwich fillings from falling out.
  • Place the remaining two slices of bread atop the filling on each sandwich.

Put the sandwiches onto the panini press, close the lid and press gently. Cook until the filling is hot and the bread is golden brown. If you don’t have a panini press, cook the sandwiches like a grilled cheese, first on one side in a large, flat skillet, then on the other, pressing down slightly.

There are only a few ingredients in this hearty ham and cheese panini.
There are only a few ingredients in this hearty ham and cheese panini.
The finished product is appetizing - and filling!
The finished product is appetizing – and filling!

Voila! You have a tasty, main-course sandwich that only needs a salad or fruit. On our just-arrived-at-the-cabin-weary-from-traveling-day, we just had clementines on the side. It was just fine.

We left 2015 Winter Storm Goliath behind us as we drove across the New Mexico-Colorado Border. Travel days call for easy dinners!
We left 2015 Winter Storm Goliath behind us as we drove across the New Mexico-Colorado Border. Travel days call for easy dinners!
This rabbit showed up at the back door of Little House in the Rockies, right before dinner.  Maybe he likes paninis?
This rabbit showed up at the back door of Little House in the Rockies, right before dinner. Maybe he likes paninis?
This was our view this morning, looking out toward Breckenridge.  Nature is the BEST!
This was our view this morning, looking out toward Breckenridge. Nature is the BEST!

Pampas Grass: A Champagne Drink

I love mimosas. Actually, I love many drinks that mix nice-tasting ingredients with champagne.  I love champagne.  Bubbly is good.  Very good.

Overlay the above with the fact that my dad and aunt-mom (story later) had a very prodigious grapefruit tree, and one of my favorite cousins lives in Florida and has an uncle with a citrus farm.  You can imagine:  I am blessed to receive tons of citrus in the winter, and challenged to do it justice.  One result:  the Pampas Grass, a champagne and grapefruit juice drink.

It’s an easy mix:  equal parts champagne (or sparkling wine), Midori, and freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice.  I made it recently for my nieces, who graced us with a pre-Christmas visit.

The Pampas Grass (makes one drink; multiply as necessary)

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (or purchased, if you don’t have fresh fruit)
  • 2 oz. Midori melon liqueur
  • 2 oz. inexpensive but decent champagne or sparkling wine (Korbel or a similar wine) – *see note below
  • lemon, lime or small grapefruit slices for garnishing

Mixing Instructions

Add all liquid ingredients to a wine or champagne glass, and garnish with citrus slice.


*Note: I saw Anthony Dias Blue of Wine Spectator on Good Morning America about 25 years ago, and when asked about champagne for mixing in drinks like mimosas, he advocated using inexpensive but decent champagne (like Korbel). He said that the finer champagnes were wasted when they were mixed with juices or other liquors. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 Champagne First

Pampas Grass
Add the Midori and the grapefruit juice, and voila, you have the Pampas Grass

Glasgow in December (2)

I had to go on a last-minute business trip to Glasgow earlier this month and was musing about what it would be like at Christmas:  click here for the original post.

Glasgow did not disappoint!  I had to work the whole time I was there except on my arrival day (Sunday) and in the evenings, so I didn’t get a lot of great shots.  But another blog has done a nice job of profiling Glasgow and I’ve shared the link to their post at the bottom of this one.

Glasgow had Christmas markets, with food and fun and trinkets.

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And I was able to go to the Botanical Gardens, which was right across from my hotel in the West End (the Hilton – I recommend it).  The Botanical Gardens have neat stuff to do both inside and out, so you can enjoy it even in cold or rainy weather.

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Glasgow is a shopper’s paradise!  Try Buchanan Street, or the West End.

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And it is also a town for foodies.  There are wonderful pub/restaurants, such as Oranmor, a collection of rooms serving food and drink in what used to be a church.  The restaurants and pubs on Ashton Lane by the Hillhead tube station are also really cool, such as the Ubiquitous Chip.

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I really, really loved the food at Cail Bruich, which TripAdvisor.com says is the 8th best restaurant in all of Glasgow, describing it thus:  “Inventive French-inflected food from Scotland’s natural larder in a relaxed, family-run atmosphere.”

If you made it this far, please take a minute to click on the Glasgow post from the Cewinta blog.  There are nicer photos and a bit of history.  Click here.  And finally, here’s a link to the blog of a retired librarian who posts from Glasgow:  click here.  She has a wealth of information about the city and posts about interesting literary events and travel.