Sally’s Baking Addiction, June Challenge: The Classic Icebox Cake

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I have to confess, I have never made an icebox cake. I know that they are the quintessential summer dessert, and I understand why. They are extremely easy to make and the basic steps are: assemble, freeze and eat. So why have I been so resistant? It’s the whipped cream component that is off-putting for my family. Please don’t hate me! We just don’t like whipped cream, all four of us! I think it is a textural problem. We do, however, all love ice cream. So when I saw that Sally’s challenge for June was a blueberry lemon icebox cake, I decided it was time to confront this issue once and for all. After all, is that not the point of challenging oneself?

My first thought was that I needed to figure out how to make lemon ice cream. I did a lot of searching for ideas and decided I would create a limoncello- honey ice cream recipe.

 

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I really love the depth of flavor created by adding limoncello, lemon juice and lemon zest, and I wanted to sweeten the ice cream with a combination of honey and sugar.

This ice cream recipe is like many others in that it begins with the cooking of a custard, which must be cooled before adding to the ice cream machine. I combined heavy cream, milk and honey in a large sauce pan and brought it slowly to a simmer. While the dairy components were heating, I combined egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a medium bowl.

Once the honey had dissolved in the simmering milk, I tempered the egg mixture by slowly adding a portion of the warm liquid to the eggs and whisked continuously. The trick here is to add the hot liquid SLOWLY and to keep whisking so the eggs do not scramble. If you do this correctly you then can add the  tempered eggs back into the milk mixture without getting clumps (which are effectively scrambled eggs). Don’t worry, if you do have some cooked egg you can simply strain it out at the end of the cooking process. Continue to cook the custard until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Then strain if necessary and put into a container to cool. I always put my ice cream base in a measuring cup so it is easier to pour directly into the ice cream machine. This base needs at least an hour to cool completly.

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You may be thinking, “wait you forgot the limoncello”! I like to add liqueurs at the end of the cooling process. Flavors change when a mixture is hot or cold. If I add the limoncello now, the flavor will be less intense after cooling. So, I will add 1 Tablespoon/cup and check the flavor before it goes into the machine.

While the base cools, you can make the blueberry sauce, which also needs to spend some time in the refrigerator before assembling the final dessert.

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Begin by combining cornstarch, lemon juice and warm water. Mix thoroughly and set aside this will be your thickening agent.

 

 

Next combine the blueberries, sugar and lemon zest. Put over medium heat and cook until the juices begin to release. Add the cornstarch slurry and continue to cook until thick. Place the sauce in a container and chill.

It’s seriously that easy! I went rock climbing for a couple hours while everything cooled off. When I returned it was time to fire up the ice cream machine.

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I let this churn for 30 minutes because I wanted a soft consistency for spreading into the pan. While the machine did all the hard work, I prepared the 9 X 5 loaf pan which would be the mold. The key for getting the cake out of the pan is to line it with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic hangs over the sides as they will be the handles for lifting the frozen cake out the next day.

As I was working on this it occurred to me that the bottom would be the top, after the cake was inverted onto a serving dish. I thought it might be fun to attempt to have some sort of decoration on the top of the cake. But how to pull that off? I settled on placing a piece of parchment on the bottom of the pan.

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Then I took some thinly sliced lemon rounds and halved blueberries and “glued” them to the parchment with honey. I wanted the design to stay put when I spread the ice cream over them.

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After fixing the garnish to the paper, I put the pan into the freezer for 10-15 minutes

This was a huge gamble! I was not convinced it would work at all.

Now it is time to assemble the dessert! I gathered all the components: limoncello-honey ice cream, blueberry sauce, graham crackers and the prepared pan.

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Working with efficiency, so the ice cream doesn’t melt, begin the layering.

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Start by adding a thin layer of ice cream to the bottom of the pan. This will help the graham crackers adhere. Then a thicker layer of ice cream (or whip cream if using).

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Next add  half the blueberry sauce mixture and spread without mixing the two layers too much. You want layers, not a marbling affect in the end. Next is another layer of cream, then a layer of graham crackers. Then repeat: cream, the other half of the blueberry sauce, more cream.

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My final layer was composed of graham crackers, but you could add another layer of cream if you so desired.

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This was covered with foil and put into the freezer overnight.

 

 

The next day, it was time for the big reveal. Would this work with ice cream? Would the design I “glued” to the parchment paper be there? Would the limoncello ice cream be tasty?

Well, the design is (sort of) there. Perhaps if I had made the slices a little thicker? And, one of the blueberries moved, but overall I am happy with this first try! I will try this idea again! But how does is it taste? I am going in!

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Yes! delicious – love the lemon flavor in the ice cream and the blueberry sauce.

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This is also a really pretty dessert! It is quick, even faster if you just make it with the lemon whipped cream!

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Each of these individual components are quite tasty on their own. The ice cream would be great on a hot summer evening. And, the blueberry sauce would be wonderful over some vanilla ice cream, or as part of a dessert that requires a thick fruit compote. Since they are great as stand alone dishes, I have included the individual recipes as well as the formula for the icebox cake layering technique. I would encourage you to try any one of these, if you are not interested in the icebox cake itself.

Another great idea from Sally’s Baking Addiction! Give this one a try!

 

Limoncello-Honey Ice Cream

  • Servings: about 4 cups
  • Time: 30 minutes prep, 1 hour cooling + 30 minutes in the machine
  • Difficulty: easy
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Limoncello liqueur adds a depth of flavor to this lemony-citrus ice cream

Credit: Invisible-no-more

Ingredients

-1 1/2 cups milk

-1 cup heavy cream

-1/4 cup honey

-1/4 cup granulated sugar

-2 Tablespoons lemon zest

-1 Tablespoon lemon juice

-5 egg yolks

-3 Tablespoons limoncello liqueur, or to taste

Directions

  1. Add milk, cream and honey to a medium sauce pan and heat on low-medium until simmering. Small  bubbles will appear around the edge of the pan. Heat until the honey is completely dissolved.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and egg yolks. Whisk to incorporate. Slowly add some of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks while whisking constantly. This is tempering the egg mixture. Combine the tempered egg mixture with the warm milk by adding the egg yolks back into pot of warm milk and continue to cook an additional 8-10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture continuously until it coats the back of the spoon.
  3. Remove from the heat, cover and chill in the refrigerator until cool (about 1 hour).
  4. Once the custard base is cool, add the limoncello liqueur. Transfer to an ice cream maker and follow the manufactures instructions. Process for 30 minutes for soft serve or freeze for an additional 2 hours for a firmer consistency.

 

Blueberry Sauce

  • Servings: about 2 cups
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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This lemony blueberry sauce is great for serving over ice cream or as a component to any baked item that requires a thickened fruit filling

Credit: Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients

-2 teaspoons cornstarch

-2 teaspoon lemon juice

-1 Tablespoon warm water

-2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

-2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

-1 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions

  1. Whisk the cornstarch, lemon juice, and warm water together in a small bowl until the cornstarch has dissolved. Set aside.
  2. Warm the blueberries and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously for 3 minutes until the blueberry juices begin to release. Add the cornstarch mixture and continue to stir for another 2-3 minutes, smashing some blueberries as you go. The mixture will start to thicken.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest. Place in the refrigerator until completely cooled ~ 1 hour.

Limoncello Ice(cream)box Cake

  • Servings: 10 slices
  • Time: 50 minutes prep time, 1 hour + overnight cooling and freezing time
  • Difficulty: easy
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A twist on the icebox cake that uses limoncello-honey ice cream in place of the traditional whipped cream

Credit: Invisible-no-more

Ingredients

-Limoncello-Honey ice cream, recipe above

-Blueberry sauce, recipe above

-8-10 graham cracker, about 1 sleeve

Directions

  1. Prepare a 9 inch X 5 inch loaf pan by lining the entire inside with plastic wrap. Make sure there is enough plastic that will hang over the sides of the pan. This will be the “handles” that you will use to lift the frozen cake from the form.
  2. If desired, add a cut piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Secure a garnish of your choosing, with honey as the “glue”. Place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to secure the garnish.
  3. Spread a thin layer of ice cream over the bottom of the pan (and garnish, if using) to help the graham cracker layer to adhere. Place the first layer of graham crackers in the bottom, add a layer of ice cream, then half the blueberry sauce, another layer of ice cream and then repeat: Crackers, ice cream, the other half of the blueberry sauce, ice cream. The final layer maybe the graham cracker layer or another layer of ice cream, if you have enough at that point.
  4. Cover with foil and place in the freezer for, at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  5. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes then unwrap and invert onto a serving dish. Slice with a sharp knife that has been run under hot water, and quickly dried, to make clean slices. Garnish with lemon slices, lemon zest and/or blueberries.

 

Half Marathon Training Wrap Up!

 

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Spoiler Alert: We survived!

This last week of training was fairly straight forward. We had two runs scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday with the option of either 4 or 5 miles each of those days.  I decided to make them both 5 milers, while my hubby went with 5 on Tuesday and 4 on Thursday. My average pace Tuesday was 9:51 and Thursday was 9:41. I don’t know why one was a little faster than the other, it was the same course and same time of day. The only difference was that it was raining pretty hard on Tuesday with a decent wind to contend with, so perhaps that affected me more than I realized.

 

 

 

I have been so nervous about my back injury and this half marathon, that I have been really scaling back other activities. I did go climbing a couple times this week, but didn’t try anything too hard. When Saturday rolled around we made our way into Seattle to pick up our race packets at the runners expo.

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It was really starting to sink in that this was going to happen! We decided to sign up for the morning VIP package. This is a pre-race option that would allow us to park at the finish line, take a shuttle to the start and a continental breakfast would be available to us. We also would benefit from a private gear check and, most importantly, flush toilets just for the the VIP group. We have done this at other races and have never regretted spending the money for this perk. However, the start time for this year was 6:30am which meant that we had to catch the shuttle at 4:30am! Factoring the drive to the parking garage and getting ready for the run meant getting up at 3:30am! We were not sure that this was a brilliant idea this time.

Saturday evening, we decided to take a Yin Yoga and Gong Bath class. If you are not familiar, Yin yoga focuses on holding static poses for longer periods of time to allow for greater stretching of the muscles. A Gong Bath is effectively meditation with background music played on a variety of gongs and chimes. Our thought was that this would give our muscles a good stretch, before we made them work really hard the next day, and help relax us and wind down before the race on Sunday. Did it work? I think so. My back was less tight and we were happy to have the diversion from thinking about running 13 miles the next morning!

The big day finally came on Sunday. We got up at 3:30am (ugh) and made our way to the start at Husky Stadium at the University of Washington. We immediately saw the wisdom of the VIP package as the line for the honey buckets was the worst I have ever seen at any race in which we have participated. 20,000 people registered for the Seattle Rock n’ Roll and about 250 were in the VIP area. We had coffee (several cups), bagels and yogurt parfaits. Not to mention space heaters! Both my hubby and I made several trips to the bathrooms and the runners outside were lucky to get one. Yes, I will be sticking with the VIP option for future races!

The course this year was a little easier than last year, which I appreciated! My husband was in the fast wave and I started about 30 minutes later. I was nervous about my curtailed training the last few weeks, but it went just fine. Actually better than fine!

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I managed an average pace of 10:15 and had my fastest half marathon to date! This was my third half and the fastest as I finished in 2:16.  I was shocked as my only goal was to keep running the entire route and be able to walk, with my back intact, the next day.  I did a lot better than that-so grateful my body held together.

My husband absolutely crushed this course finishing in 1:38! That’s a 7:20ish pace and a PR for him! Not too shabby for only his second half marathon. Unfortunately, he really pushed it and was hobbling around for the rest of Father’s Day! He laid on the couch and watched the US Open and rehabilitated.

We are both happy and grateful to be healthy and active at this point in our lives. We are planning another half in the fall, but have a lot more to do before that! I want to really hit the climbing routes now that I don’t have to hold back anymore. I also want to start up golf lessons again, provided I keep healing!

Thanks to all of you who were supportive and for your words of encouragement, both on the blog and Instagram, I really appreciate your positivity!

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Pulled Pork with Lemon and Garlic on a Potato Herb Roll

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I have been making this pulled pork for quite some time. It is one of our favorite preparations and, if there is a healthier way to make a pork sandwich, then this is it. But, the real star of this dish is the potato herb rolls that I can customize with with any herbs that will complement whatever fillings will be in the sandwich. In this case the pork is made with garlic and lemon so I used thyme, rosemary, dried parsley and onion powder to flavor the rolls.

The pulled pork could not be easier, in fact I hesitate to call this a recipe. I take a 4-5 pound pork shoulder and trim off any excess fat. It goes into a slower cooker and I add several garlic cloves, 1 large lemon cut into quarters or two smaller lemons halved. To ensure the pork is not dry I add about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch of low sodium chicken stock. Thats it! It cooks on low for 8 hours or until it falls apart.

Near the end of the cooking process, I remove the lemons and garlic and reserve the latter for the sandwich. The garlic is perfectly roasted and spreads easily on the roll if you are interested in doing so-and I always do!

Of course, rolls form scratch do take a little more time and effort but are so worth it.

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I use a 6 quart stand mixer with a dough hook attachment for these rolls. You can use a small mixer but note that the final dough will be about 4 1/2 pounds in weight. Most 4 quart mixers will be fine with that, but you could half the recipe if needed. I made 24, 3 oz sandwich rolls from that amount of dough, which would yield about 35, 2 oz dinner rolls. These rolls freeze very well and you could store the extra for several weeks and then refresh as needed.

You will begin by combining all the ingredients, minus the herbs into the mixing bowl and adding temperature controlled water (not shown). In my kitchen I use water at 100°F but anywhere from 80-100°F will work. Mix on low to incorporate then turn to medium to knead for 7-9 minutes. What you are looking for is what is called a “window pane”. This lets you know when the dough has reached its correct gluten development. There is no real mystery about this step. After ~about 7 minutes, turn off the mixer and pull out a small amount of the dough, it will be slightly sticky. Stretch the dough between your thumbs and forefingers into the shape of a rectangle. If the dough breaks it is not ready, the gluten strands are too short. Continue kneading. The dough temperature should be rising as well, and it will be near 77°F to 80°F when the dough is fully developed. Keep checking these two parameters. Eventually, your window pane will be strong, and transparent. Light should be able to show through the dough, without ripping or tearing, as it will be so thin it appears to be a “window”.IMG_1851

Add whatever freshly chopped or dried herbs you want and mix just until the additions are incorporated and evenly distributed.

Cover the dough and allow it to ferment until doubled (about an hour).

Now you can punch it down to degas and divide into the portion size you desire. Shape and place on a parchment lined sheet to proof until 70-80% larger in size.

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Once proofed they need an egg wash and a sprinkle of sea salt. Since I was not adding salt to the pork, I was generous with this!

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Bake, without steam, at 375°F for ~20 minutes or until golden brown.

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These are wonderful on their own or with any type of sandwich you wish to build. The smaller dinner roll version is great with soups and stews as well.

Of course, we had pulled pork in the slow cooker! I shredded the pork and we built our sandwiches. We went with arugula and a grilled pineapple relish with candied peppers! An outstanding combination!

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Let me know if you try either of these recipes!

Pulled Pork with Lemon and Garlic

  • Servings: 24, 3oz rolls
  • Time: 20 min prep, 8 hours cooking time
  • Difficulty: Easy
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This Pulled Pork has no added salt or sugar. The lemon and garlic add wonderful flavor

Credit: Invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-4 to 5 pound pork shoulder or pork butt, trimmed of excess fat

-5 to 6 whole garlic cloves, peeled

-2 small lemons, halved

-low sodium chicken broth or water

-grilled pineapple salsa

-arugula

-potato herb rolls (recipe below)

Directions

  1. Place the pork shoulder, garlic and lemon halves into a slow cooker. Add broth or water to about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch on the bottom. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
  2. Near the end of the cooking time, remove the lemons and reserve the garlic for the sandwich build. Continue cooking the pork until if falls apart easily. Shred the meat with two forks and keep the meat warm in the slow cooker.
  3. Build the sandwich with a potato herb roll spread with the reserved garlic (if using), add the grilled pineapple relish, pulled pork and arugula.

Potato Herb Rolls

  • Servings: 24, 3oz. rolls
  • Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours
  • Difficulty: moderate
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These Potato herb rolls can be customized with any herbs you would like to use to complement your meal.

Credit: On Baking, Text book, 3rd edition

Ingredients

-2 lb 2 oz. Bread flour

-3 oz. Potato flour

-1 oz. Instant yeast

-21 fl. oz. Water, temperature controlled 80°F to 100°F

-2 Eggs

-1.5 oz. Dry milk powder

-2.5 oz. Granulated sugar

-3/4 oz. Salt

-3 fl. oz. Olive oil

Suggested Herbs:

-1 oz. Fresh Parsley, finely chopped or 1/2 oz. dried

-2 teaspoons Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon dried

-2 teaspoons of Fresh Thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

-1 teaspoon onion powder

-1 teaspoon garlic powder

-1 teaspoon Black pepper

-Egg wash, as needed

-Kosher salt or fleur de sel, as needed

Directions

  1. Place flours, yeast, water, eggs, milk powder, sugar, salt, and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed to combine then knead on medium speed until a window pane is achieved and the dough is 77°F (about 7-9 min.). Add in the herbs and mix until the herbs are well distributed throughout the dough.
  2. Cover the dough and ferment until doubled in size (~1 hour).
  3. Punch down the dough and portion into 3 oz pieces. Shape and place on a parchment lined sheet pan.
  4. Proof until the rolls are 70-80% in volume.
  5. Carefully brush the proofed rolls with the egg wash and sprinkle with the salt.
  6. Bake without steam at 375°F for ~20 minutes until golden brown.

 

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Maple Oatmeal Scones

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This is my family’s all time scone request. They never seem to get tired of this wonderful combination of oats, maple syrup and frosting, so much frosting! This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten, I really change very little and if you follow her recipe to the letter, you will not be disappointed! I decided to write up the recipe anyway for a couple reasons. For one, a few people asked my to and for another, I wanted to work on my short coding skills. I am new to using html code to embed recipes and would like to practice this skill.

This recipe comes together so easily that I did not take many production photos. The dough is sticky but it does have a major advantage in that you can mix and cut the scones out ahead of time and keep them in the fridge (or longer in the freezer) and bake off what you need in the morning.

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I wrap the scones loosely with plastic wrap the night before

The next morning I select the amount I want and transfer to a new pan with a parchment paper.

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You have a couple options here. You can brush the tops with an egg wash to facilitate browning. I recommend that if you plan to leave them plain or add a light glaze. Since I am using a frosting consistency, the tops are not visible, I omit the egg wash.

After the scones have cooled completely, add the frosting. Bonus: these are fantastic with coffee!

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Enjoy!

 

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Maple Oatmeal Scones

  • Servings: About 24, 21/2 inch scones
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
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Pure maple syrup, buttermilk and oats combine to give these scones a sweet flavor and nutty texture

 credit:Ina Garten

Ingredients

-3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

-1 cup whole wheat flour

-1 cup old fashioned oats, plus extra for garnish

-2 Tablespoons baking powder

-2 Tablespoons vanilla sugar

-2 teaspoons kosher salt

-1 pound, cold unsalted butter, diced

-1/2 cup cold buttermilk

-1/2 cup pure maple syrup

-4 extra large eggs

frosting:

-1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

-1/2 cup maple syrup

-1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flours, oats, baking power, sugar and salt. Blend the cold butter into the dry ingredients, starting on low speed, until the butter is the size of peas.
  3. Separately combine the buttermilk, maple syrup and eggs. Add to the butter flour mixture and combine just until incorporated, this dough will be sticky.
  4. Dump the dough onto a well floured counter top and pull the dough together. Working with floured hands, pat the dough into a 3/4 inch round and cut out scones using a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter. Place the scones onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the scones for 20-25 minutes until browned.
  5. Make the icing: use the proportions listed to make a thin glaze which can be drizzled over the scones once they have cooled. Or adjust the proportions to create a thick frosting consistency by adding more powdered sugar than listed. Sprinkle with oats for garnish.

 

I prefer to use old fashioned oats instead of instant as they add more texture. Also, if I were making a thin glaze where the top of the scone would show, then I would use an egg wash before baking to give the tops a nice brown color.

Another time saving tip that I often use is to make the scones ahead of time by cutting our the scones and placing them all on one pan, wrapping with plastic wrap and storing in the refrigerator. The next day I can bake off all or some of the scones. They will store in the refrigerator for a week or longer in the freezer, if needed.

 

 

 

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Half Marathon Training, Week 15 Update!

This is it! My last update before we run the Seattle Rock n’ Roll half marathon on June 18th, Father’s Day. It is hard to believe that we are only a week away from the day. It seemed so far away when we began training 16 weeks ago.

This last week was really tough for me. My back is slowly, so slowly getting better, and I have been stressing over it. We got back from our Vegas trip on Monday and had a 12 mile run scheduled for Tuesday. It did not go well!

 

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I really struggled to get this 10 miles done and had hit the wall and could not go 2 more without possibly doing more damage to my back. At this point I was beginning to question if the half was a good idea. Sure, I could walk the rest but what is the point of that! Even with the struggle my time was not that hideous at 10:38 average pace. But I was in pain and dejected!

When Thursday rolled around, I hit my usual trail for the 4 mile assignment. Even though my pace was faster I still felt exhausted and it seemed like this was such a hard 4 miles-How was I going to do 13!

 

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I was dreading the 6 mile run today. I have been so down and stressed about my injury and my pace. And then I decided to change my narrative. Today is a beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest. The type of day we all dream about here when it is dark and raining for 3 months straight. I took a look around and saw the kayakers gliding down the slough, the bikers dusting off their cycles and all the families out enjoying the sunshine. I decided I was going to relax and just run. The pace and mileage would take care of itself! I did not push myself or set a specific goal, just ran because I love to.  It turned out to be the break my mind and body needed. I had the most enjoyable run of the last two weeks since I hurt my back!

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My pace was 10:04/mile and that is not bad for me! We are heading into the taper week and have 4-5 mile runs on both Tuesday and Thursday and then the half on Sunday! We will be carb loading both Friday and Saturday night, and have booked a Gong yoga class Saturday night to relax and stretch our mind and body.

I am hoping to have a recap of the event to post as the wrap up to this project next week.

Wish us luck!

 

 

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week 15

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13.1 miles!

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Poker, Pool Time and Pigging out in Las Vegas!

My husband and I recently joined three other couples for a long weekend in Las Vegas. The goals: gamble, eat good food and enjoy the warm weather for a few days. We exceeded all expectations and came home full, pink skinned and really tired! It was pretty much what one would expect of a group of empty nesters getting together and blowing off a little steam.

The four couples all had different arrival times and we arrived thursday evening.

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View from our plane

We flew in around 2pm and it was well over 90ºF. We made our way to the Aria Resort and Casino. We have stayed there several times and really like its location on the strip, the restaurants and the pools. I am partial to their fitness and spa center as well. I took a few pictures of the exterior of the Aria.

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This view is from one of the three pools,  looking back toward one of the towers

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This view is from one of the other pools

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This is the pool where we spent most of our time

 

My hubby wanted to head straight for the pool that first night, I had a hard time getting him to leave but we finally made our way to dinner.

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This was our only night that we dinned alone as our friends were still arriving from various destinations. We chose to dine at Bardot Brasserie. The food was French and delicious! bardot restaurant

We started off with the King Crab Crepe. A buckwheat crepe filled with trumpet mushrooms, sunny -side egg, and a Normandy cider beurre blanc. It was outstanding!

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My entree was the Salmon Aux Lentilles prepared with King salmon, beluga lentils with a smoked tomato vinaigrette. This trip was starting out on a great foot!

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The next day was Friday and that meant that my hubby was in a poker tournament all day. He plays the WSOP events in June and it is variable as to how long he will be in the casino. If all goes well he will start at 10am and play until 2am the next morning! Or he could be out in an hour! So, I decided to get a message at the Aria spa to help work on my back injury. So glad I did! My back did feel better from the masseuse and the jets in the hot tub. Meanwhile my husband played all day Friday, until he was out. Unfortunately, that turned out to be sooner rather than later!

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No big poker winnings this year! We met up with our friends and had dinner at Javier’s, a Mexican restaurant at Aria. This was my least favorite meal on our trip. It wasn’t bad, I had the callitos mazatlan which were pan seared scallops with a chipotle sauce and the ubiquitous rice and beans found at every Mexican restaurant. No pictures, it was a typical and well executed meal.

We spent the rest of the evening in a lounge listening to live music (very good live music) and having a few too many cocktails-we had a blast!

Saturday we all had some personal time until our dinner and show reservations that evening. I decided to head to my two favorite hotels on the strip. My husband and I took the Aria tram to the Bellagio. We have stayed there several times and love the interior of this casino.

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The tram cycles between the Aria, The shops at Crystals and the Bellagio

In just a few minutes we were at the Bellagio, me with my camera in hand. The Bellagio is bright, airy and colorful. It is impossible to capture any one image that will convey all the amazing scenery. I have highlighted a couple examples that really speak to me every time I visit.

 

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This is one of many domed skylights which allows light into the long corridors

 

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These gorgeous arrangements are on every table top as you weave your way through the walkways into the main buildiing 

 

One of my favorite shops of all time is Jean Philippe Patisserie and I visit every time I am in Vegas.

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This is where you will find the largest chocolate fountain in the world. It runs from floor to ceiling and has milk, dark and white chocolate pools

And, of course, there is the pastries!

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A truly stunning experience!

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The patisserie is close to the conservatory and botanical garden that showcases floral artwork. This season is dedicated to the Chinese new year. This is just a small fraction of what there was to see!

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The detail was amazing! As you leave the conservatory area you enter the main lobby of the Bellagio. The ceiling is covered with glass flowers made by Seattle’s own Dale Chihuly. Even though he is right here in my own backyard, I marvel at this ceiling every time I visit Vegas.

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We travelled down the long corridor to the exit of the Bellagio, on our way to the Paris Hotel and Casino. There were a few more beautiful ceiling elements along the way.

We exited the building and crossed the street. We entered Pairs hotel and immediately felt the ambiance change. Where Bellagio was bright and open, Paris was darker and had the feel of Europe in the middle ages. It was as if we were in underground Paris in the 1800s.

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It is like you are at an illegal club!

 

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The sky ceiling is similar to the one in Caesars Palace

 

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The building facades look so real

 

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This could be any shopping avenue in Paris

 

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The French have there own version of amazing pastries to choose from!

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This Chinese restaurant is stunning!

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They really captured that nighttime feel.

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This is my favorite Creperie, anywhere! I always have a crepe when visiting Vegas from this shop. Today the hubby and I split a Monte Cristo crepe. Ham, Swiss cheese with strawberry sauce, powdered sugar and basil. Just the perfect lunch!

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Then it was time to head back to the Aria and meet up with our friends. There were a few sights on the way back!

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Our dinner reservations that evening were at the steak house, Mastro’s Ocean Club at the shops at Crystals. This was a fantastic meal! The restaurant is in an old tree house that now sits at the heart of the mall. It is two stories and we were seated inside this structure. More importantly the food was killer! If you have never tried Wagyu beef (and you have an extra kidney to sell to afford it) I do recommend it!

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We throughly enjoyed this meal and then set out to see Zumanity, a Cirque du soliel show at New York, New York Hotel and Casino. If you like nude acrobats then you will love this show!

Sunday morning I got up early and ran 4 miles. It was hot (81°F at 6:15am), hard and full of stairs but I needed to work off some of the “fun” I had been consuming! Plus we are still half marathon training! The hubby said no to accompanying me and we all reconvened at the pool for our last day of mini vacation. I posted a picture on Instagram of my shoes taking a break by the pool. I caught my husband trying to steal one of the drinks.

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This trip was a bit of a whirlwind, looking back I did not get the right amount of sleep or eat as healthy as I would have liked, but we all need a crazy, fun break every once in a while!

Oh, and as for gambling

the only time i won

This was the best result I had the entire time!

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Blogger Recognition Award, #2!

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I am still working my way through some awards and nominations that I have been blessed to receive. The amazing Kathy Knull was kind enough to think of me when she was writing her acceptance post. Kathy is a novelist, accomplished equestrian and has a wide variety of hobbies and skills I could never master in two lifetimes! I really enjoy reading her posts and can relate as we are in a similar stage of life. Check her out!

Here are the rules for accepting this award

 

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Write a post to show your award.
  • Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  • Select 10-15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.

 

The first time I was nominated for this award, I was only 2 months into blogging. I don’t think that initial post was widely seen so I am reblogging portions today.

 

How my blog started:

I started my blog as a way to take back some control in my life. After my kids went to college (and yes, if you haven’t experienced it yet, the “empty nest syndrome” is real!) I found myself floundering. I was disillusioned with my career, my purpose had grown up and my husband, well, he was dealing with his own mid life crisis (also a very real thing!). I needed to reconnect with my life, the world and myself. Once I realized that I had basically disappeared I wanted to get back some of the fire that I once had. After all, I had managed to get both a bachelors and a doctorate degree, raise two amazing young people and teach some pretty hard subjects at the college level for 20+ years, but where did that woman go? Starting this blog was one of several steps I have taken to connect to others in my situation. In the process, I have met far more people, of varying backgrounds and ages and am thrilled to be able to hear their stories and share ideas with them. I had no idea how much these connections would mean to me and I am only 7 months into this journey! Thank you for your support and comments, I hope to meet more great people in this blogosphere!

Advice to new bloggers:

I feel a bit disingenuous offering advice, as most of you are probably more seasoned bloggers than myself! But here goes! A piece of advice I received was, “don’t compare your start with someone else’s middle”. I think this is a wonderful sentiment and can be applied to anything you are starting. Be it exercise, a diet or a new job. Someone will always have more experience, talent or, in this world, followers! We all have to start at the beginning of everything! If you are passionate about it then learn from those folks and embrace your beginning. You don’t get to have 5 years of experience on the first day of anything!

The second piece of advice is more from an observation. The blogs I see that are doing well and, have a genuine feel of authenticity, seem to be those written by people who are not looking to make a fortune. Money may come down the line but you will never have more of an opportunity to connect on a personal level than you do right now. If you get rich later, that’s great but if it’s your passion then enjoy it now!

I nominate the following bloggers for this award:

 

Please tag me back if you choose to write a post!