Still Saying Thank You

I snapped this picture with my handsome husband when we were checking into Disney’s Aulani for our second anniversary, earlier this summer. It’s just one of many adventures we’ve been on together since the beginning I chronicled when I was trying to find the right words to tell him just how much I appreciated him on his birthday.

Since it’s still hard to find the right words, I hope you forgive me for doing a little paraphrasing of what I said last year, because it still holds true.

Ever since Scott decided to drop everything he was working on and travel for the sake of our relationship, knowing that the Army was going to send me wherever it felt like, there haven’t been words to express my gratitude for his love and support. He did it even before we worked out the details of him becoming an Army dependent and me changing my name, but he’s always been willing to support at a moment’s notice. Being an Army spouse is an unforgiving and thankless task. There are no medals for service, but they serve. There are no awards for gallantry, but they support. There are no honors for sacrifice, but no one understands sacrifice like an Army spouse. Not even us, as we head off to do our job – we can’t begin to understand what’s going on in the mind of the family members left behind.

How do you even begin to thank someone who’s willing to go through that?

I asked that question last year, and the year before, and yet this crazy guy is still here with me. Even though life and my work have taken us to Barcelona, Paris, Seoul, and my adventurous impulses have taken us to Alaska, Maui, the Big Island, and more, my husband is still there, sometimes blinking away sleep, sometimes wondering what insanity has gotten into me, but always there to support.



I’m still trying to figure out the best ways to show my husband just how much I appreciate him and what he’s been willing to do. I think it starts with just simply saying, “Thank you,” and “I love you.” And again, today I get to add, “Happy birthday, handsome!”


Adventure Recap: October

I love traveling around the world – seeing amazing sights, meeting inspiring people, and tasting some truly amazing food – but I’ve also learned to be a great tourist and to do some serious traveling around the places I’ve lived. It’s helped me be a better tour guide and ambassador to friends, family, and visiting colleagues who deserve to see something of Oahu. We’re off to Vegas today {beyond excited!} but in honor of our local adventures, here’s a look back at what we explored this month.

Recap of October’s Hawaii Adventures

1. ATVs at Kualoa Ranch

Scott and I visited Kualoa Ranch and rented ATVs to not only tour the beautiful landscape of Kualoa Valley, but to visit movie sets from Lost, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Journey to the Center of the Earth 2: Atlantis, Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor, and more!

{full post here}

2. REAL a Gastropub

What’s a couple to do between movies and shopping at Ward Warehouse? Visit REAL a Gastropub, tucked in next to the Ward Farmer’s Market, and sample some absolutely stunning craft brews along with some really innovative pub cuisine!

{full post here}

3. The Big Island’s Black Sand Beaches

When friends called us to hang out from the Big Island, we didn’t know if we’d be able to make it – until we decided to make it a day trip! Here are a few shots from our day trip to the Big Island’s black sand beaches!

{full post here}

4. Wings Over the Pacific Air Show

We loved watching the Blue Angels soar over Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and visiting some of the amazing equipment on static display. These ambassadors of our armed forces did not disappoint!

{full post here}

We’d love to hear from you – what did we miss? If you’re a Hawaii resident or traveler with a suggestion for us, or if you want to visit Hawaii and would like to see us review something before you visit, or if you’re just plain curious about an attraction around here, Scott and I would be happy to add it to our adventure list!

What have we reviewed so far? Check out the full list on my Travel Tales page and some of the most Bucket List Worthy items on my Hawaii Bucket List page!


A Spooky Little Halloween Birthday Cake

Halloween Cake | No Reservations

Back when I was a kid, I had a couple friends who shared their birthday with significant holidays. One was born on the Fourth of July, one was born on Christmas. I thought it would feel like everyone was celebrating your birthday.

My husband, a Halloween baby, thought the opposite. Instead of having everyone celebrate a holiday and only vaguely remember that it was your birthday, too, he thought those of us who didn’t have to share our days with any other special event had it better.

For his birthday, we’ve had both scenarios. We usually host a big Halloween-birthday party combo, but I’ve also tried to give my husband a special day that he can call his own. Sometimes, we’ve gone big – like flying helicopters or touring movie sets on ATVs. Other times, we’ve been more subtle. Maybe it’s a movie date, maybe it’s judgment-free time to sit on the couch and play his favorite video game, maybe it’s a meal. This year, all he wanted was to sit on the couch and watch TV, my honey pecan shrimp on rice, and a birthday cake.

For all the cooking I do, baking really isn’t my thing. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s not enough fire and chopping going on in baking to catch my attention, maybe it just takes a lot more patience and finesse than I have, maybe it’s because I have more of a savory tooth than a sweet tooth. But for some reason, this year I decided I was going to tackle my baking weaknesses and make my husband his favorite birthday cake – yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

Sounds pretty low maintenance, right? Scott’s pretty easy that way. However, I decided that was too easy. I was going to make this sucker from scratch, and I was even going to decorate it properly.

Turns out…this was a 100% win. My decorating still might have something to be desired, but I baked it, I frosted it, I made it look somewhat presentable, and it was f-ing delicious. Booyah!

Yellow Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

What you’ll need:

For the cake:

  • 1 cup butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups fine granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs + 2 egg yolks
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar {depending on thickness}
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 tbsp milk

How to make it:

You’ll want a stand mixer for this, because it makes your life so much easier. Also, ignore the fact that I use a dough-hook attachment through the first part of this. You actually want the paddle attachment, but I lost mine in a move, so…

1. Preheat your oven to 350F and lightly butter three 8″ baking pans. I use the foil ones because they’re easy to pop the cakes out of.

2. In your mixer, beat together the butter {chopped into chunks}, oil, salt, and sugar on high for about five minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and smooth. Scrape the bowl with a spatula as needed, and if worse comes to worse, you can always beat the mixture together with the spatula, too. If you’re using the dough hook attachment, this might be a necessity. Le sigh.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the egg yolks.

4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda – if you have a sifter. I have yet to purchase one, so I beat them together with a whisk. It’s not refined, but it’s effective.

5. Add about half your flour mixture to the butter mixture in the mixer, and mix on low until it’s all combined. Throw in the sour cream and vanilla, and let the mixture blend. Then add the rest of the flour and blend it together. It should be nice and creamy when you’re done, but again, if your mixer doesn’t do the trick, you can use your spatula.

Anyone know where to buy extra KitchenAid mixer attachments by any chance?

6. Evenly add the cake batter to three pans. Slide them into the oven and bake them for 25-35 minutes, depending on the thickness, or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean. Mine took the full length of time to fully poof up and cook through. Some cakes must be more stubborn than others – and it would figure I’d get a stubborn one.

7. Let the cake rest 10 minutes in the pans. Then remove them from the pans and let them cool on cooking racks for an hour.

These will smell pretty darn amazing. While they’re cooling, let’s go make the frosting.

7. For the frosting, mix together the butter {sliced into small chunks}, sugar, and cocoa powder in the mixer using the whisk attachment. Let the mixer run on high speed until the mixture is smooth.

9. Add the vanilla and milk and mix on medium until the mixture is again smooth and a little fluffy.

Serve up the whisk attachment to someone deserving. It brings out the kid in you.

10. Frost each layer of the cake, stack them, and frost the stacked cakes. And if you’re feeling fancy, add some sugar pumpkins or seasonally appropriate decorations to the top. Personally, I just love the bright orange against the chocolate.



Recipe Exchange Mugs with Treat

Background photo and another great recipe via

 The holidays are upon us in force, friends! No matter what you celebrate, whether it’s Halloween, Diwali, Eid al Adha, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or so many others, no matter what culture you’re a part of, or where you are, fall harvest time and the onset of winter are all about gathering together with family and good friends. The majority of those gatherings center on the table, or in the offerings of food to friends, family, and the needy.

Around this time, I love throwing recipe exchange parties. It’s always fun to get together with friends, show off a few favorite recipes, taste a few new ones that will become favorites, and gather ideas for the celebrations.

Whenever I start organizing a recipe exchange, I come up with a central theme to the event – whether it’s fall harvest, Halloween treats, or something along those lines. Around that theme, I try to come up with some central categories. A fall harvest party will have more variety, with all possible courses in play, than a Halloween treat party, which would focus mostly on small bites and dessert. Once I’ve come up with that, I let everyone who I’m inviting know, and start coming up with my own recipes for the exchange.

When I’m doing this, I usually don’t count drinks, cheese plates, or a lot of the easy appetizers and treats I might have available. I’ll pick one or two items from my list, whip them up in a small serving or tasting size, and set out trays of them along with recipe cards, so that anyone who likes the items I have out can take a recipe card with them. But I get a lot of questions about some of the special holiday drinks I serve – like my Apple Cinnamon Bourbon Hot Toddys, my George Washington’s Egg Nog recipe, my mulled wine and mulled hard apple cider, and more {and all of those are soon to be published on the blog, I promise!}.

There are some great templates for creating your own home printed ones – and you can even make your own in this tutorial from Home Cooking Memories. I’ll use those a lot. But I recently figured out a way to exchange recipes that doubles as a great gift for your friends in the process – and addresses the drink recipe issue!

Recipe gift mugs. For real.

Think about this for a moment. You’ve just had a few close friends over for some delicious food and beverages. They’re curious about what was in that great drink recipe. You can give them a gift that’s not only a memory of the time you spent together, enjoying life, food, and drink, but can let them recapture that experience by re-creating the recipe at home.

On top of that, the mugs are easy to create using Treat and Canva, they’re high quality, and they’re beautiful. Here’s how to make them.
Recipe Gift Mug | No Reservations

How to Make a Recipe Gift Mug using Treat and Canva

Step 1. Choose a Treat mug you can personalize.

I personally like this particular mug, where you can not only add the name of the recipe you’re sharing, but you can add three photos as well. This is perfect for what we’re going to do – because we’re going to add the name, a picture, the ingredients, and the directions to this mug. In this tutorial, I’m adding a recipe for my favorite Apple Cinnamon Bourbon Hot Toddys!

Step 2. Choose a recipe picture.

This can be your photo or a stock photo. We won’t judge. Just make sure you’re abiding by legal use rights. In this case, I’m not using my own photo, because I just haven’t gotten around to shooting any that are worth a darn. And I don’t have any glasses nearly as beautiful as the one featured on this really awesome recipe on Eat Boutique. My recipe is similar enough that it works, too!

Step 3. Create the ingredients photo and the instructions photo.

I create most of my graphics, blog or otherwise, in Canva. If you haven’t discovered Canva yet, you need to! It’s so easy to make graphics and designs here it’s ridiculous!

I started this project by creating a 1000 wide x 1200 high rectangle to work with {Treat prefers a larger resolution photo}. Then I make sure none of the graphics are in the bottom third. You might need to do some trial and error to figure out the perfect position for the words, whether it’s bumping them down a little from the top so they don’t get cut off by the top of the mug, or bumping them up a little from the bottom so the title doesn’t cover them.

I first made the ingredients by creating the title {top level Add Text button} and then instructions {Add subtitle text button} and drawing a line from the stock lines to divide them. I kept the basic font for the title, but the instructions are in one of my favorite script fonts, Shadows Into Light. I don’t know why I like it as much as I do, but it just seems friendly. But you can choose your own adventure here.

Once you’ve made one – your ingredients list – successfully, just hit the double-square copy button on the right hand side of the image to create another duplicate. There, you can fill in the instructions on how to make it.

It’s pretty easy to see in the previews on Treat where your words are going to end up, so keep that Canva window open so you can adjust!

Step 4. Add your recipe photos to the mug.

And there you have it. A personalized gift mug with a tasty drink recipe that your guests and friends can take home with them to enjoy, and remember your time gathered around a holiday table. How awesome is that?

Recipe Gift Mug | No ReservationsI guess the only thing that would be more awesome would be me sharing one of my favorite recipes with you, too, wouldn’t it?

Apple Cinnamon Bourbon Toddys

What you’ll need:

  • 1 quart fresh apple cider
  • 1 cinnamon stick {plus more for garnish}
  • 2 whole star anise {plus more for garnish}
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 cup bourbon whiskey

For the garnish:

  • 1 orange slice
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick

How to make it:

1. Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Combine the cider, cinnamon, and star anise and let the liquid simmer for about 10 minutes.

2. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the orange juice and bourbon and let it simmer until they’re heated through.

3. Serve in heated mugs or snifters with an orange wedge, a cinnamon stick, and star anise for garnish and flavor. Yum!


Sunday Currently, vol. 37


Reading…all about culinary diplomacy, gastrodiplomacy, and all the different national and international efforts going on right now to achieve cultural understanding or at least communicate about global affairs – through food! It might sound funny for me to all of a sudden realize this was, well, a thing, but I’ve been arguing for quite some time that there is a huge amount of diplomacy and strategy that goes into arranging formal dinners, protocol events, hosting international delegations, and all the rest, so I feel both excited about exploring this field more, and kind of validated for putting so much energy into it.

Watching…Brad Pitt‘s “Fury” and Robert Downey, Jr.‘s “The Judge” later today. I don’t normally like giving up much of my weekend here in Hawaii to be inside, but it’s a kind of gloomy, overcast, humid, muggy, and miserable day – the perfect kind of day to be inside with air conditioning. And yes, reading all the fall and cold weather posts going around, I feel weird being thankful for air conditioning.

Listening…to some tracks I pulled off an old B.B. King CD, which goes pretty well with the gloomy day outside but really begs for sultry, humid nightfall and a glass of something strong. Blues guitar is the happiest kind of melancholy.

Smelling…butter. It’s just something that kind of permeates the air when you’ve just mixed a lot of it, and I just whipped a lot of it together for an early birthday cake for my husband. We’ll be traveling on his actual birthday, so I’m throwing him a mini party at home today, post movies.

Wishing…that I could give myself a break without feeling guilty about it. I might not talk about serious stuff too much around here, but in my job, I’ve always got to keep an eye on it, and the world just feels like it’s spiraling a little out of control right now. That makes it really hard to have hobbies, especially not-so-serious ones, like everything in this blog. I feel guilty for escaping my work, for taking a breather from stress, when not everyone can just step sideways out of the stress and panic of life.

Wearing…my usual morning attire these days. Running shorts, tank top, socks. Because as soon as I’m done writing this, I’m out the door. I have a fitness test this week and a half marathon in three weeks – I’ll be running the inaugural Avengers Half-Marathon at Disneyland! I will be running with my CharityMiles app for Team RWB, and with a costume to boot!

Loving…that feeling when I’ve found a purpose or a direction, or at least a new project I can get behind. I’m definitely going to be exploring the mixture of culture, food, and understanding further.

Wanting…to do something that has an impact and makes a difference. That’s always been a major driver behind why I’ve done the things I’ve done and chosen the job routes I have, but I haven’t always known how to do it. I guess a major part of having an impact is breaking new ground, and I shouldn’t be surprised that flashes of insight and inspiration don’t just come along every day.

Feeling…tired from all the running I’ve been doing lately, sore from all the sit-ups and lifting, but oh so happy that I’ve gotten back into a good workout schedule. Granted, working on the house and yard is a pretty good workout as well, but there’s just something primal about being physically active and giving your muscles a good stretching!

Pictures from This Week

From top left: 1) Buffalo chicken mac + blue cheese. 2) Happy at happy hour with my husband and my officemates. 3) Gorgeous watercolor sunset kept me company on an evening run. 4) View of the sunset over a supernaturally calm Pearl Harbor. 5) Braised pork loin with hard applesauce gravy. 6) This cat is the most ridiculous thing ever – you can see all his silliness on Instagram at #thebinkerwhobinks. 7) Old Glory flying high at my office. 8) Braising with my Dutch oven – a gift from my dad that always makes me think of our time cooking together. 9) There is no such thing as a bad sunset around here.

The Buffalo mac + cheese and braised pork with hard applesauce gravy recipes are coming this week :)

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