Culinary Adventures: Champagne Cupcakes

Culinary Adventures: Champagne cupcakes. Cupcakes with subtle champagne flavor perfect for New Years, Christmas, bridal showers, or any celebratory event


The holidays always put me in a sparkly mood. So I decided to try making some cupcakes that were equally festive. These champagne cupcakes are super easy, and add a unique flair to a holiday gathering or any other celebration. Everybody likes champagne.

To make these all you need is a white cake mix, eggs and oil as called for on the box, and champagne.

Prepare cupcakes as directed on the box, but sub out champagne for the water. The champagne will cause the batter to fizz a bit, don’t worry–it’s just reacting to the baking soda in the mix.  Bake as directed. Voila!


For the frosting, I made it up as I went as I usually do with frosting, but here is approximately my ingredient ratios:

1 stick of butter (1/2 a cup), softened

3-4 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

champagne –start with about 1/2 a cup and add until frosting is the right consistency.


With an electric mixer, beat butter, half the sugar and 1/2 cup of champagne until mixed. Add vanilla and beat thoroughly. Add champagne and powdered sugar as needed until frosting is firm but spreadable. Pipe onto cupcakes using a large pastry decorating tip.

I added sugar pearls and silver sugar sprinkles to look like champagne bubbles. For a bridal shower or a girly event, you can use pink champagne and a little red food coloring to make them pale pink.

Champagne cupcakes
Champagne cupcakes
Champagne cupcakes
Champagne cupcakes

Happy New Year!


Crafty Adventures: How to Make a DIY iPhone Photo Booth

Crafty Adventures: How to make a DIY iPhone or iPad photo booth for your next party. It’s easy, cheap, and a lot of fun!

People LOVE photo booths. Especially if it is an event where they are dressed up nice or for a theme party of some sort, such as a wedding, Halloween, luau, holiday party, etc.

There are a lot of photo booth rental companies out there in Seattle and across the country that charge a ton of money for professional style photo booth rentals. These are great for weddings and large events with a big budget, but I was determined to figure out a cheap and easy way to get create a photo booth for my party myself. I ended up creating an iPhone photo booth for our annual white elephant Christmas party, and it was a smash hit. Technology is awesome.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. iPhone, iPad, or comparable smartphone or tablet with camera

2. Pocketbooth app (downloadable on the app store for $1.99)

how to make an iphone photo booth

This app is awesome. It gives you a classic photo booth strip of four photos, and you just have to click the green button to start it taking pictures. You can delete photos if you don’t like them, guests can email them to themselves, and the photos automatically save to your phone. You can also choose from black & white, sepia, color, and other filters.

3. A somewhat quiet, out of the way corner to set it up in (guest room, basement, somewhere away from the main party area)

Having it in a separate area will give your guests a little privacy to make them comfortable to be as silly as they want to be, and draw the party to other areas (instead of everyone cramming into the kitchen near the food and booze, which is what always ends up happening).

4. Tripod and tripod adapter attachment for your iPhone or tablet

We used our gorillapod, but a regular tripod will work just as well if not better. The adapter was bought on Amazon, and is adjustable to accommodate various phone sizes. I believe they make these for iPads and tablets as well.

how to make an iphone photo booth

5. A good lighting source facing directly at the people in the booth, (but not a blinding one).

I had a couple of square-shaped paper lanterns that I bought super cheap at Ikea for around $15.00 each. Lighting is imperative for good photos that aren’t grainy. The paper around the bulb diffused the light nicely, and the square shape helped them stand on their own.

how to make an iphone photo booth

6. A bench or two chairs, and a table for the tripod if needed

how to make an iphone photo booth

I had a little shelf that I used. I covered the top with Christmas wrapping paper, and put my props in the shelves below for people to easily access.

7. An extension cord to keep your phone or tablet plugged in the whole time so that the battery won’t die during the party

Your phone will get a lot of action, best be safe and make sure the battery doesn’t die and ruin all the fun.

8. A fun backdrop and props.

I used a piece of sparkly red fabric from Joann Fabrics (don’t forget to check their website for 50% discount coupons, they always have them) and some Christmas lights. Props get people into it–feather boas, reindeer antlers, funny hats, sunglasses, wigs, stuffed penguins, leis, coconut bras, rubber spiders, creepy dolls, anything that you think goes with your theme. Use your imagination!

how to make an iphone photo booth


There are a couple of things to consider when using an iPhone photo booth. First, make sure you can trust your friends, as people will have the ability to use and get into your phone. Our friends are awesome and our party wasn’t huge, so this wasn’t a concern for me. Another option is to create a guided access security option on your phone in the settings, which will lock your phone into one app and you can’t get out of it without your pass code. This is pretty easy to do, made for parents giving their phones to their kids to play games.

Also, if your phone is in the photo booth, you won’t know if someone is trying to call or text you. Or someone else might answer if they do…A way around this is to put your phone in airplane mode to hold all your calls and texts. Just make sure you have a wifi signal turned on so that guests can still email photos to themselves. You’re hosting a party, you don’t need to waste time with your phone anyway. You have guests to entertain.

Last– I didn’t think about it until after the party was over, but my phone is set to lock after an hour of no use. The iPhone photo booth was such a popular attraction at our party that this wasn’t an issue. Keep in mind though that you may need to adjust your iPhone settings to make sure it stays unlocked throughout the party.

Once you get it set up, test it out with various lighting options. If your party is going to mostly be after dark, don’t test it during the day unless the room has no windows. Make sure everything is all set up beforehand.

I tested mine with Finnigan. He was less than thrilled, but was a pretty good sport about it.

how to make an iphone photo booth
iphone photo booth

The lanterns worked really well for the lighting. The photo booth was a hit and everyone had a blast. I think I’ll have to do it every party from now on. Already thinking up different backdrops….

how to make an iphone photo booth
Finnigan, Paddy, and I
how to make an iphone photo booth
iphone photo booth
how to make an iphone photo booth
Photo booths are so exciting!

how to make an iphone photo boothhow to make an iphone photo boothhow to make an iphone photo boothhow to make an iphone photo boothhow to make an iphone photo boothhow to make an iphone photo boothhow to make an iphone photo boothhow to make an iphone photo booth

Our Lives in Ornaments

Our Lives in Ornaments: Continuing my Mother’s Christmas tradition of a new ornament each year to represent the past year of our lives.


Decorating our Christmas tree is one of our favorite parts of the Christmas season. I have my Mom to thank for a big part of that. Starting with my very first Christmas as a 6 month old baby, my Mom has given me a new ornament each Christmas to represent the  past year of my life.

Our lives in ornaments
Me and my Dad decorating the tree

When I turned 22, she didn’t give me an ornament and I was totally bummed. She asked me how long I expected her to keep getting me ornaments. I told her that I thought I would get ornaments from her forever and ever. She continued the tradition, which I’m pretty sure she still enjoys. (At least, I hope so).

When Paddy and I moved in together, she began getting ornaments for the two of us with our shared adventures in mind. Whenever we travel now, we also try to find a Christmas ornament from the country we’re visiting to add to our collection of dangling memories.

Decorating the tree each year is a trip down memory lane. We have a huge collection of ornaments now and the majority of them are meaningful. I won’t bore you with all of them, but here are a few of my favorites:


There’s the Washington State Ferry to represent growing up in Friday Harbor, WA

Friday Harbor ferry boat Christmas ornament
Friday Harbor ferry boat
Friday Harbor ferry
Friday Harbor


There is the school bus ornament from first grade when I rode the school bus for the first time all by myself. And the piano from when I took piano lessons in elementary school.

School bus ornament and piano ornament

Then there’s the bicycle ornament from 5th grade when riding my bike around the neighborhood with the neighborhood bike gang was all the rage. I even won a brand new 10 speed in a Sprouse Ritz coloring contest.

bicycle Christmas ornament

And, when the tween years set in and I was constantly tying up my parents’ phone line every night, Mom found me a phone ornament (complete with cute chipmunks)

Chipmunks and telephone Christmas ornament

1991-Getting my VERY OWN PHONE for my birthday
Me in 1991-Getting my VERY OWN PHONE for my birthday


When I was 15, I decided I wanted to be a fashion designer. My friend’s mother patiently gave me sewing lessons once a week after school. She was very talented. Alas, I was not. I can make curtains and hem pants. Below is the sewing machine ornament representing that year, next to the Christmas alien ornament we bought at the Little A’Le’Inn cafe in Rachel Nevada on our Nevada Road Trip in 2011,

our lives in ornaments

Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada, 2011


During my junior year of high school, I was an exchange student in Denmark, which is where my travel and adventure fever began. Mom gave me a little money to buy my own ornament so that I could get something to represent my exchange year. My Danish host family spent Christmas at their cabin in Norway, and we had Christmas Eve dinner with their friends in Lillehammer. I bought a Norwegian viking ship ornament. It was an amazing and unique Christmas that I will never forget.

Norwegian viking ship Christmas ornament

Norwegian Christmas dinner
Norwegian Christmas dinner
Christmas in Norway
Christmas in Norway, 1997
Cross country skiing in Norway
Learning to cross country ski in Norway– it’s harder than it looks!


When I was 20, I went to the University of Hawaii for a year in Honolulu on the National Student Exchange Program in college. Mom found a Hawaiian surfing Santa ornament for me.

Hawaiian surfing Santa Claus ornament

The University of Hawaii
Me at The University of Hawaii, 2002
Waimanalo Beach, Oahu
Waimanalo Beach, Oahu 2002


And here’s the college grad ornament she got me the year I finally graduated:

our lives in ornaments

our lives in ornaments
Paddy and I at my college graduation, 2004


In 2006 we went on vacation to Oahu, Hawaii and I showed Paddy around the island and neighborhood where I lived in college before we met. We picked out this Santa and Mrs. Claus in Hawaii ornament to represent us when we are old. Hopefully, we’ll be spending our golden years somewhere amazing and happy as well.

Santa and Mrs Claus in Hawaii ornaments

Snorkeling in Hanauama Bay, Oahu
Snorkeling in Hanauama Bay, Oahu 2006
Lanikai Beach, Oahu
Paddy on Lanikai Beach, Oahu 2006

Later in 2006 we got our cats as kittens right before Christmas. Mom got us gray and orange kitten ornaments.

kitten Christmas ornaments

kitten Christmas ornaments

It’s hard to believe they were ever so young.

kittens Gonzo and Finnigan
Gonzo and Finnigan
baby Finnigan kitten
Baby Finnigan


In 2008 we went and visited a friend in Chicago. Mom of course found the perfect ornament for us. Read about our Chicago trip here.

our lives in ornaments Chicago Christmas ornament

Chicago Cloud Gate sculpture

Chicago Cloud Gate sculpture
Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago
Navy Pier, Chicago
On Navy Pier, Chicago


In the summer of 2009, Paddy proposed to me while on a camping trip at Sol Duc Campground in the Olympic National Park. We both love camping and it was a perfect weekend. And yet again, Mom found a great ornament to commemorate our engagement year.

camping Christmas ornament

Sol Duc Falls Olympic National Park
Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park WA
Olympic National Park Lovers Lane Trail
Hiking Lover’s Lane trail at Sol Duc, Olympic National Park, WA
our lives in ornaments
Our Irish claddagh engagement rings from the Sol Duc campground gift shop.


At the end of the summer, we went to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico for a week. I found a Dia de los Muertos skull ornament to add to our collection.

sugar skull Christmas ornament from Mexico
Ornament from Mexico
At Chichen Itza, Mexico 2009
At Chichen Itza, Mexico 2009
Tulum beach, Mexico 2009
Tulum, 2009


In 2010, we got married at my parents’ house in Friday Harbor. It was honestly the best day of my life. Mom came through with our ornament again. (You can read about our honeymoon in French Polynesia here)

our lives in ornaments wedding Christmas ornament

San Juan Island wedding
Photo by Jennifer Tai Photo Artistry
Photo by Jennifer Tai Photo Artistry
Photo by Jennifer Tai Photo Artistry


In 2012, we went to Ireland, Paddy’s top bucket list destination. We found a claddagh ornament to bring home (which goes with our claddagh wedding rings).

Christmas ornament from Ireland
Ornament from Ireland
At the Rock of Cashel, Ireland 2012
At the Rock of Cashel, Ireland 2012
Paddy at the Guiness Storehouse, Dublin
Paddy at the Guiness Storehouse, Dublin
At the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland 2012
At the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland 2012


This last year, we went to Thailand. I found a key chain that I made into a Christmas ornament, which I bought at Cabbages and Condoms. More about that here.

our lives in ornaments Thailand Christmas ornament

Riding elephants in Thailand, 2014
Riding elephants in Thailand, 2014
At Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands 2014
At Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands 2014


I’m thankful to my Mom for a lot of things, one of them being that she began this tradition for me and continues it for both of us. Every Christmas is a time to reflect on our lives and all of our great memories of adventures past. Had we decided to have children, I would have done the same for them. Thanks Mom.

Seattle Christmas tree with ornaments
Our Christmas tree, full of memories.
Me and my Mom snow in Friday Harbor
Me and my Mom

Christmas Time in Seattle

Holiday fun for grown-ups: Our top recommendations for things to do during Christmas time in Seattle to put you in the holiday spirit


I love Christmas time, almost as much as I love Halloween and October. Christmas itself is nice, and great to spend with family. However, a lot of what I love about Christmas actually happens before Christmas. And Christmas time in Seattle has a lot going on.


Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker

pnb nutcracker1
Image from Seattle Times

To be clear, Paddy is NOT a fan of the ballet, but he was a good sport and let me drag him to this with me one year. Tickets can be expensive, but there are several seating options with varied prices. We got tickets for seats in the row right in front of the Golden Circle in the lower price area, and it was a great view for half the price of the Golden Circle tickets. It’s fun to dress up and go to the big ballet.

2014 is the last year for the Stowell and Sendak version of The Nutcracker, but it will keep going next year under a new and different production. I may have to go back and see it again next year with the new show.

**Tip: The cheapest nosebleed back balcony seats aren’t worth it. You can’t see anything. Made that mistake once. Splurge on a little bit better view.


Driving around and checking out all the Christmas lights, and shopping downtown

While this may not be unique to Seattle, it’s still pretty fun. Downtown as well as the outlying Seattle neighborhoods dress up their sidewalk trees and store fronts. The Space Needle even has a Christmas tree formed out of lights at the top of the needle. Shopping (or window shopping) is fun at Pike Place Market and in the various shops and boutiques around downtown. While we’re not huge fans of malls, Pacific Place Mall downtown has indoor snowfall on December weekends in the atrium. It can be fun if you happen to be in the area. The Sheraton also puts on a Gingerbread Village every year that is free and open to come in and view.

If you want to keep your shopping local, the Ballard neighborhood has a lot of funky little boutique shops that are worth checking out. Check out the shops on Ballard Avenue and on NW Market St.

Christmas time in Seattle

As for neighborhood Christmas lights, the Overzealous  Clark Griswold Award for Christmas lights has to go to this house near us on 8th Ave NW. They do it every year, and I can only imagine what their electric bill is for the month.

Overzealous Christmas lights


Holiday Burlesque Shows
photo from

One of the best places in Seattle for dinner theater is the Triple Door downtown. And one of their best shows is Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker. Starring the top burlesque performers in Seattle, the show is full of glitter, glamour, dancing, and pasties. As the popularity of the show has increased over the last few years, so have the prices. It is worth it though. If you want to see a dazzling, glittering Christmas show in a swanky venue with a fancy cocktail and a delicious meal, this is your show. Dinner is served before and during the show (I recommend getting there when the doors open if you want to eat dinner–usually about an hour prior to the showtime) from the attached Wild Ginger restaurant. Dinner is optional, and drinks are served throughout the show.

The show runs on various dates during the month of December, and just about always sells out. Get your tickets early.

Photo from
Photo from

Another fun venue for burlesque shows is The Can-Can near Pike Place Market. The venue is small and intimate, and their shows tend to be a little more risque in the humor department. They are another one of my favorite places for a good show and a fancy cocktail. This year they are doing a Winter Wonderland cabaret show, which we will be attending later this month. I’m never sure exactly what to expect at a Can Can show, but I’ve never been disappointed.

photo from
photo from

If the Triple Door and the Can Can are a little too pricey or sold out, The Pink Door around the corner from the Can Can in Post Alley offers a dinner and burlesque cabaret show at 11:00 PM on Saturday nights. It’s first come first served in the lounge area only, with dinner starting at 9:00. Priority seating is given to dinner guests, so if you are just having drinks you may be put on a waiting list. The show is $20.00 (cash only) collected separately from the dinner checks.

It might not be holiday-themed, but the food and drinks are top notch and you might think that you are in a naughty speakeasy in Paris in during prohibition. The atmosphere is great for a cozy romantic date.

The Pink Door
The Pink Door


The Dina Martina Christmas Show

I’ve tried to come up with a way to describe the Dina Martina Christmas Show to people who have not seen it, and I am always at a loss for words. All I can say is that it is Seattle’s best Christmas show hands down. If there is one show you see during Christmas time in Seattle, make it Dina Martina at The Re-bar. Shows run from Thanksgiving weekend all through December.

I’ve been to Dina Martina’s Christmas Show several times, and every time the lights dim and she walks onto the stage and begins singing, I hear someone who is at the show for the first time gasp “Oh my god!” in shock (or maybe horror). Expect ridiculous renditions of classic Christmas carols and top 40 hits, sequined dresses that don’t zip up all the way in the back,  pantyhose as pants, and lots and lots of red lipstick. That’s all I’m going to say. Get your tickets early, Dina Martina sells out quick–especially for weekend shows.


Of course our all-time favorite part of Christmas time in Seattle is the annual white elephant Christmas party we throw each year, but that is not a public event. There are lots of other activities for families such as the WinterFest at the Seattle Center, but we prefer the sort that involve dressing up and cocktails. If you’re looking for Christmas time entertainment, Seattle has plenty to offer for the adults.

Happy Holidays!

Christmas time in Seattle