Monthly Archives: February 2012

This hotel room is larger than my old apartment.

In case you didn’t figure it out from my copious amounts of tweets or Facebook comments, I’m in Vegas for work this week.

I’m going to be honest with you; I don’t like this city. The gambling and the smell of cigarette smoke permeates all the hotels and restaurants.  The feeling is that of a much grittier, dirtier, and less tropical Miami.  And the cost of food  is insane – even to me, even compared to DC or Miami prices.   I just don’t get the hype with this town.

Regardless, I’m in a pretty “suite” hotel room at Mandalay Bay.  It’s probably not that swanky by Las Vegas standards, but to me it is ridiculously large.  Technically I think it’s 750 square feet.  That’s bigger than some of my past  apartments, people.

When you enter there is an entryway, then an office area and, of course, a minibar.  I’m loving the uber-organized fridge, with the little dividers for each bottle.  How awesome would that feature be in a home fridge?  Not that you normally need to store a dozen mini liquor bottles at home . . . . or maybe you do?

From the windows I have a view of the entire strip.  While I suppose this is pretty cool, I’d rather have a view of just the mountains.  I like to sleep with the curtains open, but there’s so much light pollution  that I had to cinch them tight last night.

Here’s a peek at the room, starting at the entryway.






The bed is crazy comfy.  No complaints there!   Same for the big jacuzzi tub.  That sure hit the spot last night after a long walk on the strip.

At first I thought the size of the room was ridiculous; but knowing that I’m stuck here for a week – I kind of appreciate it.  It won’t have me feeling as claustrophobic as some traditional sized hotel rooms could do.  Ok, so the size is still ridiculous.  But I’m not complaining. :)

So what’s your take on Vegas – love it or hate it?  I want to know!

As for me – well, it’s 10 pm here, which is 1 am East Coast time.  I worked from 7 am – 9 pm today, and I’m beat.  Goodnight!

Almost Carb-Free Chocolate Torte

Almost Sugar-and-Carb-Free Chocolate Cake

Almost Carb-Free Chocolate Torte

This past weekend was Ryan’s birthday, and Monday was Ryan’s Birthday:  Observed.  Or so he claimed. 😉

He was back home with his family for most of the weekend, and I was sewing to catch up on all the orders (still) from when food poisoning kicked my butt two weeks ago.  But before Ryan came home I attempted to do a little festive decorating & cooking.

I put together a super quick and easy banner, using scrap booking paper, ribbon, and letters printed off the computer.  I simply chopped the colorful papers into squares, pasted the printed-out black-and-white letters over them, and then strung it together with ribbon.  I hung it on the wall in our living room that is STILL blank after all this time.  Sometimes it comes in handy – for Christmas cards & stockings or apparently for birthday banners.  It’s like a “special occasion” wall. :)

I also snagged some balloons during my run to the grocery store.  Not the most environmentally-friendly decoration, I know, but they sure are fun and give you a lot of celebratory bang for your buck at only $5.95 a 1/2 dozen.

And after the birthday boy has been surprised, the balloons are fun for annoying your pets.  Or tying them around the dog.

But I digress.  Let’s talk about CAKE!

Because Ryan and I both love chocolate, but we are trying to do a low-carb and low-sugar diet to slim down for the wedding, I experimented with an almost guilt-free dessert.  It turned out really well (if you love dark chocolate), so I wanted to share the recipe with you.

I based the recipe on the chocolate torte (Reine de Saba) recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Chocolate cookbook.

Ingredients for Jane’s Almost Sugar and Carb Free Chocolate Torte

*5 oz Unsweetened Ghirardelli baking chocolate, 100% cacao  (don’t get the cheap stuff)

*3 oz Bittersweet Chocolate (I like Scharffen Berger, don’t skimp on quality)

3/4 Cup Unsalted Butter, (room temp)

**1/4 Cup Sugar or Splenda

6 Large Eggs, Separated (room temp)

1 1/2 Cups Ground Almonds (use a food processor)

*Instead of 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, I did part unsweetened, to help cut down on the sugar. 

**Instead of 3/4 cups sugar, I only did 1/4, and I did a mixture of Splenda and Real sugar for that 1/4 cup.   I hate Splenda but Ryan swears by it.  So this was a compromise.

To make ground nuts, use your food processor.  I used my coffee grinder, and it gunked it all up. Huge mistake.

Grind Nuts Coffee Grinder


1.  Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Butter and flour a round cake pan, spring form is ideal. (I used a cheap aluminum foil cake pan.)

3.  Break the chocolate into small chunks (if not already chopped).  To melt the chocolate, use a double boiler (or a pot of water with a heat-safe mixing bowl on top of it.  Stir until melted and smooth.  Remove from heat.  The chocolate should cool slightly.

4.  In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Use an electric mixer if you have one.  Add the egg yolks gradually, mixing well after each is added.

5.  Mix in the chocolate and the ground almonds.

6.  Beat the egg whites until glossy and stiff but not dry.  (This was hard for me because we don’t have an electric beater or mixer.)

7.  Fold the egg whites into the chocolate cake mixture.  Be gentle.

8.  Pour  the mix into the cake pan, smooth out with spatula on top.

9.  Bake at 350 for around 50 minutes.  When the top puffs and forms a crust, the torte should be done.

10.  Remove from oven.  Cool in pan for around 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to continue cooling.

Serve it up:

We like it with Frozen Raspberries & Unsweetened Whipped Cream.

The original recipe recommends that you serve this baby dripping in chocolate ganache.  But because we’re trying to make dessert healthier, I made a simple raspberry sauce.  Simmer a bag of frozen raspberries in a pan, stirring and mashing occasionally until they just become saucy.  Like a puree, only less work.

Take heavy whipping cream, add a few drops of pure Vanilla Extract, and whip  – well whip it until you’ve got whipped cream.  The unsweetened cream is so naturally sweet that you don’t need to add the sugar.  And it’s SO much tastier than that stuff that comes out of cans.

I drizzled a very generous spoonful of raspberry sauce over the torte, then added a huge dollop of whipped cream.  Garnish with orange zest for a natural sprinkle look. :)

The verdict?  Ryan and I both loved this very chocolatey, only-slightly-sweet cake.  However, we realized that it’s best if served in small slices, smaller than the one pictured above.  It’s so dense that a little bit goes a long way.  And you know what? That’s fine with me!!

PS:  Want to see what happens when we tie balloons around the dog and then ask her “Do you want to go for a walk?”  She gets so excited she has to run in circles, even if there are balloons tied to her collar.  And then our other pup thinks he should play-attack her.  Don’t mind the disheveled state of the room.  It was a busy weekend. :)

Renters Beware: A newer type of scam

UpdateAs of this afternoon (2/22/2012) I was contacted by the real owner of the rental home pictured below.  It is legitimately for rent, but for a higher price than the one pictured in the ad below.   Here is the link to the legit rental ad: .  It’s an amazing mid-mod style home in Reston, VA.

Ryan and I both absolutely love our current rental home.  It’s so clean, warm, modern, and full of happy vibes.  But I’m not going to lie, the monthly rent takes a pretty big chunk of change – normal for the DC suburbs, but scary when you think about it too much.

Technically, the house is in our budget, and we’re both able to set aside a good bit of our paychecks for savings.  However, Ryan and I were discussing the fact that sometime after we get married we’ll want to have kids.   And I’ll stay home with them for a while.  I.e. – we’ll be a one income family.  We’re not ready to move, not by a long shot.  But because I’m a nut, I looked at rental homes on Craigslist “just for fun.”

I spied a few decent houses that cost significantly less than we pay now,  so I contacted them just to find out more.  I really don’t want to move.  But for the difference in price, it seemed foolish not to consider the option.

One house in particular caught our attention.  A funky Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired modern home, near a lake and only 2 miles from where we live now.  Ryan and I actually got really excited about it, because the only thing cooler than staying where we are now would be living in a funky mid-mod house with serious quirks and character.  What a fun adventure!



After work Ryan and I checked it out on Zillow, because we were eager to know more about it.  After we looked at all the photos and fell head over heels for the place, we we got confused.    Zillow said the place was $2800 a month, not $1500.   We figured it was a typo.

Then I heard back from another property that we’d inquired about. The grammar was poor, like English was their second language, but the note was personal and seemed legit to both of us.  We followed up, requesting a tour of the place.  The response?

Hello Dear,

Sorry for the late response!!!!I can see you are interested in the ad I have posted, I am currently in Nigeria with my family where we work as a volunteer with the Missionary. We spent less time in the States so we could not get a hold on any Realtor to handle this rent issue, although it was when we knew how long we are going to stay in Nigeria that we decided to rent out the house. However, the initial plan was to sell out the house. which we tried, but sometimes the agents inflates the price and it takes longer to sell we are telling you this in case you find the house on another website, that is the old advert.  So we need a tenant to take care of it but since we are out of the state now, we have received some proposals regarding the rent because it is located in a very good area, but we still have to make sure it is rented out to someone who can take good care of it.The keys to the House are right here with me and i could send it to you after all necessary agreement has be accepted by my family,We also want you to let us have trust in you as we always stand on our word.So if you know you are capable of the task,It is available for a long lease.The monthly rental fee is $1300 per month including the utilities and the security deposit is $900 which is refundable back to you at the end of your stay if nothing is damaged from my properties . . .

The email continued and had a rental application asking for personal info, but I won’t waste any more space on the blog with their bullshit.  Obviously Ryan and I realized it was a scam.   Note what I highlighted in bold:  sure enough, the house is for sale, by a legit real estate agent.

I turned to Google and learned the Nigerian email scam thing has now expanded its scope to include rental homes on Craigslist and Zillow.  They grab info and photos from the MLS or other realty sites.   In one horrifying scam instance, the potential tenants fell for the scam, got the locks changed, and were moved in when the real homeowner arrived.  That’s awful!

But back to that funky modern house we’d fallen for:  Sure enough, we received another email from Nigeria, similar to the one above.   They said not to worry about the fact that it may appear to cost more other places, and to ignore the real estate agent.

As of this morning, all of the houses that we inquired about, all of which seemed reasonably but not cheaply priced ($1500 – $1800 a month) turned out to be scam postings. 

I’ve reported them all, and I think we’ll just stay put in our wonderful home that we love.  This has reminded us just how scarce affordable single family home rentals are in the DC area.

Please, don’t ever agree to send or accept money for overseas.  NEVER. If it seems too good to be true, it is.  I promise you.

What’s your inspiration?

Greetings from Austin, TX.

Source: via Liza on Pinterest


I wish I had some personal photos to share with you, but I do not.  For when I travel alone to a new city, I’m reluctant to snap many photos for risk of standing out as a “tourist.”  It’s a little safety concern I have. But on to the topic at hand:

I find that whenever I travel, even for business, I am inspired and my creativity is re-invigorated.  Does this happen to you?

It doesn’t take much but a change of scenery, a new town or new terrain, to get my creative juices flowing.  And usually within hours of hitting the ground in a new town, the ideas are flowing almost faster than I can jot them down.

It happened today when I landed in Austin.  I’m here for work, but I had a few hours before my business dinner this evening.  I stopped at a little cafe with a lovely outdoor patio, and just grabbed a snack so that I could sit outside and enjoy the lovely 80-degree weather before heading to the hotel.   By the time I left the cafe, my notebook was chock-full of new ideas for my shop that I not only thought of, but was really able to plan in detail, during that brief time.

What is it about traveling that makes my creative brain feel like someone opened the flood gates?  In Texas I know I’m digging the scenery, the smell of the semi-desert air, and the different terrain.  It feels very southern and arid, from the dry soil to the scrubby little trees the likes of which you’d never see back home on the East coast.

Then there’s the fact that Austin is unlike any other city I’ve found in the US.  It’s bizarre.  There are food trucks everywhere, selling any and every type of food you can imagine.  There are also Tex-Mex restaurants and cantinas everywhere. The town seems a little rough around the edges, and the nicer parts seem to lack that glitz and glam that the East coast cities have.  That’s a-ok with me!  Oh, and I’m pretty sure many of the young people here don’t realize it’s not 1995 anymore.  :)


But this inspiration isn’t happening just because Austin is weird. It happens wherever I go. . . and when I’m alone I find that I relish the opportunity to be away from my sewing machine and house full of projects.  Maybe that’s the key.

Does this happen to you?  If not, when do you find you get the most inspiration?