Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo

Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo

After visiting Peacock Lane in Portland, we found another fun Christmas lights attraction… Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo!

We had been to the Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago a few years back.   It was so magical to see, and a great opportunity to see nocturnal animals awake and active!  I was super excited to learn we had another opportunity to see Zoo Lights, and in our own city no less!

Daniel & Michele at the Zoo Lights in Oregon

As with Peacock Lane, we went to see the Zoo Lights after Christmas, so despite going on a Sunday it was fairly easy to find parking.

If you plan to go in 2014 and it’s before the holiday has passed, public transportation may be your best friend in getting there.  I’d imagine the parking lot would be somewhat of a nightmare.  You also get a discount on your tickets if you take the MAX!

It was still pretty crowded inside for us though, so it was a little hard to get decent pictures.  Here are a few that I managed to get!

Daniel & Michele at the Oregon Zoo Lights

Walkway at the Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo Lights

Christmas Lights Portrait

Dragon Zoo Lights

Christmas Train LightsWhile it was nowhere near as cold as it was in Chicago during the winter, we still found it to be uncomfortably chilly.  I would highly recommend bundling up when you go!

Luckily, anywhere you turn there is hot chocolate and other hot beverages being sold throughout the zoo.  Unluckily, there are impossibly long lines at each and every one of them!  I think next time we’ll bring a couple of thermoses with us and avoid the crowds!

Even though we went after Christmas, the zoo itself was very congested, which we were a little surprised at.  I can only imagine if you go before Christmas that it would be a lot worse.  I’d personally try to go during the week, since I’m sure the weekends are crazy.  Despite the crowds, we still had a great time seeing all the beautiful lights – here are a few more pictures!

Other than traditional Christmas lights, they also had an impressive array of displays that incorporated movement (not that you can tell from pictures).

Tree Frog Zoo Lights

Manatee Zoo Lights

This African river scene was particularly impressive, as just about everything moved.

Africa River Scene at the Oregon Zoo Lights

There were also a lot of displays with classic movie characters as well!

Wizard of Oz Zoo Lights

Alice in Wonderland Zoo Lights

My absolute favorite place at the zoo was The Kaleidoscope, which was basically a big tunnel of lights.  Check it out!

Daniel & Michele in the Kaleidoscope Tunnel

Kaleidoscope at the Oregon Zoo

Daniel & Michele in the Kaleidoscope

It was pretty congested at the entrance of the tunnel, because obviously it’s a great photo opportunity.  I don’t think people realized how big it was though, because if you just walked a few steps through, there was way more room to take pictures.  I’d recommended squeezing through the crowds as quickly as you can, to get to the middle of the tunnel.  Then you can take your time and take as many photos as you want, without people constantly walking in your shot!

Oregon Zoo LightsWhile the lights are the main attraction, another advantage of being at the zoo at night is seeing the nocturnal animals.  Two highlights for us were seeing the tigers up and about, and being able to spend time at the bat exhibit.

If you go during dinnertime, you can bring your own food in, but I would highly recommend eating at the Cascade Grill if you can.  The food is delicious and healthy, and they use a lot of local ingredients.  They also serve local beer and wine!

We had a great time at the Zoo Lights, and I can’t wait to go again!  I hope I’ve piqued your interest as well, but even if you can’t make it during the holiday season, the Oregon Zoo is a wonderful place to visit.  So if you’re planning a trip or in the area, definitely add it to your activity list while staying in Portland!


Peacock Lane in Portland, Oregon

Daniel & Michele at Peacock Lane

Since moving to Portland 6 months ago, Daniel and I have been having fun eating and seeing what the city has to offer.  Thanks to Instagram and Portland hashtags, I discovered a street called Peacock Lane during this past holiday season.

Located in Southeast between Stark and Belmont, this cute little street is transformed during Christmas time with a spectacle of lights.  Since the 1920s, every house is decorated from mid-December through New Year’s Eve.  I was really excited when I learned about Peacock Lane, because I never got to visit Candy Cane Lane when I lived in Los Angeles, which is very similar (but on a much bigger scale).

Here are some of my favorite houses and decorations from 2013!

Christmas Lights Displayed at Peacock Lane

Peace on Earth Lights Display

Christmas Lights at Peacock Lane

Merry Christmas from Peacock Lane

The North Pole at Peacock Lane

I loved seeing how creative some people got and their use of beloved Christmas characters.  Can you spot them all?

Peacock Lane Christmas Lights

Nightmare Before Christmas at Peacock Lane

Dr. Seuss at Peacock Lane

Charlie Brown Display at Peacock Lane

These last few displays were my favorite… I guess you can say I’m a little nerdy!

Star Wars Display at Peacock Lane

Don’t blink!  The lights were off at this house, so it was hard to get a good picture, but I can’t resist sharing this Doctor Who display!

Doctor Who Display at Peacock Lane

The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorite Christmas movies, so I was pretty happy when I saw this!

A Muppet Christmas Carol at Peacock Lane

Yoda Christmas Lights at Peacock LaneDaniel and I tried going before Christmas, but the crowds and traffic were pretty nuts!  We did go on a Sunday at around 6pm, so that may have had something to do with it.  We ended up leaving because we weren’t really in the mood to deal with crowds.  We returned after Christmas and practically had the whole street to ourselves!  If you want to go before Christmas, which is understandable, I would suggest trying to go during the week and later at night (when all the kiddos are asleep).

While the homes of Peacock Lane have taken down their lights for this season, be sure to add it to your Christmas to do list for next year!


Spinach and Prosciutto Lasagna and Other Christmas Recipes

Before Christmas, I shared with you all a few recipes I intended to make for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  As promised, I now want to share how they all turned out!

You may remember that the main event was a Spinach and Prosciutto Lasagna from Martha Stewart.  After reading the reviews, I omitted quite a few things and added others.  I also made mine a lot bigger since the original only made 4 servings.  Not nearly enough leftovers for the amount of work, I think!

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 (10 oz.) packages of spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 16 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, diced
  • Lasagna noodles
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/2 jars of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 9 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 green bell pepper (optional)
  • 3/4 red bell pepper (optional)
  • 3/4 yellow bell pepper (optional)

Here’s what you do:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Over medium high heat, saute your onion and mushrooms in olive oil for 3-4 minutes.  Add your spices and saute another minute or so.  You don’t need to cook the veggies too long, since they will finish cooking in the oven.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Sauteed Vegetables for Lasagna

Lasagna Spinach and Mushroom FillingIn a medium bowl, combine ricotta, spinach, garlic, and cooled veggies.  Set aside.  Also in a medium bowl, thoroughly mix your diced prosciutto with your tomato sauce.  Set aside.  You can use any sauce you’d like, we combined a four cheese sauce and a basil marinara, both from Trader Joes.

In a 9×13 casserole dish, spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then place a layer of noodles on top.  I used no boil noodles because that’s all Trader Joes had, but either will do!  If you do use no boil noodles, I highly suggest soaking them in hot water for 5-10 minutes before working with them.  This will make them more pliable, and help to ensure they will cook all the way through.

Evenly crumble 1/3 of the spinach and ricotta mixture on top of your noodles, and then spread 1/4 of the remaining sauce.  Repeat noodles, mixture, sauce two more times.  Place one more layer of noodles on top, the last 1/4 of your sauce, and then top with shredded mozzarella.

Assembling Lasagna Layers

Bell Pepper Christmas TreeNow, if you did see my previous Christmas recipe post or just went to my Pinterest board, you know I planned to create a Christmas tree topper for my lasagna.  That’s where those optional bell peppers come in!  You’ll want to slice the green peppers, dice and create a tree stump from the red pepper, and dice and create a star from the yellow pepper.  I thought it was pretty awesome looking, what do you think?

With or without the topper, bake uncovered until brown, about 35-40 minutes.  Then let stand 5 minutes before serving and enjoy!  My recipe will make about 12 servings, and Daniel said it was the best lasagna he’s ever eaten!

Here are a few pictures of our tasty lasagna and our Christmas Eve!

Christmas Lasagna

We served our lasagna with garlic bread and salad, and plenty of wine, of course!

Christmas Eve Dinner

Christmas Eve Table Setting

Daniel and Michele on Christmas Eve

For dessert, as I suspected, we were too tired to make this peppermint bark cheesecake.  So sadly I can’t tell you if it was delicious or a fail, BUT I can tell you that the frozen cheesecake sampler from Trader Joes is worth a try!  It comes with 2 slices of 3 different kinds of cheesecake, and all you have to do is thaw it for an hour on the counter.  A great find if you want something easy!

Cranberry Mimosas

We did make breakfast and mimosas for Christmas morning though!  We made cranberry mimosas, and they were pretty tasty, although the orange juice really overpowered the cranberry.  I think next time we make them I’ll fill the glass with mostly cranberry juice and add just a splash of orange.

We had a few unused glasses already rimmed with green sugar from our holiday party, and Daniel had the brilliant idea to use them that morning.  I LOVE how festive they look!

We also made baked french toast and baked bacon!

Christmas Day Breakfast

I followed this french toast recipe exactly, and it turned out beautifully!  The top is the perfect french toast consistency, and the bottom has a delicious buttery brown sugar sauce – it didn’t even need syrup!  This was the first time I had ever baked bacon in the oven, while I wouldn’t say it made the clean up any quicker, it did produce an entire pan of perfectly crisp bacon.  So I definitely think I will be cooking it in the oven from now on!

Family on Christmas MorningWell, it’s always a little sad to see Christmas come and go.  It was a very relaxing and quiet Christmas with my best friend and love, and all around favorite person in the world.  It will be a Christmas that I will cherish forever!


A Very Pinteresty Holiday Party

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a fantastic New Year’s Eve, I’d love to hear how everyone celebrated!  Daniel and I procrastinated, so we ended up just going out for dinner and then watching New Year’s Eve specials while drinking champagne at home.  Even though it was pretty low key, it was one of my favorites thus far!  We realized we had never spent New Year’s in our home!  It was fun to experience something new, and it was also our first New Year’s Eve in Portland!

Now that the holidays are over, I can finally catch my breath and start blogging about everything we did.  If you read my post about holiday party ideas, you know that pretty much all inspiration came from Pinterest.  And now I want to share my results with you!

Christmas Tree Cheese Platter

 

 

Let’s start with food, shall we?  You may remember that I wanted the food to act as the decorations, and I had quite a few examples of festive cheese platters.

You can see I chose to do a combination of all of the examples I found, and did a mixture of salami, cheese, and grapes.  I thought it was pretty cute, and a very quick and easy appetizer to whip up before a party.

Another Christmas-y food I wanted to replicate were these cookie cutter pizzas.  They were adorable, and were a big hit with my guests!  I will say they were a little difficult to work with because they were so small.  If you can find bigger cookie cutters, I think it would be a bit easier.

Cookie Cutter Christmas Pizzas

Because the pizzas were a little hard to make, they took a bit longer than we had planned.  Luckily, we had a backup plan and made one full sized pizza… in the shape of a candy cane!  Equally as delicious and adorable!

Christmas Pizza

Melted Snowmen Gngerbread Cookies

For dessert I made melted snowmen cookies, and they turned out beautifully!  You can find the gingerbread cookie recipe and what I changed on my previous blog post.  The only suggestion I made that I hadn’t tried out at the time was replacing white sugar with brown sugar.  I made that adjustment for the party, but I didn’t notice much of a difference in taste, so you can really use whichever you prefer.

I made a simple royal icing with powdered sugar and a little bit of milk.  I definitely recommend making sure the icing is on the thick side for optimum results.  You can see 3 of the cookies have better coverage, whereas the one in the back is a little see through.  Merely an artistic suggestion, as they were all tasty no matter how the icing looked!

Here are a few more pictures!

Melted Snowmen Cookies

Gingerbread Snowmen Cookies

Before placing the marshmallows on the cookies, we microwaved them for a few seconds to give them a more melty look.  And we used colored gel icing from the baking section at the supermarket for their faces and bodies.  Pretty good for our first try, don’t you think?

Christmas Champagne

If you stumbled on my holiday party ideas board on Pinterest, you may have seen a champagne drink that gained a lot of repins.  So many repins that there was no way I couldn’t try it out at our party!

A very simple drink that had so much wow factor!  I found green colored sugar at the grocery store, which I used to rim the champagne flutes.  I bought pomegranate seeds already deseeded to save on time, put those in the bottom of the glass, filled with champagne – boom, done!  They were seriously too pretty to drink (almost)!

Hot Chocolate Stirring Sticks

I also made party favors for my guests, which sadly I forgot to hand out!  Word of advice:  keep party favors in a prominent place, and near the front door!  Then you won’t have to sheepishly hand them out after like I do.

Other than forgetting to give them out, I was very happy with my results.  Very easy and quick to do!  Because I could only find large candy canes, I used two marshmallows for each (most examples I saw only used one).  Then I just dipped them in melted chocolate and coated them in crushed peppermint candies.

I found these super cute snowmen bags at the Dollar Tree store, and put a hot chocolate stirring stick with a packet of hot chocolate in each bag.  A very nice gesture that doesn’t require a lot of time or expense!

Snowmen Party Favor Bags

White Elephant DIY Present

I also made a white elephant gift, which I was pretty happy with how it turned out.  All I did was Sharpie instructions onto the mugs and baked it in the oven.  I had a hard time getting the Sharpie to come out as dark as the original, but perhaps my pen was just running out of ink.  It was also a little difficult to find dessert in a cup recipes that had good reviews, but I finally found these that seemed to be the best (leave me a comment if anyone wants the recipes!).

Tip:  Apparently people have a lot of trouble getting the Sharpie to actually stay on the mug after normal use and washing.  A few suggestions I found were to increase your oven temperature to 425 and bake for 30 minutes, do not preheat your oven first, and allow the mugs to cool completely in the oven after they’re done baking.  I rubbed the writing pretty hard afterwards, and it seemed like it was on there permanently!

Wine Glass Holiday Table Display

Last but not least, I had shared a holiday decoration with you all and this is how it turned out!  I already had the wine glasses, we saved trimmings from our tree, and I bought the ornaments and candles from the Dollar Tree store.  For a very elegant looking decoration, it only cost $2 and was super easy to setup!

We also used it for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations as well.

Here are a few pictures of our coffee table and main table displays!

Holiday Party Coffee Table Display

Coffee Table Holiday Party Display

Holiday Party Main Table Display

Daniel & Michele After the Holiday PartyLooking back on it now, I probably took on a little too much, especially since it was my first time hosting a party.  But despite a few moments of stress, everything turned out great!  We had blast and so did our guests, so I’d say our first holiday party was a success!


Merry Christmas from Portland, Oregon

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas from Portland!

Merry Christmas from Daniel & Michele 2013

I haven’t had this blog very long, but I’ve already been so blown away by the response!  It’s made me so happy to see the likes, shares, and repins!  It feels so rewarding to share things that people genuinely seem to be looking for.  I find myself loving the writing process each and every time I write a new post,  and I hope I can continue to provide useful, relatable articles through the New Year!

Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read this lil ‘ol blog – it means the world to me!  I hope you all have a wonderful and safe Christmas and New Year’s Eve!