My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.




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No Bake Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes

Happy Halloween! To celebrate I thought that I would share my recipe for no bake mini pumpkin cheesecakes. They are easy to make plus they are delicious. I made a batch to bring in for my co-workers yesterday and they were a big hit.

- 1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1/3 cup butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
- 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, divided
- 1 package (8oz) cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup pumpkin purée
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. ginger
- 1/8 tsp. cloves
- 1 pint whipping cream
- whole pecans (optional for garnish)

Graham Cracker Crust
- Use food processor or rolling pin to create fine graham cracker crumbs
- Melt butter and pour into bowl with graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Mix up ingredients with a fork and measure out equally into small dishes
- Press crust into the bottom of small dishes to form bottom crust

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
- Mix together cream cheese, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves
- In a separate bowl, whip the whipping cream to stiff peaks and then gently fold it into the pumpkin mixture and top with a pecan for garnish
- Spoon pumpkin cheesecake filling on top of crusts and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving

Tips and Tricks
- You can use canned pumpkin puree, but I prefer to make my own from sugar pumpkins


Picture of the Day: Walking Through the Siq

Petra, Jordan


Autumn Outdoor Dining with Tips for Weeknight Entertaining

Between business trips and personal travel I haven't spent a lot of time at home this summer and haven't had a chance to enjoy our backyard as much as I would have liked. With winter on the horizon I decided to capitalize on the beautiful fall weather and a light work week to do a little backyard entertaining on a Thursday night at the end of September.

When you work full time, entertaining on a weeknight can be a bit of a challenge but with a little bit of planning it is totally doable and a fun way to break up the work week.

When I get home the first thing I always do is set the table. I like to arrange everything, including my serving dishes, and save the cooking for right before my guests arrive to make sure the food is hot. I love this flour sack linen table cloth because it has a little texture to it and I don't need to iron it. A navy runner grounds the center of the table and a few ceramic pumpkins on the ends are a festive seasonal nod.

For the place settings I love to mix and match for a casual look. I used a plain white dinner plate with a handmade butter plate that I bought in Seto along with a small blue and white bowl that I purchased in Tokyo. For a fall look I used my yellow linen napkins. Cloth napkins always look fantastic and to make it easier on myself I always fold and lightly iron them right after I wash them so I have them ready to pull out of my linen cabinet for entertaining.

For flowers, I always pick up something from the grocery store when I shop for the dinner party ingredients. Here I combined two grocery store bouquets, one of greenery and one of sunflowers, in a blue enamel ware pitcher.

I also couldn't resist picking up some mini white pumpkins from the grocery store which I tucked into the blue and white bowls at each place setting.

With the table set, I started cooking. Menu planning is important for weeknight entertaining in order to be sure that you can prepare everything quickly and easily and not stress yourself out. My go to weeknight entertaining menu is a pasta dish with a salad and a baguette.

To make the meal seasonal, I made Martha Stewart's Orecchiette with Butternut Squash and Sage using some sage from my garden. It is easy to make, looks beautiful and tastes like autumn which made it a perfect dish for the evening.

For the salad I used a base of baby kale topped with dried cranberries, goat cheese and pecans and paired with a pomegranate basalmic vinaigrette dressing. If I entertain on the weekend I like to make everything from scratch because I love to cook, but for a weeknight I take a few shortcuts to make it easier on myself. As an example, for this meal I bought already cubed butternut squash from the produce section for the pasta and pre-washed baby kale mix for the salad plus I bought the salad dressing instead of making it. All combined those three shortcuts probably took out 45 minutes of prep time for me and made the meal doable after work.

Little touches always finish off the table for me. I like to put out water in a carafe or pitcher with sliced up lemons and decant my salad dressing into a cute little carafe or dish. It only takes about five extra minutes but it makes the table look more festive and put together.

I also love to have an herbed compound butter to go with the bread. They are easy to make and a great way to use up extra herbs from your garden or cooking. I like to prepare them and keep them in the freezer to pull out when needed.

By keeping a limited menu and doing a few small things that had a nice visual impact I was able to be ready for my guests in about an hour and a half with a beautiful and delicious table of food. With everything finished before my guests arrived I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening with them. Cheers!


Picture of the Day: Mountain Reflections on Sognefjord



















Sognefjord, Norway


Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Summertime means fresh fruit is in season which obviously means it is time to make pie. One of my favorites is the classic strawberry rhubarb pie. It is my grandfather's favorite and I grew up loving to eat it with him as a special treat.

Ingredients List
- 3 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2" cubes
- 3 cups strawberries, sliced
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 Tbsp. corn starch
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 large egg, separated
- 1 teaspoon water
- Large granule sugar (optional)
- Double pie crust pastry

- Cut the rhubarb and place it in a bowl with the strawberries
- In a separate small bowl stir together the sugar, corn starch, cinnamon and salt
- Pour sugar mixture over rhubarb and strawberries, tossing filling to coat the fruit
- Roll out half of the pastry and line the bottom of a pie plate with it, trimming off excess
- Roll out remaining half of the pastry
- Add filling to the pie plate and then top with pastry using lattice crust or other vented style top
- Whisk egg white and water together to make egg wash glaze
- Brush glaze on pie and sprinkle with large granule sugar if you like
- Bake for 20 minutes at 425° F, turn heat down to 350° F and back another 35-40 minutes until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling

Tips and Tricks
- I make my own crust but you can also use store bought
- To make your pastry easier to deal with, keep it in the refrigerator until you are rolling it out
- To prevent your crust from browning too much, wrap it in tin foil for the first 20 minutes of baking

If you are interested, check out my apple pie recipe, my mixed berry pie recipe, my blackberry rhubarb pie recipe and my recipe for making pie crust from scratch



Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Luxor

One of the best things that Frank and I did while we were in Luxor was to go for a sunrise hot air balloon ride. Having arrived the night before on an evening flight from Cairo the aerial view was a fantastic first introduction to the area before we started exploring the sights.

We were picked up from our hotel a little after four am and shuttled to a dock on the Nile. On board we enjoyed tea while we were ferried to the West Bank.

After arriving on the West Bank we were driven to a large field where the hot air balloons were being inflated. It was a beautiful and fascinating process to watch.

Once our balloon was ready we climbed into the basket and got safety instructions from the balloon pilot. We did a little practice of how to crouch and hold the basket straps for the landing and then we were off. The lift off was so gentle that it was hard to even notice until we saw the ground receding away from us.

We started by floating over the ancient ruins on the West Bank. We had fabulous views of the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Ramessuem.

We continued floating over the West Bank enjoying views of the fields and town.

One of the most fascinating things was to watch the farmers at work in their fields in the early morning before the day became too hot. While we were in Egypt it was sugar cane harvest season and we saw smoke plumes rising from fires in the fields below. To make harvesting easier the sugar cane fields are set on fire to burn off the leaves while leaving the stalks intact.

We continued floating along over the Nile to the East Bank. The sunrise was lovely and we had great views over the town as well as Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple.

After about an hour in the air it was time to land. When the pilot directed us we got into our crouched landing position. We lightly bounced off the ground once before finally coming to a stop in a field that had recently been harvested.

The last thing I would ever be accused of is being a morning person, but getting up before the crack of dawn was completely worth the experience of the balloon ride. It was my first time in a hot air balloon and I would love to do it again.



Things have been a bit of a blur for me lately. In a six week span I visited four countries, four states and had been on seventeen flights. Add some very long work days and a lot of spring yard work into the mix after I finally got home and needless to say things have been a little crazy. I have so much to share and plan to start posting again soon with life settling down a bit. In the meantime I thought I would share collages of my Instagram pictures from my recent travels.

New York, London, Madaba, Jordan's Rift Valley...

Kerak, Petra, Saqqara, Mephis, Giza, Cairo...

Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Esna, Cruising on the Nile, El Kab, Edfou...

More Cruising on the Nile, Djebel Silsileh, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Rome...

More Rome, Vatican City, Los Angeles...

More Los Angeles, Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Seattle...

Seattle, Phoenix, Tonto National Forest...

...and home!


Mint Oreo Truffles for St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I wanted to make some St. Patrick's Day treats to bring into work for my co-workers today but I had a TV conference for work last night so I didn't get home until after eight. Since I had no intention of staying up too late I had to make something on the simple side so I decided to make some mint oreo truffles which don't require any baking. 

Ingredients List
- 1 package of mint oreos (30 oreos)
- 6 oz. cream cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon mint extract
Dark Green and Vibrant Green Candy Melts
- Green sprinkles and non-pareils

Pulse oreos in food processor until they are finely ground.

Add cream cheese and mint extract to oreos and pulse food processor until mixture is fully combined. Form mixture into equal size size balls, place on a a tray covered in parchment paper and place in the freezer for at least one hour.

Place candy melts into a small microwave proof bowls or glasses that are tall enough to dip one of the truffles into it. Microwave them for 60 seconds and then stir. If some lumps still remain microwave another 30 seconds and then stir until smooth. Dip truffles into the melted candy and then place back on parchment paper. 

While the candy coating is still wet add sprinkles for a festive touch. Once the candy coating has cooled and hardened you can stack the truffles on a serving plate or package them in treat bags.

Tips and Tricks
- To make even sized balls I used a small ice cream scoop to measure out equal amounts of oreo mixture.
- If the mixture is too soft or sticky to shape into balls, place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
- If your melted candy starts to cool making dipping difficult, just put the bowl back in the microwave for a few seconds until it is smooth again.

Rosemary Sea Salt 

A few months back I made a large batch of rosemary sea salt. It is a great way to use up any rosemary that you have in your herb garden at the end of the growing season and adds something special to your pantry for your cooking. There are a variety of methods out there that you could use but below is the method that works for me.

Ingredients List
- 1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves
- 4 cups sea salt, divided

Put the rosemary leaves and one cup of sea salt in a food processor.

Pulse the food processor until the rosemary leaves are finely mixed into the salt.

In a bowl combine the rosemary mixture with the remaining three cups of sea salt.

The salt and rosemary mixture will be damp from the moisture in the rosemary leaves so to dry it out, spread it on a a baking sheet and bake it for about half an hour on low heat (200˚F, 95˚C).

After letting the mixture cool, break up any salt that has clumped together and store in jars.

The rosemary sea salt makes a great gift and Frank and I have also have fun using it in our cooking. Enjoy!


A Winter Morning in Karuizawa (軽井沢)  

On a recent trip to Japan at the end of February I decided I wanted to visit the famous hot springs town Kusatsu Onsen on the weekend. After I finished work on Friday evening I took the train to Karuizawa (軽井沢) to spend the night since it was too late to continue on to Kusatsu Onsen that evening. As long as I was in Karuizawa I decided to do a little exploring the next morning before catching my bus to Kusatsu Onsen.

Karuizawa is known for being a tranquil place in the mountains to escape the summer heat in Japan and it seemed to be fairly quiet in the winter while I was there. As I set out walking in the morning it was really lovely strolling along the tree lined streets with remnants of a recent snow fall.

My first stop was Kumoba Pond (雲場池), which is known for its beautiful views in the autumn reflecting the colored leaves on the still water. The name Kumoba means "Cloud Place" and refers to the frequent mists that linger over the pond but while I was there the sky was bright and clear. 

As lovely as the pond was, I found the little stream that ran beside the pond to be even more enchanting with its moss lined banks dusted with snow.

From Kumoba Pond I headed through more tree lined streets toward Kyu-Karuizawa (旧軽井沢), the old part of town. The main street through the area, Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza (旧軽井沢銀座), was fairly deserted with most shops indicating an eleven am opening time but I could imagine quite a bustling scene in the summer.

I turned off Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza to visit St. Paul's Catholic Church (聖パウロカトリック教会). Built in 1935 the rustic wood church was designed by Czech-American architect, Antonin Raymond, who had also designed a summer house for himself in Karuizawa a few years prior.

I returned back to Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza and stopped for breakfast at French Bakery (フランスベーカリー). John Lennon used to frequent the bakery when he and Yoko Ono stayed in Karuizawa and the bakery proudly displays a poster of him with their baguettes. As is typical in a bakery in Japan you pick up a tray and tongs as you enter and use the tongs to select the baked goods you would like to buy. I ate an edamame and cheese bun which I don't think is very French but was very delicious. I also couldn't resist buying an apple pastry and a bacon and cheese bun to take with me for later.

Continuing up Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza out into the countryside there was a monument to the famous poet Matsuo Basho (松尾 芭蕉) erected in 1843. It displays a haiku that Basho wrote while in the Karuizawa area that reads "馬をさへながむる雪のあした哉". Through looking at a few sources I found that while literally it means something like "even a horse gazing out on a morning of snow" the haiku conveys that on a snowy morning even a horse appears elegant.

I continued along a little farther up the road to the Alexander Croft Shaw House and Memorial Chapel. Shaw was a Canadian Angliclan minister who founded St. Andrew's Church in Tokyo. He has been credited with popularizing Karuizawa as a summer resort when he visited in 1886 and subsequently built a summer home in 1888. Although the buildings were closed when I visited I enjoyed wandering around outside in the lovely setting among the forest.

From Alexander Croft Shaw House and Memorial Chapel I headed back to my hotel to pick up my luggage. My route back took me along a pretty little creek and I couldn't resist taking a few last pictures while I was in Karuizawa.

While Karuizawa was definitely sleepy on my winter morning visit it was a lovely place to walk around for a few hours and I'm glad I had a chance to make the short stop.

Karuizawa Train Station is conveniently located on the Nagano Shinkansen line and takes about 70-80 minutes from Tokyo depending on which Asama train you take. Kumoba Pond is about a 20 minute walk northwest of the the station and Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza is about a 25 minute walk north of the station.