wrapped box with christmas present

Give From The Heart

The holiday season is upon us! I’m still proactively Christmas shopping, which inspires today’s blog post. I personally love giving my family, friends, and loved ones gifts. When it comes to compiling my shopping list and choosing the perfect gift, it’s easiest when I give from the heart.

How do you “Give From The Heart”?

To give from the heart, choose what you know the other person will love rather than what you love. In the process of finding gifts for others, more often than not people end up buying something they actually want. In turn, they’re basically expecting their recipient to want what they would want to receive. Similar to catering to someone’s love language, personalize your gifts to the person you’re giving to.

Give From The Heart Example

When I spend quality time with my loved ones, I do my best to always intently listen and remember our intimate conversations. This way, I can recall specific things that they like or even better, if they say exactly what they want to buy themselves one day. For example, my friend and I spoke about the reasoning behind his newest tattoo, which was a Daruma Doll. To quickly sum up our conversation, his new tattoo only had the left eye filled in. Daruma dolls are used for goal setting, by painting in the left eye. Then, once the desired goal is achieved, the right eye is filled in. For his birthday, I bought him a real Daruma Doll in his favorite color. Even though it was a small and very cheap gift, he loved it.

Why should you “Give From The Heart”?

Giving from the heart puts others before yourself. It makes every gift you give someone special. And most importantly, it feels good. When you give from the heart, you’re also showing the recipient how well you listen, know them, and appreciate having them in your life.

XO Denise

battle black blur board game

Sit Still Look Pretty

From my blog archives with a few edits, “I’m Not One To Sit Still and Look Pretty” was originally posted on September 26, 2016.

While riding in a car listening to the song “Sit Still, Look Pretty” by Daya, my sister turns to me and says “This song always reminds me of you.” I then proceed to really listen to the lyrics. After which, I realize how much of a compliment it is. I am truly not one to sit still, look pretty. Even though I do have a pretty face, do not think I’m just a pretty face, because I am so much more than that.

QUEEN

Most girls grow up wanting to be a princess, but I don’t need a knight in shining armor to come and rescue me. I’m not a helpless Princess, nor do I ever want to be. I don’t look in the mirror to ask who is the fairest one of all. Despite my imperfections, my reflection is still beautiful. I’m not looking for my other or better half, because I am not half. I am whole as I am. Only a true King will have the courage to approach me with good intentions. Love me as I am. Give me your trust and respect, and I will return it tenfold. 

ADORABLE BADASS

My big eyes and freckled, chubby cheeks are adorable. I love to smile and laugh. I’m prone to spontaneous dancing. I love receiving and arranging flowers. I melt when I see dogs. Seeing my food coming in a restaurant makes me giddy. I take pictures of EVERYTHING. I’m silly and light-hearted. My hair is naturally curly, and I prefer no makeup days. But I can still rock lashes, winged liner, a bold lip, and step into an amazing outfit with a pair of killer heels for ME. Looking good allows me to conquer each day with confidence. Know that I could care less about the unwanted attention and compliments I get from strangers. As I walk down the street, I ignore the catcalls and whistles.

My value isn’t determined by superficial entities. My dreams and aspirations motivate me, and I’m not going to let anyone tell me what’s important. I am proud to be ambitious and driven, set goals, and crush them. In my lifetime, I will create a benevolent empire, by loving myself and showing the world exactly who I am. The sound of my heels on the pavement is my personal version of Darth Vader’s Imperial March. I never avoid eye contact when expressing myself, and I don’t care if it intimidates you.

BEAUTIFUL, INSIDE AND OUT

No one should be too pretty to think for themself. I can make my own decisions. My thoughts and opinions matter. You don’t get to judge me. Don’t tell me to lower my voice. Don’t tell me to sit down. I am kind, caring, and loving because it makes me happy to see those around me happy. Maintaining a healthy nourished and strong body is important to me. I think, read, and learn because I want to keep expanding my mind. My thirst for knowledge and my capacity to grow and improve as a person is infinite. I hope, dream, and inspire, because I want to make my life and my existence in this world worthwhile. Everything that I am, I’ve worked hard to become. You cannot tell me who I am otherwise. I’m not one to sit still, look pretty, and know that you don’t have to either.

XO Denise

Confessions of a Former Mean Girl

From my blog archives, “Mean Girl | Why I Got Into Self-Improvement” originally posted on September 20, 2016.

My name is Denise, and I am a former MEAN GIRL

At my very core, I am self-aware enough to say that I can be a mean girl. (This is also probably why I relate to villains and seem to attract people with similarly shameful pasts.) I can come up with sassy quips and sarcastic comments at the drop of a hat. I don’t always watch my tone when expressing my opinions, and I’ve even made people that I love cry. If you’re finding this hard to believe, then I’m really glad because it means that I’ve done my job. Every day, I find myself actively going against my initial instincts and innate behaviors. I’m definitely not proud of it, but I’ve grown to accept it as part of who I was

My Childhood

Growing up, I never had issues getting what I wanted. My parents provided me with an amazing childhood. In school, I excelled in all of my classes. I made every dance and sports team that I wanted to join. Cute guys ask me out on dates regularly. I got invited to dances and parties. People were just naturally drawn to me without much effort on my part. A friend of mine, who has a degree in Psychology, categorized me under the “What is beautiful is good” stereotype. (It felt like a backhanded compliment at the time, but I understood his intentions.)

To make things clear, I’ve never been an outright bitch. (Or at least I hope that I haven’t…) Because of the privileges I had been given, I was blind to my own faults. I was placed under an unrealistic spotlight that inevitably lead to complacency. Too smart for my own good, and I’d never known what it felt like to fail. I never feel rejected. I’d never been someone’s second choice. I didn’t know what it felt like to not be good enough. Life was about always putting myself first and doing what was in my best interest over the needs of everyone else. Expressing myself and making decisions without considering how it would affect others, I broke hearts without remorse. I thrived on proving that I was right, even if it meant making someone else feel stupid. (Ok… maybe I was a bitch.)

What I’ve Learned

As I grow older, I actively work to become more self-aware and considerate of others. Now, I consciously weigh every pro and con and consider the benefits and disadvantages for every person involved in my decision making. I also do my best to take every unfortunate situation as an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. Not only do I want to keep my inner mean girl in check, but I want to become as good of a person as most people perceive me to already be.

 I take a genuine interest in every new person I meet, and I hope to consistently benefit the lives of my closest friends and family. It’s a priority to be kind to strangers and be more compassionate and patient. I hope to boost the self-esteem of others and not be afraid to open up and feel vulnerable.

Going forward, I aspire to know better, do better, and be better. I may never be perfect, but I like who I am becoming. 

XO Denise

Garlic and Fresh Thyme Scalloped Potatoes

Every year for the Holiday Season, I bake my famous Garlic and Fresh Thyme Scalloped Potatoes! These potatoes are always a huge hit at Holiday potlucks from Thanksgiving through New Years. I usually bake around 5 to 7 batches of these potatoes every Holiday season. So since so much effort, time, & love go into perfecting every single batch, I proactively retire the recipe for the rest of the year.

As a home chef, I always use my taste buds as a guide for every meal I make. I’ve actually never taken the time to break down any of my recipes until my ULTIMATE BANANA BREAD recipe a few months ago. And after the huge success of that blog post, I think it’s time to finally share my Garlic and Fresh Thyme Scalloped Potatoes recipe with the world!

Garlic & Fresh Thyme Scalloped Potatoes Recipe

  • Prep Time: 25 min
  • Bake Time: 55 min
  • Total Time: 1 hr 20 min

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Stick Unsalted Butter
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • 5 Fresh Sprigs of Thyme
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic (Minced)
  • Nutmeg
  • Garlic Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)
  • Cayenne Pepper (Optional)
  • Paprika
  • 1 1/2 cups Heavy Cream
  • 2 lbs of Russet Potatoes
  • 1 Cup of Shredded Parmesan

Baking Tools

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F
  2. Bring a pot of water to boil with a pinch of salt
  3. Peel & rinse potatoes
  4. Add potatoes into water & boil for ~10 minutes (Or until you can stick a fork into a potato with minimal effort)
  5. Strain the potatoes from the water using a colander & let sit for 5 minutes to cool before handling
  6. Cut potatoes into thin, circular slices & set aside
  7. Melt Butter at Low to Medium heat then add garlic, bay leaves, & 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  8. Slowly add heavy cream followed by garlic salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, & nutmeg to taste, keep warm on low & stir occasionally
  9. Ladle 2 scoops of your white sauce to the bottom of the pan
  10. Place potatoes on top of the sauce in an overlapping, circular formation
  11. Season layer with garlic salt & pepper
  12. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese over the potatoes
  13. Add another layer of potatoes, ladle 2 scoops of sauce, season with garlic salt & black pepper, sprinkle with 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan (repeat)
  14. Use all remaining parmesan on the top layer & sprinkle with paprika for color
  15. Bake covered with foil for 45 min at 400° F
  16. Remove foil & bake for an additional 10 min to brown
  17. (Optional) Garnish with remaining sprigs of fresh thyme before serving

So that’s it! It’s a lot of prep work, & it’s definitely time consuming. But if you take the time to make a batch of your own, be sure to let me know in a comment below. I promise they’ll be worth all the time & effort! As I mentioned, this is my staple Holiday recipe that has never failed me over the years, so I hope you enjoy my Garlic & Fresh Thyme Scalloped Potatoes with your loved ones this Holiday Season!

XO Denise

cloud gate chicago

3 Day Chicago Itinerary

I spent 5 days in Chicago, Illinois last week, & I’m already looking forward to going back! Since it’s a 4+ hour flight from San Francisco, California to Chicago, Illinois, I did my best to pack as much as possible into 3 days, & I definitely succeeded! I managed to do everything that I wanted to do & more. That said, here’s my 3 Day Chicago itinerary!

Day 1: Millenium Park, Brunch at Cindy’s Rooftop, & Lincoln Park

Despite the 2-hour time difference, I was up bright & early for my first day of exploring. I stayed at Claridge House, which was only a 2-minute walk from the Clark & Division Red Line stop. Before arriving in Chicago, I met a very kind lady at the San Francisco airport, who recommended using the “L” train, and reassured me that it was very efficient and so much cheaper than San Francisco’s BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train. I ended up buying a 7-Day CTA pass for unlimited rides, & I’m so glad I did!

Cloud Gate “The Bean”

Like any Chicago tourist, our first stop was Millenium Park to see Cloud Gate “The Bean”. We got there early in the morning to ensure there were fewer people around to get the best pictures. We then spent the next hour wandering around the park to see the Millenium Monument, Lurie Garden, Crown Fountain, & Jay Pritzker Pavillion.

After exploring Millenium Park, we went to Cindy’s Rooftop for brunch! Cindy’s has not only a delicious menu but also amazing rooftop views overlooking the park. As I’ve mentioned, brunch is my favorite meal of the day. I also love having brunch as a way to save money while I’m traveling, so that I only have to pay for 2 meals for the day rather than 3.

After brunch, we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest. Then, we walked over to Lincoln Park. Claridge House is only a 14-minute walk from Lincoln Park, & it’s such a cute neighborhood. Most of the houses I walked past were fully decorated for Halloween. At Lincoln Park, I saw animals at the FREE Lincoln Park Zoo, flowers at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Lincoln Monument, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, & so much more.

That evening, we had dinner with my sister’s co-worker at GEMINI. I had water & the San Pancho cocktail to drink. Then, my sister & I shared a Baby Wedge Salad, Steak Frites, & a Pineapple Upside Down Cake for dessert. We were so hungry after exploring all day that this was the only meal I didn’t manage to photograph. lol

Day 2: Shopping, Brunch at Little Goat Diner, Skydeck Chicago, Three Dots & a Dash, & Blackhawks Hockey Game

On day 2, I took the train to do some shopping. I’m a huge Kristin Cavallari fan, so I had to stop by her Chicago Uncommon James location. I bought a Cross Ring & Strawberry Fields Earrings.

After shopping, we had brunch at Little Goat Diner. I had coffee & a Kimchi Spiced Boody Mary. Then, my sister & I shared the Smoked Corned Beef Hash with Eggs, a single Apple Cinnamon Pancake, & a fruit cup. The food was delicious, & our waitress was an awesome Chicago native who gave us the inside scoop on what else to do/see/eat during our trip.

After brunch, we hopped back onto the L to Skydeck Chicago. The interactive experience brought you through several rooms with information about famous Chicago landmarks & history. Then, we headed up to the 103rd floor to take pictures in the beautiful glass Skydeck above the city. Afterward, we hopped back onto the L back to our hotel to rest a bit.

Painkiller

Next, we went to the cutest speakeasy tiki bar, Three Dots & a Dash. First off, let me say that my two favorite types of bars are tiki & speakeasy. (The only other bar I’ve been to that was also both was False Idol in San Diego, which I highly recommend too.) I had delicious crab rangoons & two cocktails, Painkiller & Aloha Felicia #4.

Isle of Mango & Aloha Felicia #4

After the quick Happy Hour, I headed to the United Center for a Blackhawks hockey game! I’m not a big hockey fan, but I’m a HUGE live sports fan. I honestly wanted to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field & possibly get a tour of the stadium. Regardless, it was still so much fun to cheer on the Blackhawks. Plus, tickets were also only $27! After the game, we took the L back to our hotel & called it a night.

Day 3: Chicago Architecture River Tour, Chicago Riverwalk, the Magnificent Mile, Portillo’s, Jojo’s Shake Bar, & Bulls Basketball Game

On day 3, we did a Chicago Architecture River Tour, & this was actually my favorite activity. When I travel I love learning about the local architecture in addition to the history, so this tour was the perfect combination of both. (My Dad is a Civil Engineer, so I’ve always had an innate love of architecture, which is also why I love Europe. So much architecture & history!)

After the tour, I walked along the Chicago Riverwalk & the Magnificent Mile. We then headed to Portillo’s for lunch. I had a classic Chicago Style Hot Dog. (No ketchup!) Then, my sister & I shared fries & onion rings.

After lunch, I went back to the hotel to rest. Then, for Happy Hour, I went to Jojo’s Shake Bar! I had a Witch’s Brew cocktail, a loaded grilled cheese, & shared a Pumpkin Patch Shake for dessert!

Pumpkin Patch Shake

After Happy Hour, I went to opening night for the Chicago Bulls at the United Center! I even got a free T-Shirt! I’m a huge basketball fan by the way. My team is and will always be the Golden State Warriors, but who doesn’t love the Bulls right?! I love Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, & I was obsessed with watching The Last Dance docuseries.

After the game, we hopped back onto the L to our hotel to start packing up for our last half day in Chicago. It was a lot packed into 3 days, & even though I still wasn’t able to check out Navy Pier or see the Cubs, I look forward to coming back to Chicago again! I hope my itinerary helps you plan out your own. Safe travels!

XO Denise

blue road bike

How To Be FEARLESS

From my blog archives with a few new edits, Fearless was originally posted on September 21, 2016.

Is it weird to say that I admire my childhood self? When I was younger, I did whatever I wanted without fear or hesitation. There was no letting my emotions cloud my judgement. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. No anxiety about getting lost when exploring new places. I wasn’t overly conscious of how I carried myself when meeting new people and making friends. If you need help with living without fear of getting hurt, physically or emotionally, let’s talk about how to be fearless.

DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY

Channel your inner child, & do what makes you happy. My favorite fearless, childhood memory that I still reflect on quite often was the day I learned how to confidently ride a bike. I was ecstatic to be riding steadily, so I decided to explore my neighborhood. hills with my hair flowing and slowly becoming a tangled mess beneath my helmet.Little did I know, I’d return home about an hour later with a broken bicycle, sprained fingers, & a hideously bloody right leg.

The euphoric memory turned into disaster, as I was going too fast around a corner. My depth perception of how close I was actually riding next to a building was WAY OFF. With my left hand wrapped around the handle bar, I smashed it into the corner of a building, crushing my fingers. My handle bars spun counter-clockwise, & I was tossed from my bike through the air. I had a brief out of body experience, watching myself being thrown through the air. Immediately, I realized how blissfully stupid & careless I had been. I landed on my knees, slid a few feet, & didn’t stop until my right leg was trapped beneath a chain linked fence.

Despite the obviously dreadful state I was in, I didn’t shed a single tear. I still remember pulling the fence off my thigh and sliding my leg out from beneath. Slowly, I composed myself, limped back to my bike, & made my way back home literally laughing out loud at how much of an idiot I was. I still have a faint scar on my right thigh from the chain link fence, & whenever I look at my scar, I’m always reminded of my innate fearlessness as a child.

CHANNEL YOUR INNER CHILD

When adulting gets to be more than you can handle, it’s time to channel your inner child. We should all want to embody the fearlessness of childhood again. I want to live fearlessly. And I know it’s possible, because from my childhood memories, I know that I was once fearless. I don’t want to feel anxious anymore or be afraid to express myself. I want to be completely & unapologetically ME. Now, when I find myself paralyzed by fear, I do my best to remind myself that the fear only exists in my head. I’ve done so many scary things already, & I managed to make it through everything unscathed.

HOW TO BE FEARLESS?

Refuse to let fear stand in the way of your happiness. Everything I want in life is on the other side of fear. The most worthwhile things in life are beyond my reach, & outside of your comfort zone. If you want to live your life to its fullest & have everything I’ve ever wanted, believe in yourself & do it in spite of your fears & hesitation. You won’t become fearless overnight, but you can start by fearing LESS

XO Denise