September 4, 2013

Guide to Fort Bliss: Best (and Worst) Restaurants, Part 3

"Since this post is so close to the last, can you tell I'm trying hard? Seriously, I promise to finish this restaurant guide before our upcoming move if it's the last thing I do. Hopefully I'll not only finish the restaurant guide, but I will also have time for grocery stores, entertainment... and a few other things."

This is how the post originally started, when I began writing it several months ago. Obviously, none of these things happened on schedule. I didn't even finish one post, much less all of them. Moving has certainly played havoc with my timeline. But, today is a new day! Let's get this show on the road, people.

Oh wait... I'm already on the road. Hubs and I are in the middle of our cross-country jaunt as we count down the days for our flight to Germany. I'll try to actually finish this time, but I'm not making any more promises.

If worst comes to worst, I'm going to tap one of you as a guest blogger for the rest of this guide! Volunteers? Anyone?

Well, you can get back to me on that.

So today, I'm going to talk about the best and worst of our local bakeries and breakfast eateries. Those two feel like they should go together. If you missed out on Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, check them out!

As usual, keep my disclaimer in mind: Depending on when you view this guide, times may have changed. Some of these restaurants may have closed, and newer ones may be open. Your favorite place could very well be on the "bad" list, and I'm sorry for that. Truly. If possible, I will update when I can, but the Hubs and I won't be living here then, so I wouldn't be able to speak from personal experience. Please comment below if you've had different experiences, or if you know other restaurants you want included. I welcome your input, always.

Best and Worst Restaurants (Fort Bliss and Surrounding areas), Part 3: 


I love me an excellent bakery! Though we had a hard time finding bakeries when we first moved here, I did eventually find a few that I like. These are established businesses, with a storefront. However, I also suggest you look for at-home bakeries. These are often extremely talented people (many of them fellow spouses!), who simply cannot afford a storefront. Their pricing may be better, even. Because these people will constantly change, I won't be including them here. Search community Facebook pages, however, and you are sure to find them!

1. Bake Me Happy - This is, by far, my favorite bakery to date in El Paso. Go forth and eat cupcakes, peeps! Not only is the shop tastefully decorated, the cupcakes themselves are divine. Specialty flavors abound, I've never been disappointed. My only note is this - If you arrive promptly at opening time, not all cupcakes may be available yet. If you're looking for something specific, I suggest calling in advance to ensure your cupcakes will be ready. The owner here is fantastic, extremely friendly, and willing to work with you to suit your needs. Visit at least once and see what you think.

2. Marina's German Bakery - The bread, the bread, the bread! Also, did I mention the bread? While this bakery sells pastry, sandwiches, and other assorted items, the bread is (in my opinion) what they are known for. Many friends have mentioned this to me over the years, and they are right. In fact, some of Marina's products are used to stock the commissary on post. Urbanspoon gives them a huge 92% positive rating as well... this many people can't be wrong!

Photo from Marina's website

3. Belle Sucre Bakery - I haven't tested this particular bakery, but I wish I had. Their online ratings are high and I've had several recommendations that I go and try them. The 'menu' promises delicate French pastries, breads, cookies, and candies. If you've been, I'd love to hear about your personal experience. Pictures would also be excellent, if you've a mind to snap a few. As most of El Paso bakeries are either American or Mexican in style, I think Belle Sucre offers a nice change of pace.

4. Valentine's Bakery & Kitchen - Unfortunately, I've been unable to find a web address for this particular bakery. I have extremely mixed reviews, but I'm including them on the "good" list because Valentine's is a local El Paso favorite. Personally, I didn't much care for the cakes I've tasted here. However, they serve more than sweets. Also on the menu are local favorites, such as burritos, tamales, and menudo. If you enter expecting typical American flavors, you are doomed to disappointment. If you keep an open mind, though, you might find yourself surprised. My tip is this: don't drop by during mealtimes and expect to be served quickly. Instead, try to go a little before or after lunchtime.

Now for the bad news... the following places just didn't make my cut. 

1. International Bakery and Deli - This is another bakery where there is no website reference, sorry folks. I've been to this bakery once or twice, but after a while they shut down and moved to a new location. While online reviews are mixed, I think this bakery has good points and bad points. Their cakes and sweets are average, their sandwiches somewhat better. The local reviews took a small nosedive when the new location opened. If you happen to visit the new spot, let us know how your experience is.

2. Dirty Mouth Cupcakes -  I'm sure a lot of you will disagree with me, but I don't care for the cupcakes at Dirty Mouth (don't judge me!). Local reviews are mostly positive, but I find myself agreeing with those who think the cupcakes have dropped in quality over the last bit of time. I find them overly sweet and artificial for my tastes, especially for the price. However, I do appreciate that they offer a military discount. Also, they bake 'Pupcakes' for your dog if you want to buy 1/2 dozen with one shot. Try this place for yourself and see which side of the line you fall on.


Many of the bakeries above would qualify for breakfast, especially if you're talking pastries. But there are a few places I'd like to add who serve more traditional fare. Breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the day. Sometimes I even eat it for dinner! The Hubs, on the other hand, could take it or leave it. When eating out, we try to compromise on brunch so we each get a taste of what we love most.

1. Ripe Eatery - This is my favorite place for brunch, you MUST try it at least once. Seriously. Although they are open every day of the week, brunch is only served on Saturday and Sundays. The staff is friendly, the food is fantastic, and the online reviews reflect this. You'll be seeing Ripe Eatery again when I talk about local American restaurants and gastropubs. If you're having breakfast, don't forget to try the fresh biscuits. They come to the table with house-made strawberry preserves, yum!

Goat cheese, caramelized onion, and ham quiche
2. Crave Kitchen and Bar - This is another restaurant you'll be seeing on my list again, for their lunch and dinner items. However, their breakfast takes the cake! Unlike other places, Crave serves breakfast every day of the week. I've eaten at the Eastside location more times than I can count, and will personally testify for their blueberry pancakes and Croque Madam. We've moved before I could try all the breakfast items I wished, and I'm dying to know what their Nutella waffle is like. If you visit, please snap a pic and tell us your story.

My mom and sister join me for a meal at Crave
during one of their visits

3. Lucy's Coffee Shop - A tiny, local cafe, Lucy's is a popular spot for both breakfast and lunch. Though I haven't eaten here myself, I know several people who visit often. It's their favorite spot! Urbanspoon and other reviewers rate Lucy's positive as well, so I'll be stopping in here on my next pass through El Paso. Closed on Sundays, the cafe is open the rest of the week, serving great breakfasts in the morning and popular Mexican dishes at lunch. Email me or post your pictures of Lucy's on my Facebook page and show everyone what all the fuss is about.

4. The Lunch Box - Open for breakfast 7 days a week, the Lunch Box is always ready to serve you breakfast. Their menu offers many Mexican specialties (both for breakfast and lunch), is competitively priced (a.k.a. inexpensive), portions are large, and reviews are great. Why wouldn't you try them at least once?? If I'd known about them sooner, I have a feeling I would have gone back more than once. Here's a quick view of their breakfast menu (click on image to enlarge):

5. Ardovino's - Another hot spot which serves weekend brunch. I missed an opportunity to eat here, and I wish we'd taken the time one weekend to enjoy it. An Italian restaurant for lunch and dinner, I hear the weekend brunch is delicious. To top it off, a farmer's market runs here every Saturday during the season. I would completely enjoy a relaxing breakfast followed by some browsing, and likely purchase, of fresh fruits and veggies at the market.

As for the not-so-great places to eat, the news is good for local places. Most of the negatives are chain locations. I won't even bother to review most of them, just know that they are not up to snuff. When it comes to breakfast, eat local and be happy!

1. IHOP - I shouldn't have to say anything else... I mean, it's IHOP. You get what you expect, which is mediocre food and long lines to be seated.

2. Village Inn - Though well-known for their pies, the rest of the menu leaves a lot to be desired.

3. Denny's - Here, I'd like to be a bit more specific. I know that many of you reading are affiliated with the military in some shape or form. Because there is a Denny's on post at Freedom Crossing, I know there will be those of you which eat here. In my experience (and those of several good friends), this is not a good bet. Service is poor, and the food is questionable. Do yourself a favor and try one of the other places I've listed here. I doubt you'll go back to Denny's.

So, that's all for now folks! Get out this week and try something new. Have a quiet breakfast with your spouse or your kids, or heck, have a quiet meal to yourself. I hope you enjoy some of these great local spots while you can.

Happy eating, my friends.

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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Nutella Wontons

I have something to admit. Lately, I've developed a near-fetish obsession with Nutella. If you've eaten Nutella and haven't experienced this phenomenon, then you should stop reading now.

For the rest of my fellow addicts, I have a quick recipe to share that will satisfy even the worst craving:

Nutella Wontons!

Oh yum.... yum yum yum yum yum.... mmmmmm..... gooooooooooooooooood.....

I love quick recipes that are simple and delicious. This is especially easy, as it contains only a few ingredients and no special equipment.

First, you need some of these:

Wonton wrappers

These babies are useful for all sorts of recipes. If you've never purchased them before, they can usually be found in the produce section (near where the bagged lettuces and such are). I always have a few of these left over after making ravioli, which is a great excuse to make Nutella Wontons.

You also need the yummy, chocolatey goodness that is Nutella:

Let's be honest. I could eat this straight from the jar and be happy. I only dress it up in wontons to appear more normal. It's also good in brownies, and truffles, and crepes, oh my!

Where was I? Oh yes. Delicious goodness.

Step one:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pull out a cookie sheet. Either line it with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray. I prefer the spray because it helps crisp the wontons.

Step two: Line up your wonton wrappers and dab about a tablespoon of Nutella in each one, like so:

Step three: Lick your spoon clean and savor the moment. This is essential. 

Step four: Wet your finger and run around the edges of the wonton. Fold to seal. For this particular recipe, I also use a fork to create a pretty edge and really close in the filling. As the Nutella heats up, it will become runny and more likely to leak if the wonton isn't properly sealed. Place these on the prepared cookie sheet.

Step 5: Either brush the wontons with olive oil, melted butter, or an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 2 tablespoons of water). You can also use cooking spray.

Step 6: Bake just until the wontons brown, about 10 - 12 minutes, perhaps a little longer depending on your oven. If you want to be extra naughty, you could fry these instead. I'm doing my best to be a good girl, but I'm sure I'll slip up once in a while.

Step 7: Allow to cool for 5 minutes (This cooling time allows the Nutella to solidify a bit and not burn a hole in your tongue when you snarf these down). Dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve with ice cream if desired. I always desire ice cream.

And that's it! Simple, delicious, and sure to impress guests. The play of textures really makes this dish: crunchy on the outside, smooth filling on the inside.

Here's my super secret tip for you: Make extra! Don't come blaming me when you've eaten the whole sheet, ok? These go fast and in a hurry, especially if you've got a greedy husband (a.k.a. The Chocolate Fiend) like me.

Happy cooking, my friends! I'll be back soon with more recipes for my favorite peeps.

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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September 3, 2013

Welcome Home: The Final "Care Package"

Nothing is better than the moment you finally get to hold your soldier again, after many months of separation and deployment craziness. You've anticipated the day for what seems like forever, and you want everything to be absolutely perfect, yes?

Let me let you in on a secret... there is no possible way to have a fairytale homecoming.

I know, I know, this is not what you wanted to hear. But it's the honest-to-God truth. You can prepare. You can anticipate. You can enlist help. And still, things will not go exactly as you planned.

The best you can do is focus on the only thing that matters: Your soldier is HOME. Absolutely nothing else matters. Not what you wear, not what photographer you choose, not the welcome home festivities. I'm not saying those aren't great things to strive for. Plus, it's fun to plan! But don't pin all your hopes on that list of things you "think" you need for a great homecoming. I can promise you this, all those trappings will fade into the background the second you see your soldier step off the plane.


We all know we're going to do those things anyway. It doesn't matter how many people tell you not to stress it, you're going to.

I did. And you probably will too. It's ok, you're among friends here.

With that in mind, I think one of the coolest things to prepare in advance is a final "care package" for your returning soldier. This isn't an ordinary care package, because you won't be putting it in the mail. Instead, this present will be waiting for your spouse (or girlfriend, or boyfriend, or whoever) when they walk through the doors of home for the first time in a long time.

What's in this care package? Well, I'm going to give you some ideas, of course!

Welcome home "care package" for the Hubs

The best part about this package is it's easy to personalize for your soldier. I'll give you some standard ideas, but really let your imagination run wild. The basic principle goes like so: Fill this basket (or bucket, or whatever vessel you choose) with everything your soldier either couldn't have during deployment, or with special treats you know he will appreciate.

Here's what I did:

 (Fair Warning: I'll start with all the good girl stuff, but don't be surprised if this gets a little naughty later!)

1.  Fresh Food - one of the biggest things the Hubs missed during deployment was fresh fruit and vegetables.

While the troops do get some fruit, there isn't a whole lot of variety and the freshness is debatable. Also, depending on location, fruit deliveries may be few and far between. Many of the men (or women) develop stomach issues while overseas because of the erratic diet and the consumption of MREs. Combat this on their return with natural, yummy goodness.

2. Chocolate - this one is good for sweet fanatics especially. After a certain time of year, chocolate can melt in a care package and is therefore not recommended for shipping. Add a supply of your significant other's favorite treats to this welcome home goodie basket.

3. "In the Fridge" (or freezer) - These would include items that require refrigeration or freezer time. Obviously, you don't want to place these directly in the gift basket, peeps! Instead, create a fun note or card you can place within the basket that directs your hubs (or wifey) to the fridge:

These were some of the items I had chilling for the Hubs. His favorite ice cream, and his favorite dinner  (it's always a good idea to make a few freezer meals in advance of homecoming so you don't need to worry overmuch about cooking those first few days. You can find the Hubs' favorite dinner here, Zuppa Toscana). My soldier also has a particular weakness for freezer pops. I have to call them freezer pops because the Hubs makes fun when I call them Chilly Willies! Am I the only one who does that??

For these, I tied a few unfrozen ones with ribbon and a note (all red, white, and blue, of course!), and the rest were already frozen and waiting for him.

4. Bacon (and other pork products) - This was also on my "in the fridge" list. For many soldiers, pork products are prohibited in care packages because of the laws in their deployed location. This can be something your spouse will especially miss! For the Hubs, I had two packages of bacon in the fridge, and a summer sausage in his basket.

5. Alcohol - Definitely a restricted item overseas and in care packages. This can be on your fridge list, or be in the basket. It can be beer, wine, or hard liquor. If you want to be really creative, you can create a mini liquor bottle bouquet.

Try this link for an easy, DIY tutorial for your own bouquet: DIY Booze Bouquet. (There isn't a picture of mine because I ran out of time and it was a massive failure. Don't be like me!)

6. New Clothes - It's tempting to go overboard with this one, especially if you're a shopper. Your soldier hasn't had the opportunity to wear civilian clothes in a very long time.

There is a BUT in here though... Keep in mind that your spouse has likely either lost or gained weight (probably lost). Also, many of the men use deployment as an opportunity to lift weights and bulk up, so clothes may not fit the same as you remember. If you want to purchase clothing, go for a new shirt or maybe even underwear/socks.

7. Personal Perks - These would be items individual to your spouse. For example, my Hubs LOVES movies, so I included one in his basket.

Although I could easily mail movies in other care packages, he really appreciated the thought. Plus, a movie in the basket is also a great way to spend an evening at home relaxing. Pick items that your spouse would appreciate and suit your relationship.

8. From the Kids - Get your children involved with the homecoming by letting them create artwork or poems or cards for Dad/Mom. Perhaps let them decorate your basket. A special note or a homemade treat from the children can go a long way.

9. Sleepy Time - This category can consist of such varied things. For me, I know the Hubs slept less and not as well as at home during his deployment. Good sleep can come few and far between. Some ideas for this category are blackout curtains for your bedroom, sleep masks, or even misting sprays like these:

10. Sexy Time - There will be no pictures here, hahaha. You'll just have to use your imagination! I'll add that lingerie, magazines, etc. make great basket gifts for this. Another fun idea would be professional boudoir photographs, perhaps a framed one for the basket. Stay within your comfort zone, and that of your spouse, and have fun!

So peeps, what are your ideas for a welcome home basket? You know I'd love to hear from you! I hope you have a great time creating your own goodie basket, but don't forget the most important thing:

Your soldier is home!!!

Happy homecoming, my friends. Enjoy every second of it.

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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