Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

Crafting Fun: Marbleized Easter Eggs

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

One of our favorite Easter activities is decorating Easter eggs. Every year we try to do something new with our eggs. The first year I ditched the boxes of Easter egg dyes and created our own out of pantry ingredients. Last year we had a blast trying Kool-Aid egg dying which really made beautiful and vibrant eggs without any effort.

This year I ran across a fun idea for creating marbleized eggs from common items in the pantry. If you have food coloring, vinegar, and olive oil…you have the makings for beautifully marbled eggs. Pictured above are the eggs that my children created this year. This was a lot of fun because each egg could be so different and unique!

1. Hard boil your eggs as desired. In shallow bowls, mix together three cups of warm water with two tablespoons of vinegar and ten drops of food coloring. I used the Betty Crocker Neon Food Coloring that I found in the baking aisle. Whisk the ingredients together well.

2. Submerge your eggs and leave them in there until they reach the desired color. One thing we learned is that it is better to have a lighter color as the base color so the second layer of color will take well on your eggs.

3. Dry your eggs with a paper towel.

4. Repeat the process with the rest of the eggs. Rest them gently on your inverted egg carton to allow them to dry.

5. To the dye that you have already prepared, add one tablespoon of olive oil and then, using a fork, run your fork through the oil to break the oil into pieces to create the solution to roll your eggs. As the oil swirls, roll your egg once through a contrasting color. Allow the oil to pick up & create another round of color on your eggs. Blot gently with paper towels. (Editor’s Note: Many apologies for the lack of pictures after this point. We just really got into it and it was getting a little crazy with eggs dropping rolling)

6. Admire your beautiful eggs!

Don’t forget to turn those eggs into delicious deviled eggs for a fun addition to your family dinner!

What is your favorite Easter tradition?  Are you trying anything new and exciting with egg dying this year? Would love to hear what Easter crafts you are working on!

Great Gifts When You are Eight and a Boy

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

I find buying boy gifts to be quite a bit more challenging than girl gifts. As my children get older, the other challenge becomes finding a gift that they don’t already have and something that isn’t electronic-related.  This year I really tried to find games that would challenge Ethan to use his imagination. These are some of our favorite gifts to get our favorite eight year-old little man.

ZOOB 250-Piece Set

My son is a big fan of Legos and last year we bought a lot of Lego sets for him. The challenge with Lego sets has always been keeping all of the pieces together. This year we decided to try something a little different and got him a set of these ZOOB pieces that he could build with and both of the kids have been in heaven with these. The pieces fit together easily and you can create moving pieces that are three dimensional. The set came with a huge booklet of designs that you could create and 250 pieces was just the right amount of pieces to create just about anything. They are larger pieces than the Lego blocks so they are easy to clean up and find in the carpet.  Once our son got the hang of these, we were encouraging him to develop his own designs for creations, which further challenged his imagination. He plays with these almost every single day and they have been a great set to build with.

ZOOBMobile Car Designer

Ethan’s grandparent’s helped us add to Ethan’s ZOOB collection and purchased the car designer kit for him.  This added another fun layer to the building pieces and he could design his own cars to be built as well. There are 76 pieces in this kit and twelve car designs that could be created and Ethan loved these as much as the building pieces themselves. I would definitely recommend this as a great way to keep little boys busy on a rainy day!

The Boys’ Doodle Book

We are huge fans of doodle books and over the years I have bought five or six of these books for birthdays and Christmas in our house.  If you have not seen these doodle books before, you love the imagination that is involved in designing these books and how they foster imagination in your child.

Instead of having you simply color, each page tells you something that it would like you to draw. One page will tell him that the alligator is angry and have him fill in his face. Other pictures are exactly alike, but may request colors and patterns to make each of the pictures different. This book is specifically boy-driven and is filled with pictures of dinosaurs, cowboys, knights, pirates, robots, and more things that would be adored by a little boy in your life.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series

I am so lucky because my son is a ferocious reader and I have no trouble getting him to read books at all. He will read anything from Pokemon comic books to the newspaper to The Hardy Boys. His favorite books over the past couple of years have been the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. Every little eight year-old boy I know has a love for this series and it is a fantastic series to encourage kids that don’t have a lot of ambition to read, into reading again.

If you haven’t seen the books before, the books are perfect for little boys filled with fun illustrations that help tell the story.  I find these books in his bed almost every night and he reads them over and over again. This book set that is featured above contains the first four books, but for Christmas this year, Ethan got the fifth book in the series, “The Ugly Truth.”

If your child likes Diary of a Wimpy Kid, we have found that the Bad Kitty, Big Nate, and Captain Underpants (although it has gross boy humor and I am not as big of a fan of those) are other great books to tackle for this age group!

Rush Hour Traffic Jam Game

We love board games in our family and have quite a collection of games since we try to buy one every year for the kids. Rush Hour is a very unique game because it is played alone and is intended for kids that are ages eight to adult.  The board game has squares that the cars can fit into. It comes with a set of cards and each card displays how the traffic jam is supposed to look and how to arrange the colored cars on the board. The object of the game is get the red car out through a small opening on the board, but the cars can only be moved up and down or side to side, depending on where the cars are located. There are forty different cards ranging from easy to advanced and the solutions for play are on the back of each of the cards.

This is a fun game to set up in the morning that can be worked on while my son is eating his cereal before school. He absolutely loves this game and I love that this is one that he can play on his own!

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Wii Game

Of course, I did want to include one electronic game that our son really loved! Ethan and I have been working our way through the Harry Potter book series (we are currently on the third book in the series) and we are loving it. Ethan’s aunt gave him this Harry Potter Wii game that he has absolutely loved, that brings to life the stories in books 1-4 through LEGO characters.  The best part about the LEGO games though is the lack of violence and the hilarious scenes that are written using the LEGO characters. He has had to fight for control of the Wii to play this one because it is just as much of a hit with his sister as it is for him.  I would definitely recommend this cute game for any of the Harry Potter fans in your life (including the grown-up ones)!

Search & Win

For Christmas and birthday gifts I do try to horde my Swagbucks rewards and use my points to buy Amazon gift cards. To begin earning rewards, all you need to do is use Swagbucks.com as your search engine tool instead of your usual route with Google. It pulls the same results, but when you are surfing, you can earn points just by making it your search engine tool. These points are then deposited into your account and can be redeemed for your rewards.

I put my points towards Amazon gift cards which has been a fantastic way to enjoy a little shopping without dipping into my bank account. Not only has it covered birthday gifts, but I also have ordered countless books for my Kindle and other fun little extras in my life.

I rarely use affiliate programs, but can’t recommend Swagbucks enough. If you start now, it is quite possible that you could have a free (or discounted)  Christmas in your future! Every little bit helps in this tough economy and the best part is that it is free tool to assist with your shopping needs.

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the products quickly and easily. Feel free to order what you need, but we encourage wise spending & buying things you & your family will truly love and appreciate.  We promise though to only refer you to products that we are really loving and using. We also bought each of these fair and square- no one asked me to promote them or gave me anything. Don’t you like people who disclose far too much information? That is me! Enjoy!

Do you have any boy gifts that were a hit this Christmas? Please feel free to share your son’s favorite gifts!

Be Mine Donuts: Fluffy Baked Cake Donuts With a Simple Glaze

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Starting this month, I will be joining the Walmart Moms and sharing a fun DIY project that you can do that is both wallet-friendly and can be done with common items that you can pick up at your Walmart store.  Being a  DIY girl at my frugal heart, I am really excited about sharing easy craft and food projects that you can do on a limited budget that can make your life feel a little more special!

This month’s challenge was to create a DIY Valentine’s gift for someone you love. With two kids, our Valentine’s Day has admittedly become a little less about the romance and more about fun traditions that we can do as a family. We usually enjoy a heart shaped pizza with heart shaped pepperoni for a fun dinner, but this month I wanted to incorporate a fun breakfast tradition that could really show everyone just how much I love them.

What says, “I love you!” more than fresh homemade donuts in the morning?

The answer? Nothing.

These cake donuts will take about the same amount of time to make as they would be to bundle everyone up and run over to your local donut shop and can be made easily from pantry ingredients that you already have in your kitchen.  I found all of the supplies I needed over at our Walmart store and hit the kitchen for a fun treat that can be made in about twenty minutes!

The first step is to whisk together your dry ingredients. In one bowl mix together your flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, & salt.  Use your whisk to incorporate all of the ingredients together and break up any clumps in your dry ingredients. Set these aside.

In another bowl you can whisk together the wet ingredients for your donuts. In this bowl you can mix the milk, eggs, butter, and vanilla that will go into your batter.  Then you can pour your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir these together for your batter.

Spoon your batter into well-greased donut pans. I have found that an ice cream scoop can be the be the perfect way to scoop in the batter without a lot of spills or drips. You want to fill them about 3/4’s full which worked out to be nine donuts worth (Side Note- the second batch I made created an even dozen and they did cook more evenly. Definitely try and make them into 12 instead of nine).  Slide them into your oven at 325 degrees  and bake them for ten minutes or so. Keep half an eye on these as they do bake quickly!

While the donuts are baking, you can mix up a little glaze to dunk your donuts into and act as the sprinkle holder for your donuts. This glaze is confectioners’ sugar, hot water, and a little flavoring. You can do vanilla extract, butter extract, or almond extract…whichever flavor suits your fancy!

Pull the donuts out of the oven and allow them to cool a bit before decorating. See the light color on these? That is good! Don’t overcook them or you will have really dry donuts. These are a baked donut so they will not have that deep fried color that we are used to from the donut shops. They are also happen to be a little more figure-friendly and who doesn’t love that?

Now comes the fun part… the decorating! I found these cute pink sugar crystals in the Walmart baking supplies aisle and the store brand was a fraction of the fancier cake brand supplies. I also pick up seasonal sprinkles that have been moved to the clearance section and use those for decorating our donuts. Fourth of July sprinkles and Christmas sprinkles that are lurking in your baking supplies are also a fun addition to your Valentine’s Day decorating needs.

Dip the tops of your donuts in the prepared glaze and immediately shake on the sprinkles before it hardens. I rest a baking sheet under a cooling rack and decorate like this so that all the sprinkles and drips are contained into one spot. Allow the glaze to harden and then serve to someone you love.

What do these donuts taste like?

Um, heaven.

The cake is very fluffy and has a hint of cinnamon in it.  While I usually get a belly ache from donuts, these have the perfect balance of sweetness in them. The glaze and sprinkles add texture and sweetness to the donut that will have your kids begging for more. It really is a perfect donut that is light tasting, but feels very decadent!

Pair this with a little, “I Love You!” note on their napkins and I guarantee that you will score big points with them and your husband. This is the gift I plan to give my kids this Valentine’s Day and I hope you can share this with your own family!

Fluffy Cake Donuts with a Simple Glaze (Adapted from AllRecipes.com)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons melted butter

For the glaze:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla, butter, or almond extract
Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a doughnut pan. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder,  cinnamon and salt. Stir in milk, eggs, your favorite extract,  and melted butter. Beat together until well blended.  Fill each doughnut cup approximately 3/4 full. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until doughnuts spring back when touched. Allow to cool slightly before removing from pan.
To make glaze, blend confectioners’ sugar, hot water and extract in a small bowl. Dip doughnuts in the glaze and then dip them in sprinkles.  Serve with big glasses of milk and lots of hugs & kisses.

Looking for more fun ways to enjoy baked donuts at home? Check out our recipes for Baked Pumpkin Donuts with Maple Syrup Frosting and these delicious Baked Glazed Gingerbread Donuts for two more variations that your family will flip for!

Do you have any fun Valentine’s Day food traditions in your house? How do you make this holiday special for your children? I would love to hear your ideas!

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

Great Gifts When You Are Five & a Girl

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

It has been so much fun sharing with you all of our ideas for celebrating our daughter this year!  If you haven’t been here for that, I encourage you to take a peek at our DIY Barbie Doll Cake, our step-by-step tutorial for tissue paper pom poms, & and our tips & recipes for an inexpensive winter party.

I am not big on promoting buying things, but I do think it is fun to see what other people are giving their children for their birthdays so I can get inspired with great gift ideas for my child. We do not spend a lot on Christmas or on birthdays. For Christmas we do the four gifts for each child (Want, Need, Wear, & Read-inspired giving) and then for birthdays I typically give the kids two or three gifts that I think they will really love. We are blessed with a big family of generous givers so my children never feel our more simple gifts are not enough for them.

I wanted to share with you Emily’s favorite gifts that she received for her birthday & Christmas this year!  I try to wait awhile before I share what our favorites are so you can know that they are really hits if they have been loved long past the excitement of their birthday and holiday festivities.

Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

It is is no secret that I am an avid reader so it should come as no surprise that my children love to read too! We are longtime fans of Mo Willems and the Knuffle Bunny series is my daughter’s favorite book series by him. The book series is about a little girl who loves her bunny and Emily is a bunny-loving fool who carries her own bunny everywhere she goes. I am sure you can see the appeal of this book series to her!

Mo Willems brings to life a little girl who has a habit of leaving her Knuffle Bunny everywhere and the books chronicle her adventures to get her Knuffle Bunny back. We loved the character of Trixie when she was a baby and left her bunny at the laundromat, but couldn’t tell her daddy why she was so upset when he was left. We sympathized with Trixie when there was a case of mistaken identity and she brought home the wrong one-of-a-kind Knuffle Bunny after a show & share at school where another girl had brought the same exact bunny…making him sooo not one-of a kind.

In Knuffle Bunny Free, Trixie is older now, but she still loves her bunny. When they take a flight to Holland to visit her grandparents, Trixie accidentally leaves her bunny on the airplane where her daddy just can’t get him back for her. Your heart breaks a little bit inside as Trixie realizes that she really is old enough to go without him. Try to have your tissues handy for this one. I simply can’t get through the last part as I look at my own little girl and how big she is getting, clutching her own bunny tight in her fist. This book is beautifully written, beautifully illustrated, and offers comedic writing that adults will truly love.

Knuffle Bunny Plush Toy

Now that you know that we are Knuffle Bunny groupies, it will make sense why Emily was so thrilled to receive her very own Knuffle Bunny to go along with the books. Some kids are into plush toys (like my daughter) and some kids never really get into them (like my son). If your children are into plush toys, this is a wonderful one to pair with the book series.  This Knuffle Bunny is super soft and squishy with long ears that are perfect for clutching and dragging around the house.  Knuffle Bunny has been hitting the road with Emily every day and I find her snuggled up in bed with him every night.  Although I thought this was a little expensive for a simple plush toy, he has gotten $20 of love out of him already! If you have a Knuffle bunny lover in your house, this makes a wonderful gift!

Ladybug Girl at the Beach by David Soman

Another series that our daughter has been a fan of for a very long time is the Ladybug Girl book series. Lulu reminds me so much of my own spunky Emily with her own fashion sense and spirit for adventure, that this book series seems to echo they way our Emily thinks.  Lulu is the type of girl that your daughters can look to as a role model because she is very brave, she uses her imagination, and she is a friend to others.

We loved Lulu when we were first introduced to her and she finds her alter-ego, “Ladybug Girl,” who can do anything. We loved when Ladybug Girl found a friend on the playground and fought crime together as the Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy duo. Now Lulu is making her very first trip to the beach and she finds that there is so much to love at the beach, but also finds that she is a little fearful too of the water. You can watch Lulu overcome her fear of the water and discover that Ladybug Girl can even brave the ocean- she truly can do anything!

Lana the Ladybug Groovy Girl

We came into collecting Groovy Girl Dolls completely by accident.  I bought a doll for Emily at a gift shop on a trip and she absolutely loved it. She slept with her every night and I loved her yarn hair, rag doll style exterior, and that she was so wholesome.  I wanted to find another one like her for Emily and discovered there are actually many Groovy Girls out there and accessories to go with the dolls.

Since Ladybug Girl is such a superhero in our house, Lana the Ladybug Groovy Girl was absolutely perfect for Emily!  These dolls are so adorable and Emily loves playing with them for hours on end! Ladybug Girl was the perfect addition to our accidental collection!

Midnight Star Groovy Girl Horse

In our house there is lots of talk about sparkle, glitter, horses, and unicorns. Imagine, Emily’s delight when Grandma & Grandpa got her this sparkled and bedazzled Groovy Girl horse to go with her dolls! Yes, this horse has been making quite a few pony rides around our house and offers a lot of entertainment & imaginative play for Emily.

This toy is really well-made and includes lots of little extras that Emily really loves. There are reigns that the dolls hands can go into and stirrups for the doll’s legs. Since it has all of these stirrups and reigns the dolls can actually ride on this horse and have adventures without her having to hold on it. I am not a big fan of toys that make noise (I know, I am such an old, grumpy mom) and we discovered that this horse makes horse sounds when you press a little button on the side. Luckily, it is a very quiet horse that gives just the right volume without being annoying.

Loving Family Fisher Price Dollhouse

Last Christmas we decided to buy Emily a dollhouse and asked that everyone buy her accessories to go into her house for a gift. I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a dollhouse, but I did want something that would last. We decided to get her the Loving Family Fisher Price house because it was relatively affordable for a dollhouse (about $75) and it offered lots of fun accessories to go with it.

We got almost the whole collection last year, but she didn’t have any bedrooms for the dollhouse. She would make the dolls lie down on the floor with tiny rugs and would  sigh deeply at me, pointing to the absence of beds in her house. This year we added a little girl’s bedroom set and the parent’s bedroom set to her collection. All the dolls seem more well-rested and Emily is very happy to have a place for her dolls to sleep now.

This is a bit of an investment piece, but she plays for at least an hour in this house every single day. I love anything that helps her to use her imagination and when her friends come over, they park themselves in front of the dollhouse and play house for hours on end. It really is the perfect gift for a little girl with a big imagination!

Barbie & the Diamond Castle Princess Liana

You can’t have a Barbie party and not get a few Barbies for your birthday. It was a Barbie-filled extravaganza at our house filled with tons of Barbies and accessories. Everyone brought the coolest Barbies, fanciest clothes, and we even got a Barbie car for them to ride in!  We have been playing with and brushing Barbie hair nonstop since her birthday.

Of all the Barbies that Emily got, this Diamond Castle Barbie is Emily’s most favorite.  You turn a little dial on the back of her and her dress transforms into a different colored dress with a magical sound. She also sings…she sings an awful lot in our house. Emily ran her batteries out after three weeks of nonstop signing and I couldn’t get the song out of my head if I tried.  She is magical though because I still let her keep her even though she sang all the time.

This Barbie is from the Barbie & the Diamond Castle movie which she also got for birthday. We love all the Barbie movies, but I think this one is Emily’s favorite because it is about two friends. If you haven’t seen the Barbie movies, they are truly awesome. I am not a fan of the recent ones, but The Nutcracker, Barbie & the Twelve Dancing Princesses, & Swan Lake are just beautiful. Your daughter would love them and you will love the pretty music!

Barbie Tote

We are new to the Barbie scene. Boy, do we have so much to learn about navigating the Barbie world! My sister found this Barbie tote to put all of our Barbie accessories in and Emily really loves this bag for taking her Barbies everywhere. There is a zipper on the inside for tiny Barbie accessories and clothing. The bag size is generous, unlike some of the other totes on the market. All of her collection fits comfortably in this and the outside is a plastic exterior, making it easy to clean. I love this gift as much as Emily and we hang it on our playroom door so we can play with our Barbie’s or take them with us for fun on the go.

Search & Win

For Christmas and birthday gifts I do try to horde my Swagbucks rewards and use my points to buy Amazon gift cards. To begin earning rewards, all you need to do is use Swagbucks.com as your search engine tool instead of your usual route with Google. It pulls the same results, but when you are surfing, you can earn points just by making it your search engine tool. These points are then deposited into your account and can be redeemed for your rewards.

I put my points towards Amazon gift cards which has been a fantastic way to enjoy a little shopping without dipping into my bank account. Not only has it covered birthday gifts, but I also have ordered countless books for my Kindle and other fun little extras in my life.

I rarely use affiliate programs, but can’t recommend Swagbucks enough. If you start now, it is quite possible that you could have a free (or discounted)  Christmas in your future! Every little bit helps in this tough economy and the best part is that it is free tool to assist with your shopping needs.

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the products quickly and easily. Feel free to order what you need, but we encourage wise spending & buying things you & your family will truly love and appreciate.  We promise though to only refer you to products that we are really loving and using. We also bought each of these fair and square- no one asked me to promote them or gave me anything. Don’t you like people who disclose far too much information? That is me! Enjoy!

Do you have any girl gifts that were a hit this Christmas? Please feel free to share your daughter’s favorite gifts! We will be back next week with great boy gifts to give!

Pretty In Pink Strawberry Cupcakes

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and these Pretty in Pink Cupcakes would be the perfect accompaniment to a romantic dinner or a fun school treat for your children to share.  As I have been doing the last few weeks, I wanted to share with you all of the recipes and ideas we used for my daughter’s birthday party. In case you missed the earlier posts, I have a step-by-step picture tutorial for a beautiful Barbie Cake, directions for making elegant tissue paper pom poms, some easy tips & recipes for a fun winter party, and now today I am showcasing  these Pretty In Pink cupcakes that were made for the adults. Tomorrow I will share with you a few of our favorite gifts and that will conclude the never-ending posting schedule of birthday posts.

These delicious cupcakes are made from the same batter as the Barbie cake that I showcased from her party. I wanted a fun treat for the adults and so I created a batch of these cupcakes with a strawberry cream cheese frosting and a fresh berry garnish topper. The cupcakes were displayed in cupcake stands for easy grabbing throughout the evening.

This cake is very moist and flavorful and the vivid pink hue comes from the addition of the strawberry gelatin dessert. While fresh strawberries are not in season this time of year, one package of berries is plenty for your garnish and to be whipped in the cupcake batter & frosting. Although they are more expensive, it is a worthy investment for such a fun and unexpected treat out of our normal berry season.  The cream cheese frosting adds a hint of sweetness with even more delicious strawberry taste that takes this cupcake to the grown-up level.

I hope you will enjoy these delightful cupcakes as much as we have and consider adding them to your Valentine’s menu this year!

Pretty in Pink Cupcakes (adapted from “Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor“)

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix

1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin

1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries with juice (approximately 1 1/2 cups whole berries)

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup canola oil

4 large eggs

Place your oven rack into the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 2 quart oven-safe batter bowl by greasing heavily with cooking spray. Place the cake mix, gelatin strawberries and their juice,  milk, oil, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for thirty seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat two more minutes. Pour batter carefully into your prepared batter bowl. Bake the cupcakes until they are lightly golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 20-25 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for five minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for fifteen minutes before frosting.   Meanwhile prepare the frosting.  (This recipe makes approximately 22-24 cupcakes)

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

This frosting is VERY thin compared to a traditional frosting. You can thicken it up with a little extra confectioners sugar (1/2 cup at a time) if it is too thin to ice your cupcakes with.  I also put the frosting in the fridge overnight and then puddle it on top of the cupcakes and then let it up set up in the fridge again. If you prefer a frosting that you can decorate with or that is thicker, may I recommend my favorite buttercream frosting?

1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature

3 to 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1/2 cup mashed (and drained of the juice from the mashing) fresh strawberries

Place the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Stop the machine. Add three cups of the confectioners’ sugar and the drained, mashed strawberries. Blend the frosting on low until the sugar is incorporated, 1 minute. Increase the mixer speed to medium and blend the frosting until fluffy, 30 to 45 seconds longer, adding up to a 1/2 cup more sugar if needed to make a spreadable consistency.

Place a heaping tablespoon of frosting on each cupcake and swirl to spread it out with a short metal spatula or a spoon, taking care to cover the tops completely. Place in the refrigerator, uncovered, and chill until the frosting sets, 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cupcakes with sprinkles (if desired) and garnish right before serving with a sliced strawberry (Side Note- Do wait until right before serving as the berries will release their juices and cause your frosting to be runny, as mine were shortly after taking this photo!)

Do you have any special Valentine’s Day food traditions? I would love to hear what your favorite foods are!

Tips & Recipes for Pulling Off a Great Winter Party

Monday, January 10th, 2011

If there is one thing that I feel I do really well, it is pulling off a budget-friendly and wonderful birthday party for my children. The truth about pulling off a great party  though is that it takes a lot of planning and preparation to make a wonderful party come together. Now that I have shown you how to make your own DIY Barbie Cake and elegant tissue paper pom poms to hang over your party table, I wanted to share with you our menu from this party!

We decided to host the party on a Friday evening since that seemed to work with everyone’s schedule the best.  With seventeen people in our immediate family, it makes for a big party even for just a family birthday party.  In the dead of winter, I wanted food that would warm everyone up, would be relatively easy to assemble (since the cake did require a bit of effort this year), and that would also make great leftovers.

Homemade party subs are so inexpensive to make and can be a fun addition to any party. Walmart sells french bread loaves for $1.50 each and turkey breast meat (behind the deli counter) is only $3.99 per pound.  Each sub was loaded with almost an entire pound of meat, a layer of cheddar cheese (only bought inexpensively behind the deli counter), and then sliced and assembled on cookie sheets. Condiments were gathered on trays and fresh tomato and lettuce was cut the day before to pull out for the big party. These took about fifteen minutes to pull together, serve eight people each, and cost less than $8 each to make yourself (even with the cost of condiments included).

If you have any sandwiches leftover, store them covered in the fridge and the next day they will make fabulous paninis to serve with your leftover soup. As an aside, I make these almost every grocery day for my family as a quick meal when I am too tired to cook from shopping.   It is my special treat after getting the shopping done and the kids go bonkers over these subs.

I made a double batch of our Pesto Chicken Tortellini Soup to go along with our sub sandwiches. Bowls and a creamer full of spoons were set out for our guest to dish their soup. I also set out a hunk of Parmesan cheese that could be grated over the bowls of soup to add even more flavor to it. To save on the cost of the soup, buy the pesto over in the pasta aisle (rather than the refrigerated pesto in the dairy cooler) and feel free to substitute the fresh tortellini with the cheese tortellini found in the freezer aisle.

No party is complete in our house without a punch bowl brimming over with some delicious punch. This new punch recipe that I pulled together is the new favorite with strawberry soda, cranberry juice, strawberry lemonade, and cherry 7-up. The cranberry really added a hint of tartness to the punch and this punch bowl was drained in record time this year.  I have to say that my thrift store punch bowl is one of our most used party items and has served us well over the years!

In addition to punch, the coffeemaker was preset for hot coffee to go with the dessert portion of the evening.

I rounded out the party table with a couple of easy appetizers that I made the day before.  My cheese ball and spinach dip went perfectly with our soup and sandwich theme, and gave guests something to munch on before and after the dinner hour.

Party supplies can really burn through a girl’s budget, but I strive to keep the paper products to a minimum. To incorporate the Barbie theme though, I did find a cute tiara and reuseable Barbie themed cup & plate for the party girl that cost only $5 total.  This made the party theme fun for her, but kept my party budget right on track. Our regular dishes were used for everyone else and last year’s vinyl tablecloth made another appearance this year at Emily’s birthday party. With our inexpensive tissue paper pom poms, it still looked like a fabulous party without the need for excessive party themed plates and one-time use decorations!

Here are a few recipes that can be used at your next party!

This tortellini soup brought together all of the flavors that my family loves, but is a versatile recipe that could be created with what is at your supermarket that day or what your family loves to eat. For our vegetarian readers, the chicken tortellini and chicken broth can easily be switched to a cheese-filled tortellini with vegetable broth instead. I used basil pesto in this, but you could also try a sun-dried tomato pesto or omit the pesto altogether if it is not a favorite of your family. Versatility is the beauty of a good soup recipe  and this recipe is quite versatile!

Pesto Chicken Tortellini Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans petite diced tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
8 cups chicken broth
1 pound chicken herb tortellini or tortellini of your choice (I used the refrigerated kind, but you can also use the dried pasta)
9 ounces spinach, chopped roughly
1/4 cup basil pesto

In a large pot, saute the garlic in the olive oil. After a minute or so, add the diced tomatoes and chicken broth to the pot. Bring the broth to a rolling boil and then add in your tortellini. Cook tortellini as directed on package. In the last minute of cooking time, mix in your roughly chopped spinach and stir in the 1/4 cup of basil pesto. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese on top. Side Note: When reheating, feel free to add some additional chicken broth to thin the soup, as the tortellini will absorb the liquid!

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You can never go wrong with a good spinach dip and this one is my absolute favorite because of the unexpected flavor that the salsa adds to the dish. You can make it as mild or as spicy as you like! I opt for a mild salsa and serve it with pita chips, tortilla chips, or fresh veggies for a little lighter fare!

Spunky Spinach Dip

2 cups salsa (approximately one standard size jar)
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
8 oz low-fat or fat-free cream cheese, softened and cubed
10 oz frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained)

Make Ahead: Mix ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Place in an oven-safe bowl and tuck in the fridge for Thanksgiving Day.

Party  Day: Cook at 350 for 20-25 minutes (double your cooking time for a double batch) in an oven-safe bowl (covered). Serve with your favorite dipper! I served this with blue corn tortilla chips, but you could also serve with fresh celery sticks and fresh carrots to balance out the heaviness of your party day food!

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These cheese ball is so embarrassingly easy, but is always a showstopper when I bring it to holiday get togethers. Put the ingredients for this recipe on your grocery list and relish the joy in ease of the preparation and the compliments that come from it!

Bacon & Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages of low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 package of Ranch dressing mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
5-7 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled (or buy prepackaged crumbled bacon)

Make Ahead: Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Mold into a ball  and wrap in plastic wrap,

Party Day: Roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Serve with assorted crackers.

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No get together in our family is complete without a big punch bowl that is overflowing. This punch is always a hit and it can be ready when everyone arrives. It is loved by kids and adults alike. The addition of cranberry juice adds a delicious tartness to your punch that balances out the sweetness of the strawberry soda and lemonade.

Christmas Cranberry Punch

2 liter bottle strawberry-flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
2 liter Cherry 7-Up
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 container of cranberry juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones.

What is one idea you incorporate into your parties to keep your birthday parties on budget?

New Year’s Goals: Embracing a New Workout Routine

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Over the next few weeks, I will be republishing a few of the posts that I did last year on goals for the New Year.  This year I decided to take the plunge and get a gym membership in town, now that my daughter is a little older and enjoys going with mommy so she can exercise. A recent writing gig is paying for my gym membership and has afforded me the luxury of indulging in new classes and ways to stay fit.   You can learn more about my fitness confessions and how staying healthy has transformed my own life here.

I have great motivation to keep a healthy lifestyle which is what fuels me to continue to exercise and keep up with my active lifestyle. My motivators might be different from yours, but I am sure there is something that motivates you. For me, I find myself less depressed when I exercise, the aches and pains that I have seem to subside with regular exercise, I am trying to avoid the health problems that have plagued my family,  but most of all… I have the energy to keep up with my two energetic children.

I used to attend the gym regularly before I had children. On my lunch hours, I would head to the gym and take difficult kickboxing classes, pilates, power yoga, and aerobics classes. I had college weight to lose and the time to think about just me. The longer and the harder the class, the more I loved it! I would spend my afternoons at the gym and the evenings doing community theater and just thinking about me. It was just all about me all the time and it was glorious.

Those days seem a lifetime ago. My workouts have to be quick and effective,  crammed between two kid’s extracurricular activities, homework, laundry, and daily life.  I find myself trying to figure out how I can just find twenty minutes to myself. In fact, my workout routines are mixed in with children trying to exercise rightwithme and a cat that insists on rubbing against me while I am doing my ab work. Kids are crying for computer time or needing help in the bathroom and I am pausing the DVD and running back, hoping to continue my little burst in energy. What a far cry from an hour at the gym for just me.

That being said, I wouldn’t have it any other way and as the kids see me exercise, I know that I am modeling for them the importance of taking care of the body that God gave you. I could join a gym, but I have found that driving over to a gym takes more time and more energy than popping in a DVD or using the workout equipment we own at home. That being said, it requires a great deal of discipline to maintain a workout routine on your own. Thankfully, interacting online with my real life friends and internet friends keeps me motivated enough to do it all on my own.

What I have discovered is that moms need to find a solution that works best for them. The gym might be for some, but it might not be for you. Workout equipment at home might not be helpful to you, but for others they find motivation in having what they need right at their fingertips. Realize that as long as you are moving, you are doing exactly what your body is intended to do.

1.    Make it quick and convenient. Try aiming for just twenty minute sessions and do what fits best with your schedule. If going to the gym doesn’t work for you right now, stick to a workout DVD. If you can’t manage either, try a brisk walk around your neighborhood. Whatever you do, make it something that is easily doable and can be done in a short period of time.

2.    Make an appointment with yourself. Find the times that work best for you and do it every single day. If something gets in your time slot, push it back, but do not push it off.

3.    Schedule your workouts when it is best for you, not when you think you should workout. I can admit it; I am not a morning person. I have tried being a morning person and I just can’t do it. I will no longer apologize for not being a morning person and will understand that maybe I will come to a stage in my life where morning workouts work better for me, but for now I am content on being groggy in the morning and doing afternoon workouts instead.

4.    Get pumped up. Find what motivates you to get moving and incorporate that. Music is a powerful motivator for me and I love to get music from the local library and play that or load fresh music into my iPod for working out.

Others are pumped by community sites that help them track and login their workout times. SparkPeople is one resource where you can track your caloric content and exercise schedule while chatting with others through forums. Others are motivated by having a workout buddy or making a daily date with a girlfriend at the gym. Whatever it is, find what motivates you and get your body moving.

5. Challenge your spouse. My husband and I decided to challenge each other one month to an exercise challenge. I did a workout routine for 30 days straight and he did did sit-ups every single day. Both of our bodies were transformed by the experience and so was our mindset. Adding an element of competition encouraged me that I could totally take him on and added another level to my workout routine. Adding a little trash-talking in our dinner conversation also helped with our friendly competition that not only ended up rewarding ourselves with a more active lifestyle, but even added a little bit of spark back into our relationship!


5.    Get some workout gear. I don’t know why, but I have a hard time spending money on workout gear. The year 1997 called though and they wanted their workout clothes back so I knew it was time to make an investment. Buy a few good workout pieces for yourself and try washing your tennis shoes to freshen them up. Just slip off the laces and throw the shoes in the washer. Wash them on a warm setting with a little laundry detergent. After they are done, stuff the interior of the shoes with newspaper (to help hold its shape and also to absorb any lingering odors) and let them dry outside in the sunshine. Fresh workout gear can make all the difference in how you feel about yourself and can help you commit more to making exercise a priority.

6. Reward yourself. Rewards to myself are exactly what keep me motivated and what you might find keeps you motivated too. It could be something simple like a glass of wine in the evening, a bubble bath with a good book, a new pair of jeans after reaching a certain weight, a new DVD that will keep inspiring you to workout,  or a protein-packed smoothie that can only be drank if a workout is complete.

7. Switch it up. I need new routines each day to keep things fresh and keep myself motivated. I love to visit our local library and check out workout DVD’s for free and add variety to my workout routines without spending any money. If your library doesn’t offer a great selection, try pooling your workout DVD’s with friends and trading with one another to add different elements to your workout routine. If you have a movie membership, use that for a workout DVD instead of another couch potato night.

Dust off that old treadmill, use the Wii Fit that you told your hubby you would use regularly, but quickly gathered dust in your family room, grab those DVD’s that you just had to have to keep your workouts fresh, and put those five pound weights and mat that are still wrapped in their packages to work.

Do it for you, do it for your kids, do it for your spouse, do it for your body,  do it because YOU DESERVE TO BE HEALTHY! Do it for whatever motives you, but DO IT!

This is my motivation. I want to see them go to high school. I want to watch them at graduation. I want to meet the loves of their life. I want to watch them walk down the aisle. I want to hold my grandchildren.  I want to hold my great-grandchildren. I don’t want to miss a moment of any of it. I know I can do all of that if  I take care of myself and the body that God gave me.

(I am continuing to work on getting happier this year through the help of, “The Happiness Project,” by Gretchen Rubin I recommend you read it too!)

What motivates you to exercise? What routines have you found to be effective for your busy lifestyle?

DIY: Tissue Paper Pom Poms Tutorial

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Decorating for birthday parties can be expensive and it is one area that I am always searching for cute ideas that don’t cost a lot. My girlfriend had a birthday party recently and made the Martha Stewart Tissue Paper Pom Poms to decorate above her daughter’s party table. I loved it so much that I promptly stole it for Emily’s Barbie birthday party.

These pom poms are so easy to make, but add a lot of impact to the party decorations. Each one took about ten minutes and I was so proud when my husband came home and asked me where I bought them. We loved them so much that they have been moved to her room to hang above her dollhouse. The best part is that they only cost $1-2 to make (depending on how full you make these) so they will fit easily into your party budget.

To make the tissue paper pom poms:

1. Purchase tissue paper in your desired colors to match your party scheme. You can use one package (ideally 7-9 sheets) or you can use two packs, depending on how full you would like your flowers to be. The dark pink flower that I created used two packs of tissue paper, while the lighter pink ones only used one package of tissue paper.

2. Stack your paper and fold it accordion style (1 1/2″ wide). The crisper your folds the better the look of your flower so fold it as best as you can.

3. Secure the center of your flower with a little floral wire.

4. With your scissors, trim the corners either into rounded corners (as I did) or into points (for a star shape).

5. Do the same on the opposite end.

6. Very gently and carefully, separate the layers of tissue paper from one another and begin pulling them apart and shaping them. The fuller your flower, the longer this will take. Once your flower has been properly poofed (a highly technical term, I am sure), you can hang them with yarn, ribbon, or whatever else you might have on hand.

For more detailed instructions or other creative ideas for your pom poms, visit this tutorial from Martha Stewart.

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The Perfect Pink Barbie Cake Tutorial

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Over the month of December we celebrated Emily’s 5th birthday.  This was the year of the Barbie which thrilled me to no end as I had envisioned a Barbie cake for my little girl long before she was even a twinkle in our eye.  Barbie cakes are a true labor of love by the mothers who create them and this cake was a testament to my undying love for my daughter.

Today I wanted to share with you how we created our Barbie cake and some tips for creating this cake for your own little princess! The week will be filled with oodles of tutorials and ideas for making your Barbie party special and I hope to add a little inspiration to your own Barbie-inspired party!

For this cake you will need a white cake mix, strawberry gelatin dessert, eggs, milk, canola oil, a package of fresh strawberries, and your doll.

The doll that is pictured in this tutorial ended up not being used because the cake was not tall enough to form her dress and stand her upright. Doll toppers can be purchased specifically for cake decorating at Michael’s for $3.99 (you can also use on of those 40% off coupons on that purchase to save) or you can ask your bakery if they will sell you a doll that you can use for roughly the same amount. Cakes can also be improvised as Monica, from The Homespun Heart discovered, by making your cake taller to fit a Barbie. My girlfriend also found a shorter generic one that could be found at the dollar store because the generic ones are not as tall as the real Barbies.

My best friend broke the legs of her Barbie for my cake.  May you all have a super awesome mafia friend like me who is willing to donate her legless Barbie for your project.

This cake is an easy mix and dump cake, but you will need to finely chop your strawberries to mix into the cake. I used my food chopper to chop these up evenly and fine for the cake. Once you have done that, you have the brunt of the cake mixing portion done.

Dump all of the ingredients into your mixer, including those finely chopped berries, and give it a good mix.  I let it run for a good minute or two while my oven was preheating to 350 degrees.

Pour your batter into a greased mixing bowl. The mixing bowl I used for this project is the Pampered Chef Classic Batter Bowl that I had in my kitchen. Many years ago when I bought it, the consultant had shared with me that it would make the perfect Barbie cake. It doesn’t have to be a Pampered Chef bowl though, any two quart ovenproof  glass mixing bowl should do the job!

Now let Barbie sit back and take a little nap while her dress bakes. Because of the depth of the cake, this cake will take roughly an hour and ten minutes to bake. You want to make sure that the rack is not too high on your oven or it will really brown the top of your cake. You will also want to keep an eye on it and test the center after an hour to see how it is doing. Mine took the full hour and ten minutes for this cake though.

Once the cake is done baking, you can pull it out and let it rest for at least fifteen minutes. Invert your cake on a cooling rack and let it cool for three hours before decorating.

I prefer to make my cakes in a two day process so I went ahead and wrapped the cooled Barbie cake in plastic wrap and rested it on top of a dish, then covered the whole thing in foil.  When the cake is frozen it is much easier to decorate and I have a lot less crumbs to have to work around.  That little tip came courtesy of a Michael’s cake decorating course I took and has served me well over the years of making and decorating special occasion cakes.

Now it is time to make the frosting. You can definitely skip this step and just use two 16 ounce containers of vanilla frosting (tinted to your favorite cake dress color), but the jarred frosting won’t give you the stiffness you need if you want to decorate and embellish the dress. This buttercream decorator’s frosting uses the confectioner’s sugar, shortening, milk, clear butter flavor (pictured above and purchased at Michael’s) and a little Meringue Powder (pictured above and purchased at Michael’s) that gives it a yummy whipped and buttered taste without adding any off-colors to your frosting.

Making frosting is a messy, messy job and is one of my least favorite parts about cake decorating. One way you can really cut down on the mess is to dampen a kitchen towel and drape it over your mixer while you are whipping up your frosting. This will cut down on the confectioner’s sugar dust clouds that you will find all over the kitchen and you can wipe down your mixer when you are all done.

Really try hard to resist eating this frosting. You really will need all of it to decorate your cake. Doesn’t it look delicious though? Tint the frosting in your desired color. In our case it was Emily’s two favorites…pink and dark pink.

Now it is time to frost your cake. I frost my cakes frozen and they turn out beautifully. You just want to give your decorated cake a few hours to thaw before the guest arrive, but frozen cake frosting is so darn easy that you will never go back. Frost it the best you can and remember that you can add as many details as you need to and that will cover up any of the imperfect parts.

To get the surface even smoother, dip your clean spatula in hot water and run it across the surface of the cake in long strokes. This will melt the frosting slightly to help remove stroke marks. Wipe the spatula clean and dip it in the hot water before each stroke.

Once your cake is smooth (ish), you are ready to add your embellishments to decorate your dress. I used Wilton Tips #2D to make swirl flowers and my zigzag border, tip 3 to make the centers of the flowers and added dots to her dresses, and tip 21 for the shell borders and little loops on her dress.

You can add whatever details you prefer on your cake, that is the beauty of making your own Barbie cake. Embrace your inner-fashionista and have a blast making Barbie’s party dress!

Here is our finished cake. I left the top of Barbie’s dress on and tried to incorporate the lower half into looking like a continuation of her top. Her hair was tied with a little leftover grosgrain ribbon. If your Barbie has legs, you can wrap her in plastic before inserting her.  After Barbie was done with this party, I put her dress top in the dishwasher and it came out clean and perfect. Barbie just got a good wash in the sink and I put her away…just in case we might need her next year.

4.0 from 1 reviews

The Perfect Pink Barbie Cake With Buttercream Frosting
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10
 
This cake is so moist and full of strawberry flavor.  The color from the gelatin adds a vivid pink hue and the flecks of fresh berry take these pantry ingredients to another level.  If a Barbie cake isn’t your thing, wait for your post next week where these are transformed into a grown-up cupcake complete with a Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting. While buttercream icing is not my favorite tasting frosting, this frosting is ideal for decorating and piping beautiful decorations on your Barbie cake. The butter flavor really adds a lot of richness to this frosting. This recipe creates a batch and a half (or approximately five cups of frosting). This will likely be more than you need, but I would rather have extra frosting than not enough and make it all over again. Extra frosting can also be used to decorate a batch of cupcakes for the adults!
Ingredients
  • 1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix
  • 1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries with juice (approximately 1½ cups whole berries)
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • For Buttercream Icing (Medium Consistency): 1½ cups solid white shortening
  • 1½ teaspoons Wiilton Butter Flavor
  • 4-5 tablespoons milk
  • 6 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1½ tablespoon Wilton Meringue Powder
  • Pinch of Salt (optional)
Instructions
  1. Place your oven rack into the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare a 2 quart oven-safe batter bowl by greasing heavily with cooking spray.
  3. Place the cake mix, gelatin strawberries and their juice,  milk, oil, and eggs in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for thirty seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat two more minutes.
  5. Pour batter carefully into your prepared batter bowl.
  6. Bake for 1 hour and ten minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed with your finger and a cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Cool for fifteen minutes and then invert your cake on a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool for a minimum of three hours before decorating. For more tips see the post above.
  8. For icing: Cream shortening flavoring, and water.
  9. Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until all ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together. Blend an additional minute or so until creamy.
  10. Tint as desired.

Disclosure: The Amazon links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the books & supplies for your project quickly and easily.
Have any cake decorating tips? What was your proudest birthday cake moment? Feel free to share them here!

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On a Little Winter Break

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

The winter has already been so wonderful for our family! We have made snow angels, indulged in a thousand batches of gingerbread waffles, warmed our hands with mugs of cocoa, took a trip to the theater to catch a movie, saw the amazing Santa and put in our gift requests, visited the neighborhood of holiday lights, and got to see The Nutcracker that was performed at our theater downtown. We will be doing lots more of that while the children are on Winter Break.

MomAdvice will be back in the New Year with many more ideas for simple family celebrations, great dishes to share around your kitchen table, craft ideas to keep your family under budget, and ways to manage your home simply and easily!

Many blessings to you and your family this Christmas and I hope you have a happy and safe New Year!