Posts Tagged ‘Things To Do’

Poor Man’s Date Night: Linguine With White Clam Sauce

Monday, February 21st, 2011

There was a time in our married life when even an inexpensive steak dinner was far from something we could afford. When the grandparents would offer to take the kids for us for a date night, we would run to the supermarket and buy ingredients for a date night at home. At the time, it wasn’t because I was such a great cook and because we loved to be home so much, but it was because we had no money to spend on a night on the town.

I really did try to do what I could to make our life feel special, no matter how much or how little money we had. Through that effort, we began a tradition of making Linguine With White Clam Sauce for our fancy dinner  together, and it became a tradition to make that every time we wanted a date night at home. We would indulge in a loaf of artisan bread and bakery cupcakes for dessert and then indulge all week long in the leftovers.

To be honest, I had never thought to serve it to the kids, but one night the pantry was bare except for a few ingredients for that dish. I decided to go ahead and make it for the kids and had a back-up plan of eggs and toast if it didn’t work out. To my amazement, my kids went nuts for mommy’s linguine and have been begging for it every day since.

It seems those kids are always teaching me a lesson about my own inhibitions towards foods when I was young, and this linguine is now not only a date night treat, but a fabulous treat for them too. Your kids might be different than mine, but it is always worth a shot!

Gather all of the ingredients you will need to make your Linguine with Clam Sauce for your fun weeknight dinner (or poor man’s date night). You will need butter, olive oil, garlic (fresh or bottled minced), one or two lemons, white wine (I love boxed wine for this dish), two or three cans of whole baby clams, linguine noodles, and fresh parsley.

Now you can certainly subsitute with real baby clams, but I live in Indiana where it is harder to get the real deal anymore and they add a lot of expense to the dish here. They have a couple of varieties of clams on the shelf and you definitely want to go with the fancy whole baby clams over the minced clams that come in the smaller cans. Trust me, your dish will taste much better with the whole clams then those smaller clam pieces.

Heat a large pot of boiling water for your linguine noodles. Meanwhile, chop, chop, chop up a generous amount of fresh parsley to be mixed into the linguine and for garnish on top of your dish.

In the bottom of your pot, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter. You like how well-seasoned my dutch oven is? Yeah, should probably pay more attention to it, but I think it showcases how loved it is in our house.

Add the olive oil and quickly saute your garlic. You want to make sure your pot isn’t too hot or your garlic will burn.  Next add your white wine, the juice from the canned clams, and the zest of one or two lemons. Allow this to cook for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol and season generously with a little salt and pepper.

Once your noodles are about done, you will want to add the baby clams to your sauce.

Squeeze in the juice of one or two lemons, depending on how much you love lemon flavor.

Finish with your generous handfuls of fresh parsley. Don’t skimp on the parsley since it adds so much fresh flavor to those canned ingredients.

Add your drained linguine noodles and toss everything together, incorporating all of those delicious flavors. Add a little bit more salt and pepper, seasoning the dish to your own personal taste.

The final touch to bring everything together is a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese. Don’t skimp on this, it really is what brings the sauce together and makes the sauce hug the noodles.

Finally, revel in being the cheapest date in town as you bask in the glory of the compliments from your significant other.

Sweet.


Linguine with White Clam Sauce

1 pound linguine
Salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped,
1/2 cup wine
Juice and zest from one or two lemons
2-3  (15-ounce) can whole baby clams, with their juice
Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the linguine and cook as directed or until al dente. The linguine will continue to cook in sauce, later. To a large skillet heated over medium heat, add oil, butter, garlic. Cook together. Add wine, the juice from the clams to the pan, and the zest of one or two lemons. Finally, add the clams and the juice from one or two lemons. Drain pasta and add it to the clam sauce. Toss and coat the pasta in sauce with clams until the pasta absorbs the flavor and juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt, add parsley and serve with a loaf of crusty bread.

Do you attempt fancy date night dinners at home? What is your favorite frugal date with your significant other?

All Knitted Up: Knitted Headbands for the End-of-Winter Blues

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

After my holiday knitting marathon, you would think that I would want to take a little break on the knitting. I can admit it though, I am addicted to my knitting needles, but I have been attempting smaller scale projects this month instead of my usual larger scaler ones. The best part about smaller scale projects is that they offer instant gratification and they offer an opportunity to tackle new skills that you might not think you have. It is much easier to give up on a smaller scale project if the going gets to tough, unlike those larger projects where you have a sense of commitment to them. This month has been a month of tons of little projects that I am looking forward to sharing with my knitting friends on MomAdvice.

I am hoping for the end of winter, but if you are feeling a little blue about winter’s never-ending days, these knitted headbands can add a fresh new look to your tired winter coat, and make the perfect accessory to keep your ears a little warm and your hair still looking cute!  I whipped these headbands up in an evening of sitcom-watching and they offered a great opportunity to do a little stash-busting in my yarn collection (also a horrible addiction of which I suffer).

If you are a knitter, I would love for you to be my friend on Ravelry. My username is momadvice and I try to keep my little notebook updated with the current projects.

Here are two fun headbands to try that will add a little sparkle to these end-of-winter days!

shades of gray headband

Pattern: Spiral Ribbed Headband by Allison Hogue (free Ravelry Download) with  Lydia Flowers (optional, for embellishment). These were all three sizes (Large, Medium, & Small) stacked in alternating colors. I am sorry, I understand that the pattern is down, let’s hope it will come back up soon!

Needle Size: US 7 (16″ circular needles- these are the ones I purchased. Don’t waste oodles of money on needles at the craft stores!)

Yarn: Naturally Caron Country (Charcoal) & flowers were created from Naturally Caron Country (Charcoal) & Caron Simply Soft in Heather Gray, alternately.

Notes: This spiral-ribbed head wrap is a beautiful pattern that can be done very easily while watching a little television. There are no tricky stitches in this pattern so it is a great one for a beginner and for knitters who are just getting familiar with knitting in the round.

I chose a merino wool blend for the yarn because it is light-weight while still being a little warm. It is the perfect yarn for the project and the bonus was that I got it on sale for $3.99 a ball (after the holidays) so it was a very thrifty knit too!

The flower is the Lydia Flower (large, medium, and small) stacked and used some of my Simply Soft in Heather Gray for the large and small flower from my yarn stash to add a little dimension to the headband.

ivory cabled headband

Pattern: Vanessa Headband by Nancy Ricci (free pattern)

Needle Size: US 11 (straight needles)

Yarn: Premier Yarns Serenity Chunky Weight in Pristine (stash-busting)

Notes: Are you falling over right now? I am cabling!  I have never cabled before so this is my first project with cabling. This was a great introduction into cabling with very simple cables. Cabling sounds & looks much more difficult than it is. It is simply pulling stitches off your needles and pulling them into the front or the back of your work and then working them back into the pattern so they twist and vine around your project. If you can knit and purl, you definitely can cable!  If you have never cabled before like me

The pattern offers a wide band as well as a more narrow version of the same band. I chose the narrow version, but it is still plenty wide if you wanted to cover your ears with it thanks to the large needles and chunky yarn. If you use a thinner yarn, you may want to go for the wider pattern to achieve the same look.

Below is a  video on how to cable. I am telling you, it is so easy! I can’t wait to practice more cabled patterns! I will be back next month with a gazillion baby hat patterns that I have been working on…another instant gratification project that is great for practicing pattern!

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Looking for more knitted projects to cure the winter doldrums? I recommend throwing a few of these projects on your needles for an instant pick-me-up in our Crafting section and Gifts section of the site!

What craft projects are you working on now that the holidays are over?

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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.

New Year’s Goals: Banishing the Paper Clutter From Your Home

Thursday, January 13th, 2011


As I shared with you last week, I am working on getting happier this year through the help of, “The Happiness Project,” by Gretchen Rubin.

The first month of her book focuses on boosting energy and has several ways that you can do that.

I have been working on four specific goals for this month.

1. Going to bed on time.
2. Dealing with the nagging list of things to do.
3. Kicking clutter to the curb.
4. Returning to a good exercise routine.

Last week I shared with you my closet transformation. That little transformation helped me see the possibilities that our space could hold if I could let the clutter go. This past week I have taken not one, not two, not even three…No, I have taken SIX car trunks full of clutter to Goodwill to reclaim my home.

As each batch of clutter leaves my home, I am discovering  the potential of my home and the potential for my space to be exactly as I want it. It might not be a space that resembles the pages of Real Simple Magazine, but it brings me one step closer to the home I desire.

Ironically, I asked my husband if he had noticed the house potential peeking through the clutter after my sixth trip to the Goodwill drop-off box.  “Do you even know what is missing?” I asked. He looked around and said, “I guess I will figure it out when I try to find something.” Yes, we don’t even know what is missing which goes to show how little those items had meant to us.

Now that we had begun to see our house through the rubble, it was time to get a few organizing systems into place to get rid of the paper trail that makes its way into my home.

Finding a system that makes sense in your home and that you can maintain is the most important step towards transforming your paper clutter. What works for me might not work for you. Admittedly, I have tried more systems than I can count.

I have realized two things about myself and my paper clutter:

1) My system needs to be convenient- I would love to banish all papers down to to our home office. Walking down to the office though is not convenient though and that is why the clutter continues to build on my kitchen counters.

2) Everything must have a home- Half of the problem for me is not having a home for the papers in my life. I needed something that could house the chaos, yet I could find the papers at a moments notice.

I decided to use a magazine organizer that I had bought years ago that had housed dusty magazines. I bought a set of decorative file folders in the $1 section of Michael’s and created a folder for those troublesome papers.

The file folders you create might be different than mine, but this is what was needed to organize our family papers.

1.  Coupons- This coupon folder holds the newspaper coupons and coupons for places that we might like to dine out. I also tucked any gift cards that we might have in there so that I can grab them when we go out.

2. Emily & Ethan’s School- Each child has a folder where I can put the month’s current newsletter and school calendar.

3. Tax Information- As tax information comes through, I can add it to this folder along with any receipts that I need to keep on hand for tax deductions.

4. Amy’s Work- Check stubs from jobs I have done and reports from my ad network go in here.

5. Recipes/Crafts- I always find things in magazines or recipes that I want to try and end up losing them. Now I have a folder where I can keep these on hand for dinner or crafty inspiration.

6. Receipts- I try to tuck receipts for important items somewhere. What ends up happening though is that they immediately become misplaced. Now I know exactly where they are!

I decided to implement the same system down in my office where my cluttered desk resides.  As a work-at-home mom, I needed organization to do my job well. Again, I had another dusty organizer in my office that needed to be put to good use.

In my work file folders were these categories:

1. Current Projects- Anything that I am currently working on goes into this folder for easy grabbing.

2. Inspiration- I try to keep an inspiration folder on hand. It could be something I see in a magazine that would make the perfect article for our site, a recipe that I would like to try, or ideas from other bloggers that I want to keep in mind.

3. Product Reviews- If I request a product to review for The MotherLoot, the company usually sends a product sheet. Now it is all neatly tucked in a folder and the papers can be easily recycled once I am done with the review.

4. Contracts- This folder contains the contracts that I am under with different companies and can be referenced when needed.

The papers are still all there, but I have reclaimed my counters. What a beautiful thing! I couldn’t be more pleased or feel more organized now that everything has its home.

The next thing I needed to do was organize the kid’s art and special papers that I wanted to keep. I went to Walmart and got a two decorative banker boxes for a total of $6.88.

Each of the kids now have their own box to put their treasures in. These will go in their closets so they can save what they really love and then we will do an editing of the box in the summer for the next school year. It is just a big open box of possibility for them and will keep these papers from being strewn all over the house.

What systems have you found work for your family when it comes to organizing life’s papers? Please share or share links to your organizing systems. I would love some additional inspiration!

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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A Real Mom’s Review of Alice.com: Drugstore Shopping Simplified

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Since becoming a mother, I have become much more strategic with my shopping time. Ideally, it is time spent after my husband gets home and I can shop by myself without two wildly crazy children distracting me from my list of tasks. Let’s face it though, the idea of spending all of my evenings in a store sounds mind-numbingly boring and I would much rather spend my time with a good book or with my family.

In past articles I have shared ideas for fantastic places to online shop including those dreaded trips to the grocery store and wholesale club. Today I want to share with you my new favorite place to shop for my drugstore deals. It is a little website called Alice.com that has simplified my shopping time and has still allowed me to get great deals.

You see, there was a time when I coupon clipped, organized rebate forms, saved those drugstore receipts with money back, and horded a large wall full of toothpaste for our family of four. You could say that I have gotten lazier in my old age or that I realized that I was spending too much money and time in our local drugstores, but I knew that something in my life had to change. I realized that I was buying items just because they were “free,” but the items really weren’t free when I thought of all of the impulse splurges and the space that they took up in my home.

Alice.com has provided me with online access to managing my household items and supplies online. You basically tell Alice what you typically buy and Alice (yes, your very own Alice just like the Brady Bunch) goes to work for you. The site organize all of your products, finds coupons and deals for you, reminds you when you might be running low, and helps you order just the items you need so you can avoid that trip to the corner drugstore or the big-box store.

Here are some ideas for how to shop on a budget with Alice.com:

  • Say goodbye to those paper inserts, scissors, and wasted time clipping coupons. One of the best things about Alice is that there is no coupon clipping involved. If there is a coupon available on the product, it will automatically be applied to your order… no clipping necessary. Alice also has relationships with the manufacturer’s and many times offers coupons that aren’t available in your newspaper’s coupon insert. It is important to note though, that they offer a specific amount of coupons on each product. For example, your favorite shampoo may have only fifteen coupons available. You will need to snag that coupon before the coupons are no longer offered to get the savings.
  • Shipping is free on your first order, regardless of the number of items that you buy. After that first order, there is no minimum amount of spending that you need to do to qualify for the free shipping,but you do have to have six items in your cart for the free shipping. This can easily be met with smaller items like toothbrushes, dental floss, or other “filler” items if you are unable to meet the six item requirement.
  • You always know if you are getting the best deal. Comparison shopping in fliers can be time-consuming, but Alice will actually tell you who has the best deal on the product you are looking at with comparisons between  drugstore.com, cvs.com, Peapod, Safeway, Walgreens, Amazon Fresh, and diapers.com. This can be found by scrolling below the item you are looking at and clicking on the, “Price Comparison,” link. You could also use this price comparison when doing your local shopping without ever leaving the comfort of your home.
  • Shopping for the best deals is easy to do if you familiarize yourself with the website. Under the, “Other Ways to Shop,” category, you will find a, “Shop the Best Deals,” link. That link will direct you to the top fifty deals that the site is currently running with the coupon prices included. Sticking to the top fifty deals will insure that you get the very best deal for your money. These deals also will be great to add as filler items or for donation items for the local homeless shelter and charitable giving.
  • Orders are fulfilled very quickly. The official amount of time that Alice will give you is between one to six business days. I have placed three orders with the company and they have all arrived the next day (if I placed the order before noon eastern time) or two days later if I happen to order in the afternoon. Lucky for me, I live in the Midwest and Alice is Midwest-based so orders are shipped very quickly here.
  • You will no longer have to worry about embarrassing drugstore shopping. I thought when I became a grown-up I would no longer care about what was in my drugstore cart. Thanks to living in a small town, there are few moments of privacy shopping anywhere. To top it off, I now have two inquisitive children asking loudly at the checkout counter what I am buying. I love that I can now buy those items with confidence, in the privacy of my own home, and not face the embarrassment about those unmentionable items.  The items all arrive in a beautifully packed blue Alice box with minimal packaging that reminds me a lot of the great packing strategies that Amazon.com uses.
  • The site offers great reminder features. Just like any smart business, the company wants to insure that you will be a repeat customer for them and they do it through a targeted email that reminds you when you are getting low on an item. When you order an item, you can tell Alice how often you buy that item and an automatic reminder will be sent out when you are getting low. That doesn’t mean that it will be automatically ordered for you, it just means that a reminder will be sent to have you come back and reorder. Thanks to this feature, there are no more late night runs to the drugstore for forgotten items… At least, they are fewer and farther between!

I am now a super fan of Alice and love having the time to spend with family and not having another item on my list of errands to do. I hope you can check it out and consider giving online drugstore shopping a try!

If you would like to give Alice a try, feel free to visit through our link.  In full discretion, this is an affiliate link, but we rarely ever refer you to anything ever unless we truly and actually embrace or use a product or service! We love our readers and aim to only offer the best information on saving money that we possibly can!

Have you ever tried Alice.com or any other online shopping service? We want to hear what your thoughts are and how you choose to shop to save your family time or money! Please share here!

A Family Day at the Pumpkin Patch

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

It is my favorite family day of the entire year. Pure and unadulterated pumpkin loving and picking for the entire family. My heart practically bursts every year that we get to do this together and this year was no exception. This year though my heart was just bursting and my eyes were all welling up as I saw my kids in the same exact spots as just two years ago. Yes, they looked completely different than they did before. They had to duck in places that used to easily slide under. They reached spots that they couldn’t reach before. Taking them was a whole heck of a lot easier. We all seemed to enjoy it more than the time before.  Family fun was even more fun this year.

It is bittersweet to watch them grow.

Happy and a little sad all at the same time.

The Summer of Knitted Hats

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Each year it seems that I have a theme to my knitting and this year was the summer of chemo caps as I shared in our Scraps of Life Giving entry on inexpensive ways to give back to your community. I started the summer out by spending about $25 in supplies and then tried to work my way through some of the yarn in my stash combined with super soft yarn that I thought would help keep cold heads warm and not be itchy.

My intention had been to knit with frantic fury and get as many cranked out as I could.  I managed to knit about fifteen hats this summer, in total, and distributed them to a couple of friends who were in need and the rest will be headed for the Patternworks drive at the end of the month. Although a bit short of the goal that I had hoped, I am still really proud and will continue to try and keep charity projects like this on my knitting needles as much as I can.

I was inspired by my mother-in-law and her mom, who always are doing some type of charity knitting and never cease to amaze me with their capacity to give what is on their knitting needles. If you are not a knitter, a knitted hat takes me about four hours of knitting (including the knitted embellishments) so it is a true labor of love to give something knitted to others.   They are always giving these precious gifts away and my mother-in-law shared the Patternworks charity with me so I could assist with the giving too.

Each hat was uniquely different and accessorized with what I had hoped would be a little bit of fashionable accessories. Emily gladly posed in each hat for me, but as the summer grew to a close, I could tell she was getting a little impatient for her turn. Even poor Ethan was recruited to try on girl hats for mama to get appropriate sizing for older kid’s heads and loudly complained about the itchy hat that he had from last year.

I had only learned to knit hats a year ago and had knitted a cute little Cupcake Hat for Emily and had attempted to knit a patterned hat for Ethan…which was horribly flawed. Even though I messed up a huge spot on it, he wore it all winter, wearing my big old flaw right in the front. Every. Single. Time.  It pained me.

This week, I made it my goal to get the children in newly knitted hats before the cold weather hit. Here are their sweet little hats that I made and some information about those patterns.

Pattern: Basic Roll-Brim Hat (Courtesy of Knitting for Peace book, a favorite in my book collection)

Needle Size: US 5 Needles

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Grey Heather (marked down to a mere $2.50 per skein)

Notes: This basic hat pattern was the first pattern that my mother-in-law used to teach us how to knit in the round. The hat originally calls for a US 7 size needle, but I have found that I am a very loose knitter and usually have to go down about two needle sizes for the sizing to fit on my hats.

This pattern is perfect for a beginner because once you have gotten your stitches cast on and made sure that nothing is twisted, all you do is knit around and around and it naturally creates the brim rolling that you see above. This basic hat pattern can be dressed up for a girl with simple embellishments or different styles of yarn or it can be done simply sweet and plain for a little boy.

Ethan pronounces this hat as awesome and we have it tucked in his bag for those cool days of fall and winter. This inexpensive yarn was perfect for a washable and soft hat that he can enjoy all year long.

Pattern: Toddler Republic Hat (free pattern) & Lydia Flowers (free pattern), the medium and small flowers only for a toddler hat

Needle Size: US 5 Needles (three sizes down from what the original pattern called for as I knit very loosely)

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Grey Heather (marked down to a mere $2.50 per skein & I was able to make this second one out of the same skein from her brother’s hat) & scrap Cotton Tots yarn in baby pink for the flower.

Notes: The Republic Hat pattern (adult version available in the side bar as a free PDF) is still my favorite pattern of all and I was so excited when I happened upon this Toddler Republic Hat version to make a mini-me version for my daughter. It truly is a dream pattern for anyone just beginning to create hats because the two inch brim is not knit in the round and then, after a small amount of binding off, you begin knitting in the round after the two inch brim. By creating a brim that is not knit in the round, it reduces your chances of getting your hat twisted on the circular needles and makes the whole process so much easier.

The Lydia Flower is my favorite knitted embellishment ever created because it adds that beautiful knitted touch to all of our hats. I noticed in the shops that hats that look handmade are adorned with knitted flowers and I am thrilled that I can actually make my own! Do I even have to mention the savings? Two beautiful hats for my kids made out of $2.50 worth of supplies? That is a huge savings!

Emily is in love with her hat. She is so in love with her hat that she wore it all day at school after I gave it to her and refused to take it off except for her school pictures that day. I fear what her hair looked like for that picture, but was feeling quite proud that I made something that she was so excited to show off.

The hat trend will continue because it is finally my turn! At the beginning of the summer, I visited The Yarn Gourmet in town to buy myself two beautiful skeins of fancy yarn. This is the first time I have ever bought “real” yarn and I treated myself as a reward after I made all the hats for everyone this summer. Just as the kids have felt a little impatient about getting a turn, I couldn’t wait to indulge in a turn for myself.

I am so excited to show you what I do with this yarn and then it will be back to the knitting agenda of creating handmade holiday gifts for family & friends.

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If you are just beginning the world of hats, these are the three things that really helped me have success getting comfortable with double-pointed needles and knitting in the round.

3 Things That Helped Me With Making Hats

1. Bamboo 16″ Circular Needles- These are an off-brand of bamboo needles, but had a wider cord than the kind that you buy in the store. This helped me so my stitches didn’t get twisted. Circular needles are expensive in the store ($8.50 per needle set). These were $24.98 for all of the sizes 0-15! What a steal! I applied my Swagbucks towa
rds Amazon gift cards to score these for free.

2. Bamboo 9″ Double Pointed Needles- Again, these are an off-brand needle and they were extremely rough so they held my stitches really well. As a beginner on these, these rough double pointed needles were key for me to get the hang of it without dropping stitches. It was a lot cheaper to buy these as a set and I did apply my Swagbucks towards the Amazon gift cards so I didn’t have to dip in my pocket to pay for them.

3. A Better Ring Marker- I was using the kind that you just slipped over the needles and was finding that I was losing my starting stitch marker for knitting in the round. My mother-in-law gave me the kind that slip onto the yarn and I put that at the beginning of my round. It was key to not losing my place and helped me stay on track with my pattern!

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Disclosure: The links to books and supplies are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate what you need quickly and easily. Feel free to order a book, but we encourage utilizing the library system and buying me some yarn instead.  Wouldn’t that just be so much more lovely?

What crafts have you been working on? Feel free to share those links to your projects.