Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dress To Impress

Just a quick note to let you know that I am completely swamped with to-do's while trying to get ready for this wedding tomorrow. Things should calm down next week and I will be back to posting next Tuesday. I did want to share a little talk I had with Chloe and Nash last night.

We attended the rehearsal dinner last night for Ian and Kate's wedding. I wore a spring dress, cardigan, and wedge sandals. Chloe wore a casual dress with leggings, which is out of the norm from her regular t-shirt and jeans. Nash wore dark jeans and a collared button down shirt. Dad wore jeans and a long sleeve button down. Why am I telling you all of this? Well, on the drive there, Chloe asked if her cousins would be dressed up, or if anyone else would be. I said probably not because it was at my cousins house, BUT that it didn't matter in this case what everyone else was doing. The soon-to-be bride and groom requested us to look business casual.

I preceded to explain that it was a sign of respect to Ian and Kate and ourselves to take the time to make ourselves look nice. I told them that not everyone may feel that way and that it may not even occur to other people, but our family was going to observe this theory. With all the work everyone put into to make the dinner happen, the least we could do was invest some time in making ourselves look presentable. I said I didn't think they would appreciate us in all their rehearsal dinner photos in scrubby clothes! They agreed and I think they had a bit of pride in themselves.

I would never consider leaving the house in my pajamas, without make-up, or without my hair brushed. Again this is just a personal issue I have, but I honestly feel better, when I feel I look "put-together." Chloe opened up dialogue and I took advantage of a teaching moment with them. I look for those opportunities with them all the time. We often have important conversations and I'm proud to say they have a very open and honest relationship with me. I think they feel comfortable talking to me about anything. That makes me very happy!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

They Grow Up So Fast

The other day I walked in the door to find this on the counter of a perfectly clean kitchen. My first instinct was to get annoyed that one of my children had the nerve to leave their toys out, which is nothing out of the ordinary, but always annoying nonetheless. However, in just a short moment I became overjoyed to see it sitting there. Why, you might ask? Well, here's the thing, that toy was something that Nash built the day before. I have no idea what possessed him to dig into a box full of Legos that he hasn't touched in years. I know that with each passing day I am less likely to find his "toys" lying around. Before I know it there will be no more toys, and soon after that I won't have the luxury of finding his dirty socks in the most oddest of places. He's growing so fast. Too fast.  He'll soon be in high school and I know those four years are going to fly by. He'll then be in college and I won't see his stuff lying around. He won't be here for me to nag to clean up. So for now, once in a while, I'll take comfort in his mess. I left the toy sitting on the counter, but it's gone now. I suppose the fact that he is outgrowing toys only means I'm doing my job and he's growing up completely normal. Sob, sob, sob. 

On a brighter note, I enjoyed the most wonderful Saturday with Chloe and Nash. Chloe's baseball game got cancelled so we got to relax during the morning. We had a family lunch of Sushi, where of course Nash had some raw fish and Chloe had plain steamed white rice. The kids and I ran to pick out some wedding gifts for our cousin who is getting married on Friday. Later, I made plans with a friend to take her kids and mine to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2. It was the perfect movie to see for us adults, and an 8, 9, 11, and 13 year old. After the movie, I took C & N to the CeramiCafe. I thought it would be cute for them to paint something for a wedding gift. Nash wasn't thrilled, but decided to come along. We decided on a set of coasters. We each painted one and we left one unpainted so the bride and groom can go back together and paint it. Nash really enjoyed himself and asked to come back again sometime. After picking up some pizza we didn't arrive home til almost 10! Since Nash and I are sick, it pretty much wiped us out. I can't wait to go pick up our fired pieces on Thursday and see how they turned out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Making Brownie Pops {What I Learned}

If you remember a couple weeks ago, I reposted an idea from Attention To Detail for Brownie Pops. I learned a valuable lesson that I shouldn't repost others ideas without trying them myself first. I planned on making them for Chloe's birthday. From what I can gather the original recipe/idea came from Crazy Domestic. But, this same photo and two versions of directions are the only thing I could find on the web about "brownie pops." So it seems to me that everyone {myself included} was just reposting the same photo. There were never any new tips.

I made these and I want to share what I learned and what I would do differently. I made three different versions of brownie pops. I made two versions starting by pouring my prepared brownie mix into 9x13 inch pans. I made another batch of brownies, this time using the batter in mini muffin tins.

The first 9x13 inch pan, I cut the brownies like this,
according to the directions floating around the web:

The second 9x13 inch pan, I used a round cutter to make these circles:

Here is what the mini's looked like:
Dipping these were difficult to say the least. The large rectangular ones were the most difficult because of their size. While the mini's were obviously the easiest.
I set up wax paper with sprinkles on it, dipped the brownie into the melted candy, laid it on the paper, and shook more sprinkles on the top. Does that make sense? The mini's I just dipped the tops in a small bowl of sprinkles.
Here's what you don't know by looking at the Crazy Domestic Brownie Pop photo floating around. Those brownies only have candy coating on one side. Now that is probably a good thing taste wise, because the candy coating is a bit much on those large popsicles. I covered mine entirely, and it was just way too much for the kids. It was too big and not the easiest thing to eat. However, on the mini's it's perfect. If I did it again I would make the mini's or maybe the rounds. They are very pleasing to the eye but honestly, brownie's are so much better without the candy coating! I might consider only dipping them halfway next time, so you get the added color, but so that it doesn't take too much away from the flavor of the brownie itself.

So clearly the winner are the mini's, pictured at the top of this post! 
Have any of you made these? Do you have any tips to share?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How To Dye Your Faded Black Jeans

This is a super simple way to bring life back into your favorite faded jeans. They will look brand new in just an hour, the same amount amount of time it would take you to head on down to mall and pick out a new pair! And all that for just $3! You'll need a large stainless steel pot, rubber gloves, something to stir with and one hour of time. Some stainless steel tongs will work well and won't absorb any color, like say a, wooden spoon would. I might suggest covering your counters or back splash with newspaper. I didn't, but if I had grout, I would consider it.

Start with an 8 ounce bottle of Rit Dye. Shake well.

Next, fill your pot with water 3/4 of the way full.
 Heat to boiling.
Once water boils, add your dye. You may add a little water to the bottle, return the lid and vigorously shake to loosen any excess dye. Add to water in the pot.
Once your color water begins to boil, take your jeans to the sink and completely saturate them in water.

Squeeze them out and transfer to the boiling water.

Stir, turn, and flip so that the jeans have been well coated by the dyed water. Turn off heat. I have an electric stove so I just left the pot on the warm burner.
Stir pretty constantly for about 10-15 minutes.

After you have stirred for 10 minutes, you can leave it to soak and stir every 5 minutes for the next 20 minutes. When you are not stirring, make sure the jeans are completely submerged in the water. Then stir every 10 minutes for the next half an hour. The total amount of time you keep the jeans in the pot of water is 1 hour. 

After the hour is up, wearing gloves, dump it all into the sink and rinse (in cold water) jeans as well as you possibly can. Then, transfer to your washing machine. If you have a rinse and spin only cycle, run them through that a couple times. Finally, run them through an entire wash cycle with soap. Make sure to rinse and wash them in cold water. Dry them inside out.

Granted, I took these two photos in different lighting, but you can see there was a significant difference. They really do look brand new now! For more resources check out tips from the Rit website here and here.
This is not a sponsored post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shopping For Seasonal Produce

Not so long ago, I was oblivious to the fact that it was better to buy tomatoes in the summer, that strawberries had multiple growing seasons, and that butternut squash is a winter squash. I certainly don't have a green thumb or any gardening knowledge whatsoever for that matter. I suppose as I perused the produce bins at the grocery store growing seasons never really occurred to me.   After all, I could still buy tomatoes in January. After gaining some knowledge in the kitchen, fast forward a few years and the question now is, do I want to buy those yucky, overpriced, January tomatoes? The answer I now know is, most likely not. The price increase aside, those January tomatoes are going to be hard, flavorless, mealy, and sometimes even colorless inside.

 Newbies headed to the store can be in for a daunting task. You may be left scratching your head if your not prepared. You must arm yourself with knowledge people! I'm going to give you some links to get started but I would suggest using some other tools you may have at your disposal. Try your grocery store's website or even better talk to someone who works in the produce department. They are there to help and they are usually quite happy to do so.

When researching, you should not only try and find out what grows in the particular season you are shopping in, but also take into consideration your location. What is farmed locally, what has to be shipped in? Where does it come from? It may have come from Australia because of our opposite seasons, but you may be paying extra for all that shipping. Wouldn't it be good to know if it's better to buy something that was flash frozen at peak season or to get it fresh?

Check out these links for more info:
Epicurious Peak Season Map-interactive area map
Wisebread-a small list that is a good starting point
Fruits & Veggies More Matters-extensive list of available seasonal produce a seasonal list for the Pacific Northwest
Real Simple-what's in season for spring & how to choose good produce
Field To Plate- Links for seasonal produce in every state and/or region

Perhaps the greatest tool I utilized in an effort to educate myself in seasonal cooking came from New York Times bestselling author, Leanne Ely:
Saving Dinner-seasonal recipe menu mailers. Get a free sample menu mailer when you sign up for their newsletter. You will love it!
Saving Dinner Cookbooks-These books are set up by season. They come complete with meals for the week, shopping lists, nutrition facts, and side suggestions. My favorite book is the low-carb book. Many of the recipes in that book are my go to recipes for company. The many I have tried are all super fast and easy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Workout DVD Reviews

Photos from

1. 8 Minute Abs-This is a DVD I've had for a couple years. My cousin swore by it, so it came to me highly recommended. It's workouts not only include abs, but also buns, arms, thighs, and stretching. All are only 8 minutes each. I usually just do the ab workout, which I love. It provides noticeable core strength improvement if done regularly.

This last Thursday, I did abs, buns, arms, and stretched. My quads are still sore. Four days later! It must have been from the buns workout, because while my buns and abs were also feeling the burn, it was nothing like my quads.  I would say my quads are the weakest part of my body, so they needed it. I 100% recommend this video. If you don't have time to change into workout gear or 30 minutes or an hour to workout, surely you have 8 minutes!

2. I recently rewarded myself with Jillian Michael's Yoga Meltdown DVD. I loved Bob's Weight Loss Yoga DVD and I was really eager to see what Jillian had to offer. I'm pretty new to yoga and have really enjoyed it. While I just tried Jillian's video for the first time today, and I only did the first workout, I can say, it's definitely a keeper. While Jillian doesn't explain how each body part should be positioned quite as well as Bob does, she does really focus on breathing. She is fun to listen to and made me laugh quite a few times during the workout with her witty comments. It's a very different workout from Bob's, Jillian's is more like aerobic yoga. She introduced me to some new more challenging poses that I loved, like camel. I can't wait to work up to the second workout.

I'm happy to say that I am still honoring my New Year's Resolution of my commitment to working out. However, I also resolved to cut back on my sugar intake and unfortunately that is not going so well. I have a weakness for Almond Hershey Kisses and a love of baking! What's a girl to do? While my weight loss goal is only to shed 10 pounds, I haven't lost one! BUT, I haven't gained one. I've been consistently working out and pretty much eating whatever I want. Granted, I mostly eat pretty good most days. If I get motivated I know I can lose the pounds by bikini season, but right now I'd rather bake :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Happy Bday Chloe {Cupcakes & Favors}

Happy 9th Birthday Chloe!
Dear Chloe,
I'm so proud to be your mom! You are smart and sweet. You are the comedian and the athlete in the family. Today we watched you, the only girl on your team, knock ball after ball past all those boys in little league. You never missed. Every game everyone is amazed at how well you play. I'm not amazed or surprised. You have so much determination. Every time your up to bat, and that ball goes flying, I hear parents from the other team say "Wow!" You made some awesome plays at first too. Today you chose to go to Benihana's for your birthday dinner and tomorrow we will be having your party at the ice skating rink. Here are the favors we will be giving out tomorrow, who doesn't love a GIANT rainbow lollipop? You asked for these Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough filled cupcakes for me to give to your baseball team for snack. And you also asked me to make Brownie Popsicles which I will make later tonight. Hope your birthday is as great as you hoped. I love you.
Love, Mom

These party favor tags were created by Jen @ Mommies Ink, who I found on Etsy. They originally had a roller skate on them. She responded to email request within minutes, resized the image per my request, swapped out the skate and the name, and had them delivered to my email that night. That is some awesome, super fast service! I used a 3 1/2 inch scallop punch.

Chloe loves cookie dough and I had this recipe from Kevin and Amanda. She has the complete recipe and tutorial so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. You can go to her blog for all the info. I had a love-hate relationship with these cupcakes. The cupcakes themselves are pretty plain, which Amanda notes. So, next time I would use a yellow cake. Also,  no one in my house really like this frosting. Cookie dough's main flavor components are butter, brown sugar, and vanilla, and that is what this frosting is made of. It was way to sweet for us. I don't have an alternative yet, so I'll take your ideas. Finally, when you plop on the frozen cookie dough balls, DO NOT press them down. Yes, I learned this the hard way. But, it is important that you just light press them on top of the batter. The batter will bake over them, I promise. If you press them down you will have half a crispy cookie at the bottom of your cupcake. Also, the middle of the cupcakes will sink in slightly when you remove them from the oven. Even though I really wanted to toss these at one point, I kept them and the kids on her team loved them, and I got a cupcake order out of it!
I have transferred Amanda's Recipe onto a word document, which includes some of her photos. Please email me if you would like me to send you a copy. The Cupcake Doctor also has a recipe for Cookie Dough Cupcakes which might be of interest.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lazy Woman's Lasagna {AKA Baked Ravioli}

Our family loves this easy dish! And it definitely falls into the "good things simple" category! Start with your favorite ravioli, cover with sauce and cheese, and bake! I always make mine with homemade marinara, but you could use a jar of sauce if your pressed for time. You'll need a large box of Ravioli, marinara sauce, 2 cups of mozzarella cheese, and some sprinkles of grated Parmesan.

Marinara Sauce
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup basil leaves, rinsed and chopped
1-15 ounce can tomato sauce
1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil

First, in a medium pot, saute your onions and garlic in olive oil until soft, just a few minutes.

To your blender add the basil, tomato sauce,
diced tomatoes with half their juices,  
and the sauteed onion and garlic with the olive oil.

 Now, cover your blender and puree until...well, pureed.
A few 3 second pulses should do the trick.

When it looks like this {below}transfer it back to your pot.
Heat to a boiling and drink add the wine.
Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Gently cook your ravioli according to package directions. If it says cook for 6-8 minutes, cook for 6 minutes. You do not want them to burst, so make sure they cook at a gentle boil only. Spray a 9x13 inch baker with cooking spray. Add your ravioli to your baker in an even layer.
I used a large plastic box Buitoni Four Cheese Ravioli

Cover with half of your prepared Marinara sauce.
Store the rest of the marinara in a freezer bag
and seal using my straw method.
 Freeze for later use.

Cover with Mozzarella cheese, then sprinkle with Parmesan.

Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered for 30 minutes.
To further brown the cheese, simply broil for a few minutes.
I make this ahead of time on busy game-filled week nights and pop it in the oven while I throw together a salad.
You can use any type of ravioli or even add meat to this dish.
It tastes great as leftovers too!

Please Welcome My Friend Branson...

Hey Everyone! Today I have invited Branson from My Reflection of Something to talk to us about her journey in feeding her baby boy. Sure buying and using store-bought baby food can be convenient, but it is also pricey. There are so many benefits to making your own baby food when possible and Branson's going to tell you all about getting started. 
When my son was first ready to start solids, I got so excited about this new phase of baby fun. I went out to the store and loaded up on little jars of every stage one baby food out there. I had so much fun feeding him, and seeing his reaction to the different flavors. I noticed that some of them seemed to upset his tummy a bit, but just figured he wasn’t quite ready for them yet. When I decided to quit my job to stay home with Aiden, I knew right away we were going to have to find ways to cut costs. This was when my love of making baby food was born!

I did lots of research, made lists of what he could and couldn’t have, and then stocked up on produce. For the next three days my kitchen looked like the produce department had exploded right there in my home. What a mess! I steamed, roasted, pureed, mashed, and froze little cubes of food until I had enough to last for months. Then, I actually started feeding my homemade food to Aiden. He loved it. He was eating almost twice as much as when we used the jars, and I noticed that the foods that upset his tummy didn’t bother him at all when they were prepared at home. Now, that isn’t to say that store-bought baby food is bad by any means, but I do believe that there are benefits to making baby food at home.

A great comparison between the two products is bananas. This is one of the foods that Aiden did not tolerate when he ate them from a jar, and there is no easier food to prepare at home! A nice ripe banana can be mashed and fed to baby straight from the peel. Sure, when you store the banana puree it doesn’t stay that pleasant color you see in the jars, but the taste difference is amazing. I know this because I tasted all of Aiden’s food, and to me the jars of bananas taste like they were prepared while the bananas were still slightly green. I do believe that is why Aiden got a stomachache when he ate them.

So many people think that making baby food is difficult, and I was one of them. What I found as I got into it, though, is that it is incredibly easy! The website I use most often for figuring out what to make and how to prepare it is This website is an excellent resource, that breaks everything down by age group, explains the nutritional value of each food, and tells you how to prepare them and what you should mix together. I will be the first to tell you that my knowledge of preparing produce before Aiden was open the can and dump it in a pan on the stove. I didn’t know how to prepare acorn squash, and I had never tried a parsnip. This website took me through every item step by step.

There are different ways to store baby food. I choose to freeze mine in ice cube trays. The frozen cubes are good for up to 3 months, and so I don’t have to constantly be making a mess in the kitchen making new food. When I am ready to feed the baby, I just microwave the cubes, mix in a little organic oatmeal cereal usually, and we are ready to go! Aiden eats such a wide variety of foods, and he loves them all. He is eating things his baby cousins probably never will, and as a result Matt and I have expanded our palates as well. The benefits are many, and I would definitely encourage any parent feeding an infant to look into making their own food. Even if you don’t make all of it, think of the things you can make to supplement what is available in the stores! It is never to early to start encouraging healthy habits, and an appreciation for healthy foods. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying your baby food premade, but you might very well become a baby food making addict like me if you only give it a chance!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Green Velvet Cupcakes & {Doctored Store-Bought Icing}

St. Patrick's Day Green Velvet Cupcakes
I had so much fun during this cupcake photo shoot! I'm so happy with the way these photos turned out I posted a ton of them! I was inspired by these cute mint M & M's that I bought.
I adapted The Cake Doctor's
Quick Red Velvet Cake recipe for these cupcakes.

1 box white cake with pudding in the mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 {or less} of a 1-ounce bottle green food coloring
3 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tbls. cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 muffin pans with cupcake liners. Add all ingredients to a mixer. Mix on low for one minute and medium for 2-3 minutes more, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Fill liners with batter with an ice cream scoop. One scoop per liner. Bake for 17 minutes. Cool. Frost. 

For the frosting....oh the frosting! Besides the fact that I HATE making icing it didn't matter. I didn't have any powdered sugar, but I did have a ton of canned frosting. So I doctored it. I had 1 and 1/2 cans of vanilla frosting and 1 and 1/2 chocolate frosting.  I also had a cube of cream cheese. I started by adding the chilled vanilla frosting to to the mixer along with the cream cheese. I mixed it thoroughly. Then I removed and set aside half of that frosting to frost half of my cupcakes. To the rest of the vanilla frosting in the mixer, I added the chilled 1 and 1/2 tubs of chocolate frosting and mixed it thoroughly. I frosted the other half of the cupcakes with the chocolate frosting and topped them all with chopped mint M & M's.

I loved the contrast here with the green, blue, and brown.
This post is link to all my sidebar food blog hops
and the newest one I was invited over