Breakfast Casserole | GLUTEN FREE

This specific breakfast is one of those “trip down memory lane” breakfast options. As a kid from the age of 8 and on, I lived life like an only child. My sister and I were of course close, but at the time as close as a 9 year old can be with her 19 year old sister. There was a lump of my childhood where we were just in too different of age brackets to really have that “bond” like you have with a sister. This changed quite a bit around the time I turned 13, and started to develop the “older mind-set” of a pre-teenager/teenager.

Teenage years… yikes. My sister was a lifeline of words of wisdom and guidance in an ever slipply social slide, and hormonal phase of life. Here we are 15 years later and she is now smoothly guiding two teenagers of her own through that monumental phase in life. But I digress…


This specific dish isn’t about my sister, rather a different memory comes to mind whenever I make this. During those “only child” feeling years, visits from my aunt, uncle, and two cousins who lived in Eastern Pennsylvania were so exciting. My two cousins were older than me, but never treated me like they were older. Some of my best childhood memories involved playing with them at our house or even theirs. I think the thing I loved the most about those visits was that our house was full of people, waking up in the morning and finding my uncle and Dad already downstairs having coffee. Each time they would come and stay with us, we had a very specific food regimen. My mom would make her breakfast casserole, a cheese danish (really still working out the details on how to convert this to gluten free…) and of course, Laska’s Pizzas for dinner! Laska’s is a local specialty pizza shop that my aunt and uncle would stock up on for their boys, particularly on the trips when they came without them.

I love the recipes that can pull you back to very specific moments in your life, and even make you feel like a kid again. This breakfast casserole became the large crowd breakfast, making appearances at family reunions, when my sister and her husband came home from college with a crowd of friends for “Groundhog’s Day” and even my own excursion with summer school friends up to the knob. Yes, my mother sure did master the art of pleasing a crowd.

The recipe I am about to share with you is a small version, only using half of a gluten free loaf of break and filling a 6 cup casserole dish. Feel free to double and triple as needed. When my mom needed to prepare a large quantity, she would make it in a roasting pan. To begin, cube half a loaf of UDI’s brand white bread. You can use your favorite bread, my mom used to bake a gluten free egg loaf, and slice it up. I’m not 100% sure if she still does that or not, as that was back in the years when quality gluten free products were not readily available.

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Once your bread has been cubed, fill your casserole dish loosely. Don’t pack it too tightly or you’ll have one very dry Breakfast Casserole.

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Next prepare your eggs. Whisk your eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper until smooth. Evenly pour mixture over top of cubed bread.

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Once your bread is nice and gooey, cover the entire casserole with shredded cheddar cheese. Top with bacon bits (or crumbled REAL bacon if you want to get fancy) and place it in the oven.

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Let the casserole bake for approximately 45 minutes, and let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

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This savory dish was so good with the sweet addition of my Mom’s cream cheese danish, and once I come up with a solution for the crescent roll, I’ll be sure to share it as well.

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Share this dish with great company, fruit, and some fresh coffee, and you’re sure to create memories that you and your guests will never forget.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Red White and Blue JELLO Squares

The summer I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, I had a weird obsession with Jell-O. Yes, I clearly had too much time on my hands as so many would say, between chasing around my one and a half year old, returning back to full time post-graduate student, and the joyful aches and pains of being six, or more, months pregnant. CLEARLY I had too much time on my hands. I began to obsess over fine-tuning the art of layering jello, like a classy 1950’s susie-homemaker. Once I discovered this incredibly simple, yet game changing tweak to the typical boxed jello found at the store, I began to make themed Jigglers for each of my niece and nephews birthday parties. If my sister-in-law read this blog, she would seriously laugh at this post, because I literally made a spider-man face and matching black and red Jigglers for her son.


Prior to that, I made pink and blue for my other niece, along with Rainbow striped for yet another niece that fall. When my daughter’s second birthday rolled around with her super sweet Snow-Bunny theme mentioned in Winter Birthday Blues Brightened, I tried using the Royal Brand jello in the “Frozen” themed colors available at the time. I particularly liked this layered jello, because it had a CLEAR, which was super icy and cool look.

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The other really cool trick I also learned during this summer of layering Jello obsession, was how to make the perfect gelatin white layer, thanks to Recipe Girl, I was able to take her basic formula and expand on it, creating variations to match every party theme possible.

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So today, I am sharing with you her layered Red, White, and Blue Jello, which I absolutely love! It’s so festive and simple to make, and such a crowd pleaser! Once you try this version, you’ll never go back to regular “Jigglers.”

The magic ingredient to this amazing consistency is “Knox” gelatin, which I discovered about 5 years ago while planning for our wedding. I wanted these beautiful jello shots in replace of the schnapps during the bridal dance, and found this Jelly Shot Test Kitchen book, thanks to Pinterest, way back in it’s primal stage. This book was full of beautiful jello cocktails, that also happened to be delicious.

I believe a group of girls came over the Thursday night before my wedding and all sat around while I mixed up batch after batch of light purple and sea foam green tinted concoctions. Just as I was about to finish the last batch, and my friend Kali will vouch for this, I turned around with the final pan in my hand ready for the fridge, but turning just a little too sharply, SHOWERING MY ENTIRE KITCHEN  in Jello goo. What a nightmare that was to clean up. To her ever lasting credit, Kali was the only one who got down to help me scrub up the hot-mess my kitchen had just become. (That was just the beginning of a weekend full catastrophes, but another story for another day)

Returning back to this very simple jello, For ever two boxes of 3 ounce JellO brand, or alternate brand flavored gelatin mix, you would need to add one pouch of Knox gelatin as well.

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Combine those pouches in a glass bowl and add two cups of boiling water to the powder. Pour this layer into a greased 9 x 13 glass dish.

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Now, the other thing I really like about making jello, is my Pyrex Glass Dish with Carrying Case and while I’ve linked you to a newer version, the one I have is a special hand-me-down.

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This specific dish was my great aunt’s and when she passed, my Mom had it for a few years. Once my husband and I got our first home, my Mom gave it to me. I love that every time I open the case, I see her handwriting, neat, and organized on the label. *Disclaimer, this is no longer a valid address or phone number (pre-9/11).*

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My aunt would always bring a cold “salad” for holiday meals, typically consisting of a mousey, gelatin dessert. As a kid, I never questioned an adult giving me dessert as salad, because who would?! The lemon one was my favorite, perhaps I’ll share that with you down the road.

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On a more practical note, I still love the warm core and cool core options for traveling during picnic season. I use the cool one any time I take a gelatin dessert to an event and it works great!

After completing your first layer of red, place in the fridge for at LEAST 30 minutes. It’s super important that you wait the appropriate time between layers or they mix together and you lose that pretty, smooth layered look.

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Once the red layer has been placed in the fridge, begin working on the white layer, starting by emptying a can of sweetened condensed milk into a bowl. Add one cup of boiling water. In a separate bowl sprinkle two pouches of gelatin over 1/2 cup ICE COLD water, letting stand for 5 minutes. Then add the other 1/2 cup of boiling water to dissolve the gelatin, before adding to the milk mixture.

*When I made this for our picnic this year, I made a mistake and placed a cup of ice cold water in a bowl, sprinkling my two pouches over this, instead of the original instructions. I simply let it stand a minute or two, and then mixed into the hot milk mixture. The gelatin dissolved just fine, luckily!

Remove the chilled red layer is solid, waiting until your white creamy layer is room temperature. I have made the mistake of pouring hot mixture on to the solidified gelatin, ultimately turning my white layer pink.

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Pour in your white mixture and let chill at least thirty minutes.

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Once it’s back in the fridge, repeat the directions from the red layer, with blue gelatin and Knox.

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I usually have to do some strategic balancing act in our fridge, since we are usually having this for a picnic, and our fridge is slightly un level, which can leave your layers looking something like that crafty 1990’s sand art in a bottle, before accidentally shaking it up on the way home. I swear I could never get enough sand in those darn things to keep them set…

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Again, when adding your final layer, be sure to not rush and pour in your gelatin before gets to room temperature. Patience is key, which reinforces the fact that it truly is a miracle that I am ever capable of completing this dish.


Once all is said and done, you have a splendid looking and deliciously tasting teeny work of art! Try out some cookie cutters for fun shapes!

Click HERE for original recipe.

Happy Picnic Season ūüôā

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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GLUTEN FREE | Knock off Ice Cream Cake

As promised, I must deliver on this ridiculously simple and amazingly delicious gluten free version of, you guessed it, Dairy Queen’s infamous Ice Cream Cakes. I made this in 2016 for Mother’s Day, as mentioned in my post¬†10 Tips for Hosting the Perfect Mother‚Äôs Day Brunch, and chose this because it’s a dessert that must be made the night before, leaving more free time the day of. This weekend kick starts picnic season, and surprising everyone at your picnic with this cool and pretty dessert, would definitely wow a crowd.

This dessert went over so well with my in-laws and parents on Mother’s Day last year, that I believe they had all wished I would repeat for Father’s Day. I seriously regretted not repeating the recipe this year for Mother’s Day. But lucky for you gluten-free fanatics, my girls and I whipped one together just for fun this week!

Now, I was recreating this from memory, and quickly ran to the store grabbing the essentials. There are two major differences between the one I photographed, and the one I made last year. The first major difference is the one in the photographs only has one half gallon of vanilla ice cream; whereas the exact Dairy Queen Replica cake requires one full gallon of vanilla ice cream. The second difference is the quantity of¬†whipped topping used to “ice” your cake. So be prepared for the one following the recipe below to be a bit taller than the one picture here.

To make this cake you will need a spring form pan, preferably a 9-inch. I believe mine was a 10-inch, which made a wider and flatter cake. (but just as delicious!)

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You will need to line the bottom and sides with wax paper. Remove the bottom piece of your pan and trace it on to a piece of waxed paper.

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Next line the edges of your pan with waxed paper. Tape it together if you are going for a cake that’s taller than the sides of your pan.

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I like to make this after getting home from the grocery store. Ice cream seems to naturally soften while shopping, loading, and unloading groceries. By the time everything is put away the ice cream is the perfect consistency to spread evenly.

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If you have a half gallon of chocolate, you will need a full gallon of vanilla. Begin by evenly spreading the chocolate in the bottom of the pan. Now, this is not an ad for ice cream brands, but if I’m being totally honest, Great Value brand ice cream has to be my favorite carton ice cream on the market right now. It’s so rich!

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Next, take a container of gluten free chocolate cookies with vanilla filling (aka, Gluten Free Oreo alternatives) and let out all that aggression from the week with a few good swift whacks of a rolling pin.

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Crumbling these Oreos evenly over your chocolate ice cream will create that delicious crunchy mystery layer hidden inside the Dairy Queen cakes. Place in the freezer at least 30 minutes.

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Next, soften two jars of hot fudge just until pliable. Drop the fudge on to the semi-frozen layer of ice-cream and cookie crumbs, and gently spread until evenly coated. If you are quick handed go ahead and spread the softened vanilla ice cream on to the fudge. If you are not comfortable with this, place the cake back in the freezer an additional 30 minutes until the fudge solidifies again.

This is where my pictures are not a proper replica of the recipe provided below. I only used a half gallon, but strongly recommend using a full gallon to create your cake.

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Place back into the freezer for a solid 30 minutes to an hour. Once the cake is nice a solid, remove spring-form sides and wax lining.

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Don’t worry if your cake isn’t perfectly smooth or even. A swift hand and lovely thick whipped topping “icing” will smooth out all of those bumps and cracks. You literally just open a package of cool whip and begin to “ice your cake, starting by evening out the top of your ice cream.

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Once you have a nice even layer of cool whip on the cake, place the cake back in to the freezer for at least two hours or overnight. If you want to get really fancy, consider this your “Crumb layer, and use a second container of cool whip at room temperature to put a smoother layer over the entire thing, even adding a little piping on the edge of the cake to get that true “DQ” feel.

Remove the cake from the freezer just before serving and top with sprinkles, pipe on some decorative cool whip or take my approach and line that bad boy with more cookies! Chop your gluten free cookies in half and gently press them into the frozen dessert.

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Ok, some little fingers found their way into this pile of cookies before ever decorating the final product. And trust me, I got one official stamp of approval on the end product from a 3 year old semi-pro dessert sampler.

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And with a few simple steps, zero cooking, a little free time, and a whole lotta ice cream carton licking, you can¬†FINALLY have a gluten-free ice cream cake that will most certainly”Take the cake” to any store-bought ice cream cake around. Happy Summer!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Gluten Free DQ Knock Off Ice Cream Cake

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Time: prep 1 hour, freezer overnight
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon chocolate ice cream
  • 1 gallon vanilla ice cream
  • 1 jar hot fudge
  • 1 container gluten free chocolate cookies with vanilla cream (plus additional for topping)
  • 2 8 oz containers Cool Whip
  • OPTIONAL
  • sprinkles, cherries, additional cookies to decorate

Directions

  1. Line a 9-inch spring form pan with wax paper. Spread softened half gallon of chocolate ice cream in bottom of pan.
  2. Crush chocolate cookies and sprinkle over ice cream. Drizzle hot fudge sauce (slightly warm) over cookies. Place in freezer 30 minutes or until solid.
  3. Spread softened gallon of vanilla ice cream over top. Free again until firm.(30 minutes to 1 hour)
  4. Remove from freezer. Ice with cool whip. Decorate with optional toppings, return to freezer at least 2 hours or over night. Serve immediately after pulling from freezer.

Home Office Reveal | Making the Most of Extra Space

Now that I have been working from home for about 3 weeks, I’ve really begun to settle in to this new lifestyle. I love everything about working from home. I miss several of my former co-workers turned best friends, but the pros certainly out weigh the cons in this life change decision list. I began to set up my home office months before actually “working in it,” ending up guessing what I might need, what I might use, and how the day would play out based on my previous experiences working in a brick and mortar setting.

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I can say I didn’t do a terrible job guessing in these areas; however, I did discover a few extra things that I would need to fix. It’s interesting looking back at my original blog post, Designing a Home Office¬†and see what I’ve changed just since this first post.¬†My office was functional, and it gave me a sense of segregated space, even though the only extra space we found for my base camp was in our bedroom. This has actually worked out to my benefit. For some reason, a master bedroom never receives the¬†same tender love and care¬†in the decorating department as the rest of the house. Perhaps it is because we focus on those areas of the home where we spend the most time. Prior to this job, I simply spent the 6-8 hours of sleeping time in this room. There is no television in our bedroom, nor is there any additional furniture to sit on or read at. Ironically, this empty space is a significantly large space, and for the first 3 years living in this house, has always felt like an incredibly wasted space.

Originally I had long-term plans of expanding the tiny old bathroom that the girls and I share to create more of a master bath, and utilize the extra barren space in our bedroom. Creating a base camp work space would also never have been an option with my husband’s former work schedule. He works in one of those industries where you’re always on call, make your money in the ridiculous amounts of over time, and basically get sleep when you can. Fortunately, the stars have aligned in our favor over the past year, shifting him to an office, and home each night for dinner. This shift also opened up new possibilities in regards to repurposing the space that has done nothing more than collect dust bunnies for several years.

Our bedroom has also been the home to the, and I quote my husband, “most expensive clothes hanger we ever purchased,” a.k.a. my treadmill. Yes. The two plus years of dust that this little piece of equipment has collected over my time of pregnancy, anti-work-out phases, and frankly overwhelmed and unmotivated months, has since been removed. This little gem hidden in the corner of the room, calling out to me for months and months, while I continue to tell myself that if I don’t make eye contact with it, we can continue to play the¬†“it’s not there and I have¬†no possible way to really work out whenever it’s cold”, game I’ve been playing for about a year and a half.

Yes, all of these things were about to change drastically. Because while I am in this room for a significant portion of my day, my extra time is no longer filled with rethinking classroom layouts or unit decorations, remembering where I might have placed the most recent stack of writing samples or any of those extra thoughts I filled my days with in the classroom. Nope, all of that is gone, and alarmingly quickly. I really believed this would be a difficult transition, that working from home would take some time and self-motivation to really get used to. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. This change, this shift back to the home, came so naturally, so easily, that I have spent the past three weeks wondering why I ever doubted this decision for even a second.

Every morning, I wake up about an hour before my family, get ready for the day, go downstairs with a solid 15 minutes to myself to organize bags that might need to go to the sitter, put stray dishes away that were left on the counter to dry, place random toys back where they belong, and just mentally wake up. Once my oldest daughter is awake, I sneak through the first bedroom where our youngest is still soundly asleep and share a few moments of peace and morning snuggles with this little lady who is growing up all too quickly. We then pick out her outfit and braid her hair (she’s in a “braid my hair like Elsa, Mommy!” phase) all before her sister wakes up. I then repeat this routine with our youngest, and the three of us head downstairs just as my husband has finished getting ready himself.

It’s so strange what a difference a simple shift to your morning routine can make in your entire day. Once everyone has shoes on, the four of us head out to the car, my husband now present and able to assist in loading kids and just like that, we are off to work and the sitter’s house. Just the fact that¬†I am the one dressing my girls and doing their hair, has made all the difference in my day. I no longer lug sleeping children to the car at 5:45 in the morning, racing to get dressed and do my make up in 20 to 25 minutes just to avoid having to get up any earlier than I already have to.

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Upon my return to the house, I have 10 to 15 minutes free to make breakfast, a REAL breakfast each day. That has also drastically improved my mood, and focus throughout the day. After this has all be completed, I head up to my office with a fresh cup of coffee and log in to my “classroom.” During the first week I had a significant amount of down time listening to trainings and feeling my way through things, so I began to really multi-task, analyzing my surroundings and trying to determine how my office could become more complete, and less like a corner of a bedroom. I already invested in several great items making my life all the more easy, but I knew I would need a few more pieces and some items rearranged to feel complete.

And so, after all of my ramblings I present to you, our finished Home Office and Master Bedroom.

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To begin, the desk is a piece I purchased from Target about a year and a half ago, needing some space for all my clutter, bills, and whatever else crossed my path to land on, especially heading into my post-graduate work accruing my administrative paperwork. You can find that desk HERE for White Desk on Target’s website. God I love Target. The filing cabinet is just your basic black two drawer with additional top storage, and I’ve also given you that link HERE for Black Filing Cabinet.

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And then of course my favorite part. I am in love with pink hanging file folders! I hate the green, which I left in the photograph just so you could see the difference they make in a bright white crate. You can find these Pink and Gold Hanging Files HERE. They also have the same files in Black and Gold, along with a Grey Marble Hanging File Folder. The Marble would go great with the UBrands Marble Dry Erase Board with Gold Frame hanging above my desk. Of course no hanging file folder is complete without some motivational 3-tab white and gold folders.

Now, lets talk about this lamp pictured below. The¬†Desk Task Lamp with Touch On/Off in white. This lamp is actually part of the infamous Pillowfort line Target has strategically designed to make Moms swoon and children indulge in magical room themes. I must admit I am totally sucked in by the creativity this line brings to both of my girls’ bedrooms.

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Going back up to the planner and pens, I have always utilized a desk calendar in the brick and mortar setting, and felt the need to continue this with a book planner than can be neatly tucked into my drawer, saving space on my desk top since I typically have two laptops running at all times. The AT-A-GLANCE WorkStyle Monthly planner was the perfect thin, planner that gave me the monthly view I needed and was accustomed to. Now those darling pink and purple pens you see, are perfect for the thin paper in this planner, as I typically write with Paper Mate Flair Marker Pens, and you can see from my pen organizer, I’m a junkie for them. But these Paper Mate Ink Joy Gels were a parting gift from a newly acquired work friend. They write so nicely, that I might just have a new favorite pen! And the best part, the actually write in pink and purple! (Can you say… #teacherproblems ?!)

And of course, my desk wouldn’t be complete without my better halves. From my new found best friends, to my lifelong best friend, to my work friend/mom/inspiration to be the best at whatever I strive for in life. Yes these mounted photographs give me the friendly faces I need, and the motivation to continue to work my hardest.

You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams” – Dr. Seuss

That quote says it all. If you haven’t had the opportunity, I strongly recommend researching some of the information behind Dr. Seuss. What a brilliant man. I think I love this quote because it applies not only to my marriage and family, but now to my career as well. Such simple but powerful words. Finding a quote that reminds you daily how precious life really is, is so worth reading.

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Now, as we continue to travel around the room, I have added several new pieces¬†to the space, because when you spend your entire day in a room, you want the whole thing to feel complete and pretty. At least, that’s what I need to function. Yes, yes, I am aware of my weird issues.

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Now I have to get very specific regarding our “night stands” because I was tricked once by this. The cubes you see in the night stands were purchased about a year ago, with the intention of using them in my cube shelves shared between my daughters rooms. One major problem: these cubes are¬†not the same standard size as the Closet Maid Brand.¬†These specific ones are Threshold Brand 4 Cub Organizer and are 13 inch cube spaces. Now the individual cube storage bins: I purchase two¬†Fabric Cube Mint, turning one backwards so it was solely mint, and leaving one forward facing with the gold, mint, and coral pattern, and one¬†Fabric Cube Coral. ¬†I purchased a Threshold Brand 2 Cube Organizer to function as my husband’s night stand.

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On my night stand, I purchased this new lamp because the one I had before was the last remaining from one of those boxed “get every lamp for your house in one kit” sets we originally purchased for our very first dumpy apartment 8 years ago. While it held it’s own for a long time, the curvy silver base and tapered white shade¬†really needed to exit the scene… like a few years ago. This sweet little Geometric Accent Lamp¬†was also another excellent Target find, adding sense of warmth to the space. And the flowers were miscellaneous clippings from previous artificial blooms, and an older white vase, originally purchased at target, but no longer available so I have provided this link to a similar White Vase option.

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Our bedding is not a new purchase, but a re-organization of several other sets of bedding. I love when you can pull items from various placed around your house to create a new space. The Pinch Please Comforter Set from Threshold is by far my favorite comforter yet. It’s simple and can easily be updated through the various seasons by changing throw pillows and blankets, but ultimately keeping the same bed set. The current arrangement really pulls at the spring vibes with the hints of light minty blue in the Micromink Printed Blanket by Room Essentials and the soft mint throw pillows¬†and ruffled white throw pillow for a little texture and character.

And of course, we cannot forget these Gallery Wrapped Canvas prints, hanging above the bed. I just love both of these photographers who have so meticulously documented milestones in our lives. Please take a moment to look at these stunning women’s portfolios and craft.¬†Sonia Levy Photography, the photographer to the right of the sign, has documented our engagement, wedding, countless weddings of our bridal party members, the newborn session to both of our daughters our first family photoshoot, and our oldest daughters 6 month and 1 year photos. We will forever cherish these priceless moments she has captured in our lives.

 

And then of course, Vanessa Huey Photography, who began photographing photographing for us with our youngest daughter’s first day in the world, a follow-up updated family session after her birth, some gorgeous photographs of our oldest daughter in the snow, and then of course, the photo session that became the face of Shimmering Twig in it’s initial phase, our most recent family picture. Both of these women have given us irreplaceable gifts of time, art, and talent.

So here we are, 2,000 + words later and another completed room, in the on-going project I like to call my home. Please feel free to pin, share, and replicate anything you see here, because the best part about this digital world of inspiration is just that, inspiring each other to try new things, create new ideas, and refresh our lives whenever things get a little stale. Enjoy the week!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Spinach and Sausage Lasagna | Gluten Free

Lasagna and I have a love-hate relationship. My husband loves it, and I have grown to “like” it. My Mom made it one day for some dinner a few years ago, that seriously turned out perfect. It was the perfect combination of¬†sausage and ground beef, had the perfect balance of cheese, noodle, and meat, incorporated some amazing saut√©ed mushrooms, and frankly, was kick ass.

Since that lasagna, mine just haven’t held a candle. I have used gluten free pre-boil noodles, no-cook noodles, different brands of noodles, all with mediocre results. Something was always missing; whether I didn’t let it cook long enough, didn’t incorporate enough meat, or added too much cheese, almost every time there was something worthy of the Lasagna King’s complaint. I gave up on the dish for a while, re-evaluating my approach and basically putting the meal on the back burner for a while to avoid yet another failure.

After making my shift back to the home, I discovered the major ingredient I was missing was time. I was not taking enough time to prepare, layer, and certainly wasn’t giving the dish enough time to not only bake in the oven, but rest and set up before serving. When I was getting home at four thirty, some times five o’clock, I definitely did not have enough time to invest the adequate¬†amount of attention needed to properly prepare a lasagna, especially with two toddlers in cabin fever over load running circles around my feet. So it was on my first week working from home that I decided to brave this dish again, but taking a “let’s start from scratch” approach.

I decided to risk it and try the no-boil noodles that bake in the oven, since my Mom always seems to have good luck with them. I used the Gluten Free Cafe brand and this really worked out well in the final product.

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I also decided to eliminate ground beef or ground venison and go for a mild Italian sausage (you could switch in sweet Italian sausage if you preferred.) One pound works well for a half-pan. My Pyrex dish is an odd size identified as 6-cup and you can find this dish HERE if you are in the market for a new baking dish. This is the perfect size for one box of no-boil noodles. If you decide to make a 9 x 13 and double the recipe, be sure to purchase two boxes of noodles.

I began the recipe by browning my sausage with a little olive oil.

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Once the meat cooked down, I added 1/3 of a jar of Del Grosso Meat Flavored Sauce. You can use your favorite sauce at this point, I just grew up with this specific one and will most likely always use it.

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continue to let this cook and thicken on low heat for a few minutes. In the mean time, if you haven’t thawed your frozen package of chopped spinach, toss it in a colander and run hot water over it. It takes just a few minutes to thaw.

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After thawing the spinach, be sure to drain it, literally ring it out with paper towels until all the extra liquid has been removed. I only used about half of the spinach, keeping in mind I didn’t want to freak out the Lasagna King with too much “Green” or have the threenage inspector obsess a little too harshly on the flecks of green spoiling her favorite meal.

I then combined all of the cheeses, eggs, and seasonings and tossed in my spinach. By this point, I really started to get excited about my new invention!

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Once you’ve mixed your cheese mixture, the fun of layering can begin! Start with a solid layer of sauce from your remaining 2/3 of a jar.

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Every time I open a box of lasagna noodles, I feel like I am putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are always slightly smashed, but luckily it doesn’t matter. And if you’re going for that suzy-homemaker quality look, just save the few solid pieces for the top layer. No one will know the difference.

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Once you’ve pieced together the first layer, add in half of your sausage mixture.

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Continue with a second layer of puzzle piece lasagna noodles, breaking the pieces as needed to fit into the dish you’re layering in. Then drizzle a little more sauce onto the noodles. I like to spread it around with a spoon once I’ve added the drizzle.

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The next step is to dollop on the entire cheese mixture. Yes, to please the Lasagna King we must have two time the meat in comparison to the cheese. This is so wrong to me, but the end result was delicious so maybe, just maybe he’s right. Once in a while.

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More Sauce, More noodle, repeat Meat layer, more noodle, and top it off with sauce.

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Cover your final product with foil and pop that bad boy in to a preheated oven and cook at LEAST one hour. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. There is nothing that annoys the “Lasagna King” more than a runny lasagna.

Once I pulled the dish from the oven, I knew almost immediately that the lasagna was going to be a hit. The noodles weren’t curled and hard on top, so the foil lid was definitely critical, I did a quick sprinkle of additional mozzarella cheese across the top to add a finishing touch to the dish and let it sit about a half hour before digging in.

I think the strangest part about being home more, is actually being ready for dinner¬†before my husband gets home. I find myself beginning to feed the girls before he’s even home, simply because I can, and I feel so ORGANIZED lately. It’s been a real mental health check to say the least.

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I can report that my girls BOTH ate this recipe, spinach included, and never questioned it once! While I did add the spinach, do not mislead yourselves, this is¬†not a healthy recipe! No, it is a rich, flavorful, greasy, and delicious twist on the average lasagna. Hopefully this will entertain and please the “foodies” in your household. Happy Saturday!

  • Cheers!

Whitney

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Spinach and Sausage Lasagna

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 30 minute prep, total 2 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A simple twist to amp up the average classic recipe and please the picky eaters in any household

Ingredients

  • 1 box Gluten Free Cafe No-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb loose mild (or sweet) italian sausage
  • 1 32 oz. jar spaghetti sauce (Del Grosso)
  • 1 8 oz container Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed.
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese plus additional for topping
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 egg

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Brown sausage with 1 tbsp olive oil. Drain and add 1/2 jar spaghetti sauce. Cook until slightly thickened.
  2. In a separate bowl combine Ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, 1/2 of spinach, egg, and seasonings. Mix well.
  3. In a small glass baking dish, begin layering: Sauce, noodles, half of meat, noodles, & sauce.
  4. Add entire cheese mixture and carefully spread, following with a drizzle of sauce, and another layer of noodles. Add remaining meat, top with noodles and one last layer of sauce.
  5. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 1 hour. Remove and let stand 20-30 minutes before cutting and serving.

Product Review | Stella & Dot A Stellar Time

So, many moons and mood swings ago, I used to sell jewelry. It was after my Pampered Chef phase, but before my “let’s go to college YET AGAIN” phase. I started it as a side business to assist in paying for various extra costs for our wedding, and ultimately ended up spending more on the product, supplies, and presentation, than I ever made back. Lesson learned: I do not have the home show/ frugal money sense or personality to work in an atmosphere like that. I loved the social aspect of the business though, with the flexible schedule and opportunity to meet and make connections with ladies all across western Pennsylvania.

Fast forward to 2017, and I’m perusing the Facebook stream of positive vibes, after discovering the “I don’t want to see posts like this” filter button that was so discretely hidden from me for who knows how long, when I happened across a post from a high school classmate. Kayla was that naturally beautiful person, who went from crazy athletic to crazy mature beyond her years, like overnight. She was always about 3 steps ahead of the rest of us in life, and I always admired her sense of focus and drive. She and her husband knew what they wanted out of life, and they went for it, all the while, being fashionably and photogenically picturesque pursuing their version of the “great American dream.” So, I might be getting a little mellow dramatic here, but I just want to paint a picture of how I envision Kayla and her life with her high school sweetheart and two beautiful children.

One of the absolute greatest¬†benefits to Facebook is the ability to find connections with people you may have always known, but never necessarily fell into the same social circles. Or, if you had interconnecting friends in high school, may not have really thought much beyond who you spent your day in and day out with. Back in our high school era cell phones were a new trend and very few had them. Those that did, certainly didn’t use them to connect with friends while in the same building with them. We were much less interconnected in each others lives, but can now use that to our advantage, rediscovering each other and watching all of our children growing up. The ability to find and reconnect with people you’ve always known but may not have taken the time or had the opportunity to develop friendships with these people, is the peak of social media. Finding others who are also in the throws of parenthood, saying goodbye to the “good ole’ days” of a social life, and finding that motherhood bond with others is priceless.

Getting back to Kayla and her beautiful family; while scrolling through my newsfeed, I noticed an announcement she was making about starting a new business. Instantly feeling the nostalgia of taking on a new venture (and having recently dove head first into blogging) I couldn’t help but jump on board and immediately volunteer to host a party. I had no idea what the brand of jewelry was that she was selling, but simply knew, she was excited and starting a new chapter in her life, and I wanted to help and share in that new adventure. So after a few delayed social media messaging sessions, we had a date, a time, and a theme. “Girls Night In” was going to be straight Mimosa’s and Cupcakes. Seriously, does a girl need anything more than cupcakes, mimosas, and jewelry on a Friday night? NO. NO WE DO NOT.

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Prior to the party, Kayla set me up with an online account and continued to promote her line through her classy style and impressive photography skills using her Instagram account, which I strongly recommend each of you find and explore her new adventure. She arrived at my house the day of the event with at least an hour to set up. While she was putting together he beautiful display we were able to catch up about the past few years of life, and while we were able to creep on each other through social media, there were so many aspects of our lives completely missed. It was really intriguing to just pick each other’s brains about life for an hour or two before everyone arrived.

Her displays were so elegant, and the jewelry… WOW, the jewelry was definitely worth every penny. I was totally impressed and admitted almost immediately how this jewelry blew the line I used to sell out of the park. The line is newer to our area, and I believe everyone who was able to stop by was also impressed by the quality of the jewelry. This is not your typical cheap costume jewelry. Kayla was wearing a beautiful necklace she had owned for several years and it looked brand new.

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Once closing out the party it was a matter of days before my free and fifty percent off items arrived. The packaging was so classy and professional. I have to admit, I saved the boxes! The care and quality in the packaging was incredibly impressive.

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The materials were such high quality and the options were ENDLESS, that I seriously changed my mind about 5 different times trying to figure out what to order. (Kayla will vouch for this…!)

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This leather wrap bracelet is definitely my favorite and has just enough gold on it to go with just about any outfit. I wear it daily with two very special bracelets that are near and dear to my heart. (Yes… yes, I do have friendship bracelets with some of my bests, and I never take them off. My husband makes fun of me for this at every opportunity possible.)

The next item up on my list of great bracelet finds is this pretty little white and gold number.

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This one paired up really well with the first bracelet I opened, and I do wear them quite often together, but I try to not wear the white as often with the harsh reality of two toddlers running around like maniacs.

The third and final bracelet on my list of Stella and Dot must-haves is this silver and cool minty blue bracelet.

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How can you not LOVE a piece of jewelry that says, “hello gorgeous” before you even meet it?!

I love all of these new pieces of jewelry and did a serious re-evaluation of my former jewelry purchases, weaning out the cheaper and slightly over-bedazzled styles of my meal attempt at selling jewelry.

At this point, I feel very safe in saying I will be making several more purchase from Kayla’s Stella and Dot website, which you can access HERE, and strongly recommend having her over for a fabulous girls night in of your own! Isn’t this what we new Moms, experienced Moms, young Moms, older Moms, and soon-to-be Moms do? We collaborate, and we support each other. So trust me when I say, investing in this product will not leave you disappointed.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Summer Salads You Can’t Live Without

It’s that time of year, personally this is the season that kills me the most when it comes to the “foodie” in me. Summer holidays are my favorite! We kick off summer with a large Memorial Day picnic full of family and friends, and now that we are all new parents,¬†tons¬†of toddlers and “Threenagers” (my new favorite term!) running around everywhere. It’s like mass chaos and I love every second of it. Since moving into our new home (how long can you really call it new… I mean, we’ve been here longer than our last house at this point) we have monopolized on the massive backyard with a natural barrier of¬†privacy from thick shrubs and THAT porch. The selling point to my husband and I when house shopping at 8:00 at night, on a Tuesday, eight and a half months pregnant, was the magnificent¬†porch on this potential future home. Immediately we could both envision our future children running in the yard, friends getting together on the porch and family swinging on what can only be described as the most massive porch swing I’ve ever seen. The house was glowing and welcoming when we first pulled in the driveway. We were sold.

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Since then, we have had countless picnics, parties, “Sprinkles” birthdays, Mother’s Day lunches, Father’s Day grill-outs and even “porch sales” on this outdoor living space. But getting back to the matter at hand, SUMMER SALADS! Today I want to share with you my top 10 favorite Summer Salads that you¬†need to try this summer!

  1. Fresh Tomato Basil Salad

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This is the first salad I make EVERY year. Why? Because it’s simple, can easily be made after work, and is SO. GOOD. The foodie in me screams every time I make this. It’s amazing when you toss in little balls of Fresh Mozzarella, or slice nice thick slices of it and serve alongside.

2. Dill Pickle Pasta Salad

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If you haven’t tried this gem from Family Fresh Meals that is blowing up Pinterest, I strongly recommend that you do! It was SO. GOOD!!! Seriously, summer isn’t summer without a pickle! You can also find the link on my Pinterest Board Summer Picnic Dishes

3. Jude’s Potato Salad

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This one is another golden ticket item in our house! My Mom’s potato salad is my favorite because well, it’s my Mom’s and who doesn’t think their Mom makes the best food???

4. Bacon Cheddar Potato Salad

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So, any recipe that starts with the term¬†Bacon is an instant winner in our house. Seriously… how could you go wrong with BACON? This recipe was simple and flavorful. The recipe calls for a specific brand of ranch dressing; however, we used our own preference. A homemade Ranch would also be great!

5. Broccoli Cauliflower Salad

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Nothing sales pitches me more on Pinterest than a GREAT photo of food. Cooking Classy knocks it out of the park, plus this recipe is similar to the family classic Broccoli Cauliflower salad my in laws introduced to me. BUT this is a salad you need to make a little ahead if you want to to absorb the flavors! Don’t save this one for a last minute dish!

Must Have

6. Honey Lime Fruit Salad

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This recipe originally caught my eye because of the variety in color, but the FLAVOR! is what sends this one out of the park. Instead of the typical berry mix, or a standard fruit tray, try switching this little gem in for a spin on summer flavors!

7. Cucumber Dill Greek Yogurt Salad

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I found this gem over 4 years ago on Pinterest and make it ALL OF THE TIME. I had to do some serious searching in my old pins to find it, because I have the recipe memorized, but really wanted to share SheWearsManyHat’s direct link to the recipe!

I’ve noticed many salads mixing cucumbers and tomatoes, but these are two items I personally like to keep separate. I know many love the combo, I just like to enjoy either Tomatoes or Cucumbers. Period.

8. Dorito Taco Salad

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This is such an old-school salad that how can you NOT love it? We used to eat this all of the time at picnics when I was younger. I re-introduced it back into our picnic rotations last year and still love it as much as I did when I was a kid.

9. Southwestern Chop Salad

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This is another one of those recipes that caught me with colorful photography. These are the posts that draw my attention and make me realize that I really need to step it up on my Pinterest account! I made this recipe several years ago and frankly, forgot about it until I began researching through my own historical pins to develop this post. It’s so good and will most likely be on our table next week!

10. Avocado Pasta Salad

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This is such a creamy, cool summer salad option. I know you either love or don’t even want to bother with Avocado, but I strongly urge you to try this one out! Once again, I find myself obsessing over Spend with Pennies. Holly’s posts are so well written, photographed, publicized, and shared, that I had to sign up for her weekly recipe newsletter!

 

So here we are, just shy of Mother’s Day weekend, ready to dive on into summer head first, with the first annual picnic only weeks away. I hope this recipe really helps inspire you to try out those summer taste buds with these incredible salads you can’t live without this season!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

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Rainy Day Activities for the Littles (and biggies) in your Life

So we have just entered into the second week of terrible weather in Western Pennsylvania with temperatures bouncing between the thirties and fifties, drizzly rain to torrential down pours, and just an overall lingering “blah” feel in the air. If you have toddlers in your life, particularly ones who got just a taste of those few warm, sunny, and beautiful days in April, then you know how frustrating it is to go from running in the yard, to being cooped up inside. The last thing I want is to drag out this cabin fever any longer that necessary.

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I’ve really been scouring the internet recently to come up with some less than average ways to bring that fun and excitement back for my cuties and combat the rainy weather blues. I was browsing through my Facebook memories, you know the daily reminders we get on exactly what we were doing on this very day over the past however many years we’ve had a Facebook account, (Eleven for me… disturbingly), and I came across one from exactly one year ago today. In this particular memory, my daughter was camping out in her teepee on a, you guessed it,¬†Rainy Day.¬†And just like that, I was inspired to begin my search again, for the perfect list of Rainy Day Activities, to help survive this next week of even more awful weather.

I have several options, from fun projects to cute little unusual toys you can find in my two most favorite places: Target, and Amazon (THANK YOU PRIME SHIPPING!!!) Each blue name link will take you directly to the product I am talking about.

So first up on the list:

  1. Teepee Tents

91HwifUKrcL._SL1500_This is the exact tent we ordered a year ago for our daughters to play in. Let me tell you, this was the BEST investment we have ever made. Neither of the girls ever got sick of it, and it folds up into one long skinny post we just put behind out couch so it’s always available at a moments notice. It was simple to assemble and both my husband (who is 6′ 2″) and I can comfortable sit in it with our girls. We usually fill it with blankets and the throw pillows from the room just to make it a little more fun. Spur of the moment blanket forts are awesome, but just don’t quite compare to your own TEEPEE.

The link takes you directly to Amazon, and below the item you’ll find tons of variations on this specific tent from sizes, to colors, to even different styled tents. You just can’t go wrong with this little fortress!

2. Pop-Open Tunnels

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My youngest was given a pop-open Caterpillar Tunnel, by my sister in law for her first birthday. These are the perfect rainy day activity because they open and close so easily and storage is super convenient with the little carrying case it comes with. Plus it’s CHEAP! This is the best inexpensive source of hours of entertainment! Don’t like the caterpillar? Try the super cute Ladybug Tunnel!

3. Wooden Paper Roll Dispenser

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There are TONS and TONS and TONS of art supplies on the market. As a former art teacher, it was super important to me that our girls be exposed to creativity and have access to supplies that support just that. For Christmas this past year, my Mother in Law and Father in Law got our oldest a beautiful White Easel by Kid Craft (and I’m sure every Pottery-Barn loving mother can relate when I say Kid Craft is the affordable alternative to the gorgeous Pottery Barn creative play ideas). While the White Easel is a high price item, there are several alternatives that are inexpensive for creative play. For example, this Melissa and Doug Wooden Paper Roll Dispenser. This is perfect for a kitchen table or play table with easy dispensing paper, kids can go from small wall art, to life size treasure maps of the living room, to human outlines of themselves to color and cut out. The possibilities are endless with roll paper.

4. Creative Play: Imagination Baking

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You have all seen my little assistants in action helping in the kitchen, especially whenever a dessert is involved, but those exciting baking moments transfer right into imaginative play. The BEST, BEST, BEST, investment we ever made for our girls, was the KidKraft Play Kitchen the girls received for Christmas a year and a half ago. It was a splurge, but the quality of KidKraft made it so worth it. My father-in-law put it best that year, “you can buy a cheap toy kitchen and it might last a year or two, or you can get one like this, and even an 8 year old will still want to play with it, some things are just worth it in the long run.” He reference my niece who was 8 at the time, and immediately goes to play with the girls at the kitchen whenever she comes over to our house. I even love playing with the girls with their kitchen. You can find kitchens from all price ranges. The¬†specific Kitchen set we purchased can be found HERE.¬†Melissa and Doug really support the imagination play by creating such high quality toys that withstand the brutality instilled upon them by toddlers. We have the Melissa and Doug Baking Set, Bake and Decorate Wooden Cupcake Set, and the Brew and Serve Wooden Coffee Maker Set. Personally, the little coffee maker set is my favorite…!

 

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5. Creative Play: Household Accessories

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The research behind creative play is unreal. There are so many skills and developmental milestones in simply imagining real life tasks. Our girls LOVE playing with their matching Cabbage Patch baby dolls, carrying them around in car seats, pushing them in strollers, and even feeding them in sweet little high chairs. Our youngest’s current¬†favorite task is “ironing” her blanket on this DARLING little¬†Honestly Cute Ironing Board¬†on Target’s website. They have an entire category for Pretend Play¬†on their website. I mean, Honestly Cute even has a Dyson-look-alike VACUUM! Or try the Let’s Get Cleaning Broom and Duster set! My girls LOVE copying whatever chore or task I’m doing, so why not make it fun?! After all, I do get an awful lot of cleaning done on Rainy Days!

6. Creative Kitchen : Bake some Cupcakes!

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It’s no secret that I love to bake, or that my kids love helping me. On rainy and chilly days ¬†like today I find myself drawn to the kitchen looking for an excuse to turn the stove on and shake the chill that never seems to leave. Plus, who doesn’t love sharing a goey cake batter spoon with their little loved ones? So here are some cute little inspiration photos to get you in the mood to make fun little cupcakes with your littles, or bigs, depending on what age you have running around your house on these chilly and rainy days.

Head over to my Pinterest Board: Cupcakes for more ideas!

7. Read some Cute New Books!

Whether your an e-reader, or a hard copy book guru, you can never have enough cute books for your kids! I always welcome new book suggestions for the 1-4 year old age. Another great way to get your hands on some new titles for your kiddos would be to¬†find a family member or friend with similar aged children and do a “book exchange” trading your favorites for their favorites. It’s a win win! You find new books that have already been approved by people you care about, and you get to share the treasure you and your children love in return. Thanks to my sister, we love the Sandra Boynton books: Snuggle Puppy!, Hippos Go Berserk!, Pajama Time!, and Barnyard Dance!

LITTLE FREE LIBRARY
I’ve seen so many of the “Little Free Libraries” popping up all over the place. If you have never heard of this idea, a Little Free Library is a drop box located in a common area or a volunteering neighbor’s yard to donate books no longer used for others in a community to read. They are typically waterproof boxes that are unlocked and offer a spot to share, discuss, and build a stronger community simply by exchanging books.

8. Create a Day of Sunshine

Colors brighten our day, so why not try a cute spin off from sending a “Box of Sunshine” to having a Day of Sunshine to brighten those dreary days. Fill your day with as many sunny and brightly colored things from yellow table cloths, to colorful paper plates, yellow fruits and snacks, or yellow lemonade. Try to fill your whole date with everything bright and yellow! Make sparkly yellow suns, listen to “Yellow Submarine” just fill those dreary clouds outside with rays of fun and sun inside. ¬†Check out my Day of Sunshine board on Pinterest to find more colorful inspirational ideas for a sun-filled day.

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Hopefully this little list was able to inspire you to create some excitement for your kids in one way or another to weather the stormy days!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Gluten Free “Beef” Stew

While Beef Stew isn’t necessarily a spring-focused recipe, it is a simple recipe that seems to reset your taste buds after a holiday, or even during picnic season. We recently over-indulged through the Easter holiday weekend, having a solid 3 days of family, food, and festivities. The following week, I needed a simple,¬†REAL home-cooked meal. We were also spending the week trying to budget out our groceries and various other expenses working towards getting back on track with my “Spend Less, Value More” theme for the year. As I have mentioned before, my husband is an avid hunter, particularly PA fall Archery. We usually end up with a surplus of various cuts of venison to make it through the entire year. I have mastered the obvious: ground venison, sausage, kielbasa, and even some roasts, although I don’t love using the roasts.

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But every year we end up with an over load of packages labeled “deer loin.” The only way my husband cooks them is by frying them with breadcrumbs. Needless to say, he saves this meal for the very few moments when his gluten free family is not around. I wanted to find a way to use these up so they didn’t go to waste. I also recently discovered more of the McCormick Gluten Free Seasoning Packets. I LOVE the Brown Gravy packet and use it weekly in the winter, feeding my meat and potatoes husband.

I recently noticed a McCormick Gluten Free Beef Stew packet, and have been meaning to incorporate it into a recipe at some point. I know it is just as simple to create these seasoning mixtures and thicken the sauce with corn starch, but McCormick packets make such a nice, rich sauce that I’m just as happy to take the simple road on this. So one evening after the kids were in bed, and my husband had some show I was definitely not interested in on tv, I started trying to think of some new ideas for inexpensive meals. I decided to try a crock pot version of “Beef” Stew, using the term¬†beef lightly with the intention to replace the beef with the deer loin we have in the freezer.

Knowing that venison is a mild meat, but has a very detectible flavor to some, I knew the McCormick packet would be a good pair up, since we’ve used other packets that have excellent flavor.

I also discovered that the Sam’s Choice brand Bone Broth flavors are gluten free and available at chains like Walmart. It’s an inexpensive brand and readily available which is super convenient if you aren’t in close proximity to a Giant, Wegman’s, Trader Joe’s, ¬†Whole Foods, or any other Gluten-Free friendly organic-focused grocery store.

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I also recently broke down and upgraded my Crock Pot from my old turn-the-knob style to this Crock Pot with a timer, delay start, and VERY convenient settings when you have 10 + hours out of the house! If you purchase the one in my link above, you get an additional mini dipper with it! I don’t recommend the Crock Pots with the clip-on lids. They eventually break and the lids do not stay on well without the clips.

I started out by thawing the deer loins and tossing them in to the crock pot. Simple right? This entire recipe is SUCH A BREEZE, and trust me, turns out so well!

Next, I used long carrots and peeled them but did not cut them. I would not have done this if it wasn’t for The Wicked Noodle’s recipe on, Recipe Review | Balsamic Dijon Roast¬†suggested to me by a great friend, where the original recipe used long skinny carrots. We¬†LOVED¬†the carrots like this, and they hold up much better when in a crock pot for 10+ hours. I simply diced my russet potatoes into nice chunks.

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Before adding the vegetables I sprinkled my seasoning packet over the meat in the crockpot and dumped one carton full of beef bone broth over top. Then I tossed my vegetables in, set my time and did not touch it again until I got home from work.

These types of meals are the best to come home to. The entire house smells¬†so good the second you open the door. When I picked my kids up from our sitter, I told her how excited I was to get home and try this recipe out, when she said they just had a similar meal a few nights before. She asked me if I made biscuits, and thanks to her suggestion, I did just that! GLUTEN FREE BISQUICK is the best invention EVER, in case you weren’t sure. My girls and I were able to whip up a half batch of drop biscuits once we got home, but not before peeking into the crock pot to see how our little creation was stewing.

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I wish I could share the scent with the picture. Once our drop biscuits were finished, I couldn’t even wait for my husband to get home before diving into this dish.

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And there you have it, a simple meal that tastes like you slaved over the stove all day.

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Please let me know if you try this, if you use venison, or if you have any recipes you’d like to share! I always welcome feedback! Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Gluten Free Venison Stew

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 10 minutes prep, 8-10 hours cook time
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs deer loin, (or cubed beef)
  • 1 packet McCormick’s Gluten Free Beef Stew seasoning
  • 6-8 large carrots
  • 4 large russet potatoes cubed
  • 1 carton Sam’s Choice Beef Bone Broth (or other gluten free broth)

Directions

  1. Place the deer loin or cubed beef in the crock pot.
  2. Sprinkle entire seasoning packet over the meat. Pour in the carton of beef broth.
  3. Peel carrots and dice potatoes. Pour vegetables into crock pot. Set to low heat 8-10 hours. Keep warm until ready to serve.
  4. Optional: serve with Gluten Free Bisquick Drop Biscuits

10 Tips for Hosting the Perfect Mother’s Day Brunch

When you are the Mom of the house, more often than not, you are the cook, the clean-up crew, and the planner. This may not fit for everyone but it certainly is how our life seems to go. In the summer my husband really steps up to the plate at dinner time by proudly using his Weber Summit grill that was a joint Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift about three years ago. You might wonder, how a grill for my husband is a gift for me as well? Or perhaps, why would you get such a large or fairly expensive grill?¬†Let me tell you, when your husband¬†willingly¬†cooks at least half of the dinners through summer, and takes meticulous care of EVERYTHING he owns, it is a gift. It is the BEST gift. He is a good cook too. Each year he likes to get the updated version of the Weber New Real Grilling Cookbook, and I strongly recommend picking up this book of recipe inspiration! I can’t make a recipe without a good picture to go with it, and this one is full of amazing pictures and simple recipes.

But getting back to the issue at hand: Mother’s Day. If you are the planner and cook in your house, you will want to plan ahead for some simple, and effective ideas that will make your Mother’s Day Brunch enjoyable for all!

Each year we have both my parents and my husband’s over for a Brunch/Lunch and last year, I think we might have knocked it out of the park. Between the food, the timing, and the beautiful day, I’d say everyone left full, relaxed, and pampered.

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  1. Host Early and Keep it Small

We typically have our Moms come around 11 or 12 with plans to eat about an hour after the parents arrive. This timing is so nice because it gives plenty of time to spend the morning with my girls but still be ready before the guests arrive. We don’t extend out beyond the parents (my husband has 3 siblings who all have families themselves, so we limit just to the parents to keep it special for the Moms).

With my in-laws, they have 4 children, so by providing a nice brunch/lunch they still have plenty of time to enjoy the day, and visit their other children. My sister lives out of town, so my parents are pretty flexible to hang out at any point.

2. Flowers are a thoughtful Addition

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Last year, I had two matching floral arrangements picked out and scheduled to deliver ahead of time, (and no, my husband did NOT plan ahead and whipped last second flowers out for me… such a man) that doubled as beautiful centerpieces and take-home gifts for our mothers. I love peonies, and took in an inspiration picture to a local florist, who did an amazing job matching the arrangement, but keeping to my specific price range. The flowers had just begun to open, so they lasted for about two weeks after the brunch.

3. Choose Foods that can be Prepared in Advance

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I knew I would not want to spend my Mother’s Day preparing food all afternoon. My husband was more than happy to grill, so we chose meat options that allowed him to do just that. I also cut up fruit and prepared the dip the night before, along with the blueberry muffins. Tomato Salad was made first thing in the morning, because it’s delicious after it has time to sit, but too long in the fridge and the tomatoes get weird. My menu last year included:

  • Marinated Chicken, ready to grill
  • Sausages¬†wrapped in bacon, and stuffed with cheese (we did have men there too, after all – learning curve, do NOT grill over direct heat! They WILL BURN)
  • Lemon Blueberry Muffins¬†(easily converted to gluten free with the use of Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour¬†)
  • Fresh Fruit and Dip
  • Tomato Basil Salad
  • The BEST Ice Cream Cake (recipe to come soon)

4. Bubbly Drinks are a Must

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With the brunch theme, the Perfect Mimosa was a great pairing for the meal. We of course always have beer for any guys, but The Perfect Mimosa is an excellent drink option whenever you have ladies who might not always be inclined to drink. The combination of a champagne of your choosing, (we aren’t super classy so we go for the sweet and cheap kind!) and raspberry or orange sherbet in lieu of juice makes a beautiful and delicious drink!

I did a quick scour of the Mom Blogger’s out there and found a similar recipe on¬†The Cookie Rookie’s¬†Sherbet Mimosas¬†however, I only use the champagne and sherbet, skipping the additional alcohol.

5. Grandmothers need Spoiling Too

While Mother’s Day primarily focuses on the relationship between Mother and Child, the grandchildren can also play a role with sweet little homemade cards or hand-made gifts for the honorary Grandmother, Nanna, or Grammy as well! Nothing melts a grandparents heart quicker than a cute little craft project.

Love Bugs and Postcards has an AMAZING compilation of craft ideas in their post: 12 Fabulous and Fun Mother’s Day Crafts¬†no point in re-inventing the wheel here!

6. Dessert is ESSENTIAL

I have an incredibly HUGE sweet tooth. Period. A Mother’s Day, or frankly any holiday, is not a celebration without dessert. So here is a list of possible pre-made dessert ideas to serve at your Mother’s Day Party:

7.¬†Decor –¬†Less is More (Hey, it’s your day too!)

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Whenever hosting a Mother’s Day event, and being a mother yourself, many times we get so swept up in planning that “our day” becomes a day of work. So keep it simple. Use a table runner that’s fairly neutral, some miscellaneous vases, a tray, or even floral arrangements that double as both a gift AND a centerpiece! We have a trifle bowl full of apples on a wooden tray sitting on our kitchen every day. It’s simple but pretty and would be an excellent centerpiece for an event like this. Even little dishes of candy can be included into a tablescape.

8. Put Thought into the Gift 

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I have spent many hours researching the top items available on the market this year, and have developed a fairly comprehensive list of suggestions, including some previous Mother’s Day gifts I have received. Last year, I found some unique and personalized options through Etsy shops that were tailored specifically to my Mom and Mother-in-laws tastes.

If you are looking for some suggestions for the Mother in your life check out my Complete Mother’s Day 2017 Gift Guide

9.¬†Don’t Over-Plan

Keeping to simple foods, drinks, and sweet little gifts is more than enough. Don’t get crazy with decorations, over-the-top cleaning. We are all Moms! We get it! Your Mom will not be inspecting the windows for toddler finger smudges, nor will they be looking for hints of dust on your shelves. Remember this is YOUR weekend, so enjoy it alongside the Mom role models in your life!

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10. Outdoor Seating

If the weather permits, outdoor seating areas are always a nice introduction to a season of picnics and summer weather. But keep in mind, Mother’s Day falls DEAD CENTER in early allergy season. If you are planning to do outdoor seating keep in mind the following issues:

  • Wind – Use Table Cloth Clamps¬†to secure your outdoor tablescape, and consider using heavier plates as Melamine is easily scooped up with a friendly breeze.
  • Allergies – if you are serving anyone with significant allergies, it doesn’t hurt to check your pollen count on any smart phone weather app.
  • Temperature – Outdoor seating is great in theory, but lets face it, Mother Nature has a mind of her own. While you may the most beautiful garden seating for a Mother’s Day brunch, random 50 degree temperatures do not accommodate most appetites, and neither do 80 degree temperatures in full blown sunshine. We try to host our events on the massive covered porch behind out house, but there are even times when the weather just doesn’t cooperate for our outdoor living space either.
  • Alternate Location – If you are hosting at your house, it is always good to have an alternate option prepared even if it’s just inside at your kitchen table, just in case Mother Nature decides to pull a fast one on you.

 

So there you have it! 10 simple tips to help you host a fabulous event, while still enjoying your own Mother’s Day! May you all be pampered and appreciated this Mother’s Day.

Cheers!

  • Whitney