Treats on a Tuesday

With the upcoming festively green holiday, I have been searching the internet in attempts to find some fun activities to do with my girls and some cute little treats to send with the girls to the sitter. My mother is 50% Irish, and like all mothers of the 80’s and 90’s this meant dying anything possible in our St. Patrick’s day meal GREEN. We did not eat some lavishly traditional Irish cuisine, nor did we all speak with heavy Irish accents. Nope, just straight up ate all the green foods possible. And I loved it.

Since the invention of Pinterest, I’ve noticed even the less than crafty have stepped up their A-game on crafting. I had to laugh on my way to work today as I listened to the radio personalities going on and on about how no real mom makes the cute crafts on Pinterest. It must be a food stylist, or a professional posing as a stay at home Mom. Reality check Radio. Some of us do exist! We are the epitome of over-doers, those people that everyone seems to feel the need to throw the ever insulting comment, “You have too much time on your hands…” at us every chance they get. I am relieved every time I see a fellow Facebook friend post some ridiculously crafty idea he or she made online. It’s almost a relief to see someone else, like they make it OK to be crafty. Ridiculous thinking, I’m very much aware of that.

So I found a collection of cute little St. Paddy’s day crafts and  treats to share with you over this first week of March. Today I’ll start with a couple easy kid-friendly treats.

  1. Rainbow Cups

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I love this Rainbow and Pot of Gold! It’s so cute! Plus you can find all of these items easily at your local grocery store or on Amazon having them delivered right to your door! I found this one on I Can Teach My Child  I love the organized Skittles before layering the candy cups. But the Chocolate Gold Coins layered at the bottom are the kind of candy that takes me back to childhood! Using the simple 5 oz Clear Plastic Cups  and then of course topping them off with Mini Marshmallows This treat is naturally gluten free which is always a plus in our house!

Ok… Brace yourself for this next product!

2. Edible Gold Spray

Wilton has an edible Gold Color Mist Spray that can be used to turn your favorite treats into GOLD! So if you need to eat gluten-free cookies in replace of Oreoes, order  Kinnikinnick’s Chocolate Cookies and make your own gold coins for your little cuties! Genius.

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I have already ordered 3 of these. My students will be getting gold treats, my sitter’s kids will be… my nieces and nephews will be… perhaps even my parents will!

3. Lucky Charms Marshmallow Treats

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With the recent change in Lucky Charms as they transitioned to a Gluten Free product, I have secretly been reliving my childhood in the mornings. It’s still amazing to me how easy it is to access so many gluten free products these days. But with this being a fairly recent change, it’s important to make sure the packaging displays the Gluten Free Emblem

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Some stores are still finishing up selling older packages that are not certified gluten free. So shop cautiously.

I really like the recipe for Lucky Charms Treats I found on Brown Eyed Baker  She has a good balance of ooey-gooey in her treats! The girls and I kicked off the month with a batch of these already!

And if all else fails, just buy a big old bag of the Marshmallows! That’s all my girls want to eat anyways!

3. Shamrock Pretzels

The next big ticket treat that seems to be blowing up online is the Shamrock Pretzel! These are so cute and only require two ingredients:

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I prefer Gratify Gluten Free Pretzel products. I also like Glutino Gluten Free Pretzels and I know Snyder offers a Variety Pack along iwith individual purchases.

You can find a great Step-by-Step instructional article on The Spruce.

Again, I cannot stress how much I LOVE my Amazon Pantry boxes. My girls are great shoppers, but lets be realistic. What mother ACTUALLY enjoys taking a one and three year old to the store with her? No one. I feel like shopping at a store without my kids is almost like a mini vacation.

4. Fruity Rainbows

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This treat is a unique presentation for a party! You could easily adapt this to make cute little plates for your sweeties at lunch or breakfast, but I just love the fruit with a little chocolate treat at the end! My girls looooove when I sneak in a little chocolate treat to their meals. And what is better than a gold wrapped Rolo candy?! It screams Pot-o-Gold!

5. St. Patrick’s Day Muddy Buddies Treat

Who doesn’t love the good old fashioned Puppy Chow snack? When I think about Puppy Chow, I go back to my mom’s great friend and neighbor popping in to our house infrequently with random treats and baked goods she would come up with. She was Pinterest before there was Pinterest! This was one of my particularly favorite surprises she would bring over as a child. Oh Pammy, I’m drooling over your puppy chow as I type!

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This festive little twist on a classic snack follow very similar instructions to the original Puppy Chow snack mix using Gluten Free Rice Chex but adds in a couple slight alterations. Try it out following Glue Sticks and Gumdrops recipe.

I hope these 5 little festive treats help to ring in the St. Paddy’s day mood. After all… it is Fat Tuesday! Sneak one treat in today before starting your Lenten sacrifices off tomorrow!

Cheers to a very Green March!

  • Whitney
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Career Shift : Now What?

As I drove to work this morning, I went through my typical morning wake-up ritual. I turned the music up excessively loud as I drove away from my sitter’s house where my sweet little ladies were nestled back to sleep. 6:05 am and my current guilty pleasure jam comes blaring through my speakers, “Bad Things” by Machine Gun Kelly (don’t judge… who can really be held accountable for their decisions at 6 am?). Good music means a good day in my mental wake-up call.

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As I am turning down the hill that will lead me out of the small town I call home, I begin to notice things. Small things. I notice how it’s already beginning to lighten outside and the faint hint of pink past the railroad tracks seems to just line the trees ever so slightly. I notice how quickly my drive seems to pass before me. Suddenly I am in the outskirts of my town where my husband and I started out together, with only a few cents to rub together. He was working away all of the time, and I was double dipping between substitute teaching and full time graduate school (round one). In a flash I am taken back to my first day driving to work, nervous, feeling like 6:15 am was so crazy early to be leaving my house. I can feel the butterflies all over as if I’ve never taught there before. I can remember the first student who walked through my door on the first student day realizing I only had one student in my first period study hall. The nerves that had gripped me melting away.

And just like that I am pulled from that memory as the radio personalities are discussing Random Acts of Kindness and I am back here, in the present thinking about the service project I have had brewing in the back of my mind for my students. Realizing “down the road” no longer means in my classroom, with my students, in my comfort zone, the harsh reality hits me across the face. I am leaving. I will be leaving my classroom. I will no longer make this drive, follow this route, use this routine, none of it will exist in my life in a matter of weeks.

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By this point I am turning into Amish country and the sun is casting a rosy glow across the fields accented by sharp black tree silhouettes. These mornings are so peaceful and offer a solid 45 minute wake up call to my mind as I begin to scan through my mental to-to list for the day. What will I do to organize my thoughts when I no longer drive to work each day? How will my routine shift?

This is top on my list of to-dos. I must determine what this new position in my life will look like. Perhaps it will involve that ever annoying task of incorporating fitness back in to my life. Somehow I know that is not going to be part of my new routine but entertain the idea for the hell of it.

I know that making breakfast for my family each day is top on my bucket list of new morning rituals. Perhaps waking up an hour before everyone else, setting up my “classroom” and preparing breakfast can replace my morning therapeutic drive? Who knows, maybe I will sleep soundly until the first little lady awake pulls me from my bed.

What I do know is that I am in charge. I control where life takes me next and I’m more than ready to make this shift, personally, professionally, and proactively.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Open Windows

Everyone has heard the saying, “When one door closes another will open.” Or “if the door closes, open a window.” But one might wonder where these sayings derived from? The original line came from Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. But the majority of the quote has been lost through repetition, and personally I feel it is much more profound. Bell’s original quote was, “When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” 

Over the past several months I have found myself conflicted with career guilt. I recently completed my administrative paperwork with the intentions of advancing my career whenever the right opportunity presented itself. After begin accepted into the program, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised with the news we would be expecting our second daughter. As seems to be the pattern in my life, I can never do just one thing at a time, so this was only appropriate. After our beautiful second daughter was born, I had the opportunity to take a little over two months off to spend at home with her, returning to work just in time to complete my internship, while working full time, with two children at home and a husband who worked away more than any of us would have liked. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. But we all survived and I ended the school year with my new certification processing, and very ready for a summer break.

Now the saying, “When one door closes another opens…” isn’t exactly the theme of this post, because no doors have closed in my life lately. But I continue to struggle with the internal conflict (total English teacher geek out moment there…) between career and motherhood. Again, I cannot stress how grateful I am that I chose the profession of teaching, because it truly is a schedule tailored to parenting. But as my daughters have transitioned from babies to toddlers, and my oldest is transitioning overwhelmingly quickly to a preschooler, I have spent countless hours reflecting on my recent decision to consider pursuing administration.

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I have some wonderful role models in my life. The first being a mentor to me, was paired up as my first year teaching mentor five years ago. As a teacher recently turned administrator, whose beliefs, values, and family life are so similar to my husbands and mine that I find myself going to him for guidance on career and teaching decisions constantly. I truly believe I have become the teacher I am today because of his guidance and wisdom, perhaps this is why I am so confident he will excel in his new role as an administrator.

The second is a mother and an administrator. She does it all, balances motherhood and parenting, with a moderate commute to and from work. I recently found myself discussing these conflicted emotions with her, gauging how she balances it all, and she was able to talk me through some of my issues, realizing where our shortcomings were and explaining how her dynamic works. I also credit her to initially triggering the baby fever that brought on our first daughter, and have been grateful to have her in my life over the past 5 years as a friend, additional mentor, and confidant.

The next two people have been supervisors to me and the initial people to inspire me to pursue a career beyond teaching. One has been my boss for 5 years and the other stepped in to temporarily fill in during his absence.These two mentored me through my internship last spring. Both of these men have been inspirational in my career decisions and have always pushed me to achieve greatness, even if it meant moving on to other opportunities.

And the final person, and perhaps most influential person in my recent mental shift is my mother. I honestly don’t know if I have ever even told her what an influence she has been in my life. Mother daughter relationships are the most complicated ones out there. Perhaps because you see so much of yourself in your daughter, want the best for your daughter, or want to prevent your daughter from making your own mistakes. Whatever it is, they remain the most intricate, complicated and uniquely valuable relationship there is. A mother-daughter relationship completely shifts when the daughter then becomes a mother. All of a sudden everything you thought you knew, has changed. You see things through your mother’s eyes and understand. Being a mother of two daughters, it both terrifies me, and makes me wonder, “will I be half the mother that my mother was?” It’s such an awesome undertaking that you can’t help but be overwhelmed at the thought.

So returning back to this final influence. I grew up with a mother who was able to be home with me each day. I woke up, got ready for school, and ate breakfast with my Mom. She then took me to school every day. She was home when I got home each day and continued to take me to ballet, Girl Scouts, piano, and lord knows what other crap I enlisted in. She was constant and present in my life every day. I lived such a fortunate life having two constant and strong parents in my life every day that it wasn’t until recently that I realized how critical that was in shaping me into the person I am today. They are the reason I am the person I am today, motivated to pursue challenging and influential career opportunities.

My husband recently shifted back from the field to the office, making him that constant and strong fatherly presence in my daughters lives, so much like the father I grew up with, that I truly believe it has inspired me to take a page from my mother’s book. And it is with the utmost confidence that I have decided to make just that shift.

I have recently been provided with several professional opportunities from administrative, to opportunities within my current location to ones that would place me back with my two sweet girls. And it is because of all of these strong influential people in my life that I have chose just that, to return to my home, like my mother, and be there to be that active presence in my children’s lives.

I cannot express how difficult this decision has been for me, how many people I am incredibly grateful for, and how supportive all of my supervisors and administrative faculty have been where I currently work as I made this decision to transition back to the home. I will still be able to be an active presence in the education field, but will be able to be a more active presence in my daughters lives. If it wasn’t for the strong marriages and parenting of both my parents and my husband’s parents, we wouldn’t be the people we are today. And I want to be sure to pass on that life style and encourage our daughters to be just that, strong confident women in an ever changing and competitive world, just like my mother motivated me.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

FOOD POST: Brilliant BLTs

It’s Tuesday night on a work week that seems to be crawling. The weather is usually such a drag this time of year, so I stack my plans and save all of my favorite units for February-April which is why you might be thinking, “It’s beautiful in western Pennsylvania and you are teaching your favorite units? So why is the week dragging?” And you have come across the million dollar question! Some weeks literally just drag for not apparent reason at all. So tonight the girls and I gathered up a few odds and ends and headed home with the plans of making BLTs and homemade potato wedges with Sriracha dipping sauce (thank you sister chef for introducing me to this!) I’ve been dying to try the “bacon weave” for a while now and decided tonight was the night to do it. The girls ran around the kitchen like the crazies they are, playing with the newest member of our family, Elsa Bunny.

This warm weather in the middle of February has really been teasing my taste buds for some fresh summer flavors. So I checked out the produce isle over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised to see the plump fresh tomatoes. My sister has given me a “winter tomato complex” so I fear the crappy tomatoes that plague the shelves throughout the winter.

There is always that idea online, that shows up randomly, and you think to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Well let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, the Brilliant BLT is just that for me! So I set out to figure out how to make this ingenious food that I’ve been doing wrong for so many years. I started out with crinkling up foil on a baking sheet and preheating my oven to 425 degrees.

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But before continuing to write this post, I think I need to address the big Gluten-filled Elephant in the room. How do you prepare Gluten Free BLTs when half of your family is not gluten free? Recently we believed that both of our daughters needed to follow the gluten free dietary restrictions that seems to be forming a very female pattern in my side of the family. At this point we have ruled these restrictions out for our oldest daughter, but both my husband and I have a cautious eye out for future signs of concern. With these recent changes our house has developed a continental divide between the glutens and the gluten-frees. What does this look like? Well for those of you already living this life you know EXACTLY what it looks like: two toasters, separate prep boards, duplicates of every condiment, and a little extra tender love and care in every meal.

We use two of each jar-styled condiment, one large one designated as gluten free, and one small one for gluten knife double-dippers we re-fill from the larger one. I cannot stress how wonderful my husband has always been about this life style. I was 16 when I really started to get sick from food issues. Just after turning 17 I was diagnosed with Celiac (13 years ago!) Being my high school sweetheart, he was there for all of it. I really believe this is why he has always been my biggest supporter, and the hawk-eyes I need to keep me toeing the gluten-free line. So this whole duplicates of everything, has always been a way of life for us. It’s kind of like old hat, and I promise to anyone new to the lifestyle, you will adjust quickly.

Returning back to the Brilliant BLTs:

I opened my packages of bacon and I’m sure many meat experts would disagree with me, but I always go for the inexpensive bacon, because seriously, how can bacon ever be bad??

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I then cut the strips in half, making the perfect width for my bacon weaves. (Seriously, I love saying bacon weaves!)

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For each weave, you will need 6 pieces of bacon. Start by laying three strips vertical. Then place one piece horizontal interweaving it among the first three vertical strips.

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Alternate the pattern for the last two strips. Nothing like crafting with bacon! This really hits all of my favorite hobbies…! Bacon… Crafting… Bacon…

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Transfer the bacon weave to your prepared baking sheet and repeat. One typical package of bacon will make 5 individual bacon “patties” as I shall fondly refer to them.

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Once all 5 have been transferred to the sheet, place the pan in the oven setting the timer to 25 minutes. You can then begin prepping your toppings!

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Like I said before, I planned to make the BLTs along with some fresh roasted potato wedges, but the reality is that never happened. My husband has been fighting off some nasty winter bug/funk. So I capitalized on his limited appetite and cut my workload in half leaving the sides to my friend, Ore-Ida. The girls are always thrilled when dinner includes the mini tater tots. There is something about the mini ones that is so much better than a regular tater tot. Our youngest recently discovered the art of dipping any food in ketchup and is pretty much obsessed with this practice. Sometimes I love ditching the homemade for a quickie side!  But don’t tell on me!

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So while my bacon began to crisp, I sliced and I diced away. I call this my evening therapy because there is something about chopping and prepping that relaxes me. That is until I attempt to take mediocre pictures of my prepping with my phone, transfer them to my DropBox and edit slightly. Once the bacon was in the oven for about 10 minutes I tossed in a sheet of mini tots and waited for all the glorious crispness to finish up.

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When the 25 minutes of bacon baking was done, the cute little woven patties came out lightly golden brown, crisp on the edges but not to the point of super crunchy. If you like a real crunch I would definitely recommend baking at least 5 minutes longer.

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These sandwiches were PERFECT! The bacon patties were the perfect size for the bread, slightly larger than the UDI’s Gluten Free Loaf, but who doesn’t love a little extra bacon?

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So we ended half homemade, with little time prepping and a quick clean up. I’m calling this a total win! Fresh produce, 10 minute prep time, 25 minutes in the oven and we are golden! Hope you get an opportunity to try out this creative twist on an old classic!

Get out and enjoy the great weather!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

FOOD POST: Cook Smarter, Not Harder

Every week I follow the same routine: Cook four out of the five week nights, have one night of left-overs, grocery shop either Friday after work or Saturday morning, try something new on Saturdays, and end the week on a hearty family meal. Like clock work the weeks seem to fly by. Luckily, I have been blessed with a career that allows us all to sit down together each weekend to a good meal and great conversation.

I mentioned before that dinner is a sacred time in our house, and I cannot stress that enough. Something special happens during dinner, and I can’t even describe it. It’s like time freezes but our girls age dramatically all at the same time. I really enjoy these moments the most when the food tastes good, everyone will eat it, and there is minimal clean up at the end.

Therefore, I believe everyone should Cook Smarter, Not Harder. What do I mean by this? I mean, find those recipes that taste like you slaved all day over a hot stove, are hearty to feed that “meat-and-potato guy” in your life, but also have flavors that entertain the taste buds of the toddlers who want to help you with every step. Oh, yeah Whitney, because that’s super easy. NOT. I have a handful of these recipes that are not categorized as healthy, light, clean-eating, or any of the other up and coming food categories. But, if you practice those balanced diet habits during the week, one good hearty meal on the weekend won’t ruin you.

So today I present you the basics of making a cheap ham taste like the $60.00 version. I have made this meal in several different ways and will provide you what I have learned from each approach. On this particular hearty meal day last week, I decided to cook the basic Ham and Cabbage with Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes in a roasting pan. Every time I hear this meal, I will never forget the first time I made it, just after my husband and I were married. My brother was at our house and he said to me, “Really? Isn’t that like a nursing home meal? I’m pretty sure no one under the age of 70 eats Ham and Cabbage.” LIES! He clearly has never sat down to this meal.

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This meal is pretty straightforward. I use two heads of cabbage because, seriously, you can’t have enough cabbage in your life, and for those clean-eaters, I know you love the immense benefits to eating more cabbage. That’s about where the healthy stops, but also where the flavor begins. I chop up the cabbage into about 2-3 inch chunks. Place your ham in the center of your roasting pan and almost create a wreath of cabbage around your ham. Add about two cups of water, place the lid on your rpasting pan and place in a preheated oven set to 350 degrees. Pop that baby in the oven and check back in 1-2 hour increments. I usually put this in the oven after the girls finish up lunch… so around 12:30 or 1:00 and let the magic happen until about 5:00.

Every  1-2 hours check the water levels of your roasting pan. I usually like to make sure the cabbage starts to immerse in the liquid. If you are a fan of ham gravy, this is the richest ham gravy base you could ask for. This is my favorite way to prepare this meal.

QUICK APPROACH:
I have also cooked this in the oven for 2 hours and served it, as the majority of your hams are already cooked. It does not absorb as much of the flavor from the cabbage, so if you aren’t sold on the cabbage this might be the best approach for you.

CROCK-POT METHOD:
I have also prepared this using the standard size crock pot. It has turned out good and bad. (well, that’s super vague, isn’t it?!) The critical parts to consider when using a crock pot is that your ham isn’t too big, making sure you have plenty of room for the cabbage. It’s also really important to watch your water levels. The last time I put this in a crock pot and left for work, I returned to a dried up ham and crisp cabbage. That was super disappointing. The crock pot is a great way to do it as long as you are able to monitor those water levels.

I frequently talk about my little ladies loving to help in the kitchen, and when you have a “slap-it-in-the-oven” meal, it’s very difficult to find those little tasks for little hands. Both of my girls love raw potatoes. I find it very strange but their father also makes a habit of eating raw potatoes as I peel them for mashed potatoes. Weird. I usually peel a tiny one for each of the girls to munch and crunch on and as I peel and slice. They love to toss them into the pot once I’ve finished. My mom also recently introduced our oldest daughter to the task of setting the table and she LOVES it! Each night, she gets the silverware out of the drawer like a big girl, arranges the plates around the table and gives everyone a napkin. She gets so excited to help, that I can’t help but love to watch this new stage of “big girl.” And if all else fails, let them rock-on while you cook!

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I also need to confess, that while I might be able to decorate sugar cookies with ridiculous little details, I cannot make good mashed potatoes! I literally CANNOT. MAKE. GOOD. MASHED. POTATOES. Thank goodness for husband food critics! He will be the first to tell you how lumpy… stiff… or whatever else can go wrong with my mashed potatoes. Good thing I married a man equipped with mad hand mixer skills. We were browsing through the isles of Target this past weekend on our date day out and noticed a new sunbeam Stand AND Hand Mixer. He says, and I quote, “I bet that’s awesome. It probably makes the best mashed potatoes.” Because what else could you need a hand mixer for?? God I love that strange man.

Hopefully you find yourselves immersed in the flavors and smells of this hearty, family pleasing meal. Share unforgettable memories with your loved ones around the dinner table tonight.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Party Like it’s the 10th Post!

In celebration of my 10th post (hey, we celebrate the small things in life!) I have decided to share with you my 10 most favorite dessert recipes I’ve tried over the past several years. Each one of these delicious recipes was found on Pinterest. I must warn you, if you are looking for healthy recipes, you should stop reading NOW. I love to cook, and love to bake even more. I have several family recipes that fall above this top ten list, but they are worthy of solo posts. So for the 10th post celebration, I will stick strictly to the recipes I have found thanks to the amazing invention we all know as… Pinterest. Along with the link to the recipe I will provide you with the specific adjustments I made to the recipe and products used to make the perfect gluten free version of each.

I am not exactly sure what I did with my life before Pinterest started. I do know that I love to pin, tend to over-pin, and I’m currently in the process of organizing my Shimmering Twig pins and trying to stick to recipes I’ve actually tried and love, or life-hacks that I really use rather than the good old theory “I’ll probably use that sometime…” I can remember thinking how many ideas I have saved and wanted to use, but never followed through with. I’m tacking this on to my new-year new-me theory: Spend Less and Value More. So without further adieu, the first Recipe:

  1. The Homemade Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake

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This recipe is almost perfectly gluten free as is, minus the cookie crumb filling. Every year for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we invite both of our sets of parents out to the house and try to treat them to a full 3-course meal. Last year for Mother’s Day I wanted to use a dessert was so good, but involved zero work for me on Mother’s Day. My husband is an excellent cook, but not into the baking, so this project would fall on me.

When I came across this idea online, I decided this would be a great plan as I could make it on Saturday and pull it out to serve whenever we finished with our luncheon on Sunday.

The recipe calls for oreo style cookies or a chocolate cookie. My mother always keeps a stash of the gluten free Kinnikinnick cookies KinniToos around so we used a package in substitution. Otherwise I followed the recipe for the most part as presented. And trust me, it was a huge hit!

2. Fudgy Brownie Hearts with Fresh Raspberry Buttercream

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Oh my goodness! The love I feel for this recipe is unreal. I want to stand up and go make these right now. About 6 years ago I dabbled in the home-show party business selling jewelry and for my grand opening I went a little crazy on food. This was my show-stopper dessert recipe from  a farm girl dabbles. The fresh raspberry buttercream is SO. WORTH. THE. TIME. My mom came out to help me prepare for the party the night before and I think it will always be one of the best cooking with my mom memories I have. We made an unreal amount of food for the party and she really took the lead on making the butter cream for this. I feel certain she would also agree that this recipe was totally worth the time.

This recipe I followed to a T. The flour I used for these little fudgy hearts was Pamela’s Artisan Blend gluten free flour and I typically use this for everything. The large bag you can purchase off Amazon is by far the best value!

The final product was amazing and no one knew it was gluten free!

3. The BEST Chex Mix Ever

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This recipe is hands down amazing! I follow the recipe exactly and as a general rule of thumb LOVE everything Chex. If you’re ever in a pinch for a recipe, try one of the countless versions of Chex mix out there, utilizing their gluten-free cereal! I make this in bulk around the holidays and give it out in cute tins to family and friends!

4. Marshmallow Blondies

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This recipe by Cookies and Cups is wonderful! It was a great switch up from the chocolate that seems to monopolize my life! The recipe is pretty simply and straight-forward if you’re looking for sweets with minimal prep-time. The one thing about this recipe that really stands out in my mind was how sticky they were, so be sure to really prep that pan!

I used Pamela’s Artisan Blend flour and really LOVED the caramel-goey texture with the little surprise bites of marshmallows. We love using Nestle Toll House white chocolate chips and usually keep a stash in bulk as the girls LOVE snacking while we bake.

5. S’mores Dip

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THREE INGREDIENTS. TWO MINUTES. And Bam! You have this delicious dip! My second year teaching we would have unofficial luncheons at work every time someone had a baby. That year, at least six of us had babies. It was like a crazy school district baby boom. I made this for one of the teachers “shower” luncheon who was due about three months before me. And seriously… what pregnant woman doesn’t love an endless supply of chocolate to dip anything into?! Chocolate Chips, Sweetened Condensed Milk, and Marshmallow Fluff. That’s all there is to this recipe!

6. Oreo Loaded Cheesecake Brownies

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If you haven’t been sold by the first half of this post, these surely should seal the deal. Vera hit the jackpot with the fudgey chocolate, cheesecake, and oreo layered masterpieces! Again I cannot STRESS the quality of these Kinnikinnick Chocolate Cookies they are an excellent substitute for an Oreo. I used my go-to Pamela’s Artisan Blend flour again for these, and keep a surplus coming every two months with Amazon’s subscription option.

Every January we have a joint birthday celebration for my parents. This year we went with an Italian theme meal, but threw this bad boy in for dessert and trust me, it was a hit with everyone!

7. Pecan Pie Bars

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Rewind back to my pregnancy with my first daughter. The hormones during that holiday season turned me into a self-proclaimed Martha, finding countless new recipes to try baking, baking, and a little more BAKING for good measure. I am pretty sure I turned out more treats between Thanksgiving and New Years that year, than I have the 3 years that followed. One of those little holiday finds was this gem of a dessert. I love pecan pie and I love bar style desserts! Put them together and you have yourselves the perfect little Thanksgiving treat! I followed the recipe exactly, only changing the pan preparation to just greasing the pan and eliminating any foil lining.

8. Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars

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It was during the same holiday season that I first met and fell in love with The Girl Who Ate Everything. This girl’s got it going on! I went back through my Pinterest boards and discovered that a bulk of my pins were recipes developed by her. She is fantastic!

I followed the recipe exactly as she explains it, and found one of my family’s and in-law’s new favorite recipes! The chef sister fully approved as well! We make this recipe at least 6 times a year in our house. It’s simple, straightforward and a great Gluten-free adapted recipe when you switch out the flour for Pamela’s Artisan Blend.

9. Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Peppermint Filling

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This was another Pinterest find from back in 2012. My sister and I both use this cookie as a Christmas staple! There is something so Christmas-y about Peppermint and the slight hint in the cream filling is amazing! Now, usually for time sake I use the same flour for this, but in all reality the best version of flour for any type of Gob or Cake textured cookie is the America’s Test Kitchen Gluten Free Blend. They have a Pinterest page that you can also find HERE. Other than that minor tweak, the recipe is a straight forward gluten free conversion. Both America’s Test Kitchen gluten free blend and Pamela’s Artisan Blend gluten free flour are cup for cup conversions making baking that much easier! America’s Test Kitchen DOES require the additional xanathan gum along with the cup-for-cup flour blend. Refer to the book for specific amounts!

10. Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

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This tenth and final recipe was my most recent find on A Spicy Perspective, a blog I have every intention of following and really inspecting, because I was in love with this recipe! There is something so magical about the idea of Salt and Caramel combined, that any recipe with these two words in, I typically assume i will love.

And I was right. This was another simple, quick throw together recipe, that the only minor adjustment was the Pamela’s Artisan Blend flour. They were a bit tricky to cut at first, but like most ooey-goey bars, once the first one is out, the rest are much simpler.

And that, my friends is how I like to celebrate 10 consecutive posts on Shimmering Twig. Ten Tantalizing Treats to make the mouth water. I really hope at least one of these recipes brings your family the joy and comfort of a homemade treat shared with loved ones. Happy Sunday everyone.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Bohemian Babies to Bohemian Birthdays

From the moment my daughter was born, I was set on her birthday theme. I know what you are thinking, “Seriously? Don’t you have anything better to do?” But the birthday theme fell into place because of the nursery we decided to go with. As I might have mentioned in previous posts, we did not find out the gender of our second daughter until the moment she was born. My husband was adamant on this, even to the point that he refused to attend the ultra sounds. Ladies, I recommend you not let this happen! Solo ultrasounds are not fun, not in the least bit.

The only way I would agree to the secret gender was if I could find a nursery I loved that happened to be gender neutral. Hello mint green. I was immediately in love with the Mint, Gold, and Peach color scheme for a sweet baby girl, and adored the Mint, Navy, and Gray for my little man. Nature having ultimate control, we were blessed with our second sweet baby girl on October 17th, 2015.

When we brought her home to her currently mint, and white nursery, my mind began to spin. What details could I add in and how soon could that be completed? Needless to say, her nursery is still, unfinished, but does have a few hints of peachy pink and at least feels feminine.

Fast forward 9 months to my beautiful friend Emily’s baby shower. Everyone has a friend, that friend. The one who spews creativity from their very being. The one who remembers everyone , every event, and creates those thoughtful gifts that are to be cherish forever. Her soon-to-be baby girl would have the compliment to my daughter’s nursery. Knowing the gender, she chose a light peach wall with gorgeous accents throughout the room. We chose to reflect that in her late summer baby shower. This event gave me an opportunity to begin planning in advance for the soon-to-be first birthday party I would be holding for my daughter. The theme was very similar.

I re-purposed some crafted vases from a friend, tweaking the color schemes slightly and filled them with delicate baby’s breath. Baby’s breath is my absolute flower of choice. It’s so fresh, classy, and simple that regardless of color scheme adds a fresh touch to whatever you are planning. I like to mix in hydrangeas on occasion as well. A fellow crafty friend utilized some antlers from a relative and sprayed them gold. Can I just stop for a moment and stress how much I LOVE spray painting antlers? They are gorgeous! I, however, do not have a husband who is willing to share his prized pieces. Therefore, my house continues to lack that accent piece I so desire. My fellow crafter then

My friend is one of those incredibly beautiful pregnant women, like the kind you could only expect to find on Pinterest. She is most likely going to kill me for this, but that’s the punishment for being so creative…! Also my crafting partner in crime must enter this post as our personalities were the perfect reality check for each other. I’m pretty sure we need to go into business together. #goals

During her pre-baby crafting phase she made two gorgeous  gifts for my daughter’s room. One was a dream catcher that hangs delicately above her crib, and the second was this sweet mint and white growth chart hanging just beside the little chair we used as her monthly picture prop.

After using my friends beautiful baby-to-be’s celebration as round one of Bohemian Babies theme, I began to really get serious with my party planning ventures. Immediately heading back to my Etsy-go-to gal, Shana from Belva June  we began that wonderful collaboration that happens in spaces like Etsy. After gauging my complete obsession for all things bohemian, she helped to tailor my items to perfectly fit my party vision.

These are just a few examples of some of the darling little details Shana can make!

A friend of mine was able to sit down with us a few weeks before the big day and do a little one-year photo shoot along with some family pictures. I went with some visions in my head, but wow, Vanessa knocked this out of the park! If you have not had the opportunity to view her work please make a point to check out Vanessa’s site HERE

She also did a “Baby’s First Day” session for us, thanks to my sister-in-law who has been friends with Vanessa since childhood. Vanessa and I went to elementary school together riding the VAN home each day which was like private school’s version of a school bus I suppose. I’m thrilled to see her once hobby blossom into an outstanding career. Please take some time to check her out. My family photo that is linked to my Instagram page, Facebook page, and Pinterest page are all thanks to this beautiful photo session from her!

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I mean… melt my heart!!!

PS… this is the link to the Tee Pee you see above that we bought our daughters.

After the baby shower “dress rehearsal” I decided my next big project would be to attempt the royal icing approach to beautiful cookies. Using my mother-in-laws recipe that I have modified, I then began the trial and error of flooding, piping, and painting cookies!

And that was my first attempt with Royal Icing! I followed these up with Minnie Mouse ones a month later for my niece’s second birthday party. I have decided that anyone who does this for a wedding is truly my hero. The amount of time I had invested in these alone was unreal. I couldn’t imagine doing this ALL DAY EVERY DAY! Props to you bakers!

So then there was this cake, and the cake was inspired by Shana’s site as well. But this cake is the real reason why I will NEVER attempt to bake a cake on my own again. At least not one that I want nice and smooth anyways. Another friend of mine makes the gorgeous cakes. And yes, my friends, this cake is GLUTEN FREE in all of it’s chocolate peanut butter goodness.

The party ended up looking EXACTLY like I wanted it to, even though both of my children were sick, the weather was a little more than uncomfortable cool, but hey… it looked good in photographs right?

I re-purposed the already once re-purposed vases again and incorporated a little of Shana’s magic so they had a bit more of the birthday party theme, and made little head dresses for each of my little Indian princess guests! The cute little woodland character headbands were an Etsy find. I priced out making them myself but it would have cost me almost exactly the same to do it on my own, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t rather have something exactly the same made for you if it could be?

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So my sweet little princess’s pow-wow went off with only a few hitches, but overall I was very pleased with it! I have all of my items saved, of course. Who knows when someone might need a bohemian party planned? If you do, you know who to call!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

FOOD POST: Dinner in a Pinch!

Everyone has one of those crazy days. And by crazy days I’m talking about the mother who gets off work, takes one child to some form of athletic practice or organized sporting event, while calculating exactly how much time she has to get the second child to not only softball practice, but also to dance at 7:00 for a “crucial” rehearsal to prepare for the spring concert. In the midst of all of this she must pick up groceries, prepare a treat for the “100th day of school” party the following day, and pick all children up from various events at various places all over town. Yes. These are crazy times we live in. But that doesn’t mean dinner has to be drive-through. I completely understand and trust me, all too often I have found myself hitting up that drive through. But as my goal for the new year is to spend less and value more in my life, I will share not only the successes but also the inevitable failures that will come with this ridiculous goal.

While I do not have children in organized sports, dance, or need to create treats for my children, I did have a meeting after school, had to deliver valentines to my niece and nephew, and stop at the store for last second items. This put me in the door at 5:15 approximately 15 minutes before my husband walks through the door and we typically sit down to eat together. Crunch time!

Let me introduce you to my friend, the skillet. The skillet in our house never looks the same twice. It typically starts with some vegetables, olive oil, some turkey kielbasa, and whatever seasonings I’m in the mood for that day.

On this specific night we started with sliced potatoes with my mandolin slicer (BEST. KITCHEN. TOOL. EVER) some sweet bell peppers in a variety of colors, one sweet onion, a package of turkey kielbasa, and some smoked paprika.

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Once you spend those glorious therapeutic 5 minutes slicing and dicing away, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Step two: toss it all in! let your delicious concoction sizzle for a few minutes before tossing in 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika (typically I just shake a light little coat across the pan) a pinch of salt and a shake of pepper. I usually spend a good 15 minutes letting it all cook up, getting that nice little golden brown coating.

If you are multi-tasking, toss a lid on that bad boy and start prepping those little crazies running around your feet for dinner. My girls LOVE this dinner! They love sweet peppers and kielbasa is like a staple in my oldest daughter’s diet.

My favorite part of meals like this, is the extra time I have to sit and relax with my husband and girls. We make a point to sit down every night together for dinner. My husband recently made the shift from the “field”back to the office, which means he is home almost every  night sharing his day with us over a cooked meal, while our three year old entertains us with her version of the antics at the sitter’s house. Dinner time has almost turned into a sacred time for us. It has taken seven years to get to a point where he can be home, with us, every night.

Don’t get me wrong, there was about a two-month adjustment period where we figured out how this new lifestyle would work. It wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it. My husband being home with us, with the girls every night is absolutely priceless. The sense of “normalcy” we have is irreplaceable. Perhaps it has been my inspiration to make the most of every moment possible with this sweet little family I have been blessed with.

So, for those of you on the run, creating life on the fly, I hope this simple little skillet combo can give you a moment of peace and comfort in an ever-chaotic world. Sit, eat, and enjoy.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

Love in all Forms

Valentines Day. The day to spread some love. The day to show appreciation. The day to share a kind thought, sweet treat, or simply share friendship with others. Valentines Day brings so many critics arguing it’s simply a money maker capitalizing on obligatory traditions of having a relationship, buying chocolates and flowers, going out to dinner, and playing on the consumer’s emotions. I choose to view it in a different way.

The way I view it, Valentine’s Day is an expression of love. And love, as we all know comes in many forms. Love can be the affection between a husband and wife who have developed a life-long commitment to each other, built a family together, and chose to fight through those moments of weakness and struggle, always holding on to the very vows that bound them together in the first place. Love can be that of a mother to her child, the unconditional love that is fierce, and indescribable. Mother’s have the ever-forgiving, thick skin of a strong human who created a human, raised a human, and are just that, human beings. One who learns from her mistakes, who is not perfect, but will always do her best and give her all for her child, regardless of their level of appreciation. There is the love of a sibling. Those who we do not choose, but are chosen for us. The ones who have that familial connection. The saying, “blood is thicker than water” comes to mind every time I think of that sibling love. You don’t have to always like them, but you will always love them is often connected to sibling love.

Then there is the love of a parent to the spouse of their child. This is sometimes a very undervalued relationship. This love is built solely on trust, as those parents are entrusting their son or daughter to be loved by the person they are giving them away to. To love, you must trust, and they have chosen to both love and trust this person with their most precious piece in life, a child. I pray every day that I will have the courage to trust and love the people my daughters choose in the future as my parents and my husbands have done for us.

The next type of love is that of a friend. Friend love is tricky love. It’s the kind that comes in different levels. The first level is a friend who is “friendly.” There is no intimacy, just fellowship, the type that is transferable and applicable to all you are professional with. This level of friendship is not permanent, and is not painful. These are the people who come into your life, you enjoy each others company and eventually exit due to changes in circumstances, changes in jobs, changes in emotional status, etc. These people have a purpose and a value, but it is not a long-term emotional commitment.

The second level of friendship includes the friends who we believe to have a level of intimacy with. Often times, we spend a few years developing these relationships. We think we can trust them, and sometime even share intimate details of our lives with these people, wanting more from them. Many times we have decent relationships with these people But the reality is, we cannot fully trust them, and end up feeling some sort of pain, disappointment or anger towards this relationship at one point or another. These people are good, too good really. A wise old friend once told me about the “Snowman Theory” (patent pending, he would always add.) The largest circle was the group of people who acted like friends. The middle circle was the group of people we think we can trust and rely on. And the smallest circle was the group of people we really could trust. It was his belief you have less than a handful of true friends in your life.

This is not to discourage those friendships and that form of love in the second level of friendship. These people play a valuable role in our lives, they are part of it and we must just learn to appreciate their value and not look for anything more in these people than what they can really offer. Which now leads me to the third and final groups.

The final group of friendship is the true love. These are the people in your life who may have entered in childhood and will always share a special bond with you. These people may go weeks, or even months without seeing you at times, and it doesn’t matter. They know you, they value you, and they understand you. These people are honest with you at all times. They are not artificial, and you never question what they say or do or purposely exclude you from. In many cases, you may not meet these people until later in life. You may also be blessed with these people all throughout your life. These are the people you group text at all times of day, confide your deepest secrets in, seek their wisdom and advice, and send group pictures of your glasses half empty after an incredibly trying day. Yes. These ladies are the friends you love. You know these women will always be in your life, regardless of where life takes you.

In my short 30 years I have felt the love, wrath, and value of all three types. Honestly, in the past year alone I have experienced the most intense versions of each, both good and bad. I have learned so much from each kind and will never forget the “Snowman Theory.”

Recently, you might have noticed an increase in the ever-trending Gal-entine theme. Galentine being the female alternative to having a relationship, feeling the pressures of commitment, and being scrutinized for the possible lack of a love life. If you’ve ever watched the movie, He’s Just Not That In To You the idea of Galentine is one of the major story lines playing through the movie. So today, I choose to celebrate you, my Galentines. My forevers, my lifelongers. You know who you are, whether you entered my life at the age of 8, 25, or 28.

So use today, as a day to celebrate all of the love in your life. It’s there, you just need to remember it comes in so many forms.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Winter Birthday Blues Brightened

Being a child with a December birthday, the birthday parties never involved swimming pools, outdoor pinatas, picnics with family, or the freedom that seems to come when you can let a child run loose through the yard. No, mine consisted of a few parties with friends at places like Pizza Hut or my personal favorite, a dinner of choice, a gob cake, and the best part, celebrating it with my parents and godparents. I am the youngest of three children, with the next in line being 10 + years older than me. After my sister headed off to college, my life seemed to feel very much like an only child’s.

I had a childhood friend who had a younger brother and older sister. Her family was so close-knit. I will forever remember going to her house in high school and finding them all sprawled out over the floor and couches watching movies together, never feeling the social pressures to be out all weekend with friends. I loved that, and wanted that for my future family someday. I also swore I would never have children in the winter months and give them the opportunity to have fun and exciting OUTDOOR birthdays. That being said, my first daughter was born on the coldest day in January with wind chills of minus twenty degrees. So much for that fantasy!

As I might have mentioned previously, I am a planner, an organizer, and a do-er. I love, love, love, a good themed party! My oldest daughter followed in my misfortune of having that winter birthday when all of her cousins have those glorious fair-weather summer and early fall birthdays. But I am determined to give her an amazing birthday each year that is fun and unique. I also happen to have a fellow party planning fanatic who has children in the same seasons as mine. So when I begin posting pictures of the over-the-top matchy matchy decorations, and receiving the “you have too much time on your hands” criticisms, I am immediately comforted by her equally and often times more fabulous themes. This year she provided a glorious rainbow and trolls theme (yes… I am talking about you girl!)

For my daughter’s first birthday we went with “Minnie Mouse” and as this was my first birthday planning, I could not settle for the mediocre character plates, character napkins, and some plastic table cloths. I must warn you, I was not photographing this event with the plans of blogging about it, so please take my pictures with a grain of salt.

So the pictures may not bring it justice, but who cares when you have a picture of the sweetest little Minnie Mouse ever?! This was before I got into my pretty cookie phase and felt the need to make matching sugar cookies to go with every party theme. As this was the first birthday, we did rent a local social hall to host, and it was a nice occasion but a massive head-ache to haul everything home. We scaled back on the guest lists for birthdays two and three.

snow-bunny For birthday number two, we enlisted the creativity of some fabulous fonts from my favorite font download websites and the “Snow Bunny” theme following the pink and blues for a color scheme. As I mentioned, the guest list was scaled back and the party was moved back to our 1862 newly renovated farmhouse. My husband is one of four children who are all married and have two children each, plus two parents and 3 grandparents (literally, my childhood dream) all healthy and living. My family consisted of my parents and cousin who come to everything for my children and support them in every way possible, making our home the perfect sized venue for our little snow bunny’s party.

I was pretty obsessed with the idea of a hot cocoa bar for this party including a variety of toppings from chocolate chips to caramel bits, to mini marshmallows, to Homemade Snowflake Marshmallows which were delicious!

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img_1383 And of course, our sweet little snow bunny admiring her balloons. (Feel free to notice through my kitchen window, while I capitalized on the winter themed party, it was a record breaking 63 degrees. On January 31st. In Western Pennsylvania. Perfect.)

I have casually mentioned my mother-in-laws glorious soft sugar cookie recipe that after some slight alterations, turns into a soft, delicious gluten-free delicacy. Traditionally, she uses a soft classic white icing and has a very stylized decoration with a star tip. It’s the type of cookie decoration that takes you right back to childhood, to old-school bakery style decorations, and screams “I AM DELICIOUS. EAT. ME.” I tried to replicate her tried-and true star tip decoration style with my version of gluten free snowflakes.

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I am practicing all forms of self control to not get up from finishing this post and dig into the Valentine stash of these cookies my daughters made as Valentine gifts. I will share my modified recipe of this soft cookie recipe in a future cookie series of posts.

Now, by this point, my oldest daughter had discovered the mastermind movie of Frozen so when grocery shopping I was automatically drawn to all things Frozen.  I did notice that Royal brand gelatin had a series of pink, purple, clear (very cool looking jello), and blue gelatin powder. After making my traditional twist on the classic jiggler recipe, I layered the colors to create a very Frozen inspired version of snowflake jigglers.

 

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Again, keep in mind, I was not photographing with the idea of sharing these with the world. That came after the fact.

For the cake, I mentioned that as a child, (and frankly… still today) I always requested a GOB CAKE. Mother… if you are reading this, I’m still waiting for the one for my 30th birthday…

I love the classic gob treat, and whatever genius female in my family first turned that fabulous baked good into a cake, I believe it was my aunt, I thank you! Now for a gluten-free version of the cake, you really need to have a good, rich, chocolate cake recipe. You could start from scratch creating the layers of cake, but I have actually found several boxed version that make a very rich bakery style cake when you add a few extra ingredients to the mix. For the snow-bunny theme, I stuck with a simple white icing and clear sprinkles to present as a simple “snow cake.”

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You can find the gluten-free Gob Cake recipe in a future post as well! With all of these promises of future recipes that I will inevitably have to bake to post, I can pretty much kiss all those “healthy eating” resolutions good bye! It’s fine with me though, because a gob cake trumps all resolutions in my mind.

Other than some great printables, good food, and balloons, the rest of the party was pretty simple. (Ok, I can feel you all rolling your eyes at me…)

Fast forward to our most-recent party adventure and my MOST FAVORITE ETSY SHOP EVER!!! Brace yourselves, because Shana is fabulous. She has the most creative decor, stylish ideas, and unique accessories. I wish I had a little boy in my life to party plan for. But as I mentioned earlier, we are living in a sea of girls! Girls, on girls, on girls! A series of Dad-friends who all have little girls!

Shana McGavock is so phenomenal to work with! Along with her beautiful designs, she is great with providing decor suggestions, personalizing your details, and making your little Mr. or little Miss. feel so special. The Etsy shop name is Belva June and please, if you shop, tell her Whitney sent you!

For birthday number three, Shana heavily inspired me to ask our guests to “Flock on Over” and “Flamingle” with Brielle! I mean, seriously, how can you not LOVE a three year old celebrating with flamingos?!

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It didn’t stop there, she went on to create darling individualized little signs with cute sayings like “Party like a Pineapple” which my husband insisted during the entire party was not a real saying… like he would know.

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Seriously, how can you not party like a pineapple when you have flamingo straws???! Clearly I had a little too much fun planning this party. I should also throw in a disclaimer that if you ever decide to purchase these amazing 36 inch balloons from Amazon, while the balloons are an inexpensive addition to a party, all of the helium involved in filling them is NOT.

As I get deeper and deeper into this, I’m realizing this could have been a series of three posts, but it’s all in the learning process of blogging I suppose. The wrappers and tags were all from Shana’s fabulous shop!

The cakes were done by me. I used my tried and true chocolate cake, and made a fresh strawberry butter cream filling for the center with a marshmallow buttercream on the outside. Looking back, I believe everyone agrees the entire thing should have been slathered in that delicious Strawberry butter cream. YUM.

But those straws. How could you not love those straws. I still have a package and plan to re-purpose several of these decorations for a faculty luau luncheon next month.

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There are those cookies again! I told you, cookies and jigglers are party staples with the Bargerstock kiddos. You might be wondering about those flamingo cookies. And why on earth I wouldn’t just get a flamingo cookie cutter?! My mom and I were shopping at a local mall back in the fall (yes… I chose this theme months before the party) and I found a flamingo cookie cutter, but at the last second felt I could find a slightly larger one online if I looked, so I put it back. Being the absent-minded mother that I am, having the cookie cutter in my hand registered as “oh yes, you bought that, check it off your list” It wasn’t until I mixed up and rolled out the first round of cookies that I realized, “oh wait, NO. You DIDN’T buy that.” So we rolled with it and squeezed a flamingo in, star tip style of course, the number 3.

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And so, I will leave you with these sweet cheeks and the thought that, just because you have a winter birthday, does not mean it has to be dull, gray, boring, cold, or blah. No, you can create anything if you take the time and just put your mind to it!

Or call me! And I’ll hook a sista up!

Cheers!

  • Whitney