Saying Goodbye | Looking Forward

Yesterday could only be described as similar to watching my own funeral. It was so similar to family and friends coming in and out of a deceased  loved one’s home to pay their last respects. Between emotional hugs, heartfelt words, funny memories, letters from students, videos of my classes of students saying goodbye, and even disagreements put aside, I spent my final day in a district I have been teaching with for 5 years. I was surrounded with students I’ve been responsible for their entire high school career, only a few weeks left themselves before they too will leave the district and head out into the real world. It is an incredibly surreal experience when you realize how much a small community of people can feel more like a life long family. But what is even crazier is how you don’t realize it until you are saying goodbye. That school has been a massive part of my world for my entire professional teaching career. I have so much emotionally invested inside those brick walls, picturing day to day life without entering that building feels like an impossible task. Prior to this district, I worked part time at my local district, but that doesn’t compare to the day in and day out responsibilities, personal connections, and extras, you put forth without even realizing it.

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I think the part that was undeniably mind blowing was the fact that all of these people went above and beyond to describe the impact I had made on them personally or with students they worked with. It was utterly overwhelming. I have a stack of 32 cards sitting beside me with intimate details of friendship, inspiration, and well wishes that I can’t even begin to read yet. The wound is too fresh, my heart still broken. I have learned so much from this family, this community, about sacrifice, looking at the bigger picture, realizing what is truly important, developing life long friendships, realizing when you’ve misjudged and learning from those mistakes, brushing aside the nonsense and staying focused on why we are here, and understanding the difference a relationship built with a student can make.

I have had the privilege to teach around 230 students in my short 5 years teaching with the district. Within those students I have seen the potential, the growth, the failures, the accomplishments, the future, and most importantly, the hope. Each child held the promise for a better future. If we could give each child the skills to prepare them for the struggles in life, the heart aches, the knock-you-down moments, then they would be ok. It wasn’t until my second year though, that I realized most of these students have experienced more “real life” more “struggle” and more “knock-you-down” in the short fifteen years of their lives than I may ever see in my entire life. It was at this turning point that I realized, these kids will teach me as much, if not more, than I could ever teach them.

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I began to empathize with them, to remember that while they might be frustrated or lashing out, it isn’t necessarily at me, but may very well be the only moment they have in their day to release the stress and anxiety of a life dealt to them, that is unfair and at times even down right cruel. I began to stack all of my emotional eggs in these fragile baskets, risking heart break when a student slipped back into old habits, or was taken from me from poor decision making, but every heart ache was worth it, because these kids needed to know they mattered.

So with the tearful goodbyes and life long friendship that I will carry with me, I can look forward to this new adventure, this new role in my life. What does this new career look like? I will find out in a matter of 36 hours. To say I am nervous would be an understatement. I feel this crazy mixture of emotions from lingering heartbreak and loss, to the unsettled nerves of a first year teacher, to the excitement of the potential to be more actively involved in my own children’s lives.

I have a Mom goal in my mind: to be that Mom. The Mom who packs lunches every morning with little notes tucked inside. The Mom who is there and present every morning before school, and anxiously waiting after to hear about her children’s day. The Mom who can assist with PTA events because she wants the best for her children. The Mom other Moms call to pick up their children from school and run them to practices in the evenings, because I am the Mom who is available and ready for anything.

While those events may be down the road a bit, I know that road will come all too quickly. On my last drive to work yesterday, my oldest asked me, “Mommy, after today, can we be home with you more?” I have never had any conversations with her about my job changing, about working from home, or anything even remotely close to this. But here she was, perceptive as ever, picking up on the change, feeding from my emotions. I answered her with a simple, “Absolutely girls, Mommy is going to be home much more after today.” And with that simple little question, I had the energy to pull through what I knew was going to be an incredibly difficult day.

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My work better half, and best friend shared this quote last night, and while it completely broke every barrier I had built up to get through the day, it was so perfect, because it was how I truly felt about her in return.

So here we are, two months after announcing the change and publishing Career Shift in the aftermath of it all, ready to start this new adventure. Today I woke up willing to say goodbye to the past and prepared to only look forward. So thank you, each any every one of you, who have inspired me to be empathetic, to promote achievement, to put my family first, to have the confidence to make a shift when it is necessary, to value my skill set, to leave you even when you didn’t want me to, to strive for greatness even when it’s a completely different path than I started out towards, and to always be myself. Thank you for shaping me into who I am today.

Tomorrow is a new day, a new challenge, and a new adventure.

Cheers!

  • Whitney
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Gluten Free Tacos | Tater Tot Tacos

As a Celiac patient, there have been several minor difficulties in certain meals that I have struggled with for years. Tacos have always been a favorite meal option of mine; however, if you have ever been forced to switch from soft flexible flour tortillas to stiff and incredibly crumbly soft corn shells, you can understand my disappointment.

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As usual, any meal that cannot be a sandwich is converted to a salad. And if you have ever been forced to cut Gluten from your life, you can relate with me when I say, you can only eat SO. MANY. SALADS. Period.

My husband and I began making meals of loaded tater tots long before it became a “thing” or local made-to-order chains jumped on to the band wagon. It wasn’t until a trip to my sisters though, that I considered using Tater Tots as a base for tacos. I love Nachos, Taco Salads, and even suffering through the awful dry corn shells, but this was a whole new level of delicious. Tater Tots are top in my “these are a few of my favorite things!” (think The Sound of Music theme song added to my food list) So whenever my sister made dinner one evening and everyone loaded up a plate of tater tots, including this Non-Gluten-Free half of her family, I thought to myself, this is the answer I have been looking for.

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Tacos are such a quick and easy meal, but have been missing from our meal rotation, because like many good ideas, once they slip your mind, it takes some random reminder to bring them back to the fore front. I can’t even tell you the last time I had Tater Tot Tacos. So when we decided to get back on track with meal-planning and budgeting our groceries, (recently I have fallen off the spend less value more, theme for the year) I immediately thought of this, because it is simple and budget friendly.

We are the stereotypical western Pennsylvania family: a husband who hunts just about every season, and a wife who tries to incorporate all of that meat into her meals without anyone knowing it’s there. Needless to say we have a surplus of ground venison throughout the year. The thing I like the most about ground venison is that any meal with a significant amount of seasoning or flavorful sauce, masks the slightly different texture and hint of a flavor someone who isn’t necessarily fond of the meat, would ever notice. I started out with a pound of ground venison and a packet of Ortega’s Mild Taco seasoning. Every time I start browning ground venison I add both onions and garlic salt to the meat. After the meat has browned and any liquids have been drained, add in your packet of seasoning and cup of water.

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But before browning your meat, as it takes only a few minutes, you will want to place your tater tots in a preheated oven at 425 degrees. I prefer the Crispy Crowns, by Ore Ida, as they hold up better with the toppings, and have a nice little crunch. We brown our Tots for 15 minutes in the oven, sometimes flipping halfway through, sometimes not, depending on whether or not I actually remember to do it. Either way, both options turn out some delicious tater tots.

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Once your tater tots are in the oven, you would want to actually brown your meat and prepare your toppings. I have gone from a smorgasbord of topping options, to the simple tomato, lettuce, and cheese options. For this sample I have included shredded fiesta blend cheese, sour cream, diced tomato, romaine lettuce shredded, taco sauce, and of course the hearty ground meat mixture.

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My favorite part of this is the layering… I LOVE LOADED TATER TOTS. Literally with any toppings, I’m good to go.

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With a total of like 15 minutes of prep, you have a delicious and filling meal. It doesn’t hurt that it looks pretty too!

Tater Tots are always stocked in our freezer, as it is a safe option for both of my daughters to eat, they taste delicious, and are a convenient side when in a time crunch. Again, THANK YOU ORE-IDA for always considering the needs of Celiac patients in offering guaranteed gluten free products.

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Cheers, and enjoy the beautiful weather!

  • Whitney

Loaded Taco Tater Tots

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/2 a bag of Ore Ida crispy crowns
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (or venison)
  • 1 packet Ortega Mild Taco Seasoning
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 roma tomatoes
  • 4 leaves Romain lettuce
  • shredded taco blend cheese
  • taco sauce
  • optional sour cream for topping

Directions

  1. Place half the bag of tater tots on a baking sheet. Bake in a pre-heated oven set to 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
  2. While the tater tots bake, brown the ground meat. Add seasoning packet and water, continue to cook over medium-low heat until thickened.
  3. Prepare toppings: shred lettuce, dice tomatoes, gather all remaining toppings of choosing.
  4. Once tater tots have baked, remove from the oven. Top first with meat, then cheese, and add additional toppings of choosing after that. Serve immediately.

Jude’s Potato Salad

Everyone feels their mother has the best recipes. It’s a proven fact. I have sort of hit the jackpot on Mom recipes. My Mom has a slew of amazing recipes, but I also have a mother-in-law who has given me countless good ones as well! My husband and I have been very fortunate growing up in home where family meals, and home cooked food is valued.

Today I want to share with you a simple recipe, but one that takes me back to picnics on Labor day, swimming with my cousins out at my Aunt and Uncle’s. I can still picture this huge yellow Tupperware bowl with the frosty white lid transporting my Mom’s potato salad (and countless other delectable treats) throughout the years. It tastes like summer, if you can describe a season with a flavor, transporting me back to so many fun childhood memories from picnics and rock climbing at Kinzua Dam, family reunions with my Mom’s entire side of the family, summer picnics including neighbors that felt more like family than friends, high school graduation, first picnics in our new home, ending up with today, our newest tradition: egg coloring and dinner the night before Easter at our house.

We started this tradition about 5 years ago, before we ever had children or even lived in our current residence, the old farmhouse. When my husband and I bought our first home, we started alleviating the sole duty of hosting the entire holiday weekend from my mom, and began to have some friends of the family, along with my sister’s entire crew, over to our house to color eggs and eat. The goal was to spare my mom one meal prep and the space consuming task of egg coloring.

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This previous year we kept it fairly simple, with a sickeningly sweet Caramel ROLO Brownie Trifle, (seriously, you need to try this from Nikki of Chef in Training) Fresh Tomato Basil Salad, Keilbasa and Sauerkraut baked in the oven, and of course, the BEST Gluten Free Sugar Cookies. I like to start and end with dessert recipes, if you haven’t noticed. My entire blog is typically monopolized by sweet treats. I guess it’s the gluten free in me, that feels the need to share equal recipes to all of the gluten counterparts out there.

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The potato salad is incredibly simple, starting with Russet potatoes peeled and rinsed. My mom cubes the potatoes into approximately 1 inch cubes. She then boils them until what I can only describe as “potato al dente” as in, firm. “Potato Salad should not be mushy like mashed potatoes” as my Mom would say. She’s right though, I’m definitely not a fan of mushy potato salad.

As the potatoes are boiling, you will want your hard boiled eggs to start cooking as well. I can honestly say, I am a total hit or miss on the perfect, easy to shell hard boiled egg.

Once you have reached that perfect “al dente” potato consistency, drain your potatoes and let them cool. I will swear by this pot until you are SICK of hearing about it! This entire boil, drain, cool, task is simplified if you invest in one of these Tramontina 3-Piece 6-Quart Lock-n-Drain Stockpots. To quicken the process, I run cold water over the potatoes once they have been drained. Set the potatoes aside.

Once your eggs have boiled, using an egg slicer, chop up your hard boiled egg. Combine the eggs and potatoes in a large mixing bowl.

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The next item thrown into this delicious and simple potato salad is sweet gherkin pickle, diced very small. I think I cut up about 6 or 8 pickles to put in my larger portion, so lets say any where from 4 to 6 pickles. I can remember this crazy old school Tupperware container my mom used to have for sweet pickles. The olive green color just added to the nostalgia. You can find an updated color selection of this clever little pickle container HERE in Aqua or HERE in Purple Daisy. Tupperware always makes me think of my childhood best friend’s Mom. She was a Tupperware junkie. She not only bought the new Tupperware but literally collected the tried and true originals. I never hear the brand Tupperware without reminiscing through very fond memories spent at my friend’s house, particularly their 4th of July picnics, with her family.

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Next add in equal parts Miracle Whip, and Marzetti’s Slaw Dressing. Stir this wonderful concoction up until all ingredients are evenly combined, and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour, until ready to serve.

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I can guarantee this will be featured at our annual Memorial Day Weekend picnic, along with a plethora of pot luck recipes, family favorites, and endless supplies of seconds, and even thirds.

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Nothing gets you ready for Summer like a hearty old fashioned dish of Jude’s Potato Salad. I hope a little of my Mom’s inspiration kicks you into Summer time mode, like it has for us.

Cheer!

  • Whitney

Little Things

Jude's Potato Salad

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 8 russet potatoes peeled and cubed
  • 6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
  • 6 sweet gherkin pickles chopped
  • 1 cup Miracle Whip
  • 1 cup Marzetti’s Original Slaw Dressing

Directions

  1. boil potatoes until firm, but a fork can slide through fairly easily, approximately 10 minutes. While potatoes are boiling, boil 6 large eggs. Chop 6 sweet gherkin pickles.
  2. Once potatoes have reached the “potato al dente” consistency, drain and let cool. Rinse and shell the hard boiled eggs, leaving them to cool as well. Slice with an egg slicer.
  3. Combine first three ingredients: potatoes, sliced eggs, and chopped pickles in a large bowl. Add in Miracle Whip and Slaw Dressing, stirring until all ingredients are well combined. Refrigerate at least one hour, leaving in fridge until ready to serve.

 

 

Gluten Free Spring Cake

So one afternoon, while I was debating the final contestants for my blog’s Logo and writing Hello Logo, Welcome Home my oldest daughter was camped out beside me with her cute little Leap Frog Pink Laptop, plugging away at her work as well.

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As usual, I was multi-tasking and distracting myself on Pinterest when my oldest piped up saying, “Mommy! Wait! I want to make that cake right there!” Immediately pointing to a boxed cake idea utilizing food coloring and colorful layers on a bundt cake. After carefully inspecting the recipe, I said to her we would try it out.

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This was the original picture from Tablespoon my daughter saw online.

The recipe required a white boxed cake mix which in the world of gluten free, does not exist.

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Knowing that a yellow cake mix with food coloring would most likely look more orange than pink, I needed to come up with a white cake recipe. I continued to scour the internet for another hour or so until I had enough background information to develop a fairly simple gluten free white cake recipe.

So my daughters and I went to work, making a homemade Gluten Free White Cake recipe.

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I always start by measuring my dry ingredients and combining them first in a lovely spouted bowl. This cake was made with Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour which is simple, and cup for cup convertible to non gluten free recipes.

Since this recipe has melted butter, I do this next so it has a chance to briefly cool. I’m pretty sure I’m going to experiment with melted butter in boxed mixes, because this cake turned out SO. GREAT!

Next, I place my mixer assistants on the counter and start beating the eggs and sugar.

After everyone is in place, I add in the butter, buttermilk, vanilla, and almond extract. Once everything is mixed really well, begin adding in the flour one cup at a time, and stop as soon as the cake mixture is just combined.

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This is my favorite cake batter to lick. And both of my girls would agree with me on this. (yes… my children lick the beaters when I bake. So do I, and we are all just fine…)

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As I was watching the cake lighten up in color with every scoop of Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour, I was getting pretty excited! It was actually going to be a WHITE CAKE. But then we would be adding color to it, meaning that a true white cake really needed to be added to our future to-bake list.
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Look how delicious, fluffy and light this cake batter ended up! I hated to even color it! But needless to say, my daughter was anxiously waiting to add the color. So we divided the batter evenly among 3 bowls.

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I then began to color each section of batter to match the original cake inspiration, following through with a yellow, purple, and of course, pink portion.

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After finishing this cake, looking back, I would definitely pursue a deeper shade of purple cake, because while it was visible in the final product it would have been a little cooler looking with a deeper shade.

Now comes the fun part: handing three bowls of batter to a 3 year old and letting her go to town layering the colors in the pan. She loved this part; however, decided part way through it would have been better to just make a pink cake. Of course.

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Look at her, she’s like a little professional! The final cake looked something like this prior to baking:

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How pretty and fun is this cake? And once we finished baking it, about 40 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees, it looked even prettier!

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Now, here is where I went wrong. I did not let my cake cool long enough before attempting to remove it from the pan. So my cake cracked, but evenly so I was able to piece it right back together.

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You almost can’t even see the crack! Once the cake has COMPLETELY cooled, divide up your icing into 3 separate bowls.

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Again, you could make this from scratch, but when a classic white icing is already gluten free, and you plan to drizzle it, why not just use it from the can? It’s easily thinned by adding some milk to get the glazing effect you are looking for.

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I added my colors and found the shades I was looking for before attempting to thin the icing and it worked out really well this way.

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Once your icing is slightly runny, your daughter is wired on sugar, and the cake is cooled, let her go to town flinging icing on to a cake. It might be slightly messy, but she had so much fun decorating this cake!

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The other thing I noticed was the original did not use a ton of icing. In our household, it’s a crime to under-ice a cake. Needless to say, this cake was drenched in frosting, and every bit of the final product was delicious!

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Just one handful of colored sugar sprinkles and we were finished!

The colors swirled pretty well, all things considered, but I think layering the colors in to the pan one at a time and then using a knife to swirl them would work out the best to achieve the true swirl cake effect.

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Well there you have it! One fairly simple Gluten Free White Cake Recipe, and another simple modification to make my daughter’s Gluten Free Spring Cake.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

Gluten Free White Cake

  • Servings: 12 servings
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A perfectly white and moist cake, with a delicious flavor that will fool even the keenest of taste buds.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Set the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients in a separate bowl and set aside.
  2. Melt butter and let cool slightly.
  3. In a stand mixer beat the eggs and sugar together. Add in the butter, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extract. Continue to mix at medium speed until combined.
  4. Add in the dry mixture one cup at a time until ingredients are just combined. Do not over mix.
  5. Pour into 2 greased  8 or 9 inch baking pans and bake 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (For a bundt cake, bake for 35-40 minutes)
  6. Let the cakes cool at least 30 minutes before removing from the pan and transferring to a wire rack to continue to cool completely.

Gluten Free Colorful Spring Cake

  • Servings: 12 servings
  • Print

A fun twist on a classic gluten free white cake that is sure to wow a crowd or add a cheerful touch to a spring gathering.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 can white icing
  • 3-6 Tablespoons milk

Directions

  1. Set the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients in a separate bowl and set aside.
  2. Melt butter and let cool slightly.
  3. In a stand mixer beat the eggs and sugar together. Add in the butter, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extract. Continue to mix at medium speed until combined.
  4. Add in the dry mixture one cup at a time until ingredients are just combined. Do not over mix.
  5. Separate cake mixture into three even portions. Add food coloring to each to make a yellow, pink (use red) and purple (use red and slightly more blue) colored batter.
  6. Rotating between colors, pour layers of each color into a greased bundt pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes.
  7. Let the cake cool at least 30 minutes before removing from the pan and transferring to a wire rack to continue to cool completely.
  8. Using canned icing separate into 3 even portions, repeating the same food coloring portions as the cake batter. Thin each bowl out with 1-2 tablespoons of milk, until a glaze consistency has been achieved.
  9. Drizzle icing over cake alternating colors. Let the icing set completely before serving.

 

 

Fresh Tomato Basil Salad

Winter Tomatos. Every chef dreads them, particularly our family chef. I laughed so hard the first time my sister referred to those hard, pale in color, tomatoes shipped in from god knows where, available all year round as “winter tomatoes.” She is right though, they are gross. As we begin to phase out of “Winter Tomato” season, you might start to notice an occasional good tomato day in the produce isle, and when I see good tomatoes I think, Tomato Salad. This is a staple in our house. The recipe was inspired by a similar version made at our local country club, my first job.

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Most people think that would be a terrible first job, waiting tables at a country club; however, it became my home away from home. I loved that place, the clientele, the tournaments, camping out all day on a major wedding event, all of it. Perhaps that job is the reason I became a party-planning addict.

The manager was wild and had a system for everything, I loved every second working for her and the two ladies who had been cooking for the kitchen for years. Maybe most of my sentiments are simply because it was my first job, first real pay check. Regardless of what inspired the love for events and cooking and planning, I can only believe the country club must have played a significant part in influencing my future.

Lets return to this incredibly simple, naturally gluten free, tomato salad. I love this recipe and have been making it for years. My husband and I have lucked into two good batches of tomatoes so far this season and one terribly winter batch.

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To begin this recipe, you will want your tomato of preference, I always use Roma tomatoes, but have switched it up to fresh garden tomatoes, vine tomatoes, etc. Because I am typically making this recipe in bulk to feed a crowd, I have modified the portions to make a simple side dish option for a week night dinner.

Start off your chopping therapy (I seriously love the prep before jumping in to a recipe) with about 6-8 Roma tomatoes and half of a sweet onion. Begin slicing into thin tomato wedges along with thin slices of the onion.

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After all of your lovely slicing and dicing is complete, and the stress of the day has melted away, you will need approximately 4 large basil leaves. To chop up the basil, twist the leaves tightly, and begin to slowly dice the basil finely. (Thank you Giada, for all of your cooking wisdom while I was in college!)

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Toss all of your items in a large bowl ready to dress.

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And then once you have annoyingly realized that the bowl is too small, switch to a larger one that you can actually stir your ingredients in.

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There we go. Next, add in 1/2 cup olive oil. I prefer extra light olive oil, but feel free to use whatever flavor you prefer. Add in a splash of apple cider vinegar (1 teaspoon, I never measure the liquids, but forced myself to, so I could actually give a fairly accurate guide.)

Salt to suit your tastebuds. I am fairly generous with the salt when making this salad. We aren’t shy when it comes to salting our food in this house. Stir until well combined

Toss your concoction into a pretty little bowl and wow all of your friends with this beautiful, and incredibly simple, salad. We love to eat this with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese. They pair up so well together.

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After this past holiday weekend I’m more than ready for summer foods, and I can’t think of a better way to kick start the summer festivities than with a generous portion of this tomato basil salad.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Fresh Tomato Basil Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A simple and fresh summer inspired recipe that will please any crowd

Ingredients

  • 6-8 Roma Tomatoes
  • 1/2 of a medium Sweet Onions
  • 4 large basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup Extra Light Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Slice the tomatoes into thin wedges, Chop the onions into 1/4 inch width slices.
  2. Twist the basil leaves and chop finely. Add into the tomatoes and onion.
  3. Add in the olive oil and cider vinegar. Toss to coat.
  4. Salt to taste. Let sit for at least a half hour before serving.

Last Minute Easter Treats

So it’s the night before your child’s Easter party and you are in a panic. Why? Because you just realized you do not have half the items to create the “bunny munch” or the Twinkie Race Cars” that are blowing up Pinterest this year. However, you have done a little easter shopping, low and behold, you have PEEPS.

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Peeps generally stir extreme love or extreme hate in fellow Easter snackers. For me, it’s in the extreme love category, and both my girls will agree with this side of the argument. I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a child who doesn’t love a marshmallow. After some minor research, I discovered Peeps are gluten-free. Interestingly, the Lavender peeps are DAIRY FREE as well.

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Seems a little strange that one specific color is dairy free while the others are not. The bunny shapes are not always listed DAIRY FREE either. Read your packaging.

On the official PEEPS & COMPANY website, you can shop by Gluten Free category. I found countless options available. I had a little more trouble finding dairy free specific listings. Anyways, getting off my rant and returning to a simple last minute Easter treat to please a crowd, “Treats for your Peeps!”

I love making printable tags for gifts, holiday events, treats, teaching materials, you name it. I don’t think I’ve ever met a teacher who didn’t love making or receiving a great free-printable.

I whipped these tags up last night for my daughters Easter party at the sitter, and couldn’t help but share with anyone who might need a last minute treat idea!

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It was such a fun, colorful, and simple treat to make! I used a couple packages of Peeps, some bakers twine, treat bags, and the tags that I printed. I kept the treat small, placing 3 little peeps in each treat bag. I also did not have treat bags in stock so I simply cut the end off of a plastic sandwich baggie. It was the perfect size!

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Start by sectioning your peeps in to 3 or 4 peep sections, depending on the size of your treat bags, and place them in each treat bag. Using just a small piece of bakers twine, Tie off the open end, leaving enough string to attach your tag.

img_7939.jpg I didn’t have a hole punch handy so my scissors had to work. Once the tag was attached you couldn’t even tell the difference!

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The girls go to a smaller child care so I only had to make a few, but enjoy sending extras for the “big kids” at the sitter’s. I personalized the girls tags; however, have provided a simple generic tag anyone can download and use!

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So simple but so cute! Hopefully this tag can help out an always multi-tasking mother this holiday!

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Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

(Click Below for the Printable Tags)

Easter Tags

The BEST Gluten Free (And Dairy Free) Sugar Cookie

Well this is it. THE. MOTHER. OF. ALL. MOTHER. The official: Gluten Free Sugar Cookie recipe. I’ve been speaking about my Mother-in-law’s sugar cookies for months now. She makes, no joke, the softest and by far the most delicious, sugar cookie recipe I’ve ever tasted. The recipe is very easy to make as well; however, I am not giving you her recipe.


I am giving you my modified, and gluten-free specific recipe. This recipe can be made dairy free by substituting the buttermilk with an “acidic milk substitute.” See the conversion graphic below from buzzle.com. (Thank you Pinterest!) I have made these cookies using regular milk and adding vinegar to it, whenever I get home and realize I forgot to purchase buttermilk. It doesn’t really affect the end product.

6047d6a047601fe9b277c22c14d75e5eThis is the one hot ticket item that every Bargerstock grandchild looks for at every holiday, from Christmas, to Easter, birthdays and even one time my mother-in-law and I decorated 4th of July cookies together (lord help me that she doesn’t still have pictures of those cookies…!)  They were a centerpiece at each one of our weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, and I have carried on her tradition of sugar cookies for each of my children’s birthday parties. She even attempted gluten free cookies once for me. Not being used to gluten free baking, I’m pretty sure she hated it. Having begun to fine tune the craft of gluten free baking I am beginning to find the “fixes” for the original recipe to create the updated Gluten Free version of her cookies.

The one specific detail that my mother-in-law always includes in her cookies is the very era-specific “Star-tipped” decorating that takes you right back to 90’s childhood when it was customary to buy old school style sheet cakes covered in star-tipped icing. More recently this has been replaced with a slightly more intricate, and less carpal-tunnel-causing method of cake and cookie decorating that look more like works of art than food.

I have created this cookies in a variety of ways, from the original star tipped style, to the flooded royal icing, and even to a combination of both, layering icing on top of hardened icing.

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Here you can see the classic start tipped icing from my post, Winter Birthday Blues Brightened, where we held a “Snow Bunny” themed birthday party for our oldest when she turned two.

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These cookies were my first attempt at “flooding” and layering of icing, (pardon the incredibly crooked lines… it was my first attempt!) which didn’t turn out too bad, the pearlescent dust really helped to cover up some of my unsteady hand errors. I made these for my youngest daughter’s Bohemian 1st Birthday. I also really enjoyed the “toothpick” effect of pulling the icing in the feathers. I will post a follow up with suggested decorating do’s and don’ts that I have learned through trial and error.

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These were from my second attempt at “flooding” icing. My niece was turning two last fall, and I had recently finish making the teepee and feather cookies, and really started to get obsessed with decorating. Plus, I found the jackpot royal icing recipe, which I will also share with you. This round I was able to get a better handle on lining and flooding.

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These are from the same round of cookie baking. The chef and her family were Disney bound in the near future, so in my cookie-obsessed mind, I decided I should make some Disney themed cookies to send in a care package along with each of their birthday gifts. I also sent Cinderella’s Castle; however, they were incredibly ugly so I didn’t even bother to photograph them.

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How can you not love a  flamingo tucked into a 3? Best accidental design ever! (I secretly forgot to purchase a flamingo cookie cutter… whoopsies!) fullsizerender-2.jpg

This last series of cookies is from my oldest daughter’s most recent birthday. We had a Flock on Over and Let’s Flamingle theme.

I had WAY too much fun with this theme and returned back to the classic star tipped icing style. It just seemed to fit so well with the pineapples scattered throughout the theme.

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And of course, the subject of today’s post: Spring themed sugar cookies.

So you can see, my Mother-in-law’s cookies will forever hold a precious place in our home, whether it’s the original recipe she follows or one modified to meet my family’s needs, these cookies are a tradition that WILL be passed on to my daughters.

To begin the recipe you will need to crazy kids with jammies having a bad hair day:

Just kidding, in a separate bowl combine your Pamela’s Artisan Blend flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set your oven to 350 degrees.

In your stand mixer, cream your Crisco (the magic ingredient to this entire recipe) eggs and sugar. I beat this on high speed until it’s nice and fluffy.

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Next, add your vanilla, almond extract, and then add in your buttermilk, (or dairy-free substitute following the conversion table).

6047d6a047601fe9b277c22c14d75e5eIt’s very important not to panic when your mixture starts to look like it’s curdled on you. It tends to get a little gross looking at this point, but I promise you, it will turn out amazing in the end.

The only way I can guarantee that your recipe will turn out with the quality consistency of a soft sturdy sugar cookie is if you follow this recipe exactly and use Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour. It is a perfect CUP FOR CUP replacement whenever following a recipe you may have had prior to going gluten free. For this recipe you will need 4 1/4 cups of flour (previously mixed with your baking soda, baking powder, and salt)

Begin by adding the flour in 1/2 cup increments at a time, stirring on medium-low speed. Continue to stir and add flour until just combined.

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Once your flour is mixed, turn off your stand mixer and give it one last good mix with a wide spatula, being sure to scrape the sides well and incorporate all the flour. The batter will be fairly soft. Place the entire mixing bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the flour to stiffen up just slightly.

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Once your batter has chilled, it will still have a light, almost velvety feel to it. Time for the fun! By this point in baking, my youngest daughter has typically headed to bed for a morning nap, leaving my oldest and I to get down to business rolling and cutting out cookies.

I have to pause for a minute, because when we baked these cookies a month or so ago, it almost took my breath away looking through the photographs afterwards at how grown up she is becoming. She is such a kind child and loves to help, particularly in the kitchen that I can’t help almost tearing up writing about our afternoon of baking cookies together.

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Before baking, she and I have a routine. First, we wipe down the entire kitchen table, because lets face it, crust kids will be crusty kids… Next, we set up our Stackable Cooling Racks (enter Pampered Chef sales pitch), get out our pre-cut baking sheets, (GENIOUS invention), set out the container of flour, and cookie sheets.

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Finally, choose our cookie cutters. My daughter loves picking out the cookie cutters, although I need to find a better organizational system for storing baking supplies in the near future.

Our set up looks something like this:

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When preparing to roll your cookies, it’s important to remember some specific gluten free practices:

  • Only bake gluten free
  • If you are baking with regular flour wait until AFTER you have finished AND stored the gluten free product
  • Keep separate rolling pins for use with Gluten Free flours ONLY.

Flour your surface with a nice even layer, and flour your assistance surface to match.

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I like to work in small portions and I only re-roll my dough one time. If you work this dough too much, it becomes stiff and hard, losing the soft, fresh-baked feel these cookies should have. Trust me, I have made this mistake before. (Thanksgiving 2016 – ask any of my in-laws)

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Pat the top of your dough down with a little additional flour and begin to work it gently with the rolling pin.

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Melissa and Doug have a darling baking set that actually works for your little assistants. We need to get a second rolling pin soon for my littlest assistant.

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I like to leave my dough about 1/4 of an inch thick when I’ve finished rolling. When you begin to use cookie cutters, I strongly recommend keeping a metal spatula nearby to transfer cookies smoothly to the prepared baking sheets.

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Keeping in mind that you only want to re-roll your dough one time, be efficient in placing your cookie cutters in order to get as many cookies as possible from the dough.

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One re-roll of the dough will look something like this. Do not go beyond this or your cookies will be hard and crumbly.

Yes, even at 3 years old she pretty much has mastered the craft of baking. I could spend every day doing things like this with her.

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Once your cookie sheets are prepare, place in the oven for 10 – 13 minutes. I specifically chose this arrangement to demonstrate the variation in time. For the smaller cookies start with 10 minutes, and check them. Larger cookies like the butterfly, larger shapes and my daughter’s ridiculously thick “B” would all require a minimum of 12 minutes to bake.

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Once your cookies have finished they should look something like this. Set, but not browned, and puffed, but not sinking anywhere.

Transfer ALL cookies to a cooling rack about a minute after being removed from the oven.

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In the bottom right corner of the cookie picture above, notice how cracked and split those cookies are. These are ones that my daughter rolled, cut, re-rolled, cut again, about 3 times total before deciding they were ready. I included them to emphasize why you only want to re-roll your dough one time with this gluten free product.

If you are only baking on one cookie sheet at a time, consider placing your cookie dough back into the fridge between sheets. We typically have 4 baking sheets going at once, so I do not worry about keeping the dough chilled.

When I do re-use a cookie sheet, I don’t like to be wasteful of my baking sheets, so I place a second round of cookies onto the same pre-cute parchment paper I used on the first round.

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Once your cookies have completely cooled, your cooling racks make excellent “out of reach” resting zones for your cookies as you complete decorations on them.

My Mother-in-law’s cookies use canned classic white icing. And it’s amazing. Don’t judge the use of canned icing until you try it. Trust me, you can make very similar tasting icing from scratch, and I will provide you with some of my favorite homemade recipes for cookie decorating, but why waste the time? Unless you love the Royal Icing, then hold tight as I will be giving you the BEST ROYAL ICING recipe in the very near future.

A little canned icing, food coloring and some star tipping, and you too can celebrate in our family’s tradition of sugar cookie baking! I hope this recipe allows you the family project time my girls and I enjoy while baking together.

Cheers! and Happy Spring!

  • Whitney

 

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The BEST Gluten Free (And Dairy Free) Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 6 dozen cookies
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Cup Crisco
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk (or Acidic Dairy Substitute)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/4 Cups Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour (plus additional for rolling)

Directions

  1. Set oven temperature to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, and crisco until creamy and slightly fluffy.
  3. Add in vanilla, almond extract, and buttermilk stirring until just combined.
  4. Begin to add flour in 1/2 cup increments until all dry mixture is just combined. Remove bowl from mixer, scarping sides with a large spatula to ensure all ingredients combined well.
  5. Refrigerate mixture for 30 minutes until firm.
  6. Flour surface and roll 1/4 of the dough at a time until 1/4 of an inch thick. Using cookie cutters, place cookies on prepared baking sheets.
  7. Only re-roll dough one time. Repeat with remaining 3/4 of dough mixture.
  8. Bake cookie sheets in oven at 350 degrees for 10 – 13 minutes.

Fun Breakfast | Simple Gluten Free Pancakes

 

I will never forget the trip to my sister’s when her youngest daughter was officially in charge of breakfast. She was making gluten free pancakes. In our house, we only worry about gluten free, but with my niece she is both dairy and gluten free. Using the Bisquick Gluten Free mix, which I cannot stress enough what an AMAZING mix this is, she substitutes almond milk in to replace the milk added. The mixture is dairy free (not soy free, but dairy free) and even with this additional substitution the pancakes taste just like the Bisquick pancakes I grew up with.

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Photo Credit: General Mills Website

My niece has been one of those unbelievably creative and one of a kind kids as long as I can remember. She is sweet, crazy intelligent, and every now and then reminds me so much of myself at her age minus all the access to . It’s fun to see her interacting with her sister, because I think her older sister is much like her mother, my older sister. I wonder if we had grown up closer together in age, if we would have been like those two.

Returning back to my niece’s clever pancakes, after she mixed the batter up, she tinted the pancakes with food coloring to match my oldest daughter’s request for pink. (brilliant idea for any toddler). But the next thing she did blew me out of the water on creative breakfasts. Using a decorating bottle, she poured the mixture into the bottle and used the bottle to create shapes and designs in my daughter’s pancakes. INGENIOUS!

Since this day, I have been following suit making pancakes like my niece inspired me, starting first, of course, with the Bisquick mixture, and following suit with food coloring and a decorator bottle.

And so when my girls requested “Breakfast for Dinner!!!” the other night, I began with this simple and very easy method for making pancakes! To start, I made one batch beginning with:

* 1 cup of Gluten Free Bisquick Mix
* 1 cup of Milk (I used 2 percent but Almond Milk is an excellent substitute)
* 2 Tablespoons of Oil (I used Canola)
* 1 egg

I then added 2-3 drops of red food coloring to achieve the perfect shade of pink.

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Once again, this awesome bowl from Pampered Chef comes to the rescue with the pour spout, but I have found a close substitute HERE if you’re in the market for a great mixing bowl. Perhaps it would be a good Mother’s Day Gift Idea for the baker in your life or to just treat yourself!

Begin by spraying your pan with a non stick spray or use butter. (We use Pam.) And heat the pan or griddle, no one has purchase a griddle in my house… I’m hoping I can get an add-in griddle when we replace our stove… someday soon… hopefully… maybe… probably not.

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Next, decide which shape you want to create. We typically stick to the basics: hearts, Minnie Mouse bows, Mickey Heads, and flowers. Draw the outline of your shape in the pan.

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Fill in your shape using a side to side motion.

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How stinking cute it this?! If you can master the art of the outline and fill, who would ever need a “Pancake Mold” ever again?

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Here is another cute little (and incredibly lopsided) shape. It’s SO EASY and is such a fun surprise for any child! My niece would get a little fancier and place the letter “B” in the pan, wait a few seconds and then fill in around it, the B looked like it was stamped into the heart-shaped pancake. You could have a field day making these cute little pancakes for your own little cuties.

Once your pancake has begun to set and the edges begin to puff a little, flip your design over and let your pancake finish just a few more seconds on the other side.

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If you’re a real perfectionist you could trim these up with a butter knife after removing from the pan.

 

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And just like that, you have a simple, but very pretty breakfast for a loved one, perhaps a special breakfast in bed treat? Or a sweet little cutie who is beginning to learn shapes and colors. Whoever you are preparing these for is sure to be pleased with this fun little twist on breakfast!

My parents recently purchased these DARLING little Easter plates and bowls for the girls. We decided a fun meal like “Breakfast for Dinner!” would be an excellent time to try out the new tools.

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The girls love having compartments to eat different foods  from and both girls have always responded well to several finger food options. Each of the girls was given a heart shaped pancake, along with their two favorite fruits of the week: (I use this term lightly because this really does change weekly) Apples and Strawberries. They also love sausage so it must be part of a “breakfast for dinner” kind of night!

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A few years back, I stumbled across these interactive plates on Uncommon Goods and I could not resist buying them as Christmas Gifts! Here is a link with my referral to find these Construction Plates and Utensils on Amazon.

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I can still remember my sister in law sending me a picture of him using the plate. I think at the time she was having trouble keeping him at the table to eat. This extra little bit of entertainment went a long way for him.

While my nephew loved this plate, I had to find a match for his sister, which lead me to this sweet little Garden Fairy Plate Set and Utensils so she could join in the fun as well!

Garden Plate How stinking cute is this little set?! My daughter has a match, and the “pusher tool” really helped when she was initially learning how to use the utensils. I would definitely recommend this set to any children from toddlers to elementary age because of how fun the tools are! Perhaps it’s my weird Obsessive Compulsiveness that I have passed on to my children, but I totally get why they feel the need to organize their food before eating it. Frankly, I wish I had a grown up set of these plates.

Hopefully this post inspires so creativity for your Sunday Morning breakfasts this week.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

Mother’s Day Gift Guide 2017

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This week I have really been focusing on gift giving. I know it’s a random time of year to choose gift giving as a topic of interest, but there is something about Spring that is so new and fresh and makes me want to put winter blues behind me and brighten some one’s day. It could also be that my husband and two very good friends have birthdays right at the beginning of Spring, or even the fact that Easter is coming just around the corner. Regardless of whatever inspired this mood of gifting, I wanted to share some of my top Mother’s Day Gift Ideas with my 2017 Mother’s Day Gift Guide.

Mother's Day GIFT GUIDE

Every product includes a description of why you will love it along with an image and link to the product itself. Spoil your mother, or better yet, share this with your husband… and enjoy the spoiling yourself!

  1. Echo Dot

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Ok… so at first I wasn’t sure about the whole talking to a piece of technology in your home; however, there are countless times that I have my hands full with the girls and my husband is off doing whatever… and a little assistance would be nice! Our three year old likes to try to change channels and mess with the dvd player while I am cooking. How nice would it be to say, “Hey Alexa, play Frozen, for the girls.” Or even, “Hey Alexa, what is the next step in this recipe?” How many of you mothers use Pinterest as your recipe book? I do! I am constantly flipping through my phone, leaving flour or who knows what else on the touch screen of my phone while trying to cook.

2. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

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This classic novel, is a picturesque story of the occasional struggles between mother – daughter relationships, and the secrets children sometimes are unaware of when it comes to their parents. Kristin Hannah’s attention to detail and build up in this heart warming novel will leave any mother in tears of joy by the end.

3. Keurig 2.0 K200 Series

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I am a coffee junkie! My husband and I recently purchase a more elaborate coffee system, but inevitably returned to our classic Keurig. It is so simple and convenient! I registered for a Keurig 5 1/2 years ago before we were married and my teaching friends purchased it for us as a shower gift. I still have that system. Keurig products are such great quality products. There is something about feminine colored appliances that really appeal to me. I love this K200 in Oasis. Keurig also offers a K250 in Sandy Pearl

4. Gold Flatware by Threshold

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I confess, I have been eyeing this set of flatware up for months. I am in love with the gold finish and the price! You just can’t beat a good value that looks and feels like quality. If anyone happens to speak with my husband, this would be an excellent addition to our home…!

5. Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer

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My Kitchen Aid is my appliance better half. My husband bought me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for my first mother’s day and I use it constantly. It literally fell out of the hatch of my vehicle on a trip to my sisters this past Christmas, bounced across her driveway, and miraculously still works. There was a moment I thought I might be losing my poor baby appliance, but it was a trooper and pulled through! If that doesn’t sales pitch you on the quality of this machine, I don’t know what will. This is the specific model I use and love. I would recommend ordering an additional bowl, for busy baking days. While this item is on the higher end of the shopping budget, it certainly will let the Mother in your life know how much she is appreciated! Besides, who doesn’t love a little extra motivation to have baked good around more often?!

6. Porcelain Classic White Dinnerware Set

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LOVE my white dish set from Target. These dishes are high quality and affordable. You can purchase them as a set or individual pieces, which I also love. I was treated to a nice set of these clean white dishes last year for Mother’s day. The thing I love the most about a white dish set, is the timeless feel. You can switch in different accent plates, compliment with seasonal colors, and never get sick of it. While patterns and colors may be trendy a times, white plates will never go out of style. When I am investing in an item for my kitchen, I want it to last. These plates are exactly that.

7. Decorative Dry Erase Boards

Help Mom stay organized and stylish at an affordable price at a mere $9.99 with this Marble Dry Erase Board or this Navy Blue and Copper Chalk Board. These are so cute and would look great in an office, kitchen, or entry way! I have the Marble one in my Updated Home Office (post coming soon!).

Mother's Day GIFT GUIDE

8. Classic Wooden Tray

These beautiful, yet simple, wooden trays remind me of a fun Mother’s Day and Father’s Day tradition we had in our home growing up. Each year on Mother’s day my dad and I (or my sister and I when she still lived at home) would get up and make breakfast for our Mom and take her a tray of breakfast in bed. As a kid it felt SO FUN to eat  breakfast in a bed! We did the same on Father’s day serving my Dad breakfast in bed as well. So when I stumbled across this Acacia Bed Tray and Espresso Benito Breakfast Tray I just had to share this fun tradition from my childhood. Even surprising Mom with the tray, breakfast, and some fresh flowers would surely start any Mother’s Day off perfectly.

9. A Shopping Trip!

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Plan a day and prepare in advance by surprising her with a scheduled date, child care arranged, and a budget for a shopping spree. Target now offers both credit cards and debit cards. If my husband ever said to me, “Here honey, I took care of scheduling a sitter for this day, and I have this awesomely full Target gift card (or credit card) spend the day enjoying yourself!” I might just have a heart attack and never even make it to the store. Some of my close friends who have experienced my shopping trips to Target will vouch for how dangerous it would be to send me unsupervised into a Target store with a credit card. But trust me, it has happened…

10.  Affordable Floral Necklace

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When it comes to jewelry you will really need to feel your way through this. I like jewelry that is inexpensive, as the more trendy styles come and go; however, I have my select timeless pieces with more sentimental value. (See the next item if you’re looking in this direction) This necklace lays beautifully when paired with a simple shirt and jeans but can also dress up an outfit for an evening out with the husband. I find myself following the ever spinning circle of “silver” or “gold” falling more heavily on gold at the moment, but like that the crystal look balances out the gold if you’re still unsure about jumping back into gold jewelry.

11. Personalized Jewelry by Unmistakably Mine

  1. As I have mentioned in my previous post, UnmistakablyMine | Personalized and Affordable, this is my ultimate go-to shop on Etsy for personalized and sentimental gifts for those that I love.  You cannot go wrong on Mother’s day when shopping with Lori and her quality products from personalized necklaces for a mother, to bracelets for a friend, and  even the Pet Mommy out there will find items to cherish on her website.

12.  Reversible Tote

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Show me a Mother, and I’ll show you a multi-tasker. This bag is perfect for the Mom on the go. It’s inexpensive and REVERSIBLE! Plus if you click the link above, it comes in 8 color options. I have one in the black and tan reversible option, prior to this little gem of a pattern being released. I love the spring feel this pattern has, and the strength of the bag has my stamp of approval. I’ve carried multiple laptops in mine at once, along with items for my kids.

13. Terracotta Planters – Personalized

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Plants and planters seem to go hand in hand with Mother’s Day. Perhaps it’s that Kindergarten-Style brainwashing we receive when we place our hand prints on Terracotta planters at 6 years old.  Then followed by the act of planting the pot with basil or some other random herb and take our creations home to our mothers, hearts beaming, anxious for her approval. Today I am presenting you with an updated, modern approach to that childhood gift. Hello Smith and Hawkins:

Smith and Hawkins

I love the small Terracotta Planters new, empty, and full of gardening tools or seed packets, or planted with a favorite flowering plant or frequently used herb.

14. Cake Stands – Not Just for Cakes Anymore

From white, to milk glass, to crystal, and even metallic, cake stands are one of the trendiest purchases of late. I have two currently, but would love to continue to grow this collection.  A simple White Cake Stand is always a classic starting point. Galvanized Metal Cake Stands add that rustic charm so heavily inspired by Chip and Joanna Gaines. And the third cute stand listed above is a sweet little Gold Cake Stand with pretty little details that would be a compliment to just about any cake or cupcake presentation.

But cake stands don’t have to remain in the kitchen. I’ve noticed some very cute presentations from jewelry trays on a vanity, to accent pieces on a mantle. The possibilities are endless. So get creative!

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Well there you have it. 14 ideas to inspire some unique, yet thoughtful gifts for the mother in your life. Celebrate her and all that she does for her family. If you are the mother, just forward this helpful little link on over to your husband and leave the rest up to him!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

G-PA Survival Kit plus Free Printables

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Working in the Special Education department with a group of people who chose this profession to help struggling students day in and day out, gave me the opportunity to meet some wonderfully talented individuals. During my first few years teaching full time, I met six amazing people in my department who all played a part shaping me into the teacher I am today through their wisdom, guidance, personal life experiences, and sense of humor. I will never forget my first day of work. It was July in 2012 and I was all of 48 hours into a state of newly post-wedding bliss and blur. This lady called me on the phone to invite me to a scheduling work day. I couldn’t remember her name, but she told me that we would be meeting at the high school at 9:00 that upcoming Thursday to build our master schedule. So I thought to myself… my first work day, is the week of my honeymoon. Awesome.

And so I went to work on that Thursday in July, nervous to enter the room and face my first REAL job, with REAL co-workers. I met 6 individuals that day who would make up my learning support co-workers. The first face I saw was a younger man, I guessed late 30’s at the time, and I recognized him from my interview team. He re-introduced himself as we walked down the dimly lit and intensely 70’s styled hallways. It smelled of cleaners and humidity and we walked to the “conference room” which felt more like a utility closet, the same one that happened to be my interview room. It felt much less intimidating with the warm welcome my soon-to-be mentor provided. The next to arrive was the voice from the phone. She was tall, looked young, but had the respect from others as though she had taught for quite a while. She was kind, and introduced herself as Holly again, only this time I made an effort to remember. She brought with her a white haired and incredibly tan man. Apparently they carpooled at times. I predicted when I went out to the parking lot there would be a convertible car he would get into. I was right.

The next two to arrive were both younger and neither spoke a word, but sat quietly nodding and agreeing with all decisions made during the scheduling. The last to arrive was super pleasant, immediately shook my hand and brought an undeniable heart-warming presence in to the room. I remember how comfortable he made everyone feel. His name was Dave, and every time I would walk into his classroom he still had that effect. He took a seat at a computer in the corner to type the schedule as we built it. This task would eventually become my job in future years.

The next two hours passed with discussion and thought process too abstract for my inexperienced mind. I listened as they spoke of classes and course requirements that were so foreign to my high school requirements I simply continued to follow them and watch as my schedule was built. Once a skeleton of a master schedule was set up we were to hand schedule the students on our caseload. Still floating in that blur of post-marital bliss I was focused on getting home to figure this puzzle of scheduling out in the comfort of my own home, away from the hovering and experienced eyes surrounding me.

This memory has been floating around in the back of my mind as I hit the ending point in my count down to a career shift. The voice on the phone turned out to be the kindest woman I have ever had the privilege of working with. She has been a motivator on those rough days to always stay positive and remember everything we do is for the kids. She is so wise and keeps everyone on task at whatever meetings we hold, and has the sweetest voice. She also forces me to work-out on our non-school-related dates… We really need to work on this aspect of our relationship! I know she will forever hold a place in my life. I’ve spoken countless times about my mentor and his heavy presence in my life. The super tan gentleman who arrived with the lady from the phone call ended up being an undervalued and phenomenal presence in our students lives. He is greatly missed by both students and fellow teachers.

And the kind soul who went above and beyond, to introduce himself and show me to my classroom ended up also falling into the irreplaceable friends category. He has inspired me to fight for what is right. His first piece of wisdom shared with me during my first year was, “Your wealth with always be in your time…” as a 25 year old, it held little value, but I appreciated that it would grow over time. As my little family grew one child at a time, I truly began to understand the weight behind his wisdom. He will forever be an additional mentor, role model and inspiration in his crazy unconventional ways. The time we spent joking, along with the stories we have shared will forever hold a place in my heart.

The fifth person who developed a strong influence in my life didn’t come in to play until my third year teaching when our middle school and high school combined to become a Junior-Senior High School. She was also one of those treasures that a district develops anxiety at the thought of losing. Her job is so intense and requires such a highly qualified personality to be successful in and she does it. Just like that, she is focused, and dedicated, and meticulous, and I just love her. I was so sad at the thought of leaving her along with my handful of close friends I have developed over my time working there. But I was comforted in the fact that she would understand. She is that all-balancing mother first, teacher, escort to her children, coordinator of family schedules, reminder of to-do lists, and supportive friend. She would get it. So when I was making this incredibly difficult decision, I found myself confiding in her, weighing the pros and cons, because she is the type of mother want to get the chance to be. She is involved and her kids will always come first to her.

Which leaves me with just one last critical person in my department who truly shaped me into the teacher I am today. My boss. Luckily, I feel fairly safe in writing this, knowing he’ll never read it, so I will be frank, I knew the moment I walked out of my interview, I wanted, correction, I needed to get this job. Some unidentifiable force was pulling me to this district, and I truly believe a higher power was at play drawing me in to these people, these life long friends, hard working and dedicated people. Each person described above holding a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, each so readily available to share with me, whenever I needed them. These people became a family to me. Kind, devoted, and at times a little crazy, but family. That unspoken love was tested just a year ago when a family member was sick. So we pulled together, prayed for a miracle, and were blessed with just that: A Miracle.

Now that we have survived the emotional roller coaster of my sentiments, I present you with the most recent creation my work family and I put together. Our boss recently became a G-Pa for the first time ever. He and his wife have the most perfect little man to spend the rest of their lives celebrating and watching him grow. We wanted to help celebrate this little bundle, but in a very “our department” fashion.

Let me introduce to you, The G-Pa Survival Kit:

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After spending WAY TOO MUCH TIME over-thinking this gift, we developed a list of essential items to survive the first month of G-Pa life. The kit included:

 

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The list held as many hunting reference as we could come up with, along with some universal diaper changing jokes. Hunting is critical in our Western Pennsylvania life style. We then passed little size 1 diapers around to all who contributed giving each participant a moment to write funny little messages for our boss while he was on “Poop Doody.” The supplies were all found locally minus some specialty details, which I will provide links to the products in this post towards the end.

It is this positive environment for little comical jokes, that sets our department apart from most. We know every statement typed into an IEP is legally binding, and that every word spoken during an IEP meeting is critical. So perhaps it is the weight and importance behind these tasks that drives us to find the humor and enjoyment in these small moments.

The gift was so enjoyable to give, watching each item bring out a new level of laughter. Seeing the sweet little man in his tiny Muck boots all but sent me over the edge ready for another little peanut in our house!

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The items we included started with Rubber Gloves, Safety Goggles, Metal Tongs, Disposable Face Masks, Zip Lock Bags (written on with Sharpie “Caution – Hazardous Materials”), Camouflaged Pacifiers (baby silencer), Camouflaged Bibs, Toy Rattle (Baby Rattler Call), Diaper Supplies: Diapers, Wipes, Butt Paste (because it has the best name…!), Daniel Boone Baby Coon Skin Cap (this was the clincher gift…!), My First Muck Boots,  and of course some iron-on personalized baby body suit designs. We even included a turkey call as Baby’s first turkey call; however our boss claimed it as his own.

Rattler Call

Turkey Call

Silencer

I have seriously tossed around the idea of opening up an Etsy shop offering personalized printable gift ideas, but for now I will stick with simple, free ideas you can download and share. Please do not hesitate to use and share with me your gift giving stories. I can only hope it brings you as much joy as it has our little “family.”

Cheers!

  • Whitney

GPA Item Labels

GPA Labels

GPA List Printable