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

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

8 FUN IDEAS

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

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

So first up on the list:

  1. Teepee Tents

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

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

2. Pop-Open Tunnels

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

3. Wooden Paper Roll Dispenser

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

4. Creative Play: Imagination Baking

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

 

It's not always abouttrying to fix somethingthat's broken.

5. Creative Play: Household Accessories

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

6. Creative Kitchen : Bake some Cupcakes!

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

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

7. Read some Cute New Books!

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

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

8. Create a Day of Sunshine

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

It's not always abouttrying to fix somethingthat's broken.

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

Cheers!

  • Whitney
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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

 

Painting Away the Baby Blues

Parenting is like a never ending rollercoaster. One moment you are climbing up what seems like an immense hill and as you finally figure it out and begin to casually coast down the other side, just like that, those darn children change and you feel like you’re starting all over again, re-learning the next challenge, milestone, or phase in your child’s life.

Recently I have been struggling with the first round of “lasts” of parenting. We mutually agreed to have two children and have been blessed with two healthy, beautiful, funny, head strong girls and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When our youngest turned one, it felt somewhat like an accomplishment: we had survived the baby phase. She gradually began to master the art of walking, and eventually phased out her adorable little knee-scootch that she used in lieu of walking for like a five month span of her life. It was only a matter of time before her sweet deep little voice began to mimic words, learning “peeze” “tank-yew” and “wav yew,” each becoming music to our ears.

All of a sudden, just after we reached the 16 month milestone, it was as if someone pushed the fast-forward button in my daughter’s life. Within a week it felt as though she had completely transitioned from baby to toddler, trying harder than ever to keep up with her three-year old sister. She seemed to skip stages of development that her older sister hung in a bit longer.

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Everyone wants to tell a new mother or young mother to cherish the time while you have it, and every sleep deprived mother nods politely back, as if they are being lectured on not appreciating their children enough, even though we all know that is not the intention of the comment. But it isn’t until the second child that you begin to feel the depth of true meaning behind this comment. Time is priceless. We do not know how much time we have on this earth, with the people we love. All that we know is we need to make the most of it, cherish the small moments, hold on to the good memories, and let the grudges go.

I have recently found myself emptying dresser drawers of baby clothes. Rather than re filling totes to store in the basement “for the next one” since there will be no “next one”, I have been passing them on to friends I care for very much. It is this weird sharing of little items, that helps bring peace to the harsh reality that my baby is growing up. Giving someone else the opportunity to share little moments in the sweet clothes that I have photographed countless times, memorized the milestones that took place while wearing them for each of my girls, brings a little peace to an aching heart of a mother who just wants time to slow down, if only for a moment.

My youngest is this wild at heart child who is fierce. She is fierce in how much she loves, how she plays, how she learns, and how she grows. I am constantly amazed by her.

I recently spent an entire weekend in spring-cleaning overdrive. My husband used to work away so I was used to frequent days alone to complete home projects. With his recent shift back into an office, I have not had as much time to really dig in to any major home projects. So when the opportunity came for him to take a weekend venture with his brother and Dad to check out a potential hunting spot, I fully supported it.

Our three year old has been drastically out-growing her toddler bed. My parents willingly scheduled a sleep over with our girls for the same weekend so I could complete a full bedroom make-over uninterrupted. It was during this weekend of solitude that I really began to reflect on how much life was changing in our house.

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loved my daughter’s nursery room. Ironically, I loved it so much that I re-created it three times. I first set her room up in our old home, about 2 months before she was born. We then purchased our current residence and moved when she was only 5 weeks old, the child never even had a chance to sleep in her initial nursery. The exact nursery was replicated in the new home. And then shortly after she turned one, we shifted her room to a different room in the house when discovering she would become a big sister in the very near future. My mom hand sewed a gorgeous set of beautiful pink and blue crib bedding that set off the entire theme. So when I tell you I struggled with the idea of changing her Tiffany Blue baby walls to a delicate and sophisticated color scheme that could grow with her, I truly mean it.

So on that Saturday evening in March, I methodically began my process of moving furniture, cleaning the floors and setting up my work station. I have a system to every painting project I take on, perhaps it is the former artist in me. Once I had all of the pieces in place and the Pandora station set, I began to cover up three years of my baby girl’s life with a new coat, perhaps a new stage, of life.

The next 3 hours felt like a bizarre movie was rolling through my head as I remembered little moments in her life, like the first fall after she was born when my husband posed for his first archery season picture with her. The smile on her face when she sat on his lap was so genuine and full of excitement that it melted my heart right on the spot. I remembered the first time she began to dance to The Hotdog Song from Micky Mouse Clubhouse. I also remembered how she first tried learning to run the summer after turning one. Her arms would go so fast, but her poor little feet were so slow and comical. I remembered the heart breaking teeny tiny little boot she wore after discovering she had a tiny toddler fracture in her leg. I thought about how she would tilt her head in a sweet little shrug whenever anyone said “awe, so sweet” to her. And then I started to catch up to more recent moments, like when she would try to pose her baby sister on the couch for me to take her picture. I also remembered the epic fail of trying to send my husband a video of the girls saying “happy birthday daddy”  when he was working away, when all Brielle could muster was “eeew, she’s throwing up Mommy… clean her up!” Oh those reflux babies…

As the time passed, so did the coat of paint, and eventually I found myself taking a picture of the last strip of blue paint, just before I covered it up. Perhaps the purpose behind this post is to remember that life is constantly moving forward. There is no stop, rewind, or pause button for it. It is difficult at times to keep this in perspective; however, critical to remember because as beautiful as the time is that we are given, we cannot get it back.

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I still keep 3 pairs of 0-3 month socks in my girls drawers. I just cannot bring myself to take those teeny tiny little pieces out of the drawer, permanently accepting that they will never wear them again. It was a bitter sweet moment as I added the finishing touches to my daughter’s “Big Girl” room preparing for the great reveal, and rather than get hung up in the time that has passed, I chose to focus on the here and now, anxiously awaiting her approval that would hopefully come that evening.

Once my husband returned from his trip, I picked the girls up from the weekend sleep over at Nana and Papa’s and corralled the girls back into the house. Our three year old bolted up the steps to see her new room, and let me just say, three is a wonderful age.

Hug your babies tonight, cheers!

  • Whitney

Weekends with Toddlers | What to Do?

I found myself sitting on a Tuesday commute home divulging in the temporary excitement that comes when a significant change is about to occur in your life. Now that the shock and awe of my career shift has sunk in, and the important parties have all been notified, it seems as though life has begun to move in slow motion, gradually ticking away the hours, minutes, and seconds until this Career Shift actually takes place.

I’ve gone through every emotion possible starting at terrified, then moving in sequential order through heart-broken, excited, nervous, frustrated, irritated, anxious, impatient, exhausted, and now to complacent. Emotional roller coasters are exhausting. But as my rail car seems to be stalling out, I’m focusing on the here and now. What do I have left to do before I leave? And most importantly, what can I already begin to do with my little girls as I make this shift to prioritize them above all else.

So it was on this random Tuesday, pulling out of the sitter’s driveway that my oldest daughter asked me, “Mommy, could we make cookies tomorrow? No, could we make cookies TODAY?!” I thought for a moment about the steps involved, ingredients needed, and then like a lightening bolt striking a tree, remembered buying a tub of cookie dough from my niece’s fundraiser that was, brace yourselves, ACTUALLY GLUTEN FREE! I had already planned to make One Pot Jambalaya for dinner, a recipe I kind of whipped out of no-where, winging an attempt at a more complicated version I had made years before. And with this simple dinner plan, I knew we would have additional free time to do just that, bake cookies. I immediately agreed to this simple task of scooping and rolling cookie dough without hesitation and the squeals of excitement that escaped my girls in the back seat were music to my ears.

We then hurried home and began our dinner preparations, finishing just as my husband pulled into the driveway. Once everyone was well fed, the girls began to dig into the container of cookie dough rolling, scooping, and even eating, until we had created 2 sheets full of cookies! My girls actually enjoy the prep better than the end result in almost any cookie (except sugar cookies. My youngest will take you down to get to a sugar cookie) so when the trays were completed, and the cookies were not the top notch cookie like many of our homemade ones, the girls were not interested in eating them.

I then thought to myself, what can I do with 24 gluten free cookies that don’t meet the expectations of the cookie baking connoisseurs my daughters have become? And just like that she hit me; a student who has been on my caseload at school for 3 1/2 years now, has a gluten intolerance that is not well monitored. We immediately packaged up the cookies, making her a little card from the girls placing them in my school bag to be delivered the next day.

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It was this small pay-it-forward gesture that got me thinking, what other “service-project” activities could a toddler and 17 month old participate in?

My very good friend runs a Helping Hands club that is highly active in service projects and volunteer hours. I want my girls to learn the value of paying-it-forward at an early age. So I developed a list of 10 simple activities you can do with your child at any age to help teach this core value of our society to even the smallest of children

  1. Baking cookies for a local shut-in, delivering with a friendly child-crafted card.
  2. Donating old books to a local library or the Salvation Army
  3. Sorting through old toys, choosing ones to donate to local community supporting corporations like GoodWill
  4. Creating a “coupon book” of hugs and kisses for grandparents.
  5. Making lists of the things siblings love the most about each other, sharing one item every day for a week off the list.
  6. Taking your children grocery shopping for items to donate to a local food pantry.
  7. Volunteering with toddlers to help sort at local food banks
  8. Understanding the value of the critical terms Thank You, or Please at ages as young as 1
  9. Letting small children assist in picking out gifts for other children, and sharing in the joy of giving a gift to someone they love.
  10. Taking your child to local community events demonstrating the importance of community and supporting local businesses from an early age.

All of these ideas could easily be performed in a small rural community all the way to the booming cities across our country. We want our children to be BETTER than us, to value more, and want less.

Spend the weekend with your children, no matter their age, sharing in the joys of paying it forward.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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

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

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