Friday, September 12, 2014

Cherry Compote Filled Cupcakes

I've filled cupcakes before, usually with my peanut butter, strawberry, or chocolate buttercream icing. I love trying new things, but for some reason "compote" just sounded a little intimidating. After our cherry tree harvest, we made a cherry pie but we still had a lot of cherries left over. They were sour cherries, so not exactly the best cherries to munch on. I decided to finally try making a compote and found it was a lot easier than I had expected! I made chocolate cupcakes and filled them with the cherry compote. I topped with a buttercream and they were delicious!

You will need:
  • 4 1/2 cups cherries, pitted (*see tips for help)
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup sugar


Directions:

1. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to boil.
2. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until cherries soften and release juices.
3. Remove cherries with slotted spoon and set aside.
4. Continue simmering the juices until thickened (about 15-20 minutes). DM TIP: I used this as a cupcake filling, so I let the juices get pretty thick so the cupcakes didn't turn to mush. However, if you were using this as an ice cream (so good!) or pancake topping you might want it to be a little runny still.

DM TIPS:
1. We only really deal with pitting a lot of cherries once a year, so I don't want to buy a cherry pitter. However, we tend to have those wood chopsticks from sushi or Chinese food laying around. Pitting cherries can be a pain, but if you have a chopstick, it can be easy! Break apart the chopsticks, place one end of the chopstick in the center of the cherry and push through to pop the pit out!
2. Filling cupcakes is pretty easy. I had bought a cupcake corer, but found it didn't work as well as I had hoped. If you have an apple corer, I found it works a lot better! Place on the middle of the cupcake and push down, but make sure to not go through the bottom of the cupcake since you need a bottom to the cupcake so the filling doesn't fall out. Twist and pull up. The cored part should be in the apple corer and make great little snacks for "helpers".

Friday, September 5, 2014

Homemade Sandwich Bread

I've been making homemade bread for awhile now, including sandwich bread for boys lunch. I also bought a bread slicer, which works well for making the sandwiches. I made it based of Arthur's recipe and used half white unbleached flour and half white whole wheat flour. I have used regular whole wheat flour instead of the white whole wheat. It did change the texture and make the bread harder to cut into sandwich slices.


Ingredients:
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½  white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1 packet active dry yeast, dissolved in 1 tablespoons warm water
  • ½ cup skim or 2% milk
  • ½ to 2/3 cup hot water, enough to make a smooth, soft dough
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • Misc.: loaf pan, non-stick spray, plastic wrap
Makes 1 loaf

Directions:
  1. Mix together the cold milk and ½ cup of the hot water.
  2. Combine all ingredients together and mix until the dough starts to come off the sides of the bowl. Slowly add more water if needed to form a smooth dough, but not sticky.
  3. Transfer the dough to a silicone mat or a greased surface and knead for 6-8 minutes. You want it to be smooth.
  4. Lightly butter the inside of a bowl and set dough inside. Cover and let rise until doubled (usually 1-2 hours).
  5. Shape the dough into a log that will fit into the loaf pan, about 8” long.
  6. Lightly spray a piece of plastic wrap and cover the dough, oiled side down. You want the plastic wrap to be loose, not tight. Let rise about 1 hour, or until domed above the pan.
  7. Remove plastic wrap and bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. The bottom of the loaf should sound hollow, or an instant read thermometer should read 190 degrees F at the center. 
  8. Remove and let cool on wire rack.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's Almost Labor Day!

I can't believe it is almost September already! Of course, the first holiday is Labor Day.

When is Labor Day: Labor Day falls on the first Monday in September. This year Labor Day is today, 9/1/13.

What is Labor Day: Presently it is a day off of work and is seen as the last day of summer. However, it began as a day to celebrate different labor organizations' achievements and contributions to the economy and the nation.
  • "Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day...is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation." ~ Samuel Gompers, American Federation of Labor founder

History of Labor Day: Labor Day was first held in 1888. In 1894 it became a federal holiday. There are two people who are credited with beginning Labor Day; Matthew Maguire and Peter McGuire. There has been some documentation that leans towards Matthew Maguire starting Labor Day. September was chosen for a few reasons; one of which being that there was no holiday between the 4th of July and Thanksgiving!

How To Celebrate With Kids:
  • Attend a parade.
  • Talk about why we celebrate Labor Day.
  • Plan a family outing, BBQ, or last summer event.
  • Ask your kids to name all the jobs they can think of. 
  • Ask your kids what they want to be when they grown up and why. 
  • Make a few crafts:
    • Make your own bricks. Mix a little water with dirt in a bowl. You want to add just enough water that the dirt holds together, but not enough to make mud. Press the wet dirt into small containers (small juice or milk cartons, ice cube trays) and let dry for 10 days in a warm dry place. Once they are dry you can build your own houses and buildings.
    • Make your own candles. You can buy a candle making kit at local craft stores or at Amazon (Beeswax Kit).
    • Bake your own bread. Check out my Soda Bread recipe for a super easy to make bread!
  • Make thank you notes and give them out to your teacher(s), garbage person(s), mail delivery person(s), etc.f
  • Have the kids dress up like their favorite profession.
LINKS:
Wiki
www.timeanddate.com
Department of Labor

Here's a Labor Day themed Word Find in honor of today.







































STOP! ANSWERS BELOW!




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

School Time Word Find

I can't believe it's already Back To School time! Here is a school themed word find.



HINT: Punctuation and spaces are removed from words in the puzzle.








































STOP! ANSWERS BELOW!


Monday, August 11, 2014

Ball Game

The boys love playing games at festivals/fairs/amusement parks. They love the ball toss games, especially the cup game. I thought I could try to recreate it on a smaller scale for a fun afternoon at home. We even had some candy prizes!

You will need: 
  • Box with dividers (You can usually find them at Costco/Sam's, the larger cases of beer, etc.)
  • Paint/spray paint, optional
  • Markers
  • Balls (I used Ping Pong balls)

I spray painted the outside of the box black. It doesn't have to be painted (or even well in my case), I just had a few extra minutes one day. Once it was dry, I colored the top of a few dividers different colors. I used green, purple, blue, and red. I assigned the different colors point values: blank/brown 0, Green 2, Blue 4, Red 4, and Purple was worth 5 points. The prizes were whatever I had in the pantry, so we had a sucker worth 5 points, a Hershey Kiss for 4 points, 5 Runts worth 4 points, and 2 Tootsie Pop Drops were worth 2 points.

DM TIP: I wanted to have the top of the dividers about the same height as the top of the box. However, I didn't think of that until I had already painted the box and didn't want to cut it down. The boys had just finished off a box of cereal that fit perfectly in the bottom of the box. I placed the cereal box in the bottom and the dividers on top of the cereal box. It worked out great!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies

We have been baking and trying new recipes this summer. I can remember making oatmeal raisin cookies with my mom, but I hadn't made them with the boys yet! The cookies were a big hit. The boys loved them and so did hubby's coworkers when he brought them into work. We've made them several times now and they love them each time.

You will need:

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 cups oats (quick-cooking or old-fashioned)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening/vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup raisins*
  • 1 cup chocolate chips*
  • Parchment paper, cookie sheets, cooling racks
*We like a lot of stuff in our cookies, so I added 1 1/2 cups of raisins and chocolate chips.

Directions:
1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Set aside oats, raisins, chocolate chips, and flour. Combine all other ingredients in a large bowl. 
3. Stir in flour, oats, chocolate chips, and raisins.
4. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
5. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto sheet, about 2 inches apart.
6. Bake 9-11 minutes, or until lightly browned.
7. Remove from oven and cool on cooling rack. DM TIP: I find it easiest to simply move the parchment paper with the cookies still on it to the cooling rack. The cookies cool and don't get smooshed being moved.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Zucchini Pizza Bites

A friend posted a picture of these and we couldn't wait to try them. They are super easy to make and a great side dish, although I may have eaten an entire sheet for dinner.
You will need:

  • Zucchini (I also used yellow squash, which turned out pretty well too.)
  • Pizza sauce
  • Cheese
  • Toppings (I used diced ham and small pieces of broccoli)
  • Cookie sheet, non-stick spray
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Grease cookie sheet with the non-stick spray.
3. Slice zucchini into slices, about 1/4" thick and place on cookie sheet.
4. Top with sauce, cheese, toppings.
5. Bake for 15 minutes.
6. Remove from oven and let cool for a minute or two, as these are really hot. 





Wednesday, July 23, 2014

National Hot Dog Day

Today is National Hot Dog Day and Vanilla Ice Cream Day! Ok, they seem like a weird combination when put in the same sentence, but one can be for lunch or dinner and the other for dessert.

If you need some food ideas to help mark this outstanding oddball holiday, here are a few:
What's your favorite way to eat a hot dog?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Happy National Junk Food Day! I'm enjoying some Milk Duds with my coffee in honor of this oddball holiday. What is your favorite junk food?







































STOP! ANSWERS BELOW!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Popovers

Here is another new recipe we tried...Popovers! The boys loved them at dinner instead of a roll, at breakfast, and as a quick snack. We made some plain and others had cinnamon/sugar sprinkled on top. Surprisingly, the plain ones were the biggest hit with the boys while I liked the cinnamon/sugar ones best.

POPOVERS
Total Time: 50-60 minutes 
Makes: 8

You will need:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup Greek vanilla yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk 
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cinnamon/sugar, optional (I used about 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)
  • Muffin/Cupcake pan, popover pan, or small ramekins 
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Lightly beat eggs. Combine all ingredients and mix well until smooth, but be careful not to over mix. Cover. Set aside for 30 minutes.
3. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon oil into each muffin pan/ramekin and swirl around to coat. Place pan in oven for 2-3 minutes to heat oil. You don't want it to smoke or burn though.
4. Optional: Sprinkle cinnamon/sugar mix on top of batter.
5. Fill pans about halfway and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and puffy.


DM TIPS:
  • These are pretty easy to adjust to your tastes. You could add vanilla extract, or herbs or Parmesan cheese to the batter for a more savory popover.
  • I have better results if the milk and eggs are at room temperature. I also used a large muffin pan, which seemed to work well.
  • If you don't have yogurt, you can adjust the recipe (3 eggs, 1 1/3 cup flour, 1 1/3 cup milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt). Mix together. Oil and preheat pan for 2-3 minutes. Fill pan halfway. Bake at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes. Reduce temp to 350 degrees F and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Traveling With Kids

*Since it's vacation time again, I thought I would bring back an old post and update it!*

It's vacation season! Before we had kids, it seemed like we could pack in an hour, throw some stuff in a backpack or small carry-on and go. Then we got a dog, and it was still pretty easy. Throw some dog food in a bag with her leash and bowls, drop her off and go. Now we have two kids and the dog. Packing is not quick or easy at this point.  When the kids were little, packing was worse with the bottles, sippy cups, diapers, swim diapers, extra clothes, etc. As they get older, it became less baby stuff, but more toys and books to keep them entertained. We still need a water bottle and snacks. I always throw in a few extra shirts because I know there is no way my kids are going through the day without spilling something on themselves or each other. I also like to throw in small first aide kit because you never know when they might get hurt or get sick and you might not be close to a drug/grocery store.

CAR TRIP
Most of the time we drive to our vacation. It can be anywhere from 2 hours to 15 hours away. We make plans to stop along the way to make it more bearable for everyone (mostly the kids because they can't sit still that long), and normally stop every two to three hours for bathroom breaks and to run around. It can still be rough.

However, I did learn what to pack to keep the kids entertained on a long car trip (see below). I also learned that as they get older, the car trip is also part of the vacation. This year, we tried to stop at fun restaurants, rest areas, or even weird attractions along the way (check out Road Side America or Road Trippers for ideas). There are even fossil parks across the country (see list by state and other fossil parks) and the National Park Foundation offers a free Junior Ranger program where kids learn, answer a questions in a booklet and earn a badge.

     CAR PACKING LIST:
This is only a very small part 
of the mess. The rest fell out 
and is on the pavement. It 
happened every time we got 
out of the car.
  • TOYS. Toys are a must. We had a box of toys that sat between the kids on the seat so they could grab the ones they wanted. 
  • Coloring books, paper, and WASHABLE crayons/markers. Why washable crayons? Because you never know when the kids are going to get super bored and draw on each other or their car seats.
  • Stickers. These might be better for older kids. When he was younger, Higgins tried to stick them to his car seat in one of his tantrums.
  • Books. I packed a couple of their favorites and also packed a few new ones. If you have a Half-Priced Books (or other used book store) near you, it's a great way to buy a lot of books for pretty cheap.
  • Games. If you have older kids, there are a lot of travel sized games out there. You could also play I Spy or a license plate Scavenger Hunt (see who can find the most states). I also have lots of Word Finds and Scavenger Hunts on the blog, including Car Bingo and a Car Ride Scavenger Hunt.
  • iPad. Load up on some free apps or add on a few new games before leaving to help keep them entertained.
  • DVD player and their favorite movies. We borrowed one from the in-laws and it turned out to be a lifesaver. These have gone down in price a lot over the past couple of years. You can find a decent one for around $100.
  • Music. Ok, this one was mostly for me because I love listening to music. However, the kids also like it, so I have a Kids Playlist just for them.
  • Paper towels and wet wipes or diaper wipes. After all, snacks can make for sticky messy kids.
  • Snacks. We brought a small cooler and packed cheese sticks, peanut butter/jelly sandwiches, and cut up fruit. We also had pretzels, bags of plain popcorn, and trail mix. *This year, the Car Trip Snack Box got upgraded to a Rubbermaid container and a small cooler.
  • Drinks. These were also in the cooler. We packed soda for us and water for the kids. It was a lot cheaper than stopping at a drive-thru every time someone got thirsty.


PLANE TRIP
We have flown a few times. I learned a few more lessons, as flying with kids was a whole new experience.

     PLANE PACKING LIST:

  • Pack a backpack for each kid. They get to have their own carry-on just like Mom and Dad. Plus, it keeps everyone's toys and snacks separate to reduce fighting.                  

      • Include a change of clothes (at least socks and underwear). 
      • $20-$25 (in different denominations).
      • $3 or so in quarters (vending, emergency phone calls...).

      • Coloring book/crayons/markers. There are a few sets that contain spots for the crayons/markers so they don't roll off the tray. Crayola has a few different kinds called Mini Coloring Pages
      • Book(s) to read.
      • Some toys (no swords or guns on flights).
      • Current family picture, in case they get separated from you.
      • Snacks. Trust me on this; if you get stuck sitting on the runway or in the airport, you are going to want to have some snacks. You can usually bring in pre-packaged snacks. I brought granola bars, snack size bags of M&M's and pretzels, fruit snacks, fruit leathers, nuts, suckers, and some hard candy.
      • Water bottle (will have to buy at the airport after pass through security, or bring a reusable one and fill at a water fountain after security). 
      • A card with peoples phone numbers. See my post on Picture Phone Cards For Kids.
      • Games, iPadNookKindle.
    • Gum. Our family tends to have ear pain during take off and landing. Chewing gum helps a lot. If you have little kids (like Higgins) who insist on swallowing the gum instead of chewing it, pack some jelly beans! I gave Higgins one jelly bean at a time; he could chew, swallow, and help his ears at the same time.
    • EarPlanes Ear Plugs. These are ear plugs made for flying and they come in adult and child sizes. *Update*I tried these while flying to my sister's wedding with a bad cold. These helped so much!

    For more vacation tips, check out my Vacation Time! post.

    You may also like:
    Snack Box
    Picture Phone Cards For Kids

    Monday, July 7, 2014

    Car Trip Snack Box


    We recently went on a long car trip to see my sister. In total, it was about 14-15 hours including getting gas and bathroom/walking around breaks. I knew from past experience that it seems that the kids are always "hungry" in the car. I packed a special snack box in a Rubbermaid container and also a small cooler. This time I ended up packing granola bars, suckers, small bags of M&M's and Reese's Pieces, applesauce, fruit snacks, pretzels, mixed nuts, Scooby Snack graham snacks, Jiff peanut butter cups, and along with some napkins and plastic forks and knives. The cooler had celery sticks, apples, carrots, and pepper slices. Each of them had a reusable water bottle at their seats as well.

    Everyone went through it faster than I thought and we had to restock on the way home, but it seemed to have worked and kept everyone happy.

    What snacks do you like to pack for a long car trip?

    Thursday, July 3, 2014

    Easy 4th of July Breakfast and Lunch


    I had some really cute paper plates I found in Target's dollar bins that I wanted to use for the 4th of July. The boys were in the mood for pancakes, so we made star shaped pancakes with a side of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. To make the pancakes, I heated the skillet, placed a star cookie cutter down, and spooned in the pancake batter. I let it sit for a second and then pulled the cookie cutter up.

    For lunch, we had peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches. I hulled the strawberries, filled with whipped cream, and placed a blueberry in the middle. They were gobbled up!

    Monday, June 30, 2014

    Easy Kids Party Popper

    ...or as Higgins calls it, the Party Gun. He also thought we should put toppings like sprinkles in it and shoot at ice cream. (He could be onto something!) We made this for the 4th of July with red, blue, and white confetti. However, these would be great at all different kinds of parties and could be a cute kid craft at a birthday party. The color of the tape, balloon, and confetti can all be customized to the party!

    You will need:
    • Plastic bottle (1 per)
    • Construction paper
    • Masking or Painters tape
    • Balloon (1 per)

    Directions:
    1. Remove label and cap from the bottle. Cut the top of the bottle off. You want some of the straight part of the bottle, about 1-2 inches.
    2. Wrap the tape around the cut edge of the bottle to protect from sharp edges.
    3. Attach a balloon to the bottle top. You want some give to the balloon, but not too much. Adjust the balloon if needed.
    4. Cut confetti from the construction paper. Place inside bottle and shake a little to get it to go into the balloon if needed.
    5. Hold the popper at the base, making sure to hold the balloon in place.
    6. Pull the balloon back and let go to make the confetti fly!

    Friday, June 27, 2014

    4th of July Ideas

    I can't believe it's almost July! Next week is the 4th of July and I have some ideas to help celebrate:
    Craft/Activities:

    Food:

    Thursday, June 26, 2014

    Balloon Time Fun, PiƱata Style

    This is a fun alternative to having a pinata. The treats are inside the balloons! Because I don't trust the kids with pointy darts yet, we had a stomp/sit popping event. However, you could also try it using throwing darts or a thumb tack on the end of a dowel rod.
    You will need:
    • Balloons
    • Prizes/Candy
    • Tape or Stapler 
    • Foam board, cardboard box, plywood

    Directions:
    1. Cut board or box to the size you want.
    2. Insert candy into some of the balloons. I found it easiest to hold open and then slide the candy in. Blow up balloons. I used candy for the filler since the boys were going to sit on the balloons. However, if you were going to use darts or the thumb tack to pop the balloons, small toys or gift cards could also work!
    3. Attach balloons to the board/wood. I used a staple around the edges and Duct Tape for the balloons the stapler wouldn't reach. Because it's so close to the 4th of July, I arranged the balloons in a flag pattern.
    4. Pop the balloons and find the treats!



    Monday, June 23, 2014

    Apple Sandwiches

    Ever run out of sandwich bread? (...Um, me either.) Get tired of the same old sandwiches? Give apple sandwiches a try! They take a little bit more time to make, but the kids loved these and have repeatedly asked me to make them again.
    You will need:
    • apples (best if similar shape from top to bottom so you can get more evenly sized slices)
    • peanut butter
    • fillings (mini chocolate chips, raisins, nuts)
    • apple corer


    Directions:
    1. Wash and dry the apple. Core.
    2. Slice into thick slices. You want the slices to be about the same size since this will be the top and bottom of the sandwich.
    3. Spread peanut butter on an apple slice.
    4. Sprinkle on toppings.
    5. Spread a thin layer of peanut butter on the other slice. (I found it helps the sandwich stick together.)
    6. Place the apple slices together, with the peanut butter sides facing the middle.
    7. Enjoy!

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    Summer Scavenger Hunt

    We've had some great days so far this summer. The boys and I like scavenger hunts and they love being outside, so I made a scavenger hunt for when we go to the park or go on walks. These are great to help keeping them busy either on walks, in the park, or even on a car ride!


    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Help! An Alligator Is On My Fridge!

    Higgins made this at school and I love it. I normally hang their art work and papers on the fridge, but this one makes me smile every time I see it.

    You will need:


    Directions:

    1. Paint clothespin green and let dry.
    2. Cut pipe cleaners into pieces for legs (about 3.5-4 inches).
    3. String a pipe cleaner through the back spring to make the back legs and attach with a drop of glue.
    4. Place second pipe cleaner in the second groove to make the front legs. Attach with glue.
    5. Glue beads onto clothespin with smooth side facing front. You want it to be a little before the front legs.
    6. Once glue has set, draw on pupils with marker.
    7. If desired, add on some glitter glue spots.
    8. Attach magnets (either with stick on magnets or with a thin line of hot glue).

    Make it an alligator themed day by making the alligator magnets for a craft and alligator cupcakes and cookie pops for a snack!










    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    Father's Day Gift and Activity Ideas

    Sunday is Father's Day! If you need any last minute gift or food ideas, I have some below (plus some freebies)!

    CRAFT/GIFTS:

    FOOD: (These are just a few of the recipes on the blog. There are a lot more!)

    ACTIVITIES:

    FREEBIES:

    • Ikea: Dad eats a free brunch! (Check with your local stores to make sure they are participating.)
    • Zoo Admission. Many zoos are offering free admission for Dad's on Father's Day. 
    • Firehouse Subs: Free medium sandwich with a combo (sub/drink/chip) purchase. (per their Facebook status)
    • Outback: Not free, but cheaper with the 15% off printable coupon.
    • Buca Di Beppo: Free cannoli with coupon. Coupon says no purchase required, but also states "Dine In Only".
    • Harbor Freight: 6 free gifts for dad with coupons (click on link), valid 6/14-6/15.
    • First Watch: Free bottle of maple syrup.
    • BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse: Free Pint Glass for Dads 6/14-6/15.
    • Spaghetti Warehouse: Dad's eat free with coupon (click on link) for lasagne or original spaghetti entree.
    • Chik-fil-a: I hear a lot of different freebies going on depending on the location, but can't find anything on the main site. Some locations have a free cookie for Dad, others are having a party, or even a Dad eats for free promotion. Check with your local stores.


    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Camping Firestarters

    Hubby and the boys like to go camping when the weather is nice, whereas I am completely happy sitting in front of the firepit in the backyard. With either option, making a fire is involved. I am getting better at making fires, but I still use a firestarter. I bought some Firestarters that work great, but I still wanted to be able to make our own and reuse some of the things we had laying around. I had tried making our own fire-starters with dryer lint and wax, which worked ok but not great. A friend recently told me about making fire-starters from pinecones (Thanks, Beth!). We have a lot of pinecones that fall in our yard throughout the year, so this was the perfect idea to try!
    You can make it two different ways: with a wick and wickless. To make a wickless pinecone firestarter, you will dip the pine cone in wax but leave the top of the pinecone out and wax-free (when pinecones are dry, they will burn). The other idea is to place a candle wick down the center of the pinecone and then dip the entire pinecone in wax.


    You will need:
    • Pinecones
    • Waxbees wax, or old candles
    • Wicks, optional
    • Wax paper, tongs
    • Scents, optional
    • Crayon pieces, optional, to add color

    Directions:

    1. Collect pinecones. If the pinecones aren't dry yet or aren't open yet, let them dry on a sheet in the oven at 150 degrees F for about 1 hour. Keep a close eye on the pinecones since they can catch fire easily!
    2. If using wicks, tie onto pinecones. You may have to play with it a little bit and find the best way to attach the wick. I tried a couple of different ways: I tied on and brought up the middle and wrapped around at the top, next I tied a knot at the end of the wick and stuck it under a tight cluster of the cone leaves. 
    3. Melt wax. Follow the directions on the packaging (old soup or coffee cans are great to create a double broiler). If using old candles, you can sometimes even just place the glass jar in a saucepan. Fill saucepan with water, but make sure it only comes halfway up the can/jar. Add wax to the double broiler (in my case a soup can). Melt on low heat on the stove top. Add scent or color to melted wax (optional).
    4. Once it is melted, dip the pinecones into the melted wax. Make sure to coat both sides. Remove with tongs. Allow excess to drip off.
    5. Place on wax paper to set. Usually 1.5-2 hours.


    DM Tips:
    • According to some things I read, you can sprinkle salt onto the wax before it dries. Supposedly, Epsom salt makes it burn white, Table salt makes it burn yellow and Salt Substitiute makes it burn violet. For more ideas on making a colored flame, check out chemistry.about.com and sciencecompany.com. I sprinkled some on mine, so I'll let you know if it works!
    • If you want a pinecone with a wax base, you can oil the inside of a muffin tin or use waxed cupcake wrappers. Wrap a piece of twine or place a wick down into the pinecone. Pour a little wax into muffin tin, place in pinecone, and pour additional wax in until you have 1/2 to 3/4 inch of wax.
    • You could also tie a thin wire or a longer wick around the pinecone to dip into the wax instead of using tongs.
    • You can make a bunch of these and wrap in a basket for a housewarming gift.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    Turkey Pepperoni Pizza Burgers

    It's another food post! I had been in such a rut when it came to making new foods and dinner had gotten so boring, that I started trying new things again. Some of them were not well received by the food critics here at the Daily Messes household, but others were a big hit. The Pepperoni Pizza Burgers turned out to be a huge success!

    You will need:
    • 1 lb ground turkey
    • 3 tablespoons marinara sauce
    • 1-2 Green Bell Peppers, cut in half and seeds removed
    • 1/4 teaspoons Italian seasoning
    • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
    • Mozzarella cheese, slices or shredded (slices are a little easier to use on the grill)
    • 12-16 slices of pepperoni (I usually use 3-4 per burger)
    • Hamburger buns



    Directions:

    1. Combine turkey, Italian seasoning, black pepper, garlic powder, and marinara sauce in a bowl. Mix together until well combined. Form 4 patties (they will be wet and a little smooshy).
    2. Heat the grill.
    3. Place burgers and pepper slices (outside of pepper face down) on grill. Grill burgers about 4 minutes each side. Grill peppers until outside has become slightly blackened in spots.
    4. Turn off the grill.
    5. Place cheese on top of burgers, add pepperoni slices. Close lid and let cheese melt for 1-2 minutes.
    6. Bring peppers inside and cut into slices (usually I use 3 slices per burger).
    7. Bring in burgers and place peppers on top.
    8. Place on a bun and enjoy!

    Monday, June 2, 2014

    Father's Day Idea

    Home Depot is having another free Kids Workshop on Saturday (June 7th) to make a Riding Lawn Mower (click on link for details). It could be a cute gift to give to Dad on Father's Day!

    Monday, May 26, 2014

    Soft Twist Pretzels

    I love soft pretzels, so we decided to try to make our own at home. It was really easy and super yummy. I had to fight to even get one before they were all gone! The recipe is really easy and most of the prep time is in letting the dough rise. I think next time I make these, I might also make a batch of beer cheese.

    Time: About 2 hours        Cook Time: 12-14 minutes       Makes: 12


    You will need:
    • 1 ½ cups  warm water
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 4 ½ cups flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 package active dry yeast
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    • Baking needs:
      • 10 cups water
      • 2/3 cup baking soda
      • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
      • Kosher salt
      • 2 cookie sheets
      • Parchment paper
      • Plastic wrap
      • Non-stick spray or vegetable oil
      • Silicone mat
      • Cooling rack
      • Slotted spoon or spatula


    Directions:

    1.   In a stand mixer, combine sugar, salt, and water (the 1 ½ cups warm water).  Evenly sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to foam.
    2.   Using the hook attachment, mix in flour and butter to yeast water. Combine on low until mixed together.
    3.   Mix on medium speed until dough becomes smooth and it pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.
    4.   Grease the sides of a large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. (Tip: If the house is cold/cool, turn on oven LIGHT and let rise in oven. The light usually produces enough heat to help the dough rise.)
    5.   Preheat oven to 450 degrees F with the racks in the middle positions.
    6.   Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and lightly grease. (I found the non-stick spray was the easiest way to grease the paper.)
    7.   Mix together the 10 cups of water and the baking soda in a large pot. Heat to a boil.
    8.   Divide dough into 12 equal pieces.
    9.   On the silicone mat, evenly roll out dough pieces to become a 20 inch rope.
    10. Fold in half and twist the two sides together. Pinch the ends together.
    11. Fold in half and tuck the pinched end into the top hole.
    12. Place the dough twists into the boiling water, 1 or 2 at a time, for 30 seconds.
    13. Remove dough with a slotted spatula or spoon to help the water drain. Place on cookie sheet. Leave 3 inches in between pretzels.
    14. Brush the tops with egg wash and sprinkle with the Kosher salt if wanted.
    15. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure to rotate pans (between racks and direction facing in oven) halfway through baking.
    16. Allow to cool on cooling rack.

    Saturday, May 24, 2014

    Banana Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie


    Makes about 5 Cups

    You will need:
    • 3 cups vanilla Greek yogurt (I used Chobani.)
    • 3 cups milk
    • 3 ripe bananas, frozen (freeze overnight)
    • 7 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
    • 1/4 - 1/3 cup chocolate syrup (I used 1/4 cup and had a slight chocolate flavor. 1/3 cup would give a stronger chocolate flavor.)
    • Blender, Ziploc bag

    Directions:
    1. Unwrap the bananas and place in a Ziploc bag. Freeze overnight.
    2. Add all ingredients to blender and combine. I used the blend setting. DM TIP: If you have a smaller blender, you may want to break the recipe in half so you won't overfill the blender and make a big mess (not like I did that or anything....).
    3. Serve and enjoy!

    DM TIP: If you have leftover drink, place in popsicle molds and freeze overnight for a healthier popsicle! You can also freeze for a few hours to make a soft served ice cream. (Note: If you leave it in overnight, it will be too hard to scoop. It comes out in flakes, not in a nice scoop.)

    Friday, May 23, 2014

    Summer Freebies For Kids

    School is out already for Higgins and Bernardo only has a couple of weeks to go. It hit me this morning: "What am I going to do with two boys who are now used to having something to do everyday?!"
    Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

    I am trying to come up with fun things for my kids this summer. I don't have an unlimited budget, so if I can keep them occupied for free or for cheap, that would be awesome! 

    Below are some of the things I found, but if you know of any others Please Post In The Comments!!!! Please...you may help save my sanity :)


    • Reading Programs & Storytimes
      • Barnes and Nobles has a free program that runs 5/20-9/2. If your child reads 8 books, fills out and turns in a log (click link or also in stores), he/she will get to pick a free book. 
      • Library. Many local libraries offer summer reading programs with prizes available for reading a certain number of hours or number of books.
      • Many bookstores (both local and national chains) and libraries offer storytimes. Sometimes they may even have an online storytime! (I know Barnes and Nobles does.)
      • Pottery Barn Kids also has a read 8 (from their list of books) and get a book free offer. They also have a weekly storytime. Runs 5/15-7/17.
      • Half Priced Books. Kids keep a log of how long they read. Once they reach 300 minutes, they can turn in their log and receive $5 Book Worm Bucks (I think it is $5 per month). Runs 6/1-7/31. Book Worm Bucks expire 8/27.
      • Showcase Cinemas. Read and write a book report (see link for form) and kids can see a free movie on Wednesdays! Runs 7/9-8/13. According to their website, an accompanying parent and siblings under 6 will also get in free.
    • Fossil Collecting
      • You may have noticed that we (aka the boys) love going "fossil hunting". To find a fossil park near you, try looking at National Park System: Fossil Parks and Other Fossil Parks. However, I noticed that there weren't any listed in my area and I know of two within an hour drive. If you can't find one listed, try searching for "fossil park" or "fossil collection area" in Google/Yahoo/etc.
    • Building Workshops
      • Both Lowes and Home Depot offer free kids workshops during a weekend each month. Click the links to see when they are being offered.
    • Bowling
      • Kids Bowl Free has a great program where registered kids can receive free bowling in the summer! 
    • Factory/Bakery Tours
      • Many places offer free (or really cheap) tours of their facilities. We have been to an ice cream shop and a chocolate factory already!
    • Farmer's Markets
      • Of course buying things aren't free, but it is free to go and see new things. My kids were amazed the first time we went to the Farmer's Market and a local farm to see where food really comes from. (Shockingly, it wasn't in plastic packages.) It's always fun to see what they have. There can also be fun vendors, like the portable wood fired pizza oven we saw last year. Click here to find one near you. 
    • Cook/Bake
      • My kids do like to "help" in the kitchen sometimes. One of the things I still remember the most from when I was a kid, was making rice cereal treats and chocolate chip cookies with my mom. I love when I can do it with my boys too!
    • Playgrounds/Parks
      • Almost every day (even in the winter), the boys ask if we can go to the park. I get tired of seeing the same thing, so we explore and find new parks.
      • Sometimes local parks offer free events during the summer too, especially around holidays like Memorial Day or 4th of July.
      • Many also offer free movies or concerts during the summer.
    • Movies
      • Some local communities offer free Movie In The Park type of events during the summer. I find a lot of info by talking to other moms at the playgrounds/school, looking in the local paper at the weekend events, and by following the local communities on Facebook/Twitter.
      • Regal Movie Theaters offer $1 movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:00 am. I know our locally owned theater also offers a free kids movie every Wednesday, so if you have a small local theater, check with them too.
      • See if there is a Drive-In movie theater near you. Some of them have kids under 12 free. Although, it won't be completely free, it can be a ton of fun and there are not a lot of them left. 
      • Showcase Cinemas. Read and write a book report (see link for form) and kids can see a free movie on Wednesdays! Runs 7/9-8/13.
    • Picnic
      • If you pack a picnic from home and bring it to a park, it can make for a great (and free) adventure!
    • Museums/Zoos/Aquariums
      • Our local children's museum offers free admission on certain Fridays during the summer. Check out your local art/history/science/children's museums to see if they have free days. 
      • Sometimes other places like the zoo will offer kids get in free days (with an adult ticket).
    • Crafts
      • My boys love craft time and we have spent a lot of time during summers past making new things. I have a lot of the ideas on this blog, and a lot of them are made from things you probably already have in your house!
      • Michael's offers $2 crafts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. (Runs 6/16-8/1.)
    • Camping
      • I am not a big camper, although Hubby and the boys love it. However, I will camp in the living room! We even made s'mores over a candle one time. Have everyone tell a scary story, or even have a progressive story (these can be hilarious, especially with little kids).
    • Bass Pro Shop
      • Sometimes they offer fun activities and workshops for free
    • Garage Sale/Flea Market
      • This one isn't free, but can be pretty cheap. A couple of dollars and some negotiation can obtain a few new books or toys that can keep the kids busy for the day or a few days (hopefully). We've even found new video games for just a few dollars. As an added bonus, you can offer them extra chores to earn extra spending money. I think I have a mountain of socks that may need sorting and folding... :) 
    • Eat Out
      • Ok, this is not free. However, there are certain days when kids eat free at some restaurants. If you want to have a treat, but also have it be cost effective, this would be the way to go!
    • Junior Ranger Program
      • This is a free program at the national parks. You pick up an activity book and fill in the questions. Once the booklet is completed, you turn it in and the kids get to be sworn in as Junior Rangers and get a badge or patch! (Click here for more info.) If there aren't any national parks near you, they also offer an online option to earn the WebRanger badge.