It’s summertime!!!

18 Jun
It's here! It's finally here!

It’s here! It’s finally here!

ORIGINALLY POSTED JUNE 24, 2013:

Yay!!

Yahooo!!!

Woot, woot!!!!!

Today is our last day of school. Tomorrow is our first day of summer vacation.

At times during this school year, I seriously did not know if I’d make it through to the end of the year. But I did,  we did, and now it’s summer!

I.love.summer.

Today I will make the same type of disclosure statements to you that I made last summer.

I promise that my posts may not always be on time.

I promise that I won’t be sharing them on Facebook at 6:30 in the morning each day.

I promise that they may not always be on the same posting schedule as they are during the school year, so there may not be three a week.

I promise that I am putting my family first and spending lots and lots of time with them.

I promise to sleep late, wear sunscreen and eat supper on the beach. Often.

And I promise that if we do anything super-cool, or eat anything super-delicious I will share it with you so that you can do it too!

Enjoy your summer, enjoy your family, and remember that summer will be over in the blink of an eye.

Make the most of it!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Loaded Baked Potato Salad

30 Jul
As a lover of loaded baked potatoes with bacon and cheese, I loved this recipe!

As a lover of loaded baked potatoes with bacon and cheese, I loved this recipe!

Potato Salad: a summertime menu staple.

Do you love it? I love it.

I love that and a good old pasta salad in the summer.

When I saw a recipe from Caramel Potatoes, one of my favorite recipe blogs, for Loaded Baked Potato Salad, I was totally inspired.

Bacon + Cheddar = two of my favorite savory add-ons and mix-ins. It sounded good! It sounded like my favorite kind of loaded baked potato.

I decided that the next time we made a potato salad, we’d do our own version of the Caramel Potatoes recipe, by adding on some shredded cheddar cheese and crumbled cooked turkey bacon. As you’ll see in their original recipe here, you can do a zesty Ranch flavored potato salad, or you can do as we did and just add the toppings. Our potato salad has mayo and hard boiled eggs in it, so I felt that the zesty flavorings might not be a good fit with our ingredients and I kept it simple.

When I think summertime, I think potato salad!

When I think summertime, I think potato salad!

We brought our side dish to a potluck party held near the water on a perfect summer evening and it got positive reviews, although some said they preferred a traditional, plain potato salad rather than a loaded potato salad.

So I’m now curious! What’s your opinion? Are you a traditional potato salad person or would you walk on the wild side and load it up a bit? What goes in your potato salad? Are you a mayo person or is there some other ingredient that you choose to use instead? Do you use red potatoes or something else?

Feel free to leave me a comment with your own potato salad secrets!

In the meantime, hope you’ll hop on over to the Caramel Potatoes blog and take a look at their recipes! I always find their recipes to be delicious and inspiring!

Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies from Erica’s Sweet Tooth

28 Jul
Erica's cookies were a perfect addition to our Concert on the Beach dessert menu!

Erica’s cookies were a perfect addition to our Concert on the Beach dessert menu!

Each summer there are several traditions that we look forward to, and the summer isn’t complete unless we’ve participated in these traditions.

One such tradition is the annual Concert on the Beach: an ocean-side philharmonic orchestra concert. Part of the lure of this event, other than the stunning scenery and amazing musical performance, is the fact that it’s been taking place for almost 40 years and of those almost 40 years I’ve been to almost all of them, and my children have never missed one in their lives yet. When we lived out of state, we traveled home for this concert, it means that much to us.

Another lure of this event is the fact that we attend the concert (which is free) with a lot of our family and friends. It’s hugely attended by thousands of people and you bump into people all night long. “Everyone” goes to the Concert on the Beach.

Each summer as the date of the concert gets closer, we begin to plan our menu. Everyone brings a little something until we have compiled a huge potluck dinner spread which we’ll eat on the beach. As the sun sets and the moon appears, we transition from dinner to dessert, and each year I am “on” for bringing a dessert, as it’s my favorite part of the meal. Each year I try to think of something special, something unique, and something new to try out as my dessert contribution for the concert.

This year I had come across a recipe from the blog, “Erica’s Sweet Tooth,” a recipe for Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies.

Really, Peanut Butter and Nutella in a cookie?? What’s not to love? I decided to give these cookies a try for the concert. And, having faith in a good ingredient combination, I doubled the recipe. I’m so glad I did! These cookies were awesome!! I am putting Erica’s recipe below, just as she has it on her blog. You can see my cookies pictured above. They look amazing right??

I did substitute I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter for the unsalted butter, but otherwise my ingredients were the same as she has them here.

Our view of the sunset and Super Moon from our seats in the sand as we watched the Concert on the Beach this year.

Our view of the sunset and Super Moon from our seats in the sand as we watched the Concert on the Beach this year.

PEANUT BUTTER NUTELLA SWIRL COOKIES FROM ERICA’S SWEET TOOTH

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup Nutella

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add in the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until just combined.

Microwave Nutella for 20 seconds and then drizzle over the dough. Fold in Nutella with a spatula until well-distributed throughout the dough.

Chill the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes and then roll small balls by hand.

Place about an inch apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and use a fork to press down the balls slightly.

Bake until the edges are lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.

Allow cookies to cool on the pan for 2 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The view of the audience behind us. People listening and enjoying as far as the eye can see, in all directions.

The view of the audience behind us. People listening and enjoying as far as the eye can see, in all directions.

Nutella Banana Swirl Muffins

19 Jul
We've made these muffins at least three times since we first saw the recipe online!

We’ve made these muffins at least three times since we first saw the recipe online!

You know how much I love muffins. I’m always on the hunt for a new muffin recipe to try out. My family likes them too.

Add that to the fact that I love Nutella, and they do too, and that makes this muffin recipe from The Novice Chef absolutely perfect. A friend of mine posted it online and tagged me in the post; a list of tons of Nutella recipes all in one spot. This recipe was just the first one, just the tip of the Nutella iceberg.

My usual routine on most Saturday nights is to make a batch of muffins for us to grab and go on Sunday mornings before church. It seems to work well and these muffins were a great addition to my ever-growing list of muffin recipes for our Sunday mornings.

These muffins were also easy enough to make that one afternoon Caroline made them herself. That’s always a good sign: when someone can make the muffins for me!

So if you’re a muffin lover yourself, and a lover of Nutella, I highly recommend that you give these a try! In my opinion, the addition of bananas to the recipe makes it even better…healthier!! It calls for four, and I’ve used as few as three. I also found that using a steak knife for the swirling instead of a toothpick is easier. The batter and the Nutella are thick and a knife holds up better for a great swirl.

And finally, this recipe makes 18 muffins. For a family of 5, that’s excellent. Muffin recipes that yield a dozen are good, but those that yield 18 are better!!

**We omit the pecans when we make them, but I’m sure they’d be delicious with them too!**

Imagine waking up to these on your Sunday morning?

Imagine waking up to these on your Sunday morning?

Nutella Banana Swirl Muffins from the Novice Chef

Yield: 18 muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
nutella

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin pan with liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until well combined. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together banana, sugar, brown sugar. Beat in egg, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Slowly whisk in the flour mixture, until there are no lumps. Fold in pecans.

Fill muffin tins 3/4 full. Top each muffin with about 1 teaspoon of Nutella and use a toothpick to swirl it into the batter.

Bake muffins for 15-17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

 

 

Summer Couponing Update

14 Jul
Last week's CVS haul was amazing!

Last week’s CVS haul was amazing! I spent $6 on all of this, which is equivalent to paying for just one purple bottle of the shampoo shown here. I had $25 in Extra Care Bucks and a variety of manufacturer’s coupons to combine with the CVS weekly promotions and sales.

It’s been such a long time since I did a couponing post. The springtime is so busy at work and at home that I don’t have as much time to devote to couponing as I’d like, so I didn’t have a lot of really great hauls to write about. I got lots of little deals here and there, but nothing really blog-worthy.

However, this summer in just one week’s time or so, I had two huge hauls and when I posted the photo shown here on the left on Facebook last week, I had a lot of “Please tell me how!” type of requests, so I decided that I’d do a post about couponing soon.

On the night that I came home with all of the items shown here, I said to my husband, “And I bet when I go back, I’ll have earned $5 from the Beauty Club too!” At CVS, for every $50 you spend on beauty products you get $5 back. Shampoo, conditioner, hair color, hair supplies, body wash, and all makeup products count as beauty supplies. With three girls and myself living here, we go through a whole lot of all those things. At CVS there’s always great sales and great CVS coupons to stack along with the  manufacturer’s coupons for all these types of items, you can’t go wrong.

Sure enough, when I went to CVS tonight (I realized we were completely out of extra toothbrushes and I’d just tossed mine in the trash) my $5 Beauty Club reward popped out, but so did a $5 Prescription program reward! I walked into the store with $10 to spend for free! (At CVS, for every 10 prescriptions you fill, you earn $5. You can sign up three customers per loyalty card.)

My coupons and Extra Care Bucks rewards in hand, I headed straight to the toothbrush section. After comparing prices and sales, I opted to just go with a basic set of two CVS brand toothbrushes. From there I moved on to the makeup section because when I’d scanned my card at the CVS machine, a coupon for $4 off $12 of makeup popped out. I try to keep things like foundation, mascara, and concealer, on hand because again…a house full of women, two of whom use makeup, we go through quite a bit.

This week's haul was just as good, if not better, than last week's! I had $22 in Extra Care Bucks and several manufacturers coupons to combine with the new week's sales and promotions at CVS!

This week’s haul was just as good, if not better, than last week’s! I had $22 in Extra Care Bucks and several manufacturer’s coupons to combine with the new week’s sales and promotions at CVS!

Imagine my surprise when I came upon the Physicians Formula makeup section and saw those bright yellow CVS signs that said, “Buy any 2 Physicians Formula items and receive $10 in Extra Care Bucks!” I couldn’t believe my luck! I had $4 off already! I grabbed two of the concealers that we use, which are $6.99 each, which gave me the $12 I needed to spend to use the CVS $4 coupon, knowing I’d earned my $10 back.

I moved on to the cereal section. We go through tons of cereal for breakfast and snacks, especially in the summer. I buy a huge variety usually, and we range from the healthier types to the sweeter types, depending on what coupons I have, what’s on sale and what’s left on the pantry shelves.

I had a $1 off 3 Kellogg’s cereals coupon as well as a $1 coupon off two boxes of the Cheerios in the yellow box, which also had a “get $2 Extra Care Bucks Back” sign on display.

In the end I had a total of $22 Extra Care Bucks and spent only $7 out of pocket for my entire haul shown here. That’s equivalent to paying for just one of the concealer sticks!!

I can’t emphasize enough that it’s so important to utilize all aspects of any store’s promotions in addition to manufacturer’s coupons when you shop, no matter what store you’re at. If the store utilizes a customer loyalty program, sign up for it. If they accept their own store coupons, internet coupons, manufacturer’s coupons or any combination of those things, use them to your benefit. Try to shop the sales and promotions even if you don’t currently need a particular item. If it’s something you use, it’s better to get it for free or almost free, ahead of time than to pay full price for it the day you need it. My toothbrushes are a perfect example. I’m usually very good about keeping them on hand from sales and promotions as well as from the dentist and I have enough toothpaste to sink a small ship, but somehow I’d forgotten to keep up with the toothbrushes, so some of my first $5 of Extra Care Bucks went right to a 2-pack of toothbrushes. That’s kind of a waste of Extra Care Bucks, but at least I had them to use and I didn’t have to pay for them anywhere out of pocket.

In my first week’s haul shown above, the majority of my coupons were CVS store coupons coupled with their own store promotions. At CVS you can stack their own store coupons with each other, so for example, if you have a CVS coupon off of Almay makeup for $2 off $10, and you have a CVS coupon for $5 off $15 of makeup, you can use both. If you have manufacturer’s coupons off of Almay you can use those as well. And if you’re lucky there may be a promotion going on such as a Buy One Get One 50% off, or an Extra Care Bucks promotion where you earn back some of what you’ve spent. If you have two manufacturer’s coupons for the same item and you buy two of that item you can use both coupons in addition to your CVS coupons. You can use manufacturer’s coupons off of the half-priced items and even off the free items for a Buy One Get One Free promotion.

No matter what store you go to, be sure to know their coupon policies before you go in. Not all stores are the same. I do the best with my coupons at CVS and Target in my area because they have their own store coupons and promotions to couple with the manufacturer’s coupons.

If you’re new to couponing, or want to be, I’d say start small. Pick just a couple of stores that you frequent most and try it out there before going all over the place trying to hit up every store in your town with your coupons. And remember, anything you save is better than not saving at all, and you’ll get out of it what you put in to it. If you have lots of time to devote, you’ll save more money. If you have a little bit of time to devote to it, you’ll save a little less money, but every penny saved is money in your pocket rather than someone else’s pocket!

Good luck and happy saving!!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Frogmore Stew

9 Jul
Frogmore Stew: I couldn't get enough of it!

Frogmore Stew: I couldn’t get enough of it!

I’d like to start this post with, “Well, at least I loved it.”

And now I’ll continue from there, with my disclaimer out there.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll mention it again: I have a seafood allergy. It’s not all seafood, but it’s a lot of seafood: clams, oysters, scallops, calamari, mussels. It’s class two of shellfish, the mollusks. It’s also a relatively new allergy. I grew up eating all of the above, but only began reacting to the seafood in the past five or so years.

It really, really stinks. It stinks even more, I think, because I know what I’m missing. I can taste those foods in my mind. I crave them.

As a native New Englander, it’s an awful allergy to have, and in the summertime it’s particularly really awful. Seafood is everywhere and it’s particularly prominent in the summertime. It’s the thing to do, the post-event treat, or the event itself, as in a good, old-fashioned clam boil.

A clam boil traditionally is where you cook the clams, the corn, the potatoes, the onions, the white fish, saugy hot dogs, everything all together and then you eat it. The smell is to die for if you love seafood the way I do. The taste is even better. You often pair it with some white clam chowder, and some golden fried clam cakes. Clams, clams, clams.

I miss clam boils.

That’s why, when I saw this recipe come across my Facebook timeline for something called Frogmore Stew, I had to have it. I tagged my husband: “I can eat this,” I said. It didn’t have clams. It had shrimp, which I can have, and kielbasa, which we like and then the usual corn, potatoes, onions etc. I wanted it instantly. **The recipe that I have linked here may not be the exact one that came across my page because the one I saw go by had kielbasa as the ingredient, whereas this one has sausage but you could substitute kielbasa. I couldn’t find the original post on my page that I’d shared when I looked back to type this post. Everything else is the same, however.**

And, the good husband that he is, I had it for dinner that same night. He made the whole thing, just for me.

I was in heaven.

I will say, as I alluded in the beginning of this post: I was the only one.

According to my husband, a true clam boil is better.

Well, of course.

My kids had a variety of reactions from “Can I just make myself a bagel?” to “Where’s the cocktail sauce?” to “I’ll have just corn and kielbasa please.”

But, I honestly didn’t care. I was so happy to have a version of a clam boil type of dinner that had almost all the ingredients, the same aroma, and wouldn’t put me down for the count, that I really didn’t care who else loved it as much as I did.

So, my recommendation? I’d totally make it and eat it again. I have friends who also said they made it and loved it in and around the same time that I did, so it wasn’t just me!

If you like all the ingredients in the recipe and you’re looking for a new and different twist on a traditional New England clam boil as I was, I highly recommend you try this one!

 

 

Fun Friday: So Many Strawberries!

4 Jul
What to do with more than ten pounds of strawberries?

What to do with more than ten pounds of strawberries?

We went strawberry picking!!

I had not been strawberry picking since I was a child. Each year it seems, we’d miss the season between the end of school and the start of summer. This year, when a friend posted her picture of her strawberries on Facebook, I decided that I was going to go that same week. I knew my kids would love it and I knew there was lots that I could do with fresh-picked strawberries.

We went on a beautiful, picture-perfect day. There were just a few clouds in the sky, the sun was bright and the temperature was an even 75 degrees; not too hot, not too cold. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Within an hour we had picked a basket full of strawberries. I was beyond excited!

As we drove home, I began to consider that full basket of berries that was sitting in the back of my car. I could smell them.

I started to think of all the things I wanted to do with all those berries. I knew that although it seemed like there would be a never-ending supply, I’d have to be strategic and prioritize because eventually they’d run out. I also knew that the berries were fresh and “ready,” which meant they’d turn quickly. I only had a day, two at most, to make use of them.

Right off the bat when I got home, I sliced the berries and put sugar and orange juice on them for strawberry shortcake. I used this recipe from Taste of Home for my biscuits and my berries, but I did add more sugar to my biscuits after taking a quick taste of the batter. I like mine sweet! That would be our dessert for that very night.

This recipe from Caramel Potatoes was so delicious!

This recipe from Caramel Potatoes was so delicious!

Next, I started prepping a dessert recipe I’d seen just days before, on the Caramel Potatoes blog for Strawberry Crumble Pie. I get their email every day and the recipe for the pie looked right up my alley. I happened to have a pie crust in the freezer and I now had plenty of berries.

The pie chilled overnight and we cut into it the next night for dessert. It was amazing!

From there, I needed to think ahead. I knew that part of my goal was to have plenty of berries on hand frozen for smoothies, since that’s something we use a lot of all year long. I had no idea the best way to freeze them, so I Googled how to freeze fresh-picked strawberries and found simple instructions for freezing both whole and sliced from Taste of Home, once again. I decided to do both. The whole would be for smoothies, and the sliced would be for a future strawberry compote, maybe even on July 4th for our breakfast!

The following day I picked one more recipe that I wanted to make as I tried to stretch my berries just a little further: my mother in law’s recipe for Strawberry Bread, one which has always been a favorite of mine. I love that it makes two breads, and we usually freeze one and eat one. This time I put chocolate chips in the one we ate that day and left them out of the one we froze.

There are so many things you can do with strawberries, and the summertime is the very best time to do them. Although picking season is just about done for strawberries, eating season can be all year long between using frozen and fresh, if you can find them. Now that we’ve frozen some, we’ll have the taste of summer once again in the fall or winter, if we can hold off that long!

If you’re looking for additional strawberry recipes, you can find several more here on my blog, just by searching Strawberries in the search bar. There are recipes for desserts, breakfasts, shakes and even a strawberry salad!

And then, before we know it, it’ll be blueberry picking season!

What We’re Doing for Fun This Summer: Letterboxing

30 Jun

Look, we found a letterbox!

ORIGINALLY POSTED JULY 30, 2012

Have you ever heard of letterboxing?

It’s so much fun, it’s free, and it’s great for a family activity during any season that’s not freezing cold. For us, that’s 3/4 of the year, but we really only get to do it in the summer for the most part because that’s when we have time to do things.

Things that aren’t school and work things.

Fun things.

Like letterboxing.

I first heard of letterboxing so long ago, I don’t even know if we had all three kids yet. I read about it in Family Fun Magazine. I don’t get that magazine any longer and I can only imagine all the amazing ideas I’ve missed, but I used to love it. I credit all our letterboxing fun to the article I read in Family Fun.

I remember reading the article and saying to Don, “When our kids are bigger, I want to do this,” and I never forgot it. In 2008 we began our letterboxing adventures. Alexandra, our youngest, was three.

You’re probably saying, “Get to the point! What IS letterboxing???” I take the long way around sometimes, when I tell a story.

Okay. Here’s what it is and here’s how you do it:

All around the world people are hiding, and finding letterboxes!

All around the world, literally, people are hiding these little boxes in secret places and uploading the clues to help you find them, online.

I kid you not.

It’s like a giant treasure hunt, really.

Here’s what you need to get started:

*A notebook of some kind (Mine is super fancy because I’m crafty and I actually have notebooks like this just hanging around in my office. However, it can be a simple composition book.)

*A pen

*A rubber stamp (some people make their own. I used a Stampin’ Up! stamp of a globe. I thought it appropriate.)

*An ink pad

*Something in which to store all those things. I used to use a gallon ziploc bag. Then I used a big manilla folder. Now they’re in an expandable file I found in my office. That’s the most durable thing I’ve used so far.

Now here’s what you have to do:

1) Visit this website for Letterboxing North America (assuming that’s where you live).

2) Click on the state you want to explore. Click on the area of the state. Ours is set up by counties.

3) Check out the list of letterboxes in that area and pick some to print out. I read the clues first to see if it says the last time the box was found or if it’s missing, or if the terrain is notable in any way, such as rough or rocky or easy.

4) Print out the clues for the boxes you want to look for. We started with boxes right in our own city to get the hang of it, and then expanded to nearby cities and now we do them even if we’re traveling on vacation and think we’ll have a chance to look for a letterbox.

Now you take your clues and go.

1) You park your car where they tell you to, and start following the clues until you reach the hiding spot where they say the box is. We told our kids right off the bat that sometimes the boxes are missing or we won’t find them, just so they wouldn’t be so disappointed if that happened, but it’s not been the norm for us.. Usually we find them.

2) When you get to the hiding place you find the box. It’s usually a tupperware type of plastic box. Open the box. Find their stamp, ink and notebook.

3) You stamp your stamp into their notebook and we like to leave a little note with the date and our last name, so they know at least when the most recent one was found. We sometimes will look back to see how long the boxes have been hidden in that spot.

4) Then you take their stamp and their ink (or use your ink if needbe) and stamp their stamp into your notebook. Put the date and where you are so that you too, can look back in the future and see all the places you’ve explored and found letterboxes, and how long you’ve been doing it.

5) Put all their stuff back in their box and REHIDE the box. Don’t just leave it out there in the open. Put it back where you found it and cover it back up as it was so that the next person can find it.

That’s it! Done! Fun times!!

We never even knew this spot existed until we followed the letterboxing clues. The box ended up not being there, but the stunning location we found instead made up for it.

We have not only found some neat letterboxes, but we’ve found some incredible spots, gorgeous places that we never knew existed in our own state. We’ve also explored some neat historic places both in our state and in other states, where we’ve found letterboxes.

Letterboxing makes a day trip double the fun.

Some state parks have a series of letterboxes in them, sometimes three or four of them. You can spend the day hiking through the park and finding them.

A few things to keep in mind:

Dress appropriately. Sneakers work better than flip flops, for example.

Sunscreen, snacks, water, tissues and band-aids are all good things to bring with you. You never know what you’ll need but those basics have served us well.

Next time you’re looking for a fun, active way to spend the day together with your family, give letterboxing a try!

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