Fun Friday: Crazy for Crust’s Homemade Brownie Mix

21 Aug

Today’s post is one that started out as something we were using for our cross country trip, but we’ve used since returning home also, and I plan to continue to use it at home, especially during the crazy school year weeks.

I had been looking for a pre-made brownie mix that I could duplicate to take along with us on our trip so that I would have an easy to make dessert on hand all the time. We were bringing five mugs with us so that we could make Nutella mug cakes, and I had the ingredients for that, but I didn’t want to have to have a lot of other ingredients on hand because our pantry was small. As I searched, I came across a homemade brownie mix that could be made up ahead of time, stored in an airtight (mouse tight and ant tight) container and only the wet ingredients would need to be added. I decided to make a double batch of the mix. I wasn’t sure we’d even use it, but I thought it would be good to have on hand. Our oven in the RV was tiny, so I brought a 9×9 square baking dish, as it was an option for the recipe as were 9×13 and loaf pan sizes.

brownies 2The recipe I chose was from the Crazy for Crust website, and you can visit it here to take a look around. We made up our double batch of the mix before we left and put it in an easy to store container that would fit into our pantry. I made sure to print out the recipe which contained the details for adding in the wet ingredients as well as the dish size options and the bake times. I put the directions into an envelope with the flap cut off and taped it to the top of the container for future reference.

brownies 1While we were on the trip, we decided to try out our oven. We’d gone many nights without dessert, and on other nights we’d had mug cakes, we’d had ice cream, but now I wanted to give baking a try, and we were really craving something good.

I found the recipe very easy to use, very quick to prep because we’d done the dry mix ahead of time, and as I mixed it all together, it looked thick and fudgy, just as a brownie mix should. We put everything in the pan, put it in the oven and I crossed my fingers.

Brownies 5A little over 20 minutes later, our brownies were done! They looked and smelled delicious, and we were thrilled that they tasted delicious also! Our first-ever baking experiment in our camper’s oven was a success, but more than that, I’d found a perfect brownie mix to keep on hand at home for future use. So often we need a last minute dessert and don’t have a mix on hand to throw together. I recently used this mix to make another couple of batches of brownies at home: a 9×13 and 9×9 batch at the same time, and there is still a little bit of dry mix left over!

I can’t wait to make another batch of this homemade brownie mix, and I can’t thank Crazy for Crust enough for sharing their recipe with us! I hope you’ll pay their site a visit so that you too can have the best homemade brownie mix ever. It’s a great, user-friendly recipe for kids and adults alike. You can see some amazing photos of their own freshly baked brownies while you’re there checking out the recipe!

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#crosscountryadventure2015: Final Cranston Herald newspaper article

13 Aug

SD to RI quilted map 1So here it is…the last Cranston Herald article about our trip. This is the seventh article in the series of seven, and it will share with you our final week of cross-country adventures. One might think that with so many days of driving in a row and no sightseeing that there might not be much to tell, or many adventures to have, but surprisingly enough, there were many things to share from that last week of travel. It was actually my longest article of the seven. This final article also summarizes our trip and you’ll see how it played out budget-wise as well. I hope you’ve enjoyed the articles! If you’ve missed any you can scroll back through the blog and you’ll find them all posted. Click here to read the last one.

#crosscountryadventure2015: This week’s Cranston Herald article is up!

6 Aug

20150806_152621It is with mixed emotions that I share this week’s article. My emotions are mixed because it is the last of the sightseeing articles for our trip. The next and final article will chronicle the final week, the ride home to Rhode Island, and it will run in next week’s paper. This week’s article that I share with you today follows our journey out of California, through Nevada, into Arizona (again), through Utah and into Montana and South Dakota. It shares the exciting things we did while we were in Montana at Yellowstone National Park and in South Dakota at Mount Rushmore. We had a great time and made more wonderful memories together. I hope you’ll click on this link to read the Cranston Herald article for this week!

#crosscountryadventure2015: Watch the video

6 Aug
Twenty-nine states traveled in thirty-four days, staying overnight in seventeen of them.

Twenty-nine states traveled in thirty-four days, staying overnight in seventeen of them. (Graphic created by Don Cowart II)

There are still a few #crosscountryadventure2015 posts left to go, but today’s means a great deal to me. For months leading up to our trip, our oldest daughter Caroline kept talking about her goal of making a video of the trip. Photo and video work are her passion, and she was really looking forward to doing this. She bought specific songs on iTunes before we left, working out the soundtrack in her mind. Throughout the trip, she took quick snip-its of video showing the changing landscape, the major landmarks we visited, and even some of the family we got to see during our trip. Clearly you can’t capture the entire five weeks’ trip in any less than, well, five weeks, but she sure did try. In eight minutes she has given an amazing, make-me-cry-every-time video of our trip. The first time she showed it to me, I only looked at the cover photo and started to cry, so she knew it was good. At that time, the video was not finished and only covered up through California. Last night she finished it, capping off weeks of compromised storage space on her phone as she accumulated video after video, and worked for many hours editing video and pictures through her phone as we traveled. I can’t thank her enough for this video. It will forever hold a spot in my heart.

#crosscountryadventure2015: The Cowarts go to Hollywood

30 Jul

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This week’s article is filled with all of the exciting things we got to see and do during our visit to California. Click here to check it out!

#crosscountryadventure2015: Some things you might not think to bring, but shouldn’t forget

28 Jul
Thanks again to the sewing talents of my friend Gina, we had three change purses for the girls, and they were the perfect size for our outings.

Thanks again to the sewing talents of my friend Gina, we had three change purses for the girls, and they were the perfect size for our outings.

There were some things I was thankful I’d remembered to bring along on this trip, and they might not be at the top of the packing list, so I thought I’d share them with you today.

1) Rolls of coins: Our kids saved all their money from wintertime on, until we left for our trip. I put most of it on Visa gift cards for them, and left some in small bills. Most importantly, I took $10 from each of their savings and got a roll of quarters for each of them and 50 cents in pennies for each of them as well. I knew that they love the pressed penny machines that are often found in tourist locations, and that would make a great little souvenir for them. I did not want to have to be searching for one penny and two quarters times three kids at every stop though, so I was happy to have thought ahead and gotten the change for them. As they made their pressed pennies at each stop, they’d slide the finished penny right into their change purse.

Having their names on their purses made it easy for me to know whose was whose when I had my hands full in the checkout lines at the various gift shops.

Having their names on their purses made it easy for me to know whose was whose when I had my hands full in the checkout lines at the various gift shops.

2) Change purses: The change purses were an unexpected gift from our friend Gina in Florida who also made the quilted map I use each week to show you where my Cranston Herald articles are spotlighting. On the day before we left, the girls and I had our eyes open in every store we went to, looking for the perfect change purse to fit their small bills and their rolls of quarters and pennies. We could not find anything I thought was going to be right. I didn’t want anything too big, but yet most of what I was finding was really too small. We went home empty-handed, and that same day when we opened our mailbox, there was a package from Gina with change purses inside. She had no idea what I was looking for, and I had no idea she was sending these, but they have been a lifesaver the entire time on this trip and they were exactly what it was I was looking for. They are not too bulky, yet big enough to hold their money, and they are even labeled with their names so it was easy to grab them from my backpack and hand them out to the kids.

3) Postage and address labels: I knew our family would want to keep in touch throughout the trip by sending out postcards so I took a great idea from my cousin Valerie and I bought our postcard postage ahead of time. The last thing I wanted to be doing was searching for postage for postcards or for a post office. I also printed out address labels. We’d all work on the post cards to get them written out, but addressing them was easier using labels. This was a great system for us and I’d definitely recommend it.

4) Birthday supplies: We were celebrating a birthday while we were on the road, so I made sure to have our usual decorations, which consisted of streamers and the birthday banner we usually hang up each time a birthday rolls around. I also threw in some candles, just in case we needed them here, but we did not, since we celebrated with family at their houses and they had candles there.

Most of our bills are paid online, but some are not.

Most of our bills are paid online, but some are not.

5) Bills: Although we pay the majority of our bills online, there are a few that have to be mailed. If I had them in advance, I took them with me, but if I did not have them, I made sure to take a picture of the prior month’s bill so that I’d have it with me and have the account number and mailing address with me. I also made sure to have regular postage, blank envelopes, the login information for online billing, and our checkbook with me as well. Most campgrounds have a mailbox or will put your mail in their outgoing mail, so as long as I had my supplies I was all set.

6) Prescriptions: Our eye doctor recommended that we take paper prescriptions for all our glasses with us, just in case of an issue with any of our glasses breaking while we were away. We could replace them on the road, if need be. We also had to fill all of our monthly medication prescriptions early. This was very difficult (and costly) and one of the hardest things to do before we left. Additionally, I also made sure to have a list with me of all the medications we take, just in case we needed it.

I’m sure there are things that your family might need on their list that would be different from what is on our list, but hopefully these tips will help you plan for a future vacation of your own!

 

 

#crosscountryadventure2015: Tips for planning your own trip

27 Jul

So many people have said to us that they would love to take a trip like this one at some point in the future. I thought I’d share some tips with you, including things we’ve done or learned along the way.
trip wall1) Get everyone involved: If you’re bringing kids along and they are school aged, get them involved in the route planning by asking them what they’d love to see. We kept a large map and blank poster board on our wall and asked our kids to tell us what they hoped we could see. We let them know that just because it went on the list didn’t mean we could absolutely do it, but we’d do our best to make it happen. We tried to hit at least one place each person had requested, but many of the requests overlapped, like the Grand Canyon. We all wanted to see that. Our family and friend visits were worked in as well.
2) Be flexible: We had our calendar, we knew the date when we had to be in California, so we had a deadline, but my husband cautioned me against planning where we’d stay at every single stop because we might get delayed along the way or arrive earlier than planned along the way. I took his word for it, the planner that I am, and we only made our reservations for Virginia, for Fourth of July weekend, and for Los Angeles. As it turned out, we did modify our schedule a bit, and picked up an extra day along the way, which we were able to spend in Arizona with our friends, and another extra day which then allowed us to arrive a day earlier in Los Angeles than we’d initially planned. We struggled with finding a spot to stay overnight for three nights in Yellowstone National Park, so many campgrounds were now full, but had we booked it a month ago or more, our dates would not have been correct, so having a reservation would not have helped us. We opted to just stay two nights instead because that’s what we could find. So ultimately, he was right.
20150707_2329213) Be spontaneous, and be aware of your family’s habits: We knew several things we definitely wanted to do, like visiting the Alamo and the Grand Canyon, and we had specific plans for days when we were with our family, but we couldn’t possibly plan out every single minute of every single day ahead of time for the entire five weeks. It was nice to be able to wake up and do nothing some days or to wake up and say, “What should we do today,” making that decision as a family. We tend to be later risers and night owls, so we never planned to be up and out at the crack of dawn, because that wasn’t realistic for us. There’s a lot of us also, and one bathroom, so it takes us some time to get organized and out the door. We are much better at later arrivals for things whenever possible, and with the pressure to rush out the door off, it kept everyone happy, at least for the most part.
4) Divide and conquer: With an undertaking such as a trip like this one, there was no way we could make any one person responsible for the entire thing. We did sit many nights and plan out some of it together, but we also split up the responsibilities. I took on the bulk of the organizing of the camper inside as well as the family’s needs, while he took on the bulk of organizing the route (since he’d done this trip before) and finding the campsites, as well as taking on figuring out the hardware and equipment needs for the truck and camper. Working as a team is much easier than one person doing everything or both of you trying to do every single task together. Our kids were old enough to be involved in the organizing and setting up of the camper as well, so our team was more than just the two of us.
20150629_1242495) Remember that it’s camping: Yes, you have all the comforts of home in an RV, but you also have the potential for ants, a mouse, beetles, and the like. It’s not the Four Seasons, and we didn’t want it to be, but don’t be shocked if you see a bug, or if there’s dirt on the floor or if you shower in your flip flops at the campground’s showers. If you don’t like those types of things, this type of camping across the country trip isn’t for you. Our group consists of an Eagle Scout and four Girl Scouts. We’ve all tent camped and hiked before, and we like meeting and greeting new and different wildlife. We knew we’d be okay on a trip like this.
6) Be patient: Close quarters, long hours driving, tight spaces, many weeks away from home. There will be short tempers and meltdowns and frustrating situations. It’s important to be as patient as possible as often as possible. They say patience is a virtue, and this trip is a great way to practice it. Nothing will go 100% perfectly and you deal with things as they come, just as you would at home.
7) This is a driving trip: You’re going to spend a lot of time in the car, you’re going to spend a lot of money on gas. To think of the trip without knowing those things going into it would be silly. We saved lots of money in other ways, but we were up front with knowing gas would cost money and even a great deal of money in some places, and we’d be using a lot of gas because we would be spending five weeks on the road. We also knew going into the trip that we’d be pulling a camper and driving a large vehicle, so we knew our gas mileage wouldn’t be fantastic, but again, these were all known facts way ahead of time, so no surprises there and we took it all into consideration.
8) Camping is cheap: Although gas is expensive at times, lodging is very inexpensive. Campsites varied in price from as little as $15 a night to as much as $75 a night, depending on where we stayed, with an average price of $25-$30 a night, usually. We ate out on occasion as we do at home, but we ate in much more often, just as we would at home. Had we stayed in hotels, we would not have had such inexpensive lodging and not have had the ability to cook such great meals as we do now. At $3900 to own outright, our camper was our hotel and our ability to cook meals for five people a dog and a frog, for five weeks all wrapped in one, without having to spend money on airline tickets which would not allow us to experience the entire country from East to West and South to North as we have. And when we get home, we have the ability to go anywhere else we want to go with our camper from here on in, because we own it. Who knows what adventures lie ahead for us?

Adventure is all part of the fun!

Adventure is all part of the fun!

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