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Fun Friday: To warm your heart and soul

10 Feb
We have had blizzard conditions for most of the day today, but we're warm and safe and all together.

We have had blizzard conditions for most of the day today, but we’re warm and safe and all together.

Today (Thursday, as I type this) was our first snow day of the school year, and tomorrow (Friday) will be our second. We had quite a storm today, with about a foot of snow falling throughout the day. It was cold and windy and snowy, but inside we had a lazy day for much of the day, and we were warm, safe and together, which is really what matters on a day like today.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some recipes with you for some nice, warm, delicious treats, since it’s so cold and snowy here. Even if it’s not snowy where you are, there’s nothing like something warm and delicious to warm your heart and soul in the winter months.

DIY crepes in both the regular and gluten free varieties.

DIY crepes in both the regular and gluten free varieties.

Early in the day we had crepes, which is one of our favorite special breakfasts. They are labor intensive, so we don’t do them often, but they’re so delicious when we do. They can be made gluten free, so we make both kinds. My husband does the majority of the cooking for these, but today I did the hot bananas with the maple-brown sugar sauce and Elizabeth made the scrambled eggs, so he had some help. We put out many filling options for our crepes: scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, cheese, peanut butter, Nutella or a Hershey’s chocolate spread, bananas, and today the maple-brown sugar bananas. Everyone can fill them as they wish.

The recipe we use is the same for both gluten free and not, but we use gluten free all-purpose flour for our gluten free crepes, specifically Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 All-Purpose Flour. This is the recipe we use:

Thanks to the New Betty Crocker Cookbook!

Thanks to the “New Betty Crocker Cookbook!”

Warm chocolate pudding is soothing on a sore throat, especially on a snowy day.

Warm chocolate pudding is soothing on a sore throat, especially on a snowy day.

Tonight, my youngest daughter requested homemade chocolate pudding, which is a relatively new recipe for us, but I have posted it on the blog before. You can find it here. She’s had a sore throat and cough, and prefers the pudding to be warm, which would soothe her throat. I didn’t have a sore throat myself, but that pudding sounded good to me too, especially on a day like today, so I obliged. Another warm and soothing recipe that I make often in the winter months is homemade hot chocolate. Although I didn’t make it today, I will re-share it here anyway, since it’s been a long time since I originally posted it. It’s an absolute favorite for my family.

Finally, I had some great new articles in this week’s paper to share with you too, and they will warm your heart and soul also. You can find my latest feature from this week’s Providence Journal here, about Rachel’s Sugar Shop in Cranston. She’s got lots of great Valentine’s Day treats on deck, and she does amazing wedding, birthday and all kinds of occasion cakes, so stop by and see her if you’re local.

I have lots of stories in this week’s Cranston Herald, but this one about a family who immigrated to the United States is one of my favorites, especially with all that is in the news currently about immigration to America. I also loved doing this one about Janet Tanury, the owner of Botticelli’s, which is a local store whose tagline is “Generous clothing for the curvaceous woman.” Janet is working hard to make plus-size shopping a whole new experience for women of all ages, especially when it comes to formal wear, and her shop is wonderful, as is she. If you have a prom or formal event on the horizon, stop in and visit her in North Providence, RI or visit her website here. She’s hosting a special prom shopping event on President’s Day from 10-5pm.

You can view all of this week’s Cranston Herald stories by visiting their website, and there you will see all of my work for this week. It’s certainly been a busy one!

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Family Movie Night and Two Books: The Snowman, Some Snowflakes and a Craft

12 Dec
The Snowman movie based on the book

This movie is quick, 23 minutes long and is based on the book by Raymond Briggs

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 16, 2011

Today is Friday, our wind-down night and often-times we have a Family Movie Night, as I said in last Friday’s post. Yesterday’s recipe was for Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which I said make me think of snowflakes, even though they are chocolate based cookies. That thought of snowflakes leads me to today’s movie, book and craft for kids.

When I was an elementary teacher, the book, “The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs was one of my favorites to use as a wintertime activity with the kids. A wordless book, it had gorgeous illustrations, depicting a boy’s journey with a snowman. I used to love having the kids make their own version of the words to go along with the pictures.

That book is now a movie, and although I have not seen it, I wish I had it! According to the description on Amazon, it is based on live action flying footage. It sounds fantastic!

This is the same book that our family had for years until just last week.

The book that I used to have is now gone, donated just a couple of weeks ago, by my generous kids who each year have to make a big pile of books and toys for children who don’t have much, just before Christmas.

Clearly they couldn’t read my mind and know that I was going to use that very book in my blog post this week. When I heard it was gone, I almost went after it but my husband assured me they were putting the boxes on a truck as he was dropping them off, it was gone. So, instead, I am including the picture from Amazon. Sigh…I loved that book.

Speaking of books and snowflakes, when my daughter Caroline was in first grade, she checked out this very cool book about William Bently, a man who studied snowflakes. It includes really amazing photos of snowflakes and my kids were thoroughly intrigued by it. It truly shows that every snowflake is unique.

To me, nothing says winter crafts like paper snowflakes. One year I had my kids make snowflakes for all of the windows in the house (this was not an overwhelming task, we don’t have a ton of windows!) Each of their snowflakes was different and unique, just like real snowflakes. I loved the ones they put up on my bedroom windows so much that I never take them down. My side of the bed is the window side and I happen to sleep on my left side so I look out the window all the time when I’m laying there in the mornings just waking up. I love seeing those snowflakes.

Therefore, my craft for the day is just that: simple.paper.snowflakes.

Enjoy!

Paper snowflakes made by the kids

Every snowflake is different and unique, just like the children who make them!

Paper snowflakes made by our girls

I keep my paper snowflakes on my window all year long!

Family Movie Night & a Recipe: Homemade Hot Chocolate

7 Dec

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 9, 2011

It’s a Friday and for us Friday nights are sometimes Family Movie Nights. It’s the end of the week and it’s often a wind-down night as well. We look forward to it.

In the winter, our Family Movie Night movie is usually “The Polar Express” at least once.

I got this book in 1993, before there even *was* a movie!

We have the hardcover version of the Chris VanAllsburg book, and it’s even autographed. We also have the special bell from the story as well as the cd of the story from a gift set that we received a few years back. You can find the book and the movie here on Amazon.com.

There are several bell crafts you could do to go along with “The Polar Express” if you’d like.

Cups, pipe cleaners, stickers and glitter make for an easy jingle bell craft. If you have a real jingle bell, you can put it inside so that the bell actually rings.

You could:

1) Cut out a bell from construction paper and decorate it with glitter or other materials,

and

2) Turn a styrofoam drinking cup upside down, put a pipe cleaner through the top (gold works well) turning it into a bell that way, decorating it on the outside any way you’d like.

During the winter months, Family Movie Night often includes a special treat: Homemade Hot Chocolate. My kids LOVE this recipe and it came from a cookbook I received as a gift from one of my Stampin’ Up! customers several years back. The cookbook is called “Old Fashioned Holiday Recipes.” It was full of many great recipe ideas, but this one has always been a favorite find and perfect for our Family Movie Nights. It would go especially well with the “Krispie” Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from yesterday!

Two mugs of hot chocolate

Hot off the stove tonight!

Creamy Hot Chocolate
INGREDIENTS

1 (14 ounce) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT Evaporated Milk)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 1/2 cups hot water
Marshmallows, optional

DIRECTIONS

In a large saucepan over medium heat combine Eagle Brand, cocoa, vanilla and salt; mix well.

Slowly stir in water. Heat through, stirring occasionally. Do not boil.

Top with marshmallows (optional.)

Store covered in refrigerator. Makes about 2 quarts.

Hot chocolate can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. Mix well and reheat before serving.

Five Days, One Hundred Dollars

23 Apr

Staycation on the cheap. Can it be done?

There used to be a show on TLC (I think) that was called Trading Spaces. I loved that show. Two families would renovate their homes and they’d have just two days and $1000 to do it.

Well this week was April Vacation here and we were having a Staycation, not traveling anywhere, but we didn’t have much extra money in our budget for the week’s activities either. (Technically we were home for nine days if you count the weekend before and after the vacation week but as far as days we wouldn’t normally be home already, it was five days.)

We had approximately $100. Five people, five days, $100. Twenty bucks a day divided by five people, $4 per person per day.

That’s a Staycation on the Cheap for sure.

So did we do it? Of course we did. Not a whole lot of choice in that regard, since there’s no overspending when you don’t use credit cards. If the money’s not in the account, you don’t do it.

Chinese take out: Big Splurge.

First off, we had some work we needed to do around the house which took up a couple of days at the start of the week. To reward ourselves for a job well done, and since we were too tired to cook, we decided to splurge on take out. 

Chinese take-out:  $30.

Who doesn't love lemonade on a hot day?

My kids were dying to have a Lemonade Stand at our house. They spent part of the weekend making their posters and getting their business plan in place. They worked out what hours they’d be selling, how much they’d be charging and got everything ready to go. The weather was gorgeous on their chosen day and they were outside all day long. They worked together and even stayed open an extra hour because business was so good.

Lemonade Stand: Free

The first of many dinners at the beach took place this week.

The start of the week was very hot, like summertime hot, so we opted to cook dinner at home and pack it up to eat down by the beach. We’d take a walk along the ocean and watch the sun go down. We can do that here, we’re very lucky. We even saw a wedding that night in the gazebo by the ocean.

Dinner and walk along the beach: Free

Mystery Ride to a new-to-us zoo!

Although it was vacation week, I still had to work on and off periodically throughout the week whether it was covering stories for the two papers or typing them, so we worked that into our schedule and later in the week we tried out a new zoo that was in the direction of a story I was covering. It was the Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Tickets to the Buttonwoods Zoo for a family of five : $21.

Redbox is the greatest invention. You can rent movies for just over $1 per night. There were some movies we wanted to see so over the week’s time we rented three movies.

Family Movie Night times three, complete with popcorn: $3.75.

Even though we like Family Movie Night, there’s also nothing like seeing a “real” movie in a “real” theater, something we never, ever do since five people at a first run movie is expensive. Again, we decided to splurge. 

Matinee movie for five with five Entertainment Book Coupons: $38.

Last day on training wheels!

There were other things we did throughout the week like bike rides, scooter rides, eating dinner on the deck for the first time this season, watching the sunset from our own back yard, night hikes with flashlights (my favorite) and things like that, all free, all outdoors, all time spent together. Of course we ate our way through the week too, having “weekend” breakfasts every day, like waffles and crepes, muffins and pancakes, french toast. That in itself is a vacation in my book! And really, all of those things you just can’t put a price tag on.

Priceless.

Sometimes you don't even need to leave home to enjoy the simple magic of life.

Donut Maker Update

2 Mar
Babyckaes Donut Maker

My new toy!

Back in January I posted on my blog about our New Year’s Eve Donut Wars. At the time we’d just received our Babycakes Donut Maker and it was our very first time using it. Now that we’ve had it a couple of months, I thought I’d put out a quick update letting you know what we’ve tried since then.

First of all, I am still a huge fan of the donut maker. It’s so much fun to use. To date we have used it three more times since that first time.

We used it in January with a pumpkin spice donut mix that my mother-in-law brought with her when she visited. Before making them that time though, we went to AC Moore and I bought a pastry bag with a tip to use when filling the donut wells. MUCH easier than using a ziploc bag. Caroline has become a pro at filling the wells. I use that time to make the frosting so that we can frost them while they’re slightly warm.

Everyone had their own donuts to frost, their own bowl of frosting and their own spoon.

The next time we used it was for a triple playdate after school. Once the word about us having a donut maker got out, “everyone” wanted to come over and try it out. I decided to bite the bullet and let each kid have one friend over after school all in one day. We’d make the donuts and let the six kids frost them. So later on in January that’s what we did. Although I wasn’t sure if it’d be too much for me to keep organized, it worked out fine. I mixed up the batter and while Caroline filled the wells, her friend helped me make the frosting (a double batch of frosting seems to be enough for all the donuts that one recipe yields.) Then when we were ready to frost, I gave each girl a plate, four donuts to frost, and a bowl of frosting with a spoon. They could do whatever they wanted with their four but couldn’t share with each other (I didn’t want to share germs if they’d been licking their spoons, fingers etc.) I put a common area in the center of the table for sprinkles and decorations. It worked out great. They could then eat their donuts when they were done, or save them to take home, or whatever they wished. It worked out great.

The kids like being able to decorate their donuts however they want to. I try to have plenty of sprinkles out.

Another thing I did differently for the playdate this time from other times, was I used the recipe that came in the box for the Sour Cream Donuts rather than a cake mix, and the recipe for their Chocolate Frosting instead of a tub of frosting. Both were very, very good and easy to make. It made the donuts truly taste like donuts, rather than like cupcakes, which is what happens if you use a cake mix. Both work fine, but if you’re looking for that donut taste, definitely try out their recipes.

Separate work stations for each kid seems to work out great; no cross contamination!

The next time we used it was for a cousins sleepover. We had one of our cousins sleep over during February Vacation Week and we thought it would be fun to make donuts with her for our movie night, and we were right, it was fun!

I used the exact same two recipes and did it the same way, with Caroline filling the wells while I made the frosting. I still kept it to four donuts per kid and we had more leftover, which I sent home with our cousin for her brothers.

Overall, we’ve really enjoyed the Babycakes Donut Maker! We’ve got Alex’s birthday coming up soon and she’s already said that she’d like donuts instead of cupcakes this year, so I’ll take it out again for that, if not sooner. I’m also anxious to try out the other recipes in their booklet. There’s a chocolate donut recipe, a maple donut recipe as well as vanilla glaze and maple glaze frosting recipes. Grandma Rose loves maple glazed donuts so we might just surprise her one day with some.

Now…if I could just get the Babycakes Cake Pop Maker……:)

Here are a couple of other “finished product” photos from our donut making experiences.

The "after" shot.

If you run out of or don't like frosting, there's always powdered sugar on top which is yummy!

Fun for Family “Movie” Night: Whirley-Pop Three Minute Popcorn Maker

20 Jan

Tonight was the first night of American Idol, a show our family enjoys watching. We especially enjoy the audition nights, because of the umm…array of talent…that’s out there. We record the show so that the kids watch the first hour and then, since it’s a school night, they have to go to bed and we watch the second hour at another time. Since it was a somewhat special night, being the first night of the show, we decided to christen another one of our Christmas gifts, this one was from my aunt and uncle:

Whirly Pop Three minute popcorn maker

This was one of our popcorn themed-gifts this Christmas and we tried it out tonight.

My aunt and uncle also gave us some popcorn accessories to go with it:

Popcorn accessories

These are the other accessories that were given to us to go with the popcorn maker.

Since we’ve never had a popcorn popper before, we were very curious as to how it would work and we thought tonight would be a fun night to try it out.

Here’s what it looks like out of the box:

Whirly Pop Popcorn maker

It's a pretty cool piece of equipment.

Once out of the box, the popcorn maker has to be seasoned with oil. After that, we followed the directions, putting oil in the bottom of the pot and a half cup of popcorn. As it heats up, you turn the handle until the popcorn is done. It cooked up very quickly and the entire pot was full. We decided to try the Kettle Corn flavoring. Well, more honestly, I decided that we were trying the Kettle Corn flavoring. They wanted Nacho Chip flavor, but somehow I won them over and we tried Kettle Corn. It was a combination of sweet and salty.

Popcorn into the big popcorn bowl

Last year we got the coolest popcorn bowl at our dollar store...for one dollar, perfect for tonight's treat.

Finally, to top it all off, the gift came with one-time use individual popcorn cups as well, so everyone got their own. It was an especially fun way to start off the season of American Idol this year. We found the Whirley-Pop popcorn maker very easy to use and we can’t wait to try out the other flavors of popcorn.

Here's to another season of American Idol!