Posts Tagged ‘Notebook Experiments’

Amy’s Notebook 04.13.11

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I must make this knitting needle clock for my office! (@ Naughty Secretary Club)

I am going to have to make these Butterbeer Cupcakes to go along with our nightly Harry Potter readings (@ amy bites)

These roasted strawberries look like a fantastic topper to ice cream or yogurt (@ shutterbean)

Boston Creme Cupcakes sound like a fun new way to enjoy my favorite donut flavor (@ The Gourmand Mom)

This pinwheel garland would be a fun way to decorate for Spring (@ Peppermint Plum)

Red velvet crepes look like a fun treat to make (@ duhlicious)

Who knew you could make hard boiled eggs in your slow cooker? (@ the paupered chef)

I am madly in love with this camp-out birthday party theme (@ Hostess with the Mostess)

These homemade black bean burgers look like a delicious lunch (@ angry chicken)

This spaghetti frittata looks like a great way to use up leftover noodles (@ $5 Dinners)

These basic cinnamon rolls look like a fun breakfast treat (@ Food For My Family)

This secret message in an egg is so creative! (@ Poppytalk)

I want to try a batch of these cake cookies with sprinkles (@ V and Co.)

Nutella in coffee? That sounds like heaven! (@ brewed daily)

This salted caramel ice cream is my excuse to purchase an ice cream maker (@ brown eyed baker)

This week I made the cute knock-off Pottery Barn moss covered letter that was featured in our notebook (circa 03.16.11 entry) and on the blog, “Be Sweet.”  I absolutely love it and want to hit the craft store to get a larger letter to hang on our front door. This one is decorating a pantry door and I hung it in front of a broken frame I found in my basement on an angle. I plan to spray paint the frame black, but happened to be covering letters and marbleizing eggs at the same time. Who says this mama can’t multitask?

Proving that I can mess up just about any craft, I hot glued my finger to the “C” because the moss was a bit more aerated than I realized.  My husband says I am an “XXTREME HOT GLUE GUNNER.” He also makes an X in front of his face when he says this to me.  I blame the glue gun. Regardless, super cute project that cost $11 to create!

Have you tried anything from our featured notebook entries? We would love to hear what projects you tried and how they worked out for your family!

Holiday Crafting Inspiration or the Amy Clark Craft Factory of 2010

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

There has been a lot of holiday crafting happening this year and I can’t wait to show you some of the things I have been working on! First up, is this beautiful yarn ball wreath! Does anybody remember seeing this one in our notebook? I thought this would be the perfect craft to do a little stash busting in my yarn collection and a great wreath that would look cute even after the holidays.

day one

four hours later, off to bed with glitter in my hair and third degree burns.

the next day, three more hours of gluing to go!

I did not anticipate how long this wreath would take, the amount of supplies that I would need, or the cost of all those ornaments and Styrofoam balls.  It took about seven hours of hot gluing with lots of time spent making the little yarn balls.  It also took about twice the amount of supplies that I had anticipated. That said, isn’t it stunning and worth every ounce of effort?

Looking for more holiday wreath ideas? I have hung my beautiful Kimba-inspired wreaths for the holidays again. When spring comes my little sugared lemon drop wreath will be hung again for another year on my front door. What can I say? Handmade wreaths make me so happy!

I am so proud of how the wreath turned out and a huge thank you to life through the lens for the crafting inspiration.

I had my best friend over for a holiday craft night and we cranked out dozens of these rolled rosette hair accessories and felted loopy flowers that were featured in our notebook. I bought a little fabric for these, but also decided to use fabric from Emily’s worn out and stained summer dresses from last year. The same idea could be applied with fabric from thrift store finds that don’t fit your child, but would be the perfect material for a cute embellishment in her hair.

I made her a few headbands, but we soon found out that headbands and glasses don’t go together so good, especially the wide headbands I bought for her hair.  They are cute enough though that I just might have to wear the headbands for myself. I decided to use some of the clips I had leftover from my hair bow making days and apply them to those instead. They worked out beautifully. I was able to make a few of these to go with her holiday dresses this year.

Thanks to Happy Together for helping us look a little fancier this holiday season!

We also cranked out tons of these easy No-Slip Bookmarks for gift-giving this year that were also featured in the notebook. I use my bookmark daily and I have to say that it truly holds the pages of my book well without wrinkling my books.  It helps to have a friend that can operate a sewing machine too since I am a sewing school drop-out.

These would make beautiful stocking stuffers or are a perfect gift to keep on hand for last minute giving. I gave these to the kids I read to each week with a book for the holidays. These are so fast to make and are a great way to use up any leftover ribbon you might have laying around.  The most expensive part are the cute buttons, but they are a fun way to personalize these bookmarks.

Thanks to Maryjanes and Galoshes for this easy craft that has added a little something special to my gift-giving this year!

I made this beautiful red scarf for my brother who had gotten a new gray winter coat this year. I am going to have to cast another one on the knitting needles for my husband who was so kind to model it for me.  For more pattern inspiration, be sure to check out my Knitting Trendy Gifts of Warmth.

Merci Scarf

Pattern: Merci Scarf by Susan Rainey

Needle Size: US 8 Needles (I used size US 9 needles, which created a little bit wider scarf, but you could use the US 8’s that are recommended)

Yarn: Premier Yarns Serenity Chunky Weight in Molten Lava (2.5 skeins)

Notes: This scarf is so simple and fast to whip up that it would make the perfect gift to give to any man in your life. The pattern is one that you can complete while watching your favorite shows on television and is almost impossible to get off track.  This yarn was also perfect for creating a really warm scarf, perfect for our Midwest winters.  This pattern is perfect for a beginning knitter or for a last minute gift for someone special in your life!

I knitted two more ruffled scarves and another Republic Hat for gift-giving. I forgot to take a picture of the hat and other ruffled scarf, but they did turn out so pretty! These ruffled scarves are definitely a statement piece, meant to add a punch of femininity to your winter coat! I made one in this light gray for my best friend and then one in a charcoal gray for my sister.  Now I want to make one in a couple other colors for myself!

Beautifully Ruffled Lace Scarves

Pattern: Ruffle Lace Scarf by Suzie Blackman

Needle Size: US 10 Needles (40″ circulars)

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Heather Gray

Notes: If you want a scarf that is wildly impressive, can be created with a single ball of yarn, and looks like a million bucks than this would be the perfect gift to give this holiday season. It is a very mindless knit, but is an INSANE amount of stitches, especially in the last two rows (over one thousand stitches!). The beauty of this scarf though is that you only need to know how to knit, purl, and yarn over to create it.

The twisting is created by knitting the scarf length-wise, rather than width-wise and through the series of yarn overs. As pictures above, you can see that it is really hard to see your stitches, let alone if it is actually going to twist. The good news is, as you cast off, you will see that scarf naturally twists, making that beautiful ruffled twist.

This one is definitely a statement piece and is also a statement of your absolute love for whoever you might make it for!

I followed the pattern that is linked above, but added four more rows to give the scarf a fuller appearance. I repeated rows 11-14 two times before I started rows 15-16. I am really glad I did and love the lush fullness of this scarf.

Here are the finished teacher scarves that I made! Each one had a $5 Starbucks gift card tucked into the pocket that was created in the scarflet. Next time I make this, I will have to write on the label though that these were scarfs. The teachers thought they might be hats…which I guess you could do too!  Regardless, I got such wonderful compliments and tried to make each of them unique with flower embellishments or different unique buttons and colored embroidery threads on each one. We also made one for our babysitter who has been a true Godsend to my family and helped me manage the day-to-day of my site by caring for Emily one afternoon a week. She is my secret weapon of productivity on the site. I wish you all could have a Miss Janie for Christmas!

Anthropologie-Inspired Scarflets

Pattern: Anthro-Inspired Scarflet (available as a free Ravelry download with your free Ravelry membership) by Kim Seio & Lydia Flowers (optional, for embellishment) or cute buttons.

Needle Size: US 8 Needles (straight) for both the flowers and the scarflet

Yarn: Premier Yarns Chunky Weight in Pristine (scarf) & Yarn Bee Boucle Traditions in Black

Notes: I followed the sizing and increases that ilikecookies(another Ravelry member)  had shared in her pattern. She said, “Increased until 30 stitches, worked 15 rows even until ribbed section and knit 15 rows of ribbing to make a slightly larger scarflet.”

I added a black Lydia Flower (size small) with a red button center to finish it or colorful buttons with contrasting embroidery thread to finish! For more pictures of these, please visit this post.

I finished all of my knitted gifts with these homemade gift tags. I used my Silhouette Craft Cutter and used the rounded rectangle template to make these simple tags out of ivory cardstock that I had leftover from our treasure boxes we made this year. As a holiday treat to myself, I bought myself a personalized stamp from Babyjewels (an Etsy seller) and I have to say, it really added that professional touch to my gifts!  They have one for knitters and one for crocheters too. She is on holiday vacation, but you can be emailed when she comes back.

Here the gifts are all lined up. Next year I will have to do a video tutorial on my signature bow. Every gift should have signature bow on them and I have perfected my signature bow over the years. When I ran out of ribbon this year my husband proclaimed a “state of emergency.” He sure is a funny guy.

The gift factory is closed until next season!  I hope you have had great success crafting your own gifts and are continuing to get lots of handmade inspiration on MomAdvice for your holiday giving needs!

Cinnamon Bun Pancakes

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I decided to surprise our family with a little unexpected treat and whip up a batch of these Cinnamon Bun Pancakes from How Does She? that we featured in our weekly notebook. Not known to be much of  a pancake flipper, I wowed the family with this special surprise and even had pancakes that were intact this time!  Another unexpected treat was the cinnamon maple frosting drizzle in lieu of the traditional syrup I usually serve.

Only quiet smacks and a few “ohhh’s” and “ahhh’s” were heard at my kitchen table. Swift and sticky hugs were given to me and proclamations of my awesomeness may have been made by my children.

Belly clutching and groaning may have concluded the dinner for the adults, but they were satisfying groans and an evening spent of television watching. There may have possibly been more proclamations of awesomeness as we made vows to hit the gym and treadmill the next day.

Not enough pancake magic for you? Be sure to try our Light & Fluffy Pumpkin Pancakes for another dinner worthy of many more sticky hugs and heartfelt proclamations!

Back-to-School Celebration Feasts With Recipes

Monday, August 30th, 2010

I hope you will allow me the beauty of indulging in my endless brag book of photos of my children. There is nothing like the freshness of a new year, a new opportunity to do better, a new opportunity to be better, new teachers, new friends, and the same old sappy mom who won’t stop taking your picture. Ah, some things just will never change!

Emily is all tutus, ballet shoes, and anything purple, pink, or sparkly. She is wildly dramatic, has the sweetest little voice in the world, and is fiercely independent. She plays pretend for hours with her Little People and in her little doll house.

This year she was off for her last year of preschool. My heart just aches when I think that next year my little baby will be going off to kindergarten. I am savoring this last year together more than I can say.

Ethan & Emily started on two different days this year and so we  had two fun-filled celebrations for each of them. I have never cooked so much in my life, but they each got to request their favorite main dish and a favorite dessert to celebrate their big day at school. I look forward to having one giant celebration next year to celebrate them both at once, but I might have to make an investment into another celebration plate to make that happen!

Emily’s celebration request was a taco bar and chocolate cupcakes with pink icing. I have a feeling you are going to really love this celebration dinner because it is thrifty and absolutely delicious!

This taco meat is the best taco meat in the world- truly! The mixture of tomato sauce and chicken broth take away the beefy taste and give it just the right hint of flavoring. Since my kids can’t handle the heavy spices, we modified the chili powder to 1 teaspoon and skipped the cayenne pepper.

Beef Tacos (Courtesy of  The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced (I use a tablespoon of the bottled minced garlic)
2 tablespoons chili powder (adjust to your personal taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef (or use a higher fat beef and rinse the meat)
1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
8 taco shells

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the ground beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about ten minutes. Season with salt to taste. Divide the filling evenly among the taco shells and serve passing any desired accompaniments separately.

Make-Ahead Version: The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.

These cupcakes. These cupcakes. No words. The cake is moist  and gets its beautiful texture from a few pantry ingredients and a little boiling water. The batter looks like a watery-looking mess and turns  out to be the most delicious cupcake I have ever made in my life! The cake was moist and flavorful. Use a batter bowl or a ladle to scoop the watery batter into the lined cupcake pan.

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes (Courtesy of The Farm Chicks)

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fill muffin pans with 24 cupcake liners.  Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.  (I recommend a batter bowl to easily pour the batter into the cupcake liners).  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer for about two minutes, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the boiling water, and beat, just until blended.  (Don’t be alarmed – the batter appears watery).  Evenly ladle (or pour) the batter into the liners.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center of the cupcakes springs back when lightly touched.  Cool and frost.

I am not a fan of heavy frostings, in fact, I don’t even really like buttercream frosting. That being said, this frosting is my favorite frosting in the world. It is light, delicious, and reminds me a little of marshmallow fluff. It is not a decorator frosting, but decorating isn’t important if the frosting tastes like heaven. For the perfect little swirls on top of your cupcakes,  you can use a Ziploc bag and cut the corner to pipe the frosting on top or use a 2D tip that is gathering dust in your baking supplies and hasn’t been used since that last batch of Snickerdoodle Cupcakes. Get ready for a good old-fashioned mind-blowing frosting perfect for the frosting-haters.

PS- Be sure to break out your stand mixer for this or be like me and forget to do it and update your Facebook profile, tweet a bit, watch a You Tube video, secure a new freelance job, and do this all while simultaneously beating the crud out of those egg whites. Yeah, that really happened.

No Cook 7 Minute Frosting (Courtesy of

3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 unbeaten egg whites
food coloring

Mix sugar, cream of tartar, vanilla and egg whites. Add boiling water. Beat on high til mixture forms peaks (like meringue) approx 5-7 minutes.

My sweet boy was ready to head off to second grade. I know many of you have read my site for many years. I still can’t believe that I have been doing this since he was only a year old. For many of you, this kid has been growing up right before your very eyes!

This year it is all Pokemon and Bakugan and, more recently, a lot of the magical Harry Potter. We started the tradition of reading the series together at night before he goes to bed. When he bursts through the door he begs for another chapter. One of the naughtiest thing he does is hide books under his pillow to indulge until the wee hours of the night. He reminds me so much of my bookworm self.

Ethan’s celebration feast was my homemade spaghetti and meatballs, homemade bread sticks, with the new family favorite…peanut butter balls.

Homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs

For Sauce (sauce recipe adapted from AllRecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook):

3/4 cup chopped onion (we omitted because we don’t like onions)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For Meatballs (this recipe will make enough for a double batch, half to eat and half to freeze):

1/2  cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 cups grated Romano (or Parmesan)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Italian turkey sausages (remove the casings)
1 pound ground beef

To make sauce: Saute onion and garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer one hour and thirty minutes. Stir in tomato paste, basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and meatballs and simmer thirty more minutes. Gently break apart the tomatoes with the back of your wooden spoon.  Five to ten minutes before serving, add in your meatballs and then serve over a big bowl of your favorite pasta.

To make meatballs: In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the turkey & ground beef, then gently stir to combine. Make your meatballs the standard size and put them on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes. When done cooking, drop in the baked meatballs for a few minutes. This will be just as delicious with a lot less mess and fewer calories.


I add a 1/4 cup of extra flour to make sure  the dough is sticky, but not too sticky. I cover the whole cookie sheet with plastic wrap and pop it in my fridge until our dinner hour. About a half hour before our dinner, I pull it out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter while our oven preheated.

Homemade Bread Sticks (Courtesy of Chocolate on My Cranium)

2 TBSP sugar and 1 TBSP yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water

3 cups flour and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix and knead for 5 minutes with your stand mixer (using the dough hook)

Let rest for 10 minutes. Melt 1/2 cube (4 TBSP) of butter in a bowl in the microwave and pour into a 11×17 pan (jelly roll pan). Place dough into pan then lift and turn over so that both sides of the dough are covered in the melted butter. Press dough into pan. Sprinkle with desired seasonings (I love the Italian Cheese Blend cheeses and a sprinkle of garlic salt all over). Let rest 15 minutes. Cut into strips with pizza cutter. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Recut with a pizza cutter and serve.

Our dessert was courtesy of last week’s notebook at The Southern Plate. I halved the recipe just to see if my kids would love these. The results were delicious and satisfying. The oats combined with the peanut butter and the dried milk create a dense stick-to-your ribs treat perfect for after-school or as a yummy snack before bed. My husband said they reminded him of cookie dough. I will definitely be making these again!

In fact, the bread sticks and chocolate cupcakes were both featured in our notebooks (and were notebook experiments) which is why notebook day is my favorite day of the week. We have gained so many family traditions and meal ideas from it. I love experimenting and being inspired daily by bloggers.  You all are wonderful!

After all of that, I collapsed into a puddle of endless dishes combined with a puddle of pure exhaustion. It didn’t matter though because I am so proud that we have these moments to cherish forever!

Do you have any special traditions for celebrating the back-to-school season? I would love to hear them!

An Old-Fashioned Birthday BBQ Bash

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

This weekend we celebrated Ethan’s 8th birthday with a good old-fashioned birthday BBQ bash for our family.  I have so many new recipes and ideas to showcase from this party, but today I wanted to share with you some of the decorations and strategies that I took to save money and make this birthday special. Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting the new recipes that I used and tips for creating the dishes in your home.

We greeted our guests with this beautiful birthday wreath that was featured in our notebook and recreated in our home from How Does She. It can be created in about a half hour and requires zero craft skills. Everyone commented on how cute it was and it will be put away on a shelf until the next birthday. It took about $13 in supplies and I am sure we will get every dollar out of this wreath. Isn’t it adorable? I have a real adoration for anything that can become a part of our yearly traditions and the kids loved that this let everyone know we were in celebration mode.

One investment that I made into our future parties was a set of burger baskets. I found these at Gordon’s Food Service ($14.99 for 12) and I purchased one package of delicatessen paper ($4.99 for 500 sheets) for my family celebrations. I really am not a fan of paper plates and one time use party products.  I also hate the bulk of heavy dishes when you have an outdoor party. These seemed like a great  alternative and are a little studier than paper plates. I admit it is also a nod to my love of all things diner and retro. We can use these all summer long and everyone seemed to really love this idea!

When you are on a party budget, you have to evaluate every aspect of food preparation. A vegetable tray that is pre-made can be purchased for between $10-12, but making a vegetable tray at home cost about $5 in supplies. I saved a deli platter from a catered party that I had hosted and added to to my own party supplies. This sturdy tray has been reused multiple times and adds a more professional element to my party without the added expenditure.

Buying corn that has already been cleaned and is ready to go can save time, but it can add quite a bit to the party budget if you are trying to stay within your budget constraints and have many mouths to feed. With a little effort and time, preparing the corn yourself can shave an easy $5 off of your budget.

Drinks can also add a lot to a party budget and that is why we usually rely on a big batch of birthday punch to save on this category.  It is easy to spend $20 or more on the drink budget, but with one great batch of punch and a little decaf coffee for the dessert hour, I can spend $6 in supplies that will serve fifteen people with plenty of refills. Now that is a huge savings!

I will admit the cake process can be intimidating for me and many other moms. I took a cake decorating class and found the process to be a little…tedious. When I have more time, perhaps I will pick it back up. This year, I gave my son all of my cookbooks and he and his sister spent a Saturday morning flipping through them and selecting the most perfect birthday cake. To my surprise, he selected an easy chocolate bundt cake that he said would be, “the most perfect cake ever.” Do you think sometimes we put more pressure on ourselves as mothers than necessary?

This cake cost about $4 in supplies and still wowed everyone without the labor of homemade frosting and perfectly piped decorations. It was so simple, in fact, that I added a berry cake (another $4 in supplies) so our guests had two cake options. Both of them were perfection and cost a mere $8 versus two bakery cakes that would cost $15 to $25 each. Hurray for saving money and hurray for easy cakes! (recipes coming soon)

Thanks to waiting until after the fourth of July this year (instead of having a patriotic party like last year), we were able to take advantage of clearance party supplies to create the wreath and for the paper products that we did have to buy. A little ribbon added to a cake platter ties our theme in beautifully and we were able to take advantage of those clearance tables!

Does this look like the face of a child who has had the worst celebration ever because of his mother’s cheapness?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Birthday Party Punch

2 liter bottle fruit punch flavored soda or strawberry flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
2 liter (half a bottle) Cherry 7-Up
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 can pineapple juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones.


Perfectly Pulled Pork Sandwiches (Adapted from All Recipes)

1 (4 pound) Boston butt (or pork shoulder)
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle root beer
1 (18 ounce) bottle your favorite barbecue sauce
8 hamburger buns, split and lightly toasted

Place the pork meat  in a slow cooker; pour the root beer over the meat. Cover and cook on low until well cooked and the pork shreds easily (I cooked for eight hours).  Shred the meat and drain the root beer from the slow cooker. Stir in barbecue sauce and toss gently. Serve over hamburger buns.

Many more recipes to come…

Gift Giving: Sweet Little Ribbon Rings

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

We finished our last day of school on Friday.  That week was extremely busy and I found myself scrambling on Thursday to pull together teacher gifts to give to our teachers. In year’s past, I just bought each teacher a bouquet of flowers. This year, I wanted to try making the fabric rings that were featured in our notebook on Make It Do instead and thought it would be a great craft to do with my kids.

I don’t sew and didn’t have any fabric laying around so I opted to follow the directions for this project, but replace the fabric with ribbon instead. The ring forms were found in the jewelry-making supplies at Michael’s ($2.99 for six ring bases) and I was ready to go.

You really could do just about any width of ribbon between 5/8″ and eve up to 1 1/2″ depending on how big you would like your ring or what you already have in your craft supplies. I will say that the lighter colored ribbon was easier to work with because the darker ribbon showed any little blob of glue that got stuck to it.

I couldn’t wait to make a few for myself and, of course, my glue gun conked out on me and I will have to buy another one. Luckily, it had enough steam in it to make the gifts and I am so proud of how they turned out!

We paired these rings with big bags of  Honey Nut Granola, tied with some yellow ribbon. I made a double batch and then baked it in the oven while I worked on the ribbon rings. I also tried to write a heartfelt note to each teacher to tell them what they have meant to our family. I have a feeling that these mean a lot more than any gift card or gift I could create for them- at least I hope they do!

Do you do teacher gifts? What did you make this year or what have you done in past years? I would love to hear your ideas!

Deliciously Easy Raisin Bran Muffins

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Entertaining in the morning can be tough and requires a little bit of planning on my part. I love hosting our monthly book club meeting though and try to make a yummy treat to go along with the coffee and discussion for our group.  I was excited to try the Raisin Bran Muffins that were featured in our weekly notebook on the Brown-Eyed Baker. I thought this morning playgroup would be the perfect occasion to try out the recipe.

The batter can be kept in the fridge for up to three days which makes it a perfect recipe for morning entertaining. I decided to buy the Raisin Bran with the granola clusters, substituted the vegetable oil with canola oil, made my buttermilk by souring up some milk that I had in the fridge, and gave them a little sprinkle of raw sugar to make a delicious topping before baking. They were perfection and everyone really enjoyed them! I will definitely be making these again, but next time I will go for the just bran flakes since one of my kiddos was weirded out by the raisins baked in…strange children, I know!

While I was busy baking in the kitchen, Emily was busy baking in her playroom. She served what could only be called the perfect mixture of food by a child. “For you, mama! It is a donut, french fry, cookie, pizza bowl.” I guess we all  have our favorites!

With less time spent baking in the morning, I will have more time to savor another stack of great reads from the library. Thanks to Brown-Eyed Baker for sharing a fun and delicious treat from her kitchen!

I Did Not Sort My Laundry This Week…And We All Lived

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

It has been a crazy week for our family, just as so many other families, as the school year is drawing to a close. Last week I crammed in some work, read a literary classic to share for our great reads for moms section, frantically tried to finish some knitted projects, volunteered at school, hit the gym three times this week,  went to a end-of-the-year concert, hosted a mom’s night out, and tried to work on new summer recipe ideas for the site. Did I also mention that my book proposal will finally be going out into the world this week after spending the week editing it? I am a little scared about that one!

The craziness seemed to take whole new levels and my husband, at one point, said he wished he could have photographed me in one of my crazier moments. He came home from work to find me entertaining the kids, on the phone with a conference call, threading shrimp, whispering directions to him on the grill for the new recipe, and then putting the phone on speakerphone so I could take photographs of our dinner before we sat down. Ironically, it is hard to even tell you what we did last week because it was such a whirlwind. Have you ever had a week like that?

I admit, I can’t do it all and felt a little overwhelmed.

The laundry continued to mount and so I decided this would be the perfect week to try the not-sorting laundry idea that had been highlighted in our Notebook two weeks ago. When I told my husband that I was doing this for a Notebook Experiment,  he said, “That is going to be one expensive experiment if it doesn’t work.” Obviously, he does not know how awesome my friend Laura is and how I was willing to take a gamble and see if it would work.

We have a front-loader (which I absolutely love) and so I had to read through her comment thread to figure out where to put the vinegar, which was supposed to help set the color in my load. I have used vinegar in the past as a fabric softener, particularly when we were cloth diapering, but had never thought of it as a tool to set color.

After reading through the thread, I put my regular detergent in the detergent dispenser, my fabric softener in the softener dispenser, and the 1/2 cup of vinegar in the bleach dispenser. I ran it through the Normal cycle selection and then ran the dryer on the Normal cycle selection after it was done washing.

Here are  my son’s uniforms after this mixed-up load went through the dryer. The whites were still white and the blues still blue. I won’t say I didn’t feel completely weird about this experience and can’t say if I would do this all of the time, as I value my pearly white socks and white undershirts a lot and love using my Whites cycle on my washing machine to make everything look like new again.

For a week like this one… it was exactly what I needed to get things done.

What are some ways you save time or money on doing your laundry loads? What system of sorting/tackling laundry seems to work with your family? Do you sort? I would love to hear your ideas!

Kool-Aid Easter Egg Dying & Deliciously Deviled Eggs

Monday, April 5th, 2010

The week was a whirlwind filled with new menu planning, Easter shopping. mountains of laundry, and trying to create a white tornado through our house, while two tiny tornadoes following behind me creating new projects for mommy! I had spent the first half of the week in Florida and the second half of my week was spent playing catch-up on life and preparing for an Easter brunch for the family. It was one of those years where Easter sneaked up on me, but it all still came together beautifully.

For our Easter brunch, we dined on our favorite breakfast casserole, a beautiful batch of bunny bread, coffee, orange juice, and fresh fruit.  If you haven’t tried those recipes, I would highly recommend them because they are always a hit in our house.

One new activity we did try this year was the Kool-Aid (or in our case the Mixade) dying technique that was highlighted in our notebook. I had an egg dying kit, leftover from last year, that I thought I might pull out if the eggs did not turn out. Lucky for us, every single color looked gloriously bright and I was so surprised how quickly the colors took to the shell, literally seconds after being dropped into the colored mixture.

We did do one cup of cold water to one packet of color and experimented with blue, green, purple, and red. We also broke out the rubber bands to create the pretty striping on the eggs. They all turned out beautifully! They were so beautiful, in fact, that I plan to do it this way every year and save myself the hassle of buying egg kits. After all, there is always a rainbow of drink packets on hand in our house for our favorite summertime treat… homemade slushies. Yum!

After the eggs have been dyed, I put them in the fridge to make deviled eggs for our Easter dinner. It is one of those little things I love to do and  I love to break out my little egg plate for this occasion.

My little egg plate was a $.50 find at our local Goodwill. I look forward to using it every year and this year was no exception. It is one of those little things that is worth the bit of pantry space that it takes to store every year.

Deviled Eggs (Courtesy of The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

7 large eggs, cold
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon grainy mustard (I used some Dijon Mustard instead)
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire
Salt & Pepper

Place the eggs in a medium saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat immediately, cover, and let stand for ten minutes. Transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water and cool for five minutes. Peel the eggs and slice each in half lengthwise (I did mine in half to make them more of an appetizer-style). With a small spoon scoop the yolks into a bowl, add the mayo, vinegar, mustard, and Worcestershire and mash with a rubber spatula until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the egg white halves on a serving platter, discarding the two worst looking ones (if you have any that look bad). Using a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip or a plastic bag, pipe the yolk mixture attractively into the whites. Serve at room temperature.  I then sprinkled with a tiny bit of flat leaf parsley and a little paprika to top!

Iced Coffee the Cold Brew Way

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I have a few weaknesses in my life- pretty yarn, delicious books, lovely shoes…and coffee, coffee, coffee!  In the winter, I crave a hot drink to warm my hands. In the summer, it is an entirely different story and I want a delicious iced coffee  to keep me cool while I dream of exotic vacations and escaping the reality of my mountains of laundry and cranky children. Does coffee let you escape too?

As the Indiana weather has begun to make it’s way towards Spring, I was anxious to finally give the cold brewed coffee technique a try from the New York Times.  This winter, I saved my Swagbucks and decided to buy myself a treat… a French Press that I could use in the evening for my decaf coffee. When Rachel highlighted her own cold brew technique using a French Press on Small Notebook (and then featured here), I had to put my little gadget to work and see what all of the fuss was about.

Traditionally, when I use my French press, I heat the water in my teapot and then add it to the grounds, steep it for about four minutes, and then plunge it to push the grounds down. With the cold brew technique, you just do everything wrong. You put in the grounds, add cold water, don’t plunge it for an entire night, add more water, and then finally plunge it for your iced brew. To be honest, it looks like really watery coffee sludge and you wonder if you just wasted your coffee and a moment of effort to pull it together.

I then poured it and mixed mine up with almost half skim milk and a generous little shake of caramel coffee syrup and excitedly went in for a taste. The taste? Coffee perfection! There is no bitterness and no coffee edge at all.  It just tastes like a delicious coffee that you would get at the fancy coffee joints, but only costs pennies versus dollars!

After I made a coffee for myself, the next day I made one for my grandmother. If you don’t believe me that it was good, perhaps seeing the two of us ladies rushing over to Target that-very-instant to buy a French press so she could easily replicate the coffee at home, our fun discussion dissecting the recipe and what could be done with it, and then talking about how delicious it was for an hour just might convince you.

Really though, a French press is not required for this technique, in fact, you could just use a coffee filter and a jar, if you don’t want to make the purchase. If you are in the market to buy one, I recommend one that has a second mesh filter around the lip (as pictured above) to give your coffee an extra strain. Should you use the medium grind coffee, as recommended by the manufacturer, you might not need this additional strainer as much. If you are like me though and choose to use the coffee you already use every other day of the week (which is most definitely not always freshly ground) then that extra little strainer might come in handy. The one pictured here is the BonJour Hugo ($19.12).

As an aside, I have made my own coffee syrups and also have bought them. It really depends on how motivated you are, but I love to have a variety of them when I have my girlfriends over for coffee. I am all about the coffee shop experience on a pauper’s budget, and syrups are one of those things that make my coffee brewed at home feel a little more special.

The best deal I have found on them has been at the wholesale club. Our local Sam’s Club (our area does not offer a variety of wholesale clubs, unfortunately for price comparison purposes) offers a 25.4 ounce container of gourmet coffee syrups for $4.42. Basically, for the price of one of those expensive caramel coffees, you can make a few dozen of them. The prices in the grocery store typically are much higher so if you are going to buy them, definitely put your membership card to work on this purchase and peruse the aisles for affordable coffee too!


Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee (Recipe Courtesy of The New York Times)

1/3 cup ground coffee (medium-coarse grind is best)

Milk (optional).

In a jar, stir together coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours. Strain twice through a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth. In a tall glass filled with ice, mix equal parts coffee concentrate and water, or to taste. If desired, add milk.

For the French press: Place 1/3 cup of ground coffee in the bottom and add 1 1/2 cups water. Allow to sit overnight without pushing down the plunger. The next morning, add 1 more cup of water. Add milk as desired and coffee syrup as desired. Stir and serve.

For more great coffee tips and tricks for savings, be sure to visit, “A Frugal Mom’s Guide to Good Coffee.”  I told you, I am so passionate about this topic!


To clean your French press– Keeping your French press clean is quick and easy. First, dump the grounds in your trash can and not down your sink. You may want to trust me on this, but even with the best garbage disposals it can create a big mess and clog your drain. I use a spoon and scoop as much as I can out of the bottom before giving it a wash.

Most French presses can be placed into the dishwasher for easy cleaning on the top rack. If you are worried though, don’t hesitate to give it a quick wash by hand (using just a tiny bit of dish soap). For the unbreakable plastic variety, a little shake of baking soda and water is an ideal way to get it clean. Allow it to air dry or gently towel dry it, if you are trying to avoid the spotting. However you clean it, put it to good use and make it earn its keep in your cupboards!

What are some ways that you save on your coffee experience? Any tips or tricks for cutting the cost on your daily brew?