Monday, September 29, 2014

Owl Toast: Quick, Easy, & Healthy!

We seem to be obsessed with owls these days! We did a fun owl craft two weeks ago which my boys still love playing with.  This morning, I was at a loss for breakfast ideas and wanted something quick and healthy. We've done Teddy Bear Toast from one of my favorite sites, Weelicious. I thought, why not try owl toast? It was easy and such a hit!


To make your own, take a slice of your favorite bread, toast, and cover in the nut butter of your choice (we like peanut butter or sun butter).  Then add:

Eyes: 2 slices of banana & a raisin for each pupil.
Nose: Raisin
Wings: Clementine orange section.
Feet: I took an apple and first sliced it with my favorite apple slicer (affiliate link).  Then I cut 2 thin pieces off a slice for the feet.

I tossed the rest of my apple, banana, & orange sections together for a little fruit salad on the side. Simple and delicious!  Enjoy!

Monday, September 22, 2014

10 Delicious Pumpkin Dinners

It's officially Fall! This is hands down my favorite season. I love cooking with fall flavors and nothing is better than pumpkin. Not only does it add a delicious autumn flavor to your food but it is also a great way to add more fiber, Vitamin A (for your eyes!) and beta-carotene to your diet. And bonus for the moms out there - you can often add it into dishes that your kids will eat.

I've collected quite a few pumpkin recipes over the years and would love to share them with you. Since I use my slow cooker A LOT, many of these dinners can be adapted for the crock pot. I've noted how I've adapted them for slow cooker use below. Also, I am very into freezer meals these days, and many of these are good for freezing too! If you're new to freezer meals, check out this post for my tips and most recent menu list.


My Top 10 Pumpkin Dinner Recipes:

1.  Pumpkin Black Bean Soup (allrecipes.com). This is a Fall tradition in my house. It is so good and comforting on a chilly day. I do a few modifications and make this in the slow cooker.  I use apple cider vinegar instead of sherry vinegar, and I cut down the broth to about 2 cups. You can always add more to get the consistency to your liking. I use vegetable broth instead of beef, and omit the ham.  This recipe makes a lot of soup but it also freezes well.  Serve with a nice crusty bread and a green salad, yum!

2.
 Pumpkin Sausage Lasagna (Rachael Ray). I remember watching Rachael make this on her show and making it myself the next day. It was absolutely delicious! This is a wonderful recipe for a Fall dinner party or perhaps a get together before trick or treating.

3.  Ravioli with Pumpkin Sauce (food.com).  Similar to the lasagna but not as time consuming and a little more versatile. With cheese or spinach ravioli it makes a great vegetarian meal, or you can add some sausage or cooked chicken as well.

4.  Pumpkin Tomato Sauce (about.com).  This is a lighter alternative to the creamier sauce above. It cooks beautifully in the slow cooker. I have used it as a freezer meal with ravioli but it would be yummy over any of your favorite pasta.

5.  Pumpkin Maple Pulled Pork (tablespoon.com). This is so good. It's another great freezer meal and a delicious alternative to barbecued pork.

6.  Turkey Pumpkin Chili (Whole Foods). I make this in the crockpot and it can also be a freezer meal.  Just cook your ground turkey first, then place all ingredients in the slow cooker. I use chicken broth instead of water for more flavor. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or high for 2-3 hours.

7.  Pumpkin Pizza Crust (Take a Megabite). We have Pizza Friday in our house, and I've experimented with a few different takes on crust. This one is tasty and fun! Use your favorite toppings.

8.  Pumpkin Quesadillas (Rachael Ray). This is a quick, easy recipe when you're looking for something light. I love this with a hearty tomato soup and a crisp green salad.

9.  Chicken & Pumpkin Goulash (allrecipes.com). I always think Goulash sounds like something awful when it really is so tasty. This is another easy one to adapt to the slow cooker or freezer - just dump everything in, set it and go!

10. Pumpkin Sloppy Joes (Taste of Home). These are technically called Pumpkin Burgers but they are more like sloppy joes. I like to make these with ground turkey. They are great to make in the slow cooker for a football Sunday - just keep them warm and help yourselves.  To adapt to the crock pot, just brown the meat first, put all the ingredients in the crock pot, and cook for 4-6 hours on low or 2-3 hours on high.

And if you still need a little more pumpkin for dessert... how about 2 ingredient pumpkin cookies? I love these cookies from Wannabite. I cheat and add a little vanilla so it's technically 3 ingredients for me. These are so easy and perfect for a little sweet treat after dinner or an afternoon snack.

Happy Fall!



Friday, September 19, 2014

Creative Inspiration: Hunka Junk

So I'm sure you've heard Star Wars Episode VII is filming, but what you may not have is it's director JJ Abrams has been having a friendly social media war with Zack Snyder, the director of another highly anticipated big franchise film, Superman Vs Batman. Both their camps have been going back and forth posting images "mashing up" the two franchises.

Well, as far as I'm concerned, Abrams wins with this video.

As much fun and brief as the clip is, what really thrills and inspires me is the overall attention to detail and love that the set craftsman have obviously poured into recreating the Millenium Falcon. I've watched this a hundred times. Every bolt, rivet, pipe, gizmo, greeble, and chipped section of paint was obviously made with care. Especially when, odds are, most of it will never be seen up close.

Halloween Window Silhouettes 2014

Last year I drew up Halloween window silhouette templates for all to swipe and use in your decor. There were Witches, Maniacs, and Zombies. This year is no different, I'm working on a few new series to share. Look for Spiders, Aliens, and Mythical Monsters posted here soon.

In the meantime, here's the first spider to grab and use if you so desire. Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Felt Owl Busy Bag Activity/Fall Craft Project




My boys are in love with owls right now. I suspect it has something to do with their new fascination with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood or the plethora of Fall decor in stores, but they can't get to seem to get enough. They are also really into puzzles and crafts, so I thought I'd combine it all into this easy busy bag activity.

This is easy to put together and works great as part of a busy bag. It's like a felt owl version of Mr. Potato Head!  Toddlers and preschoolers will have lots of fun building their owls and taking them apart again. Here's what you need:

  • One sheet of sticky backed felt (this will be the body)
  • Various colors of felt for the wings, nose, and feet
  • Googly eyes (mine were 1.5" diameter)
  • Velcro
  • Optional Cardboard or Clipboard
To make your owl, first download this owl pattern from Sew Simple.  I used this for the body and feet.  Cut out the body and trace it onto your sticky backed felt. Cut out your shape.  

Cut out the feet shape and trace onto the colored felt of your choice. Cut out.

Cut a small square of colored felt for the nose.

Cut 2 teardrop shapes for the wings. Mine were about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide.

Cut a small square of velcro for the backs of each googly eye. Stick the square with the rougher hook side to the back of the eye like this:



This will allow it to adhere to the felt.

Here's what your pieces will look like:


And here's what it looks like when put together:


You have several options from here. You can leave it as is - your toddler will have a blast taking the features off and putting them back on! Mine were thoroughly entertained by this.


I found the sticky backed felt to be pretty sturdy, but you can always cut out a second owl body shape from cardboard and stick it to the back. 

Or, if you'd like to have a larger piece, I've created a background design that you can stick your owl to. This comes in handy if you'd like to attach it to a clipboard or hang on an easel.


You can find and print the background here

We use this as a re-usable busy bag activity, but of course if you'd like to make a more permanent craft feel free! You should be able to adhere the felt pieces with mod podge. It would make a great gift from your little ones.

Photobucket

Enjoy!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Halloween 2014 - Universal Set Haunt

Pretty excited.

With a little pushing, nagging, and general creative ranting from their humble propmaster, Home and Family producers are now inspired to go all out decorating the set's front yard in true Halloween haunter fashion based on a rough design sketch of mine. The entire month of October will feature weekly DIY segments creating it!

Some projects will be Halloween yard 101 to inspire possible new haunter's. Some will be advanced. Some will be a few old personal haunt projects once posted here redone with a fresh spin and a better tutorial, that I hope bridge 101 and advanced. I guess that means, those would be medium skill then.

Here's the best part for me. We're on the Universal backlot, the trams drive by everyday, the big Universal Halloween Horror Night mazes are close by. So the Home and Family yard display will be connected in a third cousin twice removed kind of way, sort of. Don't crush my delusions of grandeur.

The whole plan will be revealed on the show airing Oct 1st, but here's a sneak peek of the current design sketch. Oh yes, that's a crashed UFO, the one personal Halloween project I never did finish will happen. Producer approved, so it has to now.


Monday, September 15, 2014

13 Freezer Meals in 2 hours!


I love my crock pot. Seriously, my family would not have eaten for the first year of my twins' lives without it. Now that I have discovered freezer meals I love it even more.

If you haven't tried this, do it. It is not that hard if you prepare well and you will be so happy when you don't have to cook dinner for weeks at a time. Yesterday I made 13 meals in 2 hours - one nap time for the boys and now I won't have to worry about dinner for at least 3 weeks (since there's 2 adults and 2 toddlers in our house these meals pretty much always leave enough for leftovers).

I've done this a few times now so let me share some of my tips to make it easier and my menu list for this batch. I wanted to use a lot of fresh produce that I had on hand from my CSA and my garden, and  try out some very Fall flavors.

The basics. Here's the general idea of freezer cooking - you put together your meals, uncooked (with some exceptions), in gallon sized freezer bags. Bags are labeled with the meal name, cooking time, and any instructions.  Freeze flat. Then when you are ready to cook a meal, thaw overnight, dump the entire bag in the crockpot, and go about your day. That's it!

Preparation is key.
The first couple of times I did this it took me quite a while to decide what to make and collect my recipes. I've done that here for you! When I'm deciding on a batch of meals, I start with meat. I decide how many meals I'm going to make with each type of meat (based usually on what is on sale). I also like to have at least 2 vegetarian options.

I made these meals with 8 pounds of pork roast, 8 pounds of chicken (boneless skinless breasts but you can change to your preference), and 3 pounds of ground turkey.

I also choose my recipes based on what fresh produce I have and want to use - we get CSA vegetables for part of the year, so I always have a lot of veggies on hand.

Once you've decided on your recipes, print them all out. I keep all the recipes for each type of meat together to make it easier when assembling.

I also like to make a list of my ingredients - I take a big sheet of paper and make 3 columns - "Pantry" "Produce" and "Spices". Then when it's time to make my meals I can easily make sure I have everything and get it all out on the counter before I start.



Making Your Meals.
First, start with clear countertops and empty your sink, trash can, and dishwasher. You're going to need all the space you have.

Label gallon sized freezer bags with the name of the meal, cooking time, and anything that needs to be added (I generally only pick meals that are all inclusive, but occasionally I need to add some water or broth on cooking day).

I sort my recipes by type of meat so I can assemble all the chicken meals at once, pork meals at once, etc.

Chop all your veggies first.
If you have a food processor, use it. It will go so much faster!

Do vegetarian meals first. This will reduce your risk of contamination from any uncooked meats.

If you are doing ground turkey/beef meals that need to be cooked, do it in the microwave.  This is a time saver and you can do other things while it's cooking. You are really only cooking the meat so that you can drain the fat, not so that it is nice and browned. At least that's my opinion, especially for things like chili and soups.

Put your gallon freezer bags in a big bowl while filling them. This will help them stand up straight and catch any spills.

Put a cookie sheet in your freezer and lay your bags flat on top. Otherwise your bottom bag will end up smushed and hard to remove from the shelf.

With the exception of the ground turkey, nothing in my list of meals needs to be cooked ahead of time. Just follow the recipes, put all the ingredients in the freezer bag, and seal. That's it!

Fall Flavors Freezer Meal List:

Chicken
Chicken Broccoli Alfredo (Six Sisters' Stuff)
Chicken with Apple & Sweet Potato (Stockpiling Moms)
Sweet Teriyaki Chicken
Peanut Butter BBQ Chicken (I modified this one for the crockpot. Use all the ingredients except the olive oil. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours).

Pork
Pumpkin Maple Pulled Pork (I made 2 of these because it sounded so good).
Thai Peanut Pork (Who Needs A Cape) This is my husband's favorite meal. It is also absolutely delicious with chicken. I add a bag of frozen broccoli as well.
BBQ Applesauce Pork (Mommy's Fabulous Finds)

Ground Turkey
Pumpkin Turkey Chili (Whole Foods) I made 2 of these and adapted this one as well. Omit the olive oil. Cook the ground turkey, then place all ingredients except the 1 cup of water in your bag and freeze. Be sure to label your bag to add the water (I add chicken broth for more flavor) before cooking.

Italian Turkey Soup (Our Best Bites). Modified for freezer meal - omit olive oil. Cook the ground turkey, then place all ingredients except chicken broth in your bag and freeze. Add broth before cooking.

Vegetarian
Butternut Squash Chili (Stockpiling Moms)
Ravioli with Pumpkin-Tomato Sauce - I added one package of cheese ravioli to this sauce recipe. Cook on low for 3 hours.

That's the list! I also print out a list of the meals that I have in the freezer and hang it in my kitchen command center (more on that later). I check off the meals as we eat them and then I know when it's time to start planning again.

Now sit back and enjoy the Fall flavors!




Sunday, September 14, 2014

Christmas in July

A couple of months back the show I'm working on in cahoots with Hallmark (promoting their new line of ornaments for the year) decided to celebrate Christmas in July for a week.

Here's a video featuring my crew and I transforming our set for the occasion in only a couple of days including a blanket of REAL snow, on top of the fake blanket we put down.


Getting Into The Halloween Spirit

I'm doodling.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pajama Day

Today I did something I never do - I let the boys stay in their pajamas all day. And it was wonderful.


I'm not one of those moms that over schedules her kids. I believe in down time, and I think kids just need to relax and play. But we are busy, and it seems like lately we have been on the go nearly every day. Even those days when I plan for us to just stay home and relax something always seems to come up. Or I have a never ending to do list, laundry, dishes, dinner... you know the drill.

Today we had nothing on the calendar. It was hot and muggy with thunderstorms forecasted for the afternoon. We had a quiet morning, ate breakfast, watched some Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and then they started playing so nicely that I didn't want to interrupt them to get dressed. The morning quickly merged into lunchtime, and they were still in jammies. And happy as clams. We had lunch. Then they went down for nap. And I took a nap too. This is such a rarity and it was glorious.

Our lazy day continued after nap time. We wrestled and laughed our heads off, baked cookies, watched a movie (sort of), looked out the window at the rain, read books, colored... just an all around great day.

My to do list is still sitting on the kitchen table from this morning. There's two baskets of laundry still waiting to be folded.  There are dishes in the sink. But more importantly, there are two happy toddlers who have been smiling and laughing all day - and I have been present and enjoying every minute of it.

I'm writing this to remind myself that sometimes it's OK just to stay in your PJs. It's better than OK, it's important. And really fun. And what family is all about.

Today was a good day. Even though it rained.

Easy DIY Coloring Pages for Toddlers





My boys have really gotten into art lately. They love to color but regular coloring books are just too small and too detailed for them right now. And they can get expensive! I decided to make our own coloring pages instead using floor paper and cookie cutters. These are perfect for little ones - big, simple, and can be customized to their favorite things.

I used our Crayola Floor Pad (affiliate link) for these, but any large paper will work.

The shapes are from my Wilton Cookie Cutter Set (affiliate link). I have had these for years (before I had kids!) and I use them for so many things!

All you do is trace the shapes onto the paper. Trace with pencil first then go over your outlines in marker. I also found tracing inside the cookie cutter was easier.


You can pick your child's favorite things - we did vehicles and animals because that's all the rage around here now. I like that the shapes are just simple outlines, and bigger kids can use them as a starting point to add in their own details. My set has holiday shapes as well, so these can make great Halloween and Christmas projects too.

Have fun!

This post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission if you purchase through these links, but the content is not sponsored.  Disclosure Policy

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Bread



One more treat from our sweet potato bounty. I love using food that we have grown ourselves!

We made this for breakfast but it would make a perfect afternoon snack too. The bread is not too sweet and it's very filling. The peanut butter gives a bit of extra protein and the sweet potato sneaks in some veggies! It's delicious by itself but would be very tasty with butter or cream cheese too.

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Bread
by Laura
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25-60 minutes
Ingredients (1 standard or 3 mini loaves)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup mashed sweet potato (approx. 1 medium)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice.
Using a hand mixer, add in egg, sweet potato, milk, peanut butter and vanilla. Mix until well combined. Dough will be very thick, almost like a cookie dough.
Place batter into greased loaf pan (I use mini loaves because I'm feeding toddlers. This made 3 mini loaves or it will make one standard sized loaf).
Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 mins for standard sized loaf, or 25-30 mins for mini loaves.
Loaves also freeze for quick breakfast or snacks later!
Powered by Recipage

Enjoy!

Adapted from Peanut Butter Bread.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sweet Potato French Toast Sticks

We've had a bounty of sweet potatoes in our garden this year! They are so versatile and healthy, and my kids love them.


This morning I decided to use some for breakfast and the results were delicious. I'm happy to share this recipe for Sweet Potato French Toast Sticks!


This recipe was adapted from Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (affiliate link).  I've had this cookbook for years and to be honest, the recipes can be a little hit or miss. But the beginning section on how to prepare different vegetables for pureeing is excellent and it does give you a good idea of how to get started incorporating more vegetables into your meals. Here's my version of Sweet Potato French Toast Sticks.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup cooked sweet potato (about 1/2 of a medium-large sweet potato)
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
4 slices bread of your choosing (I used whole wheat)
Butter (or coconut oil if you prefer to go dairy free)

Directions:

Mash sweet potato in a shallow dish. It doesn't need to be perfectly smooth. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice.  



Cut each piece of bread into 3 sticks.


Soak each bread stick in the egg mixture for about 30 seconds. Be sure to coat both sides.

Melt butter or coconut oil in a large griddle or skillet. Add your bread sticks and cook until golden, about 3 minutes per side.



Serve with maple syrup for dipping, or sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes 12 sticks.

Leftovers freeze well but I would recommend reheating in the toaster oven. I haven't tried it but I think they will become soggy in the microwave.

These are not too sweet so they make a great afternoon snack as well. Enjoy!