Gumdrop Wreath

I first made a gumdrop wreath in college.  It was an idea from a Martha Stewart magazine of course.

It was actually quite fun to do with my kids.  Bridget is 4-1/2 and was able to really help.

We used small cutters to cut the toothpicks in half (it would be quite difficult to break in half as suggested by MS.)

It is important that you use the round larger toothpicks because the small flat kind are not strong enough to hold on the gumdrops, which are a heavy candy.

It is also important that the point end of the toothpick go into the wreath.  If you use the end that you cut, it does not grip the styrofoam.

We are celebrating advent this year by using both the traditional advent wreath with five candles and a Jesse tree.  Each night we light our candles and remember what each one represents and then we hang our ornament on our Jesse Tree (or in our case faux white branches from C&B.)  The children get to eat a chocolate gold coin while we read the corresponding scripture for each ornament to remind us that God’s word is sweet and worth more than gold (and to get them to sit still.)  I am excited because even though they are young (two and four) they completely understand that we are getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus and that he came to bring light in the darkness.

While we still have fun with the spirit of Santa, Paddy is expecting a baby Jesus to show up Christmas morning.  Speaking of Paddy, he took me by surprise and completely potty trained himself recently.  He also had his first haircut. The  picture below  will explain why I finally had to do it. . .


fall yumminess

I am loving this beautiful fall we are having, and I am finding myself making the two below recipes multiple times each week.

The Chai recipe comes from a dear friend from Oak Park and I love how my kitchen smells when I make it.

Chai recipe

4-5 cinnamon sticks (each 3″), broken
1 vanilla bean, split in half or 2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 whole nutmeg, coarsely chopped
6-8 cardamom pods (1 teaspoon whole seeds may be used)
3 whole star anise, roughly broken
2-4 tablespoons finely shredded ginger (I use 1 teaspoon ginger powder)
3 black peppercorns, bruised
3 whole cloves
pinch of sea salt
6 cups filtered water

place all ingredients in a stockpot and bring to a boil

reduce heat to low and simmer for 25-30 minutes. strain through a fine strainer or sieve. If there is a lot of sediment try straining through a strainer or sieve lined with cheesecloth.  The brew may be simmered longer to reduce volume and concentrate flavor.

Note: the spices may be used again for a second batch, reducing the water by half

Makes 1 quart

Chai Tea

2 cups chai spice concentrate
2 tea bags (green, white or black tea)
2 Tablespoons honey
2 cups milk of your choice

In a saucepan, bring the chai spice concentrate to a boil and turn off heat.  Steep the tea bags in the concentrate for 3-5 minutes.

Remove tea bags and squeeze out any liquid into the tea. Stir in honey to taste, add milk.  Warm over medium-low heat until piping hot.

caramel sauce

1 cup sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream

in a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and 1/3  cup water over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.

Using a pastry brush, coat the walls of the saucepan with water to melt any sugar on the sides.  Increase the heat to high and cook, undisturbed, until amber-colored, about 5 minutes.  (I let it cook longer until it is more burnt, for more of a burnt caramel taste).

wearing oven mitts, slowly stir in 2 tbsp cream, 1 at a time. Using a wooden spoon, stir the remaining cream into the caramel.  Cook, stirring over low heat until combined, about 3 minutes.

This recipe goes great with freshly picked apples.  Apple picking is on of my favorite fall family traditions.  Our orchard of choice is Stuckey’s (which is where my parents took me when I was a child).  We also plan on checking out Tuttle’s this year after I run the Indianapolis mini marathon at Fort Ben in two weeks. . .

Jell-O Jigglers

Lately, we have been doing a lot of craft kits in the afternoons.  They are great to have around, but not nearly as fun or creative as a craft you make up or have to gather your own supplies for. You could consider this idea a recipe or a craft, I am pretty sure it is both. . .

Jell-O is one of those items we always seem to have on hand, even though we rarely make it and my kids don’t even really enjoy eating it.

I discovered a few boxes in my pantry recently and was inspired to make jigglers with my children.  In a former life I worked for Kraft Foods in their test kitchens and had the privilege of taking “Jell-O 101” class.

It is an easy recipe for the kids to help open the boxes, dump and mix- although you need to be careful with boiling water.  We also love the intense smell that the Jell-O has.  We used strawberry and it smells just like a Strawberry Shortcake doll!

By far the most fun is letting the children choose the cookie cutters and press them into the firm, but jiggly Jell-O. We had friends over when we cut the jigglers out.  They loved playing with them and it made quite a sticky mess.


the great thaw

I know it is not spring, but Bridget thinks it is and after the past couple of days I know I can survive until it does come.  My children enjoyed splashing in the puddles as the ice finally melted.


It also helped that B and I got out of Dodge last week when we were having the bitter cold weather.  We jetted to San Francisco to visit my sister.  They have a meyer lemon tree in their backyard and one of the first things we did was make lemonade.  Nothing tastes better than fresh homemade lemonade.




Homeade Lemonade

  • make simple syrup (1/1 ratio of sugar and water) : boil 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar and let cool
  • squeeze about 2 cups of lemon juice
  • Combine simply syrup and lemon juice and pour over ice and add 3-4 cups of water to taste

Bridget sometimes will find a lemon in the fridge and squeeze the juice into her play pitcher and add sugar and water and mix it all up- it always tastes yummy!

I have to say it was extra fun making the lemonade in a kitchen that looks like this

Because we were feeling so springy today, we made a butterfly craft.  The idea actually came from a craft  saw on the oriental trading company website.

We simply painted an old toilet paper roll added googly eyes, a pipe cleaner antennae, and some tissue paper wings.


I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob

Today is my husband, Patrick’s birthday.  The kids and I decorated these ridiculously cute cupcakes for him.

We got the decorating idea from my daughter’s Your Big Backyard magazine she receives from the National Wildlife Federation.  We started getting Animal Baby for her when she was two, and now Paddy gets Animal Baby and Bridget gets the “big girl” magazine.  The quality of the magazines is top-notch and the kids LOVE getting mail.  I even caught Patrick reading Your Big Backyard, and when I teased him that it was for 4-7 year olds, he said, “I like pictures of animals too!” 

Also one of my most favorite items is this cupcake carrier. It used to be such a pain to store and transport cupcakes, but not anymore!

In the spirit of all things domestic, I snapped this photo of my 18 month year old son vacuuming with his man bag.  My husband loves to vacuum and so does Paddy.

Snow, Snow Globes and Scones

I love snowy days when we have absolutely nowhere to be or go.

Today was one of those lovely days where the kids stayed in their pajamas most of the day.  We lounged around the house, our next door neighbors stopped by for a bit, and I tried to bask in the yoga pant/sweatshirt/dry-shampoo hair day glory of being a mom of young children.

I have always loved to bake, and I already see that love in my daughter as she measures and talks about what ingredients go into a recipe.  I really love to bake on cold winter days when there is no immediate need to wash the dishes.  (Dishes are the only reason why I don’t bake every day.)  Today we made these delicious scones.  This recipe was given to me by a dear church lady that attended the moms Bible study I used to go to in Oak Park- it is super yummy and super easy to make, and I usually have all of the ingredients on hand.

Cranberry, Walnut and Lemon Scones

  • 1 cup, plus 2 Tbsp sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, divided
  •  3 cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ cup (1-1/2 sticks) chilled butter, diced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup (or more) chilled half and half (I have used milk and it turns out fine)
  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF and line baking sheet with parchment (you can also spray with no-stick spray if you don’t have parchment)

  3. Whisk together 2 Tbsp sugar and 1 Tbsp lemon juice for the glaze and set aside.
  4. Blend together flour, baking powder, lemon zest, salt and 1 cup sugar in large bowl.
  5. Add butter and using fingertips, rub until a course meal forms. Mix in cranberries and walnuts.
  6. Add half and half and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice. Toss with a fork until dough comes together, adding more half and half if dough is dry (sometimes I add a little more lemon juice).
  7. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half. Press out each half on a floured surface to 6-inch diameter (1-inch high). Cut each round into 6 wedges. Transfer to baking sheet and brush with glaze.
  8. Bake until golden and tester comes out clean, about 18 minutes.

Makes some hot tea, turn on Pride and Prejudice and enjoy!

Snow Globe Fun

Bridget and I also made a snow globe today.  I originally got the idea from a parenting magazine email.  Their site has lots of great craft and recipe ideas that are pretty easy.  I googled how to make a snow globe and there are lots of sites that list how to do it, and I found this video on YouTube that was pretty helpful.

Baby food jars are perfect, but we were using a larger Tinkerbell cake topper, so we used a slightly larger glass jar.  The white glitter I had on hand was flaky and you could not see it in the water, so we used gold glitter (so not really snowy, but more fairy dusty).  I found the liquid glycerin in the face moisturizing section at the CVS and I used super glue to glue the figurine on the lid and let it dry overnight.

The key things to remember (especially when making with small children) are to glue the figurine on ahead of time and to also make sure you have distilled water (we used boiled tap water).  I forgot to make the water in advance, so Bridget had to wait for the boiled water to cool in the fridge.

A really fun, super quick and easy craft that can be customized many different ways . . . so save those baby food jars!

Happy Birthday

Today is my nephew’s fourth birthday.  After taking a basic applique sewing class last year, I decided to practice my new skills and applique a few t-shirts for Bridget’s birthday with the number 3 and a robot (last year’s birthday theme). B loved her t-shirts so much, I decided to do it again this year.

Both my nephew and B love batman, so this year I made this t-shirt for both of them .

Custom made t-shirts, especially for birthdays are fun and the kids love them, but they can be very expensive.  I simply buy a pack of Hanes white t-shirts  and use whatever scraps of fabric I have lying around. For this t-shirt, I simply used felt and cut out a batman logo that I found online.  I used a straight stitch and outlined the logo first and then the number to secure them to the t-shirt.

Also because this blog is about cooking too:

 Favorite Cake recipe

(seriously that is the official name of the recipe!)

This recipe is from an old cookbook that my grandmother and mother used.  I never remember my mom ever using a cake mix when I was growing up.

Makes: 2, 8-inch round cakes  (because 8-inch is so hard to find, I usually increase the recipe by half for 9-inch rounds, see increases in parentheses)

Baking Time: about 30 minutes @ 375º F

  • 2 cups cake flour (you can use AP) (3 cups)
  • 3 tsp baking powder (1 Tbsp + 1 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup oil (3/4 cup)
  • 1 cup sugar (1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 tsp salt (1-1/2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (1-1/2 tsp)
  • 2 eggs (3)
  • 3/4 cup milk (1 cup + 2 Tbsp)

1. Sift Flour and Baking Powder together and set aside

2. Cream Oil, Sugar, Salt and Vanilla.  Add Eggs one at a time until will mixed.

3. Add  Flour mixture  to Oil mixture, alternating with Milk, flour first and last, until well blended. In other words, add a little of the flour, then a little of the milk, then a little flour, than a little milk, etc.  (this prevents the cake from being tough from over mixing the flour)

4. Pour into greased pans (I prefer to spray mine with a  non-stick spray with flour, like Baker’s Joy) and bake at 375 ºF

5. Test with a toothpick or this cute cake tester to see if it is done (it should come out clean).

I usually bake with my children, they love to measure, mix and pour.  It usually makes a bigger mess and sometimes there is a little extra of an ingredient, but it is always worth it (at least most of the time anyways).

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