A Party You Can Eat.

Christmas is not only the time to decorate obnoxiously or pretend like all of a sudden you can sing like Mariah because it is a Christmas song, but it is also for treats treats treats.  I mean I am sorry, but Halloween candy has nothing on the myriad of delightful yummies that come out doing our country’s favorite holiday. And what goodie is most associated with Christmas…….if you guessed a gingerbread house, then you are correct!  I mean, come on, a house made of food?  What else is there?

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Of course I turned what could have been just a simple, sweet moment of decorating the little house with my boys into a mad house of loud, wild, school aged children hopped up on sugar; twenty-one children to be exact.  What was I thinking, obviously I wasn’t.  But you know what, it actually turned out great  thanks to the amazing moms that helped me out (Kristi, Sarah, Michelle, Stephanie C.,  and Nicole).

I have been wanting to do this for a couple of years now ever since my neighbor Sarah invited my eldest to her daughter’s gingerbread party.  I had it all planned out and the best part about the whole thing was the decorations were already there (you can see my blog post on Christmas decorations).  I just needed tables, chairs, and the tools for the houses.

I went with the simplest method and the least amount of gingerbread aka graham crackers possible, 4 per house.  Some people online chose to use hot glue to assemble their house, which is likely more efficient and stable, but on the slight chance that some “Curious George” would try to eat the house I decided it would be better to go with the traditional Royal icing (you can find the recipe on the container of meringue powder or you can buy pre-mixed which can be found on Amazon).  I started with the pre-mixed, just add water package from Amazon, but it was used up quite quickly so I went old school (powdered sugar and meringue powder).   Because I needed so much of it, I copied the Amazon packing idea and pre-made the dry mix the night before and put it in Ziploc gallon bags and just added water as needed the next day.

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A few tips:

  1.  Royal icing dries out quickly so keep it covered in plastic or be prepared to keep adding water.
  2. To fill the baggies, place baggie in cup and fold over edges.
  3. Tie baggies in knot and don’t cut the corners until right before the kids are ready to start decorating
  4. Royal Icing can be made as thin as a glaze or thick as glue so add water slowly when you want it in glue form which is the case for this project
  5. You can put the icing on a plate for assembling the houses and just dip the edges of the graham cracker into it. (That idea came from my mother in-law who helped me knock 24 houses out in no time.  Thanks Oma!)
  6. If they don’t look perfect (who cares really) you can add extra icing to the flawed edges and just call it “extra snow”

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I also made 2 – Ingredient homemade hot chocolate and white hot chocolate (that wasn’t ready until after guests went home).  Just chocolate morsels and milk.  O.k. o.k. I added vanilla and a bit of powdered sugar because I used semi-sweet chocolate chips.

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It was so amazing watching those kids take to decorating like architects.  I mean they were no joke.  I am pretty sure 60% of the children made houses that would make mine look like a child did it.  Then, of course, there were the kids who were building a house in their stomachs.  It was a fun site.  I decorated the table with my favorite go to construction paper roll which I have had for 3 years.  And let’s just take a moment of silence as this event pretty much finished my roll…………..o.k. silence over.  I used that last little bit of some leftover wrapping paper as a runner and it added a candy cane seal to my simplistic layout.

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Finally, who would I be if I had a party without baked goods.  I found some amazing recipes on my Pinterest and in my newest obsession, Southern Living.  I made 3 different types of cookies, one of which was fancy and cursed myself when I began adding the fine detailed holly to that cookie (it was really delish) and totally hijacked a batch of sugar cookies Oma made for my children (Oma saved me again!).  As a prize for eating and decorating with candy, they got cookies!  Oh yeah, I sent kids home on a cloud made of jumping jelly beans. It was a wonderful sugar-filled day.

 

*Photography by Stephanie Chesboro

 

 

 

Christmas Exploded In My House and It’s Not As Expensive As You Think

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At this point the Christmas decorations are pretty much done and unless I manage to create some magical wormhole where I am able to freeze time and just sit and create some additional holiday designs to add to my house, I am very unlikely to add anything else.  But that’s o.k. because I walk through my house every day like a kid in an FAO Schwartz inspired candy store (does that exist?).  It is so well deserved because this was a year in the making.  Oh yes, I had to wait a whole year to finally get my Christmas explosion.

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Christmas 2015 I moped through my rusty box of decorations that had been purchased through the years at the dollar store or some scrap bin and I didn’t spend a dime.  O.k. well maybe a dime.  I was uninspired and unenthused, but it was all for good reason.  I knew as soon as the holiday was over and those 60%+ off signs went up at my favorite go to stores (Michael’s, Target), I would knock over grannies to get what I want.  And that is exactly what I did.  No, I didn’t really knock over grannies but I huddled over my cart like a little old lady as I sped through aisles of decor from Christmas past.  I mean I was buying things I never thought I could because there was no way in hell I was spending some of those crazy prices on ornaments or garland, but at 70% off it was more my budget.

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Let me just tell you, this is no sprint.  You have to be willing to go back for a week or more as they drop the prices each week.  I got things for as low as 80% off.  I was even able to purchase decor from Kirkland’s.  I am telling you, it was so worth it to wait.  I mean my house looks like I am one of those, no offense, crazy people that spend a fortune on Christmas decor and I spent only slightly more or the same as if I went shopping in the bargain bin at a discount store.

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As you can see my Rustic mind is still going strong.  I wanted to stick with that style so I have a lot of green and burlap.  And do not forget about the chalkboard.  I think I ended up getting those mini trees for $1 each from Target once they went down to $1.  Oh yeah, I recall now.  I took every single tree on the shelf and was walking away and a woman freaked out (she was like actually fussing) because she must have seen them before I got there.  I totally hid and ran off with my steal.  It was hilarious.

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So, if you want your home to look like Santa’s workshop but don’t have a basket ball wives’ budget just hold strong, stick with your minimalist Christmas decor this year and attack those shelves after the holiday and in one year, with patience, you will have the holiday home of your dreams.

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I am so proud of this tree.  It is pretty full for my standards and the ornaments were cheap pricing but not cheap quality.

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My First Rustic, Elegant, Spooky, All In The Name of My 6 Year Old, Halloween Decor

Last year my eldest son noticed Halloween decorations on the front door of our neighbor’s aka classmate’s aka friend’s house and shortly thereafter, the complaints began.  “When are we going to put our decorations up?  Why don’t we have any Halloween decorations?”  What I wanted to say was “When pigs Fly”,  “When that money tree I planted starts to fruit”?, but instead, I chose to put out a couple of cheap things from the dollar store just to keep him quiet as I don’t typically do Halloween decorations.  I don’t like the scary aspect of it for my kids and it can be…well…just creepy.  This year, I found a way to appease my child and kind of stick with my anti-evil Halloween by deciding to do bat-spider-black themed decor.  I mean, bats are a real thing and so are spiders and so they are not really spooky spooky and, well, black is just a color that looks cool.  Thanks to the Dollar Tree and Target’s $1 and $3 bins (although they have recently started sneaking in a $5 bin thinking I wouldn’t notice), I made a creation that could get anyone in the Halloween spirit.

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I love recycling.  The black birds are from the Dollar Tree and that beautiful manzanita branch is from our wedding.  That piece is so versatile.  The spider web-like material is something I bought for my son’s kindergarten Halloween party.  It is supposed to go on a table, but since there is no decoration police, I chose its place as I saw fit.

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I contemplated  removing my coat rack with all those coats distracting me then I realized if I removed the coats and covered it with a white sheet, it would serve as a ghost without really being a ghost so I refused to put eyes (at my kids and husband’s suggestion).

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The October 31 chalkboard sign was an idea I copied from the internet.  My freehand game is improving big time!

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I got so into the spirit, I swapped out my rustic picture frames for black frames sitting in my closet and framed Halloween-themed clip art printed on plain white paper.  I gave my self a pat on the back for that freebie piece of decor.

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This was definitely one of my most surprising decoration outcomes as I did not really plan it out and there was no stress involved.  I am even pretty sick so I  was dragging around moping as I finished off the final touches.  What started off as more of an obligation became a bit of a passion project that kind of left me in awe.  Happy Halloween!!!!

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The first 3rd birthday that really never was

There is a part of me that did not want to post this blog.  My youngest son was turning 3 and he was getting a birthday party for the first time.  I had the theme all ready and ideas began swirling right out of the gate.  I was so excited to be throwing another event since it had been almost a year, excluding the last minute Back to School get together I threw a couple of weeks ago for my eldest.  I thought I had so much time to get set up, I even became cocky about the whole thing.  I had counted my chickens, planned out how they would be cooked and everything.  The preparation week was off to an amazing start.  I had designed all of the signs and labels.  Two nights out I made the jellyfish which I thought looked awesome.  The afternoon before, I made the corn dogs, the cookies and the cupcakes.  Oh yes, this was it.  This was the party where I was finally going to execute every little detail that I had conjured up in my brain…….or so I thought.

Party day came out of nowhere, I overslept by 30 minutes and while hanging up the balloons (don’t get me started on those things) aka bubbles, a random wind decided to grace me with its presence.  I never thought I curse at the air, but on August 13th I was fist waving and cursing to the heavens.  For a brief moment, when the wind was soft and intermittent, I was able to bask in the joy of my creation then mother nature thought she’d have a great laugh and blow the bleep out of my under water paradise.

If that wasn’t challenging enough, the tablecloths I purchased created more like a tacky 80s wedding scene rather than an underwater explorer vibe you would expect from an Octonauts party so I had to run to the Dollar Tree.  Oh no, it gets better, of course it was 8:30 am and Dollar Tree doesn’t open until 9:00 am….of course.  I literally sat there calculating which option (running back home or staying and waiting) would maximize my time the most.  I decided to wait and stand at the door looking pitiful so maybe they would open it a bit earlier and it worked.  At 8:57 am, I found pity.  I ran through the store like a Super Market Sweep contestant and was out of there by 9:01 am because the register wouldn’t allow scans until 9:00 am. Ha!

Fast forward to about 1 hour before the party and I knew, at that point, I had been defeated.  Before I could capture a good shot of the underwater paradise, the wind blew my “bubbles” and jellyfish all over the place and I had given up on rearranging them.  My table settings blew onto the floor and somehow my “clear” (and I use that word loosely) balloons had turned opaque or freakin’ white and my cupcakes weren’t frosted. Ahhhhhh!

The good news, I still managed to play hostess.  The kids played the games.  My husband had finished enough of the playset for the kids to play and the kids seemed to have a great time.  But don’t worry, things didn’t turn fully around….Wal-mart sent us poison paper cups.  Yeah, the kids started complaining about the drinks and I decided to confirm with a taste test and almost puked.   Anyway, I did manage to capture glimpses of my creations so I thought I’d share.  The moral of this story, HIRE HIRE HIRE help and don’t order paper cups from Wal-mart!

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You can see my jelly fish hiding in the bubbles.  They were actually super easy to make and I chose to go with a more natural look rather than the colorful options you find online.

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I bought a bubble maker from Amazon which was a big hit.  It was one the few things that worked perfectly.

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The tablecloth and plates came from the Dollar Tree.  I actually screamed out loud when I found them.  The printing was shockingly good quality.

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This one is my favorite because Amazon had actual Octonaut themed goodie boxes that were like $7.99 for 4 and we know that wasn’t going to happen and I guess Amazon knew as well because at the bottom of the screen when you open the file for details, it suggested these plain white boxes that were  $7.50 for 12.  I bought those and printed the Octonaut emblem and a stick of glue later we have $0.70 boxes instead of $2 boxes.

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These are the items of which I am the most proud.  Esty, offers amazing printables for Octonaut themed parties, but when I got to this point, I was done spending money.  Fortunately for me, some awesome individual posted this image on Pinterest and I printed them out, took the advice I found on a forum and taped them right over the Aquafina label without batting an eye.  Side Note:  when printing things like this and the Octonaut logo, it is really good to create a table and insert the images.  It makes cutting much more simpler and uniform.

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I made the daring attempt at organized games and it worked a little bit.  It was more of a temporary distraction from the swing set.

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These are homemade.  I actually love making them especially since I know what type of meat (I use Oscar Meyer Selects) is being used and the contents of the breading.  Here is the recipe.  I used the cake pop sticks I bought from Michael’s.

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This is actually a toy.  I saw an amazing Octopod centerpiece online and thought, uh no.  I do not have the skill, time, nor the resources to make that so I went with a toy which serves as both a cupcake stand and his birthday gift.

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Typical 3 year old, stole a jelly fish.

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Happy 3rd Birthday C3!

An Old Fashioned Treat Gets a homemade maker-over

In an attempt to have one last get together for my son and his kindergarten mates before they transition to 1st grade.  I wanted to just do a little something with no bells and whistles.  No days and days of little sleep trying to execute some insane design my meddling brain created.  Just playing with water in the backyard or whatever they find around the house, pizza that will be delivered and homemade ice cream sandwiches.

I tried sooooooooo hard to be simple, but I mean, there had to be multiple flavors of ice cream and there HAD to be different cookie options so that there can be different sandwich combinations and how could they possible know what to pick without a menu and what kind of menu would it be if it wasn’t a chalkboard menu and how would they know it was a menu if I didn’t give it a title.  That is pretty much how my brain works and why things constantly spiral out of control.  Oh well, what’s done is done.  I kept it as simple as I am capable of keeping it and the kids had a blast.

Oh don’t worry, I will not conclude this post without talking about the treats that inspired this whole thing.

I am quite particular with the quality of food that my little monsters consume (until I am exhausted and you hear “Welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order”) so if I allow ice cream in the house, it is only with a label that says cream, sugar, and maybe 2 or 3 more ingredients that I am able to pronounce and don’t recognize from a reagent label at work.  Harris Teeter was having a buy 2 get 3 free on Turkey Hill (don’t ask me, it’s a brand they carry here in NC) so I thought, this is totally a sign that ice cream sandwiches are the way to go.  Next was deciding on which cookies, but before I even went there I had a matter of business to resolve.  My cookies have not been performing as well as I would like so I Googled and found some awesome tips that had my cookies looking and feeling like something from a professional bakery (taste has never been an issue).  Here are the tips:

  1.  All ingredients must be at room temperature (I have shared that one before)
  2. Beat butter and sugar for 3 – 5 minutes.  This is for real.  It gets that air inside so you have nice plump, fluffy cookies.
  3. Rotate you pans midway through cooking (change racks as applicable but also a 180°)
  4. Parchment paper!  – This is the best and most important tip I have ever used.  It made clean up a sinch.  Helped the cookies have a gorgeous color on the bottom, but also helped speed up my process as you are able to set cookies up on the parchment paper while one/two batches are in the oven!

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The cookies turned out the best I ever made.  I chose my go to chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies although no one chose that one, sugar cookies, and brown butter cinnamon with white chocolate chip.  You can see the combinations on the menu.

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The menu was such a fun touch, the kids were so excited and perplexed trying to decide which to choose.  One of the moms who stayed took orders and it was really like an Ice Cream Shoppe (what the h is a shoppe?).  I am pretty sure I enjoyed it the most as I, for a brief moment, got to experience having my own bakery without leaving my own home and the kids got a nice end to their summer break which I hope goes in their history books.

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The $4-1 hour Make-over I cannot believe!

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Every time I pull into my driveway, I would consider knocking down my lamp post.  I would literally stare it down like it was taunting me saying “ha ha, you don’t have time…you are going to have to deal with my atrocious appearance forever!”  I drive around  my neighborhood and I see these ebony black lamp posts with a flawless sheen.  It can add such a sophisticated glamour to your front yard, but if it is not well maintained, it can turn into a prop for a scene in a horror film.  You know, the broken down home that houses ghosts.  O.k. maybe I am being dramatic, but my lamp post had morphed into this strange grayish pole with a rusted gold top and bugs and dirt had built their dream home within the glass casing.  It’s a miracle that light was even able to illuminate from that thing.

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One random day when I went to Wal-mart to buy supplies for another project, I grabbed a can of spray paint.  When I finally got home, I barely had any time to start my other project and I had just drove past that eye sore yet again.  I had only a few minutes to decide what to do with the little time I had left so I chose, to revamp the lamp.  Ha Ha.

First I disassembled the lantern and washed the glass.  I grabbed whatever I could find to protect the surrounding areas and commenced to spraying.  I am not kidding, I had only a few minutes before I had to get dressed for work so I sped through this like I was in a race.  It took me less than 1 hour and yes, there were a few flaws which I plan to fix later, but I do know that I now pull into my driveway with a huge smile.  I cannot believe how quick and cheap was this project.

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What To Do With That Turkey?

Halt, stop what you are doing!  Do not throw away that leftover turkey or take it out of the freezer, I know what you can do with it.  Before I begin, let me give you a moment to grab a napkin to wipe off the drool that will inevitably ensue after reading this recipe……O.k. I hope you got it.  I found this recipe for Turkey Enchilada on Pinterest, of course.  The image alone had me falling out.  I mean, whaaaat, cranberry salsa!  I made this and found myself scrapping the plate.  The Enchilada is delish and, if you have flavored you turkey to perfection, you won’t be able to stop.  The cranberry salsa, with that cilantro bite just pushes you to the edge of flavor country so be prepared to start scraping pots for any leftover turkey you can gather.

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I did make a couple of changes to the recipe.  Instead of butternut squash, I used sweet potatoes, because of course that is what I would have leftover after my favorite holiday.  I also did not have any Gouda on hand so I replaced that with mozzarella cheese.  I wanted the kids to be able to enjoy it so I stuck only with the more mild green sauce as the red can get a little spicy for miniature taste buds.  Other than those few swaps, I pretty much stuck to the recipe and it was heaven.  Now if you will excuse me I need to do the, I-ate-too-much side lean to make space for my fully belly. Enjoy!!!