September 17, 2012

Thinking Cap

My oldest son just started kindergarten and really loves it. Everyday he tells me that everything is so much fun but when I ask him what he actually did he says he can’t remember. At least I’m getting a positive reaction! Although he likes it he is still trying to figure the whole thing out – I think!


I vividly remember my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Wilson, reminding us to put on our ‘thinking caps’ if we couldn’t remember something. I thought I might try the same tactic on my son so one day when he said he couldn’t remember what he did I said, “You should put on your ‘thinking cap’ and maybe you will remember!”

I didn’t exactly get the response that I was hoping for…..he very effectively stated the obvious and said, “I don’t have one Mommy.”

And so the thinking cap project began. There are so many ideas for caps but this thinking cap has a working light on the top for an extra great effect!

To see the complete instructions for this thinking cap visit my member page at:

September 6, 2012

Antiqued Wooden Snake Toys

This idea started when I took my boys to a show called 'Snakes Alive' where they had a blast learning about reptiles (mainly snakes and alligators) and even got to hold and touch them! Tom Kessenich the herpetologist was so fun and so good with all the kids! The show was great and I highly recommend it to anyone who has kids that love reptiles!

My older son has always been fascinated by snakes, other reptiles and anything creepy crawly! My younger son likes that stuff too but he isn't as much into it as my older son.

Anyway, they had a wooden snake toy there for the kids to play with and both my boys had a hard time putting it down when it was time to leave. It was solid unstained and unpainted wood but slithered, moved, had a tongue and looked antiqued! I looked at it and thought we should just try and make a few instead of hunting for hours trying to find two to buy.

The snake they played with looked weathered/antiqued. Whether it was like that from the start or like that from hours of play I don't know but I liked the look so we tried to replicate it in a painted version!

You can find the instructions on how to make your very own snake HERE on Instructables.

August 29, 2012

Cake Batter Popcorn

If you've been to any ice cream places lately I'm sure you have seen and maybe even tried cake batter ice cream. It's very popular and although we don't make outings to the ice cream parlor often I have to admit it is quite tasty.

I thought I was being really creative and inventive when I thought to make cake batter popcorn. Turns out there are already many recipes out there to follow to make this, however, all of them that I read used shortening (gross!) and white chocolate along with the cake mix. Since I can't bring myself to use shortening I knew I had to come up with something else.

My mom makes the most delicious caramel corn so I decided to modify her recipe to make it taste like cake batter but still be perfectly coated and crunchy!!

I have a serious problem with GMO (genetically modified organism) anything and since corn is something like 90% (don't quote me on the percentage) genetically modified these days I only buy organic non-GMO popcorn. You choose but be aware that unfortunately most corn is modified in some way.

Cake Batter Popcorn
1 stick butter
1/2 c. sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 c. light corn syrup
1 c. yellow cake mix
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Pop 4 quarts (16 cups) of popcorn and divide equally between two lightly buttered 9 x 13 pans making sure there are no kernels left.  I use my hands after popping the corn and put it in the baking pans leaving the un-popped kernels in the bottom of the bowl. It's no fun to break your tooth on a popcorn kernel so take your time doing this! (I think using an air popper is the easiest way to make popcorn but if you don't have one you can make it on your stove in a large stock pot with a little oil.)

Combine the butter, sugar, salt and corn syrup (try to get corn syrup that does not have HFCS) in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring enough to blend. Once the mixture begins to boil, boil for 5 minutes on medium heat stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat, and stir in the baking soda, cake mix and vanilla. The mixture will become light and foamy.

Immediately pour cake batter sauce over the popcorn in the pans, and stir to coat.

Bake for 1 hour, removing the pans, and giving them each a good stir every 15 minutes. After 30 minutes shake on some sprinkles for added fun! If you do this any sooner the colors will run making a messy looking popcorn and who wants that?!

After one hour remove pans from the oven and continue to gently stir the popcorn until it cools enough so it doesn't stay in big clumps.

Serve to anyone who loves popcorn or cake batter!

August 28, 2012

No-Sew 10 Minute T-Shirt Bag

Did you know that about 100 billion plastic bags are used annually in the US alone and only about 2% of them are recycled? Check it out at

It's a scary statistic but we can all do small things to help our earth! Using reusable bags or totes is a very easy way to do your part. It is a great alternative to buying reusable bags or taking merchandise home in plastic bags from stores and much more fashionable! They are durable and will last a long time.

Everyone at some time or another has probably had an old t-shirt that they didn't need or like anymore. Instead of tossing it make it into a reusable tote in about 10 minutes.

All you will need is an old t-shirt and a pair of scissors.

You can use a short or a long sleeved t-shirt. It won't matter since you will be cutting the sleeves off anyway.

Lay your t-shirt out on a flat work surface. Using a sharp pair of scissors cut the sleeves off of your t-shirt.

You can use a large bowl and draw around it on your fabric to get a nice rounded scoop shape or just eyeball it and cut the scoop. I just eyeballed it.

At the bottom of the shirt cut slits about every inch through both layers (length will depend on the size of the shirt so you will have to make the call) long enough that you will be able to tie them twice. Remember the shirt will stretch with weight so try to make sure your tote isn't going to hang to your feet with filled with goodies!

Keep the slits lined up and starting with one end tie the aligning front and back pieces together in double knots until you have done the entire row.

If you don't want the knots to show you can tie them on the inside for a less fringed look.

This step is optional but I chose to cut small strips of extra fabric and tie small knots on the tops of the handles for a more decorative look.

The tote is finished and ready to use! Go shopping!

August 27, 2012

Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

Raw, vegan, paleo, chewy, rich, sugar free, and healthy chocolate peanut butter brownies! Who just cringed?? If you did you might want to think twice and actually try this dessert. Your brain won't know the difference in taste only texture which is still quite delightful.

Your body will enjoy protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants by eating this dessert! Yay!

I made these on a day that the temperature was 86 degrees and the humidity was 78%. Not exactly a day you want to scorch up the kitchen by turning on the oven to make brownies. All you need for these is a nine inch square pan and a food processor.

These brownies are simple and delicious and will definitely please and satisfy the kiddos! When I was making them my son walked into the kitchen and said, "Yum, I smell brownies!"

Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

Brownie Layer
1 c. walnuts
1/2 c. almonds
2 T. chia seeds
2 T. shredded unsweetened coconut
1 c. pitted dates
1 c. raisins
2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 c. cocoa powder
pinch of salt

In the bowl of a food processor add nuts and grind until crumbly. Add chia seeds and coconut and whiz to incorporate. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Without cleaning the food processor add dates and raisins. Grind until texture is like a thick paste. Add nut mixture to date mixture in the food processor and add cocoa powder, vanilla and salt. Grind again until mixture can hold together when pinched. Divide mixture in half and set aside.

Peanut Butter Layer
1/2 c. almonds
1/4 c. walnuts
3/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. oatmeal
1/2 c. peanut butter (no sugar please)

Grind nuts, raisins and oatmeal in the food processor until crumbly. Add peanut butter and whiz until mixture comes together and can hold its shape. Set aside.

Line a nine inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Using half of the brownie mixture press firmly into the bottom of the pan. Next press in the peanut butter layer. Add the second half of the brownie mixture on the top and press again.

Gently lift parchment paper out of the pan onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife cut brownies into 16 equal squares.

Eat and enjoy! No waiting for the brownies to bake!

Store in an airtight container layering with parchment paper so brownies don't stick together.

Jumbo Spin Art Cookies

When someone mentions 'spin art' my mind tunnels directly back to awkward middle school carnivals where each room was filled with some sort of activity like the duck pond, ring toss, the cake walk, bean bag toss, and of course my favorite.....spin art! I would save up all of my tickets and only use them for spin art. I'm sort of embarrassed right now that I can actually recall these events in detail but I really loved watching that paint stream down onto that cheap white cardboard rectangle spinning a million miles an hour. When the table finally came to a complete stop it was like the world stood still for one second while I gasped at my newly created masterpiece. Then before it could dry the parent volunteer would slap it in a flimsy white matte and send me on my way! I felt like a million bucks!

Before my boys are old enough to enjoy the awkwardness of middle school I wanted them to feel my same love for spin art. Since I don't own an actual spin art table I decided to use my salad spinner and use food coloring instead of paint. And what goes well with food coloring? That's right.....cookies and frosting!

It doesn't matter if my boys are playing their favorite games or playing with their favorite toys - as soon as I get out the salad spinner they come running. They love to spin what ever greens I have in the device so you can imagine the excitement when it would be put to use with cookies instead of
greens! This could possibly be a child's dream!

You will need the following items:
- jumbo sugar cookies (recipe follows) - cut to fit the bottom of your salad spinner
- frosting (recipe follows) - I made cream cheese frosting but buttercream would also work
- salad spinner - don't worry....the food coloring washes right off
- liquid food coloring
- spreading knife
- rolling pin
- pizza cutter or sharp knife
- squirt bottle (optional)

This is a perfect activity for children and a fun family activity. If you had the cookies pre-baked and frosted this would also be a great activity at a child's birthday party!

Sugar cookies are certainly not boring and one of my personal favorite but if you want to you could make any cookie you want. I would suggest something smooth however because you will need to be able to spread frosting on very smoothly. Gingerbread would work well.

Sugar Cookies
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 egg
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and mix until combined. Sift in baking powder and flour and mix until well combined.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Remove dough from fridge and plastic wrap. Lightly flour a large work surface and roll dough to 1/4 inch thick and cut desired size circle using a table knife.

I made a paper pattern for the size of circle I needed and cut around it.

Place on ungreased sheet pan and bake 10 - 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Removed from oven.

If dough spread too large cut warm cookie to desired size again using a pizza cutter or sharp knife.

Let cool completely on pan.

Makes approx. 6 cookies depending on thickness.

***I made jumbo cookies so they would fit nicely in the bottom of the salad spinner. You could make smaller cookies but you will need to find a way to keep them in the middle so they don't creep up the sides when the device is spinning. You can always cut the cookies if you think they are too big. Did I just say a cookie could be too big? Sorry, what was I thinking!!??

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese
4 T. butter
1 t. vanilla extract
3-6 c. powdered sugar (depending on desired consistency)

In a medium mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar until you reach desired consistency.

Using a spreading knife smooth frosting on jumbo cookies. Be generous, everyone loves frosting!!

Gently place cookie in the bottom of salad spinner. I secured ours with a dollop of frosting on the bottom of the spinner.

You can drip on food coloring one of two ways. While it is spinning or before you start spinning. Before it spins (I think) is easier for kids but either way will give you the spin art look.

This isn't rocket science so I don't really have much to explain. Using liquid food coloring drip coloring where desired. Spin salad spinner gently enough that your cookie doesn't break apart but fast enough that you get the coloring to spin to the outside of the cookie. Repeat with more drops of coloring if necessary until you have the desired effect.

Gently remove cookie from spinner and allow coloring to dry (so lips and tongue aren't stained too bad) or eat right away simply because no one will want to wait!!

***I recommend using aprons or old clothes when the kids are dropping food coloring. You don't want stains on their nice clothes and they can get a bit carried away with all of the fun!

***If you want a more tie dyed look drop food coloring and then spritz with a few sprays of water (2-4 sprays) using a clean squirt bottle and then spin. It will cause the colors to run and bleed more as in picture #7.

***Don't worry, your salad spinner will wash clean without any stains - well, at least mine did!  :)

June 4, 2012

Martha Stewart's Surprise Cookies

Pick up the chocolate cookie with chocolate frosting...take a look...take a bite...SURPRISE! There's a marshmallow inside! The only thing missing from this recipe was a sprinkling of crushed graham crackers to make it a s'more cookie.

A few hours before heading out to a party my husband told me it would be nice if I made a dessert to share. Well, I didn't have time for an actual dessert so I scrambled through some recipes and came across this Surprise Cookie recipe from Martha Stewart. I happened to have all of the ingredients I needed so I made them!

They turned out to be really tasty cookies and I got a bunch of compliments. I mean, can you really go wrong with Martha Stewart??!! The cookies are more like the texture of moist dense cake bites. The marshmallow and frosting kept them very soft and chewy until the last cookie was gone. And they did all get eaten that evening!

Surprise Cookies
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 12 large marshmallows, cut in half horizontally

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add reserved flour mixture; mix on low speed until combined. 

Using a tablespoon or 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto ungreased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies begin to spread and become firm, 10 to 12 minutes. 

Remove baking sheets from oven, and place a marshmallow, cut-side down, in the center of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Return to oven, and continue baking until marshmallows begin to melt, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. 

Spread about 1 tablespoon of frosting over each marshmallow, starting in the center and continuing outward until marshmallow is covered.

Chocolate Frosting for Surprise Cookies
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in butter and cocoa powder. Add milk and vanilla, and whisk until well combined.

**I cut the frosting recipe in half and had a perfect amount to generously frost all of the cookies. I crushed one graham cracker rectangle and sprinkled over each cookie after it was frosted. If you wait until all the cookies are frosted it might be dry enough that the crumbles won't stick.**

May 21, 2012

Cut the Rope Cake - Cake of Cakes!

"Deliver candy to Om Nom!" I hear this phrase all the time. Both of my boys love Cut the Rope so for my son's third birthday he requested a cake with Om Nom - his favorite character, of course! Turns out he thought it was the cake of cakes!

cake of cakescake of cakes
cake of cakes

There are many beautiful and amazing cakes out there that have been covered/decorated with fondant. I am sort of a fondant hater. Mainly because it tastes horrible! I have bought fondant and made (marshmallow) fondant from scratch with the same outcome. The cake tastes great but the fondant has to be picked off and thrown away.

cake of cakescake of cakes

Now, if you don't have kids you might not think this is a big deal but when they don't like the taste of fondant and you have to take it off of their cake and all the frosting goes with it.......well, there are many unwanted tears to deal with!

So, in an attempt to satisfy my little birthday boy I tried my best to smooth out buttercream frosting instead of using fondant. A usual event for me when making cakes. With that said, there is no better way (that I have tried) to create characters and/or graphic decorations than to use fondant. All of the dots and characters on this cake are made using store bought fondant.

cake of cakescut the rope spider
om nom

I modeled this cake from the Fabric Box from Cut the Rope which includes: om nom, stars, candy, spiders, air balloons and the spikes that breaks the candy. I got the idea from searching google images for cut the rope cakes. This is the one my cake looks most like but with more details.

Don't skimp on the details. It will take longer but the outcome will be well worth it!

If you want to see more details and step-by-step instructions visit

May 9, 2012

Asian Pasta Salad

It's getting to be that time of year (for me anyway) when the days are getting warmer and I don't want to heat up the house by turning on the oven. This is a quick and refreshing meal that will fill hungry bellies (without meat).

The sauce for this cold pasta salad has olive oil and peanut butter for fat and protein and is an adapted recipe from Ina Garten - Barefoot Contessa (although I call it Asian Pasta Salad instead of Crunchy Noodle Salad). The phrase 'crunchy noodle' reminds me of those gross brown crunchy noodle straw things in a can that I hated as a kid!

You can dress this salad up with any fresh veggies that you have available. I have also topped it with grilled chicken if you want an added boost of protein or can't live without meat!

Asian Pasta Salad
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1 lime

1/2 lb. angel hair pasta, cooked according to package and cooled
2 c. shredded cabbage, per serving
1 c. chopped bell pepper
1 c. shredded carrots
1 c. blanched peas, frozen or fresh

In a small mixing bowl whisk together all ingredients until mixture is well incorporate, smooth and creamy. Toss half of the sauce with cooled pasta and refrigerate until chilled, approx 30 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and toss with remaining sauce and all veggies (except cabbage). Serve over shredded cabbage.

Serves 4

May 7, 2012

100% Whole Wheat Focaccia

Many, many years ago in Italy I experienced the lightest, most airy textured focaccia. It was hard not to stop at each little focacceria for a tasty bite. This recipe is a 100% whole wheat version of my favorite focaccia that I ate with olives and tomatoes. I added onion and pistachios for added crunch.

Whenever I can substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour I do. It is healthier and has a much more distinct flavor. This focaccia has a nice chewy texture with a little bit of crunch around the edges.

This is the simplest recipe ever. It's not hard to make, just somewhat time consuming.

100% Whole Wheat Focaccia
3/4 c. water
1 1/2 - 2 1/2 c. 100% whole wheat flour
1 (.25 oz) pkg active dry yeast
1 t. salt
veggies and/or nuts
1/4 t. dried parsley, optional
1 t. olive oil, plus more for drizzling

In a microwave safe container heat water to 120-130 degrees F.

In a medium mixing bowl combine 1 1/2 c flour, yeast and salt. Add hot water and stir to combine. Add more flour 1 heaping tablespoon at a time until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Dump dough onto a lightly floured (still using whole wheat flour) surface and knead 8-10 minutes adding more flour as needed.

After 8-10 minutes do a 'windowpane test'. I learned this from Peter Reinhart's book Whole Grain Breads. Here's what to do - take a small piece of dough and stretch it to see if you can get it thin enough to see light through it without it tearing. If you can see light enough gluten has formed and you can stop kneading. If you can't see light continue kneading until you can.

Form a ball, roll in 1 t. olive oil, place in a bowl and cover. Let rise about 1 hour or until dough has doubled. This will greatly depend on what the temp and humidity is like in your kitchen.

Punch dough down and let rise again. 1 hour or until dough has doubled.

When the dough has risen the second time turn it out onto a cutting board and cut it into two equal pieces. Form into a rounded shape and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest 30 minutes.

Once 30 minutes has passed uncover dough and stretch slightly to make longer loaf-like shapes. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut veggies and/or nuts (you will only need a few tablespoons of each item) and press firmly into the dough. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and dried parsley. (The parsley really adds no flavor it just makes the focaccia look nice!!) 

I used kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, onion, pistachios and shredded parmesan.
Bake approximately 15 minutes.

Cut into strips and serve warm.

April 26, 2012

Ricotta Cheesecake Cinnamon Rolls

I never knew what ricotta was until I met my husband. When I was growing up my mom substituted cottage cheese for anything that called for ricotta. Maybe she wouldn't have if she would have known just how amazingly simple it is to make. And it's fun to watch the transformation from liquid to curdles to a delicious and rich accompaniment to anything Italian or cinnamon rolls, of course!

I have only had ricotta cheesecake once before and remember it like it was yesterday. I have eaten many many desserts in my life and only remember a few that really stood out. Well, the ricotta cheesecake was one of them so I decided that ricotta cheesecake cinnamon rolls would be quite tasty. Turns out I was right!! And, it is a perfect excuse to basically eat dessert for breakfast!! Maybe you could eat a bowl of fruit alongside the roll so you don't feel so guilty! Ha!

There are four recipes to follow to complete this cinnamon roll.

Homemade Ricotta
4 c. whole milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 T. distilled white vinegar (some people use lemon but I prefer using vinegar)
1 t. salt

You will also need the following items to make ricotta:
-large bowl
-large fine sieve or colander

Layer two or three pieces of cheesecloth over colander and place the colander in the large bowl. Set aside.

In a medium sauce over medium high heat add milk, cream and salt. Bring to a boil stirring frequently to avoid scorching.

When mixture comes to a boil reduce heat to medium low, add vinegar and stir. Mixture will immediately curdle. Let simmer for about two minutes and strain over cheesecloth. Voila, you just made ricotta! I told you it was easy!

Let the ricotta cool. When you lift the colander up and out of the drain bowl you will see whey. DO NOT pour this down the drain, you will use it in the next step! Whey is great for any bread dough, just substitute it for water or milk.

Makes approximately 1 cup of ricotta and 2 1/2 cups whey.

Cinnamon Roll Dough
1 (1/4 oz) pkg active dry yeast
1/2 c. sugar
4-5 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
5 T. butter, melted
1 c. whey
3 eggs

In a large mixing bowl combine yeast, sugar, 3 cups flour and salt. Set aside.

In a microwave safe container melt butter and set aside. In another microwave safe container heat whey to 120-130 degrees F using a thermometer to check for accurate temp. Add melted butter to heated whey.


Mix with dry ingredients and stir in eggs. Add in remaining flour a little at a time until mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. You may need more or less flour. It is an approximate amount.

Dump dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead adding more flour if necessary. Knead 8-10 minutes. You can do a windowpane test (I learned this from one of Peter Reinhart's books - take small amount of dough and stretch it thin enough that you can see light through it without it tearing. If it tears, keep kneading until it doesn't) to make sure the gluten has released. Do not under-knead. Your dough won't be as soft or elastic.

Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rise 45 minutes.

**I have had this cinnamon roll dough recipe in my recipe box for quite a while and I have no idea where it came from. If you know, please let me know and I will credit that person. The rest of the recipes are mine.

While dough is resting make the filling.

Ricotta Cheesecake Filling
1 c. ricotta
6 oz cream cheese
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. oats
2 1/2 T. cinnamon

In a medium mixing bowl add all ingredients and mix well. Set aside.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured large work surface. Roll dough to a 13x9 inch rectangle.

In an even layer spread out filling on top of dough leaving a 1 inch space at one of the ends.
Roll dough starting with one end and pinch the seam together well to seal.

Score and cut log into 12 equal pieces. Arrange in a buttered 9x13 baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

2 c. confectioner's sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
3 T. maple syrup
milk to thin

In a small mixing bowl combine all ingredients and stir until smooth. If making the night before (so you don't have any work in the morning) cover and set aside.

In the morning remove rolls from the refrigerator 30 minutes to an hour before baking. The rolls will have risen only slightly.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake approximately 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Drizzle glaze over warm cinnamon rolls. Eat and enjoy!