Wednesday, June 11, 2014

This Year's Teacher Gift

This year, I have exactly one "end-of-year" teacher gift to buy. Which is a massive deal because in past years, I've had as many as 14. Yes, 14. Which was exhausting and expensive and stressful. But this year, there's only one!! Which is not exhausting, nor expensive and actually kind of fun!

My older kids are in high school and they informed me that there will be absolutely no gift-giving to teachers under any circumstances, lest they (the kids) be dubbed uncool. The teenagers issue ultimatums like this on a fairly regular basis. And recalling the social minefield of high school, I do my best to control myself. 

That leaves little Miss 5th-Grader - who, being her mother's daughter - wanted something a bit nicer than a gift card or box of chocolates. So we put together a lemonade kit ... 


Everything was picked up at Target ... they have all the fixings for a lemonade stand there (in the seasonal section, if you're interested). Like these cute napkins ...


And these cups and straws (hard to see it, but the straws have little umbrellas on them - super cute) ...


Some lemonade mix ...


Everything fit into an acrylic drink dispenser ...


I tied on an orange ribbon ...


And voila! Super easy teacher gift and it didn't even come to $15.


Do you give end-of-year teacher gifts to your kids teachers? If so, what? 


Monday, June 9, 2014

A "Camping" Birthday Party

 My youngest daughter turned 11 recently and decided that she wanted a "Camping" birthday party. If you've read my blog for any amount of time, you know how much I love a birthday theme. As my kids have gotten older, they have become somewhat less enthusiastic about the theme system. In fact, my teenagers have forbidden me from giving them a theme ... party poopers!

But my youngest still has the birthday-party-theme-spirit! In fact, she's always been totally on board! There was the "Princess" party when she turned 5 ...

  

And the "Zebra" party when she turned 6 ...

  

The "Polka Dot" party when she turned 7 ...

 

The "Teddy Bear" party when she turned 8 (totally off topic, but how awesome are pizza earrings anyway?)...

  

The "Circus" party when she turned 9 ...


And the "Paris" party when she turned 10 ...


But this year, we were off to camp! Thanks for the always talented Kate at Everbee Designs, there were many nice touches ... including the "Don't Feed The Bears" sign at the front door ...

 



We also had a sign welcoming everyone to Camp Paige on the front door ... just a chalk board sign I picked up at Michael's.


The girls then played a blind-folded candy taste testing game - we picked up all the different candy at Bulk Barn. What is it with girls and trying to eat War Heads? (for those who don't know, they are the most sour candy ever invented ... almost painfully sour ... and the kids love to dare each other to eat them ... crazy kids!)


The girls enjoyed sleeping in 2 tents in our back yard. I did have to go out there a million times a few times to threaten them within an inch of their lives gently suggest they stop squealing. I hope the neighbours don't completely hate us ... 


Dinner consisted of burgers and dogs on the grill, with some veggies (my lame attempt to make up for the candy contest). This piece of red checkered fabric has had many lives in our home - it's been used at a horse birthday party and a cowboy themed event. It's also the tablecloth we use when we go on a picnic.


I have to give my Mom credit for this smart idea - condiments in a muffin tin ... way cuter than a bunch of bottles on the table! It's little things like this that actually make me the most happy ... 


 And this year, my darling girl really wanted a Dairy Queen ice cream cake ... which totally got me off the hook for baking one. She chose one with stars on it because they would be sleeping out under the stars. Sigh - that's my girl - keeping with the theme!!


The girls also had a chance to make their own trail mix (peanuts, smarties, raisins, marshmallows and coconut). Surprisingly, all the bowls were emptied, except the raisins :-) ...


Loot bags were filled with camp essentials, like bug spray, a campfire fan and nifty little soap sheets. 
 

 And best of all, we had one very happy little 11-year old at the end of it all!


 Now, I just need to talk my older daughter into what I have in mind for her birthday in August ... wish me luck!!



ABFOL One Project at a Time





Friday, May 16, 2014

Spaghetti Carbonara

I can't believe that we've only just discovered Spaghetti Carbonara ... but it's the truth. I've heard of it all my life, but had never ordered it in a restaurant or made it at home. 

And then I did!


And it has completely won every member of the family over! What's not to love though - carbs, bacon and cheese ... it doesn't get any better. Or any easier ...


If you've never made Spaghetti Carbonara either, it's super simple:

You'll want to dice up a package of reduced-sodium bacon (make healthy choices where you can), and cook it on medium-high heat in a skillet. Then start a pot of water - enough to cook 2 packages of spaghetti. While the bacon and pasta are cooking, combine 6 eggs, a cup and a half of parmesan cheese, a cup of milk or cream (depending on how rich you want it to be) and some salt and pepper in a really large bowl. When the pasta is done, drain it (but not thoroughly), and toss it back into the bowl of eggs/cheese/milk and toss to coat. The hot pasta will cook the eggs. Finally, toss in the bacon. Give it a good stir and you're done.


We either have a large salad or some steamed broccoli on the side. This is one of the meals where my kids call dibs on the leftovers - BEFORE, we've even eaten the original meal! A very good sign.


Enjoy!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Best Little Chocolate Cake Recipe EVER!!

Life is short. You really should eat dessert. 

Not every single day, mind you. Or maybe you could, if you only had a small taste. There is something really special about having a cake to look forward to. Either after a meal, or with coffee in the afternoon, cake takes an ordinary day and makes it feel like something special is happening.

The Easter Version
But, cake is one of those things that you really have to make from scratch. Have you ever read the label of a cake in the grocery store? Here is a really good piece on what's in a supermarket birthday cake. I'm not from the school of thought that says that every mouthful of food you ever eat must be as pure as the driven snow. But, the ingredient list on some of those cakes was pretty scary! And it turns out that baking a basic cake isn't very hard. If you can manage with a cake mix, you can make a cake from scratch. And this recipe is a perfect beginner cake, because it's so easy to ice.

Let me give you the sales pitch on this cake ... it's one layer only, so it's quick to make (you can have a complete, decorated cake in 1 hour, from start to finish); you can switch out the chocolate, to suit different palates. I've made it with both dark and semi-sweet chocolate (and I think you could switch it to milk chocolate if you had to, although I haven't tried that myself); you ice it in 2 seconds flat with a ganache (which is way easier than icing a cake with buttercream); and then you make it seasonal with candy or sprinkles appropriate to the time of year! What more could you want? Here's the recipe:

The Easter Version

The Cake:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup salted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. With butter, grease an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa, and baking soda. In your mixer, or a larger bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and water. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until the batter is smooth. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a rack to completely cool.

The Valentine's Day Version
The Ganache:
8 oz chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup of light cream
1 tbsp sugar (only for dark or semi-sweet chocolate)

Place chopped chocolate in a microwavable glass bowl. Melt it in the microwave in 20 second increments. Add the cream and sugar and stir until it is well combined (at first, it will seem like it isn't combining well - don't panic, it will after about a minute). Set the cake on a rack over a baking sheet and poor the ganache over top. You may need to spread it with a spatula ... or you can just let gravity do the work and have it run down the sides. It may seem a wee bit runny, but will set over the next hour or so. Top with candy or sprinkles if desired.

**Note: this past weekend, I made this cake gluten-free by switching Bob's Red Mill gluten-free baking mix for the flour. It worked really well. 

You can get the printable recipe HERE.

Enjoy!





Friday, April 11, 2014

Clearing the Clutter in Your Hallway for Spring!

Most of us are in the midst of our spring cleaning. You may have already tackled the attic and dusted the blinds, but an often neglected or purposefully passed over area of the home is the hallways. We run through these spaces so often, but never spend enough time in them to realize the mess that keeps piling up.

For many families, the hallways are the areas that build the most visible clutter, from shoes and coats to dust and other allergens. Without some attention, these areas of the home can be the silent disturbance in an otherwise tidy living space. Give your hallways some extra love this season by focusing on these three areas of clutter build up.
Displaying Clearing the Clutter in Your Hallways for Spring.jpg

Wasted use of space
One of the most common problems that results in cluttered hallways is an inappropriate use of space. Because your family does not spend leisure time in the hallways, many people overlook this when planning the construction and design of their home. Luckily, there are some quick fixes that can free up space without remodeling your entire home.
The hallways are often the homes for your staircase, so rethink how you use that item to create more usable space in your home. Install shelving and add hooks along a traditional staircase to create storage. You can also look into items like a Salter Spiral staircase kit to give your hallways a quick and easy face-lift.
Rearranging hallway furniture can also open more space up. Opting for one or two complete storage pieces instead of a few little items and nick-knacks will make your hallways more clean and useful.

Dust and allergen build-up
It is crucial to remember your hallways during your regular dusting routine. Storage units, stairs and floorboards collect a lot of dust and other allergens in this frequently passed through area.
There are a number of great spring cleaning lists that include the items that many of us forget about on a regular basis. Some of these items include washing lighting fixtures and their switches, washing seat cushions and washing rugs and mats.
If your family suffers from spring allergies, your whole family will notice a big difference by cleaning these areas regularly. Be sure to take some allergy medication or wear a mask before cleaning to prevent allergy symptoms.
The common home for clutter
As every family has experienced, everyone throws their things in the hallways at the end of the day. This can cause stress-inducing clutter by making your space congested and unpleasant to look at.
Avoid this by making it easy and fun for family members to place their things neatly in the hallways. Create cubbies for each family member, using elements of their own personality to make it more fun and creative. Think of the space as lockers you would have in school.
Have a daily motivation board that everyone can add too to keep the space inviting and express the love and pride you have in your family. Setting limits, like only one coat in the hallway at a time, can also cut clutter and keep the space neat.



Author Bio:
Tina Hamilton is a journalist, blogger and organization enthusiast. You will usually find her writing, reorganizing a desk drawer, or walking along the beaches of Southern California.

Image: http://www.benjaminmoore.com/bm/roomsbycolor/printAction.do?lang=en_CA&np=imagerepository/article_images_new/Interior/Hallway_Entry/IA_int_purple_hallway






Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Coconut Cake

We are big lovers of coconut in this house and Coconut cake has become our traditional Easter dessert. It's such a yummy recipe, but I fear my lousy photographs don't do this cake justice. It doesn't look yellow, like it does in these pics ... just a lovely white. The addition of some Easter candy eggs gives the cake a real seasonal look.


Here's my recipe for Coconut Cake:

3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp almond extract
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 pound icing sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment and dust lightly with flour.

Cream the butter with sugar. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. The mixture might look curdled ... don't worry.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the coconut (I do this with a spatula).

Pour the batter evenly into the cake pans (smooth down the tops) and bake in the centre of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack (but still in the pans) for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out to finish cooling.

For the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extracts. Add the icing sugar and mix until just smooth. To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides.




ABFOL One Project at a Time 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Weekend Away Packing List

I just got to spend the weekend away. It was technically a working weekend, except we laughed so much that it feels wrong to call it work. And I rarely travel without my family, so the luxury of worrying about no one other than myself was a real treat!

There's another bonus to a weekend away: you get a chance to get away from it all, but without all of the effort required to prepare for and recover from a full-on holiday. But that's not to say there isn't any effort - if you prepare correctly and have a plan for when you get back on Sunday, your weekend away won't end up causing you more stress and aggravation than it was worth!



Here are the things that I think are critical to pack for a weekend away:

Clothes:

  • Outfits for each day (depends greatly on the agenda for the weekend)
  • Shoes for each outfit
  • Undergarments
  • Pajamas
  • Workout clothes
  • Running Shoes
  • Swimsuit
  • Jacket/Coat (seasonal)


Toiletries (I keep small containers of each of these always packed and ready to go):

  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Soap
  • Skin care
  • Hair styling product
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Perfume
  • Nail polish remover
  • Brush/comb
  • Q-tips
  • Bubble bath
  • Razor/Shaving cream
  • Make-up
  • Sunscreen


Medicine (I keep this in a small cosmetics case in my handbag all the time):

  • Advil
  • Vitamins
  • Band-aids
  • Cough drops
  • Cold medicine
  • Tums
  • Visine


Miscellaneous

  • Sunglasses (remember to grab these if you are leaving on a cloudy day)
  • i-Phone charger (forgot that this weekend - doh!)
  • Kobo (similar to a Kindle) and/or book
  • Pencil case (contains some pens, pencils, a highlighter and notepaper)
  • Travel information (reservation numbers, maps, e-tickets, etc.)


Things I Never Take:

  • Hair dryer (I don't usually blow dry  my hair, but if I need to, the hotel always has one)
  • Travel iron (hotels always have an iron as well)

And the trick for getting back on track once you get home on Sunday night?



Unpack your suitcase right away!


It's that simple and takes only about 5 minutes. Throw the laundry in the laundry pile and put everything else away. This will make your Monday morning run so much more smoothly!

Is there anything my list is missing? Let me know what things you think are critical for a weekend away.