Things I’m Loving

It has been a while since I posted about things I’m loving. In an effort to take a break from the holiday hustle, I’ve rounded up some small but mighty moments and things I’m just loving.

First of allthis hilarious collection of gifts might almost completely reflect my choice of language. I’m basically Sharon Osborne’s long lost daughter.

Copper. Have you heard? Apparently its the next big home decor trend. And I don’t hate it. Give me copper! Here is a peek at Crate & Barrel’s metal trend inspirations.

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Paying it forward. The other day I went to the coffee shop for a coffee. Totally normal, right? But then when the cashier ran my card it didn’t work. She apologized and ran it again. And again. No dice. Mortifying… I promise I had enough money for a latte (which my now had already been made and was sitting just beside her). She explained that their credit card system had been wonky lately and asked if I had cash or another card. My only other card in my coat was for work and I had zero cash. By now I’m so embarrassed. Then she shrugs it off and tells me she has a Pay-It-Forward for a latte already. You guys, people prepay for coffee, muffins and sandwiches for others and the store tracks them on the cardboard sleeves. When you need one, you just grab the appropriate sleeve and hand it to the cashier. I accepted and promised to pay it forward. The next day I returned (while an IT guy was there setting up a new card reader by the way) and bought 10 coffees and got to write on the sleeves. Above is my handiwork.

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O’s artwork. O loves anything crafty. She’s been all about watercolors lately. She painted this the other day.. Of course I tell her it looks fantastic and that I can tell she worked very hard on it. She tells me “Its Blueberry (our Beta fish)!” Can you see it?

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Krohn Conservatory’s Holiday ShowCincinnati people: you don’t want to miss this! Not only is the botanical exhibit incredible, the gift shop irresistible and the trains impressive… they have the most insanely beautiful replicas of Cincinnati landmarks made out of bark, acorns, pine cones and branches. I found a replica of my childhood home, a painted lady Victorian of Tusculum (above).

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Coozies. In my former life coozies were strictly for adult beverages. But O found this at Walgreens right before Halloween and has been using it for her Almond milk. Just slide your hand in and it makes you look like you have a monster hand. Never gets old. Its almost Christmas and this bad boy is in the daily rotation.

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Balsamic anything.  I brunched with a dear friend the other day at Taste of Belgium. You all KNOW how much I love that place. This time I paired my Mimosa (below) with a spinach, red pepper, goat cheese crepe topped with balsamic reduction (above). I need another trip to ToB already!

And as if you need more reasons to drink Champagne- I’ve heard it may prevent Dementia and Alzheimers. Article here.

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This killer wall stencil. My cousin Megan just did this stencil on one wall in her dining room. I believe the wall is one color and the stencil is done in the next lightest color on the swatch and in the next highest sheen.

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I died when I saw it. I must find a place for this technique! Also, Megan chalk painted and gel stained the table and chairs herself! Go girl! Looks sharp!Can a wall be sexy? Because this one just might be. 

Union Terminal. Another Cincinnati treasure and architectural dream.
IMG_8358The dome shaped ceiling screams art deco and has some amazing acoustics.

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I actually took these in selfie mode on my iphone. Not bad, eh?IMG_8372

Redeeming myself. Yup, totally loving that. I once really over baked some brownies for my boss’s dinner party. Like, so bad. That night she sent me a video of everyone trying to cut the brownies and soaking them with ice cream to attempt to soften them. All in good fun and we’ve been laughing about it for a year. The other day they asked if I would want to bake for a dinner party again. We joked about not making brownies and that hopefully nobody would choke or anything. I told them I had a family recipe for a carrot cake that promised to impress. It took me about 3 hours to make and it was perfect. Isn’t she purdy?

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That night I received videos of guests eating the cake and raving about it’s decadence. Totally made up for the brownie incident of 2014.

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Oreo truffles. Three ingredients, 20 minutes of your time and people think you’ve saved the world. Recipe here.

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O’s selfies. She’s been filling my phone with photos and videos of herself, sometimes the dog and even myself. She’s snapped a few great ones and I’m obsessed wit h this one. She can fill my phone with her precious face absolutely any day.

Stitch Fix! I tried Stitch Fix over the summer and I’m hooked. I have posted some of my scores on Instagram. If you want to try it out be sure to use my referral link (this is not an affiliate link but I would get a credit via Stitch Fix for sending you).

 

So what are you loving lately? A song? Your new haircut? The weather? Spill it… I wanna know.

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Apple Goat Cheese Bruschetta

We were invited to my parents’ house last night for a cookout in honor of some family friends that are in town visiting. Steak, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob and grilled veggies were on the menu. When I asked what I could bring my mom asked me to bring a “light appetizer” since the rest of the menu was fairly rich and we were having birthday cake from the amazing BonBonerie Bakery afterward. I immediately thought of this fantastic apple bruschetta my friend used to make. She sent me a link to the recipe but I changed up some of the measurements.

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Ingredients:

1 Fuji apple (really any sweet apple will do) peeled and cubed

1/3 cup goat cheese

3/4 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp oregano

1/4 ground black pepper

1 baguette sliced thin

Lay the slices of bread out flat onto a cookie sheet. Turn on your broiler and toast the slices for just a minute … maybe two. Just to get them warm and a little crusty. Mix goat cheese, thyme, oregano and pepper then toss in apple cubes. Spoon mixture onto bread. Place in oven for a minute until cheese is melted well.

This was so delicious that the finished product didn’t even stick around long enough for me to snap a picture! It was a great fall appetizer because of the apple. But it is a really unique mix of spices, savory goat cheese and sweet apples. I was tempted to add a drop of honey but I wasn’t sure if it would be too sweet. Of course my favorite part was how easy it was and the fact that it took practically no time to mix together. My kind of recipe.

 

*Baking related side note: I made those amazing homemade pop tarts yesterday…but I switched out the filling for my Mother-in-law’s homemade strawberry preserves. She even picks the strawberries herself! Hubby ate half of them for dessert and I’m guessing the rest of the batch won’t last through the day.

Homemade Pop Tarts

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A while back we had a family reunion at our Relay for Life event. My huge family came in droves. All brought something to share and stayed for the good time for a good cause. My cousin Caitlin is a gifted chef. In fact, she’s known as Cooking with Caitlin.  And being the amazing chef that she is she brought homemade pop tarts for breakfast (Relay for Life is an overnight/24 hour fundraiser). Oh my god. What a genius! She made strawberry basil pop tarts along with Nutella marshmallow fluff pop tarts. Both were divine. I ate them as if I’d been starving in the dessert for months and had never delighted in pop tarts. I probably embarrassed myself with the speed I was eating. As I praised the pop tarts Caitlin said something like “They’re really easy, Everything is store bought. Just assemble and bake.” Freshly inspired, I went home and got to work.

All you need is a package of pie crust, marshmallow fluff and Nutella. Caitlin is right- no measuring or mixing. Just put it all together. So that’s all I did.

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First, I punched out round pieces of pie crust using a cup as my cookie cutter.

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Then I paired all the rounds to be sure I had enough.

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Lastly, I spread Nutella onto the bottom half of each set. After that I plopped marshmallow fluff on top of the Nutella. Nothing fancy here, folks. I don’t even measure and I wasn’t particularly neat about applying the ingredients either. So simple! I should have had the kids help.

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Then I crimped each “pop tart” securely closed with a fork just as I would on an actual pie.  I baked them at 350 for 8ish minutes. To be honest I didn’t really time them I just watched to make sure they got golden and cooked through but not too crispy or flaky.

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I think I could have done a better job sealing them closed because the marshmallow expands in the oven and helped burst a couple of the pop tarts open. In hindsight I also could have made these with just one circle and folded them in half. Might be easier for little hands and smaller appetites. Next time I plan on using strawberry preserves and fresh basil to try to duplicate the strawberry basil recipe Caitlin also brought along. Thanks, Caitlin! Now I have a new addiction.

Preschooler Play and Toddler To Do’s

A while back a friend asked me what kinds of things I do with kids on the cheap and with a baby in the house. It is always a challenge to keep older siblings busy while you are strapped to house by baby naps, and forced to be quiet. Cold winter days and rainy spring afternoons only make this harder. Another challenge for many of us is the cost of so many activities, outings and toys. I’ve compiled a list of simple thrills for kids up to 5 years old. Most don’t cost much money… and I really believe in making memories with kids. They won’t remember the stuff and much as they remember doing things together. Kind of like at Christmas… O loved all the wrapping paper and boxes and barely noticed most of the gifts. While diapers are expensive, kids only cost as much at you let them cost.

I mean, look at this face.

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Stamps and Stickers: A&Z both loved stamping all over a pad of newsprint. I bought a bunch in the clearance bins at Michael’s and the dollar store. Melissa and Doug sell a few little sets too. Also, look for “foamies”… Little foam stickers. Paper isn’t the only place for stickers. I’ve let them decorate their art boxes, shoe boxes and all kids of things with stickers. Its amzing how much time kids can spend with this activity. For younger kids it can be an opportunity to idenify animals, shapes and expand vocabulary. For older kids it provides a creative outlet and can spark a little imagination.

Crayons: Have you seen those Crayola crayon holders for little hands? Huge help to get him going on controlling a crayon. Larger and thicker crayons can be easier for little hands too. Talk about colors, shapes, even start some letter recognition.

Recycled Crayons: Preschoolers love this one. We keep old crayon nubs and broken pieces of crayons around for a while. Eventually we dig them out of the crayon tub and separate them from the useable ones. Then I let the kids make piles of the nubby crayons in a muffin tin (mini muffin tins are best because it doesn’t take as much to fill them and the crayons you make become thicker). The piles don’t have to match or have any of the same colors… you really can’t do this wrong. Then I place the muffin tin in a 250 degree oven and check on them every 5 minutes or so. When the crayons have melted to liquid I slowly remove the tin from the oven… hot liquid wax is dangerous. Then we let them cool for an hour or so and pop out our new recycle crayons! The shape is easy for kids to hold and when they use them they are coloring with a rainbow or tie dye effect. For older kids I ask them to make observations about what might happen before we put them in the oven and the happened after and why they think it. Doesn’t hurt to add a little science to it!

Go Big: Another big hit is a bunch of giant sheets of paper and a long roll of paper I bought from Ikea. Z still loves to have me draw roads and tracks for his cars and trains …and with a roll of paper they can go on forever! We have made signs with giant messages to welcome new cousins to the world and then we took pictures with the kids holding it and sent them in texts or posted them online for family. You can make birthday signs for each person’s birthday to hang in a doorway, or welcome them home from a trip. We also trace hands, toys, do leaf rubbings, and he thinks its way cool that we lay on the floor to draw. The possibilities are endless!

Playdoh: I probably don’t need to tell you that it is amazing. We have tons of it and to be honest you only need a few colors and a couple of the utensils. If you don’t want to buy any try this recipe I posted a while back for homemade dough. Big kids love measuring and making it. And everyone loves playing with it. As far as what to use for utensils: stamps work on playdoh, kitchen utensils like a butter knife or whisk, anything with texture, cups, cookie cutters, ice trays and the list goes on. Playing with dough is great for small motor skills, imagination and sensory development. I actually find it relaxing myself.

Nature Walks: Give kids a bag to “collect” anything he thinks is cool on a walk. Bring them home and talk about all the things he found, the season, animals, rocks… Whatever. This always sparks conversation. “I Spy”, “Follow the Leader” and “Simon Says” are also a fun games for a nature walk. Don’t live near a trail? So what… a walk down the sidewalk or through a park is just as exciting. Even if it’s snowing a 15 minute walk and fresh air can cure cabin fever. I’ve also had older kids help me make a list of things we think we may find and then make it more of a scavenger hunt for them.

Make Wishes: I keep pennies in my car for making wishes in fountains we pass by. Sometimes we make a point of finding a fountain to make a wish in. We count our pennies, observe the years on them, and close our eyes and wish reeeeally hard.

Storytime: You can’t read to a kid enough. Go to the library and get new and unfamiliar books often. Make your own storytime… we cuddle up in a blanket and read all of our books as soon as we get home. And do it again a few times a week. This often suffices as “rest” for kids who no longer nap but still need some chill out time midday. Check your library’s and local bookstore’s schedules. Many of them have regular story time, music play and such for free!

Puzzles: Those wooden ones with pegs are great. Most kids can do some large piece ones, and anything with the alphabet. Use the Go Big method above to make your own puzzles. If your kids get tired of puzzles or have them all memorized consider swapping puzzles with friends for a couple of weeks. Fresh puzzles for everyone!

Play House: Have a “picnic” with pretend food, “cook” and stuff too. Let the kids lead the way. They love being in charge and telling us what to do for once. It’s always interesting to hear their perception of roles in the household too. I”ve heard kids say, “We need to go to Target. Can you be on your best behavior?” or “I’m going to drop the kids at school and go get coffee.” They can do this for hours!

Build A Fort: This is a great exercise for problem solving, imagination and creativity. Building the fort is a blast and using it is fun too. Consider reading books, doing puzzles or “hiding out” in the fort. Kids think I’m a genius when we do this.

Inside Picnics: We eat lunch somewhere besides the kitchen table. We have done it in a fort, at the coffee table, under the kitchen table, with his stuffed animals, on the front porch, in the tailgate of my SUV. Anywhere.

PJ Day: Let the kids wear their PJ’s all day. Even go to the grocery store with them on. They think its so silly and funny. On this day we also do breakfast for lunch. Pancakes for lunch is always a hit!

Make Noise: (Ok- not too much). Have concerts with paper towel and toilet paper tubes, tissue boxes. Filling baby food jars or pop bottles with beans, rice and pasta makes great “instruments”. None of them make too much noise though.

Scavenger Hunt in a Bottle: Fill a clear soda bottle about halfway with rice. Drop in random objects to “find” in the rice. Think crayons, beads, paperclips, pennies, bouncy ball… anything that will fit in the hole and you won’t miss. The more rice in the bottle, the harder it is to find the objects. Seal the bottle (I always add super glue to avoid disasters) and start searching. Kids can roll the bottle every which way to find the objects.

Pipe Cleaners: The possibilities are endless! String large wooden beads on them (more motor skills!), or make a macaroni necklace, build a house (in my case a Bat Cave for Batman), bracelets,

Penne Picasso: Glue pasta on paper. So simple- he can’t mess it up, there is no paint and its inexpensive! Use pasta to make necklaces on yarn to to decorate a shoe box.

Ball Pit: Ikea, Target and other big box stores sell those plastic balls for ball pits. Put them in a pack n play or crib for an instant ball party. This never gets old. And when he’s done he can help you clean them up. For bigger kids let them fill as small room.

Cooking and Baking: Let kids help prepare their meals. From choosing a plate and utensils and setting the table to letting them stir and teaching them to measure. You’ll be surprised how happy they are to help. They really do like a little responsibility! And preparing food together makes time for a good little conversation. It’s often the only way I can get the “What did you do at school today?” question answered. You can also teach them about their food and where it comes from along with encouraging trying new foods and making them aware of a having healthy diet.

Sink or Float: Gather some household items to see if they sink or float. Use a baby pool or bucket outside or use the bathroom tub. Have kids guess which will happen and why. A fun one is a Diet Coke can vs a Coke can. Apples are heavier and most kids think it will sink but they float. Try to stump each other!

My Mom’s Snickerdoodle Recipe

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My mom has never been a cook but boy, oh boy can she bake. Its something I did with her as a kid. She never cared about the mess while we were baking. It was about doing something together! Of course, one of her famous lines is, “Any mess you make, you clean up!” We did have to clean it all up in the end.

I cherish all of those memories so much that I now bake regularly with Z. I take it as an opportunity to make time just to be with him, let him be the leader and to give him an outlet. Baking with kids may sound hectic and unwise to some, but truth be told there is so much you can do to make it stress free and fun. We always start by washing our hands. Then we get out everything we need including the ingredients. I let Z measure, pour, turn on the stand mixer, stir and even lick the spoon. Isn’t that what its all about anyway? So many lessons can be rolled into baking (pun intended). Z has learned vocabulary such as “ingredients” and “recipe”. He also is getting the hang of measuring and knows the importance of taking your time, following the directions and doing it in order. I also love the little conversation that happens when we bake. He gabs on and on about school, his friends and what he wants to be when he grows up (a baker and a helicopter pilot).  My point is that baking isn’t always about the end product of getting to eat the cookies. It can be about the process just as much as the tasty results. I can’t wait for O to be big enough to help bake too. I love creating these memories.

The following is my mother’s Snickerdoodle recipe in her own handwriting. A classic, she even sent it to my cousin while he was in basic training. Obviously she skips the cream of tarter.

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Mix all of the wet ingredients above the line in a mixer, then add the dry. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Kids can roll the dough into small balls and roll well in the cinnamon/sugar mix. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Over-baking these will dry them out but if you get it just right they are super chewy.

Who used to let you help in the kitchen? Anyone have a favorite recipe? DO SHARE!

Rainbow Cupcakes (for dummies)

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I was babysitting one day and I had a pair of 7 year old twins to entertain along with Baby O. I had a rough agenda of dress ups, mani/pedis (which they always LOVE) and baking cupcakes. They were supposed to bring dessert to a family dinner that night and mom said we could bake them if they wanted.

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We got to work on laying out the cupcake liners and choosing icings and ingredients. At the very last second I remembered my friend telling me she makes her daughter a rainbow birthday cake every year. I was immediately impressed but she made it sound so easy. She had told me that she simply evenly divided the batter and heavily food colored each
color of the rainbow.

Boom. I presented my idea to the twins and they thought I was a magician!

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I divided the batter into six bowls which ended up being about a half cup per bowl.

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Then I colored each bowl with food coloring. Some colors took more coloring drops than others but I knew I wanted vibrant colors so I just made them as bright as possible.

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After I got the colors to where I liked them I started layering them into each cup by the spoonful. I chose to start with red on the bottom and worked up: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple (for those of you who can’t remember the rainbow order).

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Then we baked the cupcakes according to the directions in the box and voila!

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Icing is a piece of cake (har har). To make the tub of icing go further I whipped it in Kitchen Aid. Then I cut the corner off of a ziplock bag and loaded the icing in. Then I simply swirled the icing onto the cupcakes. No mess and way easier if you ask me. Add some food color and sprinkles if desired.

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Tada! And here is one cut open so you can see the rainbow effect. And they were quite tasty too.

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