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Monday, March 17, 2014

Leprechaun Gold Treasure Hunt

This St. Patrick's Day themed kids activity was a BIG hit! My 6 year old (I nanny, remember?) said "Anna, how do you always come up with so many fun things to do?" Which was the most awesome compliment ever, and makes all the time I spend on Pinterest seem more worthwhile! The idea for this activity was inspired by a shaving cream leprechaun gold dig using rainbow tinted shaving cream and plastic gold coins. When I went to the store I found chocolate gold coins instead. I thought, what could I put these in instead of shaving cream. Something food-safe, but still fun to dig through. I immediately thought back to some rainbow-colored rice I made last year that is always such fun to play with. I decided to make some green play rice for this activity, and it was a hit with both the kids (6 and 2 years old). For the 6 year old, we made it a time challenge-how many coins can you find in 30 seconds? In 1 minute? With your eyes shut? The 2 year old was just content to dig through the rice (and occasionally fling it everywhere.) It was a great afternoon! 

(Sorry, phone camera again. I never remember to bring my nikon to work.) 

The rice is SUPER simple! All you need is a bag of rice, hand sanitizer, and food dye. 

I used the instant rice because it was what I had, and I used a 14oz box of it. I used 4 pumps of hand sanitizer (i don't think the amount is super crucial, just a blob of hand sanitizer to help distribute the foos coloring.). I used 20 drops of green food coloring, it could've used more if we wanted it to be really bold green. I put everything in a big zipper top plastic bag and shook it like crazy (the 6 year old loved to help shake it!) 

Then I poured it into a big bowl (I did one bowl for each kid, but if you have a really giant bin, that could be fun too) with the gold chocolate coins! They liked to dig through with spoons AND with their hands! So much fun, pretty easy clean up too (just sweep up the rice!). 

Happy St Patty's Day!!! 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

5 Tips for the Greatest, Greenest Smoothie

I know green smoothies are kind of overdone, but I really do like them. I love the idea of getting in a bunch of fruits & veggies with hardly any prep time. This gets in a whole cup of vegetables, and 2 servings of fruit in addition. It also gets in some protein from the yogurt.  I like that you can take them with you to-go, too.  You can do them a million different ways, but my 5 essential tips are…

1.) Baby Greens: I used to just use baby spinach in my smoothies, and I had heard of people using kale, but that sounded terrible to me. Until I found baby kale in my grocery store. The baby greens are softer so they blend better, and the taste is much more mild (you really don't notice they're there!) Yay!

2.) Frozen Berries: I freeze my own blueberries from my blueberry bush in my backyard every sumer, but the store bought berries are awesome too. I like all kinds of berries, and frozen peaches & mangos are good too. I used strawberries today. Freezing them makes the smoothie thicker and colder, without having to use ice. 

3.) B-A-N-A-N-A-S: I actually hate bananas by themselves. But in the smoothie, they just add a bit of sweetness in the background. I don't make a smoothie without a banana. 

4.) Vanilla Greek Yogurt: I like the vanilla flavor. I use 2% vanilla greek yogurt, because fat doesn't scare me. I feel like the 2% doesn't taste as strong and tangy as the nonfat. The Tillamook brand is my personal favorite. 

5.) Coconut Water: I like to use coconut water instead of milk, water, or juice. It helps with hydration and is relatively low in sugar. Whatever liquid you like is fine, just make sure you have some sort of liquid. 

This recipe makes a small smoothie, because I think smoothies are more of a snack than a meal. 

1 cup baby kale or baby spinach
1 large handful frozen berries
1/2 cup of vanilla greek yogurt
1 small banana
coconut water, fruit juice, milk or water 

Combine all in a blender and blend until smooth. Drink immediately. Serves one. 

Looks weird, tastes good. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Breakfast (sandwich) of Champions

I love breakfast food. All of it. Eggs, bacon, toast, english muffins, hash browns, sausage, ham, croissants, and ANY combination of the above. Especially with cheese (and/or hot sauce) thrown in there somewhere. I could eat breakfast for every meal! Eat it at lunch time, call it brunch. (One of my favorite restaurants around here serves breakfast until 3pm! And it's awesome!) Eat it for dinner, then you're having breakfast for dinner and that's a cool thing to do. 

Breakfast food is just so good. I particularly love breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches. I love to make breakfast sandwiches so much! I always seem to have the stuff for it (english muffins, cheese, some sort of breakfast meat, and eggs) so it's one of my weekend breakfast go-to meals. 

Press the sausage into a patty (I like the all natural kind that comes uncooked in a roll.) Make it larger than you think you need it, as the sausage shrinks when it cooks. 

Then, while the sausage is cooking, scramble your eggs. I use a metal biscuit cutter sprayed with cooking spray to shape my egg. I put the biscuit cutter in the nonstick skillet over medium heat, then pour the raw scrambled egg into it. A bit may leak out the sides, but it still turns out great. If you want a thicker egg layer, use more eggs. 

Toast your english muffins (I like whole wheat.) when your eggs are almost done, then melt a slice of cheese on one half of the muffin. I do that in my toaster oven (LOVE that thing! Best cheese melter ever!) I use Tillamook cheddar cheese because it's my favorite (as a native Oregonian, I am biased against other cheeses). Any cheddar will work. 

Then, assemble your sandwich. I put the egg against the cheese because I feel like the sandwich holds together better that way. Then I put the sausage on top, then the other muffin half. It is so good! 

Hope you enjoy this recipe! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Books, Cookie Dough, and Life

Life gets crazy sometimes. What do I mean by that, dear readers? I mean 10 hour workdays, home renovations, and big life decisions. I spent half my weekend in Home Depot, I'm just sure of it. The salespeople probably recognize me by now. Also, my husband wants to put our house on the market, which will probably be turn out to be amazing, but is  terrifying. I've got a few great posts planned for you, but for now my rare and precious downtime is best spent with a cup of tea and The Great Gatsby. (How have I lived for this long and NOT read this book? Why was this not high school required reading? It's SO GOOD!). 

My boss just gave me a book called "The Secret of Everything" (by Barbara O'Neal) that she said I needed to read, so that will be my next teatime companion. I have a "to-read" list that will never, ever, ever be completed. I'm totally OK with that. There's nothing better than a good book. (In case you were wondering...Also on my "to-read" The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, All the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The 3rd book in the C.H.A.O.S series by Jon S. Lewis,  The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I have... eclectic taste in literature.) 

Yesterday was long and exhausting, and cookie dough was required (some days you just need cookie dough to eat. Some days you need to bake cookies, but that was not yesterday.) I whipped up a super quick eggless cookie dough, here's the recipe:
Cream together 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup white sugar. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 2 tbsp milk. Mix until fluffy. Stir in 3/4 cup of flour and a large handful of chocolate chips. Add more flour if it needs to be thicker, and more milk if it needs to be thinner. Then eat it!

Have you read anything interesting lately? What's on your "to-read" list? 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Triple Decker S'mores Bars

I have been really in the mood for spring and summer to roll around. For being the shortest month, February sure is LOOOOOONG! I'm tired of the grey cloudy skies. I want tulips, and sunshine and bonfires…. and S'MORES! Luckily I don't have to wait for that last one! I made some AMAZING 3 layer s'mores bars. This is a bold claim, but they are better than actual s'mores! Don't believe me? TRY THEM!! They have a buttery graham cracker crust, a layer of milk chocolate fudge, and a homemade marshmallow top layer. Never made homemade marshmallows? Fear not, your mixer does most of the work for you. And they taste approximately one million times better than the store bought kind, so you really owe it to yourself to try them. 

First we make the graham cracker layer. Start off with 2 packages ( 2 sleeves, not 2 boxes…18 full crackers total) of graham crackers. Reduce them to dust with a blender or food processor. Make sure you get the crumbs nice and fine.That's a secret of a good crumb crust. I used to use a ziplock bag and a rolling pin, and my crusts always fell apart. So make sure to use a blender or food processor to get your crumbs fine enough. Then add in 3 TBS of white sugar and stir together in a mixing bowl. Melt a stick of butter and slowly add into the crumb mixture. Stir until combined, then pour into a buttered 9X13 inch pan. Press down firmly with a measuring cup, or buttered hands. 

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, then let cool slightly while you make the fudge layer. If you let it cool completely the graham cracker layer tends to fall off. 

Next we make the chocolate fudge layer. Combine a chopped 7oz GIANT Hershey bar with a 12oz bag of chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of butter (cut into pieces) in a microwave safe bowl. Set your microwave to medium heat and microwave for 1 minute. Stir (chocolate should be slightly melty, but still mostly solid), then add a can of sweetened condensed milk.

 Microwave for a few minutes on medium heat, stirring every 30 seconds until everything is combined and fudgey. You can do this on the stovetop if you're not a fan of the microwave, but I find the microwave easier and the results are identical.  Pour over the graham cracker layer and smooth out with a rubber spatula. I found that didn't get it smooth enough for me, so I sprayed my hands lightly with nonstick spray and patted it down until it was nice and flat and even. 

Let this cool for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. Go do something else so your'e not tempted to make the marshmallow layer too soon. It really needs to be completely set up before you even think about making the next layer. I had lunch, did dishes, and folded laundry while catching up on my TV. Seriously DON'T RUSH THIS! After 2 hours or more of cooling, take it out of the fridge when you start your marshmallow layer. 

Now we make our marshmallow layer. (You can half the marshmallow layer if you want. The way the recipe is written now, the marshmallow layer is really big, twice the size of the other layers. I might try a smaller marshmallow layer next time) 

First you add 1/2 cup of water to the bowl of your stand mixer (If you just have a hand mixer, that works too. I've done it that way before. Just put it in a large mixing bowl. You probably shouldn't attempt this without a mixer unless you have superhuman arm strength and can whisk at a high rate of speed for 12 minutes. In that case, you are amazing!). Then sprinkle 3 packets of unflavored gelatin onto the water. It gets all weird and wrinkly gelly looking, like a weird gelatin brain, and you get worried you have ruined everything, but don't worry. It looks disgusting on purpose.  

It tastes good when it's done, I promise!
Stir together  2 cups of white sugar, 1/4 cup of water, and 2/3 cup light corn starch in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until it boils. Boil it for 1 minute. This needs to be a very strong boil. You should not be able to stir it down.

Then CAREFULLY (boiling sugar is SO FREAKIN' HOT! It's practically LAVA! So be vewwy vewwy careful!) pour it into your mixer with your ugly gelatin and beat the heck out of it! Put your mixer on high speed and beat it for 12 minutes. It slowly gets thicker and more marshmallowy the longer it mixes. Then add 1/2 a scraped vanilla bean (Or a TB of vanilla extract. Or some vanilla bean paste. Whatever you wanna do) and stir together. It will be thick and sticky and look amazing. 

Hello, gorgeous! 
Pour it over your cooled chocolate layer and spread it. I patted it down with buttery hands just like I did with the fudge layer, because it's just so hard to get it even and flat with a spoon or spatula. My momma always said your hands are the best kitchen tools that you have. 

Let it set for a few hours, then slice with a buttered knife.  Try not to eat them all! 

Click here for a PRINTABLE RECIPE!

Hope you enjoy this recipe!