Jun 28, 2013

Your Grocery Shopping Rut - Dare to be Different

I don't know about you, but when it comes to cooking, no matter how hard I try to "think outside the box", it never works.  I always end up with the same 8-10 basic meals ALL....THE....TIME.  I mean, how am I supposed to encourage my kids to be adventurous in their eating when I don't cook that way!?

So recently, I came up with an idea that inspired me, and I hope it will inspire you.

On your next trip to the grocery store, try this:  replace EVERYTHING, and I do mean EVERYTHING, in your usual shopping cart with something different.  And just to clarify, I don't mean trading Ruffles for Wavy Lays or Aunt Jemima for Mrs. Butterworth.  I mean PICK SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  Now, I'll let you have your staples:  milk, eggs, etc.  But to really get in the spirit of it, anything you can trade out, DO IT.  Here are a few examples:

Instead of.........try
regular rice.......quinoa
ground beef.......ground turkey
chicken breasts.......pork loin chops
pizza dough/crust.......Naan bread
ranch dressing.......balsamic vinaigrette 
low fat yogurt.......Greek yogurt
white flour.......unbleached 100% whole wheat flour
Fritos.......pita chips
orange juice.......grapefruit juice

See what I mean?  Get your family's taste buds moving.  Get out of the rut.  Your family may actually learn to like new things.  And if not, you might all lose a few pounds! 

Jun 26, 2013

Flea Market Find

A few weekends ago my husband and I spent a Saturday at various flea markets in our area.  In one of the dumpiest ones, I made this great find! 

Now, maybe you don't as excited about old stuff as I do, but I wanted to show you this great cake carrier.  It looks like it's from the 70s.

Let me take you on a little tour:

Here it is all put together.  I LOVE the flowers and don't mind a bit about the scratches and the rust.  When I use it for a cake, I will line the food-touching parts with foil or wax paper or even a pretty doily.  No problem.
Here are all the parts separately.  Can you tell what goes where?!  I'm telling you, this thing is full of hidden storage spaces!
Looky here!  In the bottom section, under the cake plate, is a little space where you could store/transport cookies or brownies or anything else low profile.
Then you put your cake on the cake plate and cover it with the tall flowered section.
Then you add the lid.  But wait!  There is more room for cookies or brownies or any other kind of treat right there under the lid!  I'm telling you, this thing can house a dessert extravaganza!
Then you pick it up by the trusty little handle and off you go!  I can't wait to use it!

Jun 24, 2013

Glue Gun Glam!

This is a fun way to use items you probably already have on hand for inexpensive, unique and pretty earrings!

Would you believe the main material for this project is...Drops from a glue gun!?

  • Printer with paper and ink
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Silicone or non-stick heat-safe mat
  • Gold spray paint
  • Acrylic paint in various colors of your choice
  • Gloss finish lacquer 
  • Jump Rings (2)
  • Earring findings (2)
  • Strong adhesive (like E-6000)

Do this:

I started by printing off some circles in different sizes, and wound up using ones that were about an inch in diameter.

Place the page of circles underneath the silicon mat.

Using the circles as a guide, place dots of glue on the mat, making sure none of them touch!  
IMPORTANT:  Let them cool before you join the dots with more dots.  Otherwise, it will all just glob together.

After the forms cool completely, spray paint front and backs with gold paint.  To make this easier and less messy, I strung my forms on a piece of twine and tied it to either side of a cardboard box.  Let paint dry completely.

Get your acrylic paints together.  I used a metallic gold, pineapple yellow, a dusty green, peacock blue, navy, and dark purple.

Begin by choosing three colors (I used yellow, peacock, navy) and use one of each color to paint the sections on, then middle, then bottom.  You'll probably need two coats.

Then just dab on colors in a close shade with a tiny paintbrush, then dab off with paper towel.  I dabbed at it until I got a look I liked.  I also swirled similar colors together.  When it was a little dryer, I used the metallic gold and repeated the brushing-and-dabbing process.  Last, I used a tiny bit of copper colored Rub-n-Buff around the very edges, but you could do without that if you want.

After this dried completely (didn't take very long), I liked the look, but it was a bit dull, so I used a glossy lacquer spray to make it shiny.  I did three coats, with just a little drying time in between.

Next I took a jump ring and attached it to the earring finding.  

Using E-6000, I simply glued the jump ring to the back of the form, making sure the hook faced the correct direction and didn't get glued.

Once the adhesive dries completely, they're ready to wear and show off!

By the way, I saw similar earrings for $420, but these were SUPER CHEAP!!  The only supplies I had to buy were the jump rings and the earring findings.  

Jump rings - $1.39 for a pack of 12 = 11.5 cents each.  I used two, for 23 cents.
Earring findings - $1.39 for a pack of 8 = 17 cents each.  I used two, for just under 35 cents.
I already had everything else and used minimal amounts of each, so basically these earrings cost me less than 60 cents for the pair!

Jun 21, 2013

Rescue that ugly piece of furniture

We all have that piece (or pieces) of furniture that we hate.  It's ugly, it's tired, it's useless, but we can't seem to get rid of it.  For me it was THIS table.  I put it in the garage a few months ago ready to throw it away.  This week I decided to try to make something of it.  After all, it couldn't get any worse! 

Supplies I used:  a chisel or utility knife, medium sandpaper, a damp rag, good primer (I like Kilz), any paint you like (I just picked a sample quart we bought from Sherwin Williams but chose not to use on the wall), clear furniture wax (I used Minwax)

Here's my step by step process:
Step 1:  Prepare your surface.  Remove loose veneer, sand and rough ALL surfaces.  Remember, you want the primer and paint to have something rough to stick to.  Wipe down your surface to remove any dust.

Step 2:  Apply a thin layer of primer to the entire piece.  It is very important to not paint too thick.  Paint thin and even layers, checking carefully for thick spots or drips.  Allow the primer to dry completely.

Step 3:  Apply 1-2 coats of paint, depending on the needed coverage.  As with the primer, check for thick spots and drips BEFORE it dries.  It's better to do 2 thin coats, drying in between, than to try to cover it thick in 1 coat.  Allow the paint to dry COMPLETELY - preferably overnight.  NOTE:  This color is Colonnade Grey by Sherwin Williams.

Step 4:  It's time to shabby it up!  To do this, think about where wear would naturally occur on any piece of furniture - along edges, around the drawers, where there are any moving parts, around hardware, on the legs and feet.  Take you sandpaper, fold it into a small workable square, and begin to sand.  You can't go wrong.  I promise.  Do a little at a time, see if you like it, and keep going!  I did this 4-5 times, going over the same areas over and over and over...sanding, looking, sanding some more.  (I may go back and do even more later, who knows?!)  I generally take a "less is more" approach with the shabby-ing...some people sand it all over.  You have to discover and do what you like.

Step 5 (optional):  Apply the clear furniture wax to the entire piece.  Just follow the directions on the can, but it's very easy.  Apply the wax in a thin layer and buff off with a clean cloth.  It really is that easy.

It's so easy to be intimidated with DIY, especially when it's with furniture and potentially expensive pieces.  Don't be afraid.  You can do it.  Find a piece that you can stand to mess up - a frame, a box, a small table, a bench, even outdoor furniture.  Try it out.  See if you like it.  I did!  In fact, my initial intention was to sell the table when I was finished.  I loved it so much, I decided to keep it!

Jun 19, 2013

It's Time for Summer Bingo!

 A week or two before our kids got out of school, I sent out a plea on Facebook, saying that I wasn't looking forward to summer for the first time EVER, and would someone please send me some ideas for staying sane and happy with my four kiddos at home?!?

A friend told me that she had played Summer Bingo with her kids last summer and they all loved it.  I decided to give it a try! 
Here are the rules to Summer Bingo.  Make them fit your family!
We start out with the Bingo card (see top photo).  Each square is filled with a different activity.  All of them are easy for kids to do on their own (or with minimal help) and there is a good variety of things that are fun and things that are chores.  Each time an activity is completed, they receive a star on that square.  For each row of stars, they receive a ticket.  Tickets are collected in a jar (one for each child) and can be redeemed for all kinds of different things.

An important point that I keep stressing with my kids (we're on week 3 of playing Bingo!), is that the basic chores of the morning must be completed before starting to play Bingo (dressed, teeth brushed, breakfast eaten, rooms picked up and any other chores done).

I was a bit skeptical at first that my oldest son, who is 14, would want to participate.  But our first week, all four kids were motivated and excited and all four of them filled up every single square!  It was a fun way for them to keep busy and do things they might not come up with themselves.  I'm pretty sure that my oldest three are saving up all their tickets for the big cash prize. Can't say I blame them!
Here are their jars with the tickets.  The tickets are just cut up pieces of paper -- highly technical.  
In order to keep things interesting, I change up the activities on the card each week.  And I'm trying to keep a running list of activities that would be good for Bingo as they come to mind during the week.  Here are some of the things that have been on our cards so far:

play a board game with a sibling
ask a parent for a job to do, and do it
play outside for an hour
read for 1/2 hour
call a long distance friend to say hello
go for a bike or scooter ride with a sibling
practice typing for 30 minutes
make lunch and eat it outside
play Solitaire
write a letter
do an act of kindness for a family member
listen to an audio book for an hour
put together a puzzle
sketch something from nature
color or draw for 30 minutes
build something with LEGO or Playmobil
practice your instrument for 30 minutes
listen to classical music for 30 minutes
scrub a toilet
fold a load of laundry 
play Wii Fit for 30 minutes
play an educational website
take photos of nature and show them to a sibling/parent
read poetry for 30 minutes and tell your favorite

These work for our kids, who range in age from 14 down to 7.  Of course, if you have littler kids, you can adjust the activities accordingly!
This is David and Goliath depicted in LEGO.

While my friend did send me her versions of the Bingo cards and the rules, you can look this up on Pinterest and find all kinds of variations.  Or make up your own!  Use this as a starting point and customize it to fit your clan!

Jun 17, 2013

Get More From Canned Frosting

I read at A Subtle Revelry that you can whip up your store-bought frosting and it will double in just a short time.

I was skeptical but just had to try it.

I started with a Creamy Supreme Classic White frosting from Pillsbury.

Here it is in the bowl before I whipped it:
And after:
Not sure it quite DOUBLED, but it did increase in volume.  I did notice at the grocery store that the same size can of frosting for the whipped version weighed less than the non-whipped version, though not half as much.  So that tells me that this is a legit tip, in theory.  

My only thought is that it isn't doubled, but it is increased (in my experiment anyway).  I just used a regular hand mixer, so it might be different with a stand mixer.  Also I suppose it might have increased even more if I had whipped it longer.

Obviously if you're adding air to it, it's going to fill it out, which should increase the surface area you're able to frost with the same amount of frosting.  
Verdict?  Give it a try if you're in a rush and short on frosting.  Good tip!

Jun 14, 2013

Easy, Healthy, and Versatile Crockpot Chicken Tacos

When cooking for my family, I have rules...very important rules.  Below is a list of these rules, in order of importance:
  • It must be easy to cook.
  • If it requires more than 30 minutes of work, I probably won't do it. 
  • It should be (mostly) healthy.
  • My family should like it.
And I must say, I am notorious for waiting until the last possible minute before deciding what we're going to eat.  Anything that can be made with frozen meat is always okay in my book!  

I found this recipe a few years ago, and it has become one of my OUR favorites.  I would share the original source, but I don't remember any more!  If you know where it came from, please let me know!

  •  frozen chicken breasts
  • 1 16 oz. jar of your favorite salsa
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning
  • that's it...nothing more...I promise
  • Place the chicken breasts (as many as you want) in a crock pot.  I generally allow 1 breast per adult, but there are always plenty of leftovers.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the taco seasoning and salsa until blended.
  • Pour salsa mixture over the chicken and cover tightly.

  • Cook on low for 3 hours or so (I've never tried it on high for a shorter cooking time, but I bet it would work, too.)

  • Pull each breast out and shred it with a fork.
That's it.  You're done!!! **

You will find that there is quite a bit of sauce left in the crock pot.  You can pour this over the shredded chicken before serving or pour it in a bowl and use as a sauce on the side.

Our favorite way to serve is on fresh flour tortillas.  But the possibilities are practically endless:  nachos, enchiladas, sandwiches, salads, pitas, etc.  You can't go wrong with this recipe!

**Blogger's Note:  My family sat down to eat before I could take a picture of the finished product.  By the time I grabbed my camera, half of it was gone.   See?  Told ya' they love it!