Category Archives: desserts

BEST WEEK EVARRRRRR

GUYS. This week is freaking awesome, and it’s Tuesday. I would let you guess, but I’m fresh from a work out and amped up on a protein shake (and a mini kit kat), so I’m just going to tell you.

1. Today my brother and his beautiful wife are welcoming their second baby girl into the world. If you don’t like kids, please stop reading my blog. Kids are awesome, and I’m pretty excited that we’re adding grandchild #12 to the ranks.
2. Valentine’s Day is this week. I could care less about the commercialized holiday itself, but I am fond of pretty flowers and fancy chocolates and telling the world how much I love my husband. It’s also a fun day to give little homemade Valentines and gifts to friends and loved ones.
3.Mini Gwinn is full on walking, talking, and growing more adorable every day. Proof:

Driving daddy's Jeep

Driving daddy’s Jeep

No joke, he LIKES wearing his sunglasses. And driving Captain Laser Pants’ Wrangler. And he doesn’t have any problem shifting the gears (well, he can’t reach the clutch, but don’t tell HIM that). Even when he’s making this face (because I make him climb on the couch without my assistance and he yells at me):

"Help me up, vile woman!"

“Help me up, vile woman!”

He’s still adorable. And sometimes he’s placid and content, like when we’re driving around in my awesome car:

IMG_20130211_152950

Ignoring the fact that “American Tail” is on for his viewing pleasure.

Wait, what?!
4. Captain Laser Pants FIXED MY FREAKING JEEP! That’s right, interwebs, MY HUSBAND THE IT SOFTWARE DEVELOPER REPLACED A REDONK COMPLICATED ENGINE IN MY CAR. He, with muscle and brawn and steel and brains, replaced my engine and a hundred other parts (like the water pump, the intake manifold, the sensors) and brought my beautiful Grand Cherokee back to liiiiiiiiiiiife. Who has six thumbs and is super stoked about this? Team freaking Gwinn, that’s who.

We are planning a baby Valentine’s Party. Because there isn’t anything cuter than that. What are you doing for Hallmark Day, interwebs?


Mini Gwinn Turns One!

So, yes, as of late, I’ve been missing in action. Well, mostly just “missing,” not much “action” lately. Some of my absence is to blame on planning a majorly huge first birthday party for mini Gwinn. It has occurred to me that many parents disapprove of throwing a big “first birthday” for the dumb reason of “the birthday baby doesn’t know what is going on”. It is to those people I would like to send a flock of pigeons to poop on their mini-vans. The first birthday party, as all good parents know, is largely a celebration for the new parents’ “survival of the first year”. We, as dutiful parents, make it a child- friendly party, give it an appropriate theme, graciously accept gifts for the birthday child, but everyone there knows it is just as much of a milestone for the baby as it is the parents.

In the spirit of selfishly planning this party, I picked out a theme like six months ago. My favorite very little person book is “The Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. I loved it when I was little, and thanks to Pinterest, I found excellent ideas on ways to make this party kick as-… butt. The good news is that mini Gwinn actually loves this book, so it didn’t seem hugely self centered to make this his party’s theme.

So when I say I started planning months ago, I’m absolutely serious. I picked the theme in March, found the ideas for invitations in July, made the invitations in August, delivered them in September… you get the idea. But, good readers, by spreading the work over months instead of days, the party itself came together (mostly) seamlessly. Rather than desperately grocery shopping for food the day before, almost everything was already finished. I’m going to share with you my super- genius party planning. Prepare to be O-MAZED.

Firstly, let me clarify. I actually came up with next to none of the ideas for mini Gwinn’s party. Secondly, it was completely serendipitous that Target’s dollar section had Hungry Caterpillar items the week I went shopping for goodie bags and accessories for the party. Lastly, if anyone copies anything from my party, I would be honored.

Pottery Barn Kids Invitations – I changed mine slightly, which are mostly visible in my own pictures. Word to the wise: Michael’s craft store sells green pom pom rope! That saved me a lot of time gluing individual pom poms together to make caterpillars. Instead of hand cutting each eye and mouth, I used a hole punch. The hole punch saw a lot of action during the making of the invitations. I went to Michael’s and bought a ream of multi- colored cardstock, used eight or nine colors for confetti dots, four basic colors for the invitation lids, and green for the leaves in the invitation jar. The mason jars were on clearance at Target, so of course I scooped them up. I used the leftover invitations to decorate the tables.

Fun Cheap or Free Party Planning – I used this website as a base for how to plan the party menu. She has a million great ideas. I bought my plates and cups at Costco, napkins at Ikea, utensils and tablecloths at the dollar store, serving trays at the dollar store and clearance from Target, and followed most of this lady’s advice. She even has a table for the type/ amount of food to serve based upon the time of day of your party. Now that I know where to buy party supplies, I will never, ever buy expensive supplies ever again. The amount of money we saved on decorations and serving was redonk.

THE MENU

Planning the menu was a lot of fun. We had 44 adults and 6 kids RSVP for the party, some with dietary restrictions, some with bottomless appetites, and some with discerning palettes (ahem, Luke). The party started at 2, and although that’s the more common lunch time for weekend days, I felt like it was safe to not provide a full meal. With that in mind, I grew up with a mother who cooked for an army of 100 every Sunday lunch, and as a good Southern woman with a Midwestern practicality, I know you can never run out of food at a party, lest you risk public humiliation.

I feel like the crowd you are feeding dictates what you serve. If we had more children at the party, more “kid- friendly” foods would have filled up the spread. Since we had so many adults, I served food according to our guest list.

Hawaiian Sweet Roll Ham & Swiss Sandwiches – I doubled the recipe. How did I keep them warm, you may ask? Redneck heater: giant foil turkey pan from the dollar store, large heating pad on “high” underneath. These sandwiches were a big hit, and trust me, you’ll love them, unless of course you hate food and yourself.

Costco Pinwheel Sandwiches – the tray serves ~30. They are sold at such a reasonable price, and they’re filling, so they’re hard to beat at a party. Kids can handle them, adults like them, and they’re pretty much wonderful.

Mac & Cheese Cups – my own pseudo creation. Velveeta (or Market Pantry) shells and cheese, bacon bits, two or three globs of sour cream, 1 tbsp. minced garlic, lots of shredded cheese. Mix it all in a big pot, then drop two spoonfuls into foil cupcake liners. These can be made the day before the party, shoved in the fridge, and reheated the day of the event. I’m enjoying a re-reheated cup right now. Again, another kid and adult friendly food. Super tasty, and very easy to handle.

Sensible Portions Veggie Straws – these are the baked equivalent of French fries. I filled up a green planter I bought from Target ( 84 cents!), dropped a cup in, and had out paper bags to fill with the straws.

Vegetable Tray with Spinach & Artichoke Dip – self explanatory.

Strawberry and Green Grape Caterpillar Kabobs – I originally had a grandiose idea to stick these in a styrofoam block, add some chocolate covered marshmallows, and make it look like a cute edible arrangement. When that failed, I just laid them on a crystal- esque tray from the dollar store. Pretty simple. Bamboo skewers from Publix, cut off the sharp edges, three or four green grapes and then a big strawberry at the end. They look reminiscent of the main (well, only) character of the book on which the party was based.

Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Juice – Crazy easy recipe. I sliced apples and froze them in a little bit of lemon water to keep them from browning. The drink dispenser looked quite pretty!

Cucumber Water – Plain old water with frozen cucumber slices. Turns out like spa water. My brother said it was too fancy.

Skinny Girl Funfetti Cupcakes – These were gone in MINUTES, people. MINUTES. I don’t know how they tasted, but I heard good things. I did a rough frosting (from the recipe on the website), then dunked the entire head of the cupcake in large nonpareil sprinkles. Very cute look. The cupcake liners were cute dots from Wilton which appropriately matched the large “1” candle.

Most importantly, THE CAKE – my mom made a GORGEOUS birthday cake for mini Gwinn. She has a groovy printer that prints sugar paper, so I asked for this pattern on a white, three layer, 10 inch cake with this filling. This cake was the best birthday cake I’ve ever had. She made cute fondant letters spelling the kiddo’s name, and it turned out to be a beautiful, clean looking cake. Amazingly, this cake actually served everyone at the party. I wanted the cake to resemble the inside cover of the book, which seemed a lot less busy than the rest of the cakes I’ve seen. This was by far my favorite Hungry Caterpillar cake. Thank you, mom!! I think I was her toughest customer yet, because I swear by homemade cake. After her hard work, we all agreed- homemade cakes taste the best, especially when made by mom!

The Smash Cake – I used a little bitty pan and this recipe to make mini Gwinn’s smash cake. No frosting, and he still went at it!

THE PARTY

I ordered balloons from Publix (tip- tell them you don’t want high float. It adds to the cost and the balloons last ~12 hours without them) and strategically placed them in focal points of the main room, specifically, on the back of mini- Gwinn’s high chair, behind the main table, and in our fire pit/ present pit. Between the balloons, the table covers, the food and the kiddos, there was enough color that major decorations weren’t needed.

The Goodie Bag Contents:

For Kiddos Under 2: 1 pair of Hungry Caterpillar socks, one Hungry Caterpillar paper bucket, 4 Hungry Caterpillar crayons, one spiral top, one kazoo or one set of castanets.
For Boys Between 2-4: The above, but instead of kazoo/ castanets, one wooden train whistle
For “Big Kids” Between 4-11: One Hungry Caterpillar reusable bag (dark green, light green or yellow), and age appropriate awesomeness from the dollar bin, like hair ties, army men, stick on mustaches, sunglasses, slinkys and crayons

We also had a “predictions and wisdom” box for guests to fill out predictions for the kiddo’s future, words of wisdom, etc. He’ll get to read them when he turns 18, but Captain Laser Pants and I got a great laugh reading them last night. I put together a small box for the bigger kids with cloud dough, bubbles and coloring pages with crayons outside, just in case it was too crowded in the house (this was used!). My mom made a cute sign that said “come on in!” so people weren’t ringing the doorbell every minute. These were all last minute additions to the party that definitely made a difference.

Needless to say, the party was incredible. THANK YOU to all who were present, all who were there in spirit, for the incredible generosity, the love, support, laughter and friendship. We are beyond blessed, mini Gwinn had an outstanding first birthday party, and we are honored to have shared our son’s first year with all of you.

If you have ideas, thoughts, questions, etc- send them on down the line in the comments!


Delicious Things I Didn’t Bake

There are many domestic endeavors at which I fail miserably, primarily, crafting of any sort. I have grandiose plans for making my own decorative benches, creating adorable cloth bowling pin bunnies for the mini- Gwinn and ten thousand other beautiful, simple crafts that, if ever completed, will look like someone gave some fabric to a homeless man to see what he couldn’t do with it. One area at which I succeed, though, is baking. I don’t usually sing my own praises, but for real, I can make a killer homemade pie crust and a yummy, now perfected fruit filling. I make cakes from scratch. Chocolate chip cookies are always, always homemade.  What I do isn’t usually pretty, but it is guaranteed to taste good. However, as you can imagine, with a house full of three dogs, a husband and a baby, I don’t always take the time to bake something.

This last week one of my Christmas gifts arrived in our mailbox (a subscription to a wonderful cooking/ baking magazine) with a three page spread on “bake sale” ideas. As a (recent) Meetup organizer for a moms’ group, some of the ideas were perfect finger foods for home party events. Since Captain Laser Pants is still working on both my cars in his spare time, I haven’t really left the house in weeks, and the domestication stir craziness is starting to sink in. The magazine provided the perfect catalyst for a treat storm. I’m sharing what I’ve made (twice now) this weekend with you guys. There’s no baking required, but it certainly does involve a level of commitment of which “break and bake” chefs need to be aware. Start to finish, with no interruptions, this will take around 30 minutes. Aside from the double boiler/ heat/ “don’t touch the stove” aspect of this recipe, it is very kid friendly, complete with rolling stuff in stuff and sprinkles. Who doesn’t love sprinkles? ALSO – these would make awesomely edible Harry Potter wands for a Harry Potter party.

Caramel – Almond – Chocolate – Sprinkle Covered Pretzel Rods (the name still needs some work)

Ingredients:
half bag of chocolate chips (semi- sweet or milk chocolate, depending on your sweet tooth)
some caramel (I used homemade caramel that I made a while back, but it takes forever to make. Here’s the recipe: House and Home Amish Caramel If you don’t have time, use store bought caramels)
handful of almonds (plain or raw)
ice cream sprinkles (these won’t dissolve in the chocolate)
pretzel rods

Yummy ingredients!

Stuff you’ll need:
double boiler (I assembled my ghetto-fied double boiler by putting a pot with water under a skillet)
aluminum foil
cooling rack (or something with small holes in which to stand the pretzel rods)
spoon or spatula (the white kind, not the “for eggs and pancakes” kind)
cellophane bags and ribbon (if this is for gifts/ guests/ party treats)
electricity

Directions:
Chop almonds VERY finely – I used our VitaMix to make the almonds almost dust. The bigger the almond pieces, the more likely they are to fall off. Lay out almond bits on a plate, set aside. Cover the cooling rack with aluminum foil; poke holes in the foil every few inches. Heat the double boiler at medium to medium low on the stove. Lightly butter the top part of the double boiler. If you’re using homemade caramel, the consistency is soft, so just plop a few big spoonfuls in the top of the double boiler and let it melt, stirring occasionally. If you’re using store bought caramels, you can unwrap several and follow suit with the double boiler, OR you can unwrap several, put a few teaspoons of water in the bowl, and microwave them until slightly liquidy- gooey. Either roll pretzel rods in the melted caramel or spoon caramel onto the pretzel rod, making sure to leave 2/3 of the pretzel bare. DO NOT cover the pretzel any more than 1/3 of the way down- the warm caramel will drip off the pretzel and you’ll have to start all over. Once a pretzel has caramel on it, roll it in the almond bits until the caramel is covered with almonds. Stand up the pretzel rod on the aluminum foil covered wire rack. Repeat until all pretzel rods are covered in caramel and almonds.
Pour ice cream sprinkles onto plate, set aside. If you have lots of caramel left over after your pretzels are covered, clean out the double boiler. Otherwise,  melt chocolate chips in the double boiler at medium low, stirring frequently. Gently spoon chocolate onto caramel/ almond covered portions of pretzel rods. I liked leaving some of the caramel/ almond part exposed- it’s like a pretty petticoat of yummy. Roll chocolate covered pretzel rod in sprinkles until decoratively covered and stand in the wire cooling rack. Let these cool for around 20- 30 minutes before sealing in an airtight container or wrapping them in cellophane bags.

Words of Advice:
Don’t overload the pretzel with caramel, almonds or chocolate. Otherwise it gets drippy, and then it’s not as pretty.
Let it cool completely before packaging. The chocolate needs to harden around the soft caramel.
These are really good, so make a lot.

Take the caramel about a third of the way down the pretzel. Gotta have a handle for all that nom!

Roll pretzels in the almonds, coating completely.

Standy uppy pretzel party!

Cautionary tale pretzel- don’t overload on the chocolate/ caramel/ almond combo.

Ta da! This was my attempt at a pretty “finished product” image. But I’m not a photographer. Nurrr.

This recipe made about 16 for me. Hope your family enjoys it as much as we do!