Carrot Cake Cupcakes, Cupcake Stabilization, and the Menu for the Week

On Tuesday and Thursdays, the hooligans go to Tae Kwan Do, and we arrive back home right at dinner time. Now that the time has changed, I can push dinner back a bit, but it’s still a time crunch to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible. I love to use the crockpot on those days, so that all I need to do is throw together a salad or cut up some fruit to complete the meal.

This week’s menu uses the crockpot for two of the five nights:

For the Chicken Pot Pie Soup, I substituted a cup of fatfree evaporated milk (from a can) for the half and half, and my first grader made biscuits (all by himself, except for putting in and taking out of the oven) instead of the pie crust.  It took thirty minutes from the time we arrived home from Tae Kwan Do until we sat down to dinner. I think you could probably make it in the crockpot, as well, by leaving out the two cups of water.

So since I had all these easy meals, I decided to make from-scratch Carrot Cake Cupcakes to give as teacher gifts for Easter.  I used a recipe from my King Arthur cookbook, similar to this King Arthur Carrot Cake Cupcake Recipe.  Mine had only 2-1/2 cups shredded carrots, 8 oz crushed pineapple(drained), and 1 cup shredded coconut, but otherwise was the same. It was doggone delicious, though, so let your conscience be your guide as to whether to substitute in the ingredients I used.

Cupcake-and-Box

I found some really cute boxes at World Market that were 3”x 3”.  A package of six was $4.99.Cupcake-Box

When I bought them, I had in mind using snack mix or cookies to fill them, so when I decided on cupcakes, I realized I needed to make a cupcake holder to insert into the boxes.  It’s really quite simple.

I cut cardstock to 4-3/4” x 4-3/4” and scored it an inch in from every edge. I snipped one corner line in each corner, and cut out one side piece so I could slide my punch in far enough. CUpcake-Insert-Cut

I punched out a 2-1/2” scallop circle, then put adhesive on all the corner pieces and assembled a little stand.  I adhered the side piece I had cut out back onto the two corner pieces, too, for stability.Cupcake-Insert-ready

Then it slid right into the box, ready to have a cupcake in it!Cupcake-Insert

Cupcake-in-box

Now there’s a life skill I bet you never planned to learn today…cupcake stabilization. And don’t judge me for those giant marshmallow carrots…Thundercloud insisted we needed to add them.

Happy Easter, y’all!

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Glorious Cross Paintings

On a dreary cold Palm Sunday last year, we made these Rainbow Cross pictures.  I’d like to take credit for that creativity, but if you’d like to see the original, it’s at Housing a Forest, which is a blog filled with great ideas for crafts with kids. I blogged about this last year, as well, so if it seems familiar, don’t worry. You’re not developing a mindlink with me or anything.Cross-Complete

Here’s our version.
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First, cut a piece of scrap paper in half, so it’s 5-1/2” x 8”, then cut a cross out of it, as tall as the paper is.  Color around the edges with oil pastels (put it on another piece of scrap paper).  By the way, on a totally unrelated note, Spot Shot will quickly remove oil pastels from formica.  My rainbow-loving kid did his coloring in rainbow order, but the rest of us did not.  I have to admit, his did look a little cooler.

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Everyone did well at this.  The pastel needs to be right on the edge in a fairly thick layer.

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After the edges are completely colored, lay the cross on a piece of white cardstock.  Use your finger to go all the way around, pulling the color off the cross and onto your paper.  Hold the cross firmly in place with your other hand.  The little ones needed some help with this step, but it’s a pretty forgiving craft.

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After the cross was done, we cut an arched piece of paper, colored it with shades of green along the edge, and pulled it onto the white paper to make a hill. Remember not to pull it where the cross is, so it looks like it’s behind the cross.

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As a last step, we painted the sky and hill using watercolor paint. The kind the kids use at school, 8 colors in a little tray, not real watercolors an artist would use. The oil pastels resist the paint, so you don’t have to be super careful here.

We also made these on half-size pieces of cardstock, using a cross cut from a 4-1/4”x 5-1/2” piece of cardstock, and created Easter cards from them.  The kids loved this craft so much, we made them again this year. And that’s the sign of a winning craft…their enthusiasm to recreate it!

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Craft Bead Memory Wire Bracelet

In my crusade to reduce the amount of sugar ingested by the hooligans, we try to limit the amount we give them in their Easter baskets. They really aren’t that interested in the candy, anyway, believe it or not. For example, last year their baskets had a chocolate bunny from Trader Joe’s…all three of them(the bunnies, not the hooligans) are on the top shelf of the snack cabinet, forgotten, and ready to make another appearance this year!  Because I know they won’t eat them, so why spend the money on new ones when they’ll get the same “woohoo, a big hunk o’chocolate” feeling and then forget them again as they explore the rest of their basket contents..

That’s not to say we go all overboard on filling the baskets with expensive new toys, though. This year, they’re each getting a small Lego set, bubbles, new markers, and some little fillers like memo pads (they love those for the bus) and Hot Wheels for the boys. For Princess Thundercloud, I made this cute bracelet.

Easter-Bracelet-ChaosServed

It’s another project I thought of while cleaning out the craft room earlier this month. The beads were in the craft bead section (meaning they’re plastic and inexpensive) at Michaels, and the silver beads and memory wire I “found” in my jewelry-making stash.

I cut a length of memory wire, put a loop in one end using the needlenose pliers, and started stringing the beads. Five minutes later, I had a cute little bracelet for her basket. I still have enough beads leftover in more primary colors to make another fun bracelet for summer or as a birthday gift for a classmate.

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Spring Caramel Party Mix

So last Friday, I realized that I was supposed to contribute something to the bake sale at school on Saturday. I spent all day Thursday cleaning out and then deep cleaning my kitchen, so I knew I was pretty low on both flour and sugar.  What to do?  Fortunately, I planned to make this party mix for the hubs’ work this week, so had the ingredients on hand. And, of course, it couldn’t be easier and still be homemade!

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Caramel Party Mix

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup (Karo)
  • 1 cup butter (not margarine)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 12 oz box Rice Chex
  • 8 oz small pretzel twists
  • 12 oz bag M&M’s (I used pastel ones, but feel free to use whatever you want!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cereal and pretzels in large roasting pan.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add brown sugar and Karo and give it a quick stir to mix. Then, without stirring, bring it to a boil and continue to cook two minutes. Remove from heat, add baking soda, and pour over cereal and pretzel mix. Toss gently to coat evenly.

3. Bake at 350 for 8 minutes, stir, then bake another 8 minutes. Remove from oven, pour onto sheets of foil or wax paper, and let cool completely. Stir in candies.

Click here for the printable recipe

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March Books of the Month

Wow!  This year is just speeding past…while covered in snow here in Wisconsin.  Oh, well, at least all this cold snowy weather means I can stay inside and read, right?

I read some really interesting books this month, at your suggestions…so please keep the ideas coming!

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

This book provided a fascinating look at the social strata aboard the Titanic.  I know what you’re thinking…Titanic stories have been done to death. I thought this was a fresh approach, telling a tale of what happened after the sinking.

Without giving anything away, it’s the story of a young maid who accompanies a famous clothing designer and becomes swept into the woman’s spheres. becoming a dressmaker herself.  This glimpse of society both on the ship and in the New York of 1913 provided a can’t-put-down kind of read.

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

One of my friends suggested this book last month, and it was a winner, so thanks, Judy!  I had read several reviews of it and couldn’t convince myself that a book about a man and his mom sharing book discussions as she was dying of cancer would be uplifting in any way.

I’m still not sure “uplifting” would be the word to describe this book, but I was fascinated by the discussions between the mother and son, and the relevance the books they chose seemed to have in their lives.  Additionally, the entire family seemed so interesting and far from the family life most of us know. They lived down the street from Julia Child when he was a boy, for crying out loud.

One last aspect that I really enjoyed:  All the book recommendations, as well as having read many of the books referenced in the story.  Try it, you’ll like it (if you’re an avid reader).

Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles

This book, recommended by my friend Karla, hooked me right from the beginning.  I think this proved to be my favorite this month. In addition to a wonderful story, the writing was so lyrical, reading it was a true pleasure.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads(they say it better than I):

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.
Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

There you have it…all of these books provided hours of reading enjoyment this month, as I waited (and waited and waited) for spring to arrive. So I can move my reading outside to the deck, of course!

Fish and Chips…and the Week’s Menu

If I haven’t mentioned it before, these menus are actually what we had for dinner the preceding week.  I don’t want y’all to plan something for your own families that isn’t perfectly delicious, or that kids won’t eat. I’m determined that, despite the continued winter-like weather here, we WILL begin to eat as though it’s actually spring!

Monday: Drip Beef Sliders with Oven-roasted Potatoes, Onions, and Peppers

Tuesday: Three Peas in a Pasta with Strawberry Romaine Salad

Wednesday: Marinated Grilled Chicken with Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter Sauce and Baked Potatoes

Thursday:  Chicken, Bacon, and Ranch Quesadillas with Chopped Vegetable Salad

Friday:  Homemade Fish and Chips with Raw Veggies and Dip

Marinade for chicken: Combine ingredients in large Ziploc bag.  Marinate chicken breasts in frig at least 30 minutes and  for no more than 2 hours (or it will be WAY too salty)

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Montreal Steak Seasoning
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar

Quesadillas:  Chop leftover grilled chicken and place on tortilla with crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, and green onions.  Drizzle with ranch.  Top with another tortilla and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. Each quesadilla serves 2 kids or 1 adult.

Strawberry Romaine Salad:

  • 1 romaine heart, chopped
  • 2 cups strawberries, sliced
  • 1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
  • Dressing:  Combine 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 3 Tbsp sugar, 1/3 cup buttermilk, and 1 Tbsp poppy seeds.  If you don’t have buttermilk, substitute 1 Tbsp vinegar and 1/4 cup milk.

My hooligans have already planned our first meal when we move back to Washington…Steamers on the beach overlooking the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  It’s a tiny little place with water on one side and train tracks on the other, so the kids think it’s all that and a bag a chips.  In the meantime, we make do with my homemade version (which is much healthier and less expensive, but nowhere near the water OR a train track).FishnChips

This takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, but it’s really very little hands on time.  While the fish and fries are baking, I cut up some fresh fruit or make these individual veggie cups.  I place about a tablespoon of ranch dressing in the bottom of small bowls or cups, then stand the veggies up in it.  That way, everyone can double dip to their heart’s content!

Oven “Fried” Fish

Serves 4

  • 4 or 5 tilapia loin fillets (ours are from Costco)
  • 1-1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • ½ cup egg substitute
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
  • Alessi Waffle Fries

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. You’ll need four shallow bowls, such as pasta plates. In the first, mix the flour and seasoning. In the second, pour the egg substitute. In the third, place the panko. Cut the fish in half both length- and widthwise, making four “sticks” from each fillet.

3. Line a large rimmed pan with foil and place a wire rack in it. Spray the rack with cooking spray. Roll a piece of fish in the flour mixture, then the egg, then the panko to coat. Place on the pan, and repeat with remaining fish. Spray the coated fish lightly with cooking spray if desired. (It makes them brown a bit better.)

4. Place the fries on another baking sheet and place both the fish and the fries in the oven. Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes, until the fish flakes easily and the fries are golden and crisp.

Click here for the printable recipe

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Thumbprint Easter Cards

Several years ago, when we only had two hooligans, we made super cute “thumb-bunny loves you” Easter cards using their little prints.  I’m hoping enough time has passed that I can get away with sending these again this year, with the third hooligan’s prints added this time. Bunny-Card

To make these, you’ll need some simple supplies:

  • Ink pad(s)…we used Daffodil Delight and Sahara Sand
  • Fine-tip markers for adding details
  • White cardstock
  • Printed scrapbook paper…I love the colors in Stampin’ Up’s International Bazaar DSP
  • Border punches…optional, but they add a bit of pizzazz!

For both cards, I cut white cardstock into 4-1/4” x 2” strips.  For the thumb-bunny cards, the kids pressed a print from their thumb for the face, then the sides of their pinkies for the ears.  I then bit my tongue and sat on my hands and allowed the eldest to add pink to the ears and nose, blue eyes, and black whiskers and mouth. Oh, and a bowtie to finish them. I drew the tie.

I cut a large egg shape from cardstock, leaving one side as a folded edge. We used that as a template to cut the card bases from 8-1/2” x 5-1/2” pieces, folded in half. We also traced the template onto the DSP and cut those, using them to completely cover the front of the card base. After punching along either side of the thumbprint piece, we punched two other borders from Rich Razzleberry and layered all that onto the DSP.

Inside I wrote “Thumb-bunnies love you!  Have a blessed Easter!”

Duck-CardWe followed all the same steps for the ducks, which were easier prints for the kids to make. Inside those cards I wrote. “Hope your Easter is happy, happy, happy!” I’m certain we have some Duck Dynasty fans in our family who will get a chuckle from these cards.

The kids thought these were fun to make, although they would have preferred getting as many of my stamps dirty in as many different color inks as possible, but this was something everyone could help with and still have a card that people won’t mind displaying in their homes. Hopefully.

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He Is Risen Tomb Centerpiece

My sister-in-law sent me a photo last year of a clever “empty tomb” centerpiece, and I’ve been waiting ever since to make one for our home. I love that it’s such a perfect visual for the kids to understand what the tomb looked like and how the stone was rolled away.Tomb-Centerpiece

To make it, I used a table-top fountain I already had, since the purple pottery bowl looks amazing for an Easter table. The one my sister-in-law saw was made in a large pottery plant saucer.  I actually tried to buy one of those, but the garden centers here are still buried in snow and there’s no pottery to be found. Happily, I spied the fountain and realized it would work.

Anyway, I took the fountain parts out, leaving the bowl almost full of small river rock gravel.  I half-buried a clear plastic punch cup in the gravel and arranged large rocks from the fountain around it.  I covered the whole thing with green Spanish moss (from the floral crafts department at Walmart) to represent a hill.Tomb-Cup

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To make the crosses, one of the kids chose twigs from the yard (fortunately there were a few sticking out of the snowbanks) and I bound them together with some fancy yarn. Then we could stick them through the moss and into the gravel so they were pretty secure.

Once I figured out I could use the rocks and bowl from the fountain, this project took us about half an hour to complete.  Until I saw those rocks in the fountain, I was stymied as to how I could find appropriate rocks under the foot and a half of snow we still have in the flowerbeds.

It’s been a tremendous source of conversation as the kids see it each evening, which makes it simple to emphasize the true meaning and discussion of the events of Easter.

Speaking of Easter, here’s a little Princess Thundercloud story to brighten your day.  At Mass this weekend, during the Sign of Peace, I turned to exchange Peace with my husband first, as I always do.  Apparently she forgot that we shake the kids’ hand after that, as I heard her exclaim, “Mama, I’m tryin’ to give you your piece of the Lord!”  After she offered pieces of the Lord to all those around us, they all wished me extra peace. Heaven knows I need it!

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A Ginormous, Epic Fail…and a Rainbow Success!

I know…it’s shocking, but I actually have crafting fails on occasion.  Okay, perhaps more than occasionally. But this one is the biggest I’ve had in a while. Last year, I pinned Martha’s Geode Eggs when I saw them on her Snow Day show. Aren’t they pretty? 6134_041311_egg_geodes.jpg

Photo from MarthaStewart.com

I didn’t get my act together in time to make them for Easter then, so this year I vowed to do so. I found alum powder online and ordered it, poked holes in my eggs and cut them into halves, and followed the directions exactly. When the empty halves dried, I painted the insides and edges with white glue them sprinkled them heavily with the alum.

egg-cutting         egg-halves

Then I waited overnight for them to dry and made up the dye baths EXACTLY AS IT SAID.

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The hooligans and I were so excited. The website said it would take 12-15 hours for the crystals to grow.  But they didn’t. So we left them overnight and all the next day. After about 52 hours, then kids came home from school and said, “Why is this dish towel soaking wet?”  Well, let me tell you. Through the process of diffusion (or perhaps osmosis, I get the two confused), the alum had actually permeated the aluminum bowls and the blue and purple dyes had leached out. Onto my off-white countertops.

So here’s what I learned…Spot Shot carpet cleaner and Bar Keepers Friend will remove all traces of dark blue dye, but only after about an hour of repeated scrubbings. Needless to say, that is not a lesson I wanted to learn from this experience.

Here’s the eggs after I dumped all the dye solution out.

Geode-Wet

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They’re kind of pretty, but no crystals. I did take this cool photo, though, which I think will make a nifty Easter print or card.

Geode-Stacked

We used liquid food coloring and alum powder from Nuts.com (which has fabulously quick delivery and some darn tasty organic snacks at good prices). After this fail, I read all the the reviews online (which I realize I should have done first) and found out that it must be potassium aluminum sulfate, not merely aluminum sulfate which is what I had.

I think we will not be trying this again. To make 6 colors required two pounds of alum.  The alum I ordered was only about $3 a pound, so that’s an okay investment. The kind we actually needed is about $12 a pound, and that’s just not worth it for us. I did read that you can do this using borax, but the results didn’t seem as impressive and the borax may be more caustic, if you’re trying to do something with your kids.

The original also recommends ordering powdered concentrated dyes, which I thought were a bit pricey.  The liquid food coloring worked just fine, I think, except for the purple.

I normally don’t bother showing my craft or cooking fails to you, but I’ve seen this repinned so many times on Pinterest, I wanted to point out that the ingredients and directions need a little clarification. Specifically, make sure your alum contains potassium and that you should not use aluminum bowls, only glass.

If you do decide to try it, I’d love to see your results!

And now for the success…I made these Rainbow Jello Cubes from Mom on Timeout for St. Patrick’s Day and they turned out beautifully. Even though they did take about three hours to make, because you have to let each layer sit awhile.  Totally worth it for the wow factor from the kids, though. Mine truly looked exactly like these.

And, yes, I’m attempting to ignore the Red 40 and Yellow 5, not to mention all the sugar, that those pretty little cubes contain. I only allowed the kids to have a few on St. Patrick’s Day and sent the rest to the hubs’ work. Those soldiers can handle the chemicals by now!

Rainbow-Jello-Cubes

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Glittered Easter Card

One ginormous benefit of (finally) getting my craft room cleaned up and organized this month?  I rediscovered tons of craft and card-making ideas and supplies!  Yes, we are only twenty months into our twenty-four month assignment here in Wisconsin and I finally have everything just how I want it in my craft room.  Oh, well.  I took photos of how everything was arranged in our house in Washington, so when we move back there, it shouldn’t take me so long to get all set up again, right?

Anyway, one of the cards and supplies I found way back in the shelves uses a fun, fun, fun technique…with glitter!  glitter-card-chaosserveddai

It’s exceedingly difficult to capture in a photo how glittery this card really is…the glitter is on the back side of a piece of transparency, so the surface of the card is smooth and almost magical-looking. My kids pronounced it super cool. And tried to put their dirty little pawprints all over it.

To make this, or a similar card (I’ve done fall foliage, pumpkins and an American flag this way, with gorgeous results), you’ll need just a few supplies:

  • a large detailed stamp
  • glue that dries clear with a very fine tip on the bottle
  • various superfine glitters
  • a transparency, like for an overhead
  • Stazon or other permanent ink

I bought the stamp, glue, and some of the glitters at a stamping store in Kansas where I took a class on this technique several years ago. Or maybe it was in Missouri. Anyway, if you don’t have a stamping store near you, all of these supplies can be found at a craft store. Or maybe right in your own stash that you’ve forgotten about!

glitter-supplies1. Cut a piece of transparency to 4-1/4” x 5” and stamp the image on the back of it (the textured side, if it has one).  If your image has words (I made one with conversation hearts once), stamp it on the front so the words won’t be reversed.  Then the glitter will go on the back of the transparency. Let the ink dry for a few minutes, just to be sure it won’t smear.

glitter-stamped2. Pick a color of glitter to start with, and apply the glue, using the fine tip, to the areas you want to be colored with that glitter.  Remember, the glitter will be on the back of the transparency when you assemble your card.

Glitter-applying

3. Continue to glue then glitter with each color.  Remember to put a piece of paper under your work, so you can tap the excess glitter off the card and then pour it back into the glitter bottle. Of course, you’ll still have glitter all over you and your freshly cleaned craft room, but at least you’re saving most of it for other glittery fun!

Glitter-dumped

4. Continue to glue then glitter until the entire design is covered. Then let it dry at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight. It’ll probably take you that long to get all the multi-colored glitter off your clothes, hair, and face, anyway. This did take about half an hour to glitter, so this is not a card you’d want to mass produce.  It is stunning, however…so send yours to someone who’ll appreciate it. Say, another stamper. With a blog. That has the word “Chaos” in it.

Glitter-drying

5. When the glue is dry, you’ll be left with a gorgeous focal point for your card. I used some silver glimmer paper and cut a frame using my Big Shot and the Labels Framelits.  Then I simply stamped the sentiment and punched it out with the Modern Label punch. You could also just frame it with strips of cardstock or designed paper, or trim it neatly and use brads or other embellishments to adhere it to your card front.

I’m so happy to have found this technique again…the results are so impressive, and no one can figure out quite how you did it!

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