Captain America Birthday Party (and Printables)

So the third grader celebrated his 8th birthday last weekend…and, of course, we had to have a party!  He just wanted to invite a few friends over for pizza and a movie after school on Friday, but I still wanted it to be a little bit festive. And do a little baking and crafting, of course.

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I designed the invitations in Photoshop Elements…you can download them by clicking here.

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For the party favors, we bought red, white, and blue Hot Wheels, giant erasers that looked like blue and white striped lollipops, and blue raspberry lollipops.  The erasers and Hot Wheels went into white lunch sacks, then I punched holes and tied the bags with red and white bakers’ twine.  We stuck the lollipop sticks through those same holes.  I printed shield labels, the birthday boy cut them out, and we glued them on.

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Click here to download the favor bag labels

During the movie, we had a mixture of healthy and not-so-healthy snacks…they devoured all of it.  The little pretzel and cheese snacks looked a bit like a shield, and we had red Twizzler bites with blue and white York Peppermint Bites.  Also, we had veggies and ranch dip, apples and marshmallow dip, and Cool Ranch Doritos (the birthday boy’s favorites). We also had popcorn, but I forgot to add it to the table before I took the photo.Party-Snacks-ChaosServedDai

Since we were watching the movie in the living room, I didn’t want colored drinks spilled, so we just had water…but look at the cool labels I made for it!  (Hydra is the evil organization in the movie, so “Hydrate” worked out punnily well!).  Party-Water-ChaosServedDail

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After the movie, we had pizza, opened gifts, and, of course, ate cake and ice cream. For the cake, he wanted a Captain America shield…easy enough, right? I made a two-layer, red and blue cake using the recipe for 1-2-3-4 Cake that I found on the cake flour box.

To make a multi-colored cake, you mix up the cake and divide the batter into smaller bowls, one per color you want to have in the cake. Tint the batter with food coloring, then start spooning it into the center of the greased and floured cake pan, letting each color spread out on its own (you can hurry it a bit by tapping the pan on the counter), then adding a big spoonful of your next color and so on.  Be sure the batter has leveled out before baking, but don’t use a spoon or your finger or anything, unless you want a swirly look that might blend together. Then just bake according to the directions.

The frosting recipe is from the Magnolia Bakery. I put frosting between the layers, then a thin coat over the entire cake, with more on the sides. I decided to go old-school with Wilton star tip decorating.

To make star-tip decorations, you just use a star decorating tip, spoon your frosting into the bag, then squeeze a bit and release to make stars. It’s pretty therapeutic, really, because it doesn’t take a lot of concentration. I just cut out a paper star to the right size, and iced around it with blue and red, the removed it and filled in with white.  I added more stars of red and blue around the bottom (which hides any uneven areas of the icing along the edge). And it’s an “F” because that’s his first initial…not because I graded my decorating skills!

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The only decorations we put up is this set from the party store. I’ve used these murals before for birthday parties, and I think they rock. They’re about $6 and cover a 5’ x 6’ area…so they’re great as photo backdrops. The hooligans like to put them up in their rooms afterward, and they look great in there, too! (And y’all thought my kids have magazine-perfect rooms, didn’t you?  Well, they don’t!)

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Finally, one of my cardinal rules of having a party…you have to send a hand-written thank you note.  I figure, if they care enough to spend time picking out, buying, and wrapping a gift, the least you can do is spend five minutes thanking them for it. Yes, you’re right…he should have written these to the moms, since I’m sure that’s who actually did all that work for the gift!

Here are the matching thank you cards I made…not a lot of space to write, so a third-grader isn’t intimidated by a bunch of white space. And as I tell them, the guests are not going to be comparing thank you notes, so they can write basically the same thing in each one!

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Click here to download these thank you cards

We didn’t want to spend a fortune on this party (because, really, why?), and, in all, it was around $75, including buying the movie on DVD. I think it was a total success!

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Pumpkin Caramels

I should be ashamed of myself…here it is, almost the end of September, and I haven’t posted a new pumpkin recipe yet!  But these Pumpkin Caramels might just be worth the wait, y’all.

I’m pretty fascinated with the whole chemical process of making caramels.  The ingredients are so simple, yet it’s almost magical how it transforms into something do delicious.

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Salted Pumpkin Caramels

  • 1/2 cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 Tablespoon butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt

1. Line an 8 by 4 inch loaf pan with waxed paper or aluminum foil. Brush the sides, but not the bottom lightly with butter and sprinkle the pumpkin seeds (I couldn’t fin pumpkin seeds so I used sunflower seeds…pumpkin would have been even better) in the bottom.
2. Whisk the maple syrup, brown sugar, cream, corn syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan. Brush down the sides on the saucepan with water to remove every grain of sugar. Set the candy thermometer into the sugar. Cook the mixture over medium heat, without stirring, until the mixture reaches the firm ball stage, 248 degrees F, about 18 to 20 minutes. If you stir it, the caramels will be grainy.
3. Carefully stir in the pumpkin puree. Return to the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the caramel reaches the soft ball stage, 240 degrees F, about 15 minutes more. Watch it pretty carefully towards the end…it’s easy for the temperature to go shooting past 240 and then you have a pan of burned, not-delicious, hard to clean gunk. Remove your perfect caramels from the heat and stir in butter and vanilla.
4. Pour the caramel over the seeds in the prepared pan. Smooth to an even layer. Let cool for about ten minutes, then sprinkle with the flaked sea salt. Cool to room temperature.
5. When fully cooled peel from the waxed paper or foil and cut into 36 (1-inch) squares. You can wrap them in little squares of waxed paper, or layer them in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers, for about a week. If they last that long.

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Dry Erase Chore Charts

I’ve posted a couple of other chore charts through the years, but the hooligans keep growing, and I keep giving them new responsibilities (like cleaning the bathrooms and sweeping…which I hate!). I thought, why not break out a new chart for the new school year?  They love them, of course, because they involve dry erase markers, and because they’re little goal-oriented Type A’s. Well, one is, anyway, and the other two are competitive.

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To make them, I used Photoshop Elements.  I drew the grid, added the text, and dropped in a digital background paper in each kid’s favorite color. You could also just design them in Word and print on scrapbooking paper, if you’re not a digital scrapper.

I made them 7” x 5” and laminated them WITH MY NEW LAMINATOR that I found for next to nothing online. And I really wanted to use it!  I felt like my mom, though, when it was hot and I was looking for anything else I could possibly laminate in my house. She was that was when she had a perfect charcoal and hickory fire going in our barbeque growing up…anything she could grill at that moment, she would.

But I digress. Here’s what they look like in digital format:

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I found magnetic clips at the Target Dollar Spot (4 for $1), and small dry erase markers in a pack of 3 for $3, and they’re even in matching colors. And in case you think my frig is hideously ugly, I had to take a photo outside for the lighting. They’re actually on metal board the kids use to build marble magnetic tracks, which is portable, unlike my refrigerator. But you get the idea. As you can see, last week Princess Thundercloud was a total slacker and Mr. Type A in the middle completely fills in each block. Funny kids.

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We’re only three weeks into school, but so far, they’re still intrigued enough to want to mark off boxes each day.  Hopefully it will last!

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TBT: Fall Bucket List

Woohoo!  It’s almost fall!  I can feel it in the air (it was 43 degrees here this morning and 75 and sunny this afternoon), and I’m beginning to see mounds of apples and pumpkins replacing the garden vegetables at the farmstand.

That means it’s time to break out my Fall Bucket List.  Yes, it’s been around a couple of years, but it’s still packed with the fun things we love to do in the fall…so we’re using it again this year! Here’s what I wrote about this time last year:

 

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Click here for a downloadable one for yourself!

Please ignore that the majority of these activities involve cooking and eating. That’s just how we operate here at Casa de Chaos. I printed this, framed it, and put it in place of one of my monthly calendars on our 3-month calendar (from my post in July).

Then I thought, “How cute would this be as an invitation to a s’mores campfire?” Pretty darned cute, is the answer. I resized them to be four to a page, printed them, and adhered them to standard 4-1/2” x 5-1/2” cards. Here’s what that looks like, and a link to print them for yourself.

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Click here to print your own invitations or cards

I’m so excited to start checking things off this list…but I guess I’ll wait until the weekend at least, so the whole family can join in the fun! I’m such a good mom.

What I’ve Been Reading

I’m finally starting my own book club, now that we’ve been “settled” for over a year in our forever house. We’re meeting tonight to pick out the next few months worth of books to discuss, but in the meantime, I read a few really worthwhile books this summer…and, okay, some not-so-worthwhile, but still entertaining (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones series).  Here are a few worth ignoring the housework for, in my opinion:

Close Your Eyes, Hold HandsClose Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Goodreads.com blurb: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless girl living in an igloo made of garbage bags in Burlington. Nearly a year ago, a power plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont had a meltdown, and both of Emily’s parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault—was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer’s house, inventing a new identity for herself, and befriending a young homeless kid named Cameron. But Emily can’t outrun her past, can’t escape her grief, can’t hide forever-and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

I adore every Bohjalian book I’ve read (and I’m pretty sure that’s all of them).  The only disappointment I felt about this one was that it ended.  I kept sitting and staring at the last page while mulling it over until the hubs thought I’d dozed off.

Still Life with Bread CrumbsStill Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.
Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined.

Anna Quindlen always weaves a good tale, and this is a cozy love story, rather than a mushy, gushy one. I enjoyed it, didn’t have to think too much about it, and would recommend it for a rainy weekend read.

Lookaway, LookawayLookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

Jerene Jarvis Johnston and her husband Duke are exemplars of Charlotte, North Carolina’s high society, where old Southern money—and older Southern secrets—meet the new wealth of bankers, boom-era speculators, and carpetbagging social climbers. Steely and implacable, Jerene presides over her family’s legacy of paintings at the Mint Museum; Duke, the one-time college golden boy and descendant of a Confederate general, whose promising political career was mysteriously short-circuited, has settled into a comfortable semi-senescence as a Civil War re-enactor.  Jerene’s brother Gaston is an infamously dissolute bestselling historical novelist who has never managed to begin his long-dreamed-of literary masterpiece, while their sister Dillard is a prisoner of unfortunate life decisions that have made her a near-recluse.
As the four Johnston children wander perpetually toward scandal and mishap. Annie, the smart but matrimonially reckless real estate maven; Bo, a minister at war with his congregation; Joshua, prone to a series of gay misadventures, and Jerilyn, damaged but dutiful to her expected role as debutante and eventual society bride. Jerene must prove tireless in preserving the family’s legacy, Duke’s fragile honor, and what’s left of the dwindling family fortune. She will stop at nothing to keep what she has—but is it too much to ask for one ounce of cooperation from her heedless family?
In Lookaway, Lookaway, Wilton Barnhardt has written a headlong, hilarious narrative of a family coming apart, a society changing beyond recognition, and an unforgettable woman striving to pull it all together.

I just finished this, and I’m still deciding if I really liked it or not. I had a hard time getting focused on it, and it took over a week to read (and it’s not a very long book…about 350 pages). I laughed aloud a few times and enjoyed the characters…each was given their own section of the book, so the changing points of view were interesting.

And then I read some that were just so-so…the Game of Thrones after the second book, the latest Outlander book (Written in My Heart’s Own Blood) by Diana Gabaldon, and Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella (who wrote the Shopaholic series).

I also (happily) killed a few brain cells reading for the pure escapism of it….Takedown 20 and Top Secret 21 by Janet Evanovich, Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand, Power Play by Catherine Coulter, and the final book of the Deborah Harkness trilogy, Book of Life…it’s about witches, vampires, and daemons, kind of Twilight for grownups.

Anyway, that’s how I spent my summer vacation…and I didn’t even starve my family or make them run around in dirty clothes. Well, not often, that is.

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Simple Dilly Beans

I love Dilly Beans. Unfortunately, I forget to make them until I’m craving them, and I refuse to pay $5 for a tiny jar with about 50 cents worth of ingredients. And a bunch of chemicals I don’t want in there. So I (finally) remembered to buy some green beans (and fresh dill) at the farmstand down the road, and I made a few jars of Simple Dilly Beans.  It took longer to drive to the farmstand than it did to make these.

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Simple Dilly Beans

  • 1-1/2 lb. green beans, about 5” long with the stem end trimmed
  • 9 springs of fresh dill
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 Tbsp dill seed
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 2 cups water

1. Blanch the green beans: In large saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add beans and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until they’re a bright green color BUT STILL VERY CRISP. Drain and plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. While that’s working, pack the green beans and dill springs into 3 one-pint canning jars. Top with the garlic, dill seed, salt, and pepper flakes (1 tablespoon is 3 teaspoons, so it’s easy to evenly divide the salt and pepper flakes).

3. When water/vinegar is boiling, quickly pour it over the green beans in the jars, to within a half-inch of the top. Make sure the liquid covers all of the beans. Put the lids on and shake the jars until the salt dissolves and everything looks evenly dispersed. Let stand at room temperature for a day, then refrigerate for at least three days before eating. They’ll keep in the frig for up to a month.

Click here for the printable recipe

If you’d like to water-bath can these and keep them in your pantry instead of the frig, you can see how to do that here. If you’re an old hand with canning, the processing time is 10 minutes on these.

I love these with a grilled cheese, just to snack on, and, a recent discovery, in lieu of olives in a dirty martini.  And it gives me a little thrill to open the refrigerator door and see Mason jars being used for their original purpose!

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TBT: Peach Pumpkin Butter

I’m continuing the easy canning theme today with this deliciously sweet and tangy Peach Pumpkin Butter I posted last year. The season for pumpkin recipes somehow arrived earlier than I anticipated!  And I love pumpkin…I must have been focusing on other, less important things! Anyway, whip up a batch of this and have it on biscuits with dinner tonight…or scones in the morning…or by the spoonful, if that’s what you choose to do. I won’t judge.

This could not be simpler, y’all.  Well, I suppose you could go buy a jar, but you might not find this combination, and even if you did, you wouldn’t have the satisfaction of impressing your offspring with your jelly-making skills. Mine were at school all day, so they have no idea how easy making this butter truly was. Did I mention I used my slow cooker? See…could. not. be. simpler. You could even use frozen peaches if peach season is over in your neck of the woods. It might take a little longer to cook down, though, so plan for that.Peach-Butter

Peach Pumpkin Butter

  • 8 cups peeled and sliced ripe peaches (about 8 medium peaches)
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar, depending on how sweet you want it…I like a little tanginess

1. Puree the peaches in a blender or food processor. I put mine right into the slow cooker and used my immersion blender. When they’re smooth, add the remaining ingredients.

2. Cook on high for about 6 hours, until it’s as thick as you’d like. Remember it will be a bit thicker when it cools.  I put a spoonful in a small bowl and let it cool to test it. If it seems to be too watery while cooking, place a clean dishtowel over the open top of the slow cooker, then replace the lid to hold the towel taut. The steam will condense on the towel and you can remove it, so no more water is added to your butter. I did this for about the last hour of cooking.

3. Spoon into sterilized jars and screw on lids. I turn mine upside down to cool and seal, because that’s how my mama taught me, but I’m not sure that is essential. If they don’t seal, or if you don’t want to bother with the whole canning thing, just store it in the refrigerator and use it up in a couple of weeks.

Yield: 6 half-pint jars (and enough to try it out yourself on some toast!)

This butter is delicious on scones, biscuits, all the usual suspects. BUT it’s also good to spread on pork chops before baking them…there’s a tasty tip you wouldn’t get from a jar of store-bought peach butter, now would you? Also, not to preach to you, but I used organic ingredients, so I don’t even feel guilty feeding this to the hooligans!

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Slow Cooker Ginger and Lemon Blueberry Butter

I love fresh blueberries, and with this fabulous blueberry butter, I know I can have a taste of summer even during the dreary winter months!

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This is so simple, y’all…a few ingredients in the slow cooker, and you’re good to go!

Slow Cooker Ginger and Lemon Blueberry Butter

  • 8 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, pureed
  • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ cup honey

Place the blueberries in a 4-quart slow cooker and turn to high. When it starts bubbling, use a wooden spoon to prop the lid open a bit, then turn the heat to low cook 5-8 more hours, until any juice on the surface is absorbed when you stir it. Be sure to check it at least once an hour, since slow cookers cook at different temps.

Stir in honey, ginger, and lemon.

Pour into sterilized canning jars and cap tightly. Let cool and seal. If the jar doesn’t seal, store in refrigerator and use within a month. Makes 3 cups of delicious blueberry butter.

Click here for the printable recipe

This has very little sugar in it (just the 1/4 cup of honey), and you can even leave that out if you’d like. My hooligans thought it was too sour without it, though.

Did you realize how easy it is to make fruit butters in the slow cooker?  Well, now you know!  I’ve made apple, peach, pumpkin, and now blueberry.  Wonder what I can “butter” next?

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