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Friday, February 27, 2015

the season is upon us

the birthday party season has begun.

it's weird, because of course someone has a birthday every day, right?  but it seems like the parties that we get invited to come in spurts.  i can't even remember the last one we'd been to before this month, but in the last few weeks alone we've already been to two and have like four more coming up in march.

my friend alyssa, who kicked off the princess dress cookie craze last year, invited us to join the joint birthday celebration for her two adorable daughters.  this year's shindig was at their super cute home down by the beach, and it was a perfectly overcast, cool day.  perfect because their theme was "frozen."  this, of course, meant a visit from the ice queen herself, who sat with the kids immediately upon arrival for storytime:

then she pulled out her arsenal of body paints and drew sparkly designs on everyone's arms.

she was more than happy to pose for pictures.

as was the bean.

a little piñata time rounded out the party.

remember the scooby doo cookies i did last week?  they were for a bowling party celebrating the sixth birthday of one of the bean's little friends.  technically, she's friends with the birthday girl's sister, but they've all been buddies for a long time.  how cute and perfect is her little dress?  she totally looks like she just stepped out of the mystery machine.

the bean loves to go bowling.  she was really into it, and it was fun to watch her get all excited after every throw of the ball.  she was pretty proud of herself for bowling a 106.

inside the party room, i spied some familiar treats all set up with the party favors.

a handful of tokens for the arcade yielded over 100 tickets.  we love watching them get sucked up into the ticket counting machine, because it's cool.  right?

she chose this fabulous new bling, along with a ring pop that went promptly into her mouth.

we've got a break this weekend, and then next weekend we start again with back-to-back parties to attend.  the fun is nonstop around here, people.  non. stop.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

a little slice of YUM

if you know me at all, you'll know that one of the hardest parts of this challenge is finding ways to satisfy my raging sweet tooth.  like, do you have any idea how hard it was to have those dipped pretzels and fresh rice krispy treats around the house when we had that disney side celebration?  it was miserable.  i wanted so badly to just have one - but i know me.  if i gave in and had one, it would turn into "just another one."  and another, and another, and then the dam would burst open and it'd just be open season on the forbidden treats.  that's not great.

so when i found myself looking for something sweet, i'd grab a kind bar.  the caramel and sea salt flavor is really tasty, and most of the time that would satisfy the craving.  or maybe i'd do some greek yogurt with some vanilla almond granola mixed in.  and there's plenty of sweetness in our morning smoothies, too.  so it's not like i haven't gotten my share of sugar.

but at night, after we've had dinner and we're either sitting around watching tv or i'm working on some cookies, i still find myself really wanting a little dessert.  in the past, i'd just go into the pantry and grab some oreos, or some pocky.  maybe a bit of ice cream, or some chocolate.  oh my goodness, the other day i found myself hit with the biggest craving for a candy bar.  specifically, i wanted a cadbury creme egg.  damn.  it's a good thing we didn't have any in the house, or i would have definitely given in.  and although we do still have a stash of leftover treats that i can't seem to bear to toss out, i managed to stay strong and didn't cave.

the challenge facebook board came to my rescue once again.  someone went in there and posted this recipe for something called a chocolate peppermint slice, which sounded pretty darn tasty.  and then as i started poking around the internet for more healthy-ish dessert ideas, i came across a similar recipe, only this one was a chocolate cream caramel bar.  that sounded right up my alley, and like something the rest of the family might enjoy too.

one of the ingredients listed for the caramel filling was cashew butter, and i knew i didn't have any of that lying around.  although during a recent trip to trader joe's, i'd picked up a bag of cashew pieces.  google turned up this tutorial for turning them into butter, and the step-by-step photos were really helpful in making sure i didn't screw it up.  yeah, it sounds easy enough, but you know me and my need for instant gratification - i likely wouldn't have kept the food processor going until the natural oils were released to make the butter smooth and creamy.  i'd have tried to add some sort of oil to it to make it go faster.

and so i turned a bunch of these:

into this.

looks pretty good, huh?  and it's really tasty on my zucchini bread.

so, back to the dessert bars.  to make both the crust and the caramel filling, i needed a whole bunch of these:

i know, i know - you're thinking, "you're gonna eat that?"  and the answer is - yes, sort of.  as with my smoothies, i don't have trouble eating it when it's been pureed and mixed with stuff.  just don't try to make me eat dates (or any other kind of fruit) in their natural state.  ew.  i haven't changed THAT much, people.

another recipe for a similar bar i'd found used macadamia nuts in the crust.  since i love them, i decided to swap them for the almonds that were called for.  other than that, i followed the recipe exactly as written.  i gotta tell you, while the chocolate cream part sounded a little weird - mostly coconut oil mixed with some raw cacao powder and a little sweetener - it smelled and tasted ah-may-zing.  i still had some of that brown rice syrup i'd used in my pumpkin seed bars, and it worked perfectly.

looks pretty good, don't you think?

you guys, i never imagined loving a dessert that's raw, vegan, gluten-free, and jam-packed with fruit and coconut oil.  that's some craziness right there.  but between me, the bean, MIL, and the hub, half of it's already been devoured.  the teen took a bite and wasn't crazy about the coconutty taste, but that's okay.  can't win 'em all, amirite?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

gnocchi gnocchi gnocchi

one of my facebook friends posted a link to a recipe that i thought sounded pretty tasty - homemade gnocchi in a light tomato broth.  with the wonderfully chilly and rainy weather we had a couple of days ago (shut up, east coasters, this is cold for us), i figured it would make a lovely warm meal that would still work with my challenge.

reading through the recipe, i realized that although i had all of the ingredients ready, i didn't have one of the most basic kitchen tools that was required - a box grater.  so between all of the other errands and things i had to accomplish that day, i squeezed in a trip to target to pick one up.  after getting the potatoes baked, i was finally ready to get to work.

when i was done peeling and grating the spuds, i remembered why i'd switched to a food processor.  because box graters suck ass.  i'm lucky to have escaped with my fingers intact.  but at least i was ready for the next step.

as all of this was going on, my tomato broth was happily simmering on the stove and sending out a really lovely aroma that was wafting through the house.

in an attempt to keep the recipe as "clean" as possible, i subbed in whole wheat flour for the all-purpose stuff.  i'm kind of wondering if that's why my gnocchi didn't seem as light and pillowy as it should have been.  in any case, i was rolling right through the recipe and was ready to drop a few pieces in my pot of salted boiling water for a test run.

i was pretty happy when i pulled the gnocchi out and dipped it into the broth for a sample.  the gnocchi was nice and chewy, and the broth was really tasty.  maybe this wasn't so bad after all.  and to pump it up a little, i threw some chicken onto the foreman grill, diced it up and tossed it in.  voila:

i'm really glad i did that, because this was most definitely a light meal.  next time, i'm going to double up on the broth and cook all of the gnocchi instead of freezing half of it for another time.  and there's another side benefit to this recipe for me - the veggies that got strained out of the broth are perfect for tossing in the vitamix for a tasty, savory breakfast juice.

even the teen, who's not a gnocchi fan at all, enjoyed a leftover bowl of this stuff.  i was thinking that i should probably just stick to store-bought gnocchi, but after seeing that she liked it too, maybe i'll give it another shot.  i even found another recipe that i want to try next - ricotta gnocchi.

huh.  i definitely said the word "gnocchi" a lot in this post.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

everything's coming up daisies

life as a daisy scout troop leader and mom is fun.  and exhausting.

like, after nanette showed me a picture of a super cute tablecloth that scouts in her area were using at their cookie booths, i just had to make one for us.  i wouldn't be me if i didn't add unnecessary pressure on myself, amirite?  but lucky for me, that handy dandy die-cutter not only does paper and iron-on material...it cuts fabric, too.  in this case, felt.  a little google imaging and then a bit of work to set it up on the cutter's software, and i had these pieces all cut out:

since i'd had the sense to iron an adhesive backing onto the felt before cutting it out, attaching the pieces to the length of plain blue cotton i'd bought was easy.

the girl scouts love to celebrate stuff.  this weekend was the annual "world thinking day" - scouts all over the world get together to bask in the glory of all that is girl scouts, and think about their "sisters" in the many countries around the world that participate in scouting.  our council was celebrating the day with a fun event at a local church where troops consisting of brownies and older levels created booths centered around the culture, cuisine and an activity from a country of their choice.  being daisies, we didn't have to set up a booth but were invited to come and join the party.  and anytime scouts get together with other troops, they're supposed to bring "swaps" - little trinkets that they can exchange with their new friends as a memento of the event they met at.  most of the swaps ideas i found for thinking day were centered around specific countries, so we brainstormed and came up with a super easy little thing that the girls could make quickly during a meeting:

to make things easy on everyone, picture day was scheduled on the same day.  and because we thought it would be super cute to have the girls wear matching hair bows...

the event was really cute and lots of fun.  the bean's first stop was "japan," where she was excited to find cups of sweet green tea and delicious pocky.

i also managed to get her to stop for a quick shot at the photo booth.

after taking her serious scout portrait, she struck this crazy pose.  oy vey.

and she let me take a selfie, too.

our first shift at a cookie booth was shortly after the thinking day event ended.  this makes me laugh:

my mom and gram stopped by to say hello and pick up cookies.  there's four generations here, if you consider the one taking the picture (me, duh).

awww, look at me and my little cookie!

we're having fun looking for outings and activities to earn the rest of our daisy petals before the end of the year, which will be here sooner than we know it.  we've only earned three parts, with another seven to go.  wish us luck...we're gonna need it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

treats i can't eat. or, shouldn't.

despite the mass exodus of junk and processed foods from our pantry, i've had to keep a handful of things that i need but can't eat.  i mean, it's not a big deal - stuff like the rainbow of food dyes, a jug of corn syrup, massive quantities of all-purpose flour and sugar.  of course, these are all ingredients for those cookies that i'm still doing, challenge or not.  and i'm still amazed at how many design requests i get that are brand new to me, despite having done these for several years now.  it keeps things interesting and challenging, that's for sure.  doing cookies never gets boring.

i've done minecraft cookies once before, but this time i was asked for several different characters.  since it was only one dozen, it was fun to experiment and see how i fared.  not being a gamer myself, i had to look at quite a few google images to get a feel for what i needed to do.  i think i did okay, though:

next up was a set of mermaid-themed cookies.  i was kind of nervous about these, because you know how i don't do faces and usually try to do elements of a theme like that rather than attempt an actual character.  i think these turned out well, though.  my particular favorite is that sand dollar:

when we went to cookie con, i'd picked up a bunch of cutters for the stash.  with the bean currently obsessed with skating, i grabbed a roller skate cutter just for fun.  so i had to giggle a little to myself when i was asked for skate cookies - only the request was for ICE skates.  d-oh!  i decided i could still make it work, though, with a little cutting and "pasting."  not bad, eh?

and then there are these, for a 6-year-old's birthday party.  i have some fond memories of saturday mornings spent watching scooby doo, and i know there was at least one movie - about a decade or so ago.  so i was kind of surprised that kids even know who scooby doo is anymore.

i have a whole lineup of cookies to do this week, which is awesome.  and confession:  i did crack and eat half of a leftover cookie.  i don't often do that even when i'm not watching what i eat, but you know how it is - when you can't have something, all of a sudden it's all you want.

or...just me?  heh.

Friday, February 20, 2015

i shall call you...minnie me.

disclaimer:  i received free products in order to host the disney side @ home celebration.  the opinions expressed here are my own.

our disney side party day dawned beautiful and bright, on a sunday morning that found me awake at 6:30 despite having gone to bed at a pretty late hour the night before.  i guess the partyzilla in me will never die, huh?

as i scurried around getting last-minute prep done and picking up around the house (which really means shoving all the loose stuff into the guest room and hoping nobody opened that door by mistake), the hub got the bean going on a little vacuuming.  on roller skates, no less.

meanwhile, i'd finished what i was doing and had moved on to setting up the various activity stations at the dining table.  you know, fun stuff like nail art - with minnie-themed colors like pink, red, white and black:

cookie decorating, using the same color scheme:

tattoos and face painting crayons were at the end of the table.

and a party favor buffet.

have you seen these disney tsum tsums?  they're adorable, and we'd picked up a bunch of the mini minnie plushes for everyone to take home.

there was a lineup of fun prizes, too:

plus some kid-friendly nail polish to take home.

oh, and what's a minnie party without a set of ears to wear?

there were things for the moms to take home, too.  my disney side box had come with stacks of festively wrapped photo paper, along with some disney vacation club-sponsored luggage tags.

the living room was a crazy mixture of valentine's day decor and minnie heads hanging from the ceiling.

our front door welcomed everyone to the party:

the minnie rice krispy treats were ready to go:

and i arranged some pita chips and hummus dips in an theme-appropriate fashion.

the bean and i had cute new minnie t-shirts just for the occasion.

as our party guests started to trickle in, they all made a beeline for the bean's room to play while the moms hung out and chatted around the table.

lilcee and mini cee came bearing gifts - this life-sized minnie mouse piñata.  she was amazing (and we couldn't bear to smack her to bits).

the cookie decorating station was quite a hit.

so were the snacks.  because DUH.

the girls had fun playing the games, too.

my friend nanette came with her collection of jamberry nail stickers, which she happily applied for whoever asked.

of course, the bean was her first customer.

we had a great afternoon, just hanging out and enjoying the company of our friends.  and as they started making their way out the door, i got them all to stop at the "photo booth" for a quick picture.

this one cracks me up every time i look at it:

and the selfie stick came out again for me and the bean.

many thanks to the disney side celebrations crew, as well as their fabulous sponsors!  we got to have a fabulous playdate and show our disney side, and i'm super grateful for the opportunity.  so much fun, and i hope we get to do it again next year.  i guess we'll see.

squeezing in all the sightseeing

this was our NYC home for a whole week: it was one of only a few hotels that i could find that offered two beds in a room rather than, say, ...