Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Peanut Butter Crackles Using Dove Chocolate

A while back I blogged  a Peanut Butter Crackles recipe.  This year I decided to try something different.  So I used Dove chocolates instead of Hershey's Kisses.  They were a huge hit (especially the white chocolate)!

Peanut Butter Fudge

My favorite flavor of fudge, and the only one that I personally make - peanut butter fudge!  I know that there are many different recipes and ways to make fudge but this one was passed on to me by a dear friend and it is the best homemade fudge recipe I have tried so far.

Ingredients for 1 - 9x13" pan:

1-1/3 cup milk
4 cups sugar
1 (7oz) jar of Marshmallow Creme
2 cups peanut butter (20 oz)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Ingredients for 2 - 9x13" pans:

2-2/3 cups milk
8 cups sugar
1 (13 oz) jar Marshmallow Creme
4 cups peanut butter (40 oz)
2 teaspoons vanilla


Over medium heat, bring milk, sugar, and vanilla to 234 degrees (candy thermometer).  This will boil high so use a large pan.  Stir often.

Remove from heat.  Add marshmallow creme and peanut butter.  Stir until well mixed.  Pour into pans.

As you can see, I used multiple small containers so it was easy to gift.  With the larger batch, I was able to make these and a 9X13" pan to cut up.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Gifts to Welcome Santa

I have a few little ones in my extended family that are at the age where the anticipation of Santa Claus is going to be really exciting this year!  I came up with a little gift to help each of the families "welcome Santa".

My "inspiration" (the cups and plates) and all the items were purchased at Target for just $1 each.

Each "gift" includes a book "The Night Before Christmas", a mug, a plate, hot chocolate, and a package of cookie dough truffles.  Each item was $1 so the total package only cost $5 to make.  Well, I did use some cellophane and ribbon that I already had in stock.  I hope these items help the little ones prepare for a great visit and a start to a wonderful Christmas celebration!

Paying It Forward: Introduction & Care Packages

I LOVE the movie "Pay it Forward"!  It's such a great idea that if you do something good for someone, without expecting anything in return, that they some day will do the same for another.  That will start a chain reaction of kindness!  I often look for ways that I can pay it forward.  And I strongly encourage my kids to do the same. 

Not everything needs to cost money.  It can be as simple as giving credit where it is due.  I have many times sought out a manager at a retail store or restaurant to let them know what a great job their employee is doing.  It doesn't cost me anything but a little extra time to do this and it makes a huge difference!  I often chuckle at the dread on the managers face as they walk toward me to figure out why I requested to speak to them.  Oh - the joy when they realize it is for a great reason!

I also remember a time that I was waiting to pay a bridge toll only to find out that the car in front of me had already taken care of my charges!  I have no idea who they were or why they did this good deed.  I had the money to pay so that wasn't the issue...  What I do know is that little gesture of $3.25 made my day!  Every time I am in line waiting to pay a toll I remember that moment, so many years ago, and look to figure out ways I can pay it forward.  

During our past vacation my children were introduced to the fact that there are homeless people.  There are some in the city that we live in but my children are rarely exposed to them.  It really broke my daughters heart to see all the people that live on the streets without shelter or food.  So, to help her (and my son) realize how we can help, we put together these care packages to give to those that need it.  They cost me about $15 each but they will hopefully brighten someones day!  

There are many other things that I could have added (like warm socks, shoes, more food, ....) but I also have to stay in the reality of my budget.  I just know that if I were homeless I would love to get one of these packets!!  Hopefully some day the recipients of these care packages will pay it forward!

School Birthday Treat to Pass

I'm always looking for something different or unique for my kids to take to school for their birthday.  Schools are pushing for healthier options and (at least for my child's school) are no longer allowing home prepared food items.  I have been finding "a treat to pass" to be a challenge.   So, this year my daughter took these to school for all of her friends.  She has an October birthday so they were a great fit for the cooler weather!  

My inspiration was the $1 travel mugs I found at a dollar store.  They have an insert where the child can draw their own design or color in one that is drawn for them.  A perfect representation of what my daughter loves - ART!

I typed up a little note to include in the the mug that thanks the children for celebrating her birthday with her.  

Inside the mug I included a packet of hot chocolate (to be made at home), a packet of Sixlets, and an individually wrapped sour patch kid.  These are all favorites of my daughters.

As you can see - it all fit nicely!

In the end, I didn't pay much more money than ordering cupcakes from a local bakery.  Now the kids will have something to keep and get creative with.  It was a big hit with all her friends and the teacher!

Rock Polishing/Shinning - The Easy Way

My family travels to Lake Superior just about every summer.  This lake is full of some the most beautiful rocks I have ever seen!  So we can't resist but to bring home a small collection to remind us of our trip.  Well, these rocks look beautiful in the water but not so much when they are dry.  So, I purchased a rock polishing kit in hopes that it would bring the beauty back into our collection.  Although it did soften the edges, it did not provide the shine I was hoping for.  Plus - the polishing process took a couple of weeks!!!!  Then I came across the idea to spray the clean rocks with a clear acrylic gloss coating!

This has become a new favorite in my craft closet!
I simply sprayed the clean, dry rocks with the gloss coating.  After they dried (took only minutes) I flipped them over to spray the other side.  It doesn't take long at all before you have rocks that are just as pretty as they are in water!

Packing Kids Clothing for Vacation

This is just a short post on a travel tip with kids.  I always pack my kids clothing by figuring out outfits. But, then it all gets squeezed into the luggage and by the time we get to our destination I have to sort it all again!!  

Now, after I have figured out the outfits for vacation, I put them all in gallon size zip lock bags by day.  With these bags I can now just grab one each day and they are all set to get dressed.  I even pack the pajama's and extra clothing in bags.  

Some other things you can do with these:

Write the day on each bag if you know that you will need the outfit for a specific event (like a Disney shirt for a trip to Disney).

These make it a lot easier if you are traveling from one location to another.  Instead of unpacking everything you just grab a bag for each day out of the luggage.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Baked Spaghetti Casserole

I LOVE spaghetti and I also love lasagna!  But, sometimes I just get bored with the same old stuff.  That's when I start searching for new ways to prepare some of my favorite foods.  This is a combination of a variety of recipes I tested for baked spaghetti casserole.  It is awesome!!

First of all, the picture above doesn't look as pretty as many of the picture I saw from other recipes.  I have come to the conclusion that those served meals were frozen and then cut so they are "solid" in the picture.  I am more concerned with keeping it real!  So - it kind of comes out of the pan as a mess!  But it is delicious!!!


1 - 16 ounce package of spaghetti
8 ounces ricotta cheese (low-fat)
16 ounces of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I make mine from scratch)
Desired amount of cooked hamburger or vegetarian substitute
12 ounces mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese


Cook the pasta according to package directions (do not over cook).  

1st Layer:  Drain pasta and place in a greased glass casserole dish.  

2nd Layer:  Top with ricotta cheese

3rd Layer:  Sprinkle on hamburger (or substitute).

4th Layer:  Pour/Spread (mine is a thick sauce) spaghetti sauce on top of meat.

5th Layer:  Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Now is a good time to freeze this meal.  Just make sure you use a good container with a lid.

Bake at 350 degrees until the top cheese starts to brown.  Bake time is about 20 minutes (longer if cold or frozen).


Thanksgiving: Thankful Wreath

Last year I made a Thanksgiving: Thankful Turkey Hostess Gift that I heard a lot of great feedback on. This year I came across the idea to use the same concept on a wreath.  So, I made this for our Thanksgiving host for this year.  

I found a small foam wreath for only $1 at Target!  

I covered it with brown ribbon (attached with a glue gun).

Next, I used scrapbook paper that was in fall colors and cut leaf shapes.  I then used pins to attach them to the wreath.  The pins make it easy for the leaves to me removed when a guest wants to use it and then they can reattach it where ever they choose on the wreath.

I had my family start by telling me what they are thankful for this year.  We wrote our names and the year on the back of the leaf.  I will post the finalized wreath after the big day.  A last minute thought:  I think I am going to attach a looped ribbon so it can be hung from a hook or nail if desired.

My son told me he is thankful for superheroes (last year it was monster trucks).  I like to imagine that he is thinking of all the every day heroes in the world that help people.  But he is only 5 - LOL!!!  Then he told my husband that he should be thankful for race cars ;-)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Who Says You Have to "Bake" It?: Decorated Rice Krispies Treats

I saw a blog post a while back where someone purchased pre-baked cookies and decorated them.  I have also seen Little Debbies snack cakes that have been decorated in really cool ways.  Well, I have this giant box of individually wrapped Rice Krispies Treats, no ambition to make my own from scratch, and a desire to serve some decorated Rice Krispies Treats as a gift.  So, I took the short cut by using these pre-made treats that are already cut perfectly and taste so yummy!!!

First, place them on wax paper.

Next, melt a variety of colored chocolates (in an open zip lock bag for 1 minute and then in 20 minute intervals until melted).  Cut a small hole in one corner of the bag and squeeze out your design.  

Be careful not to over heat the chocolate or push to hard on the bag or it will bust!

Notice the difference in the thickness of the chocolate?
It depends on how big the whole is.  I like to start with a very small cut and then enlarge it if needed.

For the pumpkins, I spread the orange chocolate and then added the other colors.

This super cute box from the dollar store was my inspiration.

Add plastic wrap to keep it fresh and you have a super cute treat to give! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween Sweet & Salty Treat

Last year I shared a recipe for this Sweet & Salty Treat.  Over the past year I have used this recipe for a variety of seasons using the many holiday packages of M&M's.  This year I came across the idea to replace the M&M's with Candy Corn!  Of course, I added a little fall colored sprinkles for some extra decoration.  

Then I found some fun kid friendly Halloween containers at the dollar store.  They seemed pretty air tight so I filled them up with this Halloween Sweet & Salty treat.  Then my kiddos gave them to their teachers and bus drivers.  It was a big hit!!

Post Family Farm - Hudsonville, Michigan

This is one of my favorite places!  It's great for a fall outing and to pick out pumpkins.  Post Family Farm is located in Hudsonville, Michigan.  There is an entrance fee to participate in many of the activities but it is reasonable in comparison to other places we have checked out.  The first time we visited this farm was on a week night.  Everything was based on paying honestly (for the pumpkins and the play area).  This years visit was on a weekend so they had a tent set up to pay for the entrance.   We paid for the pumpkins while on the hayride.

I can't say enough about how great the donuts and cider are at this place!!!

2012 Menu options and pricing

The donuts are small but warm/fresh and soooo good!!!

The Apple Cider Slush is a must try!!!!
The wagon rides are a lot of fun and included with the entrance fee.  It will take you to the corn maze (included with the entrance fee) and to the pumpkin patch.  I really like the length of the ride.  Many I have been on are short but this one is a fun length!

We picked out our pumpkins!  These two cost us $4 (in 2012).  You can also pick a bag of gourds for a set price (I think it is $5 but we didn't purchase gourd this year).  We paid cash for the pumpkins to an employee that was in the field.  It was great to have him there to tell us the price so we could decide on it or pick another size.  During our week night visit a few years back they did not have a person in the field so we didn't know the price of the pumpkin until our return.  Of course we didn't have to buy it if the cost was too high and there are other pumpkins to pick from that are near the store and already priced.

The kids really enjoyed the hayride!
 We took advantage of the corn maze option since it was included with our admission.  The kids really enjoyed it!  Plus, it was a great time to talk about how corn grows and the different things we use corn for.

We made it out!!!
After we returned from the corn maze and hayride we checked out some other fun activities.

The pumpkin train

This made a great slide!

Rope swings

Rope maze (easy for kids to follow)

Tricycle course

There's also a play area with horse swings, tire/stump obstacle course, zip lines, and more.  My kids loved the petting area where they could feed goats and sheep.  For our weekend visit they had a lot of additional activities that were affordable like pumpkin painting and pony rides.