Sunday, October 27, 2013

Homemade Caramel & Caramel Apples

I shared this post a while back about caramel apples.  It calls for the use of store caramel (you know the little squares that are individually wrapped).  Well, I have always hated how easily the caramel runs off the apples!!!  And, I love caramel but have never really enjoyed the caramel squares you buy in the store...  So, I found a few recipes on how to make homemade caramel.  This is by far my favorite!!  I will NEVER buy store caramel again!!!  Well, unless it is for school which will not allow homemade food items...

This is easy to make and so YUMMY!!!


12 whole apples (if making caramel apples - I prefer Granny Smith for these)
1/4 cup butter
1 cup Karo light corn syrup
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (set aside until end)
Optional toppings:  chopped nuts, melted chocolate, mini candies like M&M's, gummy bears, ...

Assemble all ingredients: wash and dry apples, insert sticks, and butter a cookie sheet.   Buttering the cookie sheet will make your life so much easier when it comes to working with caramel!!!
Heat all ingredients except vanilla in a heavy 2-quart saucepan (I used a coated pan to prevent sticking and it worked perfectly) over medium/low heat. Stir constantly to prevent burning! 
It looks pretty light for a while.  The color changed after adding the vanilla (last step).
When caramel reaches soft ball stage (235°F–240°F) remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir well.  Let cool a few minutes.
Now that looks like caramel!
Using the stick inserted in the apples, dunk apples in the hot caramel and twirl slowly away from the heat for a couple of minutes.

I continued to spin my apples for a while to let the caramel cover the apple.
If I would have sat it on the pan right away the caramel would have mostly slid off the apple. 
Place caramel-covered apples on a buttered cookie sheet. If you want to dress-it up with toppings now would be the time.

Please excuse my well used pan ;-)
Extra caramel (or all the caramel if you are not making apples):

1. Can be scraped out with a spatula into a buttered plate or dish to be cut into individual pieces when cool.  You can wrap the pieces in wax paper (Caramel on wax side).  I still have to perfect the "packaging" but so far I have found that storing the caramel in a cool area (refrigerator) makes it easy to peel it apart from the wrapper.

2. Can be thinned in the pan with half-and-half and eaten warm, as a dip for apple wedges.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Avoiding Theft Accusations: Tips With Dressing Rooms

It seems like a million years ago but I once worked in sales at a small clothing store.  It was a popular place for the small town that I lived in.  We carried name brand and trendy clothing so it was a natural draw for teens and young adults.  Which, also meant that we had to keep a close eye on what was going into the dressing rooms.  Shoplifting was a common thing we experienced!

This experience in my life has impacted how I shop today.  At least when it comes to trying on clothing.  I don't think that, at this point in my life, I would ever be suspected of shoplifting but who knows??   I don't want to take any chances!  So, here are some tips that I recommend you all do BEFORE you close the door to a dressing room:

  1. Check for clothing that was left behind and get rid of it!!  Usually there is a hanging rack or something where you can put clothing that you do not want to buy (so a staff member can put them back on the sales floor.)
  2. Look for hangers, tags, ....  anything that came from clothing that someone would remove before shoplifting.  Then get rid of it!!!  Either place it in the container for staff (as mentioned in #1) or physically hand it to a staff member.  DO NOT enter the dressing room and close the door if there are more hangers and /or tags than what your articles came with!  This was always a sure sign to us that someone stole something!  

Don't forget to look under furniture!  This little seat had a great hiding spot under it!

I'm sure that you may have a good argument if you are ever questioned about extra hangers and tags in your dressing room.  Especially when it comes to large clothing stores that do not check dressing rooms often.  However, I never want to get into a situation where I have to defend myself in this way!

Also, once I tried on a pair of jeans and I was scratched by something in the pocket.  I discovered a sensor (like the kind used to set off alarms if they aren't removed at time of purchase).  I went to the staff member right away to give them my discovery.  Someone got away with something but I surely wasn't going to take any blame for it!  Plus, I had a pretty bad scratch on my leg - I didn't want that to happen to the next person that tried those pants on!

Bra Shopping: My Love/Hate Relationship

Okay, maybe this post is a little different from my usual but I really felt that this topic is one that I might not be alone with.

I have always been very "well endowed" when it came to my breast.  Starting in eight grade it became clear that I was not going to be a late developer or one that needed to "stuff my bra" to fit in.  By the time I had graduated from high school I was spending a lot of money buying fancy bras from places like Victoria's Secret.  I had a tiny figure and great boobs - what more could a girl ask for???

Well, later in my life it all changed!  Two kids later and and a few clothing sizes bigger, I no longer enjoy shopping - especially for intimate apparel!  And, I never buy button up shirts because they ALWAYS pull apart in my breast area!  This is a problem that many of my family members (fathers side) have struggled with.  Many of them have even had to go as far as getting breast reductions due to the strain on their body and back.  I'm not that far in need, yet....  

I'm sure you have all heard the statistics that about 85% of women are not wearing the correct bra size. I finally gave in to visiting Victoria's Secret to have a measurement taken and to get recommendations.  The answer?  Well, I'm not ready to share my bra size with the world but I will tell you that Victoria's Secret does not carry my cup size!!  YIKES!!!  Okay, time to diet and exercise to see if I can get some of this under control.  Until then, I was way off on my current bra size so it was time to do some dreaded shopping...  

My next problem?  The combination of my small rib cage and huge cup size are near impossible to find in stores!  So, when I shop, I have to find a store that carries the size I need and then search for something that might actually be in stock.  Next, does it fit right....  Enough said on that!  However, I am very happy with the way my CORRECT bra size fits!  The reason for this post:  If you have not been sized I would highly recommend you do so ASAP!!!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Homemade Fruit Fly Trap

We always have fruit in our house.  And... we seem to always have fruit flies!  This summer/fall we have had a larger amount of fruit flies than in the past and the traps that I purchased from my local store just weren't helping!  So, I decided to test a homemade trap that I had heard was working for others.  Of course, it worked perfectly - or I wouldn't be sharing this blog post!!!

What you need:
A portion of a banana
A bowl (preferably one that you want to toss)
Plastic wrap
A rubber band
Something small to make holes in the plastic wrap

  • Place the banana in the bowl.
  • Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.
  • Secure the rubber band over the plastic wrap so it creates a seal around the bowl (so the bugs can't get out).  

  • Poke small holes in the top of the plastic wrap.  Large enough for the bugs to get in but not so large that they can find their way out.

  • Leave the "trap" by the fruit.

Just a couple of minutes and there's already a fly trapped.

After just one day!
I know - not the prettiest thing!  This gets really gross after a couple of days so I have opted to just toss the bowl and all!  At first I thought maybe I was creating a breading spot for these little buggers.  Seriously - how could I have had this many in my house?!?!  But, after 1 week with 2 traps, I haven't seen any bugs in a while and it's been a few weeks since I had a trap in use!  This will be my forever solution for fruit flies!

Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad: Halloween Ghost Train - Genesee County, Michigan

A couple of summers ago I heard about a Halloween Ghost Train that takes place in (or maybe it's near) Flint, Michigan.  So, I asked my Facebook friends if they had ever been there and, if so, what they thought of it.  It is a couple of hours away from my house so I really wanted to hear from others if it was worth my time/gas/money.  The feedback was very positive - including the Christmas Train that they do in November & December.  So, I added this to my Michigan Bucket list.  This year we were finally able to make it to the village and train during Halloween.  So here's our experience!

First, I studied the recommendations on their website.  The site recommended purchasing tickets in advance to guarantee a ride on the train during the busy weekends.  I waited until the day before so I could have a good feel for the weather.  I really did not want to drive all the way there and have it rain! We were leaving my house at 12:00 pm on a Saturday so I purchased our train tickets (includes access to the village) for 3:20 pm.  The reservation website lists times that are available for the train rides and that was the best fit for us.

The day of our visit:  My friend and I took our kiddos (a total of 6 people).  We had them all dress up in their Halloween costumes.  My daughter had a wide dress so I put hers on over her clothing when we arrived to the park.  Us mom's did not dress up but, while at the park, we noticed that many parents had on costumes - which made it fun!

The first parking lot was full when we arrived but there was a lot of traffic directors pointing us to another parking lot.  It wasn't far away (thanks to a path) and it seemed actually pretty convenient.  So, we parked the car, finished putting on costumes, grabbed our cameras and some bottled water, and we were off to the gate.

At the gate there was a long line to get in!!!  But, since we made an advance purchase, we were able to skip the line and go to another ticket booth where we were next in line.  There were signs reminding people that if they already made a reservation online they were supposed to go to ticket booth "A" (I think it was "A").  We were given our tickets (actually 1 ticket that was good for all 6 of us since we paid together) at the booth and reminded that we needed to be at the train line by 3:00 pm (our train was set to leave at 3:20 pm).  We had 1 hour before we needed to get in line for the train so we decided to check out the village.

As we were getting ready to enter the village (from the ticket booth) we were each given a small bag with a handle to trick-or-treat with.  Even the adults get a bag and get to gather treats!  That worked out great since one of our kiddos wasn't able to join us - he had candy coming home to him from his mom.

The entire village was decorated for Halloween - inside and out!!!

View of a portion of the village.
There were 20 stops on the trick-or-treat map.

Each one was numbered.  It was easy to find #1 and from there were wooden ghosts pointing you to the direction of the next number to visit.  Originally we were confused by the map but it was so easy to navigate once we figured out that the buildings had numbered pumpkins signs.

With a light for night visitors.

Like I said, everything was decorated inside and out!

The staff at each stop were really nice!  And one of the "treats" was a yummy honey crisp apple!

There was even a straw maze!

Love these trees!!!  This was on our way to the last stop - #20.
The last stop:  cold apple cider and a donut for everyone!!!  For an additional cost you could purchase other food and beverage items here.  Restrooms were also located in this building (we did see a couple of other spots for restrooms too).

The train:  We finished our trick-or treating in the 1 hour that we had from the time we arrived until it was time to get in line for the train.  LINES!!!  This is the thing I hate about busy places!!!!  Our tickets were stamped by a train staff member and then we were told a number in line to stand by.  We were #5 which was the front portion of the train.  There were so many people standing in line!  After the train was emptied from the ride before, a staff member let us through a gate.  At that time we were told what train car to go to.  No assigned seating and our group of 6 was the last to go to the car were were assigned to.  Of course, at this point I was expecting complete failure (not enough seats, can't sit together, ...).  And, of course, as soon as we got inside the car we were told that there wasn't any more room!  I immediately looked at my friend and told her that we needed to get off.  Since she was the closest to the exit she quickly went to the staff member to tell him that we still needed seats.  Thankfully they had another car to fit us into and we all got to sit by each other!!  Plus, the original car we were supposed to ride in had wood benches.  The car we ended up riding in had nice leather bench seats!  

  • Two people per bench seat
  • Keep arms in the windows (they are old and heavy with the possibility of falling closed when the train moves)
  • No food or beverages on the train (you can have it in your bag - just don't eat or drink on the train)

No - he isn't getting ready to take a drink of that water while on the train ;-)

The ride is 40 minutes long.  Along the way the engineer (is that the correct title?) talked us through the experience.  They go all out with a variety of scenes along the path!  It's amazing to think that they were almost all Halloween themed - which means that they change them all for the other holidays/themes through the year!

Scene along the train path.

Scene along the train path.
There's more!!!  In the village there is an area where you can enjoy a variety of rides.  These are an additional cost but not too badly priced.  Each ride was one ticket.  Each ticket was $1.25 or 4 for $4.  I noticed 5 rides total.  Three of the rides were a fit for our age kiddos (2 were for more toddler aged kiddos).  The three that were a good fit for our kiddos:  a carousel (that goes really fast), a ferris wheel, a boat ride (I have never seen anything like this but our kids loved it).

To the right of the picture is the building where you buy tickets and ride the carousel.
The pumpkin shed in the middle is a trick-or-treat stop.
To the left (hard to see) is the entrance for the Genesee Bell (show boat) and a place to eat (we didn't do either of these so I don't really have any input about them).  

View of the Genesee Belle from the train.  We did not purchase this option but now wish we did.
It was only $3 per person more and it was a beautiful day!  
Ferris wheel - each car fits 2-3 people depending on size.
Boat ride - 2 people on each boat and powered by the riders taking turns pulling on ropes.
What did we each end up with?  I loved that we got a popcorn ball, apple, and cider with a donut as part of our adventure!

Something to note:  the line was long when we arrived but once we got into the village it wasn't bad at all.  I did comment a few times on how cool it would be at night because they have Halloween lights all over.  But, as it got later in the day, the lines to get through the trick-or-treating stops got longer!  We told the kids that we would stop back into the village store on the way out so they could spend their money.  It was amazing how much busier the store was!  The line was huge (no line the first time we stopped) and the items my kiddos originally wanted to buy were gone!  So, it looks like it might be more awesome to see at night but the trade off is longer lines...

There was also a magic show at the village theater.  It was included in our entrance but the timing never worked out for us to see it.

We enjoyed this adventure so much that I am for sure going to the Christmas at Crossroads Holiday Magic experience this December!  That one I do want to check-out at night so here's hoping for a great experience and no lines!  I have heard/read that they do Christmas caroling and there are even some nights that they allow cars to drive through the village to check out the lights (instead of walking) where you pay by car.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Blueberry Buckle Muffins Recipe

LOVE this recipe!!  And they freeze great too!

Blueberry Buckle Muffins

Crumble Topping:

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter (1/2 stick), cut up

Muffin Batter:

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt*
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened*
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh blueberries (frozen will yield the same results)

*I did not have unsalted butter available at the time so I used salted butter and did not use the 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  They turned out perfect!


1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place a cupcake liner in each cup of a 12-cup muffin pan; set aside.  For the topping, place sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter in a small bowl.  Mix until it resembles coarse crumbs; set aside.

2.  For the batter, in a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.  In a large bowl beat together butter and sugar until creamy.  Beat in egg; mix until well-blended.  Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, mixing well after each addition.  Gently fold in blueberries.

3.  Spoon in batter evenly into muffin cups; sprinkle with topping.  Bake 35-38 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Let muffins cool in pan 5 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack; let cool completely.  Makes 12 muffins.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Granola

I LOVE this recipe!!!  It's one that I came across, experimented with, and then made it my own :-)

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola


4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 cup miniature chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.  In a large bowel, combine peanut butter and honey.  Microwave for 30-45 seconds until the peanut butter and honey have all melted.  Stir together and then add in the cinnamon and vanilla extract.
3.  Add in the oats and stir until all the oats are coated with the mixture.  
4.  Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.  I stirred mine some at about 8 minutes into the baking time.  It may still be soft but it will harden once it cools off.  
5.  You now have a choice:  add the chocolate chips now so they will melt onto the granola.  Or, wait until the granola cools so it will keep the chip shape.  I personally like to add mine while it is hot so it melts onto the granola and helps hold some clusters together.
6.  Store in mason jars (great for gifts) or any airtight container.  I like to store mine in small freezer bags so they can be frozen (stays fresh longer and the small bags reduce the size I am eating at a time) and taken out to snack on.