Monday, January 31, 2011

Cupcake Train Birthday Cake

My daughter loves trains, so it was easy for me to pick a theme for her 2nd birthday cake. I did a bunch of searching online for ideas and there are tons of different ones out there! My inspiration ended up coming from Household 6. She did things a little more elaborate than I wanted, but I was very pleased with how it turned out!

My supplies included:
A bunch of graham crackers (I found the generic brand were wider than name brand)
one tub of icing
one container of mini Oreos
sprinkles/colored sugar
my daughter's Duplo train set

First, I broke graham crackers into quarters along the scoring. They did not always break perfectly, but that still worked fine.

My first attempt was to use a pile of 3 graham cracker quarters, but this was a little unstable. I switched to using 2 piles of 2 graham cracker quarters. I used the Duplo track as the base for the train and that worked great!

I used the Duplo engine to keep things simple! I did not use any extra icing to keep the crackers together for the train cars. Here is a look at the train before I added wheels.

I put a little dab of icing on a mini Oreo cookie and stuck them to the crackers. This worked great and was really simple to do. I put chocolate sprinkles on the car right behind the engine to mimic the tinder.

I have silicone cupcake molds that are different shapes, which added some fun variety to the different cars.

I put colored sugar on a plate and rolled the cupcakes in it. I love the way they came out! They look more professionally done, and it was very easy to do.

The finished project! I put this on the table where we ate, so it doubled as cake and centerpiece decoration!

Our daughter loved it! The only thing I would do differently next time is to decorate the train a little more. I think some licorice lace would have looked great connecting the cars together, and a few other candy embellishments would have been fun to play around with too!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Food Waste Friday

Every Friday, I join with The Frugal Girl and other bloggers to clean out my fridge and freezer and take a picture of anything that has gone bad over the last week. This holds me accountable to faithfully check every week, and motivates me to use up our leftovers. This has made a huge difference in the amount of food we waste every week.

I haven't been diligent about going through our food waste the last few weeks, but I'm hoping to get back on track this week! I threw out 3 avocados also this week. I bought them to make guacamole for my husband to take to work last week and then we had things come up that prevented me from making it. I also have about half a container of cottage cheese and way too much cilantro.

How have you been doing with food waste? I've found that I really have to be consistent to go through my fridge every week so that I know exactly what needs to be used up before it goes bad!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

It has been super cold in Delaware lately, so one icy day last week I made this for dinner. It was the perfect cozy meal! I found this recipe on my Cook's Illustrated app on the iPod. I had been wanted to make tomato soup for a while. I made it the first year we were married but it had chunks of tomato and we don't do tomato chunks in something like this, so I think the leftovers got tossed. We won't be tossing these leftovers, I am pleased to report!

We had grilled cheese sandwiches with this soup and it was tasty! I think a salad would have gone nicely too, but I didn't think of it until I was cleaning up dinner. My 2 year old LOVED it. It came out thick and creamy, and had a nice kick to it. I think the only changes I would make next time is to maybe only use 2 cloves of garlic (it was a little garlicky) and add a tiny bit more sugar (it was still a little tart). Overall it had a very complex flavor, totally unlike the canned variety.

I wanted a creamy tomato recipe, and I thought it was interesting that this one accomplished the thick and creamy texture without using any heavy cream or even milk.

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • pinch hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 3 large slices good-quality sandwich bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 T. brandy (optional)
Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. I was out of onion so I just used onion juice.

Stir in tomatoes (I used crushed tomatoes instead of whole). Using a potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain (or used crushed tomatoes!). Stir in sugar and bread; bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down. Remove and discard bay leaf.

Then I pulled out my new immersion blender! Or you could use a regular blender (which is used in the actual recipe).

You can see how the soup is changing color as it is blended together...awesome!

After soup is blended, stir in chicken broth and brandy (I didn't use brandy). Return soup to a boil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

I totally recommend pairing with grilled cheese, but crusty bread for dipping would be great too!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cuter in Cloth

I mentioned in last week's reflections on two in cloth diapers how much I love that both my kids can wear the same diapers. Here's a look at a 2 year old and a 3 month old in bumGenius one-size diapers:

I have all the snaps fastened for my little one and none of the snaps fastened for my oldest. I just love the way cloth look compared to disposables!

If you are thinking about trying cloth diapers and have questions about anything, please don't hesitate to ask!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Homemade Peppermint Mocha

Yes! You read it right! The Starbucks specialty right in your home, for far less than $4.50 :-)

This recipe is adapted from one I found on the Cotton Babies blog. I also made my own peppermint syrup, using the recipe in that post. It was very simple! In a medium saucepan combine 2 cups water and 2 cups sugar. Bring to a boil, then add 2 teaspoons peppermint extract. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Refrigerate and enjoy!

After I made my peppermint syrup, the rest was easy, thanks to my new immersion blender!

Of course, you don't need an immersion blender to make this work! Here's the ingredients:

Combine 3/4 cup strong coffee, 1 Tablespoon peppermint syrup, 1 Tablespoon chocolate syrup (she also has a recipe for making this yourself, but I am going to use up what I have first!), and 1 Tablespoon half and half (the recipe says 1/8 cup coconut milk). Blend it up well!

And enjoy!

The mocha I made today was a little large than the recipe, I just altered the proportions accordingly. Now, its not exactly like Starbucks, but if you crave that specialty drink often, this will save you a bundle!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My favorite place to buy jeans

I picked up 3 new pairs of jeans yesterday, 2 pairs from Gap and one from American Eagle.

Cost if I had bought them new: probably upwards of $75, if I found a good sale

Cost at Goodwill: $5 each, $15 total.

The Goodwill here in Middletown doesn't organize by size any more, which makes it more challenging to find something that fits, but not impossible. I love looking for jeans at Goodwill; the selection is huge, there are many different brands, and you can't beat the price.

My method is to keep the looking quick; I flip through the jeans looking for brand names. If its a brand I'm looking for, I check the size. I try to grab 5 or 6 pairs to try on, hoping for one or two of them to fit. I got lucky yesterday finding 3 at once! I am a quick shopper, so it only took me 10 or 15 minutes to get in and out, since I knew what I was looking for.

Have you found any great deals on clothes at Goodwill?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Refelctions on 2 in cloth

I've posted many times about cloth diapers on this blog, and we have used them exclusively (save for a few vacations, etc) with our daughter. When our son was born, we were given a large amount of disposables, so that I did not have to worry with washing diapers daily in those early weeks.

I loved having the disposables...change the diaper and toss it...nothing else to do! So I was actually starting to worry that I would not want to switch to cloth with our son because I was so accustomed to the simplicity of disposables. It turns out that the opposite is actually true!

I love our bumGenius!

We primarily use bumGenius one-size pocket diapers. I love that my 25-pound two-year-old and 12-pound three-month-old can wear the same diapers!

In order to have enough cloth diapers for 2, we invested in some bumGenius Flip diapers. These are a more streamlined version of the one-size diapers; the insert simply lays inside the cover (see below). Because of the waterproof nature of the cover, I can toss the wet insert into my diaper pail, wipe down the cover, and reuse it without having to wash it. We have 4 flip covers and 10 inserts. The Flip diapers also feature snap closure instead of velcro.

The insert has small, medium, and large markings to help you know where to fold for the correct size diaper. The 'stay dry' insert wicks away moisture from the child's skin.

This is the large size (which my daughter uses) with all of the snaps open.

This is the small size that we use for our son, with all the snaps closed. We still prefer to use the bumGenius with the velcro on our son because we are able to get a tighter fit since he is still itty bitty.

If you are trying to decide between snaps and velcro (now that you can get the bumGenius one-size in either), I think that it is really a matter of preference, so my best advice is to try them before you make a huge investment! I love the ease of the velcro. Our diapers are 2 years old, and while the velcro is not as strong as it was when the diapers were new, it is still fine and more than just usable. The new bumGenius 4.0 diaper has reinforced velcro that is amazing, and I believe that velcro will hold up much longer than the ones I have. Snaps are more durable for sure, but I have not been able to get as tight of a fit on my children's diapers with snaps. I much prefer velcro for smaller children. I do use the snaps on my son from time to time, but they are much more prone to leaks because of gaps.

Given the option of cloth or disposables for my children, I would go with cloth nearly every time now! Cloth diapers hold newborn poop way better than disposables. Cloth diapers keep rashes away much better than disposables. If there is redness because of a diaper left on too long, it is nearly always gone by the next diaper change, and usually without the use of any cream. The routine of washing cloth can be challenging at first, but if it is what you have determined to do, than it will simply become another part of your routine, even with two in cloth!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cloth Wipes

We have been using cloth diapers for nearly 2 years now. I tried to use cloth wipes a few different times but without much success, probably because we were using just baby washcloths that were not super soft. We started using cloth wipes exclusively in the last few months, and I do not see us going back to disposables.

The two main reasons for the switch were 1) with two in diapers we were going through a ton of wipes and 2) the disposable wipes seem to be giving our daughter a rash.

The cloth wipes are WAY better for newborn poop, which is really wet and runny. The wipes absorb more, instead of just pushing it around! A nurse at our pediatrician's office suggested using water and a cloth instead of the alcohol based disposable wipes, and this really helped to keep the rash away too! We keep a spray bottle on the change table and just spray a wipe before using it.

Our cloth wipes are nothing fancy; just some fleece cut into small pieces. We cut ours into two different sizes. The wipes are the pile on the right. And the pile on the left is our liners. We put the liners in our daughter's diapers for two reasons. If she has a poopy diaper, the fleece liner makes it way easier to get the poop off. Also, if we need to use some diaper cream, the fleece acts as a barrier. We just wash the liners with cream in a load separate from our diapers.

You can purchase cloth wipes and liners made out of fleece, but our simple fleece works so well that I don't see any need to buy something fancier.

The liners just lay in the diapers!

If you cloth diaper, cloth wipes are the easy way to go! And if you use disposable diapers, but have issues with rashes, cloth wipes (and diapers!) are a great alternative.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Food Waste Friday

Every Friday, I join with The Frugal Girl and other bloggers to clean out my fridge and freezer and take a picture of anything that has gone bad over the last week. This holds me accountable to faithfully check every week, and motivates me to use up our leftovers. This has made a huge difference in the amount of food we waste every week.

This week was a pretty good one for us! I know I threw out something earlier in the week, but I forgot to take a picture at the time and now I can't remember at all! Even though we did a good job of using up leftovers this week, I know I let more things go bad over the Christmas and New Years holidays. Its been nice to be back in our more normal routine this week, and that has really helped with our meals!

I am hoping to get back on my more regular posting schedule over the next week also! I have a bunch of recipes that I want to share, along with a few other things, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Baking with Yeast

We all know that eating out is crazy expensive compared to making dinner at home. A big part of what appeals to our family when it comes to a meal out is that warm, freshly baked bread. Bread is super cheap and really very easy to make at home, and we've found that having different breads with our dinners makes eating in much more enjoyable!

I do a lot of yeast bread baking, especially in the winter. I love the way the oven warms up the house just as it is getting dark, and freshly baked bread dresses up most any meal.

I just opened a new bag of yeast this week. I get a 2 pound bag of yeast at Costco for just under $4!

The strips of yeast in the grocery store have got to be one of the most overpriced products I've seen. If you are only going to bake once every few months, then that is the way to go, but since we bake a few times a week, this big container of yeast makes so much more sense.

I keep my yeast in an air-tight container in the freezer. It took me a little over a year to go through my last bag of yeast, but I never had any problems with the yeast not being active any longer. If you are a member of Costco (or another similar warehouse club), check out the yeast and see if it makes sense to buy in bulk! Having all that yeast on hand will surely make it more convenient to bake more, and you just might find yourself craving homemade bread with dinner instead of an much more pricey dinner out!
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