Monday, July 30, 2012

Applesauce Cupcake with Brown Sugar Frosting

 I originally found this recipe on Better Homes and Gardens.  This was the dessert I chose to serve last Friday during my get together.  They were a slightly dry cupcake so next time I make them I'll probably add a little more applesauce or maybe even a couple drops of apple juice.  My applesauce was homemade so it may be that it didn't have as much liquid in it as a traditional store bought applesauce.

The original recipe didn't call for the glazed walnuts but I thought they were a nice addition to the cupcake.  I've also marked the nutmeg and cloves as optional since my personal opinion was they detracted a little from the cupcake.  If you love nutmeg and cloves leave them in, since I'm not a huge fan I think it would taste better without them.

After I frosted the cupcakes I added a dried, cinnamon apple chip to the top.  Any brand will do but my favorite is Seneca Crispy Apple Chips.  If you haven't tried them yet you're missing out!

Applesauce Cupcake

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup shortening 
  • 1-1/3 cups applesauce (I would recommend chunky so you get bits of apple)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon baking power
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 3/4 cup raisins (optional)
  • Glazed walnuts (optional)
Brown Sugar Frosting
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 cups sifted powered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Milk (optional)

    1. Preheat the oven to 375 degree F. Line eighteen 2 1/2-inch muffin cups with paper bake cups; set aside.
    2. In a large bowl, beat granulated sugar and shortening with an electric mixer on medium speed until well mixed. Beat in applesauce. (Mixture will appear curdled.) In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, and cloves. Beat into applesauce mixture. Stir in raisins and walnuts.
    3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.* Bake in the preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from muffin cups. Cool completely on wire rack.
    4. For frosting, in a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar and butter. Cook and stir over medium heat until melted. Remove from heat. Stir in powdered sugar, the 1 tablespoon milk, and the vanilla. If necessary, stir in enough additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make spreading consistency (if frosting thickens, stir in additional milk).

    Note:  Sifting the powered sugar will make the frosting smoother.  I didn't sift the sugar but I did beat the frosting extra well.

    Frost cupcakes. Makes 18 cupcakes.

    Test Kitchen Tip: If all of the cupcakes do not fit in the oven at one time, refrigerate the remaining cupcakes while the first ones bake.
    nutrition facts

    • Servings Per Recipe 18 cupcakes
    • Calories253
    • Total Fat (g)8
    • Saturated Fat (g)3,
    • Cholesterol (mg)10,
    • Sodium (mg)109,
    • Carbohydrate (g)46,
    • Fiber (g)1,
    • Protein (g)2,
    • Vitamin A (DV%)0,
    • Vitamin C (DV%)0,
    • Calcium (DV%)0,
    • Iron (DV%)0,
    • Other Carbohydrates (d.e.)3,
    • Fat (d.e.)1.5,
    • Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Weekly Menu

I don't always enjoy meal planning.  While I definitely see the value in having a menu,  the thought of having to actually create one taxes my brain sometimes.  Of course not having a plan taxes my brain when I'm standing in front of the refrigerator contemplating what to serve for dinner.  I also find my lack of creativity a little disturbing.  There are so many different foods out there to cook and I seem to resort to the same items! Maybe one of these days I've venture out of my comfort zone but it certainly isn't going to be this week.

This is a fairly quite week but I do have at least one meeting.  I'll plan on that being our fend for yourself night.  Otherwise it's going to pretty much be more of the same old thing.

Brats, salad, corn on the cob, strawberry shortcake
Grilled chicken, strawberry salad, potatoes, Texas toast, cranberry relish
Hamburgers, applesauce, tomatoes
Fend for yourself x2
Dinner out

Of course, it helps if you're serving brats to have those little things called brat buns!  I sent Michael out to buy the corn but forgot to ask him to buy buns.  I like to buy my buns the day that we use them 1) so their fresh 2) I don't like waste.  The poor kids needed to eat them without buns.

That's what we're eating this week.  What's on your menu?

I'll be linking this up at I'm an Organizing Junkie

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Wonder Woman Complex Lives On

I've mentioned my Wonder Woman complex before to you, hence the blog name to remind myself that "Wonder Woman I'm Not".  Sometimes, however, the inner Wonder Woman wanna be rears her ugly head.

It all started innocently enough a couple of weeks ago during one of our Mile High Club Meetings.  We needed to do a full day workshop (Teaser - we are working on a really fun project that I can't share with you yet.  I'm REALLY excited about it).  As I hadn't hosted a meeting yet and my commute makes my home a little undesirable for our after work get-togethers, I offered to host the workshop day at my house.

Here's a little bit of inside knowledge about me.  I love hosting but my inner perfectionist tends to come out.  A lot of thought and effort usually gets put into the event.  Sometimes to the point where I've spent an obscene amount of money on specialty items.  Like the personalized M&M's I bought for my son's graduation party.  I thought my husband was going to have a stroke when my uncle was eating them by the fistful :)  Point is, I love entertaining and I really want to make it special for my guests.

Prior to the event I spent time thinking about what everyone likes to eat.  The best way to serve.  What dishes to use.  How to decorate my desert.  How beautiful everything would look.  Anyone else out there suffer from these delusions of grandeur?

I decided on my blueberry muffinszucchini muffins and fresh fruit for breakfast.  Lunch would be a breathtaking salad of mixed greens, chicken, glazed pecans, Craisins, mandarin oranges and blue cheese plus a selection of fine cheeses, lunch meat and fresh baked bread.  Snacks were to be fresh baked cookies as well as chips and dip.  All of which would be beautifully plated, ready to be placed on the table at the appointed time by the calm, wonderfully coiffed hostess wearing her June Cleaver dress and pearls.  The piece de la resistance would be the spiced applesauce cupcakes I made.

The reality?  I woke at up 5am to start cooking.  I immediately burnt a batch of cookies.  The second batch was at least edible if not totally appealing.  When I went to grab the french bread out of the fridge I noticed I bought one pizza dough and one bread instead of two breads.  "Don't worry" I thought to myself, we'll just stretch the bread.  That would have worked out fine if I wouldn't have burnt the only loaf I had to a crisp.  My blueberry muffins would not release from the pan and the zucchini muffins were pretty much a figment of my imagination.

At 8am (when they were suppose to arrive), my hair was wet and scraggly.  The kitchen was a mess and smelled like burnt garlic.  I hadn't plated any of the food and I realized I never did buy the chip dip.  What was I going to do?

Then the phone rang.  It was the ladies.  Thankfully they were running a little late and yes, they were more than happy to stop by the store to pick up bread and chips.

By the time they arrived I had managed to dry my hair (somewhat), clean the kitchen and light a candle to hide the garlic smell.

You know what?  Not one of them cared that we ended up eating lunch meat out of a package or that they had to assemble their own salads.  My friends weren't expecting Wonder Woman, all they wanted to a fun day with a relaxed hostess.

I guess I just need to repeat more often "Wonder Woman I'm Not, Wonder Woman I'm Not, Wonder Woman I'm Not".

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Redecorating the Living Room

Well, we finally did it.  After years of nagging discussion, Mike and I finally got around to redecorating the living room.  We've been in this house 19 years with the same white walls, the same bland window treatments, the same entertainment center and the same furniture (albeit with a slip cover re-do a number of years ago).

I'm going to let you in on a secret, my husband hates change.  The running joke is that what makes our marriage so successful is getting a new wife would require A LOT of change.  When he looks at something that is horribly outdated he really just doesn't see how bad it looks, until he sees how wonderful it can look!  I love how every time I twist his arm convince him to redecorate he admits how great it looks.  Of course he then adds (tongue in cheek) "I don't know why you didn't ask me to do this sooner?"

Here is what we had to work with.

The view of the living room from the dining area

Sorry - I forgot to take the "before" picture before Mike started.  This at least gives you the general idea of what our entertainment center wall looked like.

Don't you love the white on white? I did intend to put up a valance when I bought them.  19 years ago.

As you can see we had a lot to do.  I also wanted to keep our budget down.  The good news - we spent $415 to accomplish this transformation!

Here is where we spent our money:
  • Window treatments - $175
  • Paint - $65
  • Art work - $145
  • Cushions - $30 for zippers (the material was purchased four years ago with Christmas & birthday money)
Here's the after pictures.

View from the dining area

New TV & stand replacing the rather large pine entertainment center 

New window treatments

Window Treatments
     If you look closely you may notice that the window treatments are the same as in our kitchen.  Since our living room and kitchen/dining room open up into each other I carried the same color palette through both rooms.  I fell in love with these curtains a number of years ago but put off buying them for the living room because of cost.  

     Murphy's law - when I went to Lowe's to pick them up they were gone.  Discontinued.  No longer available.  Have you ever seen a grown woman throw herself on the floor and howl?  Fortunately the patrons at Lowe's didn't get to witness that either although I was pretty close.  Do you know what stopped me?  I spied the bargain bin with them marked down to........$5 a piece.  While it took me trips to two different Lowe's I was able to find all the pieces I needed for $25.  

     For the blinds I used Levelor Wooden Blinds that are custom cut in the store.  MUCH cheaper than special order and they'll cut them while you wait.

     When it came to picking out the paint color, the experts recommend using using varying shades of the same color for rooms that flow together.  The wall that the TV sits on is connected to the red wall in the kitchen so we decided to carry the red all the way through.  I also took the other kitchen paint to the store and asked for the same thing only half color.  Guess what, you can't tell the difference!  We should have just used our existing paint and saved ourselves some money!  That's ok, it's painted and that's all that matters.

     While there was no financial cost for the actual painting,  the physical and psychological costs were astronomical.  At least once an hour I heard "Have I told you how much I despise painting?"  to which I would answer "Why didn't you tell me before?  I would have NEVER asked you to paint if I would have realized how much you disliked it."  There is also a little matter of a sore wrist (requiring the appropriate amount of sympathy), however since he broke his bench pressing record today he no longer gets to complain about the sore wrist.

     When we first moved into our house we bought This End Up furniture.  It's served us well and we still like it.  The downside is even though I've requested multiple samples I haven't been able to find cushions they make that I like.  Plus it would cost about $1,000 for us to buy the new cushions through them.

     A few years ago I decided that I would make slip covers for our cushions instead.  For about $300 I bought enough material for 10 cushions.  You'll notice that the floral cushions are the same in the before and after picture but I did actually re-make them.  The before cushions were made 2-3 years ago and were faded so I made the  new ones.

     Since the material was bought a long time ago with Christmas money I didn't include it in our cost.  I did however break down and buy new zippers.  My original thought was to reuse the old zippers and write about frugal ways to decorate.  My tip - buy new zippers.  You'll save yourself a lot of headaches!

     Gordman's is where we buy most of our prints.  Did you notice the two floral prints?  They both had minor scratches on them.  When we got to the checkout I pointed them out and received an extra 20% off.  Mike took a red Sharpie to them when we got home, you would never know they were damaged!  The picture above the TV is my absolute favorite!  I'm going to keep my eye out for matching smaller prints and potentially swap them out for the poppies down the road.

TV and Stand
     I did not include the TV in the cost of the redecorating because that was something we would have bought whether we redecorated or not.  Last year our TV broke, we didn't have the money to buy the TV we wanted.  Our solution was to buy a new TV that would work in our bedroom (we needed a new TV there as well) and use it in the living room until we could afford the TV we wanted.  

     We didn't have quite enough money saved up to get the exact set-up that we wanted so we compromised a little bit.  We bought the TV and stand that we wanted but didn't buy the Blu-Ray player or a new receiver for the surround sound.  We'll continue to save the money and pick those up at a later date.

General redecorating tips

  • Focus on what's important to you - The blinds were a "must" in my decorating plan.  The cushions were pretty worn and would have had to be replaced sooner or later, the paint was something I wanted but not required and the TV wasn't a necessity at all.  When working with a limited budget I would recommend prioritizing your wants/needs and then working down the list.
  • Reuse what you can - you'll notice that I didn't change my lamps, shelves, vases, etc.  I still like them and they still fit in with my decor.  By not replacing the knickknacks I saved myself quite a bit of money
  • Re-purpose items from different rooms - see the candle on the coffee table?  That was actually in a different room but wasn't working that great.  I've moved it to the living room and like it MUCH better.

Since we finished the room I've decided that the front door sticks out like a sore thumb.  Guess what's next on the list?

Vacation Week Goal Update

Well, vacation week is over and we're back to work.  While I didn't get all of my list done we really kicked it in to gear and got quite a bit accomplished while still having some fun.

The highlight of my vacation?  My living room was completely redecorated.  I was hoping to paint, finish my cushions & get new windows treatments.  Not only did we do those things but we bought new prints and a new TV/entertainment system.  It really looks amazing and I'm very appreciative of the work Mike did.  I'll be writing about what we did and showing you my before and after pictures.

We did have some fun.  We had a frugal afternoon at Cabela's and took in a minor league baseball game.  Mike and Michael were picked to do a fun stunt on the field.  I'll be posting about non-expensive ways to attend a baseball game and I'll include some pictures of them battling it out.

Here is my original list and how I did under each category.

Laundry Room (I've been struggling with sustainability and need to get it up to snuff)
Master bedroom Closet
Basement Closets
Coat closet (I'm embarrassed to admit but we still have some winter coats in there!)
Movie room credenza
Utensil Drawer
Garage organization

I started to do some work in the laundry room but since that's the only unfinished part of our basement it becomes the staging area when we're purging.  With all the work we've done we have a pile for Goodwill as well as some furniture that we no longer need.  Rather than wasting my time in that area I'm focusing on getting the rest of my projects finished and then will work on re-organizing that area.

I feel pretty good with the three organizing projects that I did get done.  I took before and after pictures of the credenza so I'll be writing about that in the near future.

Finish couch cushions (I know, this has been on the list for a long time but I really mean it this time! :)
Window treatments for living room
Replace computer desk in basement (This is half done.  I purchased the replacement bookcase but didn't have a chance to get it up yet)
Paint living room
Hang print we recently bought

Holy smokes Batman - we totally kicked butt in this category.  I've been nagging mentioning to my husband that we needed to redecorate the living room.  We've lived in our house for 19 years; we still had the original white walls, original window treatments and quasi original furniture.  I say quasi because this is our original furniture but I have bought at least one new cushion set for them.

Re-decorating the living room took us two full days.  Because of that I wasn't able to finish unloading our computer desk and put up my new bookcase.  I'm hoping to get to that this week yet otherwise it will probably be a couple of weeks before I finish.

Since we no longer needed our bedroom TV in the living (long story) we were able to move it into the bedroom and finally get it hung on the wall.  Let me tell you, hanging a TV isn't as easy as they lead you to believe!  The changing of the TV's was a minor redecorating project itself which I'm not quite finished with yet.  One more thing to add to my to-do list!

Mike also fixed our garage door opener.  With all the work he did, I didn't have the heart to mention that we still needed to hang our new print in the basement.  I'll probably let that slide for a couple of weeks :)

Freezer Cooking
Breakfast bowls (I'm trying to wean myself off McDonald's!)
Shredded Chicken
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry relish

I did do some freezer cooking but I just wasn't in the mood to get crazy.  I'm going to admit to a couple of lazy mornings where I didn't do much but sleep in and watch Ancient Aliens.  However, I did get my breakfast bowls made which you can read about here.  I also made up two batches of applesauce which made my kids pretty happy.

General Upkeep
Garage door trim (paint)
Replace garage window
Basketball hoop (paint pole)
Stain front porch slider
Clean out and re-plant side bed

The first half of our vacation was so hot that we didn't do anything outside.  Once the heat broke we took advantage of the cooler weather to take the kids to a baseball game and then spent two days on the living room.  What that means is we didn't get anything done on this list.  Do I at least get credit for buying the stuff to do the front porch slider?

Write posts
Buy dishes for food pictures (I thought I'd check out Goodwill to add some visual interest to my pictures)
Buy a new computer
Update various aspects of the blog itself

I actually spent quite a bit of time blogging.  I didn't get as many posts in the hopper as I wanted but that's OK.  The new computer has gone on the back burner and I didn't buy any dishes.  However, I have created a new Christmas portion at the top.  Since I seem to write so much about the holidays I thought I'd give the holiday it's own label!  I'll be adding to it but check it out and let me know what you think about it.

New Recipe Trials
Mango Ice Cream (I found this recipe I wanted to try out)
TBD Cupcake

I did make the mango ice cream (you can read about that here) but I didn't get to the sushi or the cupcakes.  

This Friday I'm having a get-together at my house so pretty much all of my goals for the coming week revolve around getting prepared for that!  Of course, I'm hoping that part of the preparation includes getting my new bookcase up but it won't be the end of the world if I don't get to it.

Have you done anything fun around the house lately?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekly Menu

It's Sunday and I really don't want to think about menu planning.  I'm actually going to admit to going to the grocery store without a plan this week.  I have an incredible amount of food but I really have no clue what to make this week.  Hopefully no one is thinking really bad thoughts about me!

Here is what I do know for sure:

  • Family reunion - no cooking necessary
  • Steaks on the grill (we bought the steaks so that's a given)
  • I have three types of brats; regular brats, cheddar/brat patties and mushroom & Swiss brats so I'm going to assume that at some point we're going to have brats
  • Sandwiches - I'm having a get together this week.  While my plan isn't finalized I'm thinking that I'll make sandwich platters to serve.
  • Eating out (I'm not sure which night but it's pretty much a given that we'll eat out at least once)
  • Fend for yourself 
Sides will be the usual suspects; corn, rice, strawberry salad, roasted potatoes, tomato salad, etc.

In the freezer I do have some hamburger patties and chicken breasts.  I've got a yummy sounding recipe for the chicken but I honestly don't think I'm going to be up for it this week.  There is a lot that I've got to get accomplished this week and I have a feeling I'm going to be a little overwhelmed.

Sorry to be such a poor planner this week!  Anyone else having trouble planning their menu?

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I will be linking up at

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Spending the Afternoon at Cabela's

I told you earlier this week that we were on vacation this week.  I also mentioned that in addition to my crazy to-do list we were going to make time for fun.

Earlier this year we had our mega vacation, taking the kids on a Caribbean cruise.  That vacation pretty much emptied our vacation budget so for this week of vacation we wanted to do fun things without spending a lot of money.  Today our frugal vacation fun included a road trip to Cabela's.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did end up spending more money than I meant to (I couldn't resist the candles!) but if you're looking for a great way to spend a few hours without it costing a lot of money (as long as you have more willpower than me!) then Cabela's is the way to go.

Here are some of the fun things to do at the store that doesn't cost any money (unless stated):

Explore the fish of the Great Lakes.  This is just a small portion of the aquarium.  The aquarium is on both sides of the walk way and wraps around the room.  The fish are amazing, even though the thought of those things swimming in the lake with us is a little creepy

Hunt the beasts of the Serengeti.   These are all real animals preserved and displayed.  I thought it would be fun to put Mike in an explorer hat with a hunting rifle but he wouldn't do it.  Maybe next time.

This is a wall of different types of sheep, bears, moose, etc.  The wall is two stories and contains a wide variety of different animals.  The light in the store was a bit bright so my picture of the full wall didn't turn out well.

Get attacked by a bear.  Don't worry - he was a toy bear so I wasn't in any real danger.

Learn all about the different species in your area.  Here's Mike posing by the deer display.  Who knew there were that many different species of deer! 

Having a contest in the shooting gallery.  For only $.50 a game you can spend quite a bit of time without spending a lot of money.  I can hold my own but of course Mike beat me at every game.  Since he practices for work I think he has an unfair advantage! 

Here's a picture of my big splurge.  This is a ginger peach candle that just smells divine!  I honestly didn't need another candle but I just couldn't pass this one up.

No visit to Cabela's is complete without stopping by the Cabela's Fudge Shop.  They are incredibly generous with their samples and have a wide array of fudges to choose from.  Plus, you want to talk about customer service?  The lady behind the counter told me that if I gave them 24 hour notice they would make up any of the fudge that was on their menu without any order minimum.  

Not pictured was our stop at their cafeteria where you can try wild game meat like elk & bison.  We always enjoy eating here except today was a little bit of a disappointment.  Cabela's - if you're listening you need to step up your game a little bit in the cafeteria department, it seems to have gone down hill a bit.

If you're really big into firearms there's also a gun library you can explore.  I thought the store officials might get a little hinky about me taking pictures of their guns!

So - if you're looking for something to do without spending a lot of money and you have a Cabela's fairly close by I would recommend a visit.  Oh yeah, the kids might enjoy it too :)

Wasn't Mike a great sport?  I have to say I'm pretty lucky to have a guy who is willing to pose for pictures in the middle of the store just so I can write a post.  I guess he's a keeper!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Breakfast Bowls

I have a confession to make, I am addicted to McDonald's.  My love of breakfast (and sweet tea) is well known by my friends and colleagues.  The problem is that a sweet tea and a couple of breakfast burritos per day is not good for either the waistline or the pocket book.

Lately I haven't been feeling the healthiest.  Not that I'm feeling terrible, just sluggish and yucky.  Typically when I feel like this is because I'm overloading on non-healthy food, sugar, caffeine with a little bit of not exercising thrown in.

Outside of the fact that I love their sweet tea and burritos, one of the reasons I stop every day at McDonald's is the convenience.  Having a non-fast food breakfast requires planning and forethought - how fun is that?  You're right, it's not very fun at all but a necessity if I want to improve my eating habits.

One trick that I've been using is to buy the Jimmy Dean Delight Breakfast Bowls.  They're very yummy and I can get them for about $2.19 at my grocery store which is only a couple of pennies more expensive than my McDonald's run (minus my sweet tea).  Of course, my next thought is "I can make that myself and save myself the money!"

The beauty of making your own breakfast bowl is that 1) you can choose your own ingredients 2) it's significantly cheaper 3) no preservatives or additives.

Breakfast Bowl
Makes five servings

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2 small potatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 package turkey sausage
  • cheese (any cheese works fine)
  • other ingredients as desired (mushrooms, tomatoes, etc)
  • seasonings (salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic, etc)

Dice your potatoes, onions and other ingredients.  Season (I used rosemary and garlic) and saute until cooked.  Add to a large mixing bowl when finished

I used pre-cooked turkey sausage so I just cut into small pieces and then added to the mixing bowl.  If you are using non-cooked sausage you will want to cook, drain and crumble before adding to the mixing bowl.  I personally like to use Jones Turkey Sausage because there are no nitrates or additives, however any brand will work.

Crack your eggs in a bowl, adding any additional seasonings.  I used salt and pepper with a dash of milk to to make them fluffy.  If you prefer, you would be able to use egg whites or an egg substitute instead.  Typically I like my scrambled eggs a little more cooked but since these will be heated up in the microwave I left them a tad bit underdone but still thoroughly cooked.  Once finished, add to the mixing bowl.

Add cheese and mix thoroughly separating into five containers.  As you can see, I like to use freezer bags but a bowl you could eat out of would be more convenient.

Voila!  The finished product

I estimate that these cost about $.75  and are about 275 calories per serving.

Now I'm not only eating healthier but with making my own sweet tea I'm saving money too!

This recipe has been featured at:  It's a Blog Party

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

One of the benefits of having a teenage daughter.  Surprises on your camera!

2012 White House Ornament

2012 White House Ornament - Courtesy of White House

Every year I try to cut back a little on the number of gifts we give but I'm typically met with resistance.  Since we have so many people to buy for and I want the gifts to be special, we typically end up spending quite a bit of money on present.

When I'm buying Christmas presents I try to accomplish several things.  I want my gifts to be:
  • Unique
  • Meaningful
  • Good value

That's one reason why, for the last 13 years, I've been giving White House Ornaments as gifts to my nieces.

This tradition started when I was on a business trip to Maryland about 13 years ago.  My parents came with me and we spent a few days in DC.  While I was hoping to get to see the White House (this was pre-9/11) the tours were suspended due to the activity in Bosnia.  However, we did make it to the White House Gift shop

While browsing for souvenirs at the gift shop I came across the White House Ornament Collection.  Since 1981 an ornament has been produced by the White House Historical Association honoring presidents and special events at the White House.  I decided to buy a few to take home for the kids.

Since then, every year I buy ornaments for Belle and two of my nieces.  I'm going to be honest with you, this isn't a gift that will send them into squeals of excitement.  However, Belle has told me that she appreciates getting it and looks forward each year to seeing what the ornament will look like.

If you are interested in purchasing this year's ornament (they sell past years as well) you can check out the White House Historical Association.  They have many other cool items in addition to the ornaments and shipping is free.  One word of caution, there are other websites that sell these ornaments.  I've never had any experience with the other sites (good or bad) but I prefer to buy from the original source.

As you may have noticed by the heat wave we're having here in the USA, it's the middle of summer.  However, since this is a gift I know that I will be giving every year it's an easy one for me to cross off my list.  I just placed my order today - can't wait to receive them!

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Menu Plan

As I mentioned we are on vacation this week.  While this may mean a lot of eating out for some folks, I'm actually hoping we'll be doing less of it.  This is Mike's birthday week so we'll be treating the kids to some steaks on the grill.

I did try the recipe for Mango Ice Cream, the kids and I made it this morning and took it to grandma's for a treat.  Going forward I'll use this as a dessert topping instead of ice cream but I would definitely recommend you try it out.

Here's what cooking at the WWIN household this week.

Chinese take-out (the neighbors had a party this afternoon and I didn't want to be out grilling)
Steaks on the grill, rice pilaf, corn on the cob, strawberry salad, birthday cake
Grilled chicken, cranberry relish, glazed carrots, salad
Brats, applesauce, roasted potatoes, corn
Hamburgers, grilled pineapple (try putting these on your burgers - yum!), tomatoes, salad
Pizza on the grill,
Dinner with friends

What's on your menu?  Feel free to leave a comment and/or link to your menu in comments.

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I'll be linking up at:  I'm an Organizing Junkie

Mango Ice Cream

So, last week I was perusing the Internet and I came across a recipe for mango ice cream from A Baker's House that does not need an ice cream maker to make.  It immediately piqued my interest and I set it aside to make this week while I was on vacation.

This recipe, being so easy and inexpensive (I paid less than $3 for all the ingredients) is a great way to entertain the kids. We made it this morning and took it to grandma's house as a treat for everyone.  I had to wrestle my father-in-law for the left-overs, he won :)

While good, this wasn't my favorite recipe.  Because of the whipping cream it tasted a lot like flavored whipped topping.  I think in the future I'll modify the recipe a little bit and actually use it as a dessert topping instead of ice cream.

With that being said;  the "ice cream" is fairly tasty, easy to make and we had some fun in the kitchen.  I would definitely recommend trying it out if you're looking for something to do with the kids and/or a light dessert.

Mango Ice Cream 
3 mangoes, peeled & cubed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Note:  Color isn't necessarily indicative of a ripe mango.  A ripe mango will yield slightly to pressure, it's not unusually for a few dark spots on a ripe mango.

Once your mangoes are peeled (I used a carrot peeler) and cubed you will need to puree them in a food processor or blender along with 1/2 cup sugar.

With a beater, beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form (like you would for whipped topping).  Fold in the mangoes and lemon.

Freeze for about 3 hours.  Less than that and your ice cream will be soft, more than that and the ice cream will be to hard.  If frozen for more than 3 hours, thaw the ice cream for about 1/2 hour prior to eating


This recipe has been featured at:  My Favorite Finds

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Vacation Week - Yeah!!!!

Yep, it's that time of year again.  The week that the WWIN family takes a vacation to get all the stuff done around the house that needs to be done.  Oh yeah, we may do a little bit of playing as well :)

For my long time readers you may recognize my to-do list.  I haven't been doing a lot of to-do lists this year, I guess I've just been in a different frame of mind.  But I'm baaaaaaack!  I've got a crazy, crazy list of things I want to get accomplished this week.

Realistically I won't be able to accomplish everything on this list, however I've found that a list like this keeps me motivated.  I'm very competitive and I view this as a little game to play with myself.

To keep myself organized, I've separated the list into different tasks types

Laundry Room (I've been struggling with sustainability and need to get it up to snuff)
Master bedroom Closet
Basement Closets
Coat closet (I'm embarrassed to admit but we still have some winter coats in there!)
Movie room credenza
Utensil Drawer
Garage organization

Finish couch cushions (I know, this has been on the list for a long time but I really mean it this time! :)
Window treatments for living room
Replace computer desk in basement
Paint living room
Hang print we recently bought

Freezer Cooking
Breakfast bowls (I'm trying to wean myself off McDonald's!)
Shredded Chicken
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry relish

General Upkeep
Garage door trim (paint)
Replace garage window
Basketball hoop (paint pole)
Stain front porch slider
Clean out and re-plant side bed

Write posts
Buy dishes for food pictures (I thought I'd check out Goodwill to add some visual interest to my pictures)
Buy a new computer
Update various aspects of the blog itself

New Recipe Trials
Mango Ice Cream (I found this recipe I wanted to try out)
TBD Cupcake

That's it for now.  Of course as the week goes on we may add or modify the list.  The real issue as I hit the publish button is do I get up and do some work or lay down on the couch and enjoy the couple hours of peace and quiet?  I'll let you know what I choose!

What are you doing this week?

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Fun Summer Idea

Are you looking for something fun to do this summer?  Don't forget about your community zoo or petting farm.  We're fortunate enough in our city to have a small zoo that is free of charge.  Even though I don't have little ones, big kids enjoy it too!

Last Friday I was looking for something to do with Belle that didn't include ear piercing (long story) and decided to take her for ice cream.  I offered her the option of bringing a friend so I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with two 15 year old young ladies.

Even though it was a scorcher of a day we decided to take our ice cream down to the lake to eat it.  Once there the girls saw the zoo and begged me to take them.  I know - I was shocked too! Who would have thought that at that age they would want to go to a petting zoo.  When my whining about how hot it was didn't deter them I gave up and took them to see the animals.

In case you were wondering what the animals in the zoo do when it feels like 105 outside I can answer that for you.  Nothing!  Even the camel was flat on his back and wanted Belle to put the food right into his mouth.  He finally did get up for about 50 cents worth of pellets (not sure if he though it was worth the effort or not) and the girls had fun feeding him.  Of course, I was glad that there was a hand sanitizer nearby :)

For the price of three ice cream cones and $1.00 in zoo pellets we got to see a camel, some lazy monkeys, wolves, sheep, llamas, calves, birds and a skunk.

What do you do with your teenagers for fun?

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Weekly Menu

Last week I decided to skip menu planning.  The week before I had strep throat and last weekend I had a stomach virus.  Between not feeling well, the excessive heat, the 4th of July and a few days of vacation I decided we'd wing it.  Of course winging it meant a lot of eating but sometimes a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do!

For the 4th of July we attended a barbecue where I made my Bacon Wrapped Wieners and these Orange Marmalade Cupcakes.  The cupcakes were exceptionally tasty.  According to my son they are one of his favorites.

This week is pretty hectic.  Mike is working a second shift plus the weekend, I have a meeting one evening and Belle is working a couple of nights.  It's going to be a stretch to get all of us sitting down for more than two meals but I'll at least be cooking so there's something to eat in the house.

Brats, watermelon, corn on the cob (yeah!  it's done early this year), roasted potatoes
Hamburgers, grilled pineapple, watermelon
Rotisserie chicken (picked up from the store), mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, salad
Pulled pork sandwiches ( from the freezer), applesauce, salad
Dinner out
Fend for yourself x2

That's our plan for the week, what's yours?  Feel free to leave your menu or a link in the comments.

I'll be linking up at I'm an Organizing JunkieAt Home with Mrs MStone Gable

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Orange Marmalade Cupcakes

My mom doesn't bake a lot but she has some pretty creative ideas.  Knowing my penchant for cupcakes she enjoys coming up with suggestions for me to try.  This recipe is actually a twist on a desert she likes to make using frozen pound cake.  Don't let the fact that it's made of pound cake scare you off.  This cupcake was light, incredibly moist and very flavorful.

Orange Marmalade Cupcakes

1 box pound cake mix (plus ingredients needed from the box)
Orange juice (optional)
Orange (optional)
1 can mandarin oranges
1 8oz cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
Powdered sugar
Orange marmalade

Following the directions on the pound cake box, bake the pound cake in cupcake tins.  Instead of the water that my pound cake called for I used the juice from the mandarin oranges as well a handful of crushed mandarin oranges.  Because I used the Tastefully Simple pound cake which has a distinctive almond flavor I didn't want the orange to be overwhelming.  If you are going to use a little blander pound cake I would recommend substituting the water with orange juice to give the cake a little more flavor.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, melt about four tablespoons of orange marmalade in the microwave.  Using a barbecue brush, "paint" the tops of the cupcakes with the melted marmalade.

In a mixing bowl combine the softened cream cheese and butter with approximately 3 cups of powered sugar (more or less sugar to your taste).  If you desire a little "orangier" taste to your frosting you can add a little fresh squeezed orange or use some orange juice.  Make sure the frosting still maintains peaks so it doesn't run off your cupcakes.

Add your frosting to a zip topped sandwich bag.  Cut a small amount of the corner off to use as a frosting bag.  Squeeze a small amount on the top of your cupcake.  While I'm a huge fan of frosting, I found this cake to be so flavorful that to much frosting was overwhelming.

Top your cupcake with a mandarin orange.

Note:  The number of cupcakes you get depends on the pound cake that you use.  The Tastefully Simple Pound Cake I used resulted in 12 cupcakes.


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Making Marriage Work

Our wedding day

Whither thou goest, I will go

Yesterday Mike and I are celebrated 22 years of marriage.  For our wedding, we choose the story of Ruth as our reading because I love meaning behind the story.  Being young and idealistic, the thought of two people being so devoted to each other was very touching.

To be completely truthful with you, that first year of marriage was incredibly tough.  Sometimes I look back and wonder how we made it through.  I think so many couples enter into marriage thinking that "love" will carry them through all the rough times.  Unfortunately it's not quite so easy as that.

Shortly before our wedding I heard an elderly gentleman on a talk show telling how he and his wife were able to be successfully married for 60 years.  He said "There have been times in our marriage when I didn't love my wife.  There have been times in our marriage when I know she didn't love me.  The trick is that you can't not love each other at the same time because the other one has to love enough for the both of you"

That sentiment has carried us through the years.  Marriage is hard, really hard.  There have been times along the way when it would have been easier to throw in the towel.  There have been many times when I didn't feel appreciated, when I didn't feel love, when I didn't feel cherished.  Times when I've looked at other couples with jealousy for of one reason or another.  I'm quite sure that there have been many times when Mike didn't feel appreciated, loved or cherished either.  Because quite frankly, there were times when I didn't appreciate or cherish him.

I'm so thankful that during those times the other one was able to love enough for the both of us.  That somehow we found the strength (or the stubbornness) not to give in during those hard times because I can honestly say that I'm married to my best friend.  

While I'm not going to profess to be a marriage expert and there are marriages that probably shouldn't continue (adultery and abuse are not acceptable), here are some of my thoughts on making a marriage work.

  • Remember that marriage is hard work.  You won't always love each but given time and attention the love can return.  It's a little like a campfire.  The fire may have died down but with a little bit of kindling and some attention it will come to life once again.  One of you just have to love enough for the both of you.
  • Marriages survive in spite of children.  When women have children all their time and energy goes into the children while the men feel like cast off toys.  Guess what, men need lots of attention too.  Yes, I know that taking care of the house and family is hard work and sometimes feeling sexy is that last thing on our minds.  Husbands need to learn early on that their is nothing hotter than a guy who does housework and laundry.  The rewards can be significant :)  Children do grow up, make sure that you put your marriage in front of the kids so that when they're gone you have a solid foundation to move forward on.
  • Be playful.  Guys are like toys, they need to be taken out and played with.  Sometimes we need to do things we don't enjoy.  I've heard guys complain that their wives won't do fun things with them.  They don't want to go for motorcycle rides because it will mess up their hair.  They don't want to go Frisbee golfing because .......Fill in the blank:  it's hot, I'm not good at it, it's boring, etc.  While Mike and I do have our own separate hobbies, we do make time to do things the other person likes.  Mike will go clothes shopping and to craft shows with me while I Frisbee golf and go for motorcycle rides with him.  Spending time having fun and playing is important in a marriage.
  • The grass isn't greener on the other side, you just need to adjust your mower.  When you're feeling unappreciated and your mates idiosyncrasies are getting to you, the idea of a new relationship may be appealing.  Guess what?  Everyone has idiosyncrasies and over time the sheen wears off of all relationships.

Here we are, 22 years later enjoying the beaches of San Juan.

So, what did we do for our anniversary?  We planned to go to an art gallery exhibit and then out for a steak dinner so I wore white pants with a white shirt and high heels.  We actually went for a motorcycle ride around the lake with a stop for fried pickles, mozzarella sticks and breaded mushrooms!  My outfit didn't quite match the evening but we had a great time.

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