Monthly Archives: December 2012

Last Minute Ideas for a Kid-Friendly NYE

They say that New Year’s Eve is the most difficult night of the year to find a babysitter, and they ain’t lyin’. Not sure about you, but we’ll be ringing in 2013 from the comfort of our own home. Luckily, we have wonderful friends who will be coming over to party it up with us.

Olivia definitely won’t make it until midnight, but she’ll probably stay up a little later than normal, so I’ve been looking for some fun kid-friendly ideas for NYE. Here are some of my favorites:

Via Parenting.com

Mix up some tasty mocktails. Alcoholic or not, these look amazing!

Make a time capsule. Click here for instructions. I think Olivia might be a little young for this this year, but I’m totally keeping this in mind for the future!

Serve kid favorites in miniature—think pigs in a blanket, little taco cups, bite-sized pizzas, sliders, meatballs, mac and cheese poppers—who doesn’t love this stuff?!

Via Family.com

Pick up some party hats, poppers, balloons, noisemakers, etc. to get everyone in on the fun and excitement. You can even use a hole punch to make confetti out of leftover Christmas wrapping paper.

Break out the Xbox or the Karaoke machine to get the party going. Group video games like Just Dance get all ages involved—there’s even a Nickelodeon Dance game that features Dora and the Backyardigans!

Ring in the New Year with milk and cookies (or at least let the kids do it!).

Celebrate “New Year’s in Rio” if you’re on the East Coast and don’t want your kids staying up until midnight. Since Rio is three hours behind U.S. Eastern Time, you can count down with your kiddos at 9 p.m.

No matter how you plan on welcoming 2013, stay safe and happy, and I’ll see you next year!


Grandma’s Corn Puddin’

I don’t know how old I was before I realized the word pudding ends with a “g” instead of an “n”—too old I’m sure. In my family, this is Grandma Parker’s Corn Puddin’, and if you put a “g” on the end, you will probably be called a Yankee (which will likely be followed by “bless your heart”).

My grandmother died when I was two, so I don’t have any memories of her. My mom made sure, however, that I would always know the comfort of her food. This recipe has been a staple at all of my family’s get togethers for as long as I can remember, and it’s one of my all-time favorite side dishes. I really hope you enjoy it!

Notes: I usually double the recipe if I’m taking this to a potluck or party; I just increase the cooking time by 15-20 minutes. The recipe as listed below is perfect for a regular family meal. Also, I usually use low fat or fat free evaporated milk without any issue.

Corn Puddin’

1 can cream corn
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup evaporated milk
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Combine corn and eggs; stir in milk and butter. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add these dry ingredients to the corn mixture, along with the vanilla. Stir well to incorporate all the dry ingredients, and then pour into a 1.5 qt casserole dish. Bake at 350° for 30-45 minutes, until the top of the pudding has set (it will giggle like Jell-O if you shake it but there’s no liquid in the center).


What’s for {Christmas} dinner?

This is my first year hosting Christmas, and I am feeling the (purely self-imposed) pressure to make it perfect. I’ve been thinking about Christmas dinner and what I will serve for about two months now, trying to figure out how I’ll get it all made and when. After a lot of rough drafts, I have narrowed down my ideas to arrive at my final menu. . . TA DA!

*Yes, I’m totally going to print this out and have it at each place setting. I did all the work to create it after all!

And now for the real magic. . . I only really have to worry about making TWO of these dishes on the day (and one of those can be made ahead of time if I really want to)! So not only will my Christmas feast be delicious, I will actually get to ENJOY it.

The festive  cocktail, which is really a sangria made with champagne, can be made the day before- all the better to let the flavors really meld together. The fig and goat cheese angels are my take on the Cooking Light recipe for Apricot-Blue Cheese Angels from the November 2012 issue. Considering these are a puff pastry, I’m going to make them the day of for the best result. I’ll make the fresh cranberry bruschetta (a mash up of several different recipes) a day or two ahead to help cut the tartness of the cranberries.

I decided to go with ham for dinner since I can buy one completely cooked and ready from the grocery store. BOOM. Done. The stuffing recipe belongs to my friend Dori. Her mom makes this every year, and when she blogged about it a few weeks ago, I was sold. Plus, she said you can make it ahead of time and freeze it if you want to. I think I’ll make it the day of only because I’ll have the time. For my brussels, I drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper before popping them into the oven at 400° for 30-40 minutes. Easiest thing ever. I’m even going easy for my rolls and getting Parkerhouse rolls or just buying some from the bakery.

The real genius of this meal is the dessert. Seriously, how amazing does it sound?! It’s even more amazing when you find out it’s made in the crock pot! My friend Brooke made this for New Year’s Eve last year, and I couldn’t get enough. She used this recipe as a base but, instead of following the cooking instructions, she just threw everything in a crock pot and let it do all the work. Brilliant!

So there you have it, my Christmas menu. What are YOU making for the holidays this year?


Gifted Goodies

I spent most of my Sunday this past weekend baking—as in eight straight hours. When the flour dust cleared, I had 12 mini loaves and one regular loaf of pumpkin bread and 153 cookies. And a two year old on a wicked sugar high. And maybe an extra pound or two. But it was all for a great cause.

Those loaves and cookies went to four awesome coworkers, one great boss, four incredible daycare providers. . . and a partridge in a pear tree! And I even had enough cookies to contribute to my marketing department holiday lunch and pumpkin bread to freeze for Christmas. Talk about time well spent!

Being the creative marketer that I am, you know I had fun with the packaging. I made small tags that I printed on card stock and used tissue paper and yarn to wrap up the loaves of bread. I saw a tip on Pinterest that said to iron tissue paper between two sheets of wax paper to make it suitable for wrapping baked goods. Even after following that step, I was a little nervous the bread would seep through, so I wrapped each loaf in parchment paper before wrapping in the tissue paper. I added a personalized tag to each before tying it up.

Have you made any gifted goodies for the holidays? I would love to see how you packaged them up!


White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Update: Since I bake these bad boys every year, and my photography skills have greatly improved over the past 12 months, I figured I’d give this post an upgrade. Same amazing recipe. . . WAY better pictures.

Ok, I am admittedly not a big cookie baker—I don’t even eat cookies very often. In fact, these cookies are the only ones I have ever made that weren’t cut from a log or broken off in a neat little square from a block. But they are, by far, the best cookies I have ever had. The tartness of the cranberries with the sweetness of the chocolate chips and the moist chewiness of the oatmeal—they are pure heaven!

 

White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
(Makes 36 cookies, technically, but I usually manage to get about 48- maybe I make them on the smaller side) 

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup unsalted butter , softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup dark brown sugar , firmly packed

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups quick-cooking oats

6 oz white chocolate morsels

1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat your oven to 350°. Whisk together the first four ingredients and set aside. Cream together the wet ingredients (butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla) using a hand mixer on low speed. Slowly increase the speed until the mixture lightens in color. Gradually add in the dry ingredient mixture until it is all completely absorbed and combined. Try not to over mix, as that can result in a tough cookie. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips and cranberries.

Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray. Using a cookie scoop or a small spoon, drop cookies 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden and just set (the cookies will still look slightly moist on top). Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two before moving to a wire cooling rack.


How to DIY a Holly Berry Monogram

I saw this holly berry monogram wreath on the blog Our Unexpected Journey and figured I’d give it a shot. It took a little longer to complete than I expected, but I think it turned out pretty good!

What you’ll need:

Large wooden craft letter

Fake holly berries (I couldn’t find stems of these at Michael’s so I bought holly berry garland and snipped the berry clusters off with wire cutters- this is probably why this project took me a while, ha)

Hot glue and glue sticks

Cranberry-colored acrylic craft paint

Ribbon (I used burlap ribbon from Michael’s)
If your letter is natural wood or white, I recommend painting the entire thing (both sides) with the craft paint before attaching the berries. That way, any small spots that aren’t covered by the berries won’t show so bad. Once the paint has dried completely, glue the berries on using the hot glue. Be sure to cover the sides and inside of the letter.

Once the glue has hardened, string your ribbon through the letter and knot it at the top to hang it. For a little extra embellishment, use another piece of ribbon to tie a bow around your original loop. If your letter isn’t one that you can string ribbon through, like a W, use the hot glue to glue two pieces of ribbon to either side. Tie them together in a bow at the top for hanging.


Great Toys for Fine Motor Development

Another one from the archives (sorry guys, the holidays are keeping me busy!), but I thought this post might be helpful to other parents who are looking to buy toys that are not only fun but can also aid in your child’s fine motor development. It’s crazy to think that a year ago when I wrote this, my daughter was in therapy and we were concerned about her gross and fine motor development; now, you would never know there had ever been an issue—what a difference a year makes!

As a result of her bilateral hip dysplasia, my little one has been in physical therapy every other week for the past few months. While we largely focus on her gross motor development, our therapist  spends some time working on fine motor skills as well. The therapy has done wonders for O’s muscle tone and mobility, and I have learned so much about how to help my daughter pick up new skills and ways to encourage her development. Our therapist, Kristy Jones, PT, has recommended some toys to help promote fine motor skills, and I figured I would share them for any moms doing a little holiday shopping.

Large knob puzzles, like the Melissa and Doug Large Shapes Jumbo Knob Puzzle, are great for beginners because they are easy for little ones to pick up with all of their fingers. Kristy suggests looking for puzzles that aren’t too busy, so it’s easier to match the puzzle pieces with their correct spots. Similarly, smaller knob puzzles are great as well but for a different reason. “The ones with the smaller knobs are good for development of the pincer grasp and require more precision to put the pieces in,” says Kristy.

A Shape Sorter should also be in every kid’s toy box. The Fisher-Price Growing Baby Elephant Shape Sorter is perfect and inexpensive. Start with the circle blocks, then the square ones, working your way up to the stars. At first, your little one may just pat the blocks in as you hold them over the right openings, but they’ll quickly get the hang of it on their own.

Large, soft blocks are great for little ones learning to stack. The B. One Two Squeeze™ Soft 123 Blocks from Target are perfect. The non-slippery texture makes them easy to grasp, pick up, and stack.

The Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack stacking rings have been around for forever and with good reason. They help babies learn hand-eye coordination, they’re easy to pick up and they’re SUPER FUN to crawl around the house with in your hands—just ask my daughter.

Crayons might seem a bit advanced for your little one, especially if everything is still finding its way to his mouth, but as soon as he’s not tasting his way around, try out the Crayola Triangular Crayons. The shape helps tiny hands get a grip and, bonus, they won’t roll off the high chair tray!

Finally, hammer toys (for lack of a better term) help babies and toddlers develop their hand-eye coordination, not to mention their aim! The B. Whacky Ball hammer toy will provide endless entertainment—and eventually your little one will start whacking the crap out of those balls. (Sorry, no matter how I wrote it, it kind of came out dirty, so I just gave up.)

Happy Shopping!!


Holiday Tipping for Child Care

 

This post is from the archives but still very relevant. Last year was our first year tipping our daycare providers, and we wanted to be sure we got it right. After all, these people take care of the most important thing in the world to us (and by now, they are like family). Hope this helps other new parents who are asking the same question we did- what’s an appropriate child care tip?

As this is my first Christmas with a child in day care, I’ve been thinking about what’s appropriate in terms of a holiday tip or bonus. I’ve done some research online and found that suggestions range from a handmade gift from the child to two weeks’ pay, quite the chasm.  Shockingly, some holiday tipping guides leave out childcare providers altogether, which just baffles my mind. Let me get this straight—I should tip the person who cuts my hair but NOT the person to whom I entrust the most precious thing in my life on a daily basis? Riiiight.

I found several helpful guides online, including:

CNBC’s Holiday Tipping Guide: 2011

Emily Post’s Holiday Tipping is Really Holiday Thanking

Kiplinger’s Holiday Tipping Tip Sheet

Real Simple’s Holiday Tipping Checklist

After some thought, we settled on one week’s pay for our day care provider, half a week’s pay for her assistant and a small gift from our daughter for each of them.

But I’m curious, what’s the norm? Especially in metro areas like Washington, D.C., where do others fall on the tipping spectrum?


It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Pinterest!

After we had our downstairs painted this summer, we put up floating shelves in our dining room, which means that this Christmas, I had two new spaces to decorate with holiday cheer! So naturally, I hopped on Pinterest to see what DIY hijinks I could get up to.

Voilà, the finished product!

For my first attempt decorating a mantle-type thing for Christmas (we don’t have a fireplace), I thought it turned out pretty good. I framed last year’s Christmas pictures of Olivia for an extra festive touch.

The centerpiece on the table is made of fraser fir Christmas tree clippings. Oh, and Christmas tree clippings are FREE at Home Depot. Woot woot!

The white tree on the top shelf is made of a styrofoam cone, white felt, and straight pins. I got the idea for this DIY project from this post from Scissor Variations.

The jar of Christmas tree clippings on the bottom shelf is a mason jar painted white on the inside. Just pour in acrylic craft paint, swirl it around to coat the entire inside, and let it dry. So easy!

Have you done any DIY decorating? I would love to see how you decorated for Christmas! Post your pics on our Facebook page!


Six Unique Holiday Hostess Gift Ideas

A hostess gift is a great way to thank someone for inviting you into their home. It doesn’t have to be big or crazy expensive; this is one of those times where it truly is the thought that counts. The traditional bottle of wine is never a bad idea (is wine really ever a bad idea?!), but these great hostess gifts will put you at the top of everyone’s guest list this holiday season!

1. Give the gift of a happier morning after! As the one time recipient of such a gift, I can tell you your host will thank you. This adorable basket from Everyday Occasions includes banana bread, coffee, and honey butter, but you could include any combination of your favorite breakfast treats.

Breakfast basket from Everyday Occasions

2. A rosemary tree is both festive and practical—it’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Rosemary Tree from Lowes, $12.98

3. This colorful salt crock will quickly become your host’s favorite kitchen accessory. Its design ensures that the salt stays accessible while cooking but protected from drips and splashes. Plus, it’s super cute!

Salt Crock from Le Creuset, $30

4. Infused with spices like Indian curry, Hungarian paprika, and ginger, these truffles are a uniquely decadent treat. You can also pick up a few of their delicious chocolate bars while you’re at it (the Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar is AMAZING!).

Exotic Truffle Collection from Vosges, $10.50

5. This painted spoon rest is so pretty, who wouldn’t want it sitting in their kitchen? It’s just so happy!

Amaryllis Spoon Rest from Anthropologie, $10

6. Grab some Weck jars and some rosemary sprigs, and you can make your own infused sea salt.

Rosemary Sea Salt from Martha Stewart