Monthly Archives: September 2013

2013 Taste Test Awards

The October issue of Cooking Light featured the 2013 Taste Test Awards, comprised of 41 different foods in 20 categories. The focus was on fast, convenient foods, which is perfect for my busy family. Some of the categories were really specific (like Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil and Boxed Chardonnay), but I was happy to see that some of my favorites made the cut.

I especially appreciated the fact that not every category winner was some obscure, expensive brand. I noticed that several of the winners were the Walmart Great Value and Target Market Pantry brands- both accessible and affordable.

Reading through Cooking Light’s categories and winners made me realize that there are a few categories/items that would be sure to make any list I might come up with. So, for what it’s worth, here are my additions:

1. Best Dry Spaghetti: De Cecco 

2. Best Sweet Pantry Snack: Quaker Popped Snacks in Apple Cinnamon

3. Best Greek Yogurt: (Tie) Chobani and Dannon Oikos

4. Best Low-Fat Ice Cream: Edy’s Slow Churned

5. Best Hummus/Baba Ganoush: Sabra

6. Best Fat-Free Sour Cream: Breakstone

7. Best Chewy Granola Bars: Fiber One Oats & Chocolate

8. Best Boxed Mac & Cheese: Annie’s Deluxe Whole Wheat Shells & Extra Cheesy Cheddar

9. Best Jarred Salsa: Santa Barbara Mango with Peach from Costco

10. Best Barbecue Sauce: Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce


What items would make your taste test list?


A Doc McStuffins Birthday Party

Olivia is three! And like most kids, she has become more opinionated about her birthday party with each passing year. This year, she decided that she wanted a Doc McStuffins birthday party. For those who are unfamiliar with the good doctor, Doc McStuffins is a cartoon on Disney Junior about a little girl with a magic stethoscope who fixes all the broken toys. It’s actually a pretty cute cartoon, and I love the fact that the main character is a girl who is NOT a princess. So I was more than happy to indulge Olivia’s theme choice.

I decided to use Paperless Post instead of mailing out invitations this year. Best idea ever! My stepmom designed this adorable invitation, which I uploaded into one of the full photo designs. I removed the text overlay option, added in everyone’s email addresses, hit send and … done! I was able to track everyone’s responses, send messages to invitees, and it was all for FREE.

Doc McStuffins Invitation

Given the fact that I am roughly the size of a whale right now and can’t move without crazy sciatic pain, I went very light on the DIY for this year’s party. I did, however, manage to make a cute sign for the front door …

As well as a few pennant garlands. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to make your own pennant garland, if you’re interested.

I couldn’t resist these bright pink hydrangeas for the table!

I set up a “clinic” in the basement for the kids to be able to give the stuffed animals (and each other) a check-up, complete with fun Band-Aids and a variety of doctor tools.

Instead of traditional favor bags, I set up a “pharmacy” so the kids could make their own goodie bags to take with them. I found Doc McStuffins sticker sheets at Walmart, Doc McStuffins mini coloring pages at Target, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, Annie’s Fruit Snacks, and a few different types of candy—everything in shades of pink, purple, and blue to match the theme.

I also made pink (i.e. strawberry) cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and pink and purple sprinkles. I think these were the highlight of Olivia’s day because, as each new person came in the door, she greeted them with “It’s my birthday! And we have cupcakes!!”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of the cupcakes (or any of the other food for that matter). I blame my pregnancy brain. I ordered most of the food from Wegmans and Costco this year—I was not up for making everything from scratch like I usually do—but I did make my mom’s edamame orzo salad, which was a hit. I’ll be sharing that recipe soon, so be sure to check back!

It is definitely harder to throw a child’s birthday party when you’re eight months pregnant, but Olivia’s excitement when she saw the decorations (and the cupcakes) made it all worth it. Not to mention the fact that I got a huge hug and a “Mama, I love you—this was the best birthday ever!” at the end of the evening. Yep, totally worth it.

Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa

I’m a sucker for shrimp tacos, but I’m not going to lie—this shrimp taco recipe from the August 2013 issue of Cooking Light left me a little disappointed. I followed the recipe (other than adding tomato to the salsa) and found the shrimp bland, and the tortillas completely fell apart. I do think, however, with a few small adjustments, I could love this recipe. So that’s how I’ve written the recipe below—with my suggested changes. Grilling the corn and shrimp would definitely improve the flavor, and using flour tortillas instead of corn would solve the fall-apart issue.

Shrimp Tacos

Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa

2 ears fresh corn
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped green onions
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
3 tbsp fresh lime juice, divided
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 diced peeled avocado
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tsp honey
¼ cup light sour cream
8 (6-inch) flour tortillas

1. Husk corn, and wrap each ear in aluminum foil. Grill over medium heat for about 20 minutes, turning 4 times to ensure even cooking. Allow the corn to cool and then slice off kernels.

2. Combine corn, onions, tomato, cilantro, olive oil, garlic, 1 tablespoon juice, salt, pepper, and avocado in a medium bowl; toss gently.

3. Combine shrimp, 1 tablespoon juice, and honey in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Skewer shrimp and grill over medium heat for a couple of minutes per side or until they turn completely pink.

4. Combine sour cream and remaining 1 tablespoon juice in a small bowl.

5. Warm tortillas according to package directions. Place 2 tortillas on each of 4 plates. Top each tortilla with about ¼ cup corn mixture, about 4 shrimp, and 1 ½ tsp sour cream mixture.

Shrimp Tacos

Children’s Books About 9/11

This post is from last September 11th but the resources are still very relevant for those looking to find ways to talk to their children about the events 12 years ago … Never forget.

Olivia is just now getting to the age where she can hold a mini conversation and ask us about things she sees and hears. I am thankful, however, that on this day, she is not yet asking me what the flags are flying for, why people are wearing pins, or what 9/11 means.

I am thankful because I am terrified of the day when she will ask me and how I will answer that question truthfully without scaring her half to death or making her mistrustful of others.

It’s going to be a tough conversation and one that I will need to be prepared for. For those of you who have little ones already asking the tough questions, here are some children’s books to help you through those discussions.

America is Under Attack by Don Brown











September Roses by Jeanette Winter











It’s Still a Dog’s New York by Susan Roth











The Survivor Tree: Inspired by a True Story by Cheryl Somers Aubin and Sheila Harrington











September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right by Masterson Elementary Students









The Little Chapel that Stood by A.B. Curtiss











September 11, 2001: A Day in History by Evelyn B. Block










Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman











Do Not Be Sad- A Chronicle of Healing by FDNY Engine 24 Ladder 5

Carolina Barbecue

Barbecue is a polarizing type of food. Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, Carolina … they’re all different, and they all have their die-hard fans who will swear that THEIR type of barbecue is the best. Me, well I was raised near the border of Virginia and North Carolina. When I was little, my Papa would drive to Hertford, NC each week for breakfast with his buddies and would always bring back large Styrofoam containers packed with the most delicious, juicy Carolina barbecue.

I think that’s where my love affair began. And the love only grew stronger each time my mom made this recipe at home. The only barbecue I ever make is my mom’s Crock-Pot Carolina barbecue recipe. The spicy, sharp vinegar flavor topped with sweet, creamy coleslaw … it’s just the perfect combination.

Carolina Barbecue

Carolina Barbecue

4 lb pork roast (I usually get a shoulder)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
Hot sauce
Crushed red pepper

1. Put pork roast in Crock-Pot on high.

2. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil and simmer for 7-8 minutes. Pour the sauce over the pork roast.

3. Turn the Crock-Pot to low and cook for 12 hours.

4. Chop up the pork roast and pour the liquid from the Crock-Pot over it. Mix well.