Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Twice Baked Potato Recipe - This One Is Sweet & Savory

I am a bit of a picky eater. And, as much as I promised myself that I wasn't going to raise a picky eater, Olivia is turning out to be quite particular when it comes to food. This year I've decided that it's time to expose her (and maybe the rest of us) to new foods that she's never tried, but just might end up liking. 

Two things that Olivia definitely loves are potatoes and cheese. So when it's time to introduce a new food, I always aim to combine it with one or both of those foods. Last weekend I made these sweet and savory twice baked potatoes for lunch. They were delicious, and little did my family know they were packed with nutrients and vitamins.

When it comes to twice baked potatoes, I tend to use whatever I have on hand. For each potato I used 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon of soft butter, 1 tablespoon of sour cream, and 2 tablespoons of milk. I also had 1/4 cup bacon bits, 1/4 cup shredded cheese, 1/4 cup of diced green onion, and 1/4 cup of Sunsweet Plum Amaz!ns. On this day the Amaz!ns were the "new to Olivia food." Dried prunes are packed with fiber and potassium, not to mention great flavor. 

Lately, I've been loving a handful of these babies once or twice throughout the day, so I figured why not add some to our lunch and make our savory potatoes a little sweeter! 

To make twice baked potatoes, start by piercing the potatoes with a fork and baking them in the oven at 350 degrees until they are tender. It usually takes mine about an hour and a half. 
Once soft, remove them from the oven and slice them in half.  Be careful handling, because they will be hot! Scoop out all the potato into a big bowl, leaving the skin intact. 

I always add the salt and pepper, butter, sour cream, and milk first. Then, mash it all up. The ingredients seem to mix into the potatoes better if they are room temperature. 

Next, add all the goodies and mix. 

Using a big spoon, fill the empty skins with the mashed potato mixture. Top each one with shredded cheese and a few green onions for garnish. 

Finally put them back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes or until they are warmed through and the cheese is melted.

It's always nice to try something different in the kitchen. And it's especially nice when you can introduce your family to a new food in a fun way. If you haven't had Sunsweet Amaz!ns yet, you might want to give them a try. I know a lot of us are trying to eat healthier this year and prunes are known to promote healthy bones and improve the digestive system. Plus, these little dried fruit snacks are only 100 calories per serving so I don't have to feel guilty about nibbling during the day!

Thanks for reading!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

DIY Stenciled Shopping Bag

Happy new year! One of my resolutions this year is to start using reusable bags when I go grocery shopping. Call it peer pressure, but lately, I feel extremely guilty each time I go to Sprouts or Trader Joes and I don't have my own bags. Here in California, it has actually been rumored that it will soon become illegal to use plastic bags in supermarkets. So, I figure I might as well get a head start in changing my habits. 

Of course, I don't want to use just any old bags, so I went on a Pinterest hunt for some chic, reusable shopping bags. I found quite a few, but I was not prepared to pay $15-$30 for each of my shopping bags. I knew it was time for another DIY project.

I found a set of 6 all black reusable grocery tote bags on amazon for $10.95. They actually had a variety of colors to choose from. I like the quality of this bag. It's made well, with sturdy handles, and an insert to keep the bottom stable.   

I decided to try stenciling on the bag even though I had never done it before. I found the Americana "Bon Voyage" stencil at Micheals and the exact same one is also available on Amazon. This stencil was easy to use because the size matched up perfectly with my bag. 

One of the sides of the bag has a logo on it, so I was careful to do my stenciling on the other side. I started by taping down my stencil. I just used scotch tape, and I used the top hem line on the bag as my guide to taping it on straight. It couldn't have been easier!

I've been into the black and gold combo lately, so I went with Martha Stewart's Metallic Gold Paint. I also bought a set of stencil brushes and I wasn't sorry. They made the job a breeze! Dabbing off the excess paint is probably the most important tip to remember. Having too much paint on the brush will lead to messy stenciling. 

I started at the top left and worked my way across and down. I dabbed on the paint with one hand, while using my other hand to press the stencil down around the area I was working on. I tried to brush the paint inward from the edge of the stencil. 

At the end, just lift the stencil and that's it! And while there are a few very small mistakes here and there, overall I love the way my bags turned out. 

I'm also happy to say they survived their first trip to the grocery store in the rain!

I had fun making these and since I like them so much, I know I'm more likely to actually use them. 

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 19, 2014

ABC Christmas Tree - Holiday Learning Activity + Craft Project

We've thoroughly been enjoying the holiday season over here! I made a real effort to get all my shopping and decorating done early this year, and it's been extremely nice not having to stress about things at the last minute. We've had lots of time to just hang out, watch Christmas movies, bake goodies, work on craft projects, and get together with friends.  

Before I officially sign out for a Christmas break, I wanted to share a project that Olivia and I have been working on since October. She already knows the alphabet song, but I wanted to do an activity that would help her recognize letters outside the context of the alphabet. 

So a while back, I bought the whole alphabet of 6 inch wood letters at Michaels along with tons of stickers, pom poms, rhinestones, and anything else I thought would be fun for decorating. 

Then, whenever we were looking for something crafty to do, I would pull out a few letters and we would paint and decorate them. We stuck to three colors (blue, red, and green) to keep it simple, and we repeated them, so it also ended up being a great lesson about following a pattern. 

First we painted each letter and once it was dry we would go back and decorate it. We only worked on this project for about 30-45 minutes at a time, and we didn't do it everyday, which is why it took us a couple of months to finish.

Each time we worked on a letter we would talk about all the words that started with that particular letter. She's no where close to reading yet, but she can now tell me that O is for Otter and that Elephant starts with an E. 

This project also turned out to be great practice for her fine motor skills. When we first started working a few months ago, I pretty much did all the gluing and decorating while she watched and directed me. By the time we got to the last few letters, she was gluing the decorations on all by herself. 

I didn't get the idea to turn our letters into Christmas tree ornaments until about half way through the project. But they were turning out so cute, and by luck of the draw, I ended up with an extra fake tree for the house this year. 

I figured our recently re-decorated playroom would the perfect place for an ABC tree! I started attaching strings to the letters and putting them on the tree when Olivia noticed that we had a hippo ornament. Without missing a beat she paired the hippo with the H, and instantly, our ABC tree became and ABC Animal tree.

We didn't have enough animals to match up with every letter, so now I'm on a mission to find at least one ornament to go with each letter. It's hard to find animals, so we've ended up with a few that are different like A for Angel and W for wreath. 

Olivia and I had fun working on this project together and it's been awesome having a tree in the playroom. On top of that, she's a whole lot better at letter recognition, she knows pretty much every letter sound, and most of the time she can answer me correctly if I ask her what letter a certain word starts with.

So cheers to the holidays, and cheers to my sponge of a toddler, who loves learning and who has taught me more in two and a half years than I will probably ever be able to teach her. 

Thanks for reading and happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DIY Elsa Ornament

It's a little late coming, but the Frozen frenzy has finally hit our house. Olivia is two and a half, so she only watched the movie for the first time a few months ago. Needless to say she's hooked, and while I was able to make it through Halloween without having to buy an Elsa or Anna costume,  I knew she would really appreciate it if a few Frozen characters made an appearance during the holiday season.  

I have a mini Christmas tree that I've set up in Olivia's room before. This year I decided to set it up again, but this time make it an Elsa themed tree! It gets pricey buying ornaments for a new themed tree every year. I really wanted to keep this one inexpensive, so I knew it was going to involve some DIY.   

On a recent trip to Michaels, I stopped in the Christmas section and picked up some clear plastic bulbs and a bag of shiny turquoise confetti. In the sticker aisle, I found little rhinestone stickers that reminded me of snowflakes. Back at home I printed out an image of Elsa on my computer and I grabbed some skewers from the kitchen drawer that I happened to have on hand.

I removed the top of the bulb, made a funnel out of paper, and used it to load the confetti. I filled the bulb with about an inch of confetti or about 1/4 of the way full.

I found an image of Elsa on Wikipedia and I used PicMonkey to reverse it, so that my image would be double sided. Then I printed her out on my home printer, cut her out, and used a glue stick to glue her back-to-back on top of the skewer. 

It took a few times of trial and error to get Elsa printed out at the right size. I wanted her to be as big as possible, but obviously I had to fit her into the opening of the bulb.  For reference I used the 4 inch round bulb, my skewers were 4 inches tall, and my Elsa print out was about 3 inches tall and an inch wide. I had to bend the bottom of her dress just slightly to get her in.

The trick to getting Elsa to stand up inside the bulb is to have that 4 inch skewer. It was the perfect size to hold my cut-out and I didn't have to do anything special to keep it standing up. The confetti at the bottom, along with the small funnel opening at the top, are enough to keep the skewer standing pretty much straight up. She might slant a little to the right or left, and she moves around a little if I shake the bulb, but that doesn't bother me. She can't fall over and if she's slightly tilted it just gives the illusion that she is walking up a snowy hill.

To finish off the look (and add a little bling) I used some rhinestone stickers and applied a few around the outside of the bulb. I ended up with a pretty cute Elsa ornament for less than six dollars. Not bad considering most Disney character ornaments are about $20 each. Once I figured out the first one, these went pretty fast. I ended up making six in about an hour. The perfect amount to mix in on our Elsa themed Christmas tree!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 24, 2014

6 Signs Of A Great Fake Christmas Tree

I'm excited to be partnering with King Of Christmas for this review. All opinions are mine alone.

So I’ll just admit it now. I am a self-professed Christmas tree snob. Until recently, my tree always had to be real, a Douglas Fir was a must, and I would make my poor husband spend all day searching for those perfect shaped branches. Basically, when it comes to Christmas trees, I'm about as picky as they come. I never even considered buying an artificial tree until a few years ago. But then I started changing my thinking a little. We bought a new house, and now we actually have space for setting up a second (or third) Christmas tree like I've always wanted to do. We also have two kids now, and free time is about as rare as snow in July. So as much as I love having a fresh tree in the house, I just don’t have the time to go out, find, and set up more than one.  

We always have a real Christmas tree in our living room, but this year I decided that I wanted a tree in our Master bedroom as well. I also knew that if we were going to have more than one tree in the house, one of them was going to need to be fake. I was lucky enough to get a five foot tree from King Of Christmas and I have to say that, for an artificial tree, I'm extremely impressed with the quality and happy with my decision. Here's what I like about it....

1. Easy To Assemble

I'm not sure how other artificial trees compare, but this tree was extremely easy to set up. I was able to put it together in less than 10 minutes, without using the instructions, and at the end my floor wasn't covered in a million pine needles! I also happened to get a pre-lit tree so there was no fussing with lights, trying to get them evenly distributed around the tree. 

2. Sturdy Base

The base is really sturdy and it holds the tree so that it doesn't wobble around. Olivia has already played several rounds of "Ring Around The Christmas Tree," and luckily, I don't have to worry about this one falling over on top of her.

3. Ideal Fullness

Sometimes real trees are so bushy that you can't even fit ornaments on the branches. My new artificial tree from King Of Christmas has the perfect amount of fullness. 

4. Perfect Shape

I love that this tree has a perfect shape. The branches are evenly placed all the way around and there are no weird empty spots. It was nice not having to spend five minutes rotating the tree around and around trying to find the best spot to show off. 

5. Perfect Top

I hate when I think I've found that perfect tree and then find that top branch is chopped off or completely crooked and there's no good place to put a topper. Not an issue with my new artificial. The little sprig at the top is perfect for a star...or in our case, Mickey Mouse.

6. Holds Heavy Ornaments

Matt has a collection of Disney ornaments from when he was a kid and they have always been too heavy for me to hang on our Christmas tree. However, my new artificial tree from King Of Christmas has nice strong branches, and I'm finally gonna have a chance to use some of those decorations!

To be honest, the best part about having an artificial tree is that I can put it up as far in advance as I want, without having to worry about it drying out and looking dead by the time Christmas gets here. If you are considering a new artificial tree this year, King Of Christmas is definitely worth a look. They have a big selection of both pre-lit and unlit trees as well as some really pretty decorations and ornaments. 

You can follow King Of Christmas on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.  You can also check out their blog, where they share useful information like how to choose the right size tree for your space and tips for storing holiday decorations.  

Thanks for reading!
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