Don’t Forget Dad

dad bannerdad bottleFather’s Day is just around the corner, so I will be devoting the next few blogs to dads. I’ll start by mentioning another amazing FREE printable from Amanda’s Parties To Go. To get it, go LIKE her Facebook page by clicking HERE. Then, you should see a blue button that says “Click Here” right next to the number of followers she has. You will be able to download an adorable Father’s Day printable file (while you are there, check out her other awesome party printables). The file includes the designs for the “Happy Father’s Day” banner, and “World’s Best Dad!” tag shown here. I chose to put the tag around a bottle that is begging to be filled with some home brew, but if beer isn’t your dad’s thing tie it to his coffee. The printable file is filled with several different sizes and variations of those adorable tags. You could use them to make a homemade card, decorate the bathroom mirror, or hide one in his wallet or car. Make dad’s day special. Another great idea is to attach one of the smaller cut-outs to a toothpick or lollipop stick to decorate his Dad’s Day muffin or cupcake. If your dad is adventurous and has a sweet tooth, try this Maple Bacon Cupcake recipe inspired by my days as a cupcake shop owner.

Maple Bacon Cupcakes with Brown-Sugar Maple Frosting

  • 1-batch (or box) of your favorite yellow cake cupcakes
  • 1 bottle of 100% Pure REAL Maple Syrup
  • 1- package of bacon
  • brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 sticks of unsalted, sweet cream butter (room temperature)
  • confectioner’s sugar (approx. 4-6 cups)

maple baconPrepare cupcakes according to recipe or package directions, but add 1/2 cup of maple syrup to the batter before baking. When they come out of the oven, while still warm, poke several holes with a toothpick. Lightly drizzle maple syrup over each cupcake, then allow them to cool. Meanwhile, cook and cool bacon. Next, make the frosting. Thoroughly cream 3/4 cup of brown sugar with butter. (If not creamed enough, frosting will be gritty.) Add vanilla. Alternate adding a cup of confectioner’s sugar, with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup until you have reached a total of (at least) 4 cups sugar and 4 tablespoons of maple syrup. Consistency should be thick, but spreadable and fluffy. If too stiff, you can thin with a little milk (only a tablespoon at a time). If too thin, add a little more confectioner’s sugar (1/2 cup at a time). Frost cupcakes, and top with freshly cooked and cooled bacon crumbles.

NOTE: You can also add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cooked and cooled bacon crumbles to cake batter before baking cupcakes if you are feeling brave. I prefer the maple-only cake and the bacon as a garnish, but go for it if you wish. 🙂

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Thank You

I have always appreciated the men and women in the military.  My husband has not served, nor has my father, nor my grandfather, so I can only try to imagine what it must be like to a loved one off to serve his country. I do have a stepfather in the Army, several friends who are military wives, and a father-in-law (now deceased) who served in US Navy during World War II. So, even though I didn’t directly know anyone growing up who served, we are all touched in some way by people who thought more of their country than of themselves.

Something about being a wife and mother makes me appreciate the sacrifices of military families even more than I used to. I really don’t know how difficult it would be to raise my son alone for long periods of time while my husband was away. I try to imagine those things because I think it helps me have a better understanding of the sacrifices that the men and women in arms make, and not only their sacrifice, but the sacrifices of their loved ones.

So, to anyone who has ever served in any branch of the United States Military, thank you. To their families, friends, and loved ones, thank you as well. I may never fully understand the magnitude of your sacrifice, but I certainly think of it often, and am so very grateful for it.

Happy Memorial Day, and God Bless!

Memorial Day Treats

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1. Remember Bomb Pops? They were an awesome, iconic, patriotic, summer treat. Sure, you can buy them at the store, but why not make them at home? I saw THIS version of a homemade patriotic pop, made with fruit juices, on Pinterest, and I thought, “What on earth could make this even better? How ’bout a push-up pop?!” Lo, and behold, I found these BPA-free, re-usable, push-up pop containers on Amazon, bought myself some Berry Blue, and Cherry Jell-O, a tub of Cool Whip and TA-DA… Memorial Day Push-Up Pops! I prepared the two kinds of Jell-O according to the quick-set package directions. Then, I placed two tablespoons of the Berry Blue Jell-O into the bottom of each washed and assembled pop. I let the blue Jell-O set up for about 15 minutes in the freezer. (Hint: My freezer has those white wire shelves, which worked perfectly for these by allowing the stick to hang down in between the wires of the shelf while the pop sat nice and level in the freezer.) Next, I used a disposable piping bag to pipe in (approximately) two tablespoons of Cool Whip on top of the blue Jell-O layer. (If you don’t have a piping bag, just use a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off.) Allow the Cool Whip layer to set up for 10-15 minutes. Finally, add two tablespoons of the red Jell-O, and place in freezer until ready to serve. There was room to add another layer or two to each pop, but I was aiming for a smaller portion– just enough for my son to enjoy, but not enough to cause a sugar melt-down. And, he did enjoy them! If you don’t have time to order the push-up pop containers, go ahead and make them in some good ‘ole Dixie cups with popsicle sticks, but go ahead and order the push-up containers for later. They are too fun not to have on hand.

2. I mentioned THIS Strawberry Lemonade recipe in yesterday’s post. It is awesome, and it would make the perfect addition to your Memorial Day menu. I even threw some leftover strawberry lemonade in a blender with a banana, and a few ice cubes to make a yummy smoothie today. Don’t forget those cute paper straws are available for purchase HERE.

3. The stars and cupcake wrappers shown in the picture are from a FREE printable from Amanda’s Parties To Go. To get the printable, click the link. It will take you to her Facebook page. LIKE her Facebook page. After you do that, you should see a blue tab that say’s “Click Here”, with a drop down menu next to it. Click on the drop down arrow, and find the “July 4th Freebie.” The file is loaded with cute things from the cupcake wrappers and toppers seen in picture 3, to the cute printables seen in picture 4.

4. I packaged cookies in some cute favor bags from my Etsy store decorated with cut outs from the free printable that I mentioned above. You could put popcorn, fruit, trail mix or any number of things into the festive paper cones, and cookies, popcorn or any kind of snack into the favor bags.

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Hello, Summer!

Summer 1

I know that some parts of the country are just now settling into Spring time, but here in the Deep South, Memorial Day weekend means the end of the school year and the debut of summer! It was such a beautiful day outside today, that I decided to surprise my 4-year-old with some extra fun outside time. I put some of his favorite water toys, plus some bubbles and water balloons into a pail that I decorated with cutouts from a FREE Summer Printable from Amanda’s Parties To Go. I love free printables, and these are super cute, so be sure to check out her other designs while you are at her site. And, yes, I know that my child would have squealed with delight whether I had bothered to decorate his bubbles and pail with summer-themed paper or not, but I truly enjoy decorating and making things extra-special for him. If your kids are in school, what a fun way to surprise them when they get home on their last day before summer vacation.

IMG_0948I also whipped up some sweet, summer time, snacks: Jell-O oceans with gummy fish, cupcakes with festive toppers from Amanda’s Parties To Go (see that FREE Summer Printable I mentioned earlier), and fresh homemade Strawberry Lemonade.   (NOTE: I did not give my child ALL of those snacks at once, any one at a time would be a treat. I may not be on the all-organic, all-the-time, bandwagon, but I also don’t advocate a sugar overloading.)

IMG_0954Now, for the big announcement! You can now buy cute paper, party supplies, like the adorable paper straws that I often use in my very own Etsy store!  I am super excited to begin to bring you amazing pretty, paper, party supplies. I am launching the Etsy shop with two of my favorite products (paper straws, and favor bags), but I plan on expanding the products I carry in the near future. I’d love to hear from you about what patterns/colors, themes, or products that you’d like to see featured. I will be blogging about all of the amazing ways you can present items at your events using these amazing paper products. Click the “Shop” link at the very top of the page to browse the Etsy store.

Notes & Tips on Today’s Projects:

  • In the Jell-O oceans, you could use Swedish fish if you can’t find Nemo, or clean toys if you want to avoid the gummies altogether. Best to eat these as soon as they are chilled because the gummies start to dissolve after a while.IMG_0953
  • I used store bought cupcakes even though I am typically diametrically opposed to store bought baked goods (especially since I used to own a from-scratch bakery and all) because I was really low on time this week. I recommend making your own, if you can swing it.
  • You could make lots of variations of the Strawberry Lemonade– substituting a cup of your favorite liquor for one cup of seltzer water to make an adult version, for example. Yum!

What the Tuck is Pure Barre Anyway?

PureBarreLogoIf you know me, then you saw this post coming. I am a devoted Pure-Barrbie. I have been going to my local Pure Barre studio for a year now.  I have tried lots of other types of exercise in the past– running, Zumba, Body Pump– and I liked them all, but none have done for me what Pure Barre has. I didn’t have much weight to lose, I just wanted to get in better shape. (That’s not to say, that it isn’t a weight-loss type of activity, because it is for sure a high-calorie burning exercise.) PB toned, tightened, and lifted everything that needed toning, tightening, and lifting. Seriously. It worked better in the first two months than years of running and gym memberships combined. Overall, I feel overall stronger and healthier since I started going, not to mention calmer and happier.

Pure Barre is a shoes-off, Pilates meets ballet class set to modern pop and rock music. The studio provides the equipment that you will use for class: a tube, a ball, a yoga mat, and some optional hand weights. It is a low impact workout that is perfect for women of all ages (seriously). It is a total body workout that focuses on women’s trouble spots, and although they say it takes you 10 classes (2 weeks) to see results, and 4-6 weeks for others to start noticing, but you will be feeling the results after the first class. That’s really what Pure Barre does for me; it makes me feel better. That may even be the best part about this particular workout–  it takes a great deal of mental concentration, so for the hour a day that I spend there I am able to clear my mind, relax, re-focus, and re-center.

To be honest, I was quite intimidated after my first class. All of the other attendees seemed so long, lean, graceful, and flexible. I have practically no dance training. I am not very flexible, and I am notoriously uncoordinated. So, I stumbled through my first class and woke up the next day aching in places that I didn’t even know existed. I decided to keep going, and I am glad I did. When I started my Pure Barre journey, I couldn’t do one full-body push up, much less plank on my toes for 90 seconds, or get my legs anywhere close to “hip height.”  I have come a long way, and I always feel awesome at the end of class. There are modifications that can be made to practically every part of class to make it match your fitness level, so whether you can’t touch your toes, or you are a fitness guru, Pure Barre can still help you out.

Pure Barre has its own lingo– you’ll hear the word “tuck” often (very often–hence the title of this post), you’ll be told “the higher the heels the thinner the thighs,” you will learn new workout positions called “flat back” and “round back”– and if you are anything like me, after your first class you will be wondering what does it all mean, and am I doing it correctly? I still repeat each thing the instructor says in my head when I am setting up for a new section of class. My first class went a little like this:

Now, on to the second part of warm-up. (Wait, that was just a warm up?) Find your place at the barre. Feet should be hip width apart and parallel? (How wide are my hips anyway?) Rise up to your highest pair of high heels. (I don’t own any very high heels. I’m a tall girl. But, ok, Pure Barre instructor, I’ll pretend.) Sink your seat. (How far? Should I drop it like it’s hot, or bring it back  up a little?) Now, tuck, tuck under. (Am I tucking too aggressively? Ouch, this hurts.) For our next thigh exercise… (MORE thigh exercise? My thighs want to die thankyouverymuch.) Lie on your mat for back dancing. (What’s back dancing? OOOH! I see…)

But, AFTER my first class I started seeing the results. So, I have been going back for more ever since. Better posture. More confidence. Better flexibility. Toned body. Lean muscles. Mental clarity. Relaxation. That’s what Pure Barre does for me. Any questions?

I’m not going to lie, it isn’t a cheap workout. But, your first class is free, and it is well worth the investment after that. It took my husband a little convincing to justify spending the money, but I think he has noticed the difference in my attitude and mental state when I am able to go. I am really thankful that he has been supportive of it– and it has required a great deal of cooperation from him, not only financially, but he is also really good about watching our son even when I leave them fending for themselves for dinner so I can go to the Barre. I am better able to take care of my family, after I have taken a little bit of time to take care of myself.

My Tips for First Timers:

  • Sign up (for free) for your first class online. It will save you time, and guarantee you a spot in class.
  • Arrive on time, and tell the instructor that it is your first class. Every instructor I have every had has been very helpful and gracious.
  • Wear yoga pants, and whatever type of top you will be comfortable in.
  • Be prepared to work out in your socks. If you have socks with grippers on the bottom, those are preferable. Most people wear the black socks that are available for purchase at the studio for $15/pair. (Don’t wear your shoes on the studio floor.)
  • Bring a friend. It is always better to try something new with a buddy.
  • It’s okay to feel foolish. Some of the movements in Pure Barre were so new to me at my first class, that I felt completely foolish. But, it’s okay. Everyone is so focused on her own movements that no one will even notice if you are doing it right or not, and like I said, the instructors are super helpful and will walk around the room to correct your positions.
  • Hang around after your first class to ask questions.  The instructors are there to help, and will gladly explain the terms and the positions to you. It really helps you get the most out of your workout.

Hydrangea Cookies

hy3Hydrangeas are my favorite flower, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I owned a bakery, decorating cupcakes as hydrangeas was one of my favorite things to do. Since I no longer own the cupcake shop, I decide to try hydrangeas on cookies. While searching for ideas, I came across THIS post from the popular blog, Glorious Treats, which inspired me to make these hydrangea cookies. The original post used a embroidery frosting technique that, while beautiful, is very time consuming. So, I opted to use a buttercream piping technique that worked much faster for me, and still yielded a beautiful result. (Glorious Treats also has a hydrangea piping tutorial HERE.)

I started the cookies with my favorite rolled sugar cookie recipe. (TIP: Be sure to let the dough chill for a couple of hours.) Then, I rolled it out about 1/4 of inch thick and cut out flower and leaf shapes. You could bake the shapes separately, or together as I did. (See image below.)

After I baked the cookies, and let them cool completely, I frosted the leaves with green, royal frosting. (I used a disposable piping bag, with no tip. I just cut a very small opening in the bag.) I make my royal frosting with Wilton Meringue Powder, and there is a recipe right on the jar. I outlined each leaf and let the outline dry a little before filling the leaf center with frosting.  Let the leaf frosting dry before adding anything else. I piped some leaf details in a lighter shade of green, but be sure the leaf base coat is dry first.

While the royal frosting was drying on the “leaves”, I mixed up a basic batch of buttercream frosting. I colored half violet, and the other half cornflower blue. I used the Wilton 2D tip in a disposable bag and layered the frosting in the piping bag, alternating colors between the violet and blue. Use the press and pull method, to drop frosting flowers onto your cookie I finished off my cookies by adding some Wilton Pearlized Sugar Sprinkles.20130517-130001.jpg

For this project, you will need…hydrangea cookie

  • A flower cookie cutter
  • A leaf cookie cutter
  • Disposable Pastry Bags
  • Wilton 2D frosting tip
  • Wilton Tip No. 2 (for leaf detail)
  • Meringue Powder (for Royal Frosting)
  • Leaf Green Gel Color
  • Violet Gel Color
  • Cornflower Blue Gel Color
  • Pearlized Sugar Sprinkles
  • One batch of rolled sugar cookie dough
  • One batch of buttercream frosting
  • One batch of royal frosting

Also see…

If you haven’t visited the Glorious Treats website yet, you should. She posts beautiful work. Be sure to check out these two hydrangea posts for full how-to tutorials.

Hydrangea Cupcake How-to from Glorious Treats

Embroidered Hydrangea Cookies (with directions) from Glorious Treats

Azalea Trail Cupcakes

20130516-160709.jpgThis is a picture of me 100 years ago. Okay, maybe it was closer to 10 than 100, but it feels like forever ago. Anyway, today’s project was inspired by my days as an Azalea Trail Maid. It would also be perfect for your little (or all grown up) ballerina, princess, or even a bride. Picture one in white and the rest in pink for a wedding shower or brunch. ADORABLE! Too bad my son wouldn’t appreciate all of my girliness that I am destined to have to keep all bottled up.

For these cupcakes, I used these super cute Ruffled Baking Cups. They come in a variety of colors, and I tried to match the cup color to the frosting color. You will also need some fondant– I highly recommend ordering some Satin Ice Rolled Fondant, and skipping the craft store kind*, a mini-onsie cookie cutter, a small flower cookie cutter, some sugar pearls, and a petal tip (I used Wilton No. 104).

20120904-190509.jpgBake your favorite cupcakes in the ruffled baking cups and allow to cool completely. Mix up your favorite frosting recipe– if you use canned, you will have to add some confectioner’s sugar to make it stiff enough to hold the ruffles. Color the frosting as desired. (TIP: I only use gel food coloring, and I recommend Americolor brand. It can be purchased at Global Sugar Art.)

While the cupcakes are baking and cooling, you can roll out your fondant. Cut a onesie and flower out for each cupcake. This can even be done a day ahead of time, since the fondant needs to completely dry before you insert it in the cupcake.

When frosting, start at the bottom, outer layer first. Hold your piping bag and tip so that the fatter (more open) end is closest to the center– the skinny end will be the ruffle edge. Work your way around the cupcake, layering the ruffles. If you look closely at my samples, you will see that each cupcake has a different ruffle pattern. Quick, long strokes will give you ruffles like the pink cupcake in front. If you like the ruffles of the second (aqua) cupcake, go slower and wiggle a little as you frost. The purple cupcake was made with quick, short, curved strokes.

When you are finished frosting, insert your dried fondant onesie in the center. Pipe a line across the center to stick the pearls on, and a little dab of frosting to stick on the flower. These cupcakes are sure to wow any girly girl.

XOXO,

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