A Drive and Eat Dinner

My grand kids leave for a week in Florida. It’s an annual trip to a timeshare in Fort Meyers. They spend time with their “other” grandparents. It’s tradition for me to pack them “Roadie Travel Bags”, but this year, I also made our last dinner together a bit more fun by creating a drive and eat meal.

It’s amazing what you can do with a kitchen island, black and yellow masking tape and printed road signs. Of course, a few miniature car/truck props are needed to test out the roads.

Leftover taffy candy from Halloween was a great way to keep the road signs in place; that is, until the kids mowed over them with the vehicles. There was a Michigan map (with napkin and flatware) and Florida map (on dinner plate) with each place setting.

What a great learning experience on the basics of reading a map. My youngest grandson, Fischer, was most excited about the dump truck. He broke up small twigs, loaded them in the truck and drove them to Florida (not without a few crashes).

Make dinner time fun for the little ones.

I love making memories with my grand kids. They will remember this meal long after I disassemble everything. Oh, just for the record, dinner included hot dogs filled with Velveeta cheese and wrapped in bacon, mac and cheese, spinach salad and fresh fruit on wooden skewers.

Sweet Holiday TREEt

Holiday Sweet Tree-t

I clipped this recipe from a magazine last month thinking it would be a fun treat to make with the grandkids. I’m glad I decided to do it myself. My suggestion is to have all the shapes cut beforehand and let the kids do the assembling. No doubt the sticky, gooey sweetness will score big for the little ones.

What this recipe lacks in ingredients, it more than makes up for in calories. Let’s see, an entire box of Fruity Pebbles cereal, 1/2 stick of butter, one bag of mini marshmallows and frosting. Need I say more? Bite-size portions are in the neighborhood of 105 calories (most being sugar grams). I am guessing the recipe can serve up to 36.

Mix together melted marshamallows and cereal

 INGREDIENT LIST

  • 1 box Fruity Pebbles cereal
  • 1/2 stick butter (you use margarine)
  • 1 package mini-marshmallows ( 10 1/2 ounces)
  • 16 ounce ready-to-spread cream cheese frosting (or vanilla) 
  • Stacking cookie cutters (I used both round and daisy shapes because it’s what I had). The recipe called for star shapes. Improvise if you must.

 HOW TO

Melt the butter in a deep fry pan over low heat. Add the marshmallows and continue to melt and stir on low heat.

When marshmallows are completely melted, gradually add cereal. Mix well ensuring cereal has an even coat of marshmallow mixture.

Spread mixture in a 13"  x 9" baking dish

Lightly coat a 13″ x 9″ pan with non-stick cooking spray. Evenly and firmly spread the gooey mixture into pan . I found a sheet of wax paper helps.

Let the mixture set up for 45 minutes to an hour before cutting with shaped cutouts.

 

The tree is stacked with 5 different size cut-outs. You need two of each size. I used a large circle for the base of tree, and rotated each shape based on diameter size (largest to smallest).

Each cut-out is attached to the next by frosting.  Fill in any bare spots with additional frosting and decorate with holiday candies. I used a peppermint candy as the tree topper.

 

You will need to bear down on the cookie cutter to cut through the gooey mixture. This is why I suggest making the cut-outs ahead of time when working with small children.

 

Cut shapes with cookie cutters

The cookie cutters should have some depth and be stable enough to cut without bending.

 

Cut out the stackable shapes from the cereal mixture

Attach the pieces with ready-to-serve frosting

Once the tree is constructed, keep it covered. I placed the tree on a holiday plate and covered with tented aluminum foil. Store in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Now, here is the big question. How in the world do you cut this tree for serving? My answer, “I have no idea”. My thoughts are you start disassembling at the top of tree and work your way down, cutting into serving sizes.

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

I love the smell of cinnamon at the holidays, come on, who doesn’t? This week, the wine guy brought home a plentiful amount of raw almonds. A California winery sent him a 50 pound box for servicing and managing their brands. He shared the wealth with co-workers and brought home a few pounds for us to have at the house for Christmas.

Cinnamon and sugar seemed a perfect union for the almonds. And that’s what I doing on this snowy Saturday morning. I’m roasting almonds in the oven. I plan to gift most of them because Blimpy Girl doesn’t need the taunt of a temptation everytime I pass the nut dish.

Coat the raw almonds in egg white

This is such an easy recipe and takes about 15 minutes to prepare and 1 hour to roast.

I purchased Mason jars at Hobby Lobby to package the roasted goodies. I’ll dress the jars with some creative touches and gift tags and post a picture later this week.

 

How-To

  • 4 cups whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup white sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water

Kick up the oven to 250 degrees F. While it’s warming up, beat the egg white and water in a good size bowl. You want the egg to be frothy, but not stiff. Add the almonds to the egg mixture and toss until they are completely coated.

Dump the sugar mixture in the bowl and mix until the nuts are covered with the sugar. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with non-stick oil and spread the almonds onto the pan. You want a single layer of nuts.

Pop into the oven and roast for 1 hour, turning the almonds at mid-point. Once the almonds cool, store in an airtight container.

I told you this easy! What I won’t tell is how many calories you consume when shoveling a handful in your mouth. **wink**

Create Holiday Table Atmosphere

Make your own table centerpieces for the holiday

I have a number of clear vases leftover from a summer wedding event. I had actually forgotten about them until digging in the attic for Christmas stuff. I was determined to find a a use for them this holiday. They were purchased at the local Dollar Store for $1 each.

Walking to the mailbox, I noticed straight twigs sticking out of ground. They were the remains from a plant cut back this fall. I fumbled around the garage for my garden clippers and away I went.

A few snippets of cedar pine, 4 or 5 twigs, water, a few drops of food coloring (I used orange to create an amber color) and I was ready to assemble my vase.

I partially filled the vase with water and added the coloring. The greens and twigs were placed around the inside perimeter of the vase.

A 6-inch stearine candle, purchased from Ikea, was centered inside the vase. They burn clean with no dripping. Be sure to have enough cedar clippings to keep the candle upright.

I do have concerns about what will happen once the candle burns down to the twigs and greenery. I’m giving it a test run, but have a back up plan. I certainly don’t want to set the holiday table on fire.

Inserting a clear glass taper candle holder inside the vase will lift the base of the candle above the greens/twigs. I will fill the vase with water to the top of the candle holder which should prevent any fire hazards.

The second plan is using floating candles. I’ve already tested this and it works well. The only problem with floating candles is their burn time is very limited. They should, however, last through a holiday dinner.

I am excited about using these at my annual Christmas Eve dinner. Fresh boughs of pine and colorful Christmas bulbs will be the table runner. These candles will be placed throughout. Love it! Total cost was around $2 per candle centerpiece.

It’s Fall… where has the summer gone?

Geez-o-pete! It’s been a month since my last post. I’ve been enjoying the last dog-days of summer before Michigan ushers in her cold Winter blast. I’ve already started putting out outdoor Halloween decorations and planning a “spooky camp out” for my nine-year old grandson.

I have two posts you might find interesting. The first is this incredible artwork painted by my friend, Peg. When I saw her hand-crafted art piece, it shouted, “I would look so good hanging next to your wine cellar”. I agree!

Wine Art

The artwork is hand painted on the reverse side of the glass. Labels from various wine bottles or beverages are applied before the painting process. The picture frame is made from a recycled, distressed window frame.

Peg will also custom design her art for java lovers. Feel free to email me if interested in having a piece commissioned.

My second post concerns these Roll Horn molds. I’m excited to see what can be done with them both with soap and food. The food inspiration came from Hungry Happenings (thanks, Beth!). When I saw these awesome sandwich roll-ups, my mind was filled with soaping ideas for GoPlanetEarth.

 If this works for food, why wouldn’t it work for soaping projects? How about filling the cone with bath salts, or an herbal bath tea? Ooo, Ooo, Ooo… my mind is racing with ideas. Be sure to check back on Blimpy Girl’s site for an update on the food stuff I’m doing with these way-cool cones. And, my GoPlanetEarth site for soaping fun. Will showcase some pics within the next week.

Splurge Meal: Grilled Lamb Chops

 

I usually allow myself at least one splurge meal weekly. Even then, I control my portions. Last night was not the case. We had dinner with friends who love to entertain in a big way. When served a meal of grilled lamb chops and pork tenderloin, it’s the time to count calories or monitor portion sizes.

Dear friends, it didn’t stop there. Take a look at the dessert served. My thoughts are this, “If you’re gonna cheat, cheat big!”, so I did. There was no remorse, no turning back, and no stepping on the scale this morning. When informed how much butter and sour cream were in that twice baked potato, I decided my weigh-in can wait until Monday. No wonder the potato tasted so yummy!

Oh yeah, baby! You’re looking at double fudge and strawberry pound cakes, vanilla ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream. The only thing no calorie was the black coffee served with it.

Estimated calories for this meal: 1 kazillion fat calories

Hanging Wine Bottle Vases

Hanging wine bottle outdoor vase

My outdoor dinner party is cancelled due to rain. There are no regrets. Rain is so needed in our area. It’s been a dry summer and crops, grass and home gardens are failing.

These are the outdoor deck wine vases I made for the dinner. Thankfully, they won’t be wasted. Tomorrow’s weather forecast is sunny and upper 80’s. We’ll spend a day on the water and enjoy an outdoor BBQ on the deck with friends in the evening.

Hanging flower vase wine bottlesI wanted to share how easy these are to make. I gathered flowers from a nearby field and added a Gerber daisy as a focal point.

You need empty wine bottles (don’t bother removing labels), twine, fresh flowers and a place to hang the bottle.

Wrap the twine around the neck of the bottle and secure by tying. Leave a sizable amount of twine for attaching to the deck area.

Fill the wine bottle with water and insert flowers. If you happen to be hosting a particular event, like a bridal shower or outdoor wedding, consider designing custom labels  for the bottles. This is easily done in MS Publisher or other software programs.

For a more formal dinner, dress guest tables with white linens, or keep in simple and use a red checkered tablecloth. The sky is the limit when deciding how and where you want to hang these bottles. My only cost was the price of the twine… just pennies per bottle.

 

Ugh! Weekly Meal Planning: 10 Tips

You would think planning a weekly menu would be much easier for someone  working from home. Not so! It’s way too easy to get distracted with work, phone calls, laundry, cleaning, child care and errands. At the end of the day, you find yourself aksing, “What’s for dinner?”

If working to maintain weight loss, this is NEVER a good question. It’s an indicator that grazing mode has kicked in and we start looking for something (usually, unhealthy) to quiet hunger pangs.

Here are 10 helpful tips I use for weekly meal planning:

  •  Never shop hungry! (Engrave this in your stomach, heart, forehead, wherever! Heck, if you must, go get a tatoo.)
  • Make a list of ingredients needed for each meal. Highlight the items that need to be purchased. Items not highlighted indicates you already have it. I’m not sure if I’m a right or left brain person, but listing all the ingredients on my shopping list helps me to have a quick visual of the planned meal.
  • If you have access to a computer for meal planning, use it. I use a generic Excel spreadsheet that lists each day’s meal and the ingredients needed to prepare it.
  • Sunday night is my prep night. I chop, dice, cut and pre-cook ingredients that can easily be stored for the upcoming week. Things like peppers, onions, garlic, pre-cooked chicken/beef, chopped veggies or pre-cooked pasta helps speed up meal prep time.
  •  I only pre-plan dinner menus. Lunch and breakfast are easy to prepare and require much less planning and prep time.
  •  Plan meals around in-season veggies or fruits.
  • Consider ways to use any left-overs for lunch dishes. Leftover chicken is easily cut and chopped to make chicken salad sandwiches.
  • Plan dinner meals based on your schedule. Some nights you might work late, so plan a 20 minutes or less meal. On nights where you have more time, plan a meal with greater prep time. Remember, you are the menu gestapo and have full charge of what, when and time you want to serve dinner.
  • Don’t underestimate a slow cooker, it’s ideal for those late nights involving after school sporting events with the kids. There’s nothing better arriving home to the aroma of a ready-to-eat crock pot dinner.
  •  Take inventory of what you have on hand. Some of the best meals and recipes are created with nearly expired veggies, cheeses, bread and various left-overs hidden behind the milk carton.  

 

Breakfast for Mommy

Breakfast for Mommy by Chef Fischer

There’s no better way to start a Friday morning than breakfast by the infamous four-year chef, Fischer. My special buddy spent an overnight, but not without an “over-exhausted, played too hard, no afternoon nap” melt-down at bed time. Never underestimate the strength of a four-year old in full tantrum mode.

He wanted to go home and see mommy. In the gospel according to Fischer, I was the bad guy because, “I never let him see his mommy”. I found his episode (as I call it) quite entertaining. The drama was better than any TV show I might have watched.

A peaceful settlement was made when we agreed he could make breakfast for Mommy in the morning. And then, as if nothing had happened, he asked me to read his favorite Max Lucado book, Twelve Days of Christmas. And when the sandman finally took him to the Land of Nod, I whispered YIPPEE and crashed.

Buttering the wafflesIt’s truly amazing how a good night’s sleep changes the world as we perceive it. I was no longer the bad NeeNee, instead I was greeted with hugs, kisses and a reminder that a Mommy breakfast was on the agenda.

It is important to note, waffles without LOTS of syrup and butter is considered a misdemeanor by anyone under age six.

As you can see, Chef Fish had no problem applying the appropriate amount of syrup to each waffle. In fact, he emptied the remainder of the bottle. Thank goodness, it was “sugar-free”.

The calories weren’t as bad you might think. One waffle (with syrup/butter) and the fruit pictured is 155 calories. Add two servings of scrambled egg beaters for only 60 more calories.

The next time your little peep wants to make you breakfast, I suggest toaster waffles. It’s ideal for kids four-years and up. There is beaming pride when they present the dish. Forget about all the dripping syrup on the counter, or the butter that dropped on the floor. Create a memory. You can clean up sticky messes with soapy water, but you can’t recreate memories.

 

Turtle Hamburger

A turtle burger any kids would love!This was last night’s dinner for the grand kids. They generally are not burger kind of kids, odd as that may seem. I decided to try a different take on presenting the burger especially since the wine guy had purchased an enormous package of burger meat from Costco.

Well, it worked! All three kids chowed down and ate every last bite of their burger. They even ate the tomato and lettuce. The turtle burgers were served with corn on cob. It was a fun meal and easy to make. Here’s the how-to:

The beginnings of a turtle hamburger.

  • Shape hamburger or ground sirloin meat into patties. Cook as desired.
  • I didn’t have burger buns so I cut white bread slices into circles using a used a cookie cutter. I liked this idea better because the bread wasn’t so thick.  English muffins are another option, but my grand kids aren’t muffin fans.
  • Slice baby dill pickles to make the turtle’s head, tail and feet. Use any extra pickles to make the turtle shell (see below).
  •  Add burger, cheese and ketchup to the bread base.Add any other condiments you want, E.g., mustard, mayo, relish.
  • Top with Iceberg lettuce and add slices of dill pickles to create the turtle shell.
  • The turtle eyes are small dollops of mayo with a raisin cut in half.
  • Serve with a side dish like corn on the cob or mac & cheese.

This turtle theme can also be used to create a before dinner craft. Here are links to a couple of easy turtle ideas using items you have around the house. Link #1, Link #2

This is a great opportunity to teach kids about turtles. I’ve noted a few links that might prove helpful.

Link #1, Link #2, Link #3