Into the Wild: Part 2

We survived! Our first camping trip was a major success! We heard Gemma say, “This is so much fun,” and “I love camping” over and over and over again throughout the weekend.

Setting up the tent was a family affair. Gemma is quite the little manager and has great instincts so we took her lead and she was so proud of our teamwork…

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Once set up, we had a nice lunch and enjoyed the views (including UP). The weather was beautiful…low 70’s during the day and low 50’s overnight.

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Our friends, Matt and Jen, stopped by for an afternoon visit, and David joined us for dinner (hot dogs and s’mores cooked over the open fire) and a walk over our super-awesome fallen-tree bridge.

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We also shared our campsite with this little spider-guy, and I came an inch (a mere inch!!!) from walking face-first into he and his web after our bridge walk. Eeeeek!

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After dark, the party really got going! How much fun are glow sticks??!! Gemma loved singing and dancing and just being silly. So much so, we experienced our first “I’m tired, can I go to bed now?” from Miss G. Phew…she really can wear out (who knew?).

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On Sunday, we headed to the trail for a 1.5 mile hike through the park. If this doesn’t prove you need nothing more than nature and love to keep a family busy, engaged, healthy and happy, then I don’t know what does! I’ve never seen more smiles than those we wore during this adventure! Can’t wait to do it again!!!

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Into the Wild: Part 1

How much stuff does a family of three need for one night in the woods? This much…

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We made it to our beautiful campsite at Falls Lake!! All set up in less than an hour. The tent was super easy (so no stress on that front), however Ben’s hoagie met an unfortunate demise (after Gemma accidentally dropped it open-faced in the dirt under the picnic table). I really wish I had that picture…alas all I have are these…

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Glazed Muffins and the Great Outdoors

Watch out nature, here we come! In prep for our first overnight family camping trip this weekend, G and I have been packing and organizing all those little things we can’t live without for one night away (a mere 30 minutes from home), and, of course, baking goodies to fuel us on our adventures, namely banana bread muffins.

We loosely based our muffins on the Brown Butter Banana Bread Muffins from On Sugar Mountain and lightly glazed some of them for a little sweetness. I’m thrilled Gemma likes to bake and cook. She’s a whiz in the kitchen and loves declaring us “Chopped Champions” for our super results!

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Get Organized: Kitchen

We all have them. Pots, pans and lids awkwardly stacked and disheveled in our kitchen cabinets. Wouldn’t cooking (and cleaning up) be so much easier if our storage looked like this?

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Or this?

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Unfortunately, for most of us, these solutions require a custom remodel (at a custom price). Luckily there are a few clever tools to help you organize your kitchen and maximize your storage space without breaking the bank.

Earlier this year I wandered the aisles of The Container Store to find ways to keep our pans, lids and Kitchenaid mixer accessible and organized. I’ve lived with these solutions for several months, and I’m happy to report they have our seal of approval!

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Pans. Place a 4-slot divider (or file organizer) in your cabinet and slide pans in and out of each slot. The Container Store sells this organizer for just under $5.

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Lids. Install a wall and lid door rack on the backside of a cabinet door. This solution offers new storage where none existed before. And the screws are long enough to secure without pushing through the face of the door. The Container Store sells this one for just under $7.

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Kitchenaid Mixer. Sadly, I didn’t use my Kitchenaid mixer as much as I could. It’s clunky and since I wasn’t willing to give up precious counter space, I stored it “out of sight, out of mind” in another room outside the kitchen. During my outing at The Container Store, I fell in love with the elfa roll out cabinet drawers. Though pricey (for a DIY solution) I have found the smooth glide of the 17″ drawer to be worth my investment ($54). The drawers are so easy to install (even in a tight space). With the addition of some small 3M Command hooks (and a few IKEA kitchen s-hooks), I was able to maximize my cabinet space and hang my various mixer attachments on the inside wall. And, yes, I use the mixer more since it’s easier to maneuver and in a handy location.

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Special note:

  • You can find 3M Command hooks and tape at most office supply and drug stores. If you haven’t used these yet, they are super easy to install on a wall for simple storage. And the tape is formulated to lift off the wall without leaving damage or peeling the paint.
  • We use Command hooks throughout the house for pot holders, cutting boards, Gemma’s  lunchbox and backpack (giving her access to hang and retrieve these items at her level) and jewelry organization.
  • I also bought a more narrow efla roll out cabinet drawer for under my bathroom sink to store my various curling/straightening irons and compact hair dryer.

Tutorial: Custom Crayons

Do your kids peel the labels off crayons and break them like it’s their job? We’re left with tons of broken crayons and less than inspired artists. Here’s a fun tutorial to re-use those broken bits and re-inspire you and your kids!

What you’ll need:

  • broken wax crayons (all labels removed)
  • silicon mold/silicon ice tray (alphabet or fun shapes; must be oven-safe)
  • cookie sheet or jelly roll pan

Step 1.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Step 2.

Place broken crayons in shape/letter slots in silicon mold. You can mix and match colors as the wax will settle to varying degrees – while some colors will melt and mix into a new color entirely, other colors will hold their own and become multi-colored crayons. I’m guessing this has something to do with either the chemical makeup of the color dye and/or using different brands of crayons with varying wax bases. Oh, and be careful not to overload each space (to avoid overflow once the wax melts).

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Step 3.

Place silicon molds on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes (or until all wax chunks have melted).

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Step 4.

Remove pan/molds from oven, and let the wax cool for at least one hour.

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Step 5.

Check to be sure pans and wax have cooled before popping out each shape/letter. (If you have any wax residue left on your mold, run it under cold water and you’ll be able to scrape off the wax bits with your fingernail or a dull knife.)

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Step 6.

Color to your heart’s content! You can see above how the colors mixed as they melted…and below how cool they color!

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Special notes:

  • I found my alphabet mold on Amazon.
  • The letter-shaped crayons are great for coloring at restaurants…they won’t roll off the table!
  • The letter-shaped crayons are a great tool to reinforce letters, words and the alphabet with toddlers/pre-schoolers.
  • This is a fun activity to do with your kids. My daughter, Gemma, helped load the crayons into the pans and got a kick out of watching through the oven window as the wax melted down into the letter slots.
  • These make great gifts! Gemma gave each of her neighborhood friends their own “name in crayons” as a Christmas gift one year.
  • You can use this project to open a dialogue with young kids about ways to “reduce, reuse and recycle” in your home and community.

Meal Planning: White Chicken Chili

It’s officially fall! The kids are settled into school, football is in high gear, and if you can believe it, college basketball is just around the corner! (Go Heels! Go Salukis!) I’m craving cold-weather foods and cozy clothes.

A few weeks ago, in an effort to be more (1) organized, (2) frugal and (3) healthy, I started meal planning.. And thanks to Pinterest, meal planning is super easy! What did meal planners do before Pinterest?! Seriously, it’s so easy to wander through random strangers’ food boards and ruthlessly steal their delicious pins (insert evil laugh here).

If you’ve never had white chicken chili, you’re truly missing out. One of my favorite recipes is the white chicken chili I pilfered lovingly borrowed from Meg Robins over at DesignWineDine.

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I actually remember the very first white chicken chili I ever consumed (strange memory, I know). It was one of our first Thanksgivings after moving to Beaufort, SC. We weren’t going to be seeing our families, so my new friend (and office-mate) Joni thoughtfully invited Ben and I to share the holiday dinner with she and her parents. It was such a nice gesture (true Southern hospitality), and we were treated to their white chicken chili, and was it ever yummy! Now, over 10 years later I have rediscovered this dish and have added it to our rotating meal plan. I’ll likely make this year round but it’s especially good in fall/winter.

About a week ago I hosted a girls night and made this dish. Needless to say, the six of us (including my four-year-old) ate the entire batch! And, since I didn’t have any leftovers…I’m making it again for the family to enjoy. The house smells INCREDIBLE and dinner time can’t come soon enough!

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Special notes

  • This is not my recipe but I’ve adopted it with open arms.
  • It’s a crock pot recipe so you can throw it together before work/school and (voilà!) dinner is prepped by 9 a.m….added bonus: your house will smell incredible all day.
  • This chili is addicting. You’ll want to double triple the recipe and eat it for days and days. It makes great leftovers AND if you made enough, it can be frozen for an extra meal down the road.
  • In addition to toppings such as sour cream, cheese, cilantro, and onion, I will add avocado and kale chips. You could even throw on those Old Bay and Chili pumpkin seeds I shared here.
  • You can substitute cream of chicken with cream of mushroom soup and/or veggie stock for chicken stock to add more depth/variety to the flavor of this chili.

Pumpkin Upcycle

My New Year’s 2012 resolution consisted of one simple goal: “Use up the dozens of beauty products I’ve hoarded in our bathroom closet “. Almost two years later I’m still working toward that goal. I’m definitely better about checking first to help me avoid buying the latest Philosophy anti-aging cream or holiday-scented body wash or lotion. One side effect of that resolution is I’m much more aware of recycling and upcycling things we might have historically trashed or tossed in the disposal.

Our recent pumpkin-carving activity left me with a bowl of pumpkin seeds/”gooey” and a desire to indulge my taste-buds and (strangely) my pores.

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Knowing pumpkins are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants (and having seen pumpkin peels on spa menus), my first instinct was DIY face mask. So, last Saturday morning I perused Pinterest and found this pumpkin mask recipe over at My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia. I mixed it up, slathered it on and let it work magic for 20 minutes. After I rinsed, my skin was refreshed and my pores seemed tighter (if only temporarily), so I saved the remaining pulp and plan to do another mask treatment this week.

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Armed with a fresh face and half a pot of coffee, I was ready to roast some pumpkin seeds. Historically, I just toss the seeds in sea salt and olive oil but this time I wanted to up my game and do something gourmet. Here are two experiments which turned out quite delicious!

*Note – the measurements below are estimated and not scientific! I eyeballed my spices and adjusted based on smell and amount of spice coated on the seeds.

Old Bay + Chili Pumpkin Seeds

  • 1/2 cup fresh pumpkin seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse pumpkin seeds (removing all pulp) and dry well.  Toss seeds in olive oil, Old Bay and chili powder. Place seeds on jelly roll pan or cake pan.

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Bake 20 minutes (tossing/turning with spatula halfway through).

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These are great for a spicy snack on their own OR toss them on a salad in place of croutons.

Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds

  • 1/2 cup fresh pumpkin seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (melted)
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse pumpkin seeds (removing all pulp) and dry well.

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Toss seeds in butter. Add brown and granulated sugars and cinnamon. Place seeds on jelly roll pan or cake pan. Bake 20 minutes (tossing or turning with spatula halfway through).

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These are a sweet, crunchy snack on their own (and might be even better with a dash of sea salt).

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