Pre-K Graduation and a Refreshing Teacher Gift

Where does the time go? The end of the school year is upon us! Gemma graduated from Pre-K today, and I was a bit teary-eyed as she performed her last preschool show and walked to get her certificate before shaking hands with her teachers.

pre k grad certificate medal

family pic pre k grad day

We have been very blessed to have such a warm, engaging preschool environment at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Preschool for the last three years. Gemma’s teachers over the years were always such a joy, offering their kind souls, encouragement, guidance, patience and smiling faces every day in each classroom. If you live in the Durham/Chapel Hill area and are searching for a wonderful preschool, I highly encourage you to check out St. Stephens!

To honor the Pre-K teachers at the end of this school year, the parents got together to give our three classroom teachers, a music teacher and the preschool director a fresh, practical gift they and their families can use throughout the year, especially during our warm summer months.

water infuser, citrus fruit and mint plant

We gifted each teacher with a water infuser/pitcher (Crate and Barrel) filled with lemons, limes and a sprig of fresh mint plus their own potted mint plant (Home Depot). We included a recipe for Citrus-Mint Infused Water, and the kids all autographed a special card.

Citrus-Mint Water

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 4-6 mint leaves
  • 1 half-gallon of cold water

Cut citrus into thin slices and remove seeds. Insert citrus slices and mint leaves into infuser insert. Fill pitcher with cold water. Insert infuser into pitcher. Chill in refrigerator. Sip and enjoy!!!

I also love these four recipes from Lauren Conrad (orange-lemon-lime; lemon-raspberry-mint;  lemon-cucumber-mint; and blackberry-cherry-lime). If you get bored with plain ice water, as I do, an infuser is a great way to offer your body nourishment with a wonderful flavor!

infusers and citrus fruits

citrus mint water recipe

teacher card

mint plant

gemma and teacher gifts

Special Notes:

  • Recycle those paper bags from grocery or retail purchases! Don’t want the Whole Foods logo emblazoned on a gift bag? Just use colorful paper (or some of your child’s drawings on paper) to mask the logo and create a fun, colorful bag appropriate for gifting!

recycled gift bag

  • When gifting a potted plant, be thoughtful of your recipient’s ability to transport (if it’s not going to their home directly). I made sure to drain as much water from the pot base before placing the pot on a stack of coffee filters (to help absorb moisture) and then wrapped the base of the pot in a plastic bag to catch additional leaks. You can then use ribbon or a bow to decorate the bag or pot and give it some flair.

mint plant prep

Strawberry Season and a Family Treasure

It surely doesn’t get any better than the taste of a warm, sweet strawberry eaten straight from the garden!

We’re in prime strawberry season here in North Carolina, and I’m super excited to take Gemma pickin’ this Friday. With her preschool schedule, Friday’s are the only day we can get out early to snag some good berries before the fields are picked clean.

If you’re anything like us, we pick way more than we could possibly consume (before the mush and mold set in thanks to our humid climate…more on this dilemma later). One year, we picked two flats (or 8 quarts)…we made a few pies and ate berries for breakfast (sliced on cereal), lunch (as a side dish), and dinner (with sweet corn and grilled chicken). A year later, my mom was in town, and we got so many strawberries I was able to freeze 6 quart-sized ziplock bags of them before they expired…and then it took a whole year of smoothies to use them up.

I hate to say I won’t make that mistake again…but let’s be real…I’ll gladly make that mistake again if it means I can indulge in locally grown, succulent strawberries!

While our real ‘field trip’ isn’t until this Friday, G and I cheated and grabbed a flat of berries from Jean’s Berry Patch earlier this week so we could share with you my grandmother’s famous strawberry pie recipe!

Oh, and here’s a trick for washing your berries so they stay fresh longer…“How to Wash Your Fruit” from the Made from Pinterest blog.

I truly hope you enjoy this family favorite as much as we do!!!

strawberry pie recipe

Grandma Bratland’s Strawberry Pie


  • 1 quart fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (let stand to room temperature)
  • 1 pie crust (I prefer to use the Pillsbury pie crust from the roll section but you can make from scratch or use a frozen pie crust already in a foil pie pan, as well.)

Step 1. Bake pie crust according to instructions. Let crust cool completely. Here

  • Brush your crust with a coat of lightly beaten egg white to help give it a shiny, golden finish. Visit the kitchn for tips on how to achieve various results with different glazes, including this one: “Finishing Touches: How to Get a Perfect Golden Pie Crust
  • Cover the edges of your pie crust with aluminum foil to avoid over-browning of your exposed crusts. I typically bake per pie crust instructions, then remove the foil 2-3 minutes shy of total baking time…allows the crust to brown without getting too crispy.

strawberry pie shells

Step 2. In a mixing bowl, whip room-temp cream cheese until it reaches a spreading consistency. Carefully spread cream cheese mixture onto bottom of cooled pie crust.

Step 3. Cut 1/2 quart of strawberries into slices and place them (flat) over top of the cream cheese layer in pie crust.

layered strawberries on cream cheese base

Step 4. Cut remaining 1/2 quart of strawberries into small pieces and put in saucepan. Add sugar and cornstarch and cook ingredients over medium heat until sauce thickens and berries soften (approx 30 minutes).

strawberries sugar cornstarch  strawberry sauce

Step 5. Allow sauce to cool and then pour over previously layered berries in pie crust.

strawberry sauce in crust

Step 6. (WARNING: THIS IS THE HARDEST STEP!!!!) Chill 3-4 hours in refrigerator. After pie has set, slice and serve with homemade whipped cream (I like this easy tutorial from My Frugal Adventures) or Redi-Whip.

finished strawberry pie

I think this one’s a winner!!!

strawberry pie winner





Norwegian Krumkake

The holiday season is the best time to celebrate traditions and feed your soul. My celebration couldn’t be complete without some good old-fashioned baked goods, and this year I’m including a family favorite which represents my Scandinavian heritage. Krumkake (krmk), is best described as a fancy waffle cookie and simply translates to curved cake in Norwegian.

Krumkake recipe


My mother and grandmothers made this delicate treat each holiday season, and as a child I’ll admit it wasn’t the first item I chose from the dessert tray. No, I lunged for anything with sprinkles, chocolate or caramel. However, as an adult, I have come to love this crispy, sweet-tasting cookie and decided to make a batch myself. Lucky for you, I’m sharing my recipe (a slight variation from the one pictured above) and some tips you can use to make your own krumkake.

To make krumkake, you will need a special krumkake iron, available online from Villa Ware through Amazon or other specialty retailers (~$100). I received mine as a gift from my mother, who incidentally uses a traditional stove-top iron vs. my electric, non-stick iron. Your iron will come with a wooden cone to roll/shape the cookies. You’ll need a large cooking space, a timer, and a spatula to remove the cookie from the hot iron once it’s done. As you can see below, I wasn’t sure what type of spatula would work best. The slotted, stiff spatula did the trick.



  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened to room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons milk

Step 1. Preheat krumkake iron. Grease iron with cooking spray or shortening.


Step 2. Beat eggs with a hand mixer or Kitchen Aid mixer.


Step 3. Add sugar, butter, vanilla and cardamom and mix well.

krumkake_sugar krumkake_butter

krumkake_vanilla krumkake_cardamom

Step 4. Add flour and milk, alternating a little of each and mixing well as you go. The batter should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter.

krumkake_flour krumkake_milk

Step 5. Spoon a tablespoon-sized dollop of batter in the center of each krumkake plate and close the iron. Let the batter bake for 30-45 seconds.


Step 6. Open the iron and use a spatula to remove the cookie from the plate and set on a towel/countertop. Use the wooden mold to roll the cookie into a cone shape. Allow cookie to set a few seconds before transferring to a cooling rack. The cookie will be soft when you remove it from the oven and will crisp up as it cools. Repeat until you’ve used all the dough.

krumkake_baked krumkake_baked spatula krumkake_roller krumkake_rolled

Step 7. You may wish to sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar for additional sweetness, or serve with berries, jam, whipped cream or Nutella. Be sure to store krumkake in a covered cake pan or other airtight container (to avoid humidity as they will stale quickly otherwise).

I love the traditional krumkake cone however I also love waffle cones with my fro-yo and ice cream. After making about half the batch, I decided to experiment a bit using some nesting bowls to create some krumkake bowls for my frozen delights. I was pleasantly surprised to see these turn out so well!

Instead of rolling the cookie on the cone, I simply placed the warm cookie over top of the smaller glass bowl, then cupped the larger glass bowl over the top to mold it into a bowl shape. I let each one cool for 30 seconds before transferring to a cooling rack, placing them upside down to keep their shape until they cool completely.

krumkake_glass nesting bowls

krumkake_bowl mold



Yield: 24

Special Notes:

Nacho Mama Challenge

Since Gemma could stand on a step-stool, she has been my handy, little sous chef. She loves helping me (and her grandmothers) in the kitchen, and I’m fortunate this experience has made her a great eater. For the most part, she’ll try anything, especially if she’s had a hand in selecting or preparing it. Here’s one of my favorite videos of Gemma (a month after her 2nd birthday) making herself a Nutella sandwich…

We were so inspired by the Durham Farmer’s Market Chef Challenge, we decided to have a challenge of our own. You see, our favorite family show is Chopped. We love learning about new foods and how to prepare them and critiquing the styles and creativity of the chefs…and of course, trying to guess which chef will be crowned chopped champion. On any given night, if Gemma likes what we’re eating for dinner, I’m declared chopped champion…it’s her sweet gesture which inspires me to create more home-cooked meals for our family.

After watching Chef Katie compete on Saturday, Gemma and I discussed what type of meal we could both make our own. It had to be something she could manage without using a knife or the stove/oven on her own (she is only 4), and we were craving Mexican food. Hence, the Nacho Mama Challenge was born! Daddy was immediately declared the sole judge (good luck with that, Ben!).

With the major details decided, we set off to shop the farmer’s market for ingredients. We left with tomatoes, red peppers, a jalapeno and an onion and headed to the grocery store for a few more items before settling in the kitchen to prep for our big night. We already planned to use our leftover short rib meat and fresh cilantro at home, so we grabbed some avocado, mascarpone and black olives at the grocery. We also each selected our own bag of nacho chips to use in our individual dishes.

I did most of the prep work…slicing, dicing and mincing veggies while Gemma helped “manage the personality of the kitchen” with stories and instructions on how to do what I was already doing. Four-year-olds are quite funny, very talkative and love telling others what to do…not sure where she gets those qualities?!


The grocery didn’t have queso blanco so the cheese specialist recommended mascarpone as a substitute which turned out to be a wonderful base to unleash my creativity. I concocted two dressings, a spicy Jalapeno and Sriracha Mascarpone dressing and a mild Avocado and Cilantro Mascarpone dressing, which I warmed slightly before drizzling over my nacho creation.


It was quite a fun event…Gemma and I each with our pie plates, stacking chips and meat and veggies and cheese. We were very competitive, of course. I being told “Stop looking at my nachos!” by Gemma, and I telling Gemma “Why don’t you use toppings besides lettuce and cilantro?“. Gemma created a short-rib, lettuce and cilantro salad with tomato and avocado garnish on traditional restaurant-style tortilla chips. I threw together my “everything but the kitchen sink” blue corn nachos with several dollops of both homemade mascarpone dressings and garnished with sliced jalapeno and diced tomato. We proudly placed our nacho dishes under the broiler to melt to perfection!


At this point, Ben was likely considering his options. He had his two best girls competing for his affections with their culinary skills. His was not a position I wanted to be in, for sure, but he handled his judging like a pro! And, honestly, both nacho dishes were incredible! It was the best tasting and most fun dinner we’d made all week!


As expected, we were both declared chopped champions in our first (annual???) Nacho Mama Challenge! Woo-hoo!

Oh, and for those interested in the dressing recipes, here you go!


Jalapeno and Sriracha Mascarpone Dressing

1 cup mascarpone cheese

1-2 T Sriracha (depending on desired spiciness)

1-2 T finely diced (or minced) jalapeno (depending on desired spiciness)

Mix all ingredients together. Melt together in microwave safe dish for 20 seconds. Serve over nachos, spread on tacos or burritos, or use for dipping tortilla chips.

Avocado and Cilantro Mascarpone Dressing

1 cup mascarpone cheese

1/8 cup smashed avocado

2 T finely chopped fresh cilantro

Using a fork, blend the avocado into the cheese and mix in the cilantro. Melt together in microwave safe dish for 20 seconds. Serve over nachos, spread on tacos or burritos, or use for dipping tortilla chips.

*This is a naturally mild dressing, great for kids. If you want some heat, add a tablespoon or two of your preferred hot sauce or jalapeno.


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!




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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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).


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