Mango-Blueberry Freezer Jam

This stuff is magical. Seriously. It has me under a spell. Just look at it. It even sparkles.
Mango Blueberry Freezer Jam
The best part? It was super easy to make. If you hurry, you can probably still grab some mangos at your local grocer, and if you are like me, and picked gallons of blueberries this year, then you should still have a few in your freezer. Get to it girl. You can thank me later.
Mango-Blueberry Freezer Jam
via The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard
(I doubled the following recipe with no problem. It made about 8 1/2 c. of jam)
Ingredients:
2 3/4 c super fine sugar
1 c finely chopped mangoes (aprox 2)
3/4 c chopped fresh or frozen blueberries (note: the measurement is after chopping; before chopping it was about 1 1/4 c)
1 tsp finely grated orange rind
1 pouch liquid fruit pectin
1 1/2 TBSP lemon juice
Directions:
1. Place sugar in oven proof shallow pan and warm in 250 degree F oven (120C) for 15 minutes. This helps sugar dissolve better.
2. Combine mangoes, blueberries, orange rind and warmed sugar in a large bowl and let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add pectin and lemon juice, stirring constantly for 3 minutes.
4. Ladle jam into clean jars or plastic containers to within 1/2 in/1 cm of rim. Cover with tight fitting lids. Label jars and allow to sit at room temperature for 24 hours to set up.
5. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or freeze for longer storage.
Makes 3 1/2 cups.
Fabulous Tips:
  • I suggest removing the skin, cutting the fruit off of the mangos and then pulsing in the food processor. It will save a lot of time and energy not chopping by hand.
  • Make sure sugar is completely dissolved before adding pectin and lemon juice to avoid a grainy consistency.
  • Try this jam on ice cream, in yogurt, on pancakes, or in Easy Cheater Hand Pies. It’s pretty much good on anything.

What Martha Isn’t Telling You About Christmas

Christmas starts in July. That’s it! That’s the big secret that Martha and every other Martha Stewert-Like blogger isn’t telling you about Christmas, and all of those beautiful hand made decorations and gifts. I am sharing this little secret with you, because every Christmas the same thing happens to me.

It starts in the Fall with Halloween; I call it Holiday Fever, and I get it bad! I see all of these beautiful hand made decorations and gifts everywhere. They sparkle, and shine — and taunt me. “Make me. Make me! Make Meeeeee!” They call from the magazine rack in the grocery store. “Don’t you want to give me to your friends?” They beckon from my e-mail. “Your house will be the prettiest on the block,… if only you will decorate it just like this.” I hear as I scan my favorite craft blogs every morning. But what they aren’t telling you is, you have to start planning months in advance to achieve these beautifully decorated houses and handmade gift baskets. If you are a procrastinator with high hopes, like myself, then you may have attempted to get all of these things done in previous Decembers, only to have Christmas come and go in a hot, stressful, flash; leaving you feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

How can you achieve a beautifully decorated home, make heartfelt handmade gifts and still have the time to enjoy your friends, family and true spirit of the season? Easy, start now! There are so many things you can do in the summer to prepare you for the Fall Holiday Season. Here are a few (ok, several) suggestions to get the ball rolling.

1. Start collecting! Start collecting pine cones for decorations (or one of these cute, homemade fire starters) on your next camping excursion. Not only will you save time, but you will save money, buy not having to buy them.

Click picture for link!

2. Spray Paint now! If you have items (like your pine cones) that you want to paint gold or silver (or white, or green, or red…) do it now. Spray paint doesn’t dry well in the wet Fall weather; dry summer heat is ideal for spray painting.

3. Get cooking! (Or canning.) Homemade jams or jellies, and liqueurs are always appreciated. Jams can be made and stored for months in advance, saving you time later. Liqueurs need time to infuse with flavors and taste better with a little age, so they really need to be made ahead of time. In order to save yourself precious “holiday time,” avoid giving “fresh baked” gifts that have to be made the same week they are given. If you like giving fresh baked cookies, consider making the dough ahead of time and freezing it in an airtight container. That way you will always have fresh baked cookies on hand within 15 minutes.

4. Get Sewing! Or Crafting. There are so many handmade gifts that can be sewn or crafted ahead of time. My current favorite blog is EverythingEtsy.com They have…

5. Simplify! Don’t try to design a different homemade gift or basket for every single person on your list. Pick one or two crowd pleasing themes for your baskets, (or sewing pattern, or craft) and stick to it. Here are two of my favorite gift baskets:

  • Coffee for Two Basket: Include 2 coffee cups, homemade irish cream, chocolate or coffee liqueur (made ahead), a tin of your favorite coffee and a bottle of milk or cream. Save your coffee tins and frappuccino bottles over the summer. Remove labels and decorate with your established theme between now and Halloween. Set aside until Christmas, then fill with store bought bulk coffee and milk or cream just before gifting. You can even make Biscotti a month in advance and store in an air tight container, or cheat, and buy it from your bulk store. Oh, and one more tip; wait to buy your baskets until you know what is going in them! This will save you money, and a head ache, when you go to put them together. I speak from experience on this one.
  • Spa Basket: Make skin care items over summer and decorate the jars ahead of time, so all you have to do is put the basket together come gift giving time. Here are a few recipes for DIY Skin care products: Exfoliating Scrub, Bath Salts, Bath Bombs.

6. Pick one theme and stick to it. Whether it be red, green, and blue plaid; blue and white snowflakes; snowmen or nature inspired; pick a theme and stick with it. You will be amazed at how much easier it will be to decorate your home, and your gifts, if you pick one color combination or character and focus on that when purchasing or creating your decorations. Plus, your friends and family will be amazed at how well “put together” everything looks when even your tree decorations and presents match.

5. Start your decorations early. You don’t have to hang them, but most decorations can be made ahead of time and stored unit the fall.

I hope I have motivated you to get started on those Christmas gifts and decorations, or at least got your wheels turning. For more DIY decorating and Gift ideas, see my Pinterest page!

 

Make-over Monday: Week 1-Painting the Big Girl Room

Hello! Thanks for joining me for my first ever Makeover Monday! I am so excited to share with you every week, something I am making over in my home. I will start with our little girl’s “Big Girl” room, and our still-yet-unfinished-after-2.5-years bathroom! Yes, you read that right. We started renovating and updating our house about 3 years ago, and it is still not finished. What can I say? Babies and weddings can be very costly and time consuming. So in an attempt to complete the house (and give me something to write about) I give you my first of many Make-over Monday!

Week one: Reese’s Big Girl Room Makeover Step 1: Paint Walls!

So a few weeks ago I got this crazy notion that the bright green paint in Little R’s room, wasn’t appropriate for a big girl (all of 2 years old,) and decided that for her Birthday next month, I was going to give her a bedroom makeover to signify her graduating from baby to full-on little girl. (Which happened way too fast mind you.) Thus, paint was sampled, fabric was chosen, and plans for new pieces of furniture were made. . . Her birthday is in less than two months. . . I have a lot of work to do! So today we are working on the first step; painting her walls.
I loved the green paint we chose for her as an unborn, sexless baby (we kept it a surprise) and still do, but for some silly reason I decided it needed to be lighter. I’m honestly still not sure it was the right decision, but I think I will like it more once the room is complete.

Unfortunately, I can’t find the before picture with the first green we painted, but here is a before the remodel pic. Definitely an improvement thus far!

And the “Afters…”

You’ll have to excuse the little “ghost” at the bottom of the pic. She was so excited about her “new room” I couldn’t convince her to leave. She pulled the bedspread off and was putting her stuffed animal to bed.

And the other side…

Well that is it for my first Monday Makeover. Tune in next week to see what we do next!
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Metamorphosis Monday

4 Games to Play With Pool Noodles!

Summer is in full swing, it’s hot, my little one is bored of the kiddy pool already, and all of our “fun money” is going to camping. What’s a mom to do?! How do I entertain an active 2 year old in the summer heat? Pool Noodles! These babies aren’t just for floating in your swimming pool. I have found several ways to use them as educational entertainment for my little one.
Here is a collection of …

R’s Favorite Noodle Activities:

Noodle Pointer:
Educational Benefits: Gross Motor Skills, Color and Shape Identification
How: Let your little ones pick their favorite color pool noodle, and tell them to “touch” the noodle to the shape, color, object etc. We combined sidewalk chalk with this activity; I drew shapes on the driveway and told little R to “touch” the heart, flower, etc. You could cut out paper shapes and tape them on the ground or omit the shapes completely and tell them to “touch the tree, bush, dandelion, etc” This latter option may be better for your especially energetic kids. You can have them race to the objects, back and forth across the yard. They’ll be wore out in no time!

Noodle Obstacles:
Educational Benefits: Gross Motor Skills and Balance
Use several noodles to make obstacles (inside or outside) for your kiddos to go through without touching the “lasers” (or whatever fun name you give the noodles.) You can lay them across chairs, lean them against tables or walls, or simply criss-cross them on the ground and have the child jump over and between them.

Lacing Noodle Doughnuts
Educational Benefits: Fine Motor Skills, Number, Color and Pattern Recognition
How: First use a sharp serrated knife to carefully cut noodles into 1-1.5 inch slices, making “doughnuts.” Use a permanent marker to write numbers on the “doughnuts.” Lastly, give your little one a long shoelace or rope (may want to ten a big bead or something on the end, so the doughnuts don’t fall off) and have your little one lace the string through the doughnuts. For older kids give them a color pattern or number sequence written on a pice of paper or card stock to follow.

Noodle Doughnut Toss
Educational Benefits: Gross Motor Skills, Color Identification
How: Slice Noodles into doughnuts as described above (or use the same ones.) Next, float plastic plates or upside-down frisbees in kiddy pool. Ask your little one to toss the doughnuts onto the corresponding colored frisbee, or just toss them on a plate. Remember to cheer them on and reward them with lots of hugs, kisses and claps when they make a “basket.”

I hope you enjoy these activities as much as “R” and I did!

Today’s Money Saving Tip:

“When kid’s grow tired of old toys, find new uses for them. “Paint” with toy car tires, tie ribbon onto long bubble wands to make “magic wands,” or simply allow your little ones to take outside toys in, inside toys out, or bedroom toys to the bathroom! You will be amazed at how an old tired toy will become a new favorite.”

 

 

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loving this crazy life

Italian Mellocello

Italian Mellocello-Refreshingly Mellow Lemon and Vanilla Infused Alcohol

So refreshingly "mello"

So refreshingly "mello"

OK readers, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. We like to booze it up a little at my house. Especially during the summer. There’s just nothing like an ice cold fizzy concoction to take the edge off, and cool your head in the hot summer sun.

This amazing lemony yellow treat is bright and summery, not just in color, but in taste as well. Plus it has a lingering “mellow” vanilla finish that will definitely “chill you out” this summer. My husband and I made this for the first time last year and we loved it so much that it ended up becoming the unofficial “Signature Cocktail” for our wedding, or rather wedding party, as it was just too good to share with all of our 250-odd guests. This summer, we doubled the recipe with intent to share a little… We’ll see how that goes.

I’d love to take credit for this amazing liquer recipe, but I can’t. Unfortunately, I can’t give anybody else credit for it either, as my husband printed it (without reference) off the internet last Spring, and I have no idea where he found it. No matter where it came from originally, you are going to thank me for sharing it. I guarantee it. You will notice this is a two part process with a bit of waiting for the alcohol to infuse, but it is totally worth the wait!

Drink up!

Italian Mellocello Recipe

INGREDIENTS:
20 Lemons
2 750 ml bottles of Everclear (or Vodka if you prefer)
5 Vanilla Beans
6 c distilled water
4 c sugar

EQUIPMENT:
Sanitized 2-3 Liter glass jar with lid (we used a big pickle jar)
cheese cloth
Fine mesh sieve
Bottles or container for bottling final product

DIRECTIONS:
Part 1:
1. Wash and dry lemons thoroughly.
2. Pare off spots, blemishes and stem ends.
3. Using a very sharp paring knife or peeler, remove zests (that’s the yellow part of the peel) and place in distilling container, or pickle jar as we like to call it. Be sure you do not get any of the white pith, for it will make your mellocello very bitter. If you do, just use your knife to scrape it off, before dropping the peel in the jar.
4. Add Everclear to jar.
5. Slice vanilla pod down the middle and scrape insides into your mix.
6. Seal tightly and allow to steep in a cool, dark place for 3 months. We sealed our lids with Saran Wrap and duct tape to be sure it was air tight. If your container is not air tight, the alcohol fumes will evaporate and the drink will lose it’s potency.
7. Swirl lemon peels around twice a week to mix oils and alcohol.

Part 2:
1. After 3 months has lapsed and you are ready to bottle your concoction, you will want to sweeten it up a little… or a lot, whichever you prefer.
2. Bring 4 cups of sugar and 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
3. Meanwhile, strain your lemon infused alcohol, through a cheese cloth lined sieve, removing all the peels and vanilla grounds. Squeeze cheese cloth to be sure you have removed all of the alcohol and oils from the peels.
4. Add sugar-water to lemon-alcohol and stir.
5. Bottle your mellocello! It’s done! . . . or drink it, whatever. I won’t judge you.

The longer you let it set after bottling, the smoother it will become, but it is perfectly drinkable right away. I suggest storing it in the freezer as it is delightful served “up” ice cold. I prefer mine in a rocks glass topped with seltzer water. So refreshingly mellow. I really hope you try this recipe. I know 3 months is a long time to wait for a cocktail, but it is so worth the effort and time put into it, and it will be ready before you know it. If you start yours today, there will be plenty of hot summer days left to enjoy your mellocello.

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Mixitup

Tea Party Shower

In our family we like to keep our babies’ gender a surprise until after they are born; just as nature intended it. For this reason we often wait until after the baby is born, and throw a combined baby shower and “meet the baby party.” My sister-in-law recently had a baby girl; they named her Lilja, which means Lily in Gaelic. I was asked to help with the baby shower and graciously accepted. I’d been waiting for the opportunity to host a girly tea party for someone and this being my sister in law’s first girl, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. After convening with my co-hostesses, I got the green light and was put in charge of the cupcake tower and decorations. Since our beautiful new addition was named after a flower, we decided that the tea party should have a floral theme as well. I decorated the cupcake tower with pink, yellow and lavender paper, white tulle and pink and yellow bows, then started planning the cupcakes. Fondant flowers, heaps of fluffy buttercream and colored baking cups danced around in my head. I couldn’t wait to get started! After a quick trip to the store for some special ingredients and a box of allergen free cake mix for my cousin and her daughter, I was off to work on a very special baking and decorating adventure. It was so much fun! Check out how the party turned out!

Cupcakes with buttercream frosting and fondant Calla Lilies and Gluten and Dairy Free chocolate cupcakes with glistening pink flowers and rainbow dot sprinkles.

For the top of the tower I made a tiny layered cake and decorated it like a giant cupcake.

;

And another view.

Cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes!!!

ok, just one more view. Can you tell I was really proud of this one?

The whole sha-bang!

I didn't make this diaper cake, but it was so darling, I had to share it with you. This is Grandma's first diaper cake! Didn't she do great!?

Cake pops tutorial

Easter egg, chick and bunny cake pops! They were a hit with both the kids and adults.

Cake Pop Tutorial
(as per my interpretation of Bakerella’s video tutorial)
Ingredients:
One box of your favorite cake mix or your own favorite cake recipe.
One can of your favorite frosting
1-2 bags of candy melts (or chocolate chips and 2-3 TBLS cooking oil mixed)
Cake decorations of your choice

Tools and Supplies
Mixing bowls (one microwave safe bowl)
13×9 cake pan
Parchment paper
Cookie sheet
Lollipop sticks
Styrofoam block for standing pops in once complete.
Decorating accessories of your choice. I used Wilton Decorating Frosting and decorator tips.

Directions:
1. Prepare cake and bake in 9×13 or larger pan.
2. Allow to cool.
3. Cut cake in quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, break in half and rub halves together over large mixing bowl to crumble. I found it best to have small crumbles, and wonder if this may even work better if you let the cake set overnight uncovered befor crumbling.
4. Once cake is crumbled, add Prepared frosting starting with about half the can, adding more as necessary until you get a nice soft doughy consistency. (Think something between refrigerator cookie dough and regular cookie dough.)
5. Roll dough into balls (or egg shapes for Easter egg pops) and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Allow to refrigerate at least an hour to set up befor skewering.
6. Once cake balls are set up. Melt your candy melts in the microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until melted. Working quickly, dip tip of lolli about 1/2 inch into melted candy or chocolate, push tip 1/2 way into ball, then dip ball into melts, coating completely. Allow the excess to drip off into the bowl, rolling the pop back and forth between your finger tips. Then push other end of stick into styrofoam block and allow to set until hardened.
7. If you plan on piping, let the candy harden first. If you want to sprinkle them with sprinkles or colored sugar, you will need to do that before the melts set up completely.
Presentation: I let mine sit over night then placed small cellophane bags over them and tied it with curly ribbon to make them a little more fancy. I also wrapped my block in brightly covered wrapping paper for a nice table presentation.

Pop! Goes the Easter Bunny

Easter Cake Pops

My mother in law hosted a huge Easter celebration this year, and I knew there would be lots of kids, so I wanted to make something fun and special for the kids to take home, and really, what is more fun than cake on a stick?! I mean you can put any food on a stick and it instantly becomes more fun and enticing. Ice cream, hot dogs, even vegetables! I’m sure many of you have seen the cake pops that Bakerella is popular for making. If you haven’t heard of her, I’ll just tell you, I don’t know if she is the one who came up with the idea of putting cake on a stick, but she has definitely mastered it! I watched her video on how she makes her cake pops, and decided “This looks simple enough. I’ll just whip some up for Easter!”

Well… let’s just say, “she makes it look easier than it is.” I’m no Bakerella, but I think I did a pretty decent job considering. Check out the pics below and if you feel inspired, check out the recipe here. Please share with me if you have experience making cake pops and if so, what you have learned. I think the most important lesson I learned is that refrigeration is key! The cake balls really need to set up before moving forward. Anyway, enjoy the pictures and give them a try!

Easter egg, chick and bunny cake pops! They were a hit with both the kids and adults.

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