Monday, April 30, 2012

A Huge Thank You, Weekend Wrap-up and a Treat to Share

Hello lovely new friends!  I am so excited to see that the blog has reached over 750 page hits - yesterday was 50 views - the highest for one day.  It may not sound like much but I value each and every one of you and I am so excited to get a page view - comments throw me over the moon!  I had no idea if anyone would be interested in what I have to share or what direction this blog would take on when I started a few months ago.  No offense, but I sorta started it for me - as an outlet and something to do for myself because I enjoy sharing and writing.  And while I hoped others would share my interests, well, I'm just not as confident as it sometimes might appear.  So I truly am enjoying the experience of getting to know more about all of you - first time visitors, regulars and fellow bloggers.  I often feel like we are together in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and the aroma of homemade bread surrounding us, or strolling in the garden checking out the progress.  

This is from a couple of summers ago - that's the primitive
first version of a playhouse in the background falling apart...
I'm still learning all the tricks and tools so if you see something you think is missing or would make the blog better for you - please let me know!  Drop me a line at astop 78 (at) gmail (dot) com any time.  I've added Linky Followers and Google Friend Connect so if you use those, please add me to your connections.  I've also got Pinterest and Twitter up and running and the info isn't always the same as what is here on the blog so please follow me there if you are using those too.  And again, thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing a few moments of your day with me!

Soooooo, do the rest of you start with all these grand plans of what you are going to do with the weekend only to find yourself at 10 p.m. on Sunday night trying to remember what even happened over the past two days?  Please don't say its just me.  :)  I know I grocery shopped, did laundry, dishes, ran the vacuum, mowed the lawn...  Oh yeah, there was a birthday party dinner last night...  Skating lessons, a trip to Menard's for mulch...which did get spread with newspapers underneath on the bed on the north side of the driveway (which I need about 5 more bags to finish properly so another run will be in order before you get pictures...)...  We stopped at Grandma's to beg for a fundraiser order - luckily its spring bulbs which is an easy sell in our family...  But all of my grand plans for the projects I was going to do and show you got pushed to the side for lack of time (and energy) by the end of the day...  Hoping that since most of the household is squared away I'll be able to do a few things in the evenings - I have a fairy tree I am dying to show you how to make...  Did your weekend go the way you planned?

And finally...a treat to go with your coffee...  

This is a fast and easy but impressive goodie you can throw together for last-minute guests or a snack for the kids or a party favor.  I made it as part of family snack baskets I give for Christmas and it was a huge hit with family and coworkers.  Simple, simple, simple!  

You need a cookie sheet lined with foil, a box of graham crackers (plain), 6 ounces chocolate bark and 4 ounces white chocolate bark.  Take your graham crackers and make a single layer on the cookie sheet all the way to the edges.  Melt your chocolate bark and pour over the graham crackers.  Smooth it so it is an even thickness and no graham crackers show.  Melt your white chocolate bark and drizzle over the top of the chocolate.  Take a butter knife and swirl carefully (to make it all pretty and stuff...).  Put in the fridge to harden for about 15 minutes.  Break into odd shaped pieces and put in cellophane bags or ziplock baggies.  Keeps in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

For Love of Lilacs

One of the things I look forward to every spring is the glory of lilacs - they are plentiful in Michigan yards and the fragrance is something you never forget.  I am blessed with a giant lilac next to my driveway and I inspect it every day once the buds form to see how the blooms will be.  I'm afraid our wonky weather this spring has done some damage - my blooms are few and small this year...

By comparison - here's a peek at last year's display...

And a bouquet from last year's spring bounty - the lilac, my Ms. Kim Lilac, snowball bush, columbines, and wild geraniums.
An up-close of the Ms. Kim - I had been waiting for 4 years for her to get big enough for the rabbits to leave her tips alone so she could bloom - I was not disappointed.  This year - nothing so far...
I do see some other folks have lilacs that are doing well - it seems to be those that are somewhat sheltered on the west side - so I'm curious to know how the early bloom and weather has affected the massive lilacs on Mackinaw Island.  The Island hosts its Lilac Festival typically in early June at the peek of the blooms.  With most of the state experiencing 80 degree temps in March, many of our plants were triggered at least a month early.  Then we've had more ups and downs and most recently, our nights are back to freezing.  We've also had an unusual number of high wind days which is an even bigger problem for lilacs than the cool-down.

Do you have lilacs?  How are they doing this year?  Comment below or share your pics with me on Twitter!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Love Pickin'

I've been a picker since birth and didn't even know it until a few years ago when History Channel launched "American Pickers".  We called it antiquing, garage saling, going to estate auctions, etc.  Whatever you call it, when we were little and my mom took us to salvage stuff to re-purpose and refinish we thought it was a blast.  If we'd been good we might even get $5 to bid on whatever we wanted.  

It was a great lesson in American history, budgeting, salvage, recycling, being creative, etc.  I learned about many an item's use, origin and value from an auctioneer's colorful descriptions.  And what a feeling of pride to walk away with an item after out-bidding the adults and still getting a great deal or negotiating for a box full of treasures scored for a small pittance of what one item would retail for.   

Many a weekend was spent scrounging around old barns, attics, and basements looking for that piece for a collection.  An old piece of harness stiff with the dried sweat from a draft horse who worked the fields day after day.  I'd spend rainy days in the barn talking to my horse and bringing that piece of farming history back to life with layer after layer of neatsfoot oil.  The long neglected nearly black bronze horse clock that didn't seem to run - brought back to glory with a little tinkering and lots of rubbing - earning a prize spot on my shelf.  The old rusty metal steam trunk that smelled musty and was missing all the essential inner dividers - sanded, painted a shiny black and stenciled with my name to become the tack trunk that accompanied me to college and still sits in my barn holding my best leathers.  My mom and I also spent many quality hours refinishing items together and we like to revisit our adventures in finding and restoring it.

My taste in items evolved from the horse-obsessed to the household and entertaining essentials - enameled pots, carnival glass dishes, oriental dragonware tea sets, antique paintings with ornate frames, Wilton cheese platters, end tables, and on and on.  We would plan trips to spend the day wandering a strip like US-12 through the Irish Hills of Michigan - well known for its antique stores but also packed with unique little stops and garden centers and such.

I tried to get my husband to go many times in our early years together only to be met with eye-rolling - if only I had known the term pickin'.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Paint Your Own Pottery

The over-sized mug I made for keeping at work.
This side is the Disney Fairies "Home Tree". 
One of the crafty places we love to go is a lovely "paint your own pottery" studio.  They have everything from small pieces that could be used for cabinet handles to vases, flower pots, serving platters, light switch covers, simple tiles, and on and on.  Their stock changes frequently and they also get lots of fun seasonal items like Christmas decorations and Halloween candy dishes.

Different studios may be more familiar with certain techniques or have slightly different supplies on hand, ours includes mosaic and scrapbooking supplies.  The atmosphere is relaxing, creative and kid-friendly.  Pieces are ready to paint and every supply you could need is on hand.  'Piece of Mine' allows you to bring in food and drinks which makes it nice to spend a rainy afternoon with the kids and a pizza or take advantage of their two Friday's a month that are open until midnight to meet with the girls and share a bottle of wine.  A small studio fee covers as much time as you want to spend on as many pieces as you can start that day.  You are welcome to come back and work on them again at a later date.  Once your piece is completed, it is glazed and kiln-fired by the staff and ready to be picked up in about a week.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A slow Monday...

Pork chops turned out great last night - little bit of spice without being hot and juicy with a crispy coat.  Turned some leftover rye and sourdough into homemade croutons.  Took our time getting around this morning and went to a nice leisurely breakfast with my parents, two of my brothers and some family friends to see my brother back off to MN before finally dragging my feet in to work.  Its very windy again here today and was yesterday - the wind is getting old around here but at least the sun is shining.  Hoping for a relaxing evening with some nice comforting spaghetti and lots of snuggles with the kids.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Something 'bout a Sunday

Stayed up way to late last night hosting an impromptu bonfire for family and friends. Everyone gathered to see my brother who is in for a visit from Minnesota. I'd love to claim pulling out a major hostess spread but after a week with our big convention at work I had nothing left. Gotta love the Taco Bell 12 for $10 - sometimes its just about doing what's easy.

Today we are in recovery. Got a scoop of Zingerman's goat cheese topped with a 1/2 cup canned spaghetti sauce heating in the little cast iron skillet in the oven. That will get served with some cracked wheat crackers.

Also in the oven is a sheet full of pork chops coated in the new Kraft Chili Lime breadcrumbs and cheese mix. Looking good so far!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

20 Things About Me

1.  My favorite color is blue.
2.  I went to a one-room schoolhouse until 5th grade.
3.  I had a virus that caused premature labor and my daughter was born 5 weeks early.
4.  I am very short.
5.  I used to have hair past my waist.
6.  I have an essay in the sesquicentennial time capsule in Lansing, MI.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Spinach Dip Turned Casserole

This is one of those meals that is the direct result of trying to use up things before they go bad.  Many of these come about on Friday night after we have exhausted the supply of planned meals and I'm trying to clean the fridge ahead of Saturday morning's grocery shopping trip.

I love spinach dip but rarely do we use more than half the container before it has seen its better days.  I just so happened to have some diced ham on hand a decided so make a sort of scalloped potato out of whatever I could find.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Faux Crab Cakes (Tuna Cakes)

I strongly desire crabcakes but developed and allergy to shellfish in my early 20's.  I tried imitation crab meat a time or two but found it to be pretty tasteless and even some imitation crab meat still has some shellfish juices, etc. in it.  I stumbled across a show one day several years ago where they were using tuna to make crabcakes - I love tuna but don't have a lot of ways of cooking it and the hubster is not real crazy about it.  So I have experimented over the years and came up with this zesty little tunacake that even my kids and husband consume without a mumble of complaint.  And if you have a budding young chef it is a great one for the kids to help with.

I just love this little vintage bowl - it came from my dad's
grandmother - I'm told she used it as a fruit bowl but its the
perfect size for so many tasks that I use it a lot.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fun New Links for Kids

Sharing with you today a list full of fun links for kids!  Games, math, typing skills, internet safety, science experiments, art - all kinds of good stuff to keep them busy and make learning fun.

An experiment we did for a 3rd grade science project - how much salt does it take to float an egg to the top.  The Princess added one tablespoon of salt to the water at a time and marked with a sharpie how deep the water was and where the bottom of the egg was after each tablespoon of salt was added.  On a poster board she made a graph and taped a baggie full of the amount of salt we needed to float the egg to the top.  She taped the dried empty cup showing the measurements to the poster board as well and wrote her question, theory and hypothesis on the board.  It was an A+ earner.  :)

A magical world of horses -

PBS Kids -

Island adventure teaching Internet safety -

Virtual webcams watching animals at the National Zoo -

North Pole themed games -

Bill Nye the Science Guy -

Funology (a lit bit of everything!) -

The Science Explorer (how to use common household stuff to do cool experiments) -

The Science of Hockey (for kids who like hockey as much as my son does!) -

Juicy Juice (games and coloring sheets) -

Potty Training Resources including a fun song/video toddlers love -

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Windy Monday - Garden Destruction

The storms moved through here yesterday in the form of very gusty winds.  After having withstood several big wind storms over the past year, the playhouse was completely destroyed yesterday.  

My husband joked about our lack of construction skills but actually from this picture you can tell the wind picked up the entire 8'x8'x8' structure and hurled it about 20 yards away.  That tangled heap in the background - yeah that's it-------->

It used to sit here -------------------------------------->

So weird to see the things around it that didn't move like the plastic bench that just tipped over.  It must have been a sight to see the playhouse hurling through the air.  Of course I had worked on it Sunday and was ready to cut the last piece of lattice and paint this weekend.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Want to Walk With Me?

Every once in a while a group of us at work get inspired to hold a walking contest so our latest one starts today.  Typically this is a great time of year for me for a walking contest because with our annual work convention and my usual participation in the March of Dimes walk at the end of April I can really rack up the steps.  This year, our convention is near my hometown so no extra walking back and forth from the hotel and convention center to restaurants, etc.  And I had decided not to do the March of Dimes walk this year as I had personal things I wanted to focus on and being a team leader and fundraising is a lot of work.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Meat & Potatoes Goulash

For years I tried to decipher what my husband was telling me about a favorite dish his mother made - goulash.  Now to me, I think American goulash - as in a tomato-based sauce and macaroni noodle dish with a little ground meat.  He being Polish - well, he had a whole other picture in his mind that being a non-cook he could not describe in a way that I was understand.  

Finally, we had this discussion when visiting his parents and his mother cracked up laughing.  Her version of goulash, was to take about a pound of ground meat, and perhaps some fresh diced onions or mushrooms if she had the energy and had them on hand, saute them, add a packet of onion soup mix, water and flour to make a gravy, and serve it over mashed potatoes.  Having 12 children, she made whatever quantity needed from that 1 pound of ground meat and 1 packet of onion soup stretch to feed however many kids were home by adding water and flour to create gravy in any quantity and a huge batch of mashed potatoes.  That was her favorite fast and cheap dinner to make after putting in a day's work.

So I finally was able to create the right goulash for my husband and its a huge hit with my kids too - I can always be assured they will clean their plates.  I've played with it slightly over the years and it can be adjusted very easily to what you have on hand - here's what I made recently:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Best Ever Un-Fried Chicken

Everybody loves fried chicken but sometimes it can seem daunting.  Here is a simple, healthier "un-fried" chicken that will satisfy even a fried chicken expert.  Bonus: because you can use thighs or drumsticks and buy the family pack when they are on sale its super cheap!  

Now most fried chicken calls for oil or grease - but chicken skin naturally has all the oils you could need to fry it beautifully.  You can coat your chicken pieces in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper but there really is no need for the flour.  The skins will crisp without it.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Candy Land - use those stale Peeps and that box of stale cereal you know are in the cabinet!

The snow we had yesterday took me back to a fun tradition we have in the winter that can really be done at any time.  We have a tradition of getting together at my mom's during Christmas Break and making "gingerbread house".  Now these are not "real gingerbread houses" so if you have fantasies of creating a Martha  Stewart Victorian gingerbread mansion complete with tinted sugar windows...well...this ain't that kind of post... :)  If, however, you are looking for a fun and creative thing to do as a family and don't mind getting a little messy - keep going.  And don't let the Christmas stuff fool you - this is fun any time of the year and I know you have Peeps and other Easter candy going stale as we speak!  :)


Tuesday, April 10, 2012


You've heard about our exploits on ice...  This week we celebrate the start of NHL hockey playoffs and our favorite team (Detroit Red Wings!) plays tomorrow night.  My youngest brother starts his spring hockey league tomorrow and my mini-me's start their first ice skating lessons on Saturday morning.  So what better way to kick off all this ice time than by sharing with you our hockey birthday party!

This cake is very easy and fast to make for any hockey occasion - the guys loved it!  

Try making your team's logo for center ice.  Just print off an enlarged color logo and use self-laminating sheets you can find at the craft store or photo center.  Trim it into a circle and pipe your face-off circle around the edge.  Great for celebrating the playoffs or end-of-the-season parties for kids' hockey teams!

My son is totally obsessed with hockey.  It's been that way since he was born - literally.  I have video of him at a couple of months old laying on the floor watching a hockey game and following the action with his eyes.  When we watch a game on TV, he uses his mini hockey stick and plays along with the action as soon as the puck is dropped.  The kid is only 3.  I see a lot of time in a hockey rink in my future - good thing I have a snowmobile coat...  He starts skating lessons soon.  This year he picked "hockey" as his birthday party theme so we had a lot of fun finding things.  Of course, as Michiganders we are huge Detroit Red Wings fans.

First, I found this cute tablecloth, Detroit Red Wings napkins, temporary tattoos and plates through Party City.

Then I found chocolate hockey molds for making chocolate sucks that say "I love hockey" and the candies that are hockey players, ice skates and "Goal!" shout-outs.  Great prices for these at Country Kitchen Sweet Art.  I had these collector glasses that worked perfectly for candy holders and the M&M's are his favorite.

A basic chocolate sheet cake with white frosting.  Then I took blue and red piping gels and copied the lines for a hockey rink.  The goal area is just more blue piping gel lined with the red.  The helmet, candles, hockey players and goals were also ordered from Country Kitchen Sweet Art.     

Monday, April 9, 2012

Godiva Party Pics, Weekday Sanity Saver Recipes and Sunday Slow Meal Recipes!

I don't know about you, but I was needing my Tim Horton's mocha this morning!  I hope you all had a beautiful Easter weekend!  We had great weather (although it was very windy yesterday) and got a few more projects tackled like the tree my husband and brother-in-law took down that had been dead for years - so happy to be checking things off the list this spring!  Got in a nice walk and a lovely visit with with my step-dad's family at the lake yesterday and home in time to veg for the evening.

I ran into technical difficulties over the weekend and had a hard time trying to get all the pictures I wanted to share with you posted.  Situation is finally resolved and those of you looking for pictures of the Godiva recipes and party - here they are!

I have also posted a few more dinner recipes and separated the quick week night recipes from the longer cooking "Sunday" recipes.  I'll keep adding to these pages on a regular basis so be sure to check back.  Also, if you try them - please come back and comment on what your family thought!

Friday, April 6, 2012

April is Month of the Young Child

One of the simplest things my kids love is just taking a walk - in the woods, at the park or just around the yard.  There are so many little things happening in nature, especially in the spring.

I usually give them each a plastic grocery store bag and then they can collect things they find.  This might be rocks and pebbles, twigs, (my daughter has an affinity for big pieces of mulch), leaves, pine needles and cones, acorns, bark, flowers, old birds nests, antler sheds, feathers.  I also take along a bag and usually mine collects things that I find to incorporate into crafts or trash that we find - I take a pair of gloves for handling trash items and the kids don't touch those.  This part gives way to opportunities to discuss why kids shouldn't pick up things they find laying around - sharp objects, things that could be contaminated, germs, etc. - and why its bad to litter - what could happen to an animal who steps on it or eats it?    

We look - for signs of animals and discuss what those signs tell us - prints, what direction they were heading, were the deer running or walking, signs that they were pawing through the snow for food or nibbling on branches.  What is new from the last time we passed an area?  What kinds of bones do we find and what might have happened to that animal?  Colors - what are the colors that we find and why might things be a certain color - why was this frog green and the last one we found was brown or gray? Lots of questions...

Little Man finds a little frog on the trellis.  If you look hard you can see him clinging to the top. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Vanilla Spice French Toast

Being home unexpectedly during the week can sometimes through a hitch in my menu plan for the week.  Rarely are we home for breakfast during the week so I don't really stock cereal and usually only buy enough breakfast items for the weekend.  But I do have a couple fall-backs that I can almost always scrounge ingredients for like this Vanilla Spice French Toast.

2 eggs
1 cup milk or half-and-half
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 teaspoon allspice
6 slices bread (whatever you have will work!)

Beat the first 4 ingredients together and you have this...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Through the Kitchen Window

Love this view - even on a rainy day.

Godiva Party Success - Sick Baby

I've been offline for a few days getting ready to host my Godiva Spirits party and then my Little Man started spiking fevers. He's either fighting a cold or allergies (everything is in bloom around here plus we've been stirring up dusting and allergens with all the cleaning we've been doing). So snuggled up in bed this morning listening to him snore and the thunder and rain outside.

The Godiva party was great and I will post recipes and pics of all the tasty treats by the end of the week. All the Godiva spirits were excellent for both drinks and dessert recipes. While its on the pricey side, I was surprised at how far it went - I still have lots left after serving 16 guests about 8 different samples each. A great couples or girls night theme party!