Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from our little family to yours! I’m so excited to finally have taken the time to put all our favorite memories from this Christmas season into a video  using iMovie for us to cherish forever! 

// Song: Jingle All the Way by Dan Bremnes //

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Baking + Vegan Royal Icing

It almost feels like we’ve been hibernating, at least from the blog  the past couple weeks. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in the rush of Christmas and we consciously made the decision to slow down, and make a break from the blog this month. It’s been great! We’ve spent countless nights cuddled up on the sofa with blankets and bowls of soup watching all the Christmas movies, building telephones and skyscrapers with legos, we’ve covered our fridge with drawings of Christmas trees and snow scenes. This month always seems to fly by and it’s been so nice to enjoy it!

This week is our baking week so the kids and I have been busy making our traditional Christmas favorites of graham cracker toffee, cinnamon rolls, gingerbread, and of course sugar cookies. Every year we love to make a Christmas motto for to remember the season and they’re usually a cliche saying from a movie or song. Kensi and Finn came up with “Jingle All the Way” because this Christmas season is so much fun and Finn loves Turboman from the 1996 movie that we just can’t get enough of this year. We literally watched it four or five times on Finn’s birthday and it was so much fun, I am really loving this season with kids and all the messy chaos that comes with it!

This year I also had to mix things up and find a royal icing Olivia can enjoy since she has both a dairy and egg allergy. Typical royal icing uses meriguine powder which is a huge no no for Olivia. Instead I searched for a vegan friendly recipe and it turned out great for sugar decorating purposes! I’m not sure how this would hold up for the glue on a gingerbread house, we won’t really know until later next week when we build those at grandma’s house. Olivia is happy to munch on the festively decorated cookies Kensi and I did (Finn was only interested in sprinkles and eating). Below, I’m sharing the vegan icing recipe we used for our sugar cookies. I hope you can all find some time during this busy season to sit down and enjoy icing some delicious cookies!

Vegan Royal Icing
4.5 cups Confectioners Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Arrowroot Powder (I buy mine here)
1 pinch Salt
1/3 cup Water (plus a little more to get the icing to your desired consistency)
Food Coloring (I use these! and they can be found at Michael’s Craft Stores)

-Combine confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot powder and salt in a stand mixer or bowl and mix with the whisk attachment on low for 1 minute. 
-While the mixer is running, drizzle the 1/3 cup water and increase the mixer speed until the sugar is blended. Beat the icing on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. The icing should be thick at this point (better for gingerbread glue). Here is where I added a little bit more water and continued to mix to thin the icing out for the cookies. 
-Divide the icing into separate bowls and color with food coloring as desired. Place each colored icing into a piping bag or a plastic zip bag and begin icing sugar cookies!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Our Home // Dining Room Makeover

Checking off another small project, our dining room! In waiting for the floors we held off on doing much of anything to the walls, but once the floors went it we replaced the baseboards and the rest is history.

Our drappy flat paint was past it’s prime days after we moved in and this entire space needed something fresh and bright. We replaced all the baseboards with 1x4 pine and decided to add more character and texture to the walls by continuing vertical board and batten to the ceiling similarly to what we did in our entryway. Since this is our dining room we wanted to give it a little more pizzazz and did so by adding crown on top of our board and batten.  To accomplish this look we add a 1x2 board around the top perimeter of the wall for the crown to sit against. Had we not done this, there would have been a large gap between the vertical boards and the crown.

So, after the vertical boards were all in place, we installed our crown using the Kreg Jig Crown-Pro Crown Molding Tool. This kit makes installing crown molding yourself a breeze and we highly recommend it. We used it for our cabinets and saved ourselves hundreds of dollars. Now that all our boards were in place, it was time to caulk all our seams and prime the walls. For this project we purchased pre-primed pine boards rather than the premium pine boards and saved over $150 on this project!

// Before //

 // After //

We painted everything with Benjamin Moore Super White to match the rest of our trim in the house. This room has officially been transformed from drabby to bright & classy!

Now with bright white walls everything seems to pop in this room and I absolutely love it! White can definitely feel stark and bland, but it’s the perfect blank canvas for frequently changing decor pieces. This allows everything to work together without the thought of two pieces competing or clashing. Now it’s time for me to finally decorate and maybe actually do a little post on how we decorate this space for Christmas!

Paint | Benjamin Moore in Bright White
Lighting | Home Decorators 
Dining Table | DIY

Monday, November 27, 2017

Christmas Wish List

It’s the most wonderful time of year again and we’re busy finishing up our Christmas shopping for the kids so we can relax and enjoy all the festive fun of the Christmas season. We always try to keep things simple at home especially with gift giving. We really like the concept of something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read, but we’re not super strict with it, we just like to use it as a guideline so we don’t go off the deep end when it comes to shopping.

We don’t usually go for the super trendy items for the kids. We really like to stick with toys and items they can grow with and will encourage play, rather than something they’ll quickly give up on in a few weeks or months. That being said, it doesn’t mean we skip what the kids really want, we just keep it simple. Right now Finn is very interested in Transformers and Kensi enjoys My Little Pony.

We’re really excited about this year, because the kids are getting older and grasping the understanding of giving more than receiving. We let each of the kids build a shoebox for Operation Christmas this year and we purchased a tree for a military family. We love being able to teach the kids the importance of creating Christmas magic for others in simple ways. It’s so important to keep it at the center of our focus rather than ourselves and I'm excited to share more about our thought on this in the next year.

So here’s our wish list for the kids this year! We know they’re going to be excited and a little bummed since we’ll be traveling for Christmas, but they’re have so much fun playing once we get back home.

Wood Work Bench // We’ve been looking for a fun and simple workbench for the kids over the last year, but really didn’t find anything we loved, that is until Hearth & Hand released theirs! The kids love helping us work on projects and they’re always in the garage learning new skills and building their own small projects (like a balance beam)!

Wood Block Set // I’ve had my heart set on a large colorful block set for a couple years now, but the price was just killing me. Instead, we purchased a set of natural wood blocks and I’m painting them in the garage. Much more work, but I love a good DIY and I can’t wait to see what the kids build!

Money Saving Piggy Banks // We are teaching our kids to be money smart. Each month, I’ll sit down with them and we count all their money they’ve received whether it’s from a birthday or chores and we sort it into three piles: save, spend and give. I found this cute piggy bank trio set that has a separate bank for each one, so now instead of sorting it every month, we can sort it immediately and place the money where it needs to go.

Puzzles + Games // All the kids enjoy working on puzzles. They’re great for building fine motor skills, cognitive skills and learning different concepts depending on the theme of the puzzle. I love this United States Map puzzle for learning geography. We also picked up one of the new wood board games from Target. We picked out CandyLand because it’s one of our most loved games and we no longer have any of the cardboard markers, because seriously who still has the cardboard markers all in one piece?

Rain Boots // I love having rain boots on hand for the kids because they’re so easy to put on, they typically run a little large so they last awhile and we can get quite a bit of rain here in coastal Carolina. London Littles also have super cute prints!

Muslin Quilts // We all love muslin quilts. Let’s be honest, I really need/want one in my size! Any-who, I love these blankets because they’re so cozy, breathable and warm. We use them for sleep, cuddling on the couch, walks in the stroller and even in the car. We currently own two, but since we use them all the time we decided to get a few more for the kiddos. We have a few different floral prints for the girls so I they’re sharing one this time around. I snagged this whimsical rainbow and unicorn print from Clementine Kids. Kensi is seriously going to die over excitement. For Finnley, I got the Zoology quilt. He’s going to love all the animals!

Books // This year Kensi has become much more mature and patient with reading and listening to stories. We came across The Fairy Bell Sisters over the summer and she’s officially hooked. She’s not reading on her own yet, but I love being able to read to her and it’s just special one-on-one time we get together and can enjoy. To help her along her reading journey and to spark her interest even more so I found My Little Pony Phonic Box Set at Barnes & Noble. Finn still really loves the BabyLit books, but he’s also taken an interest in Dr. Suess and he loves anything that has to do with robots. I got him The Adventures of Otto Collector’s Set by David Milgrim. Finn loves reading silly books; I adore hearing his sweet giggle with all the silly words. Olivia loves getting books off the bookshelves, climbs into my lap and says ‘wee” (read). It’s so dang cute. We enjoy reading about lots of different things.

A few other fun items we’ve found throughout the year include Boogie Boards Writing Tablet. We found them at Costco in the office supply aisle. They’re essentially a digital version of a magna doodle board, except it has a button to clear the image rather than a swipe. The Hot Cocoa Set by Hearth & Hand at Target and the kids all love Legos so we have a few fun small sets for their stockings. Kensi stumbled upon Shrinking Trinkets in the Land of Nod catalog and I flipped with excitement! I loved making Shrinky Dinks when I was little and she thought the Shrinking Trinkets were pretty cool.

I do get a lot of questions about where we shop, how we find deals and what tips can I give to save as much as possible. Our biggest trick is shopping all year round. I often hit up the clearance section at Barnes & Noble. They have dozen of toys and puzzles marked to 70% off sometimes and it’s a total steal! I constantly wait for sales. There is ALWAYS a sale, it’s just a matter of waiting for it. Shops like Land of Nod will send out 15% off coupons almost monthly throughout the year. We also compare prices with Amazon and can usually find a better deal there. When we shop we try and get items that can grow with all our kids and are gender neutral. Of course we buy some items that are kid specific, but in general with larger items we try to go as neutral as possible (like the work bench). I also try and keep the mindset that they don’t HAVE to have anything. We are extremely blessed and we try not to get caught up in stuff or spending too much money on it, but instead focusing on the moments and experiences. At the end of the day if we’re gone tomorrow none of the stuff is going to matter, but we’ll always have the memories.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Favorite Turkey Leftover Recipes

Every year I see dozens of recipes for leftover turkey from thanksgiving. But I have to be honest, some of them just don’t look appetizing to me and they have a bazillion steps. Who wants a complicated recipe to make with leftovers after you just spent the day before cooking all the goods? Not me! I love simple and easy recipes to use with leftovers and fear not I’m sharing a few of our favorites.

I love eating soup all year round and whenever we have chicken leftover I usually make up some kind of soup to warm our souls. Same goes for leftover turkey. My favorite noodle soup is my great-grandmother’s chicken noodle soup with liver dumplings. It’s a recipe she was taught by her mother with she was young and it traveled with them from Czechoslovakia. It’s a favorite at our house and whenever I share this recipe everyone cringes at the thought of liver, but it was used because they just didn’t waste anything. It’s mixed with flour, egg and garlic salt (which totally cuts the taste) and it’s my favorite part of the soup. Recently, while my sister visited I made her chicken noodle soup, but because I didn’t have liver in the freezer I created my own dumplings without it. They turned out delicious, but they go better with turkey noodle soup. Here’s a little twist on my great-grandmothers chicken soup.....turkey noodle soup, along with a couple more leftover favorites.

Turkey Noodle Soup with Dumplings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup dried egg noodles
1 cup or more leftover turkey, chopped
*dumpling recipe follows*
In a pot, heat olive oil and saute onions, carrots, celery and garlic for about 4 minutes. Delgaze pot with wine, scrape the bottom of the pot to remove any brown pieces. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add dumplings, then egg noodles and cook until al dente, about 6 minutes. Add leftover turkey to heat through and serve.

5 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon italian seasoning
1 egg
Mix ingredients in a small bowl until it forms a paste. Use two spoons and drop small clumps into simmering soup. Let them cook for a few minutes, they will rise to the top when done. 

TBLT with Pesto
Another favorite turkey leftover recipe comes from our sweet friends in Maryland. When we lived there neither of us had family close so we always spent Thanksgiving together. We would do all the best cooking Thursday and then hang out together on Friday after shopping and eat all over again. Phil always made the best leftover Turkey BLT sandwiches and it’s a staple every Black Friday! It’s so easy...just make your typical fixings for BLT (bacon, lettuce & tomato) and add leftover turkey. Mike and I love adding a couple slices of avocado and instead of mayonnaise we add pesto. So simple and oh so good!

BBQ Turkey Pizza 
I always keep Naan bread on hand in the freezer for quick personal pizzas. Using leftover turkey in place of chicken makes for good and easy pizzas for the family. We start by sprinkling a small amount of monterey jack cheese on the naan bread, add our turkey, sliced onions (for me), pickled banana pepper slices. Then drizzle our favorite BBQ sauce over the top and finish with a generous sprinkle of cheese. Pop them in the oven at 450 degree F for about 8 minutes. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Turkey In Pieces + Thanksgiving Sides

The kids have been making a few turkey decorations for our thanksgiving dinner and I can hardly wait to spend the day relaxing with my crew and eating all the best cozy foods! While we prep for Thursday, we also setup a Christmas tree in the playroom and let the kids decorate it for the week to keep them busy. It’s definitely done it’s job as they’ve been spending long periods of time in there taking the ornaments on and off the tree. I can’t wait for Friday when we fully decorate for Christmas!

If you happen to follow me on Instagram (@rachbraden) then you may have seen my little blurb about a new turkey recipe we tried over the weekend which had us cutting our turkey into pieces: breast, legs, thighs and wings. I’m an avid Food Network watcher and caught a few episodes of Farmhouse Rules with Nancy Fuller last week. She shared a turkey recipe that had me raising my eyebrows and questioning everything I’ve ever learned and been taught about roasting a turkey.

As I watched her in awe explain each step in her Gigi’s Thanksgiving turkey recipe I called my mom and began throwing all my questions at her. Neither of us had ever seen a turkey done in pieces, but we were intrigued. We read the reviews from the recipe online and every single person wrote how much they loved this particular recipes and they vowed they wouldn’t make a turkey any other way. Mike and I decided we would let our friends be our guinea pigs so we could try this recipe and give our family either a thumbs up or thumbs down.

We started by butchering our turkey Friday night in preparation for Saturday Friendsgiving. This can be done by the butcher at the store, but we bought our turkey frozen and conquered it ourselves and placed the turkey parts on a rimmed baking sheet to chill in the fridge. It really wasn’t difficult at all, but we watched a few YouTube videos to know exactly what to do.

Early Saturday afternoon we started making our turkey. This recipe braises the legs and thighs on the stove in liquid that becomes the gravy and then roast the breast in the oven. Everything is suppose to cook and be done in under three hours, but this was not true in our case. Everything was done much sooner, even with doing a larger turkey. So it’s really important to monitor the breast by temperature rather than time. We shaved off about 45 minutes of cooking time.

In the past turkey has always been delicious, but we always have so much left over and the dark meat is not usually eaten....but, not this time. This turkey was so flavorful and moist! The dark meat was ALL gone and we have very little turkey leftover. This recipe was incredibly easy and we’ll be making our turkey on Thursday this exact same way! No more dried out meat, no uneven cooking, no more waiting for hours, it was awesome! I really hope you give this recipe a try (link is at the bottom with the other recipes) and let us know how it worked for you šŸ’›

Other recipes I’m sharing with you today for the most festive season of all include a few sides and a link to our favorite homemade apple pie. At our Friendsgiving everyone brought a dish or two to share with the group. I love green beans, especially green bean casserole, but I’m the only one that usually eats it at our house, but my friend Amanda made super cute green bean bundles wrapped in bacon and I fell in love! I believe I ate six bundles and I had to have the recipe and I have to share it with all of you!

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving this week!

Roasted & Braised Turkey 

Green Bean Bundles 

Buttered Rosemary Rolls

French Apple Pie

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Prettiest Apple Pie

Right before Mike and I were married I had this aspiration of making incredible pies. I’m not sure why, but I so badly wanted to be known as a killer pie maker. Unfortunately, this dream didn’t come true once I found my first grown up job and literally lived for the weekends with our busy non-stop life. I decided almost nine years later that it was time to seriously nail this dream, so I’ve been busting out pies and other baked goods lately and sometimes my creations (success or fail) make their way to Mike’s office. I’m pretty sure they don’t mind all the sweet happenings and if they do they’re all southerners who sweetly lie to avoid hurting any feelings.

My favorite pie and the first pie I ever made back in Mrs. Klaus’ fourth grade class, is apple. It’s nostalgic as it bursts with tart apples and spicy cinnamon, a combination I have a hard time denying. My favorite recipe is actually from my mom, or my sister, or my sister-in-law? I can’t even remember who brought this delicious recipe to light, but it’s a favorite in our family. To be completely honest, we all swoon over the crumb topping option and it’s pretty incredible to see this mound of apples and the mountain of crumb topping not topple over. However, we hosted a Friendsgiving this weekend and I opted to use pie crust to make a delicate and decorative topping instead.

I make my own pie crust, originally my aunt’s recipes, mostly because it’s just simple to throw it together in my food processor. I start by adding in my flour and my cold butter. Making sure to cut my butter into small pieces before adding it to my flour. I let it blend together for a few minutes until I can no longer see any butter. Then I slowly add 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of ice cold water until my dough forms into a ball. This pie crust recipes makes three bottoms crusts.

Once my pie dough is ready I roll out an 12 inch circle to place in the bottom of my pie dish. Making sure it comes up the sides and just over the rim. Fill my crust with the apple filling. Then using my dough scraps i roll it out again to make a variety of shapes and strips to make a top crust. I love mixing things up and making multiple different creations for something unique and different. The best part is, no two pies are ever the same!

French Apple Pie

// Filling // 
9 apples (3 granny smith, 3 pink lady, 3 fugi) peeled & sliced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon flour

Peel and slice apples and toss in a bowl with lemon juice. Then in a small bowl mix sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle over apples and toss to combine. Place rolled pie crust into pie dish and sprinkle the one tablespoon of flour on top. Use fingers to spread flour across the bottom of the crust. This will help keep the crust from getting soggy. If baking immediately, pour apples into pie shell, mounding them higher in the center. If making ahead, place apple slices in a gallon zip bag and refrigerate. When ready to put pie together, scoop apple slices out and avoid dumping all the liquid into the shell. Once apples are mounded, pour 1/2 the liquid on top of the apples. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of additional cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg onto of apples. Continue by topping with desired crust/topping. 

If using crunch topping for the pie top, then continue with the crumb topping recipe, if using pie crust then add it onto of the apples, add two tablespoons of smaller cubed butter and brush with milk and bake. 

// Crumb Crunch Topping //
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 stick (1/2) cup cold butter, cut in small pieces

Place in food processor until mixture forms moist, coarse crumbs that clump together easily. Pat topping evenly over apples.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any bubble over. Bake 15 minutes, place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the pie to prevent it from getting too dark. Drop temperature down to 350 degrees and bake an additional 45 minutes longer.

Pie Crust 
3 cups flour
1 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 to 1/2 cold water

In a food processor, add flour and cubed cold butter. Mix until butter is fine and blended into flour. Next, slowly pour cold water into the flour mixture while the food processor runs. Add enough water until dough forms a ball. Remove and roll out in three 12inch pie crusts. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Christmas Book List

I know we still have Thanksgiving ahead of us, but we are so ready to make the house extra festive for Christmas. Plus, now’s the time to start snagging a few new books before the rush of the holiday chaos. We’ve been picking up a few things here and there, including ordering a few new Christmas reads for our book shelves this season. We have a lot of books we switch out based on the seasons and holidays. The kids always have a difficult time waiting for the next season once I begin shuffling things around. Since I picked up a few new books this year, my plan is to wrap them and set them on their wall shelves and we can open a book leading up to Thanksgiving week.

The newbies on the shelf this year are so dang cute and I’m head over heels in love with Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht. I especially love this read because it’s one of our family traditions to pick a real tree every year for our living room. I love being able to smell the sweet pine scent throughout the room and it brings back so many memories of when my family would go hunting for the perfect tree every Christmas. It was always an event and when we found THE tree it was definitely a moment just like in Christmas Vacation, with it all aglow!

When it comes to displaying our books, we often put our new additions in the playroom. I love adding a string of battery powered twinkle lights on the shelf. It makes the whole room feel that more cozy once the sun begins to set. We also place all our paperback books in a basket for the kids to read on their own and we always have a few scattered in each of their bedrooms so we’re not moving books to several places before our nightly bedtime routine.

This year I added The Night Before Christmas to our book collection. I know its a classic and it may be surprising we didn’t already own a version, but the story is longer and I didn’t feel like our kids had the attention span to thoroughly enjoy and understand the story. I feel Kensi is old enough now, and Finn loves to do everything his big sister does. I found this version of the classic tale and we love the illustrations. They’re so whimsical and a have the perfect touch of Christmas magic. Finn has already called dibs on his favorite Christmas book, Gingerbread Pirates. This one I’ve shared multiple times over the last couple years and I’ll share it again this year because it’s just so good!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Halloween 2017

We kicked off Halloween weekend by going to our local aquarium for trick or treating under the sea. Kensi happened to get a My Little Pony mask in her Happy Meal earlier this week and took it upon herself to make her own costume. She paired her new mask with parts of my old dance costumes. Finn didn’t want to dress up at all this night so we opted for our skeleton jammies. He’s crying here because we took away the iPad while Livie just goes with the flow. Being the third child she has several costumes to choose from so we put her in Kensi’s parrot costume from 2013.

The kids loved being able to see a few of their favorite characters, getting lots of treats and playing games. Mike and I were impressed by the scuba divers in full costume carving pumpkins under water. That takes some serious skill!

Saturday we hosted our Halloween party. We love doing this every year and encourage everyone to come in costume. Mike and I dressed as Chip and Joanna Gaines, but it was a total dud. No one knew who we were even with my Waco t-shirt, Mike’s tool belt and #demoday hat. In fact, he was asked if he was Bob the Builder or Al from Home Improvement. ???? What? Needless to say we didn’t get pictures of us or Finn for that matter. He originally requested to be a dragon so I painted his face. Once he saw his reflection he flipped out. Tears rolled down his face, turning his cute green dragon into some sort of yellow streaked swamp monster. I cleaned him up and we were lucky he was willing to wear pajamas. Kensi asked to be a panda bear, and the cutest little panda. Of course she was most excited about having her face painted....a current favorite right now.

When Tuesday finally rolled around I was ready to move past Halloween. Our weekend was busy and we were exhausted, but we managed to get all our costumes done and trick or treat like champs. We did a family theme with Room on the Broom. It may be one of my favorite themes we’ve done and it started because Finn wanted to be a frog so we ran with it. Kensi was the witch and her costume consisted of this gorgeous star tutu, a handmade cloak and a hat. She was so excited to have all the best accessories with her broom, wand and cauldron which she used as her trick or treat pail. Finn’s costume was extremely simple since I knew he would only wear the bare minimum. I paired olive green pajamas with homemade frog eyes on a headband. He’s crying in this picture because he didn’t want to wear his eyes. Of course.

Olivia was the dog and I had a difficult time finding pieces to create a brown dog, so I opted for black and made simple puppy ears, which she didn’t want to wear either. You win some, you lose some. Mike went as the bird and wore a homemade mask covered in crepe paper to look like feathers and I went as the cat. We had so much fun and we had way more trick or treaters than expected. We ran out of candy only to refill and run out again!

We had so much fun this halloween, but we are so excited to move onto the next holiday! I know Thanksgiving is next, but we are ready to begin decorating for Christmas. I’ll probably slowly begin upstairs in the kids’ rooms and maybe try and sneak a few pieces here and there before we fully begin decorating Thanksgiving weekend!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ghoulish Chocolate Tart

Chocolate screams halloween for us and when I came across this recipe for a dark chocolate ganache tart I just couldn’t resist making it. Ganache is incredibly rich and creamy, melting in your mouth with every little bite. I love making ganache for cakes and it’s what my mom always uses to make her favorite chocolate sheet cake that gets baked up for almost every family gathering. I love the decadence of it and it’s beautiful sheen once set.

Ganache can seem intimidating, but it’s incredibly easy to make. It’s basically hot cream poured over chocolate chips. This recipe in particular is simple and versatile, allowing anyone to make it uniquely their own with simple add ins (vanilla, mint or orange) and fun decorations.  I used a basic powdered sugar + heavy cream frosting, mixing until I reached my desired consistency. I really want to perfect my piping abilities to make better decorations for desserts and this was a fun little way to practice. Add a pinch of salt on top before serving for a little something extra to cut through all the sweetness!

Recipe for Dark Chocolate Ganache Tart from Live for Cake.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Festive Fall

Ah, I m so in love with this season and everything that comes with it. I’m pumpkins obsessed, sprinkling them throughout the house and I can’t get enough of our cooler nights that feel so crisp after a hot summer. I’ve learned I need to pace myself in this season of life especially when we have so much going on. I very much dislike feeling rushed, but when fall rolls around it can feel like the perfect date you’ve been waiting for all week. The days leading up to it seem to feel a lifetime away, but when it finally arrives it slips through your fingers quicker than you can remember getting picked up.  That’s how fall is for me. My favorite season of the year. I’ve been waiting and now it’s here and I feel rushed, trying to cram everything I can into these short blissful months.

This October alone was quickly filled with birthday invites, church happenings and Halloween festivities. However, something is different about this year than our previous years. We decided to prioritize our family. Even though we may have a lot going on, it also means slowing down. We consciously decided back in the summer to fully enjoy more at home and less out and stop consuming ourselves with a bunch of stuff to make the season fun. We focus on spur of the moment fun like heading to the park with gorgeous weather that calls for hot cocoa afterwards. Having dinner picnic style on the living room floor while watching one of our favorite halloween movies, making apple cider donuts and having a sugar fight, or going on a scavenger hunt at the pumpkin patch and making a picture from the items we find. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, just enjoyable and most importantly, memorable.

Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes...

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

This is how I want to live my life, I want it to be full of these types of moments (that take my breath away) rather than panting, trying to catch my breath because I’m constantly being rushed. How awesome is it that we get to choose how we live. We can slow down, we can speed up, we can stay still.

This week was evident of us slowing down and it felt so good! We had a cold front move through that was enough for the furnace to kick on, flannel sheets were needed and all the cozy blankets were pulled out of the closets. Somehow we all managed to snuggle into our bed and having all our babies wiggle under the covers (without squishing for of the others) was so sweet and cozy! All the kids were also able to dress in sweatshirts and sweatpants and tights (oh my!) and embraced all the warm layers. We headed to the park and I just love these little swing shots I was able to capture from our slow + fun park & hot cocoa adventure.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Favorites // Halloween

HAPPY FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH!!! I love Friday the 13th and even more so that it’s October for all the extra creepy! We’re all dressed festively today and this morning Kensi asked why days like today are spooky. Instead of freaking her out with crazy superstitions, I shared why I love it. 13 is my favorite number, my lucky number and my birthday (November). It just so happened I also had my 13th birthday on Friday the 13th. It’s always been a day filled with fun and a little extra spunk and today is no different! We’re kicking it off by sharing a few or our favorite Halloween finds...

I ordered these Spooky Finger Puppets for the kiddos after seeing them on Instagram from a couple of my favorite accounts and they’re so stinkin’ cute! Made by one of our favorite plush toy makers, BlaBla. They also make an impressionist set, a jungle set, a farm set and a super hero set that may just find their way into a couple stockings later this year.

I’m a sucker for festive apparel and a few of my favorites this year include the cutest kitty cat onesie I found for Olivia,  and my Boo shirt from Ily. I’m also smitten by Hen & Co.’s crazy adorable and fun clothing items she just released within the last week.

We’ve been baking quite a bit because #fall. Earlier this week we made an apple strudel cake that we were all really excited about and it was so disappointing. The whole thing was super dry and not very good. The kids and I had to make a comeback and made pumpkin spice scones. They’re best warm and so tasty with coffee, hot cocoa or hot apple cider!

I actually found fun monster and pumpkin melting kits in the Target bins last month. We have the Original Melting Snowman and knew the Halloween themed ones would be a total hit. Kensi and Finn love building little characters out of these and often switch and mix up all the pieces. It’s hilarious to see what they come up with. I’m not confident these will still be available, but here is the link for the Original Melting Witch.

Finn is really into puzzles right now and I found this fun (and free) printable pumpkin shape puzzle and this cute candy corn match through Pinterest earlier this week. He loves putting it together and it keeps him entertained.

Wishing you all the best Friday the 13th!!!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Morning Routines

This week has been a whirlwind by getting hit with a stomach bug, cleaning the house and trying to decorate for halloween, but we’re falling into our new routine for this season and I’m feeling like a super mom when everything goes smoothly for the day. I’ve added a few things to our mornings to help make things a little less bumpy and a little more exciting as we bounce out the door in the morning.

I start our days off by getting all the kids ready and each of them helping make beds. Nothing starts a day off better than making the bed. It’s the one little habit that can make a huge difference for the day.  It sounds so silly, but I feel I accomplish more when this happens. As they finish brushing their teeth and grabbing their little tidbits to take downstairs, I throw in a load of laundry and make sure what was in the dryer gets sorted into their individual baskets.

When we make our way downstairs I turn on our diffuser and add in a few oils to supply what we need for the day. Sometimes I add peppermint + orange to help promote energy and motivation, thieves + orange for an added immune boost and support, or if we’re feeling really frazzled I’ll use stress away to calm our nerves. With this I love turning on one of the AppleMusic radio stations or playlists that are kid friendly. The kids have been so excited about Halloween next month and we’ve been listening to the spooky tunes at home and in the car.

The kids munch on their breakfast while I double check Kensi’s backpack and grab sweatshirts for the morning. Usually at this time the kids have a little time before we need to leave and they’ll either venture into the playroom or enjoy an episode of Magic School Bus or another favorite show.

Before heading out the door, I roll our Thieves oil on the bottles of each set of feet for added support throughout the day, especially while at school and being exposed to extra handfuls of germs. The kids all climb into the car and we set off while listening to some morning car jams.

Since Kensi started school our mornings seem to go quicker than before. I can usually get a bathroom or two cleaned, unload and begin reloading the dishwasher or swap the load of laundry around while playing with Finn and Livie. It’s funny how simple little tasks can not only keep order in the house, but the routine itself keeps everyone on track and more calm throughout the day!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Halloween Favorites // Books

The fall books have been out and we’ve read them multiple, multiple times. It’s been a few years since I’ve shared a few of our favorite halloween themed books and we’ve definitely added a few more to our shelves. The last couple weeks Kensi and Finn have pulled out all the jack-o-laterns and spider decor and have happily been playing pumpkin patch and dressing up likes ghosts using our plethora of blankets. They have been so excited to read their favorite books for this season and we realized we have a lot of books about ghosts, hence why playing ‘ghosts’ comes easily.

Kensi’s current favorites are How to Make Friends with a Ghost which is definitely age appropriate for her. This book is super sweet and the illustrations are seriously to die for, but it is long and Finn doesn’t quite have the attention span for it yet. Kensi also loves Gilbert the Ghost and The Scariest Book Ever is quite hilarious, especially to a five year old.

Finn loves all the ghost books, but he also thoroughly enjoys The Monsters’ Monster and BabyLit Frankinstein. He’s become quite the little identifier with all the body parts and tries to request donuts after we read The Monsters’ Monster almost every time! We also just picked up Super Bat from our Scholastic book order. It’s about a bat who gets bored hanging around a decides to become Super Bat, but fails on having any unique super powers the other bats don’t already have. It shares fun facts about bats and can really be read all year round.

For Olivia we love to read her Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin, Little Owl Lost and Ollie’s Halloween. They’re short, simple and have adorable illustrations that all our kids have loved.

// Book List //

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Family Friendly Halloween Flicks

As teenagers and in our 20’s, Mike and I always looked forward to the 13 Nights of Halloween lineup. I’ve always loved Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic. Horror films excited me and Mike would often take on the challenge of introducing me to something new that would scare me. But now that we’re parents I can’t handle scary movies for anything and we’re looking for more family friendly halloween movies because some on the 13 Nights list are just too scary for our littles. This year we decided to make our own list for everyone who may find themselves in a similar situation: trying to celebrate all that is festive, but family appropriate. So we’re sharing our favorites! I feel we keep  Room on the Broom and It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on repeat. Finn is also in love with Curious George, while Kensi and I love Night of the Living Carrots from Dreamworks Spooky Stories. So cozy up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and a soft blanket and enjoy all the spookiness this month with your littles, without the nightmares!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Halloween Feels // Diffuser Blends

Happy October first! We are well into costume making, party planning and all things Halloween! The kids have been nonstop with our pumpkin tic-tac-toe, pretending trick or treat through our doors upstairs and making all the pumpkin crafts. We’ve also been filling our home with lots of fall diffuser blends using our essential oils, but we had to switch gears into Halloween for this month. Frankincense is used in almost all the diffuser blends I’m sharing today as it’s so universal for fall and pairs well with all the warm cozy scents, along with touches of floral and citrus.  I think our favorite of all four is the Trick-or-Treat as it holds everything we absolutely love about this spooky, festive holiday!

3 drops Clove + 3 drops Ginger + 1 drop Joy

4 drops Grapefruit + 2 drops Frankincense

Hocus Pocus
4 drops Pine + 2 drops Frankincense + 1 drop Patchouli + 1 drop Lavender

Trick or Treat
4 drops Orange +  4 drops Cinnamon Bark + 1 drops Frankincense 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Favorites

Happy Fall!!!! Football, hot soup, cool breeze, windows open, leaves dancing, it’s seriously one of the most magical seasons. I can’t help but feel lost in it’s beauty and at the same time feel like its slipping away all too quickly. We’ve been thoroughly the days we get with cooler weather, it’s so beautiful and we’re enjoying all the fall things. We just can’t help ourselves! Which leads me to sharing a few of our current favorites for this beautiful Friday!

My kids absolutely love pajamas! I’m constantly looking for fun, cozy pairs that wear well to last the whole year. They always get excited when a new holiday comes up because we usually can find some cute festive ones to fit the season. This year we got Burt’s Bees Baby shooting star jams for fall. They have cute and simple prints in their soft organic cotton sets. I love them because they’re affordable and the kids love them because they’re so comfy. I especially love that they also make family jammie sets so we can all look like festive dorks at Christmas.

My morning coffee has been traded in for Tazo Chai Tea Latte in Pumpkin Spice flavor. It’s so delicious and cozy, especially on cooler mornings. The spice is warm and gives all the fall feelings.

Remember last November when I shared how I roasted all our leftover pumpkins to make homemade pumpkin puree? I had nearly 20 bags of pureed pumpkin in my freezer and shared some with friends. Last weekend, I made a batch of our favorite pumpkin bars and used one of my Cinderella pumpkin purees. I also added nutmeg to my recipe (which is now added) and this was probably the most amazing batch that’s ever come out of my oven. Mike and I couldn’t get over the flavor of the pumpkin! Sure, roasting all those pumpkins took more time, but the flavor is so worth it!

Since Kensi has started school she needs all her items labeled. The first week of school I didn’t even think about this and used washi tape until my NameBubbles labels arrived in the mail. These labels are not only adorable and have a variety of prints + shapes to choose from, but they’re also dishwasher safe and the clothing labels are machine washable. How awesome is that!? Go check them out!

Hoping you all have a great weekend are able to enjoy some fall fun on this Friday!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Simple + Quick Meals // Sesame Noodle Bowl

I’m constantly looking for quick and simple meals to throw together when the day has been crazy and I look at the clock and suddenly it’s already five o’clock and I have no dinner plan. When I fail to meal plan our week, this happens easily and frequently. I frantically breeze through the fridge to find a protein and a veggie and try with all my might to somehow throw this together into something amazing that Kensi will enjoy, Finn will eat and Olivia can eat. I love introducing new flavors to them and sometimes it can be a complete win and other times it’s an utter fail and my kids are eating oatmeal. However, this week my frantic throwing of food together worked well and it was a hit all around the table and took less than 20 minutes!

Sesame Noodle Bowl
1 box Whole Wheat Spaghetti
2 cups Broccoli
2 chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
Salt + Pepper
1 cup Soy Sauce
6 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
4 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 inch pieces Fresh Ginger, grated
2 Tablespoon Cilantro, chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions. With 3 minutes left on cooking time, add raw broccoli to pasta and water to cook. Drain pasta and broccoli together and set aside. 

While pasta water is heating to a boil, season chicken strips with salt + pepper and cook in a large skillet with oil, until cooked through. (The thin chicken strips will cook quickly).

While pasta and chicken is cooking, mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, garlic and ginger in a large mixing bowl and set aside. 

Once everything is cooked through, add pasta, broccoli, chicken and cilantro to the sauce in large mixing bowl and toss everything together. Top with sesame seeds and serve. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Best Oil Recipes for Kids

Oils are a huge part of our everyday routine over here from diffusing them instead of candles to rolling them on our feet to help battle the icks and everything in between. They are a total game changer and we are so thankful we chose to dive into them whole heartedly these past couple years.
Every night during our bedtime routine each of my kids happily stick their their feet out to me so I can roll our oils on. We use them for immune support, sleep routine, sniffles, upset tummies, temperatures, and boo-boos. Our kids literally don’t know what medicine is because we rarely have it in the house. I’m constantly sharing our love for oils with family and friends and how they’ve changed how we treat our symptoms from day to day. If someone is ever hesitant about trying oils, I always ask them what do they have to lose? Nothing, but to possibly gain a different perspective.

Consistency is vital. I’ve been one to only use it here and there and didn't see much of an impact. However, once I started using them daily we saw a huge change in our children’s behavior and immune support. Below are our favorite recipes we always have mixed up to help support the health of our family and home!
Immune Support 
5 drops Thieves
Fractionated Coconut Oil

Add to a roller ball and roll on bottoms of feet morning and night. 
We do this daily, especially since Kensi has started school. We’re two weeks in and she hasn’t gotten sick yet. I love this recipes because Thieves has so many magical properties that help keep our immune systems strong! 

10 drops Lavender
6 drops Peace & Calming
6 drops Cedarwood

Spritz Bottle: Add oil drops to a 2oz spritz bottle and add a pinch of epsom salt and fill the rest with distilled water. Spritz on pillow, snugglies and sheets before bed.
Roller Ball: Add oil drops to a roller ball and fill rest with fractionated coconut oil. Roll on spine and big toe before bed.

Witching Hour Diffuser Blend
3 drops Stress Away
3 drops Lavender

Add to diffuser with distilled water. Perfect for the witching hour when the kids lose their minds and dinner needs to be prepped!

Happy Teeth
5 drops Orange
4 drops Copaiba

Add oils into a roller ball and fill with fractionated coconut oil. Roll on baby’s spine and massage onto jaw line with finger. 
Copaiba is also gentle enough to use without a carrier oil. Add a drop to teething toy or necklace for added relief. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Favorite Dips for Football Season

We have thoroughly enjoyed the last couple Saturdays of college football! We waited to put our Husker flag up while the hurricanes made their way around us, but we are so ready to show our love for our home state! There’s something cozy and nostalgic that happens in our house when we hear the sportscasters picking their team and game for the weekend, delicious food is baking up in the kitchen and cold brews are chillin’ in the fridge. Saturdays have become my favorite day with Mike and the kids and as the seasons change we are always thrilled to be able to settle into a fresh and familiar routine we missed over the year.

If you followed along with the blog last year I shared some football food favorites including chicken bacon wraps, Nebraska Runzas, and our favorite white queso dip. We love making up a mix of old favorites and trying new recipes each game season. One dish that never gets left out is some form of dip. We’re total snackers over here and our kids love being able to dip pretty much anything. Not only is it always tasty, but it’s just fun to eat! Below are some of our favorite go-to dips for lots of different occasions, but they all work for game day. The newest recipe we’re adding to our dip roster is Garlicky French Onion Dip. Everyone always has some form of this on their table and usually made with the dry onion soup mix, but I’m telling you this one kicks it right between the posts! With a recommendation from my mom I swapped out the mayonnaise for cottage cheese to lighten it up and pureed the sautĆ©ed onions for a smooth texture. If you love french onion dip then you must try this one!

Garlicky French Onion Dip
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup Sweet Onion, chopped
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
4 cloves Roasted Garlic**
1-1/2 cups Cottage Cheese 4%, pureed in blender or food processor
3/4 cup Sour Cream 
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Ground White Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Salt

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onions and 1/4 tsp of salt. Cook and stir until the onions are caramelized to a nice golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove onions from the heat, let cool. Once cooled, transfer onions to a blender or food processor and puree.  
Mix together the pureed cottage cheese, sour cream, garlic powder, white pepper, and remaining salt. Stir in the pureed onions. Cover and refrigerate the dip for at least 2 hours before serving with potato chips.

**I love roasted garlic and will either wrap an entire bulb in foil with olive oil and bake it in the oven  350 F for about 40 minutes, or I’ll add it 4 smashed garlic cloves to my caramelized onions about 15 minutes in to keep the garlic from burning.

JalapeƱo Popper Dip
1 (8 oz pkg) Cream Cheese
3/4 cup Mayonnaise
1 cup Parmesan Cheese, shredded
3 JalapeƱos, diced (Remove seeds and ribs)
1 JalapeƱo, whole
1 (4oz can) Diced Green Chilies

Mix cream cheese and mayonnaise together. Add diced green chilies, jalapeƱo, parmesan cheese to mixture. Layer in a 9 inch baking dish. Add a whole jalapeƱo in the center for garnish. Bake 350 degrees F until bubbly. 

Hot Artichoke Dip
c/o our sweet friend Rochelle

2 (14oz) cans Artichokes, drained + chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 cup Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
8 oz. Cream Cheese
1 teaspoon Worchestershire Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix well. Transfer to a small lightly buttered baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350 F for 20 minutes. Serve warm with crackers. 

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