ENTERTAINING: Prep Day 2 for a Shabby Chic Easter - Bunny Cake Pops!

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Prepping for the big day Sunday continues, and guess what I stayed up late (err, like until 1:30 a.m.) doing last night? Decorating these adorable bunny cake pops, and wrapping them in plastic baggies so they stay fresh and perfect for Sunday bunny hunters!

Now, I could not have made these lovelies without my good friends at Wilton. So I must give them a shout out. I have loved their products forever and a day. After visiting their booth at the Housewares Show (where I gushed, oohed and ahhed at all their stuff), we have been in touch, sharing ideas on projects and tips. How cool is that?


They provided me with some new and groovy lollipop sticks that have some really fun designs on them. They actually will help my guests tell the difference between chocolate and vanilla. But I was pretty impressed with these sticks for a couple reasons. One, they are very light weight, which helps prevent the stick from going right through the cake pop as you decorate it (this happens on occasion with the skinnier, thicker sticks). The second reason is they are hollow- like a straw. This may not seem like a big deal, but physics come into play here. The weight of the cake pop gets evenly distributed on a wider surface area, and some of the cake gets pushed into the middle of the stick, helping it stay on better. SO as I covered and decorated my pops, things went a lot smoother. I think I only lost one pop, versus the usual two or three. You can still get these groovy pop sticks at Joanne's and Michaels.

Now, cake pop decorating can take on many things. But my favorite thing to cover cake pops with are Candy Melts by Wilton. I have been using these magical discs of delight for years. But recently Wilton started creating seasonal flavors, and for spring they created lime flavored ones and marshmallow ones. They were generous enough to send me some marshmallow ones to play with, and they worked out great (not to mention, licking my fingers after decorating was extremely delightful). They also sent me some spring colored sprinkles and confetti. The confetti helped make the jowls of the bunnies, and I had some pink and black Candy Melts from my own trip to the craft shop for accents and details, so I was all set to go.


These go quicker of you have cake waiting for you, which I did. I defrosted stored, frozen cake, crumbled up the cake into a fine crumb, mixed it with 1/4 cup to a 1/2 cup store bought cream cheese vanilla frosting to make a "dough". I then shaped my balls into walnut sizes, stuck the sticks in, placed them on a cookie sheet and chilled them for about an hour in the fridge.

For the bunny decorating you will need:
6-8 large marshmallows, slightly stale
Kitchen shears
Candy Melts in White (Marshmallow is yummy), Pink and Black
Canola oil to loosen the Candy Melts for easier dipping
tooth pick or fine food-grade decorating paint brush
Decorating confetti, picking out the white ones
Styrofoam with holes in it




1: Melt the white Candy Melts according to package directions. Loosen with a tablespoon of oil. Take a few cake pops out of the fridge at a time, and dip each evenly in the candy. Let drain off, turning and twirling off access as you go, using the back of a spoon to help cover evenly. Carefully turn them upright and place in the styrofoam to dry. Continue with all pops.


2: Now place the ears. Using kitchen shears, cut ears out of a marshmallow, I cut on an angle pieces of marshmallow, like small triangles. EVen out the bottoms, and shorten them if need be. Use the white Candy Melt as "glue". Dip each ear end into the candy and set on top of each head. Hold for a minute until it is set. Continue until all ears are on.


3: Next, while your white candy is still melty, use it as "glue" as you place the white confetti circles, two at a time, at the middle of each bunny face. Have them touch, side by side.



4: While all that is drying, melt the pink Candy Melts. Using a toothpick or brush, place a dot on top and center of the white circles as a nose. Then color in the white marshmallow ears with pink. Let dry.


5: Now, melt a little bit of black. Using a toothpick or brush, paint little dots on the "jowls", whiskers, and little dots for eyes.

6: That's it! I use generic roll-fold sandwich bags and curling ribbon to cover and tie-up each bunny pop. Come Sunday, I am going to use styrofoam in some cute vintage bowls to serve these cuties in.



Tomorrow for prep day 3, we will be doing more decorating crafts and arguing with my daughter about a replacement Easter dress. Don't ask. Long story.

ENTERTAINING: Prep Day 1: Shabby Chic Easter, plus a Shabby Chic Eyelash Yarn Spring Wreath How-To

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Today is the first installment of a week long series of posts around my shabby chic Easter celebration for Sunday. You may remember that I did a shabby chic bridal shower a few years ago and I always love doing shabby chic styled parties! I think in a past life, I was an old Victorian lady. I love piles of vintage old lace, floral fabrics and mismatched old, pretty, floral China. And I wanted to make this Easter special because my godparents are leaving for Italy this summer for good and this will be our last Easter together.

Usually Italian Easters are around the food and I'm not skimping on that (for fear of my mother's wrath) but I'm going to add a whole other layer of shabby chic fabulousness to the day! I am decorating the house a little nicer and having some more beverages and treats that will make everything more special.

The issue is that as you know, I do work full time. So I'm trying to do a lot of prep work and searching/shopping weeks ahead of time so that I can achieve the celebration I have in mind.

This is post #1 and there's a few things I have done to date. For the shabby chic look, I need lots of vintage stuff. SO I've been trolling thrift stores finding scraps of lace and scraps of fabric, old linens, old table cloths and old vintage mismatched plates. Today I'm laundering whatever linens that I have found and cleaning whatever plates and bowls I will be using for Sunday.

As far as food prep, I'm defrosting frozen cake that I've saved to make bunny cake pops tonight (thanks to Wilton for sending me lots of decorating goodies to make these a snap!). Over the weekend I made Easter soup and a Bolognese meat sauce. So last night I froze the final Easter soup and also assembled a crêpe lasagna to freeze along with extra sauce. Come Sunday, those are ready to go.

Also while thrift shopping I found two baskets for the kids for Easter. And the other thing I'm going to do today or tonight is dig up all of my stored Easter stuff and look through it, pull out what I'm going to use and what I'm going to store away.

Part of shabby chicness is a lot of crafting, and I am prepped and ready for what I am making this week to help make the house more fabulous. My Pinterest board is quite helpful in all of this! SO was a few trips to Joanne fabrics (coupons in hand).

So on the docket of crafting fun today is a fun eyelash yarn wreath, already on my door to welcome a very slow start to spring. Here is how to make one for your door. I saw this on Pinterest using eyelash yarn which looks like grass and it was super cute! I wanted to make a version with my own style.

Next post up, look for bunny cake pops!

Eyelash Yarn Easter Wreath

Supplies:
2 skeins green eyelash yarn
ribbon flowers, various sizes 
pins with colored pearled heads
a glue gun with glue 
scrap fabric 
Easter colored ribbon
a foam ring for the base

Directions:
Step one 
Carefully wrap the wreath ring with eyelash yarn, pushing yarn close together as you wrap it around so that it looks bushy and full. Knot the end tight to finish.





Step two 
With your scrap fabric, cut a strip about 12 inches long or shorter (depending on size of your flowers-the longer the bigger). Fold fabric down horizontally in half and wrap fabric around itself similar to how to make felt flowers or fleece flowers (and this post here explains that more clearly). Create 1 to 3 flowers in the scrap fabric, and connect ends and bottom with hot glue. With hot glue,  glue onto areas of the wreath, and try and create a bunch in one area for a focal point.








Step three 
With the smaller ribbon flowers, pin them throughout the wreath, using the colored pins at the center of each flower. These act as a beaded middle and allows the flowers to nestle into the yard. Place some symmetrically around the wreath.




Step four
Using your Easter ribbon, tie a long hanging piece on the top to hang on your door. If you have extra, use a bit to add a flouncy bow around your fabric flowers, helping to create a focal area.

Hang it on your door and enjoy!




Brewing Spring Traditions #1, Garden Walkabouts

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As warmer weather wakes up gardens, it also wakes up neighbors, friends and family. We all become more mobile, more social and more active. Coupled with this are all the spring celebrations and traditions that April, May and June bring.

Being from a strict Italian family, my whole life has been about traditions. Our traditions usually revolve around holidays and celebrations, however Italians will find any reason to celebrate; Saints' days, good report card days, anniversaries, promotions, Tuesdays-and yes, even funerals (because what better way to celebrate someone's life than by gathering together to eat some manicotti, finishing with a nice espresso?). Coffee is at the heart of Italian gatherings. The ritual of making it and sharing it closes each meal properly, aids digestion and keeps guests around the dinner table longer to continue the loud conversations, leaving no debate unfinished.

But coffee is not just reserved for the big celebrations, but is also an expected ritual to welcome anyone in your home-even if it's for a 15 minute visit. To not offer a guest who is stopping by a fresh cup of coffee may be a cardinal sin in the "Italian bible". And with spring here and more people getting out and about, visits are more prevalent. When two or more people are together, coffee must be at the heart of that gathering.

Today, however, I am writing about a quiet tradition. It's my own little personal spring tradition. Coffee is at the heart of it too, but it is a gathering between me and my garden.



When the weather warms and I see green peeking out from under the winter debris in my garden beds, I know it's time. So, the first weekend morning that's comfortable weather wise-with just the slightest bit of chill in the air so that I need my sister's bulky hand-knit sweater she made me for my birthday years ago-I grab a cup of steamy coffee, slip on my garden clogs (after I unbury them from under the mounds of winter snow boots and lost scarves) and timidly walk about my garden.





Sipping my steamy mug I marvel at what's coming back to life. I rejoice in what's already blooming. I grieve at what did not make it, yet still have hope that maybe (maybe) it just might come back. I wonder at what I put where, questioning what certain plants are and reminding myself to get my garden journal later to check it out.

It's quiet. The birds chirp. The breeze blows. The air smells clean and simple, mingling with the aroma wafting from my warm coffee mug, which is helping to keep my hands warm.

These walkabouts are relaxing. The spring clean up work hasn't started. The gardening tools haven't even been cleaned, let alone found yet. There is no pressure to do anything-unlike my summer garden walkabouts. The spring garden walkabouts are about just being, observing, enjoying, breathing, taking note and sipping away at your mug of java.


If you too want to do a walkabout in your garden one brisk morning, I highly recommend the perfect partner for your journey: The Starbucks Spring Blend. It's super-duper smooth and light, just as your walk should be.

Just promise me, no weed pulling and no pruning. Just be. Enjoy the rebirth around you, and your special, quiet morning.


RECIPE: Slow Cooker Lasagna Pasta

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I have always wanted to try a lasagna in a slow cooker. But I didn't have any lasagna noodles on hand. So instead I used just rotini noodles in layers, and they cooked up nicely in the sauce and moisture from the ricotta. This makes a ton of pasta, so be ready to either feed a mob, or have a lot of left overs.

I think next time I make this, I am going to add some cooked ground turkey too, in layers with the ricotta layers.

Slow Cooker Lasagna Pasta
Ingredients:
18 oz. dried rotini pasta
2 15 oz. tubs ricotta cheese
1 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
10 oz. cleaned and sliced Cremini mushrooms
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 cup chopped onions
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 25 oz. jar Bolognese tomato sauce
1/2 25 oz. jar 3 cheese tomato sauce
1 cup water

Directions:



In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, chopped spinach, sliced mushrooms, garlic powder, salt and fresh ground pepper, parsley, and basil.

In another bowl mix the Parmesan cheese with the mozzarella.



In yet another bowl, mix the two tomato sauces with water. Set aside.





In a large slow cooker, ladle 1/2 cup sauce along the bottom of the slow cooker liner. Layer the raw noodles along the bottom, then spread half the ricotta mixture. Top with 1/3 of the sauce, then sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese mixture over the sauce. Repeat the noodles, ricotta, sauce and cheese. Top with remaining noodles, then remaining sauce, and the remaining cheese mixture.

Cook on low for 4 hours. Noodles should be fork tender. Let sit uncovered for 15 minutes, until liquid is absorbed. Serve warm.



MOMMYHOOD: Dear Fellow Tween Mom, The Fun Isn't Over, It's Just Different.

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I recently read a really good blog post that was widely shared across the Internet, about being the mom of older children. The article was melancholy and hit home in many ways. Truthfully, I found myself crying at the end of it, and shared it prevalently among my own network of moms (warning them to have tissues nearby). What was it that resonated with me? The idea of a mom blogger going quiet, sharing less on my blog as my pubescent daughter becomes more private, which in turn makes me more private? That the pains and awkwardness of this age bring back so much of our own agony, awkwardness and heartbreak as well? That we try so hard to help them, as they often pull away from us? The article spoke also of hope, and that most of our tween children will eventually come out the other side as well adjusted, confident adults-as long as we continue to love them and support them through it all. 

Yes, I too grieve my missing precocious, outgoing kid that announced her name as "karate horsey" the first day of preschool, not caring about the giggles that ensued from her classmates. I miss the kid that would come downstairs dressed in a clone trooper helmet, Yoshi slippers, mismatched clothes while holding an American flag, ready to enact a play about Lord knows what. I miss the kid that wanted to go to the "Museum of Science and Mystery." (She couldn't say industry for years, and we kind of liked the idea of a museum of mystery.) I miss the busy girl who would have died to go slumming around the city with me on any day off I had. I keep hoping that kid is still in there, somewhere. "She has to be!" I keep telling myself. Hormones and peer pressure can't change a person that much, can they? Is my mommy future really quieter and lonelier for a while, as the article I mention above acknowledged?

Yes, our lives are quieter. Our daughter is quieter. We are out and about less. She says less.  But there are also joys in this time of our lives with her. These moments are very different, but I am finding them more special-more intimate. Because my daughter is becoming her own person. She is starting her passage into adulthood. And I, as her mother, am a big part of it. It came to me as I was emailing her an article about some artists in an art class in the 70's who all turned out to be the major animators of today. This art class, it's teacher and philosophy, helped change animation as we know it. 

I emailed this article to her, with a "I thought you would find this interesting."  As I hit "send" it hit me. Wait a minute. I can send my daughter an article like this. She is at an age that I can share things like this-intellectual things, funny things, things that interest her.

When did this happen? (Cue epiphany.)

This is the age that your child starts carving out their interests and passions. They start focusing on the stuff they are talented at, too, as a way to define who they are in the world. This helps with their delicate self confidence as they try to gain acceptance from their peers and teachers. I am finding these interests as a way for me to connect with my quieter, more introverted daughter.

I am enjoying sharing articles I see about art and animation, a new passion of hers. I also send her funny Dr. Who memes, a new obsession of hers since we exposed her to the series (OLD Dr. Who, by the way. She says the old Dr. Who is much better.) She'll email funny memes and notes back to me, too. It's a fun banter between us and a new way to communicate with each other.

I am loving Spotify, too, for the same reasons. I am following my daughter's play list and get all giddy when I see that she added a new band or song that I introduced her too. And by following her play list, I am getting exposed to new music that she likes. Music gives us something to talk about in the car or around the dinner table. Music was so important for me growing up. It is for all of us, I think. Didn't we all create mix tapes and share bands? I still love music and I am finding it as a way to connect and grow with my daughter now.

That also goes for movies & books, too. I am noticing it's less about animated movies these days, as she is opening up to watching some of my old favorites like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Edward Scissorhands or Indiana Jones. Her age and intellectual maturity is allowing a whole new world of sharing, and it's pretty cool. Sometimes we miss the mark with a movie, and she retreats to her room. But sometimes, we hit a home run and she hangs out with us, munching on popcorn, totally engrossed in what movie we exposed her too. And the joy and surprise of what resonated and what didn't is always fascinating to me. This is an emerging adult, slowly coming out of her cocoon. Each hit or miss allows us to learn about this little person. I think she is learning a lot about herself, too.

The other aspect our tweeners have that we did not when we were growing up is technology. The "Information Age" is allowing our kids to really learn and create within seconds, and in doing so discovering things about themselves. They are evolving and learning at record speed. It is another avenue of joy and surprise for me as a mother. Last night, my daughter invited me into her "inner sanctum" (a.k.a. her bedroom) to help her create music. She downloaded a demo of music making software, and said I had a "better ear" than she did. (I am not sure where she got this idea, but heck, when your tweener asks you to come into their room to hang out with them, you should oblige. You never know when the next invitation will happen.) I watched her in amazement as she was pulling tracks and working through complex menus. We had fun trying to figure out a song together, but I also was secretly marveling at how fast my kid was navigating this new piece of music software. Music making? Yet another facet of my child that I didn't know was growing under the surface. She shared other music created in this program which she found on YouTube while searching out some tutorials. It was a great night, and I am glad I skipped laundry to hang out with her. We were just two girls checking out music, a perfect bonding night.

The years ahead will be stretched tight with a lot of tears, heartbreak, friend drama, peer pressure, acne problems and school stress. And yes- it is a quieter, less busy "mommy time". But in those moments of doubt and loneliness, I turn on my daughter's Spotify play list and rejoice in who she is, and who she is becoming, because it's all there. Just perusing and enjoying her play list, I know I am making an impact. Every time she quotes something profound from a movie I exposed her too, my heart skips a beat in happiness. Every time we laugh and giggle in the car when she shares some quippy observation about life, I need to believe that deep inside there, my outspoken-fun-loving-clone-trooper-helmet-wearing-preschooler is waiting. I see glimpses of her. And I rejoice in those moments.

RECIPE: Gluten Free Strawberry Crumble Bars

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It's strawberry season! I whipped these up with left over strawberries from a dinner party. You know when strawberries get just a little dried out, and not really good enough to eat fresh? You can still use those strawberries for baking, which is what I did.

 I came up with this bar cookie as a simple treat, using a simple maple vanilla gluten free granola I found at Walgreen's. I made them gluten free, for my daughter. But you can just substitute regular flour & granola and they would be just as good. Promise!

Gluten Free Strawberry Crumble Bars

Ingredients:
Strawberries
1 1/2 cups rinsed and sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. gluten free flour blend or corn starch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup kirsch

Cookie Crust
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large beaten egg
1 3/4 cup gluten free flour blend (we like Pamela's)

Crumble
1 3/4 cup gluten free vanilla and maple granola (or berry flavored)
1/4 cup gluten free flour
2 Tbsp. well softened butter

Directions:

Mix flour with sugar, then using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter, and mush it in until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Beat the egg, and mix it into the flour mixture. Mix and knead the mixture until well combined and can be pressed into a dough. Pour the mixture into a 10 x 15 pan. Press into a flat, even crust. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350˚.

Meanwhile, heat the strawberries, sugar, flour blend, salt, vanilla and kirsch in a saucepan. Heat until boil, and then lower temp and simmer until the strawberries are soft and tender, and juice is thick and bubbly. This takes about 5-7 minute, stirring occasionally. Let cool for 5-10 minutes while you make the crumble.




Mix the granola and flour blend in a bowl. Mush in the butter, using a for and your fingertips, until everything is evenly distributed. Pour the strawberries over the crust. Pour the crumble over the strawberries evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Filling will be thick and bubbly, and the granola topping will have a light golden color. Let sit and cool before cutting into squares. Store covered at room temperature for 3 days-but they won't last that long!









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