10 Ways to Cure the Back-To-School Routine Blues

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So we are two weeks into the school year and getting back to the routine has not been easy. To be honest, it never is nor has it ever been.

I look forward to the last day of school as much as my daughter does. It's not just because of the warm weather and the long days of sunshine. Summer break means staying up later for fun, less hectic mornings (oh, to not pack lunches for 3 months while trying to get ready for work! BLISS!) and less scheduling and obligations.

Well, that's all over.

Getting back to the grueling school routine can be less awful with my top 10 tips I have learned through the years of sleepy-eyed, stress-scheduled agony. It does get slightly better as the kids get older and take on more responsibility, but only slightly.

So here is my run down, one parent to another. We're in it together! And hey, winter break is not too far away! It goes by fast, so let's make the most of it.






1: Sleep-schedule woes-
Melatonin helps as well as "night time tea"


I am not a doctor, so before you put your kid(s) or yourself on a melatonin supplement, talk to your physician.

The worst part of getting back to routine is the sleep schedule. These poor teachers have to deal with sleep-cranky kids for a while. I am a mom of a newly minted teen, and once hormones kick in, melatonin is in short supply at night time. I have read quite a few studies around this. Basically there is so much puberty stuff going on in their bodies that they can't release melatonin (the sleep hormone) until LATE at night. I saw this change in my daughter once puberty started, so I found her 5 mg. melatonin lozenges. I give it to her 30 minutes before I want her sleeping. It does help her get to sleep. Melatonin also regulates biorhythms so as you are changing sleep schedules, this supplement can ease that transition-for you as well as for them!


I have found teas infused with 5 mg. of melatonin too. These teas include other nice calming ingredients like chamomile and verbena. To that end, I also use a couple of different "night teas" with calming herbs and florals that were helpful when my daughter was younger. You may need these around your house too, during this transition.


2: Night time staging=less morning raging

Don't wait until the morning to gather signed paperwork, collect things to be brought in, pack back packs and decide what outfits to wear. I pre-set out papers I needed to sign and things I need for work near the door, and force my daughter to get together everything needed the night before so we are not running around the next morning. It's hard enough to get everyone out the door fed, dressed properly with their homework packed. Don't add more to your morning, you're just asking for trouble (and yelling). Whatever you can do the night before, do it. It can be as simple as just cleaning out the coffee pot so it's ready to go in the morning! This will give you back 5 minutes-and that's a lot. (Coffee is super important to survival in this wild, back-to-school jungle-but more on that later.)




3: Starbucks #PSL coffee keeps you happy (and awake)

Well mom and dads, how else do you think you can keep up with sleep deprived kids who are asking for science fair help after dinner, when you are equally just as sleep deprived? COFFEE. And to make your routine a little more special, enjoy Starbucks fall coffees. Their Fall blend has been a MUST every early morning this month. And the VIA Pumpkin Spice Latte is a great late night treat that goes nicely with laundry, math homework crying and filling out school medical forms for the 5th time. In fact, just tonight I had to open a bunch of paperwork from school, including my monkey's eligibility to Chicago high schools. This was a big deal. I had to sit down, say a prayer and sip a VIA Pumpkin Spice Latte while I opened the much anticipated envelope.

Not sure if it was the magic of pumpkin and spice (because it is, indeed, magical) or my daughter's hard work, but there was good news all over that letter! I breathed a sigh of relief and sipped my VIA #PSL in absolute enjoyment. Not only do VIA #PSLs give you an easy way to enjoy a punch of fall flavor and caffeinated energy, but it also gets you into the fall spirit. It simply puts you in a good mood. It makes routines less drudgery and forces you to enjoy the special moments that happen within the routines.

How else do you think I got through the maddening back-to-school shopping at Target? Did I have a Venti PSL in my hand the whole time? Yes. Yes. I. Did.

 


4: Sunday meal plans mean smoother weeks

The running theme of this post is pre-planning. Yes, it takes precious time, but it will save you time in the long run. Sunday morning meal planning has become an enjoyable ritual my husband and I enjoy over a nice hot cup of Starbucks Fall Blend. Sitting down for 30 minutes on a Sunday morning to put together a meal schedule for the week allows you to grocery shop efficiently,  get ahead of certain meals and work around your kid's extra curricular activities. Family having dinner late one night after a game? Plan a crock pot chili that cooks itself. Prep the liner the night before so you can put it in and get it going that morning. Then plan to make tacos or a Tex-Mex casserole with left over chili the next night. Planning like this will allow less stress, less waste and happy tummies all around.


5: The freezer is a lunchbox buddy

Your freezer can really help in lunch box planning for the morning. I freeze juice pouches so I don't need to pack (and continuously freeze) ice packs. The juice naturally defrosts by lunchtime and keeps other things cold in the lunch box. You can also prep PBandJs, too. They will naturally defrost during the morning. I also use frozen chicken tenders and throw them in the toaster oven in the morning for my daughter's lunch. Once they are cooled I wrap them in foil and toss them in her lunch sack. Think about how you can use your freezer to help assist prepping some of your kids' favorites.

6: Google calendar keeps planes moving

I get so tired of managing different calendars, but I am air traffic control for our family. That means I need to verbally tell my husband events and appointments (repeat about 5 times, and twice the day of event...men*), keep a family calendar up to date in the kitchen, track my own calendar that merges with my work calendar. It's enough to lose your mind. I started using Google calendar and inviting my daughter and husband to it. When I put an event on it for either one of them I can invite them to it and they will get an alert. It will also alert them 15 minutes before something is going to start and it merges with my outlook calendar at work. It is a big help with scheduling. For more about Google calendar, check out my post from a few years ago.

7: Pre-bake and freeze class treats

I can't tell you how often my daughter remembers at 8 p.m. that she needed to bring a class treat in for one occasion or another the next day. Now I love baking, but not at 8 p.m. on a night I was planning on catching up on some Game of Thrones. If you are not into baking at all hours, take some time on a Sunday and prebake some cakes and freeze them to either frost or crumble up to make cake pops when you need that last minute treat. If you have a lot of freezer space, you can try freezing cupcakes. I also freeze cookies and they hold up for 6-8 months really well. Having something on hand quickly will make your school year a lot easier. Trust me on this one. I speak from experience.

8: Keep a running grocery list on the fridge

The minute you are low on something or used the last of something, write it on a list somewhere that's in your face all the time, screaming at you. We keep ours on the fridge, front and center. Next time we're at the store, we merge this list with the mothership list. It's so hard to keep track of stuff and the last thing you need is to be out of toothpaste at bedtime and you need to run to Walgreen's. When you're low on anything, put it on the list. Get ahead of things.

9: Pharmacy stock up gives you a leg up on illness

It never fails. It's bedtime and you hear the complaints of a sore throat or a stuffy nose. Kids announce their illnesses at the most inconvenient times. Don't be caught without medicine. Your mamma bear instincts want to get them comfy and feeling better as soon as possible. Your sleep-deprived self doesn't want to run more errands late at night (I mean, you just got your pajamas on, right?). During the back-to-school shopping I stock up the medicine cabinet with band aids, antibiotic cream, fever and pain reducers, day and night cold medicine, tummy ache meds, Orajel and Benadryl. If you use my list as a guide, it should get you setup for any minor health hiccups throughout the year.

10: Keep extra school supplies in the closet

I know school supplies are expensive, so sometimes it's hard to buy extra stuff during that first big shopping spree. But if you see good deals on packs of pencils, pens, paper, erasers and sharpeners, you should buy some extras. I keep extra supplies in a cabinet in my home office, and we dip into that stash at least 5 times a year. (What is it with kids losing pencil sharpeners and erasers constantly?) I'm just trying to prevent you from running to the convenience store in the dead of winter late at night to buy a pencil sharpener. One, it will be overpriced. Two, you'll end up buying that double fudge turtle ice cream in the freezer case. Three, you may still be in your pajamas thinking, "who am I going to run into at the convenience store this late?" Then you see your neighbor. Never fails.

Please note: Starbucks coffees were provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks @starbucks #VIA #PSL #coffeepassion

COOKING: Fresh Refrigerator Dill Pickles, Recipe and Video

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Pickles are a basic way to introduce yourself to the art of pickling. Pickle making is super easy and you can get really creative with various spices and herbs to change the flavor of your pickles. I have seen Jalapeno pickles, and red pepper pickles to sweet and sour pickles. These here are a nice, briny, dilly pickle with a subtle punch of garlic. 

Pickles last about 6 months in the fridge, if you don't eat them before then. Our pickles barely last a couple of months (nom nom nom!). Once you get your pickling legs under you, you can really dig in and enjoy pickling lots of vegetables and fruits. Also note if you wish to make pickling jars shelf stable can them using a hot water bath to seal them tight. Though we do this with a variety of pickling, we like our cucumber pickles crisp, cold and in the fridge. 

We (hubby and I) pickled a handful last weekend and made a YouTube video to show you how. I have included it in this post (below). When you are canning it is helpful to enlist an extra set of hands to cut back on the time. If you enlist a friend, split the fruits of your labor! It's well worth it.


Fresh Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Ingredients:


4 large garlic cloves, cut into quarters


Brine:
4 cups water

2 cups distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
8 teaspoons kosher salt
4 juniper berries
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
8 whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon dill seeds
6 allspice seeds

4 lbs. Kirby cucumbers, sliced into spears


Add to each jar:
4 coriander seeds

4 juniper berries
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 whole peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon dill seeds
Few sprigs of fresh dill

Directions:

In a large sauce pan, combine brine ingredients - the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, juniper, peppercorns and dill seeds with the water and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved and boiling. Let the brine cool until just warm.


Process the 4 (1) quart mason jars and lids in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from hot water bath and cool. Add garlic to jars. Add cucumbers to jars leaving room for dill. Add dill and finish with more spears until jars are packed. Add the extra pickling spices. Pour the brine over the cucumbers equally in each jar leaving 1/2" room from the top. Top off each with extra vinegar to get the right amount of liquid in each jar.


Seal jars and refrigerate for 2 weeks before using to let the flavors bloom. Store in refrigerator for 5 months.


BAKING TIPS: How to save Wilton Candy Melts for later

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Are you a baking or candy making diva like I am? I am so over run with sprinkles, cake pop sticks, decorating gels and Candy Melts that I need to find a giant tackle box of some sort to organize it all. There is just too many supplies and my hubby kicked my overflowing ziploc bags out of the cabinet for me to find another home for.

I get supplies for one project and I always have left over, and I never want to waste it because A: It's expensive B: You never know when you are going to need it for your next project.

The same goes for Candy Melts. I love this product. It's shelf stable, comes in all colors and flavors, and you can remelt it over and over again. That goes for cooled and stored melts, too. But I have always struggled with saving left over melted Candy Melts. I usually let it cool in the bowl, then chisel it out with a fork and knife accompanied with many "sentence enhancers". It's not a great (or easy) technique.

My recent project involved using Candy Melts to create ghost creatures for my daughter's birthday cake, and I used parchment to shape them and let them set. Then it dawned on me (well, it was more of a face palm moment), why not scrape the extra-melty-ooze onto a piece of parchment and spread it with a knife in an even layer. Then let it cool right on there, and break it up once it's set in even chunks and store in a ziploc bag for later.



It worked like a dream!

Next time you have a good handful of extra melted Candy Melts, layer it on some parchment, let it cool, break it up with your hands and store! DONE!

RECIPE: Cookie Butter Filled Chocolate Cake with Nutella Buttercream Frosting

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I have been seeing a lot of buzz around Trader Joe's Cookie Butter. I have no idea what it's made of, but it is pretty amazing. I've wanted to play with it in baking for a while.

I wanted to use it in a filling for a cake I had in the freezer I was going to defrost for a party. My chocolate cake recipe makes A LOT of cake. So I always have an extra layer in the freezer from when I make it. Perfect when you need a cake for a last minute party!

I also thought I could make a Nutella frosting as a nice complement to the cookie butter in the center. It worked out great. My colleagues at work annihilated the left overs.


Cookie Butter Filled Chocolate Cake with Nutella Butter cream Frosting

Ingredients:
Use only 1-2 of the layers. I used one layer and cut it in half. Freeze the rest.


Rich Chocolate Cake Recipe:

nonstick cooking spray and parchment paper
1 1/2 cups good quality unsweetened cocoa
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups water

Cookie Butter Filling:

1 1/2 cups cookie butter
1 packet powdered DreamWhip
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Nutella Frosting:

3/4 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella


Directions:

Cake:

Heat oven to 350˚.  Line 3 8"cake pans with parchment, and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Also spray an 8x8" pan in case you have extra batter. Freeze extra cake for another time.

Mix flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With a paddle attachment, mix the oil, buttermilk, vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add hot water. Scrape the sides and blend a few minutes more until smooth.



Pour the batter in the prepared pans, and bake for 45 minutes on the middle rack. The cake should spring back to the touch and toothpick comes out clean. Pop out cakes from the pans to wire racks after sitting in the pan for 10 minutes. Let cool completely. 






Cookie Butter Filling

With a hand mixer, whip the cookie butter until light and fluffy in a medium sized bowl. Add the vanilla extract and whip some more. Add the Dream Whip and whip until light, fluffy and smooth.




Nutella Butter Cream Frosting

In a medium bowl, whip the butter with the Nutella until smooth and combined. Add a pinch of salt and vanilla extract and beat a few more minutes. Add the powdered sugar and beat on low for a couple minutes until the sugar is just combined. Once things are not a powdered mess but getting mixed, whip on high until light and fluffy. 





Assembly:

Either cut one cake layer in half or use two whole cake layers, and fill the center with the cookie butter filling. Frost the cake with the Nutella frosting. Start with a thin crumb layer along all sides and top. Chill the cake with the thin crumb layer for ten minutes. Then take the cake out and frost the sides and top with luscious swirls of the frosting. Don't be shy, this stuff is the bomb.

Because the filling and frosting has no milk or fresh dairy, the cake can sit out at room temperature for a couple of days, covered lightly.

FMD Phase 3: Cocoa Avocado Almond Meal Cookies (vegan, gluten free, sugar free)

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These sweet treats look more like burnt blobs of dough that were left in the bottom of your oven than the creamy, delicious vegan treats that they actually are. Avocado plays the star in these cookies, with a healthy dose of vanilla and almond meal. These babies are sugar free, gluten free and dairy free.

I am still trying to be on the Fast Metabolism Diet (shortened to FMD for vets). I have taken more of a maintenance phase now, because I passed my first goal weight months ago. I also have been on this lifestyle change since January and it is really hard to stay on this diet long term with a dairy loving family and Italian parents. My husband tried to be supportive for the first few months but after a while he just couldn't deal. The other challenge on this diet is that life gets in the way. To stay on it forever would need more of an altered version of the rules-especially if you are a foodie. The good news is, the diet works. So once you get to your goals and get everything in balance (which shouldn't take that long) you can adapt what you learned into some real life eating.

These treats I make just for me on the phase 3 (good fats) phase. I also have moved to using Monkfruit sweetener versus xylitol. Monkfruit sweetener is easier on my sensitive stomach and tastes just like sugar. You can get it at the Vitamin Shop or Amazon. 

I make these treats on Sunday, eat two, and freeze the rest for the next time I want a chocolate treat on phase 3. Use an avocado that's ripe, but not too ripe or becoming brown-you will get a bitter after taste. Thanks to avocados, I'm not missing the dairy...err...that much.

FMD Phase 3: Cocoa Avocado Almond Meal Cookies
adapted from the smoothie lover

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups ripe avocado
3/4 cup monk fruit sweetener (stevia or xylitol also works-or mix together to cut xylitol down so it doesn't upset your stomach but it cuts the funky stevia after taste)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup good ground cocoa
1/4 cup raw cocoa nibs
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup almond flour

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350˚.

In a bowl, mash up the avocado with a fork. Add the sweetener and beat with a hand mixer until creamy. Add the eggs and beat some more. Add the cocoa, baking soda, salt, vanilla extract and almond flour and mix until combined. Fold in the cocoa nibs. Drop the batter a couple inches apart on the baking sheet using well rounded tablespoonfuls. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cookies are puffy and set. Sprinkle with extra sweetener and let cool on the sheet for 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Freeze extras to eat later in the month for other phase 3s. 



BAKING CRAFTS: #Portal "The Cake Is A Lie" Cake and Core Cake Pops for a Tween Birthday

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My daughter has always challenged me with interesting and different birthday themed cake requests. She is a quirky, creative kid that follows her own path, so of course her interests and birthday ideas tend to follow suit. Last year she was really into playing Portal. In fact, she beat the game! So she asked if I could create a Portal themed birthday party for her. Conveniently, there is a cake involved in this game, as well as a dishonest computer that is a bit like "Dave" in 2001, A Space Odyssey. In the game you have to finish puzzles using a portal gun to create entries through various walls and floors to get to the computer. Once there you destroy the computer "cores" at the end to win. Also, don't be enticed by the "cake" the computer promises you...because "The cake is a lie."

So I decorated the party room at a laser tag arena in posters from PORTAL. I then made computer "cores" in cake pop form. I had a few guests that were gluten-free so I made the cake pops with gluten free cake. I then made a cake EXACTLY like the promised cake in Portal. Here is how I did all of it. You may end up not using all the supplies so extra fillings and frosting can be stored in airtight containers to frost some cupcakes a few days later.

Rich Chocolate Cake Recipe:
nonstick cooking spray and parchment paper
1 1/2 cups good quality unsweetened cocoa
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups water


Mallow Filling and Dollops for Top:
1/4 cup water
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Milk Chocolate Frosting:
20 Tbsp. butter, softened to room temp.
1 cup confectioners sugar
3/4 cup dutch process cocoa
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. milk chocolate bars, broken up, melted and cooled to 85˚

Decorations:
Cocoa puffed rice cereal (like Cocoa Rice Crispies)
6-8 maraschino cherries
a piping bag with a star tip


Directions:
Heat oven to 350˚.  Spray 3  8"cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. (You will have extra batter, so spray a 8" x 8" brownie pan as well. You can freeze this cake for later use, like cake pops or an after school treat.) Cut parchment paper to size and lay along the bottom of the pans. Spray again, and sprinkle pans with cocoa powder. Set aside.

Mix flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With a paddle attachment on a stand mixer, mix the oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix in the dry ingredients slowly. Then add hot water. Scrape the sides and blend a few minutes more until smooth.

Pour the batter in the prepared pans, and bake for 45 minutes on the middle rack. The cake should spring back to the touch and toothpick comes out clean. Pop out cakes from the pans to wire racks after sitting in the pan for 10 minutes. Let cool completely.


Meanwhile make the mallow:

Fill a large stock pot with water about halfway up, and place on a low flame. You want the water to just barely simmer. If it gets boiling, lower the flame. This pot is going to act like a double boiler, so it needs to fit whatever bowl you will be using for the frosting.



While the pot is heating up, in a large bowl combine sugar with the water. Mix until it's dissolved. Add the egg whites and cream of tartar. Use a hand mixer and beat until this mixture is foamy, usually about 1 minute.

Set the bowl over the stock pot in the barley simmering water. Use an oven mitt to hold your bowl. Use you hand mixer (make sure it can reach your stove-you may need an extension cord) and beat the egg mixture until stiff peaks form and the frosting is 160˚. Clip a candy thermometer on the bowl to measure the temperature as you beat things up. This takes 12 minutes at least, so get comfortable! Have the kids take turns so you get some breaks.




Once you have fluffy, stiff peaks and things are glossy and at the right temperature, remove the bowl from heat and set on a towel on the counter. Stir in the vanilla and almond extract, and beat the mixture with your hand mixer for 2 more minutes until nice and thick.

Make Frosting:
In a food processor with the blade, process the butter, sugar and cocoa together until smooth and creamy. Scrape the sides with a spatula as you go. Next, add the corn syrup and vanilla and process until it is smooth and creamy again. Once your melted chocolate is at 85˚, pulse in the melted chocolate until it is all well combined with the butter mixture. Pulse until creamy and fluffy.

You can use it immediately. But I have refrigerated the frosting for a few days, and just let it sit out to room temp for a few hours until it begins to soften. I then whip it with a hand mixer to bring it "back to life."


Assembly:

Layer mallow filling in between each cake layer. Frost the sides and top with a thick layer of chocolate frosting.

Gently take a handful of cocoa crispies and press it on the sides of the cake until evenly covered. Press more on the top.

Next, pipe a 1 inch dollop all around the top edge of the cake, a few inches apart. You should have 6-8. On each dollop place a cherry. Pipe a dollop at the center and place a birthday candle there. You are all set!

Gluten Free Portal Core Cake Pops

Ingredients and supplies:
Cake pop sticks
Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Mix, made and baked according to package directions
1/2 can cream cheese frosting
white candy melts
black candy melts
canola oil
decorating squeeze bottle with small tip OR food grade paint brush
colored gum drops in yellow, green, blue and red

Directions

Use your hands and crumble the cooled cake in a medium bowl until a fine crumb texture is achieved. Using a spatula mix the half a can of frosting in with the cake crumbs until the mixture is malleable and able to be shaped. Shape the cake into balls the size of a large walnut. Push a stick at the center sticking up and set, ball down, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Keep shaping more, sticking them and adding them to the sheet. When the sheet is filled, store in the freezer. Continue until all the mixture is shaped. Store in the freezer for about 30-45 minutes. Then move them into the fridge until ready for dipping. You don't want them completely frozen or they will crack when they defrost and expand. You want them very cold but not frozen all the way through.

Meanwhile, slice the gum drops in1/8 inch discs. I chilled them a little before cutting them , it made cutting easier.

Melt the white candy melts in a bowl with a tablespoon of oil for 30 second intervals in the microwave at 50% power. Stir as you go and keep going until the candy melts are smooth and melted. Gently take a handful of frozen cake pops and dip them into the melted candy melts and turn as them as you drain off excess candy covering. Set the cake pop right side up to set. I use an upside down colander to let cake pops dry. I thread the stick though the holes so they are supported sitting up straight. Keep going until they are all covered. I keep the rest of the pops chilled and I work in batches. You don't want the pops to be warm, they will just fall apart during coating.

Once all set, dollop a bit of candy melt behind a cut gumdrop and set at the center-side of a pop. Continue with each color gum drop disc on each pop. Each color means a different core personality of the computer.




Next, melt the black candy melts in the same manner. Decide to use a paint brush or a squeeze bottle to create lines around the gum drop that mimic each core. Let set.

Cover each with a plastic bag and serve upright in a styrofoam stand. I made a cube from the game by printing out portal cube sides, and gluing them to the sides of a box. Then I placed some styrofoam inside and stuck the cake pops in the styrofoam. It worked out great and stayed in theme.



Cake batter adapted from bakearella.com



LIFESTYLE: My Rules and Tips for Really Unplugging

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I find it really depressing these days that if you have a job of any kind, you need to specify to colleagues and clients if a vacation is a vacation that you will be checking emails, or voicemail. The expectation that you need to let people know if you have an Internet connection or are within network range, and time frames in which you will be online is really sad. The expectation of all of us to be accessible anywhere and anytime because of technology is not only unsustainable, it is just plain crazy town for our culture. Europe has it right, where all of them go on holiday pretty much the whole month of August. Our culture and our health cannot sustain the amount of stress and work that is expected of all of us 24/7-especially when even our vacation time isn't even a vacation any more.

So for me, one week out of my vacation time we have been going somewhere that is pretty much off the grid. We have no wifi and no phone network, and we are happy to do it. And to really unplug, I put rules down for myself which may help you unplug too. I found that this recent week was so relaxing, so happy, and felt so long! I know the lack of technology allowed for a slower paced, lazier week (the whole point of a vacation!)

Source: docsgeneralamusements
Here were my week's rules:
No use of the smart phone except to take photos
No phone calls, texts or emails, especially when we were within network ranges
No to-do lists (I brought projects and things to do, but I forced myself to not make a to-do list about any of them for the week. If I felt like doing something, then I did it. Otherwise, projects stayed in the box.)
Minimal TV, except for old movies ( I feel like old movies are within relax rules for me, it's a guilty pleasure I don't get at home)
Only paper books, no Kindles or tablets


Here is a daily log (and confessions) of my week of unplugged bliss. Maybe this gives you some ideas on things to do to unplug yourself, even for a weekend, so you can attack the world again strong on the other side. With labor day this weekend, maybe give unplugging a try for a few days, start the last quarter of the year fresh?

Day 1:

colored in my coloring book
puzzled
30 min walk in the woods
read my book
boat ride
flipped through food magazines for food ideas for the week
sunset boat ride and fishing
read myself to sleep
confession: weather check on iPhone for storms

Day 2:

colored in my coloring book
puzzled
began journaling
visited farmer's market
baked a peach pie with farm fresh peaches
made dinner
read
sunset boat ride and fishing
hubby and I cranked on our puzzle until bedtime
read myself to sleep
confession: epicurious app for recipe idea
weather check on iPhone for storms

Day 3:

journaled
played "Watchamadrawit" with my daughter
transcribed recipes in my journal for blogging later
watched the lake, had coffee
30 min. walk in the woods with my daughter
watched old movies while coloring
sunset boat ride and fishing, played "Crack The Case" with my daughter
hubby and I finished our puzzle
read myself to sleep

Day 4:

puzzled
read on the beach
visited farmer's market
explored town, visited a used book shop and thrift shops
watched old movies while coloring
read
sunset boat ride and fishing
hubby and I started a new puzzle
read myself to sleep

Day 5:

puzzled
read on the deck with coffee
baked berry bar cookies with berries from the farm
town excursion for dinner
read
transcribed recipes in my journal for blogging later
sunset boat ride and fishing
campfire, s'mores and star watching
read myself to sleep
confession: facebook for 5 minutes, epicurious app for a bar crust recipe idea

Day 6:

baked berry muffins with berries from the farm
finished my book
family outing shopping in town down main street
transcribed recipes in my journal for blogging later
finished our second puzzle
30 min. walk in the woods
watched old movies while coloring
storm watching at night on the porch
packed the cottage
read myself to sleep
confession: weather app for the storm alert

Day 7:
Cried, packed up the cottage and went back to civilization with a fresh mind and a fresh outlook!



RECIPE: Orchard Peach Bar Cookies

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Peaches are wonderful in cobblers and pies, but here is a way to use them in a unique bar cookie. I let the chopped peaches macerate in some orange juice before folding them into the batter to really get some juicy peach flavors going throughout the cookie. The crust dough is the same for the crumble topping, making it really easy to put together.

These are a great late-summer treat. Keep them chilled in an airtight container up to a week.

Orchard Peach Bar Cookies

Ingredients

Crust and Topping
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
10 Tbsp. butter, cold and cubed
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Filling
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped
1 Tbsp. orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt
1 Tbsp. sugar

Vanilla Glaze
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tsp. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line an 11 x 7 with parchment paper and set aside.




In a medium bowl, make the crust. Mix the flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in the butter and mix until crumbly. Remove 3/4 cup for the topping and mix the chopped pecans in with the topping and set aside.

With the rest of the crust mixture, press into the bottom of the pan evenly. Bake the crust in the oven for 15 minutes, and let cool.

Mix the chopped peaches with the orange juice, vanilla extract, dash of salt and sugar. Let the peaches macerate while the crust cools and you make the batter.





While the crust cools, whisk the egg and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour and salt, and whisk until thick. Fold in the peaches, and pour in the cooled crust. Crumble the topping along the topping. 

Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly and topping is all golden. Cool for 30 minutes, then chill for a couple of hours before cutting. 



Whisk the glaze until drizzling consistency, and drizzle the tops of the bars using the tines of a fork. Let the drizzle set, then store in the refrigerator. 

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