Monday, September 27, 2010

Baking Monday - Peanut Butter Crunch Bars

On the heels of last weeks's success, I went back to the bookshelf for this week's recipe. I decided on these bars from the Pillsbury Best Cookies cookbook.

These were suuuuper rich and peanut-buttery. Basically a peanut butter cookie with chocolate and krispies on top. I did not have a jelly roll pan, so I made them in a 9x12, so they turned out thick. I also put the pan in the fridge to speed up cooling after spreading the chocolate.

I can't find the recipe online, so here you go!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bars

1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c crispy rice cereal

For topping:
1 c chocolate chips
1/2 c peanut butter
1 1/2 c crispy rice cereal

• Mix sugars with butter until light and fluffy.
• Add peanut butter, vanilla and egg, mix well.
• Add flour, baking soda and salt, followed by cereal, mix well.
• Press into 15 x 10 x 1" pan. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
• Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate chips and peanut butter. Stir in cereal.
• Spoon mixture over slightly cooled bars and spread gently. Cool completely before serving.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lego Party

We celebrated a very Lego birthday this week. I was so excited that Theo wanted to have a Lego-themed party, there are SO many cute ideas out there (like this, this, and this.)

Theo helped me with the invitations. The figure originally had a regular candle in his hand, and my backseat designer said, "The candle should be made out of Legos, too!" Of course, he was right. He brought me the flame piece so I could see what it was supposed to look like.

Surprise party? Yes. But more on that later. First things first: Lego wrapping paper. Clark tried to help me with this, but was cranky and quit after five minutes. This was super fun and easy, and I found that good acrylic paint worked better than the kids' washable tempera.

We had our family here over the weekend, so I got to set a cute table:

... and I splurged for the coordinating color M&M's, couldn't resist.

I also made little picks for the swirly cupcakes.

Now, here's where the insanity struck ... I found instructions to make a little folded Lego guy online and used that as the inspiration for favor boxes. These printed on a sheet of cardstock and were big enough to hold Pop Rocks, fruit snacks and a Lego minifigure pack.

Want it? You got it. Download printable Lego Minifigure favor boxes here.

Only slightly less insane, but SO fun ... we ordered minifigure parts from the Lego website. An assortment of heads, bodies, legs, hats/hair, accessories and base plates. I used clear labels to personalize a name plate for each guest.

And for Theo's friend party, I made Lego head cake pops!

This was my first attempt at shaped cake pops. (Thanks to Living Locurto for the idea!) I used M&M's to make the little pegs on top. I had some trouble with the Wilton food markers, they did not go on nearly as smooth as I thought they would. Jeff thought they looked like boobs, but the kids knew what they were supposed to be, so (raspberry sound).

They were slightly wonky, but (high-pitched sing-song voice) dee-lish-ous! I used the extra chocolate to dip pretzel sticks.

Snack table staging area. It was a gorgeous day, so we had the party and all the food outside. So much nicer than having ten 7-year-olds stomping through the house.

Theo requested chocolate chip cookies again this year, but there's never any good place to put the candle ... oh, wait!

I borrowed my brother's old Legos from my parents' house so the kids would have them to build with during the party. I set up a gallery area and made round labels for awards (most creative, craziest, biggest, etc.) The kids LOVED the competition, and Dora loved handing out the awards. Everyone who participated got a title, and they were proud to wear their badges. (Seven-year-olds are not too old for stickers yet, yay!)

Here are their minifigure creations. They had SO much fun with this. There was a fair amount of chaos when they were putting them together - everyone grabbing at once - but I tried to move the dishes around the table and give everyone a chance at a first choice.

Okay, so the surprise. Dora REALLY wanted to have a surprise party for Theo. I thought it would be impossible to plan a friends' party without him knowing about it. Our solution was to plan the party for a Thursday ... but tell Theo that it would be on Friday. Dad picked up the kids from school and took them out while the guests arrived. Everyone hid in the treehouse for the big reveal, and Theo was really, truly surprised, it was so cool. Dora got many accolades for the great idea and planning.

And, OH! the party. It was such a boy party. They did not stop moving for 90 minutes. They shot baskets and played soccer and tossed footballs and hula-hooped. They wrestled and imagined a police chase and walked in the woods and played hide and seek.

There was also a lot of treehouse play ...

Lego building ...

... and potty talk (this is Theo making tooting noises for the crowd.)

They ran and ran and ran some more. Most were all sweaty when their parents came to pick them up. Hopefully everyone fell asleep quickly tonight. I don't think they get enough opportunities for so much physical play, it was such a thrill to see them having so much fun.

Yesterday's lost tooth confirmed it ... I've got a big kid now!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Baking Monday 2 - Cinnamon Apple Streusel Bars

I ususally try to plan Baking Monday in advance so I can pick up any special ingredients on grocery day. Since I had parties to shop for, I didn't get the chance to think ahead for this week. I was also short on time ... I had exactly one hour to put something together before picking the kids up from school. So, I had to find something that I could make quickly with whatever ingredients I had on hand.

When I get a new cookbook, I like to look through it right away and mark all the recipes that sound good. So, I flipped through a few cookie books, looking for tagged recipes that fit the bill. I decided to make Cinnamon Apple Streusel Bars, which allowed me to use up the extra apple slices from Theo's school birthday snack earlier in the day.

Another time saver? Every dry ingredient in the recipe is in 1/4 cup quantities, which means only one measuring cup got dirty. Yee-hah!

These were really easy to make. (By the way, 1.25 c graham cracker crumbs is equivalent to one of the plastic-wrapped bricks of crackers.) The butter + graham cracker + sugar bottom crust got all carmalized and crunchy. I used 2.5 apples and would probably use even more next time.

Are you ready for the good news? These were voted Best. Dessert. Ever. I'm in shock. Especially because there was no chocolate involved!

Best Desserts so far (as declared by my panel of tasters):

Cinnamon Apple Streusel Bars
Peanut Butter Fudge
Better Than Pop Tarts
Chocolate Caramel Cookies

Monday, September 20, 2010

Baking Monday - Swirly Vanilla Cupcakes

I'm continuing my quest for a good homemade cupcake recipe, these are pretty close. Last time I tried from scratch cupcakes, they were a little dense - more like pound cake - but this one was pretty good.

It took Theo about ten minutes to describe to me the kind of cupcakes he wanted for his birthday. He wanted vanilla for sure, and he wanted vanilla and chocolate frosting so that he could have a bit of each flavor with each bite. (Imagine this being described to me with elaborate hand motions and biting mime).

I put chocolate and vanilla icing (store bought, sadly) together in a bag, and they turned out great ... like tiny little twist cones.

I had some leftover filling in the freezer from these, so they had a little sweet surprise in the middle. Dora wanted me to leave a few plain because she does not like frosting, and I preferred the plain ones, too.

Clark went the other way and chose to eat only frosting instead.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Birthday Highlights

• Jeff took the day off of work!

• Walking the kids to school and going to a PTO meeting ... which doesn't sound like it should be a highlight, but going without a three-year-old was a treat. Plus, it was the first meeting of the year, so everyone was energetic and happy.

• Many, many FB birthday greetings. My phone was buzzing with updates all day.

• Picking out new glasses ... again, not really thrilling, but much less stressful to do with one kid than three.

• Lunch at Five Guys, mmmm.

• Spa pedicure, using a gift card from our friends. I asked Clark what color my toes should be, and he said "blue!" You got it, little dude.

• Shopping at Kohl's.

• Gifts from the kids, including a hysterical video explaining the hazards of PFOAs to go along with a new set of pots and pans. I got spoiled this year: books, magazines, dvds, chocolate, jewelry and an iPod Nano (it's pink!)

• Dinner at my favorite restaurant with surprise guests and a giant margarita.

AND ...

For the very first time ...

Being sung to by he waitstaff of a restaurant. In Spanish. While wearing a giant sombrero. I do not believe my face could have been any more red.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One Last Summer Project

Two weeks before school started, Jeff and I were outside working on the treehouse.

Dora and Theo found boxes and decided to make treehouses for their guys.

And Clark wanted to paint, too.

You know, I was just at the point of the summer where I was starting to feel discouraged that the kids weren't spending enough time outside, initiating their own play, or doing enough creative projects.

... and then, by surprise, they did all three!

They got out all their own supplies, and put everything away, leaving only a few painty fingerprint surprises for me.

It's nice when we can balance out tv-filled afternoons with some of these days, too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Baking Monday - Caramel Cookies

I felt a little cheaty with today's cookies, because they have a secret ingredient that makes them really awesome.

And they were apparently the best dessert so far, according to my panel of judges, both grown-up and child. Wow!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Memory Lane - First Day of School

2007 - Kindergarten

2007 - Preschool

2008 - Kindergarten and First Grade (Look at that tiny baby face! I can't believe I sent that little baby off to Kindergarten!)

2009 - First and Second Grade

2010 - Second and Third Grade

Monday, September 6, 2010

Summer Wrap-Up


I said to the kids that I think this was our librariest (it's a word!) summer. We were at the library at least once, usually twice a week. The older kids were in a library program that met on Mondays (under initial protest, but after the first week, they were fine) and the stack of books that Dora checked out on Mondays were usually read by Thursday. All three kids did reading charts, and while Theo did not quite catch the reading bug as I had hoped, he made a good effort. And we started out great with teaching Clark new words at the beginning of the summer, but that kind of tapered off by August. However, we've been starting to do worksheets to get into the swing of school, and Clark knows a lot more than I would have given him credit for. Grade: A


I think our kids have turned into pool snobs this summer. We have lovely friends with a lovely pool who invited us to swim quite often. Consequently, we only hit the public pool about five times. We had a bit of a problem with sibling harmony (see next item), which made going to public pools challenging. When we were at our friends' house, if one kid didn't want to swim, they could play instead. We had a week of vacation where the kids spent about 10 hours a day in the pool, so they got their fair share of water activity then. No one wanted to take swim lessons, and I didn't push them to do it, but everyone made amazing progress this season. Dora went from having never put her face in the water to swimming underwater and without her life jacket by August. Theo wanted to try swimming a bit without his jacket and Clark figured out how to swim on his own with his jacket, so they all made great strides this year! Grade: A

Sibling Harmony:

Overall, the kids were great. Lots of playing together, and mostly getting along. Our biggest challenge was three children with three different opinions about EVERYTHING. Two kids want to swim, one doesn't. Two kids want this playground, one wants a different one. So it seemed like whatever we did, there was always one kid who wasn't happy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing ... realizing you don't always get your way, blah, blah, but it was a pain for mom who always seemed to be dealing with one miserable kid when I wanted to be sitting in the sun and reading my book, BLURGH! Grade: B-

Outdoor Time:

Our July heat wave turned me into a puddle, so we didn't get as much fun outdoor time as I would have liked. But the last three weeks have been so pleasant that they've pretty much made up for it. Now that the treehouse is done enough that we can have some playtime up there, we've been spending a lot more time in the back yard. And we did spent a lot of time at the Story Garden when the kids were at camp and had a few good long playground playdates. We made it to three of Jeff's softball games, which was two more than last year, and the kids had a great time. Grade: B-


We didn't do as many camps and things as we've done in years past. Theo and Dora each did one camp on their own and one together. But we did take advantage of a lot of free activities this summer: library storytimes and performances, town picnic, parade and shows, projects at our craft store, church camp, book club, and parties and storytimes at the bookstore. I tried again to encourage the kids to go to our local playground program, and they did go twice (under much protest), which meant two blissful quiet afternoons for me. I guess I should enjoy this time that they would rather be with me than hanging out at the playground with their friends, but once or twice a week would have been nice. We'll try again next year. Grade: B

Family Time:

We lost Jeff to treehousing this summer (but yay! treehouse!) so he missed out on a lot of our evening and weekend activities. But we did have two great days at Sesame Place and a fun vacation to TN & NC. The kids were really lucky to have lots of time with their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, capped off with a relaxing visit to Buffalo for Labor Day weekend. Grade: B

Overall, a good summer, though it went by so fast. Dora said the best part was vacation, Theo said the best part was bowling, Clark said the best part was "nothing", because he's three.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ice Cream Safari Wrap-Up

Last stop: Cold Stone Creamery.

Now, Cold Stone is not my favorite ... I don't think the ice cream is very good, it's all about the candy. But what surprised me is that the kids weren't big fans, either! Neither Dora or Theo finished their ice cream ... they both gave it frowny face reviews.

Dora chose Oreo Cream ice cream with whoppers.

Theo was very excited to choose Crunch bars, his favorite candy ... but then bummed that they only used one mini bar to mix in. He said the pieces were too small to taste.

Clark really wanted just a scoop of M&Ms, but did not want them mixed in with the ice cream. So, plain chocolate again for him!

We had a special surprise guest this week! Hi Bonnie!

So, in summary:

Best flavor: Purity
Least favorite: Cold Stone
Least expensive: Humdinger
Most expensive: Cold Stone / Smarty's
Best atmosphere: Purity / Big Dipper
Worst atmosphere: Humdinger (too loud!), Joey's (too many bees!)
Best overall (price, flavor, atmosphere, location): Big Dipper

We're still Lickety Split fans - it loses out to Big Dipper only for atmosphere (there's no good place to sit outside) - but being only five minutes from our house is a huge plus. It was so fun to try new places this year, we will definitely do it again next year with a new selection of stops.

After ice cream, we went bowling. It was a great day to be inside with a/c, since it was crazy hot and our local pools are now closed.

All three kids got strikes, yay.

Clark only lasted one game.