Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I have been very consciously trying to get back to my menu planning, grocery list keeping days. You know, the ones before you had two crazy kids under foot all day long. Remember those???

It also helps to justify my obsession with tearing recipes out of magazines and leaving them strewn throughout the house, wherever I happened to be reading at the time. It would probably justify this practice even more if I ever actually followed a recipe....but I don't....EVER!

It's not that those recipes don't get to put use...they just don't get followed. They are more of an inspiration. Like my real life pinterest board...all over my house:)

So, to get back to the point, I carried my carefully plotted grocery list into the store today and began to cross things off one by one. [Believe it or not, there was once a time in my life when I was able to organize that grocery list by the departments in the store...produce, cold cases, etc. But that day has passed...oh well!]

Included in that list were all of the ingredients necessary to make meatballs "using" a new recipe I found in the March 2012 issue of Cooking Light. Which in this case, simply meant that I was going to add ricotta cheese to my meatball mixture because the magazine said it would make the meatballs mouth-wateringly moist.

And that's when I saw it...a sale! On lean ground pork! $1.00 a pound! Seriously...a whole pound of ground pork for just a buck! Oh, this meatball making adventure just turned into a expedition! Why make a batch of meatballs for dinner, when I could make 6 batches and freeze them for later use???

And let me tell you...I've made meatballs before. Pork, turkey, lamb, beef, combos, you name it. But these meatballs are so seriously delicious that the 6 batches may not make it to the freezer. YUM!

And, I think you probably saw the homemade marinara mess that Belle and I made this summer. That's some seriously delicious marinara, but it was all in the freezer. So, I bought a jar of Mid's Meatless sauce. I'm not much of a fan of jarred pasta sauces. Typically, I use big cans of tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes and make my own. (You have to save the homemade stuff for really special occassions, 'cause it's a pain to make!) But I had read, in Cooking Light again, that there are some decent brands out there, so I thought I would give it a shot. If I was going to spend half the day making 6 bazillion meatballs then I didn't want to be slow simmering a sauce all day too. And you know what? This sauce is pretty darn good. It's Sicilian style (I won't pretend to know what that means), and relatively thick for a meatless sauce. And it was perfect with these meatballs.

So, recipe...

Inspired by the Italian Meatball Sliders recipe in Cooking Light, March 2012: I've changed the quantities to make enough to freeze for future meals. The directions for tonight's dinner are pretty much straight from the magazine. There is also a great spinach salad recipe with this in the magazine...we had it as well, and it was delish.

Many, Many Meatballs

Makes approximately 50 2-inch meatballs.


6 shallots - diced

8 cloves garlic - minced

15 oz. container of part skim ricotta

2 cups Panko bread crumbs

1 cup parsley - chopped

2 lbs. lean ground pork

1 lb. ground turkey breast

5 links sweet Italian turkey sausage - casings removed

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1 tsp. kosher salt

4 eggs

Saute the shallots and garlic until softened. Then combine all ingredients and mix well. Form two inch balls. * See Special Note below* Heat large stainless steel skillet (I'm sure other types of pans would work here, that's just what I used) over medium low heat. Use an oil mister to spray pan. Reserve enough meatballs for dinner tonight. Then, working in batches, brown remaining meatballs on all sides and place on baking sheet. Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake until cooked through, approximately 40 min. Cool completely. Freeze on a clean baking tray, then transfer to freezer containers and return to freezer.

For tonight's dinner - Slightly flatten reserved meatballs. Add to warm pan and cook 3 minutes on each side. Add 1 1/2 cups marinara to pan and cover. Simmer 10 minutes or until cooked through. Serve on warmed slider buns (I used soft wheat dinner rolls from our grocery store bakery). You could top with a slice of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil leaves too.

Special Note: A friend of mine shared that he always makes his meatballs in the oven. He skips the browning and bakes them on parchment paper. He swears they are crispy and delicious. And I trust him...he's a super cook and baker, so I'd highly recommend you give that method a shot...I know I will be! It will save you tons of time standing at the stove, browning batches of meatballs. You will still want to cook the ones for tonight on the stovetop though so they can simmer in the sauce.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Easter Swap Update

Are you as excited about the Hand-Made Easter Swap as I am??? Look...Bee is demonstrating just how ecstatic I am feeling:)

Just a quick update for our participants. I sent out an email this morning requesting swap info from you...if for some reason you have signed up for the swap and you did not receive that email, please let me know right away. The shipping deadline is going to be March 31, so please send back your responses as soon as possible, so we can all get busy crafting! Thanks so much...and I can't wait to see what you all come up with!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blog Button Semi-Tute and Sponsorship Swap

Have you ever accomplished something and looked back and had absolutely no idea how you did it?
Welcome to my relationship with html:) [For all you non-bloggers, that's the computer code you use to make magic happen on your blog...links and clickables and all that jazz.]

Out in bloggy-land there is a sponsorship swap going on. Basically, it's a way for smallish blogs to help spread some love to other similar smallish blogs. I put your button on my blog, and you put mine on yours. And I really wanted to play along...I mean REALLY!

Unfortunately, that means that you have to be good enough with html to make that whole button and grab box thing happen. HA! With the help of a new bloggy-friend, Rachael (that's her over there on the sidebar at Imagine Gnats, so go say hi!), I managed to get the crazy thing functional. But, I have no idea how I did it! NONE! Really!

But, I'm quite certain that I'm not the only html-hating bloggy gal (or guy) out there, so I'm gonna try to help y'all!

So for you fellow's kinda how I did it.

1. You need a square image. I'm a photoshop girl, but for this I highly recommend photobucket. It's just way too simple to make a cute one and get the codes you need. It also cuts out a step because you do the edit right on the host. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about it's ok, I don't either...but, here's what you do.

1a. Find a pic of something that relates to the content of your blog. I chose the pic of the fabric rainbow I'm using in Belle's bedroom (that is - yes- STILL unfinished). It is colorful, fun, a decent photo, and hints at the content of my blog.

1b. Upload that pic to will need to create an account if you don't already have one.

1c. Crop that pic to as close to square as you can. Then be sure to save a copy and work from the squared copy. That preserves your original image so you don't have to upload it again.

1d. Add your text by using the decorating tab. It's super easy and pretty self-explanatory...just click around until you get something you like. You can also play around with the other tabs to make changes...I think I sharpened the image, but that was all...but there are some fun things you can do:)

1e. Save all those edits.

2. So you have your square image...great! I wish I could tell you that was the hard part....but, sorry. No. Now you need some code. I would love to just be able to give you the exact code I used, but I'm pretty sure I messed it up somehow because blogger changed what I typed after I saved it. And unfortunately, I have no idea what I did wrong, what blogger changed, or how to help you use the code that is embedded in my button. So instead, I'm going to tell you how I got to where I am and we will hope that it works for you too! I am completely convinced that the html deities just sit around all day and arbitrarily give you a "WORKS," or "NO WAY LADY!" response depending on their mood or what they had for breakfast. So I really will keep my fingers crossed for you.

2a.Anyway...go into your design tab if you're on blogger...or wherever you make changes to your blog. Open up a text blogger you click Add a Gadget and select Text from the list.

2b. Then hop over to The Little Hen House and check out the post on button making. There you will find the code that I started with. Go ahead and copy and paste it into your text widget.

2c. Then it's time to make it work. You will need to edit the code you just pasted to include your own links. You will know your blog URL (be sure to include the http:// business). When you need to input the code for your image, photobucket is going to come in really handy. Swing back on over to your image and you will find a little box on the right hand side. Click in the boxes to copy the html code, the img code, or the direct link...depending on what your particular code asks for. There are different codes for different hosts.

2d. Cross your fingers and click save.

3. Now it's time to test it.

3a. Test it there? Yes - Good!

3b. If you click on the pic does it link you back to your blog? Yes - Excellent!

3c. Copy the code from the grab box. Create a new html widget on your sidebar. Paste in the code and save it. Now view your blog. Click on the NEW button...does it link you back to your blog? Yes - SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPEALIDOCIOUS! You did it!

4. Now for those of you who answered NO to one of the above questions...that was me. About 600 times. I actually broke out in a sweat trying to make this thing work. If you're totally stuck, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment here and I will try to help...notice I said, "TRY." I really want to help. I do. But, I think I was pretty clear that I have no idea how I actually made mine work, so my assistance will be limited. But, I will try!

Good luck and let me know when you're ready to SWAP!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

DISNEY...Our Random Tips for First Time Parents

I hope you like pictures! This entire post is really just an excuse for me to slather the blog with eye candy from our recent trip to DISNEY WORLD! So, now that you've been warned...I actually might have some content that you will appreciate.

This was our first trip to WDW as parents. And we were just a tad on the clueless side. We tend to be last minute people who rarely think through the entire day that we are in let alone what we might be doing tomorrow. But, you can only operate that way to a point when it comes to Disney or otherwise you might miss out.

Now, we're no experts. And you can find a gazillion and one websites out there that will give you tons of insider tips from people who visit the parks more times in one year than we will visit them in our entire lifetimes. But, these tiny random tidbits may not make those, sit back and enjoy our list of top tips for first time parents...

1. Dress your kiddos in clothes that OBVIOUSLY brand them as a set. I'm not talking about matching t-shirts and shorts. I'm talking something that will get them noticed. Why? You ask. Because when small children are meandering through the park it is very easy for them to get cut off from you in the crowd...sometimes even when holding their hands. But, when our kiddos had on noticeable outfits that made it more than obvious that they were a set, then people did not cut through our family.

2. Magic Kingdom on DAY ONE! It's where the real magic happens and you want to start off the trip with that sense of wonder. AND...the monorail will automatically become the first ride of your visit...which is super fun:)

3. There are picture points marked throughout the park. They are there to make it easy to spot the perfect background for your photos. But they get crowded! And there are plenty of other spots where the views are just as good if you just move 20 feet to the right, left, or ahead. So, don't feel like you have to get sucked into those crowded spots...just move a little and you will get a much clearer view.

4. All the characters have handlers. They keep the lines orderly and let you know when the character is taking a break....make friends with these people. Chat with them, engage them with your children, and smile a lot. It may make the difference between getting to see the White Rabbit AND Alice or just the White Rabbit. That's what happened here. Alice was supposed to leave after the person right in front of us...but, we were nice and cute so the handler let us squeeze in:)

5. Book it to the back of the park! Get there when it opens and make a beeline for Fantasyland. We saw waits of 20 minutes or less on ALL of the rides. We had assumed that we would ride maybe one or two rides before our lunch reservations, but because we skipped the front of the park and went straight to Snow White's Scary Adventures, we were able to ride ALL of the rides in the area with time to spare.

6. Character dining is an absolute MUST! If you can afford it, DO IT! We were able to see Cinderalla, Snow White, Ariel, Princess Aurora (that's Sleeping Beauty for you parents of boys), and Belle at our table. They talked to the girls, gave lots of hugs, signed autographs, took lots of pictures...all with no rushing to let the next person in line have their chance. We did lunch at Cinderella's castle and breakfast at Chef Mickey's. Avoiding dinner saved some pennies and avoiding long lines to see the most popular characters saved some sanity.

7. Character dining! This one needs me! We waited in line for almost an hour to see Rapunzel. Then we felt really rushed because everyone else was waiting too. It was the low point of our Magic Kingdom visit (it's a relative low point as the entire day really was magical!).

8. Snow White's kiss! I can't say anything for certain here, but it appears that Snow White bestows one kiss to a special child during each character dining experience. How do we know that? Well...Bee's kiss was the only one given at our lunch event. And every cast member who saw her after the lunch commented on her kiss and knew that it came from Snow White. We didn't see any other children with kiss prints through the course of the day, and we saw a lot of the diners coming and going from the castle.'s just conjecture. And even if true, probably isn't a hard and fast rule. So...want it to be your child??? Once, again, we can't make any promises. But...Bee was wearing a special Snow White outfit. She told Snow White that she was her favorite. And she hammed it up quite well....lots of hugging and smiling and staring up in awe. We're guessing that's how it happened.

9, Parents of small children worried about their kiddos being afraid of the characters - Start with the Princesses. Even if you have boys. They are clearly humans, normal size, and talk. It's a good way to get your feet wet with the meet and greets.

10. Gift Cards - When planning your trip, put in a request to close family members that they give Disney gift cards to your children for holidays leading up to the trip. You can find them at Disney stores, but also at Target, and probably other gift card kiosks in other stores. It made souvenir shopping very easy. "You have X number of dollars. We need to make sure that we look at everything and make good decisions about how to spend your money." Then let them pay for their items. When the card is empty their shopping is finished.

11. And while we're on the topic of shopping...all the stores in all the parks have pretty much the same merchandise. Unless it is a specialty item that will only be available in one location (like Muppets from the Muppet Store), then don't buy it at the park. Take a trip to Downtown Disney on one of the last evenings of your trip andbuy all of your goodies at the gigantic Disney store there. It will save you from carrying bags around and will help you make wise shopping decisions because you will be doing all of your buying in one location. PS - I've heard that if you are staying at a WDW resort then you can have your purchases sent to your hotel room. We didn't stay on property so I don't know anything about that.

12. Document the little moments. Like Bee holding her new best friend. It will help you remember more details from the trip.

13. Check out this photography blog and her tips for getting great character photos. I definitely used her tips when we were there! You can also check out her tips for when to lug your SLR and when a P&S will do just fine.

14. Share food to save money! When your little ones are spent, you'd be amazed what half a hot dog and some fries will do for their energy level. My husband and I even split food sometimes...and large appetizer sampler at the T Rex restaurant at Downtown Disney was more than enough food for the two of us and was a lot cheaper than ordering two entrees.

15. You have to see the Magic Kingdom at night. We found a great place on a bench on the bridge from Tomorrowland back over to Main Street where we could lounge and watch the fireworks. The bonus...Tinkerbell flies literally right over your head if you're on that bridge! Which makes it much easier for little eyes to spot her. And you avoid the crowds over on Main Street.

16. Plan to eat a HUGE breakfast. And if you can do it for free even better! Our hotel had an awesome breakfast buffet and we made good use of it...Mickey waffles every morning are totally worth the wait for the waffle iron! I've read that you will walk 6-7 miles per day in WDW, so fuel up to get the day started on the right foot!

17. Park Tickets - The park tickets look like gift, first, don't keep them with your gift cards. It just makes things less confusing. Second, each adult will have a scan taken of their finger upon each entrance to the park. That means that your tickets are not interchangeable among the members of your group. So...who cares? You will, when you use the Goofy ticket on Day One and then try to get in with the Pluto ticket on Day Two! sure that when you purchase your tickets (we got ours at our local Disney store before we left town) you buy a different character for each adult. Then when you use your ticket on the first day of your trip, remember which character is yours and be sure to use the same ticket every additional day of your visit. Traveling with a large number of adults...maybe try putting stickers on your tickets.

18. Take a picture of the parking lot sign before you leave your car each day. You may never need to look back, but in case you do, it's there for you. Apparently the parking attendants also note which lots were filled at which times during the day, so at the very least, know what time you got there so the cast members can help you find your car if you lost it.

19. And if Goofy is just WAY TOO TALL...don't fret! The picture of her looking freaked out in the booth is just as cute as the one with Goofy would have been:)

20. Beware the lighting. Each character experience is different, so be sure to check your camera settings in each new place! And it can change if you take even a step or two to one side. So just keep an eye on those'll regret it if you don't!

21. Don't want to worry about camera settings? Use Disney's Photo Pass. You will get a card, much like a credit card. Each time you have a photo taken by a Disney photographer, they will scan your card and at the end of your trip you will have a collection of photos taken by the pros. A few warnings...1. Even though they are "pros," they aren't perfect...especially with night time shots. So if you really want that perfect pic of your family in front of the castle at night, you might want to visit a few different photographers to increase your odds. 2. You can share the pics for free, but doing anything else with them is PRICEY! You can download individual pictures for $14.95. Yep - you read that right! One picture for $14.95. Or you can buy a CD with all of your pics from the trip for $149.95. Yep - again...not a typo! So here's my advice...not a professional photographer or have advanced photography skills? Then do the pass. But then make sure you use the mess out of it. I mean get those people to take pics of you at every turn. Because in the end the price of the CD is the same no matter how many pictures you have on it. I wish I had known that because we would have stopped at a lot more photographers as we made our rounds. 3. They also add some stock photos to your of the characters and the best locations. It's a nice bonus if you're getting the CD, but won't do you much good if you have to pay $14.95 to download it...a postcard is much cheaper 4. The photographers don't come to the character dining experiences, so you need to be prepared with your own camera and know how to use it.

22. The attractions for little ones at Animal Kingdom are pretty spread apart. It isn't like Fantasyland where you can hit all the major preschool attractions without having to walk more than a fwe yards. This may be the day you want to have a stroller. (Belle and Bee walked all four days of our trip, but only had difficulty doing so in Animal Kingdom).

23. Let 'em play! You don't have to race from one sight to another. It's ok to take an hour and just play. The bonus...there are usually places for adults to sit and still be able to monitor the kids:)

24. But be sure to play with them for a least a little while. It's fun!

25. Hit the most popular attractions first. Or during parade time. The waits will be shorter. For example, Animal Kingdom opens at 9:00 and the first Lion King performance is at 9:30. Book it to make sure you get there! There's no wait and you can get great seats! Wait until later in the day and you will have to stand in line and may not be able to see well.

26. Use the Fast Pass system!!!!!!! If you go in late January like we did, you may not need it for most rides (ride times were about 15-25 minutes for most rides), but for the popular rides it makes a huge difference. Be sure to get one for every member of your party. The first time we did it we just got one...luckily it wasn't crowded and the nice cast member let us go through anyway! Random note - even with the small January crowds, the Fast Passes for Toy Story Mania were gone before get there and get one first thing when you are at Hollywood Studios!

27. Parades - We only watched the parade at Hollywood Studios, so I'm not sure if this tip is true for the other parks. At Hollywood Studios, you will find a goldish colored line imbedded in the pavement along the parade route. This is the "Do Not Cross This Line!" line. Meaning...a few minutes before the parade begins, go find a spot to sit right behind that line. You'll have a front row view. The line may be a little hard to spot at first, but once you know what you're looking for it is super easy to find a good seat. Not sure what to look for??? The cast members will start to line the parade route about 15 minutes before parade time and they are more than happy to point out the line...or point out when you've crossed it:)

28. Getting some nutrition - It's really not as hard as you think. The park does a great job of including fruits and vegetables in every kids meal and there are salads and great sandwich options at all of the restaurants. Looking for the freshest produce? Check out Seasons at Epcot. They use produce straight from the greenhouses in the park!29. Here's another of those..."not really sure if this is 100% accurate" tips. It APPEARED that the characters at Epcot come out right at the end of the street performance. Can't make any promises...but each time a street performance was wrapping up we noticed that the characters were streaming out of the hiding spots. Just an observation, but you may want to linger around the backs of the crowds during that time and see if you can score a quick visit without at line.30. Jessie is currently at the bottom of Splash Mountain. We missed in case you're looking for her, now you know.

31. I recommend saving Hollywood Studios and Epcot for the end of the trip because they have lots of shows that little kids will enjoy...that means air conditioning and seats!32. Look for little things to the cast members blowing bubbles at the park entrances. Disney really does do details really well!

33. The Peoplemover at the Magic Kingdom was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Why? No line, long ride, goes through various other rides like Space Mountain, toddler appropriate, and GREAT VIEWS! Be sure you don't miss it...and better yet, hit it at the end of the day when your feet are tired:)34. Visit before your youngest turns three. Then she's FREE! Everywhere! And there are plenty of things to keep a 2 year old happy:)

35. Finally, cherish this time together. It will go so fast! Then start planning your next visit on the way home:) We did!

Easter Swap Project Inspiration #4: Fabric Eggs Tutorial and Pattern

Hello sewers! Is that a word? Seamstress sounds so...I don't know...official. Like you have a little tailor's shop somewhere. But I never can seem to find the right word to describe people like me...oh well!

Another great Easter toy swap inspiration for you! Or just a simple spring sewing project if you prefer:)

I went searching for a pattern for fabric eggs and found this fantastic tutorial/pattern over at Retro Mama. It is really well written, and has tons of pics to explain each step along the way. Whether you are swapping or not, I think you will be excited to add this to your growing list of must make projects. I can see these in bright springy prints for Easter, but also in various shades of natural, brown, or even light blue linen or possibly wool felt to be added to your play food collection. YUM!

And while you're over at Retro Mama, be sure to spend a little time browsing around. Her patterns are gorgeous (just love Ruthie Bear!) and she has some other super sweet tutorials - you're just going to flip for her little houses, I know it:) And you just might find her somewhere else....

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hello Hearts!

Belle actually counts down to her birthday using major holidays. After Christmas, we have to get through New Year's, Valentine's Day, a few family birthdays, Easter and Mother's Day before she gets another round of excessive numbers of presents. Strange calendar system, I know. But her favorite questions are, in this order: When? In the morning? Is that tomorrow? It can really drive one up the wall:) Needless to say, on January 1 she is ready to haul out the hearts. Let's get a move on...there's a birthday waiting for me at the end of this endless parade of holidays!

I held her off as long as I could, but we've been playing with felt Valentines for about 2 weeks now. And there have been heart shaped cookies coming out of the tiny wooden oven in the corner of our kitchen for even longer than that.

Here are just a few of the Valentines crafts that have been seen around these parts recently.

The felt Valentine set didn't last long in the Etsy shop, but have no fear...there are tons of these little things floating around our house:)

And this little guy has just captured my heart! I designed this new Bowling Pin Doll pattern especially with toddlers in mind. It's neck is just right for little hands to grab hold of, and the lack of dangling limbs means that even the roughest round of tug-o-war won't amputate any body parts. This was the prototype for the pattern and I think it turned out pretty well...just like a bowling pin. I'll be trying it out with a different head shape soon:)

And finally, how can you bake heart shaped cookies without an adorable play apron??? I picked up this vintage Valentine print by Kokka at a local quilt market a couple of weeks ago. The ticking and chambray came from my stash, but I think they are pretty much a perfect complement. This apron is in the shop for now, but someone is NOT very happy about that. She has plotted any number of attempts to commandeer it from the sewing room. So far I've managed to stay one step ahead of her, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she's just letting me think that I have her number:) We'll see how long it lasts!

What Valentine crafts are you whipping up this year?