Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cooking and baking - sugar cookie bars

I like to think of myself as a pretty darn creative person, one who can look at something and go, "I can do something with that" this extends to everything in my life except cooking. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I can cook but I am not that creative.  If you give me nuts, chicken, some spices and pasta I am more likely to think, "what the heck am I going to do with this?"  I am not an out of the box thinker with food but I am getting better.  Now I do OK most of the time, thanks to some friends, the internet and several cook books.  I'm not the person who could be on 'America's worst cooks' or anything but I'm not the person that could be on 'Best cooks in America' either.  I do OK.  No one in my house is starving, though we do eat a lot of salads....

My mother is a decent cook, though she tends to overcook things till they are leather or mush and I like thinks that taste like the thing it is.  But she never taught me how to cook, no really.  She was more of a, 'get out of kitchen and let me cook' type of person.  I like to cook but still don't know what kind of spices should go together or with what kind of food.  My husband will tell you that sometimes my experiments go quite bad.  But I keep trying.  I've shared some recipes here that have been winners, a whole chicken in a crock pot and pasta with chicken and bacon are some.  If you've never tried a whole chicken in a crock pot you should...

One thing I have found that I am good at in the kitchen is baking.  At high altitude it is a bit tricky but I seem to be pretty darn good at it.  I really seem to think outside the box when baking.  Like the recipe I'm sharing today.  Sugar cookie bars.  It is a family favorite.  Please note, this recipe isn't adjusted for high altitude.  You can make it as is if you are below 6800 feet, otherwise you will need to adjust.

Sugar cookie bars. 

You will need:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick of unsalted butter - softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Begin by lining a 9x13 inch pan with aluminum foil - grease the foil with cooking spray (I find the foil just makes it easier to get the cookies out of the pan). 
Preheat your oven to 375

In a large bowl sift the following: flour, baking powder and salt - set aside

I use a stand mixer for this recipe but you can mix it by hand or with a good hand held mixer. 

In another bowl cream together the butter and sugar till light and fluffy - 3 minutes med. speed with a mixer.Next incorporate the egg, sour cream and vanilla.  Blend well.

Finally with the mixer on low, or if by hand go slowly - mix in the flour mixture a bit at a time until it is all mixed together.

Spread evenly in the baking pan and bake at 375 for 14-17 minutes or until the edges become slightly golden.  Let cool completely before icing. 

The icing:
1 stick of unsalted butter softened
4 cups of confectioners sugar
1/4 cup either half and half or whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
pinch of salt
food coloring ( you could also add sprinkles or colored sugar etc.)

To create the icing:  cream the butter and slowly add the confectioners sugar.  You will alternate between the half and half or milk and the sugar until you have reached the desired consistency.  Go slow, be patient it will come together!  Then add the vanilla, almond extract and salt.  Finally you can add the food coloring.  (For me this makes a lot of icing). 

Once the bars are cool, icing them and enjoy!  They are good. 

I put some sprinkles on these before the icing was too dry.  To get the two different colors I cut the icing in half and created one orange and one pink. 

I hope you try them, they are pretty easy to make.  If I can do it, you can do it! 
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Monday, May 26, 2014

Organization and a Graduation party on the cheap

First and foremost, I hope everyone had a safe and happy 3 day weekend.  Let us not forget that this is not only the start to summer (gosh I hope, our weather here has been crazy, cold, hail and still snow!)BUT Memorial Day is a time for us to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom - their lives.  I hope everyone took a moment at 3pm your local time to think of those who lost their lives in war defending our right to democracy and freedom. 

Now on to the party!

I'm a bad planner, really bad, I'm more a 'fly by the seat of my pants' kind of girl.  Usually I just do things on the spur of the moment and they tend to come out OK but I've learned that planning is essential for real success! For a small party I may not need to plan but for a graduation party I needed to do a bit of planning. 

I had a daughter graduate from college and one from high school in a span of 3 weeks!  YIKES... I know.  We tried to make each graduation special for each girl and had a party at the end to celebrate.  My high school graduate chose the color theme - baby blue/mint and white... NOT her or her sisters school colors! 

I scanned the internet for ideas and if you read last weeks post you'll see I found a few!  This is what I ended up with.

Table decorations -

I saw these pinwheels at the dollar store in the colors my daughter wanted but not quite the right tone.  I bought them anyway, they were too cute and the idea I had to do with them I got really excited. 
The original idea was a vase filled with marbles with flowers stuck in at the top.  My girls didn't want flowers so I thought these would be just as cute.  They loved them. 
I then thought, "how about candy in dollar store jars topped with lollipops or the pinwheels?"  These are the same dollar store vases that I did used for Christmas (with the Epson salt) and the PB knock off for Easter!  These have really come in handy. 

I got plain and peanut M&M's and from Party City I found those blue colored balls that are actually candy.  They taste like malted milk balls.  I got the lollipops there as well.  Party City also had gum balls and many other kinds of candies in all different colors.  The 'kids' loved them! 

I off course also got balloons,

I tied them to chairs, railings and just about anything I could think of.  All at varying heights to show each one off. 
I also got a 'congrats grad' banner and hung it outside. 
Finally I decorated our mailbox. I've done it several times before, stuffing flowers in the box, sticking balloons around it with flowered garland etc.  This time I used a large roll of blue sparkly tulle.  I was originally looking for loose grapevine to wrap around the box but I couldn't find any so I grabbed the tulle in the right blue color.  I also bought some paper lanterns, blue and white and hung them from the back porch and from the mailbox. 

As I said before I was on a shoestring budget and the tulle was on sale for $5.00, the paper lanterns were 3 in a set for $3.00 each.   The most money I spend was on the balloons and the candy - $50.00 in all on that!  Who knew balloons were so expensive!? 
I like to let my guests know what to expect when they drive up.  By decorating your front, not only will guests know it is the right house but they get a glimpse of what is to come. 
Finally was the food.  I had chips and dip and I made some Chex mix as well. 
That is 1 bag of honey Chex mix/1 small bag of peanut and 1 small bag of plain M&M's and 1 can of honey roasted peanuts.  It didn't last long! 
We didn't have fancy food just hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, potato salad, baked beans and salad fixings.  Cake and cookies were brought out at the end. 
Everyone had a great time even though it started raining and storming and even hailing around 8pm and it continued on throughout the night.  The kids were disappointed that we couldn't start the bonfire and have s'more's but with all the rain I doubt the logs would have lit, it rained that hard. 
I hope you can use some of these tips whenever you have a party:
 - make a list of 'things to do' by date - example - Saturday, May 17 - order balloons/Friday, May 23 10 am - pick up balloons
 - make a list of 'things to purchase' along with where to get them by date - example - Saturday, May 17 - Hobby Lobby - get grapevine/paper lanterns and look for flameless candles. 
 - do what you can ahead of time, I made the Chex Mix a few days ahead and just stored it in a plastic container.
You want to plan things out so you aren't scurrying around last minute going crazy trying to set things up
 - I scheduled my decorating... example - 9-9:30 - decorate candy vases/11-11:45 - decorate mailbox/11:45 - pick up cake etc.   
I do find this does keep me on track and sane. 
Thanks for stopping by.  Have a great week, I'll be back on Thursday. 
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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Party Time

We had a couple celebrations in our house this month.  I have 2 daughters that have graduated!  One from college and one from high school.  I am one proud Mom! 

Now we are having a party! 

Since we have two different schools I had the girls choose any colors BUT their school colors.  So we will have mint, blue, white, black and green. 

As I sat down with the girls to plan this party out, they actually wanted to keep things very simple, cake, balloons, bonfire, burgers, hot dogs and yard games.  We already have a trampoline and disc golf so we begged and borrowed Bocce Ball, Croquet, Ladder Ball and Corn Hole.  I almost bought a washer game, where you throw the weighted washer into a box that is set up like Ski Ball.  I didn't get it as the girls weren't with me and I wanted their input.  Next we discussed decorations.  I got the whatever you come up with Mom will be awesome response.  Now the pressure is really on! 

This is what I was thinking....

A candy station - different colors though

Pretty cool huh! 

As our fireplace wall is against our porch, I was thinking of something like this....

I also want to have a fruit bar, this one is spectacular!
These lights are crazy simple.  I thought of doing this and putting them in one of my large backyard trees.  

 I love this centerpiece idea - maybe do it with beans, spray paint them and instead of lollypops just flowers? 
I also thought about how to decorate the front yard.  Just balloons?  Then I thought of paper lanterns and some grapevine wrapped around the mailbox along with balloons.  I'll let you know how that comes out. 

I'll be sharing how this idea board comes to fruition next week. 
Have a great Memorial Day weekend!  I'll be back on Tuesday with all the details on the party. 

Be safe!

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Back porch reveal

What is it about men that they think furniture isn't a necessity, or is it just my husband? 

For years we lived with just dinning room chairs in our living room because he didn't think furniture was necessary.  'We don't use that room, why do we need furniture?' 
Did he ever think that we didn't use that room because there was no furniture in it?  Logic I know, I'll stop. 

The result, I got really good at decorating with chairs.... really good, possibly too good. 

But now you've seen pictures of my living room, so you say but you have furniture sooo what? 
That is how I ended up with leather furniture in my living room.  He tried to surprise me and came home with leather furniture. Now, don't get me wrong, leather is nice but personally the big bulky leather is more suited to a family room, not my small, teeny weensy living room. 

I think he cringes every time I bring up furniture. 
Today's conversation:
Him - 'You want to invest in outdoor furniture'
Me - 'Yes'
Him - 'Why'
Me - 'Because we spend a lot of time out here and to have something nice to sit in would be well, nice!'
Him - 'I like it with just the chairs, it looks good'
Damn he's right it does look good, not great but good.  I got way too good at decorating with chairs, DARN IT! 

Remember last week when I showed you my garden and porch?  Well here's a recap -

This is what my garden looked like on Mother's Day just over a week ago.
Yes people that is snow.  We ended up with 6 inches! 
This was my porch last week....

Friday I am having a graduation party here and I really need to make it look, well great!  My budget - I need to stay under $50.00 because at a party people need to eat and I have to decorate with balloons and such.. so the budget for furniture and porch items is small to say the least.

Well this is what it looks like today! 

Ignore the big box... just pretend you don't see that! 
I spent $9.99 on a dragonfly pillow from Target, regularly $14.99 on sale!  I got the blue pillow at Goodman's for $5.99. 
So other than cleaning up the chairs, moving indoor plants outside and shopping my house for baskets (that basket on the coffee table is the one I used for Easter as is the vase with the sunflowers) and other items I only spent $16.00!! 
The hubby put away all the wood from in front of the hot tub, he scrubbed the deck and all the chairs for me.  I swept and arranged chairs! 
Oh, and he put up my dragonfly that I got in Moab, UT last month.

Let's take a bit of a closer look...
As you come out of the screen door immediately to your right is the dragonfly above and below it is this cute little cart I found in the clearance section of Home Goods in February!
In front of you as you come out the door I made a little dinning area, yep that is the same table as in the original picture...
Then to the left if the sitting area with all the chairs!

I like the basket empty right now, maybe on party day I'll put fruit in it but for now I like it empty with the silver tray.  Yes it is the same basket I used for Easter decorating. 

I also decorated the front of the house, after the graduation party I'll put up a flag and other Memorial Day things.... those will stay out till July 4th.  As you can see in this picture below, everything is really green and budding though if you notice you can just see the branches of our tree and it is just starting to bud.   
So last week my poor garden looked like this...
And this week it looks like this...
What a difference a week makes!  Even my lilac bush is starting to bloom!
When spring does finally come to the Rockies it comes fast and doesn't last long....
But my yard is loving it!
Last week.
 And today! 
I hope you enjoyed the transformation. 
I'll be back on Thursday to show you my party decorations for Graduation. 
Till then have a great week! 
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Back porch

If you missed Tuesday's post then you missed what happened here on Sunday.  Yes it was Mother's Day but it also...

Yes it is May.  We ended up with over 6 inches!  My poor flowers that were just starting to bloom and sprout. 
I saw a thing on FB that said... 'What a lovely winter we are having this spring don't you think?' that really does epitomize our weather lately.  Now I understand that I live in COLORADO and that we really don't ever have a true spring like the East Coast but hey it is MAY! 

OK I'm done with my little rant.  Onto the problem at hand, other than the snow. 

My back porch.

This is what it currently looks like, wood, snow and all.  It is really great though, it is covered and large, large enough for an 8 person hot tub and a round table and still have enough room for seating.

OK so I must get this in order by next Friday!  I have 30 people coming over for a graduation party and it just can't look like this! 

First I thought I'd paint the round table.  It was my husbands Great-Grandmothers.  I also thought I spray paint the plastic chairs - now I have to pick a color!  As you can see I've been letting the spouse choose some colors, either that or I'm in a real blue period! 

I need to make this place look decent in a week on a shoestring (like $60.00) budget.  I could spend that much on plants and that can't happen. 
The hubby suggested we spend the money on food for the graduation, while that is important I think the porch MUST look nice at least!  I mean how much can hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and such cost? 

The problem is that this is my taste and what I'd like for the back porch.

This is from 'Young House Love' - they get it! I just love these chairs!
Young House Love | Let’s Take It Outside | cute chairs

From Apartment Therapy...isn't the chandelier amazing!
Rustic covered outdoor dining space: simple table and lights add to the cozy feel of this space
This next link was bad.. grrr but I do like the space.
Outdoor Living
This is from the 'White Buffalo Styling Co' and 'The Hunted Interior'
I do like the rustic mixed with the modern.  The floor here is amazing!

This final one is from 'Posh home'
al fresco dining
We will have to see where I end up but it will be interesting! 

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Have a great weekend!  It is supposed to be nice here by Saturday 72!  I'll take it. 
Be safe everyone.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Summer craft

I have been quiet for a bit, sorry about that.  We had excitement in our household last week, my oldest daughter graduated from college with 2, yep count em' 2 degree's!  The first in phycology and the second in sociology.  I am one proud Mamma!  Now on to Grad school etc... she is one smart and beautiful girl. 

I hope all the Moms out there had a great Mothers Day.  This is what the weather was like for me on Sunday...

Yes no fooling that is snow in my garden.  It snowed all day Sunday and off and on all day today.  It is May isn't it?  Here in Colorado we really don't have spring only summer, fall and winter... but the view is beautiful - ah trade offs. 

My poor flowers! 

In defiance today I'm going to show you an easy craft that you can do in less than 5 minutes.  The possibilities are endless. 

You will need:
Heavy Duty glue - I used E6000
Faux or real sea shells
A canvas or a shadowbox or a deep picture frame - size of your choice (I used a flat canvas I purchased at Michael's). 

Step 1 - Pre-arrange your shells on your surface - once you like the arrangement
Step 2 - Glue them down
Step 3 - Display! 

See less than 5 minutes!

Instead of shells you could use small rocks (am I the only one who collects rocks?).  You could use driftwood, faux animals (buy a bag of plastic animals at the dollar store - paint them any colors you like and glue them on!). 
You could also glue a piece of craft or scrapbook paper down on the canvas or inside the picture frame first and glue the items onto it for more contrast. 
Let your imagination run wild!
As my summer decorating revolves around the ocean I used sea shells, (in reality I always have seashells out and in my decorating even at Christmas). 

Let me know if you try this I'd love to see your results! 
I'll be back on Thursday  - I've got to turn this...

Into something wonderful on a shoestring budget in 2 weeks for a graduation party - that is if it EVER stops snowing!  Wish me luck - I REALLY need it! 


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