Category Archives: Tips

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Patriotic Pretzels

The countdown to the 4th has begun and we’re trying to find time to make all of our favorite treats. Chocolate-covered pretzels are one of the boy’s favorites, so when we saw these over at Poca Cosa we added them to our list.  This is a great project to do with the kids. The boy has been helping me with these since he was three. Granted, he used to dump the entire container of sprinkles on one pretzel, but you’re only a kid once so I have always embraced his sprinkle obsession.

Here’s what you need:

  • long pretzel rods
  • candy melts in red, white & blue
  • sanding sugar in red and white (These are from Williams Sonoma.)
  • star sprinkles
  • microwaves-safe tall glasses or bowls

Here’s a few tips:

  • Melt candy melts in microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring well in between.
  • Do not allow any water to come into contact with the candy melts or it will seize up on you and it can’t be saved.
  • If  the chocolate mixture is still thick once melted and you would like a thinner consistency, add a tiny bit of shortening or vegetable oil and stir.
  • Allow pretzels to set up on waxed paper. Some people put them in the fridge, I leave them on the counter to dry.
  • Make sure to sprinkle toppings on right away before the chocolate sets.
  • The easiest way to dip these long pretzel rods is by melting the chocolate  into a large, microwave-safe drinking glass.  Sadly, my possessed dishwasher has now broken all of my favorite pretzel-dipping glasses, so this time around I had to use the large liquid measuring cup. The tall glasses are much easier, but both get the job done.

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food collage

Video Game Themed Party to Celebrate a Decade

My boy turned ten yesterday. I can’t believe we’ve arrived at the double digits.

This year the boy wanted a party. Mind you, this is the boy who hasn’t had a birthday party since kindergarten. He isn’t a huge fan of large celebrations. It remains a genetic mystery how he didn’t inherit the dominant party gene from my side of the family. My niece, who also just celebrated a birthday, clearly inherited the party gene.

Maybe because I was caught off guard that he was asking to have a party, he was somehow able to convince me to let him invite his entire class, all of the boys on the baseball team, and the rest of his best buddies that he hangs out. It was awesome seeing how excited he was for the big event. He checked my Evite account several times a day to see who RSVP’d. Maybe our party-lovin’ ways are wearing off on him!

The boy decided on a video game themed party, so we went big and rented a video game truck. (When I say big, what I mean is that I had to spend my life savings plus his college savings to support this endeavor). And let me tell you… It was completely worth it! Have you seen these game trucks? Sixteen kids sit in front of four flat screen tv’s and get to play their favorite games for two hours. In addition to the games, lights are flashing, and music is blaring. This particular game truck had an open-air stage at the back of the truck for the kids to play Rock Band. This is what heaven looks like in a boy’s world. If you are over eighteen, be warned, it’s like being on the tea cups at Disneyland, you walk out of there with motion sickness wondering how the heck the kids aren’t phased by the sensory overload.

The boy had presents galore to open afterward, but I’d have to say by the look on his face, the best gift was having his parents planning it with him every step of the way. We’ve worked hard to do this and still continue to defy the divorced family stereotypes. It’s not without its challenges. We’re certainly not perfect. Matt’s girlfriend and I had a falling out about a year ago, but in spite of the challenges that come our way, we remain committed to having the best relationship we can for our son.

Here’s a sneak peek at the yummy video-game inspired treats we served. It was a bit of video game & sugar overload… personally, I loved it! This week, I’ll put up a few posts, highlighting a few of the things we made, with a few tips. There were of course, cookie favors to take home (pics. still to come). It was a whirlwind of a birthday weekend, but you only turn ten once in your life, so you gotta go big!

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blue liner

St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes… Rainbows & Pots of Gold

This St. Patrick’s Day, we’re hosting a baked potato bar for our neighbors and friends. A nice, buttery potato is dessert to me, but the kiddos will probably not agree. What says St. Patrick’s Day (besides a creepy leprachaun)… a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ever since I saw this rainbow tape-like candy I’ve wanted to use it. Have you noticed how many weird candies are out there for kids lately? They just scream “garnish” to me. Yes, the children will actually eat them the gummier, sourer, the weirder the better.

Here’s what you need…

~ Tootsie Rolls

~ Gold sprinkles or sanding sugar (The ones I used are from Williams Sonoma. I love their new line of stackable sprinkles. Wilton makes gold cake sprinkles, which would work great too.)

~ Airheads Rainbow Belts (I found these in the dollar section at Target. I’ve also seen them at the candy store in the mall, and Powell’s, our old-fashioned candy store, so I don’t think they’re too hard to track down.)

What to do:

Frost a batch of cupcakes with your favorite buttercream, or just use the frosting from the jar from the grocery store. You may cringe, but kids love it and it’s a time-saver. To create a cloud-like effect,  pipe using a medium sized open tip (I used Wilton # 12 ). Gently sqeeze the piping bag to make a round dollop on the cupcake. Without lifting the bag up completely, shift the piping bag over and continue making dollops, so that they join together to make a puffy cloud.

Cut a rainbow belt in half and gently insert both sides into the cupcake.

To make the pot of gold, do the following on waxed paper: Cut a tootsie roll in half. Use a paring knife or a toothpick and carve out some of the center of one side. Shape the tootsie roll if you need to. Add the sprinkles to the tootsie roll pot before placing on the cupcake, otherwise you may end up with loose sprinkles on the white clouds. Important note… Do not add the tootsie roll pots until you’re ready to serve, and definitely do not add them the night before. The tootsie rolls will start to melt into the butter cream. I learned this lesson the hard way when making puppy ears for puppy cupcakes for a little one’s party a few years back.

These cupcakes were a test run for our party next week. We served them at our family celebration last night. My mom and the Naughty One just had their birthdays. Does my mom not look amazing in her sixties? The Naughty One is not looking so amazing right now. We haven’t told her that spring training begins soon. We hope to burn off some of that little belly.

Wishing everyone a wonderful & warm weekend!

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straw long 1

Chocolate Brownie Valentine Skewers… Sweet & Simple

Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. It doesn’t matter if Prince Charming hasn’t appeared on my doorstep yet. I am a hopeless romantic, and still believe there is someone I’m destined to be with. I’m not the naive hopeless romantic who believes there is only one person out there for everyone. I think a lot of it has to do with timing, falling in love with someone who’s at the same place you are, and someone who’s heading in the same direction. The truth is I’m in no rush to find him. Unless, I wait another eight years, I’m not just looking for Mr. Right for Me. I’ve got a boy and his Naughty Dachshund to consider… and that completely overwhelms me. So for the next eight years, we’ll have to see if Mr Right for Us rings our doorbell, and if those two approve.

Partly, what has freaked me out about the whole idea of finding someone is watching my son struggle to deal with two other people, who he didn’t pick, in his dad’s life. I’ve watched his dad struggle too, knowing how much he loves our boy and having to accept things that played out in his life. The boy won’t be picking who we let into our life, but I’ve given him my word, if it ever happens, he is my number one priority.

Thankfully, the boy was blessed with a sense of humor, and as he has gotten older and understood more, it’s helped him cope with some of the challenges he’s been handed. Last week he shared with me some criteria that Mr. Right for Us would have to meet to gain access into our world. Top of the list… he has to have the means and willingness to put a pool in our backyard. This, of course, I fully concur with. Additionally, Mr. Right for Us cannot have a dog, unless it is a wiener dog, and the Naughty One has final say about adding another pup to the family. In terms of children, the boy prefers Mr. Right for Us has no children, however, if he happens to have children the boy’s age, and if the boy decides he likes them, he may make an exception. Probably the most challenging of all, Mr. Right For Us has to embrace our not so typical family dynamic. The boy, his dad, and I will remain a team, enjoying our lives together and parenting the boy as long as he needs our guidance (which pretty much means for life).

Upon telling my mom this story, she convinced the boy to add additional criteria. Apparently, the grandparents now have veto power in whomever we choose (which means I could be single for a VERY long time).

Whoever your sweetie is this Valentine’s Day, this is a quick dessert that’s sure to please. I made up a batch of brownies, using this Wilton silicone mold, which I definitely recommend (just spray well with non-stick spray). You can also make a batch of brownies in a pan and either cut or use cookie cutters to create the shapes you like. Using Wilton candy melts, dip strawberries and marshmallows and add sprinkles before it sets. Here’s the key, skewer the marshmallows and strawberries before they are completely set, otherwise the chocolate will break into pieces. The best way to do this is to dip a few at a time so that they partially set, and then skewer. This can be made the day before and then refrigerated, but not much farther in advance or the strawberries will become soggy.

For more specifics on making chocolate-covered strawberries (they’re really easy!), read through this post for tips. If you don’t know, I have a bit of a chocolate-covered strawberry fetish so there are several other yummy recipes I’ve posted.

Have a great week everyone!

I’m working on editing pictures from my girlfriend, Tammy’s shower that I hosted this weekend ~ Can’t wait to share!

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star cup

Star-Studded Chocolate Cupcakes

Hope everyone had a great New Year’s. We had fun ringing in the New Year with friends. The boy lasted until midnight, which he was very happy about. I brought along these shimmery star cupcakes to celebrate. The gold star cupcake toppers were made using Wilton white candy melts. White chocolate can be substituted, but the candy melts are very easy to work with.  The candy melts were melted in the microwave and poured into a piping bag. I printed out stars in the size that I wanted on the computer and placed a piece of wax paper on top of the printout. I outlined the star shapes by piping the chocolate using a small tip. Chocolate was then added to the center of the stars and spread to the edges. The gold sparkly effect was made by sprinkling gold sanding sugar on top before the chocolate set. Once they were completely dried, I removed them with a small spatula and they were ready to add to the cupcakes. The small gold confetti stars are another Wilton product that I love.

I used this same technique last winter to make chocolate snowflake cupcake toppers and have photos that show the same steps in that post. The snowflakes turned out beautiful. I did have some breakage making the chocolate snowflakes because of their shape, but made plenty of extra. I expected a little breakage with the stars, but all of them worked and were very stable once set.

The cupcake recipe started with a cake mix, but was then fancied up a bit. I used Duncan Hine’s Devil’s food cake mix and the amount of eggs and oil called for on the package. The package calls for 1 1/3 cup water. I used a cup of water and substituted Bailey’s liqueur for the remaining 1/3 cup. I also stirred 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips into the batter before baking. Another great option I discovered last year was to use Godiva’s white chocolate liqueur to make the cupcakes. I have added soda, juice, and alcohol, tea, and coffee to cupcakes and have had a lot of success by keeping the amount of additional liquid the same as the amount of water that the recipe calls for. I usually grab my Wilton 1M tip to frost cupcakes (as seen in the snowflake cupcake photo). For these fancy cupcakes, I opted for the Wilton 2D tip. I love the ruffly effect it makes.

The last day of our break has been spent running around getting ready to go back to school and back to work. I have made sure my coffee maker is set to brew right before my alarm goes off in the morning. I’m hoping the early dose of caffeine will help me get out the door in time. I can’t wait to get back into the regular routine, but have a feeling making myself cute before 8AM may pose a challenge. If that’s my greatest challenge of the week, it’s going to be a good one!

Wishing you a happy week ahead!

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It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Gingerbread Season

Hope everyone had a great Halloween weekend! We had a fabulous time celebrating with friends. Look who didn’t want to get out of her costume all weekend…

The Naughty One clearly thinks she’s a little person. She trick-or-treated with her boy and went up to every door with him. Sadly, she ended up with no treats, but she did get a lot of praise and since the girl thrives on being the center of the universe, it was a great night for her.

The boy said no photos, which is why I have pictures of the Naughty One, but not him. He came home with a whole bagful of candy, but woke up with the yucky flu the next morning. Which one of my neighbors let their sick kiddos trick or treat? Hmmm…. I’m giving him one more day of grace to stay home from school. Tomorrow, we are back to our schedule.

Now that Halloween is over, do not rush to put up your Christmas decorations (Mom, that includes you). I know we will be inundated with Christmas music at every place of business from this point forward, and decorations will be everywhere, but resist the urge. Remember, we still have Thanksgiving.

Here’s what I do recommend…

Stock up on after Halloween candy right now. It’s practically free. Think ahead…


Here’s are our two complete gingerbread candy lists:

candy list 1 & candy list 2

We’ve been asked to participate in the Discovery Science Gingerbread Competition again this Novemeber. We had a great time last year, so even with a completely unbalanced life, in which I’ve taken way too much on, it was an easy decision to make. We couldn’t miss it. Our Princess Pup Gingerbread Dog House (inspired by guess who) was a winner last year and so much fun to create. We already have our theme for this year, but it’s of course top secret.

If you live in Southern California, this is a great event to participate in for kids, families, and even businesses. Here is all of the info. If you don’t live in the area, I’m sure there are similar competitions in your community.

If you’ve never made a gingerbread house from scratch, do not fear. I have the perfect gingerbread recipe and promise it is not as hard as you might imagine.

And of course, some gingerbread inspiration…

Best Youth Award Discovery Science 2009

I love this unique design. There’s plans posted on how to recreate this.

Finally, one of my favorite bloggers and gingerbread architects Marian of Sweetopia. She proves that sweet is truly an artform! Go check out her fabulous visions of gingerbread.

Cheers to a week that’s already half over!

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3 for teacher

Back to School Cookie Memos

There are few things I’d ever claim to be an expert on, but when it comes to making teachers happy, I do know a thing or two. I am an elementary teacher, currently out of the classroom overseeing the gifted program in my district. My time is spent supporting teachers and parents, and organizing testing for several thousand kids each year. Teachers like food. I realize this is a generalization, but spend any time in the staff lounge and you’ll see teachers will eat just about anything. You might even get grossed out. Teachers don’t have the luxury of having a lunch hour. By the time they walk their kids to the lunch tables, get stopped by a parent or two, and pee, there’s usually about twenty minutes to cram something into their mouths before it’s back to the kids.  

You know what teachers hate? Memos. I think every classroom teacher deserves his or her own secretary. Each morning, the teacher is greeted by a stack of papers ~ memos from the pricipal, messages from parents, assembly schedules, and all of those copies he or she needs ro run for their morning lesson. If you live in California, good luck on the copies, the schools that actually have money aren’t spending it on copy paper.

So here is my advice… when your kids start school, send them with a little treat for the teacher. And at Back to School Night, bring a little treat for the teacher. Don’t feel like it’s bribery. It’s about making someone feel appreciated. My boy is required to find out what his teacher’s drink of choice at Starbucks is by the time he comes home from his first day of school. Surprising the teacher with their favorite coffee, is the ultimate treat.

The cookie memo was inspired by what I know about teachers. It’s the best memo they’ll get of the entire year, guaranteed, and possibly the best memo of their careers.

And since you’re making cookie memos for the teacher, make an extra to give to your kiddo on his or her first day. Stick it in the lunch bag. The other kids will think you’re the coolest mom ever.

Here was my memo to myself yesterday…

I was freaking out a bit, getting totally overwhelmed with what’s ahead. I’m in summer mode ~ no alarm clock, no carpool, no work, pure relaxation. How in the world am I going to do it all in two weeks, and escape a nervous breakdown? I also made one for my girlfriend Laura. She and I work together, and she needed one too.

Oh, and if you’re married, I think the cookie memo could possibly save your marriage. “Pick up your shoes.”, “Put the seat down.”, “Do you think the dishes are going to wash themselves?”. In cookie form, how can he argue? It’s not nagging if it’s written on a cookie.

The markers are made to go onto icing, and are completely safe. Let’s not use Sharpies on these. Here’s a link for the markers. You can also find them in the baking section at Michael’s, or your local craft store.

Here’s a quick how-to…


What would you write on a cookie memo? Any great ideas?

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rose cupcake 1

Rose Cupcakes… Easier Than You Think!

My sister and I have birthdays two years and one day apart. Having birthdays close together meant we shared many birthday parties over the years. It worked out well for a long time because we had many of the same friends.

It seems my mom timed things perfectly. Imagine only having to rent the bounce house once a year, or go to one of those jumping places, where kids run loose with their socks on, getting lost in all of the plastic tubes. Back when I was little, or let’s see how my son’s best buddy, Colby, put it last week, “In the olden days, when my mom was little…”. (Since when did old become early thirties?) Anyway, back in the olden days, when I was little, parents didn’t rent bounce houses and take kids to over-priced, lawsuit waiting to happen, jumping places. We had good old-fashioned parties, complete with games, birthday hats, and a sheet cake with the fancy roses on it. Every kid would beg for those  roses, and if you were the birthday girl, you knew one was reserved especially for you.

Had we just known the easy secret back then, every kid could have had her own rose cupcake. Sure it wouldn’t be the same as the sugar-induced coma roses from the grocery store sheet cakes, but everyone would have the thrill of being awarded a rose.   

I made the rose cupcakes for the Bachelorette finale party. The cupcake rose design is simple to make. You need the Wilton 1M tip that makes the pretty swirl that you see on top of  a lot of cupcakes. The cupcake’s frosting on the left was piped using the 1M tip. To achieve this look, you start piping from the outside and work your way in (tutorial here).


That same 1M tip makes a pretty rose when you do the opposite, holding the piping bag at a 90 degree angle and starting in the center. You turn the cupcake counter clockwise as you pipe the frosting, applying gentle pressure on the bag. Volia, you’ve made a rose.

The cupcakes were piped with a two-toned, white and pink frosting. For a tutorial on how to make the two-toned frosting, check out one of my previous posts here. It gives a nice effect to the roses.

Here’s a Youtube tutorial I found if you’d like to watch the piping in action.

I also just made a big discovery for all of the left-handed baking lovin’ people out there. I’m a lefty too, living in a right-handed world. There are pastry tips specifically designed for left-handers. Scroll through the page on Global Sugar Art to see the possibilities! I can’t wait to try them.

This led me to my next discovery. Piping letters is my biggest challenge, and I finally figured out why… I’m left-handed. It is more challenging for lefties to pipe words from left to right than it is for right-handed people. Here are a few tips for left-handers. Lefties have to stick together!

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