Celebrate Thanksgivikkah with a gingerbread menorah

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop Gingerbread Menorah

Well, if you haven’t heard, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah have melded together into Thanksgivikkah. And there’s no better way to celebrate than with a gingerbread menorah. I discovered this wonderful melding of deliciousness through Sweet Thrills Bakeshop, a collaboration of two Bay Area moms who believe the kitchen is the heart of the home and that sweet treats make everyone smile.

These smart ladies are packaging chocolate gingerbread menorah kits that are perfect for families to build and decorate together. The unique idea sparked from spinning the dreidel with a traditional gingerbread house in the background. The result? A sweet twist on celebrating Hanukkah — and a great way to create special memories with your kids.

I was so excited to get my hands on a box and make one with my tot. Yes, probably even more than she was. Included in the kit was everything needed to assemble the menorah, including a wonderfully detailed set of directions, helpful tips, and educational information about Hannukkah, making this kit fitting for any family.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop

My daughter jumped right in and loved assembling the menorah. In fact, she was pretty much able to follow the drawn directions on her own (while I snuck a few candies that were included in the kit). What’s great about the kit is that along with being creative, your child is learning about construction and design.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop gingerbread

As it states in the directions, it’s important to let the the frosting set between steps, but we found ways to entertain ourselves while waiting. We enjoyed reading the included information about Hanukkah, counted the candy candles, and, of course, had to sample the frosting.

My daughter really took her time working on her special menorah and we have it proudly displayed on our mantel. She loves telling us how she made it all by herself.

sweet thrills bakeshop menorah

Which she really did.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop has two different sized unassembled menorahs as well as a mini pre-assembled menorah available this season. Order now to ensure your kit arrives on time. We’re looking forward to enjoying our menorah during our Thanksgivikkah celebration!

And, did I mention? They’re delicious.

*Just so you know, I am actually friends with one of the co-owners of Sweet Thrills Bakeshop and volunteered to do this review simply because I think this chocolate gingerbread menorah kit is seriously awesome. And delicious. And a fantastic idea.

Lemon egg prints

lemon eggs art

We haven’t really gotten into the whole Easter thing. Our little one isn’t begging for candy-filled baskets or mentioned the Easter bunny yet, so we’re kind of going with it. But I did have a bit of inspiration for an egg-ish art activity using my daughter’s new favorite thing — lemons. After making those tuna cakes, she’s been begging for slices of lemon to nibble on.

This is a simple project that introduces kids to pastels and ovals while creating lemon egg shapes, perfect for decorating during the Easter season. Instead of cutting the lemon in half through the middle, cut lengthwise and then trim to create an oval shape.

lemon eggs

Fold a sheet of paper towel in half, and then in half again, and select a few bright colors of tempera paint with your child for the activity. Squeeze a few big dabs of each color on the paper towel along with a big blob of white paint. Older kids can use a paintbrush to coat the lemon sides with paint while younger tots can simple press the lemon into the paint. While your child is painting, you can chat about all the different things that are oval, like eggs, lemons, footballs…

lemon eggs2

Now your child can press the lemon egg on her paper and see what it looks like. For the next coat, encourage your child to paint or press the lemon with white paint to see how it changes its color.

lemon egg4

Keep painting and printing until you’ve got a paper full of pastel colored egg shapes. Once dry, find the perfect spot to display the finished creation.

lemon egg5

And we couldn’t resist a few slices of fresh (unpainted) lemon slices once we were all done with our artwork.
lemon egg6

 

Kid-friendly holiday cookies: Red velvet sprinkles

My tot is in love with the color red. She had to have red shoes, only uses red paint when getting creative, and wants us to paint freshly painted white walls of her room red. So I wasn’t at all surprised when she decided we just HAD to make RED cookies to share with all her friends for Christermax. Sure, I could’ve added red food coloring to basic sugar cookie dough, but wanted to make something not-so sweet that also had a nice holiday flavor. We mixed together a lovely red velvet base, added sparkling red sprinkles, and created a delectably crisp and balanced holiday cookie that’s perfect for making with your little ones. And these cookies aren’t too sweet, or filled with too much butter, making them a healthier option than that cookie dough you can pick up the in refrigerator section.

Ingredients

1/2 cup room temperature butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)

1 tablespoon (plus) red food coloring

1/4 cup cocoa

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups flour

Directions

Preheat your oven to 375F and gather the ingredients for making the cookies. Red velvet cake is a seriously yummy combination of vanilla, chocolate, a bit of tang, and a whole lot of red. I absolutely love red velvet cake, and with it’s vibrant red color, figured this cookie rendition would be perfect for celebrating the season.

Invite your child to help measure and add the butter, oil, sugar, and vanilla to a mixing bowl. Use a hand blender to mix everything together until it’s nice and smooth. I even let my tot use the blender for a brief moment (while holding with one hand AND attempting to take a picture) but quickly realized that toddlers and hand blenders might not be such a good idea. We’ll try again when she’s a bit older…

Now add the egg, milk, and the vanilla, giving things another mix. Hold off on adding the vinegar, because if you add it at this point, the milk will separate and things will look really gross (your cookies will still taste good – don’t worry).

Sift (or mix) together the flour, baking soda, baking  powder, and cocoa and then add about one-fourth of the dry ingredients to the batter. Give things a stir until incorporated and then add the vinegar and a good amount of red food coloring. If you want the cookies on the darker side, add another few drops of the food coloring.

Continue adding the dry ingredients until all incorporated. As you can see, my daughter really took stirring seriously.

Cover a sheet tray with parchment and invite your tot to drop spoonfuls of batter on the pan, allowing an inch or two between cookies. Now your child can douse the cookies with the red sprinkles.

Offer your child a clean glass to gently press on the cookies creating sprinkled rounds of dough. Yeah, they aren’t going to be perfect, but that’s how it goes when you’re cooking with little ones. It’s about the experience, not the super pretty outcome — but it’s sure a plus when things taste good!

Pop the cookies in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops are cracked. If you prefer a chewy-er cookie, leave in for 9 minutes or so. But these are really good nice and crisp with a tender center, which is what we discovered after about 12 minutes of baking. Remove from the oven and top with more sprinkles or even a dusting of powdered sugar before serving.

 

Trick-or-treating with a toddler (for the first time)

Yes, that’s right. We just took our tot trick-or-treating for the first time. She’s three, almost four, and we haven’t attempted the whole trick-or-treating-Halloween-pumpkin-carving thing at all. She had a bit more interest in the pumpkins at the grocery store this year, and had learned more about Halloween while at preschool, but had no desire to wear a costume at all.

Taking a toddler out for her first night of treat gathering is also a unique thing. My child was totally clueless. We attempted to prep her before the adventure, stressing to say, “trick or treat” when accepting goodies and offering a “thank you” once the candy was in hand.

Yeah. That didn’t happen.

Amazingly, after getting a bit of face paint, our tot jumped right into her Halloween outfit and was ready to head out. Our town turns main street into a trick-or-treater’s paradise and shop owners offer candies to tots as they walk by. It’s perfect for little kids and the street was packed. We walked up to the first spot to stop and my child seriously freaked. She hid behind me, wouldn’t move, didn’t talk, and literally tried to crawl me. I pulled her aside and we took a moment.

I got down to her level and asked her about what was going on. She didn’t seem to like all the attention being on her when walking up to a person with candy so I offered to say trick or treat with her. We cautiously walked up to the next spot and she hid again.

So, at this point, I pulled her aside again and talked it through again. The thing about little tots is that sometimes it just takes a bit more coaxing to open up. And, hey, I said if she wasn’t up for it, we could head back home.

Nope, she wanted to try again, which we did. This time she didn’t hide behind me, I held her basket for her, and she slowly walked forward for a treat.

Then she was hooked.

As we continued down the street she started speaking for herself and began offering a quiet “tanks” after receiving a treat. And as she became more comfortable I reminded her that taking a treat before being acknowledged wasn’t polite, not to grab, and that saying thank you was a must. While we walked through town, I loved seeing her opening up, feeling more comfortable, and understanding the give-and-take of the whole thing.

After making our way up and back I was exhausted, our tot had a glazed look in her eye, and we were all ready to go home and enjoy a few treats.

If you’re heading out for a night of trick-or-treating fun with your tot for the first time it’s a good idea to prep your child before the adventure so she has a basic idea of what’s going to happen. Reading a Halloween trick-or-treating book helps, as well as explaining that talking to strangers in this situation is okay. Along with begin lots of fun, trick-or-treating is actually a great way to encourage your child’s language and communication skills, and get a handle taking turns.

Understand that your tot may not be into it and don’t force it. We really wanted to have a great time trick-or-treating with our daughter, but we exchanged “that look” the second time she started freaking out, understanding that we might have to grab her and go if her behavior didn’t change. The last thing you want is for your tot to have unhappy memories about Halloween adventures.

Set limits before hand on how much candy your child gets to eat after trick-or-treating. Our tot wanted to sit down on the sidewalk and eat her candies the minute after they landed in her basket, but we reminded her we were going to keep walking, enjoying our Halloween adventure, and at home we’d have two of her trick or treat candies.

And, amazingly, we did.

Happy Halloween!

 

String wrapped stars

String wrapped star

Memorial Day is right around the corner, which means taking a moment to appreciate those that have served for our country, people who are currently doing what they do best for our country, and ones we lost while in service. My tot is a bit young for understanding, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great opportunity to do something crafty that might offer up the chance to chat about respect and love. Stars and strips are popping up all over the place, so I figured we could create something festive for decorating our home.

This is a simple project that can go in lots of different directions. Older kids can be in charge of bending and twisting the wire into star shapes while younger kids can focus on wrapping pre-made stars with string and then sprinkling with glitter – or painting. And, this is a great project for any time of year -Fourth of July, Memorial Day, or even the Holiday Season!

string wrapped stars

Start a length of 12-guage craft wire about 1 to 2-feet in length. To keep things nice and safe, wrap the ends of the cut wire with masking tape. Now your child can bend and form the wire into a star shape. Offer adult assistance as needed to twist and secure the star shape when finished. Working with wire is a great way to encourage hand-eye coordination and build fine-motor skills.

metal stars

We experimented with all kinds of string, from white sewing thread to thick hemp string, and using plain white craft string worked the best. Tie an end to the wire star form and invite your child to twist and wrap that string all over the place. You’ll need about a 6-foot length of string (or more) for each small star.

string star

Secure the end of the string with a nice knot. Now your child can brush the string with glue and then sprinkle with glitter or paint with watercolor paints. Once dry, the stars can be hung individually or tied together to create a special star mobile, perfect for any window. We enjoyed painting one of our stars with red and blue watercolor paint and sprinkling the other with silver glitter.

Sparkly!

 

Dinner every night: The Valentine’s Day edition

It was a bit of a challenging week. We just got back from vacation and then had a day to flip and head back to our regular routines. I’ll be honest – we all had a pretty hard time adjusting. The tot wanted to go back to Gamma and Opa’s house at the beach (which she told me over and over and over and over again) and I was having a difficult time getting motivated about anything.

Oh well.

After moping around most of the day on Monday and then having an action-packed Tuesday, it almost slipped my mind that it was Valentine’s Day. YUP. I really almost forgot. The husband and I don’t really do much of anything for each other (although he is pretty good at providing me with flowers and some amazing chocolate), but I did want to make something tasty for dinner. I made a last minute run to the grocery store and found some fresh clams at the grocery store – yum.

The week continued on without much else of interest. We had a nice lunch with friends at our new favorite restaurant, Miller’s East Coast Deli, which was totally tasty and ended with the befuddling experience of watching a very, very old man back up and then slowly pull forward repeatedly while just barely grazing the car next to him. We all stood a bit wide-eyed trying to figure out what to do alongside a nice group of people. Eventually someone helped the guy back out of the parking spot, he screamed off (at a big whopping 4-miles an hour) jabbering in some unknown language, and the woman walked up to her car, jumped in – without blinking an eye, and drove off.

HA!

This all happened before any of us had a chance to even tell her what happened – or determining what the proper action was for dealing with the nonsensical driver.

(I’m sure we will all be highlighted on one of those exposes showcasing people behaving badly.)

The winner this week was our spaghetti squash dinner – it was so good! Look for the recipe coming soon…

Don’t forget to link up your favorite recipe of the week below!

*Top row from left to right: Leftover try-tip tacos with veggie beans, garlic and white wine steamed clams with asparagus, capellini, and garlic toast, rosemary, oregano chicken breasts over carrot and celery lentils. Bottom row from left to right: spaghetti squash with fresh tomato sauce, spinach and Wisconsin mozzarella, homemade beef and broccoli over white rice, oregano garlic chicken thighs and zucchini fries.

 


Chocolate cream cheese cookies

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and, instead of running out and spending a wad on stuff, I wanted to put together something tasty and easy to share with my loved ones. I don’t know about you, but Valentine’s Day screams of chocolate, so chocolate it must be. I wasn’t in the mood for putting together anything too challenging (I’m still pretty lazy since getting back from our vacation), so decided to keep it simple.

Chocolate cream cheese refrigerator cookies.

This is a tasty and easy recipe, which makes a big pile of cookies. You could even make a double batch and have enough to give to friends, family, teachers, and neighbors. Add white or semi-sweet chocolate chips for some extra love or toss in a sprinkling of pecans or walnuts. I didn’t have any of those yummies in the house, so simply chocolate cream cheese cookies it was.

Make sure to set aside some time when doing this recipe. The cookies need a bit of time to set up in the fridge, and you could totally go all fancy and use a cute cookie cutter to perfectly shape your sliced cookies.

Or you can just slice away like I did.

(still really good)

Ingredients

1/4 cup room temperature butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Dash of salt

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 1/4 cup flour

4 ounces room temperature cream cheese

What you do

Start by smoothing together the butter and sugars along with the dash of salt. Once it’s all soft and mixed nicely, go ahead and stir in the egg and vanilla.

Now slowly add the cocoa and flour while gently stirring. Go slow otherwise you’ll have a huge cocoa flour mess! Sprinkle in the baking soda and keep mixing until the cookie batter comes together.

Cube up the cream cheese and add to the mixture. Fold together just until the cream cheese starts blending in with the cookie dough. You still want there to be nice chunks of cream cheese spattered throughout the mix.

Tear off a nice length of plastic wrap and drop in your dough. Wrap it up while rolling and lengthening the cookie dough into a long roll, about 1-foot in length and three to four inches in circumference.

Place your cookie log onto a sheet pan and then into the fridge to chill for at least two-hours. If you can let it hang out over night, even better.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and get out your chocolate cream cheese cookie dough. Release from the plastic wrap and then carefully cut 1/4 -1/2 inch slices and place on a lightly greased sheet pan leaving an inch or so around cookies.

Pop into the hot oven for about 10-12 minutes or until the cookie tops are cracked and crisp.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Fine art for kids: Chinese calligraphy scroll

With the Chinese New Year just days away, the tot and I revisited a fun art activity we’d done in the past – but with a spin. This is a fun project for kids of all ages – and older ones can take things a bit further. All you need are a few items, which you probably have hanging around, and some imagination and creativity.

Older kids can do a bit of research to learn more about the art of Chinese calligraphy. The art of writing and creating characters has been a large part of the Chinese culture for thousands of years. It’s considered one of the most sublime forms of art in the Orient, with artists spending their lives dedicated to the creation of beautifully drawn symbols and letters. Invite your child to search out examples of Chinese calligraphy online and print out a few examples. Or, if you’ve got a younger tot, you can have an example handy.

Gather together a toilet paper roll, some white paper, a few brushes, and some black tempera paint. You’ll also need scissors, a length of sting, and some tape. Once you’ve got everything together, invite your child to cut a length of white paper just a bit skinner than the width of the toilet paper roll cutting from one of the longer sides of the paper. This will be the paper for his Chinese calligraphy scroll.

Now your child can take a closer look at the examples of Chinese calligraphy. In Asia, calligraphy is created with special brushes made from bamboo and written on paper created specifically for calligraphy. Have your child pick the perfect brush to use for creating his Chinese calligraphy scroll.

Water down some tempera paint and offer it to your child for creating his own unique calligraphy drawing creations. Younger ones can free form lines and designs while older children can try to copy letters exactly – along with putting their own spin on things. Symbols in Chinese calligraphy go from top to bottom, so encourage your child to create his letters in a linear line.

Once your child has finished making a few marks, he can let his scroll dry while creating more marks on another paper. As soon as the paper is dry, your child can tape the paper onto the scroll and finish things off by tying the length of string around the ends of the toilet paper roll.

Find the perfect place to hang the scroll or give to friends and family on Chinese New Year!

It’s been a bit crazy

These last couple of weeks have been nutso. My parents have been staying with us (and we delayed Christmas by almost a week), the tot turned 3, I totally bombed in this Food Network competition, the husband hired a life coach, and I tried to maintain some sort of work ethic during the whole thing. We even had a date night.

Things went fairly well….

I guess.

There’s so much to do in the Bay Area, but when you’ve got a toddler, things get pretty limited. Sure, the idea of hitting North Beach sounds fab, but trying to navigate those itty-bitty sidewalks with a mega stroller (and an ornery tot) isn’t really that fun. So we kept things pretty simple and did stuff close to home that made us all happy. Here are the highlights…

Choco-nana cupcakes (with yogurt cream cheese frosting)

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind over here. We delayed Christmas until my parents arrived late last week, the husband and I went out on a pre-New Year’s date, and now it’s the tot’s birthday.

I’m about ready to crawl into a quiet corner and hibernate.

When deciding what to do for our big tot on her b-day, I wanted to keep things pretty tame, you know, because we’ve been opening presents for what seems like days and days and days.

I figured we’d make a special meal – and a special treat. She’s in love with chocolate and bananas, so I combined the two into something really tasty.

Choco-nana cupcakes.

These are really simple and actually not so bad for you – especially if you eat them just as is without the additional frosting. There’s less sugar in them and no butter, but you’d never know. Using a really big and not-yet-brown banana creates big happy chunks of nanners in every bite.

What you need

3/4 c unsweetened Dutch process cocoa

1/2 c sugar

1 1/4 c flour

2 t baking powder

1/4 t baking soda

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of salt

1 t vanilla

1 tbsp honey

1/4 c vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 c milk

1 c big chunks of chopped banana

How to make them

Start by cranking your oven to 350 F and then get out a muffin tin. You can line with little liners or lightly grease with a wiping of oil. Now you can begin dumping all the dry ingredients in a big mixing bowl (cocoa, flour, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, sugar, salt) and give things a good stir.

Measure and add the milk, honey, vanilla, and oil and lightly mix. Go ahead and toss in those two eggs too.

Chop up a big banana and add it to the mix. If you’ve got smaller bananas, you might need two. Seriously – it’s that simple.

Gently stir things up and then spoon into muffin tins. You should have enough batter to make 12 good-sized muffins.

Toss those choco-nana muffins in the oven for 17-20 minutes or until the tops are cracked and firm to the touch.

Once things are cool, top with yogurt cream cheese frosting or a dusting of powdered sugar – or eat plain!

YUM

*Yogurt cream cheese frosting

4 ounces room temperature cream cheese

1/3 c plain (or vanilla) yogurt (strained for an hour)

1/2 c powdered sugar

1 t vanilla

After you toss your cupcakes into the oven, line a strainer with a sheet of paper towel and then plop on your yogurt. Let it strain for an hour or so – or longer if you feel like it. Then gently press the yogurt to release as much liquid as possible.

Whip the yogurt with the room temperature cream cheese, vanilla, and powdered sugar using a hand mixer and spoon into a heavy duty zip top plastic bag and smoosh to one corner.

Snip the corner of the plastic bag with a scissors and then squeeze the frosting out in swirls onto those nicely cooled choco-nana cupcakes.