Monday, December 15, 2014

Bacon Appetizers (Pioneer Woman)

A few days before my office Christmas party, I started scouring my Pinterest boards looking for a tasty new appetizer to try.  I mean, what's the point of pinning all that delicious looking food if you don't actually MAKE the recipes every once in a while, right?  I came across this one from one of my favorite Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, and thought I would try them out.  

Mmmm  Bacon Appetizers
What's not to love about something with only three ingredients - even if these same said ingredients seem like slightly strange bedfellows?  Bacon. Club Crackers. Parmesan Cheese. Together.  That's it.  I shrugged and thought, well Ree has never steered me wrong in the past, I'm just going to go for it.  First gather your ingredients:

Club crackers, bacon (not thick cut) and grated Parmesan cheese
Take a sleeve of club crackers and lay them out on a 1/2 sheet pan or cookie sheet.  It is highly recommended that you use a rack over the top of the baking sheet, so the bacon grease drips below as it cooks.

I hilariously do not yet have a rack that fits my 1/2 sheet pan (it's on my Christmas wish list... hint hint Mr. D), so I MacGyver'd a make-shift solution using the rack I normally use to cool my cookies on.  It was a little cumbersome and awkward, but it got the job done.  Next, get out your bacon and cut the slab in half

 Next, you want to sprinkle a teaspoon of Parmesan cheese onto the length of each cracker

Ree insists you do NOT want the hoity-toity fancy shredded Parmesan here, just the regular green can of grated cheese you would find in your regular supermarket.  That's because these are apparently a "retro" aka "hip" appetizer from the 80's. That was before the popularity of gluten-free everything, the insurgence of kale (which by the way was a salad bar garnish in the 80's), and that healthy police PC list of no-no's for most processed foods that now ravage our land.  People ate bacon back then, and processed cheese, and smoked 2-packs a day, and drank Tab.  People in the 80's didn't care.  People in the 80's knew how to PARTY!

Where was I?  Oh yes.  We are about to take our half strip of bacon, and gingerly wrap it around the cracker withOUT spilling any of the loose Parmesan cheese.  This takes much dexterity and skill by the way.

Try to wrap the bacon so that the loose end is tucked under the bottom of the cracker on the rack.  Soon you will have a few rows of these cute fellas.  I used one full sleeve of the club crackers, but ended up using more than one package of bacon, actually half of a second pack of bacon.

Little piggie blankets, all in a row

Place in a 250º oven for two hours. That's right.  Two long hours.  You can wrap presents, you can do your hair, you can learn to yodel.  Just make sure you know your entire house will smell like delicious, fragrant bacon.  Two hours later you will peek in your oven to find these golden brown, delightful little rows of pure hog heaven.

After you let them cool completely, you can place them on a serving tray.

These are not supposed to be served hot, but at room temperature. This allows time for the crackers to crisp back up and the bacon juices to "settle".   I've also been told you can make these puppies ahead of time, freeze them, and pull them out and defrost them at 250º for a few minutes before serving.    Let's take a closer look:

Cheesy bacon crackers with no name...

Well, they smell awesome, they don't look all that glamorous, but the important question is.... how do they taste??

Well the definitive answer would be bacon! If you like bacon, then this is your new go-to appetizer.  The cracker gets all brown and crispy, the cheese melts slightly down and browns the cracker even more.   I wasn't sure how this would be received by my coworkers.  Again, not the prettiest to look at, and she wouldn't win the swim suit competition at the pageant that's for sure, but she may just walk away with the award for Ms. Congeniality of flavor town!  So here I went, off to the party. hoping for the best.  I laid down my plate of bacon-y goodness and uncovered the foil wrapper.  

Bacon appetizers - you cant go wrong!!

My boss was the first to spot them about ten seconds later.  "IS THIS BACON?!"... he shouted and popped one in his mouth.  After that a few more people in the room stepped forward. I saw a couple of husbands look at each other with an approving nod.  This wasn't a cheese ball or a hummus veggie tray, this was cooked MEAT.  I'm not kidding you, within a few minutes, the entire plate was gone.  I totally should have doubled the recipe!  One co-worker told me I was required to bring them to all future company functions after trying just one.  If that's not the mark of a great appetizer, I don't know what is.

By the way, I have also heard that you can replace the Parmesan cheese layer with a layer of brown sugar instead, for a sweet and savory version of the same appetizer.  Now, run and make up a batch of these for your next gathering, and go party like it's 1989!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Mad Libs

Well it might come as no surprise to most of you, but I am in charge of crafts and merriment at most of our family gatherings.  The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is no exception, and I have amassed many years under my belt now of creating fun for the wide age range of kids (including all the grown ups who are really just big kids at heart) that make up our family. Whether it be fun tablecloths they can color on, turkeys made from Oreos, sparkly foam turkey crafts, or Popsicle stick Pilgrims and Indians, we have had ourselves a good time each and every year.

Last year I found a fun Thanksgiving Mad Libs on line and all of the kids were finally old enough to fill in the blanks with nouns and adjectives.  We had a blast creating the zany stories, but even more hilarity struck when the stories were read back to the whole family.  There were belly laughs, coughing attacks, and tears shed we were laughing so hard.  When I asked my girls what they wanted to do this year with their cousins, besides Thankfulness Turkeys,  they wanted to do the "funny stories" again.  I went off in search of a new set of Mad Libs this time around, only because I didn't want to use the exact same story as last year. Alas, I couldn't not find anything I liked, so, I created my own this weekend, and I thought I'd share it with all of you.  Click here for a free PDF of this file, print as many as you want and hand them out to the family at your Thanksgiving celebration, then sit back and watch the good times roll in.  By the way, this a great way to get not only kids, but teens and adults to all do an activity together. 

You have to remember that Mad Libs are the most fun, if you fill in the blank words blindly.  This can be done in two methods.  First, have one person hold the Mad Libs above, and have someone else give you answers as you go along.  That way, they have no idea what words go with what, and it makes it a much funnier read in the end.  The other way (especially if you want to play too without seeing the story) is to have only the answer sheet in front of you.  Fill it out and THEN add your answers to the story.  I have made a master list/blind answer PDF as well.  Click here to print it out.

How easy is that? (Do I sound like Ina Garten or what)  Just print these babies out and bam, you've got a fabulous Thanksgiving group game covered.  Be careful though, once you show up with such awesomeness, you might be asked to be in charge of holiday games from here on out.  That's okay, I've got you covered.  Check back every year, I will always try and have new ideas.

If you end up with a hilairous mad lib version of this story, feel free to post it in the comments.  If you want to share this PDF on pinterest or online, please point a link back to my blog.  Thank you so much, enjoy!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Where to Meet Disneyland Princesses

So, we just got back from taking our girls to their first trip ever to Disneyland in California.  We had a four-day park hopper pass, and spent some (okay, a lot) of our time each day tracking down those must-see princesses so we could have our picture taken with them.  

There are a few ways to see the princesses within the park, so I thought I would share what we did with you.  Before we went, many people told us to do a character breakfast, such as "Ariel's Grotto".  This can turn into quite an extra large expense, especially if you have multiple children. I think it's around $21 per child for lunch and $35-$50+ per adult for lunch or dinner. That was for mac n cheese, and a hot dog cut up like an Octopus from the kids menu (say wha?). I mean it's done up all fancy and all, but yikes! The reviews on trip adviser and yelp were not that great either; the food wasn't the best, service was a bit iffy, and the five princesses you are guaranteed to meet still only do a brief drive-by at each table. Plus Ariel, the main attraction, is in mute form and does not speak. No bueno in my book.  Me being the super thrifty type, I simply could not justify dropping an extra $160+ dollars on one meal just to meet the princesses.  Surely there had to be a better (and cheaper way).  Here is what we did, and depending on who you want to see, this is where you need to go. I'm going to start with the easiest ones to find as of October 2014:

Ariel, Snow White, and Cinderella:
Disney has come up with a new location to meet princesses, and it's called Fantasy Faire.  If you head up towards sleeping beauty's castle and swing a left right before you get there, you will find a quaint little provincial village chock-full of adorable princesses on their home turf.  There is a little town square, and a covered stage area - The Royal Theater - (more on that later) where you can see small theatrical shows featuring Belle and Rapunzel.  There is a few snack carts around, and a princess dress and accessories shop (but of course), and there is also a castle-like structure  - The Royal Hall - where you can go inside and meet up to three princesses at once!  

The adorable little town square, and the entrance to the Royal Hall is over on the right of this picture.
Cinderella and Snow White are the mainstays here, and then there is a third "mystery" guest, which can be any princess.  The entire time we were there, the third princess was Ariel.  If you head towards fantasy land first thing in the morning (on a non-early magic morning day) there will hardly be any line to see these princesses.  You walk in one family at a time, and we came around the corner and there was Ariel, in all her red-headed glory and blue sparkling gown, and in her own royal receiving room to boot.  

My girls were stunned.  She twirled her hair and had all the Ariel mannerisms down pat. My girls were so quiet she even asked them if Ursula has stolen their voices.  If it is your first visit, or your birthday, you can get a "1st time" or "birthday" button at any information booth outside the park. If the characters see that, they will make a big deal about it being your first time.  She asked where they came from, and then Ariel immediately asked them if they were mermaids that swam down from Washington.  Here she is pondering if they are mermaids.

Around the next corner was Cinderella.  She was very sweet and my girls were still in shock they were meeting actual, real, live princesses.

Around the third corner was our final princess, Snow White.  She freaked us out a bit because she talked in a high-pitched voice just like her character in the movie. She was nice though and they did move in for a little chat and a hug.

Matter of fact, all the princesses took time to talk with the girls, asked where they were from, and tried to interact with them on a personal level, and talk about things from their movie.  I was surprised they took a minute or two to ask questions and not just rush into a pictured pose.

We were pretty pleased we had met three princesses right off the bat, FOR FREE, with no waiting, and not to mention they were kind of the big "three".  Do be advised that as the day goes on, the park gets more crowded, and the line on one of the days to meet them was 35-40 minutes long.  Try to hit the Royal Hall when the lines are short.

Other places we saw Cinderella and Snow White were out front near the entrance gates one morning.  

Merida, Belle, and Rapunzel (w/ Flynn Rider) 
Outside the Royal Hall, under a little umbrella, you can meet a few other princesses, depending on the time of day.  Most often for us it was Merida. Both my husband and I cracked up at how true to the movie personality these characters stay.  Merida in "Brave" is a rambunctious teenager, so when she came out to meet us, she was twirling and striding around without a care in the world.

A small to medium long line would form around the iron fence heading toward the moat around the castle.  If you stand in line and it was time for the character to take a break (they take breaks often), they would switch her out with another princess, so you were not waiting in line in vain.  Luckily we made it through the line and Merida was still there. 

Merida also spoke with a heavy Scottish accent
If Merida had to leave, out would come Rapunzel (or Belle).  The times of when and WHO is under the shade umbrella, is based mostly on who is going to be doing the stage show in the Royal Theater that day.  

Times are posted right outside the Royal Theater, and for us, Belle had shows in the morning time slots (about once an hour) and Rapunzel had the afternoon shows.  If Belle had the morning shows, she would not be out under the umbrella until the afternoon.  Rapunzel was out in the morning because her shows were scheduled in the afternoon.  Check the times of the shows to guess who is out under the umbrella.  They use Merida as a fill in because she does not have a current show running.  The Royal Theater is a comfy, shady spot where kids sit on carpets near the stage and grown ups sit on wooden benches. 

The show is hilarious and even the adults were getting into it by shouting "Huzzah" at the heroes and yelling "Fie" while shaking their fists at the villains.

Here's another trick:  After watching either the Belle or the Rapunzel show in the Royal Theater - WAIT until the show is completely over but DO NOT EXIT THE THEATER.  If you wait a few minutes the star of the show (Belle, or Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder) will come back out and take pictures/sign autographs.  Here we are meeting Belle after the show.

Most people leave the theater because they do not know this little tidbit, so the few smart ones that stay get to meet them in person.  It is not a guarantee they will come back out.  I was told by a cast member that the first two shows of the day for each character are the most likely for them to come back out for pictures.  We choose a different day to see the second show, and finally got to meet Rapunzel and Flynn Rider when it was over.

Flynn Rider was a crack up by the way.  After we snapped this first picture, I said give me some smoulder Flynn Rider, and he lowered his head for a few moments, just like in the movie, then whipped his head up slowly with the raised eyebrow and everything.

So there we had met three MORE princesses PLUS Flynn Rider all in one place, and we got to watch a very cute (might I add very funny) show that even the adults were cracking up at, all under a shaded tent with comfy benches.

Queen Elsa and Princess Anna
These two are currently the most desired princesses at the park.  I am told only a few months ago, people would stand in line for 3 or 4 hours just to meet them.  Disney has come up with sort of a "fast pass" system, so you don't have to spend your entire day waiting in line.  Because of their popularity, you need a ticket to see Elsa and Anna! The tickets "sell" out fast too.  Early in the morning, as soon as the park opens, head through Sleeping Beauty's castle an swing a left at the King Arther Carousel.  There you will see a few snow covered chalets, and a smattering of maroon umbrellas out front.

Near the 2nd umbrella you will see cast member handing out tickets for you to return later in the day.  There might already be a long line waiting there as you round the corner.  People make a bee-line for this area.  The first day we went, the line wasn't that bad and we got tickets for 3:30pm later that afternoon. 

The second time was a "early magic morning day", which sounds in theory like a good idea (being allowed entry into the park an hour earlier than the other commoners), only EVERYONE has the magic early morning pass and not all of the Disneyland lands are open yet, so they funnel EVERYONE into Fantasyland, making is super-de-duper crowded.  My poor hubby and countless other dads were stuck in a line just to get tickets for up to 40 minutes.  Ug.  Not a great way to start your morning.  Once you get your return ticket, you can go about your day, then, close to your time, you come back, stand in a much shorter line of 15-20 minutes and you get to meet Queen Elsa and Princess Anna.

Waiting in the short line to enter the Frozen Royal Reception Hall
By the way, Olaf is perched up on the rooftop and entertains people as you wait in line.

I don't have a skull... or bones....
Finally we were ushered into the Royal Reception room.  As you wait for the family in front of you, you can check out the fancy snacks along the party table.

Then magically, it was our turn!  There were Elsa and Anna in all their glory.

These girls were so in character as well.  Queen Elsa was tall, strong, and proud.  Little sister Anna was awkward and goofy.  Again they took a couple of minutes to talk to the girls.  They noticed all my girls had shirts with Elsa and Anna faces on them.  They immediately asked where they could get shirts with MY girls' faces on them.  This made them giggle.

We had decided to see Elsa and Anna a second time because that was the day the girls were dressed up in princess costumes.  I had heard that girls will dress up in their favorite princess costume and wear them all day at Disneyland. (Thrifty trick #2, buy a costume before you come on clearance or after Halloween, and save a ton of money.  The dresses in the park were PRICEY).  We had packed ours (rolled up in a plastic bag to help keep sparkles off the rest of our clothes) just in case this was true.  Sure enough, there were tons of princesses roaming throughout the park.  We did not want to wear our dresses every day, but for one special day it was pretty awesome.

The Three Royal Highnesses - in comfortable walking shoes
When we finally were ushered in to meet Elsa and Anna again it was a pretty special moment.  Anna noticed right away my middle daughter had gone to some special lengths to recreate the "coronation hair do" with fancy braid.

Here, my baby was dressed as Elsa, and my middle was Anna.  When we finally did get to see them in the same costumes as their princess heroes, it was a great memory for my girls, not to mention a great Kodak moment for mommy.

Thanks to us wearing costumes, there was another magical moment earlier in the day, when my oldest, dressed as Cinderella, ran into Cinderella near the opening of the park.  I seriously got goosebumps when they hugged each other, it was so sweet!

Then they posed for the most precious picture...

LOVE THIS!!  Cherishing this one for always!  So if you are going to be at the park for more than one day, I highly recommend letting your little princess dress like her favorite princess and see if you can't get a picture with them.  Also, an added bonus is the cast members in the park will address them as "Queen Elsa" or "Cinderella" as they stand in cue for the rides, it's pretty cute.
Aurora, Tiana, Jasmine, Pocahontus,  Mulan
I am told that these five are the more challenging to find in the park.  Aurora, can be a hit and miss at the Fantasy Faire at the Royal hall, and I've also seen her in other people's pictures near the entrance of Disneyland and near her castle over by Snow White's wishing well, though we did not see her at all during our visit.  We actually saw Tiana walk by when were sitting in the Hungry Bear restaurant down by Critter Country (outside of Splash Mountain).  She was exiting into the cast area and was not stopping for pictures, though I am told that she can sometimes be found in New Orleans Square near the train station in the mornings.  I am told Jasmine (and Aladdin) can sometimes be found over at "Aladdin's Oasis" near the jungle cruise.  There used to be a show you could watch and meet them after.  I believe the show is closed down, though the oasis is still there.  You would think Pocahontus would be located somewhere in Frontierland,  or somewhere by the rivers of America, we definitely did not see her on our trip.  Mulan, I have read on some pages no longer appears at Disneyland, while other people have claimed she comes out during Chinese New Year.  I have also read that Mulan and Jasmine can be seen most often at the paid character breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen.   Most of these princesses CAN also be seen, in the Mickey's Sensational parade later in the afternoon (minus Pocahontus and Mulan), you just won't be able to snap a picture with them.  When in doubt, ask a cast member (Disneyland employee) about certain characters you want to see.  They might have some inside knowledge of the best place and times to find them that day.

So this was our tips for finding the princesses!  Obviously we are not regular season pass holders with a ton of insider knowledge, but with a little research before we went, we were able to meet and talk to some of our most favorite princesses, and get some pretty adorable pictures and memories made in the process.  I will post soon on how to meet some of the other popular characters such as visiting the fairies of Pixie Hollow, and how to find the short fuzzy furry ones like piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, plus Mickey, Minnie and the whole gang.  Stay tuned!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Junk Drawer Organization

I got my .com back, I got my .com back!!!  Hallelujah!  I have been laying low this last month, hoping and praying that after a small bidding war, I would get my domain name back!  Phew.  That was quite worrisome for a while.  Not to mention the extra great news I now bring, that most of my previously broken links out there on Pinterest are now pointing back to here, my little oasis on the interwebs!! Oh happy day!

Whilst I was away from the blogosphere for these few weeks, I had some extra time to micro organize a few things.  It's one of those things that you use every single day, but they are so messy, but no one ever has time in their regular busy lives to gussy them up properly.  We are talking about the ill-fated junk drawer (or drawers) in your kitchen.  It is the eternal resting place of Papa Murphy coupons, half chewed pencil-top erasers, pens without caps, dull sticky scissors, about 5 billion paperclips, and a few decapitated toy doll heads (with every motherly intention of one day being hot glued back on to the body from whence they came).  I mean, they don't call it a junk drawer for nothing people!

This is not my junk drawer below. I was too ashamed to show you mine.  Okay, in all reality I got on a cleaning kick and it was halfway empty before I thought to take a picture.  I'm pretty sure none of you need a reminder what chaos looks like.  Just wander into your kitchen and open your least favorite, but most often most used drawer and you'll see something akin to this: 

Well, after I got all industrious and cleared out everything from the drawer (and threw over half of it away) I needed someway to keep things a bit more compartmentalized.  In the past I had used a couple of small jewelry boxes and lids and thought this time, I needed bigger spaces for things.  Of course they sell very handy dandy organizers all over the place, but I wanted to try and use something on hand if I could.  I was already in cleaning mode and didn't want to run to the store.  I needed something quick.  I needed something easy.  I looked in our recycling bin and found a couple of - get this - Capri sun boxes, and they guess what?  They work GREAT!!  

One half of the Capri sun box is totally demolished after you use it.  You punch a hole with your fist to get the drinks out, so there is really only usable half is the bottom side.  Simply cut around the middle of the box.  

They make this easy for you, because it is almost separated into two halves already.

Once cut all the way through, you have a pretty sturdy tray that is just the right length to hold pens, pencils, erasers, and other odds and ends that might come along.  

A few fit side by side nicely in the drawers, and I used the spaces outside the boxes to hold longer items like rulers, and scissors.  I still had a couple of square jewelry box containers and lids left over from the last time I tried to organize everything, and tucked those in between things for small grouped items such as paperclips and safety pins.

Oh and once I got on the micro-cleaning band wagon, I just couldn't stop.  I ventured on over to our island drawers and found out that Capri Sun boxes also were the perfect length in the bulk utensils drawer.  Things like mixing/blending attachments, and ice cream scoops, while big honkin' things like metal BBQ tongs and apple slicers could go way in the back, and the almost used every day things like measuring cups and teaspoon/tablespoons go could right up front when I can grab them quickly.

Ahhhh SO much better.  I wish I would have taken a picture of the "before" before I started.  Basically you would open this drawer and have one big ol' pile of objects you'd have to dig for to find the one you wanted.  Now at least we have some organization.  The pizza cutter isn't going to slice someone's hand off as they reach for the can opener, and I don't have to perform an extensive search and rescue operation to find the 1/2 teaspoon. 

So hooray for micro cleaning and hooray for organizing one little thing each day - and HOORAY FOR GETTING MY DOMAIN NAME BACK!

Monday, September 15, 2014

One Million Views!!!

Well... we did it.  I just crossed over the one MILLION view mark for my blog!  Very exciting stuff!  Thank you to everyone and anyone who has clicked and enjoyed a recipe, a funny story, or both!!... and  to those of you that helped my Extra Creamy Mac n' Cheese recipe go mini viral, I THANK YOU!  A big shout out to pinterest can't hurt either.  Before they changed their policies, anyone with a good recipe (not just the bloggers with millions of followers) could have a chance for people to find their recipe and pass it along.  Here's to hoping they change it back to that again one day.  ONE MILLION VIEWS!  ONE MILLION VIEWS!!

This week has been a roller coaster of emotions for me.  Full of extreme highs (like 1 million views) AND extreme lows.  It started out a few weeks ago. I had clicked on my blog link as usual (I  knew I was only a few thousand hits away from the one million mark, which is so exciting), when I could not find my blog.  Could.  Not. Find it.  Nothing came up at the link but a 1-page ad.  For a second I thought my entire blog had been deleted.  I was shaking. In a tearful panic, and after some frantic searching, I found out my blog was still intact and my posts were all there on blogger, only the domain I had been pointing to for the last year and a half (and every single link to my blog on pinterest or Google search) was broken.  At one time at the height of my creamy mac n cheese recipe viral-ness, I was receiving almost 8000 hits a day!  Now, with my links broken, just a few hundred.  Then I found out some one had bought up my domain name...and wanted money for me to buy it back!

I'm not going to lie.  I was heart broken.  It felt like extortion. Matter of fact I didn't even come check on my blog or make any new posts since the day this happened.  I was so close to 1 million views and now it was so sad to see hardly any daily hits. People are going to be looking for my Mac n cheese recipes and how to make sprinklers out of a 2-liter bottles, and won't be able to find me.  In all honesty, it was my fault (and I feel so stupid) for not renewing my domain name early.  I had no idea that people were waiting to buy up expired domain names, it's a hard lesson to learn.  I am basically "digitally ruined" if I can't get my domain name back. Now here I am, in a bidding war for my own blog domain name, and I feel like it's kind of negotiating with cyber "terrorists".  I'm trying to figure out how my small time, little ol' me blog had a big enough of a traffic target for someone to buy my domain name out from under me in an attempt to sell it back to me. I will keep you posted on the negotiations.  In the meantime, I have purchased and will start to post under that domain for now.  

Even after all of that tragedy, I still managed to hit that 1 million views mark this week anyway!!. Which is a cause for celebration!!

That's a ton of people!!  I just wanted to say thank you to anyone that has found a good recipe here, a funny mom story, or made a fun craft with their kids.  Here is to many more years of blogging hilarity and recipe attempts.

Thank you so much


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