Monthly Archives: July 2012

Olympic Torch Popcorn Balls.

Who watched the Opening Ceremonies last night? I would have to say my favorite part was either Rowan Atkinson with the London Symphony, or seeing how even a superstar like Paul McCartney can get choked up at the sight of thousands of athletes coming together for the Olympics.

The Munchkin (& even Mini-Munchkin, who wouldn’t turn away from the TV long enough to nurse, let alone fall asleep, for some time) loved staying up late to watch. It got her as excited about the Games as I hoped it would.

Our special treat for our Olympic watching party? These popcorn ball “torches.”

This recipe has only a few ingredients, but getting the caramel to the right consistency (not too hard, not too soft) can be tricky. This makes enough for 8, 3- to 4-inch balls.

  • 2 bags microwave popcorn, popped (I love kettle corn)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 small bags M&Ms in Olympic colors (let your Munchkin help you remove the orange ones; dark brown counts as black)
  • colored cardstock or scrapbook paper, formed into a narrow cone & taped
  1. Combine sugar, corn syrup, & cream. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  2. Boil 3 minutes, until “soft ball” stage. (This will happen quicker than you think.)
  3. Place popcorn in a large bowl, then pour caramel over the top. Stir to coat. Sprinkle M&Ms throughout & carefully stir. Some may melt a little.
  4. When mixture has cooled slightly, form into balls. (This will take longer than you think; do it too soon & you WILL get second-degree burns. Not that I know from personal experience…)
  5. When fully cooled, place atop cones (or just hold in your hands) & enjoy!

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Getting into the Olympic spirit.

I love the Olympics.

I love the athleticism, competition, the drama, & how for 2 weeks every 2 years (we’re thinking winter too) everyone becomes an expert. I love watching people from all over the world come together in the spirit of sportsmanship. And I love that this year I get to pass it on to The Munchkin.

Why are the Olympics so important? Why bother giving Olympic Fever to the rising generation? My friend Kalani wrote a fantastic essay answering that question. There are so many important lessons that athletic competition can teach kids: patriotism, the importance of working hard, how to be a good sport, & — perhaps most importantly in this age of rising childhood obesity — that moving is fun.

So I encourage you to let your Munchkins watch a competition or two with you this year to help them catch The Fever. Here’s how we’re starting with ours.

We’ve decided to let her stay up late to watch some of the Opening Ceremonies Friday, & have started getting her into the spirit by introducing her to the logo & the colors this week by decorating the apartment a little at Munchkin height. We made our own Olympic Rings into a paper chain, with The Munchkin telling me which color strip came next. After just one sheet of construction paper of each color, she had those colors down!

Next she drew her own Olympic Rings. Not a bad first attempt!

Finally, to help her learn a little more about the sports & the competition, I made up a quick medal count chart using clip art to illustrate each category. I had no idea there were so many! If you want one of your own, download it here. Get the medals here — you may need to add extra paper on the side for the swimming category, if it’s anything like 2008 was!

We have a couple other ideas too that I’ll be posting soon. How are you introducing your kids to the Olympics?

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Blueberry Cream Pudding Pie. (Inspired by Serious Eats)

I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like anymore perusing Serious Eats. Fortunately, they haven’t forgotten about me & still send me their weekly recipe newsletter. Today’s recipe is an easy version of one from said newsletter. If you feel like scraping vanilla beans & crushing your own graham cracker crumbs, find the recipe here. If you’re pressed for time like me, read on.

I think I underestimate how much I love pudding. It’s not something I ordinarily think to buy, but maybe it should be: it was the first thing I ate after my C-section (thank you, breech Mini-Munchkin). I ate it with every subsequent meal in the hospital. Hmmm… Pudding with every meal? I could go for that!

In the meantime, here’s pudding with dessert.

  • 1 premade graham cracker crust
  • 1 box (the big one, not the small one) vanilla instant pudding
  • 2 cups cold skim milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. clear vanilla extract
  • 1 pint blueberries, washed & dried
  1. Prepare the pudding as directed on the package, just with 2 cups milk instead of 3. Chill in the refrigerator.
  2. Whip the cream, sugar, & vanilla. Fold about 1/3 of it into prepared pudding.
  3. Spread half of the pudding mixture into the bottom of the crust.
  4. Carefully spread another 1/3 of the whipped cream over the pudding, then top with almost all of the blueberries.
  5. Spread remaining pudding to hide the blueberries, then top with remaining whipped cream & sprinkle remaining blueberries on top.
  6. Serve with a spoon; this will get messy!

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Almost-Chili Taco Soup.

Now that Mini-Munchkin is nearly three months, I probably have to stop using the “I have a newborn” excuse & start posting a little more regularly.

With that, here’s the first of what will likely be many quick-prep meals for those nights when you have literally 5 minutes in the kitchen.

A friend of mine from my local chapter of the National MOMS Club brought this dish over after I had the Mini-Munchkin. This thick, hearty, almost-chili soup was an instant hit, so I asked her for the recipe. It was so easy she was actually embarrassed to give it to me! But I love easy, so I’m not embarrassed at all to share this with you.

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 3/4 cup water*
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup
  • 2 cans black beans, undrained
  • 2 cans corn, drained
  • tortilla chips, cheese, sour cream, etc., for serving

*or however much your particular taco seasoning calls for

  1. Brown the ground beef. Drain.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add taco seasoning & water. Stir.
  3. Add remaining ingredients. Stir.
  4. Cover; simmer until heated through or as long as you want.

That’s it! Yum!

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Mermaid Party Redux.

My last post talked about why we shouldn’t overdo it on the party planning. But purchasing everything pre-assembled can get pricey, so here are a few cute things I did to save money & personalize it a little for my Munchkin. I was so busy having fun that I didn’t meticulously take pictures of my handiwork, but I think that’s a good thing (except when I’m trying to explain to other people what I did).

For starters, this is the party theme I bought. However, rather than buying everything to fit the theme, I saved money by only buying the swirly hanging decorations (see below), tablecloths, invitations, & dessert plates. For everything else–flatware, napkins, dinner plates, & even a couple extra tablecloths–I bought cheaper, solid-color items in the party’s colors: light blue, purple, & hot pink. I also got balloons in those colors.

The Munchkin was insistent that the kids all wear party hats, so we got assorted solid-color ones at Party City that happened to match the theme colors really well, then decorated them with sea animal stickers together. She loved helping! In previous years I would’ve been too much of a perfectionist to let her help.

(In the interest of full disclosure, we learned rather quickly that paper hats tend to dissolve after several minutes atop wet heads. But they were fun & they stayed on for the cake, which is what The Munchkin wanted anyway.)

Now for my favorite part: the favor buckets. I bought these sandcastle buckets from Party City for 99 cents (my advice: sign up for their emails before you order; I started getting all sorts of discount offers after I’d placed my order!). They come in 8 different colors, so I’m sure they’d match your theme colors. Then I filled them with awesome cheap sea-life-themed favors from Oriental Trading Company. I hate the buckets that are full of useless crap, so I tried to choose things the kids would actually like to use. The Munchkin loves bubbles, stickers (those were from Party City & also delightfully cheap; we bought extra to decorate the hats with), & stampers, so we included those & a squirty fish thing, then a bag of Goldfish & just a few pieces of candy. To assemble them, we grouped like items together & formed an assembly line; it taught The Munchkin to follow patterns!

These buckets would be great for any ocean-type theme. They received lots of compliments, & they were simple & inexpensive!

Next, the thank-you notes that came with the party supplies were the fill-in-the-blank kind. Those are great for kids who are learning to write, but The Munchkin’s still young enough that I’m doing the writing for her. So fill-in-the-blank would be kind of a copout. Instead, I bought blank notecards from Target (again, they come in lots of cute colors) & puffy stickers from Michael’s (can you tell I like stickers?). The Munchkin & I decorated the cards in little sea life scenes. You could do this with any theme imaginable & it’d look great!

Last but not least, activities. One of the great perks of having the party at the splash park was I didn’t have to coordinate activities. But with Tropical Storm Debby threatening, I came up with a couple last-minute things to keep the kids busy under the pavilion in case we had a momentary downpour. I printed an Ariel coloring page & a couple of sea animal coloring pages & had a bucket of crayons. Then we let the kids make jellyfish. To prep, just cut cheap white paper plates in half & have streamers & a stapler handy. The kids color their jellyfish, & then you tear off some streamers & staple them to the straight side. So easy!

So there you go! Hope this helps with the planning of any ocean-themed parties in the future. Just remember to listen to your own Munchkin rather than what the professionals on Pinterest think, & keep it simple: if you overdo it this year, you’ll just have to try to outdo yourself next year!

Good luck!

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The Munchkin’s Best Birthday Yet.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t make a single thing for this birthday party.

And it was AWESOME.

And I don’t regret it one bit.

Way back in February The Munchkin told me she wanted a mermaid party. “Not a ‘Little Mermaid’ party, a mermaid party.” I love this girl! She makes up her mind & sticks to it. With all this prep time, I had grand designs for customized printable invitations, themed food, etc., but the reality of a newborn, & family in town for said newborn’s baby blessing (isn’t she cute?), set in really quickly. Still, it took awhile to get past the mom guilt brought on by picture-perfect Pinterest parties. Do I love my child less because I bought my (still cute) decorations from Oriental Trading Company, hand-wrote fill-in-the-blank invitations, & ordered a — gasp! — supermarket cake?

Absolutely not! I realized that in past years I had poured so much of myself into these events that, not only was I so stressed out I was stressing everyone else out, but I was seeking validation from other people instead of my Munchkin. This year my only pre-party panic moment was about whether we should pay a hefty deposit to move the outdoor party inside because of Tropical Storm Debby. Thanks to a lot of prayer (& even, in a weak moment, an email to the FOX 13 morning meteorologist), we kept the party at the splash park just like she wanted, & we all got to actually enjoy it.

So I’m writing this to let my fellow “just moms” out there that you don’t need to order custom everything from Etsy or specialty bake shops or whatever. You don’t need to impress the grownups there. Sometimes a splash park, a Publix cake, & some party hats with stickers on them are all you need to make a birthday girl’s day.

That’s what’s important!

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