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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Road Trip Meal Ideas

When we road trip we very rarely eat out.  My kids prefer my home cooked meals over fast food any day.  We actually try to cook "at home" as much as we can when we vacation.  We usually rent a cabin, house or condo or stay in a hotel with a kitchen like Residence Inn.  It is so frustrating to go out to dinner, drop $70 and have my kids say "it was okay, but yours is better."  Also, I like to cook so cooking on vacation is enjoyable for me.  And last, I travel quite a bit for work so eating out is not really a treat for me.  This all being said I have come up with some easily transportable meal ideas that are ideal for eating in the car or in the park.  Here are some of my favorite ideas:

1.  Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad -- grill up a few chicken breasts (marinated in Lawry's marinade or Italian salad dressing), slice them up and throw them in a ziploc.  In a large tuperware put clean, cut up romaine lettuce.  In additional ziploc bags put some sliced red onions, chopped bacon (I actually cheat here and use Hormel Real Bacon Pieces - I buy them in a big bag from Sams, not as good as real bacon but a suitable substitution in salads) and croutons (either home made or store bought.)  Put all your baggies in the tuperware and put the whole tuperware in the cooler.  When it comes time to serve dump everything in the tuperware, add some Ken's Caesar dressing, put the lid back on and shake it up.  Serve it up on paper plates or bowls -- don't forget plastic forks!

2.  Anti-Pasta Pasta Salad -- see my recipe from a few days ago for the recipe.  Pack it in a large tuperware in a cooler, dish it up in bowls, cups or paper plates and don't forget the forks!

3.  Chicken Salad Pita Pockets -- see my chicken salad recipe from last week.  Store it in a cooler until ready to eat, serve it up in Pita Pockets.  (Croissants are also yummy but can be a little messy.)

4.  Turkey Wraps -- my favorite version:  Mix 1 tablespoon of low fat cream cheese with 1 tablespoon of salsa, spread on a soft taco size flour tortilla, add 2 slices of smoked turkey and roll up.  Wrap in foil and put all of them in a large ziploc bag.  Store the bag in the cooler and just hand them out and enjoy.  You can also make this with ham and onion and chive cream cheese.  Yummy, easy and so easily transportable!

5.  Southwest Chicken Salad Wraps -- recipe:

4 chicken breasts, cooked and cut up
1 red pepper, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 green onions, sliced
1 cup Ranch Dressing
1/2 cup Mayo
1/2 package fajita seasoning

Mix all ingredients. Make up the wraps ahead of time, put a few spoonfuls on a soft taco size tortilla and wrap in foil.  Put all the wraps in a ziploc bag and store them in the cooler until dinner time!

6.  Lunchables -- my kids used to ask for Oscar Mayer Lunchables but they threw half the things away.  Now I pack up sliced summer sausage, sliced or cubed cheese (pick your favorite -- ours is smoked gouda), Ritz crackers and grapes and strawberries.  When it is time to eat serve everyone their own lunchable -- meat, cheese, crackers and fruit -- and nothing gets thrown away.

7.  Sub Sandwiches -- buy hoagie buns at the grocery store or Sam's and make up your own subs -- we like provelone, ham, turkey and salami.  Wrap in foil and put in ziploc, store in cooler.  We then pack mustard and mayo (either packets we stock up on from gas stations/restaurants or squeeze bottles) and sliced lettuce, tomatoes and onions in small containers or ziploc bags in coolers.  Then when it is picnic time every one can doctor their own.

Things to pack in your car: 

  • Paper Towels
  • Handi-wipes
  • Grocery bags for trash
  • paper plates
  • plastic silverware
  • Water bottles (or Tervis Tumblers) that can be refilled during pit stops

Embrace the journey!  Take a road trip!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Disney Travel Tips

We really like Disney World.  I wouldn't say I LOVE it like some people do.  We have been 3 times in the past few years and I went once as a teen.  So I'm by no means an expert but I have gathered some tips for hitting The World with kiddos.

1.  If you haven't book your trip yet, use a travel agent who specializes in Disney.  I have a great one in KC that I would recommend to anyone and if you want her info just comment on this post.  A travel agent won't cost you any extra money and if they specialize in Disney they will be a huge help.  They can even tell you when the specials are.  The last two times my travel agent let me know when they were doing free dining plan and we ate free the whole time.

2.  Buy the dining plan.  I think it is well worth the money just for the simple fact that you don't have to worry about money all week.  I prefer the counter service plan but if you are going for your first time and want to do the Princess Breakfast or other character meals, go for the regular plan.  On the counter plan you get 2 meals and 2 snacks a day and COUNTER doesn't necessarily mean fast food.  We have had some great counter meals like roasted chicken, ribs, fish, salads, etc.  Plus the counter meals will take less time out of your day.  A character meal can take 2 hours.  If you are only going for 4 or 5 days like we have done the past two times you don't want to sacrifice the time.

3.  Bring snacks!  Even if you are on the dining plan sometimes the kids need something now, like when you are in line, and a fruit snack or granola bar will do the trick without using a full snack credit.

4.  When you are picking your hotel consider a moderate or value property over the deluxe properties.  For me the biggest reason is the food court.  The deluxe properties have restaurants.  The moderate and value have food courts which allow each member of the family to pick what they want to eat.

5.  Buy your kids a Disney gift card from the Disney store to use as souvenir money.  They will love having a "credit" card and you don't have to worry about them losing cash.  Our school sells scrip cards as a Fund-Raiser so I buy mine off that which is a bonus.

6.  Instead of doing the standard autograph book go to your scrapbook store and buy a pad of 4x6" scrapbook paper in assorted colors.  Punch a hole in the corner and put a ring through it.  Have each character sign a different card.  Each night you can take the signed ones off and leave them in the room, then if you lose the book you only lose the ones from that day.  When you get home you can put the autograph and the photo together in a scrapbook or album.

7.  Bring lots of ziploc bags.  Okay, so this is actually something I pack for every trip we go on.  It is just handy to have assorted ziploc bags.  A sandwich size is a great way to save 1/2 your muffin from breakfast for a snack.  A gallon one is good for putting wet clothes in to bring home.  They even sell JUMBO ones that we use when we go on water rides.  We put all our stuff in it, camera, back packs, phones, etc. and they all stay perfectly dry.

8.  Go to Walmart and buy the cheap $1 ponchos from the camping section and take them with you.  They will save you a fortune if it rains.  The Disney ones are about $10 each and boy do they sell a lot of those!

9.  Become comfortable with the Fastpass system.  I am surprised how many people don't use it.  It is free and it allows you to get a ticket to ride a ride at a later time.  Basically you go to the Fast Pass distribution machines, put in each park ticket one at a time and it will spit out a ticket with a one hour window on it to come back and ride.  Now you need to understand that you don't have to come back during that hour, you just can't come back before that hour.  So if yours say 4:40 - 5:40, you can actually come back anytime after 4:40 until the park closes that night.  Also, it will tell you on there what time you can get your next Fast Pass.  It is when that one comes up or 90 minutes from issuance.  We are the masters of the Fast Pass and we rarely wait in line for any ride.  So use it, get comfortable with it and then pass up all those suckers in the stand by line.

10. Pin Trading is a lot of fun but before you go to the parks and spend a fortune on pins check Ebay.  There are tons of people selling the pins in lots.  You can buy a lot of say 50 pins for $50 with very cheap shipping.  Just make sure you order at least a few weeks before you go.

11.  Before you go do some research on www.allears.net.  This website is great and has tons of information!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Road Trip Sanity Savers

My friend Marcia just posted a plea on Facebook for Road Trip games and tips so here goes.

First, I love making up Road Trip Fun Packs for every trip we go on.  I put together a bag or box for each kiddo (and sometimes the adults too.)  My kids know they are getting them so now they really look forward to them.  As a matter of fact Olivia wanted to know if she was getting one for the trip to Washington DC.  I told her those are for Road Trips, we were flying to DC!  She was a little bummed. 

Usually I put the Road Trip Fun Pack in a cheap paper bag but sometimes I'll put it in something more fun.  I have given them clip boards that had their names on the front.  When we went to South Dakota I put the stuff in cute little back packs which they used all week for our outings.  One thing you may want to invest in if you are new to road trips is a lap desk for each of your kids.  I especially love these ones I got my kids that have a light built in so they can color or read after dark:  http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?SKU=17249800

Now what to pack!

First thing in the box is some snacks, usually Twizzlers and something salty.  Nothing big but something they wouldn't normally get at home.

Second, I always include a new book.  Hey, I like to encourage reading as much as I can.

Third, I make up a packet of games.  This is easy and FREE.  I print out a sheet of tic tac toe boards, dots and lines, car bingo, etc. from a great website called Mom's Minivan.   I also include a list of all the states so we can mark them off as we spot license plates from that state.

Next, make your own word search using words that apply to your vacation.  If you are going to South Dakota you can put words in it like MTRUSHMORE, BADLANDS, WALLDRUG, CORNPALACE, Etc. Here a great website for building your game:  http://www.edhelper.com/wordfind_make.htm

You can also go get printable coloring sheets for the places you plan to visit.  If you are going to Seaworld, check out their website, they will have printable coloring sheets.  Major landmarks will also have coloring pages available on line, just search "coloring page mt. rushmore".....or whatever.

One time I printed off words to common road trip songs and put those in the packets.  That provided hours of entertainment and tons of laughter for the whole family.  Especially when I kept singing the wrong words and Jeff said "Girls, why did your mom bother to give us all the words to the songs if SHE was still going to sing the wrong words????"  I was driving!  Hello!  I can't read, sing and drive!  

Another game that we play in the car is the alphabet game.  Each member of the car has to find each letter of the alphabet in order on license plates and bill boards and you can't repeat each other.  So you shout out the letter and the word you got it from.  A, Applebee's, B, Bob's, etc.  You can't move on to the next letter until you get the one before.  You can wait a long time for Q!  Hint:  Look for Antique stores! 


If your kids are a bit older, you could put some logic puzzles or sudoku puzzles in their packet.  Again, all available for free on the internet.  Also, you can check the Dollar Tree and maybe pick up a new coloring or activity book that is age appropriate.  I have also been known to include a new DVD and/or DS game if I catch some on clearance or a $5 special.  If I know a road trip is coming I keep my eyes open for good deals on these types of items.  The day after Thanksgiving they run DVDs for $2, $3 or $5 at Walmart and Target.  I usually pick up quite a few and tuck them away for these types of events.

I have also been known to reward the kids for good behavior.  Every 30 minutes if there has been no bickering they get $1.  Over a 16 hour road trip to Florida they can each earn $30 of souvenir money!  However, that has really gone by the wayside as they have gotten older and are really good travelers.   Now I make them earn their money before we leave (tomorrow I'll blog about some good ways to handle souvenir money.)

Another tip, before you leave town go stock up on DVDs from the public library.  They are free and you now get to keep them for 2 weeks in Johnson County instead of 1! 

I hope these ideas help.  I always say the journey is half the fun.  Actually I think when it comes to family road trips, the journey is about 75% of the fun.  These are memories you just can't put a price tag on!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Easy Packing

This week I'm blogging from Germany.  I'm here for work but it has prompted me to do a week of travel blogging.  I love to travel.  I love vacations with my family.  I love road trips.  I just think the memories you make when traveling with your kids are the ones they will remember for the rest of their lives.  In fact, I can safely say that my very favorite way to spend money is on travel.  Lucky for me, my husband agrees.  When I see someone rolling down the street in a $60,000 SUV I think "Wow!  That would finance a lot of sweet vacations."  Hence the fact that I'm still rolling down the street in my 10 year old Honda Oddessey with 165,000 miles on it (but no car payments which means more $$$$ for travel!)

Today's tip is about packing.  LET YOUR KIDS PACK THEMSELVES!  Yes, you may think I'm crazy but it will really save you time and give them ownership of the vacation!  Okay, so I don't let them pack from scratch.  And depending on their age you may want to double check their packing to make sure extra things didn't find their way in.  So here's how it goes in my house.

A few years ago I made up a generic packing list for each of my girls.  I list out everything they need like X pairs of socks, X pairs of pjs, X pairs of undies (fill in the X with the appropriate # for that trip.)  The list evolves from time to time.  My 14 year old now has "make up" on her list instead of sippy cups :-(  There are things that come and go depending on the destination such as sunscreen and bug spray.  But the list for the most part varies little from trip to trip and I have it saved in an Excel spreadsheet so with each new trip I can make updates, additions, deletions and then print it out for each kid.

A few days before the trip look up the forecast for the destination and make a chart showing each day you will be gone and what is planned for that day, include the forecast.  For example -- Sunday, Drive to Lake, Sunny & 89.  Then they can plan for each day what outfits they want to bring.  Sometimes if we are just going to the beach and have no plans but to lay on the beach I'll put the number of outfits on the packing list and not give them a chart for outfit planning.  Just add "3 short outfits" to the list.

Once they have their outfits planned out, tell them to make sure everything they want to pack is clean or get it in the laundry NOW.  Have them start a pile in a corner of their room or a laundry basket.  As clean clothes come out they can put the ones they need in their pile.

The night before you leave have them transfer all of the items from the pile to their suitcase, checking them off the list or outfit planner as the items go in.  Some things will have to wait until right before you walk out the door like that favorite blanket or toothbrush.  At this point have them highlight everything that is NOT in the suitcase so you can remember to grab those as you get ready to leave.  If your kids are younger you can do this step of packing and checking off with them. 

Viola!  The kids are packed and you didn't have to do all the work.  Now if you can only train your husband to do the same......... 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Book Every Teen Should Read

I have a HIGH SCHOOL student living in my house!!  I'm not sure how that happened.  I am certainly not old enough to have a daughter in high school.  Regardless, in less than 2 months she will be heading through the big doors and into the big world of high school. 

I think communication is so important with kiddos so I was thrilled when I found out about this book.  The funny thing is I found out about this book from my mom.  That is funny because as much as I love my parents and as great as I think they were as parents we did NOT talk about things.  I think it was just their generation but we talked "reactively."  I got caught drinking, so we talked about not drinking.  I got caught dating a boy who was too old, so we talked about not dating older boys.  You get the picture.  So imagine my shock when I found out she was making my 16 year old niece read this book.  I picked it up one day when I was over there and thought it had real potential but at the time Haley was only about 11 so I decided it would wait.

This past school year I started the book with her.  I would read a chapter and then she would read the chapter and then went to lunch or to get coffee or ice cream and discuss.  I love the fact that this has started so much dialogue.  I told my husband one day that one thing that this book has done for me is made me realize how grounded and down to earth our daughter is and that I feel bad that he isn't getting this same experience (let's face it a 13 year old girl doesn't want to talk about dating and sex with her dad.)

And the book is.......The 6 Most Important Decisions You'll Ever Make by Sean Covey.  If you recognize the name "Covey" his dad Stephen Covey wrote the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Sean wrote the spin off, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. 

So what are the 6 decisions?
  1. Your attitude towards school
  2. How you choose your friends
  3. Your relationship with your parents
  4. Dating and sex
  5. Addictions
  6. Self worth

The way the book is written I think it is a very easy and entertaining read.  He doesn't pull any punches there is some pretty graphic information about STDs and drug side effects.  It definitely has a Christian slant but it isn't at all preachy.  There are several areas in the book that allow the teen to do some planning and make notes. 

I hope if you have a pre-teen son or daughter you'll consider having them read this book and talking about it with them.  I think it has been a great experience for us and it has opened the door to discussions that would may have never happened.  I will be buying another copy for Liv when she is a little older.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Anti-Pasta Pasta Salad -- a one dish dinner

We love to take road trips and my kids love when we pack picnics for the road but plain, old sandwiches just aren't our cup of tea so I have come up with several things that can be made ahead and then dished out and eaten easily in the car.  One of our favorites is anti-pasta pasta salad.  It has evolved over the years but I think this summer we have perfected it.  I have made it several times in the past 6 weeks to keep in the fridge for a quick lunch for the kids. 

One of the ingredients is a seasoning mix that I actually got from a Paula Deen recipe but I love it for lots of things so I mix it up and keep it in my spice cabinet.  So first the recipe is for the seasoning. 

Seasoning:
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp parsley flakes

Shake this up in a container with a tight seal and store in cupboard for up to six months. 

When it comes to the pasta salad you can really put whatever you like in it so here is my "recipe" but I've given you ideas for swap outs below.

Anti-Pasta Pasta Salad

1/2 lb. baby portobello mushrooms
1 can black olives
1 jar marinate artichoke hearts
1/4 lb. hard salami
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
Parmesan cheese, diced
1 lb. penne cooked according to package
1 lemon
Ken's Light Balsamic dressing
1/4 olive oil

Clean and quarter mushrooms.  Put mushrooms on baking sheet, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 425 degrees for 7-9 minutes.  Cool.  Mix pasta with mushrooms, olives, artichoke hearts (with the juices), chopped salami, chicken, diced parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle with a 2 teaspoons of the seasoning and squeeze the juice of one lemon over it all.  Toss with olive oil.  Add Balsamic dressing as needed to reach the desired moistness.  Chill for a few hours before serving. 

The fresh lemon juice makes a huge difference, makes it taste so fresh.  The beauty of this dish is you can put anything in it.  If you are grilling chicken for dinner, throw a few extra on for this salad.  If not, pick up a rotisserie chicken and put that in.  Or skip the chicken all together.  I've made it with left over smoked turkey from a BBQ restaurant, it was awesome. 

Add whatever roasted veggies you had for dinner.  Broccoli and asparagus would both be great.  You can also put in roasted red peppers.  Grape or cherry tomatoes are a good addition too.  This can honestly become a "clean out the fridge" recipe.  I hope you'll try it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Favorite Things.........Including great Guacamole!

As promised a few days ago I'm going to share my guacamole recipe.  It is not terribly difficult, it only has a few ingredients in it but it does have one of my favorite things in it........Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, so it led me to think I should share some of my other favorite grocery store staples. 

If you haven't seen or tried Chipotle Tabasco Sauce you can find it right next to plain, old Tabasco sauce but it is so different.  It's smoky and not really very hot.  I use it in tons of things from guacamole to sausage gravy, chili, scrambled eggs, burgers......the possibilities are endless.  Check it out here:  http://www.tabasco.com/tabasco_tent/pepper_sauce/chipotle_pepper_sauce.cfm

Lawry's makes a line of marinades that are based on citrus juices.  They are so great.  I know it isn't that hard to whip up a marinade but its easier to just pour it out of the bottle, especially when it tastes that great!  My favorite is the Baja Chipotle.  I marinate my chicken in it, grill it and then serve it with southwest cous cous or on top of a southwest themed salad.  Yummy.  The Teriyaki is great too.  Throw together some fried rice and you have a great meal!  Check it out here:  http://www.lawrys.com/product-landing.aspx

Ken's.  What more can I say?  Ken's makes amazing dressings.  As I discussed a few days ago we have a real affinity in our house for the Honey Mustard.  It is so, so, so very yummy on everything from chicken nuggets to french fries to salad.  I also like to keep some of their light vinaigrettes on hand for quick salads, marinades or pasta salad.  Check out all their flavors here:  http://www.kensfoods.com/kf/welcome.servlet

I'm a Wal-Mart shopper and one of my freezer staples is the Sam's Choice Seasoned Fries.  They are about $2 a bag and when you cook them on a stone in the oven they are yummy and crispy.  Serve them up with Ken's Honey Mustard and you won't be disappointed!

I always thought I didn't like rice, turns out I just don't like sticky, white, quick rice.  I have discovered basmati rice and it is fabulous.  However, I don't make it according to the package directions.  I put a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauce pot and saute 1 cup of rice for a few minutes.  Then I add one can of chicken broth and bring it to a boil.  Turn the heat down to simmer, cover it and let it cook for about 15 minutes.  So much better than instant rice any day!

Now as promised my guacamole recipe:

3 ripe avocados (the best thing is to buy them a few days early and let them ripen on the counter)
1 clove garlic
kosher salt
1/4 red onion, very finely chopped
Chipotle Tabasco

Mash the avocados.  Grate the garlic into the avocados using a microplane.  Stir in the onion and 4-5 dashes of Tabasco sauce.  Add salt to taste.  You can also chop up some tomatoes if they are in season and stir them in at the last minute. 

That's it, so easy but so yummy!  Enjoy!  Maybe mix up a pitcher of Beergaritas to go with it!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Making Time Count

My sister and I had a conversation last night that I wanted to share. We were discussing how hard it is as parents to spend really good quality time with our kids. We are pulled in so many directions with work, technology, social commitments and our kids sports and school stuff on top. We were discussing how important we both thought it was to build this super strong nucleus of a family who can survive anything and what a challenge that is to do. So here are some ideas:

1. Game Night -- Whether you play board games or video games take a night out, turn off the phones and just play together. Our family is a big fan of card games and I especially love the board games turned card games. They now have Scrabble, Sorry, Monopoly and Yahtzee all as card games and they are fun. We also love Pit, which can get a bit rowdy. Its really fun to break out a new game and figure it out together, it may become your new favorite. Usually we'll let each family member pick one game to play and we'll play each one.

2. No Phone Zone -- This is my sister's idea. Turn off the phones no matter what you are doing. Each night claim a NO PHONE ZONE for your family. Even if you are just going to watch tv together, leave the phones off and in another room so they aren't vying for your attention.

3. Cook Together -- Have a homemade pizza night. Make or buy some pizza crusts and put out a bunch of toppings and let each person build their own pizza. You can also do Build Your Own Nachos, Loaded Baked Potatoes or Salad Bar nights. These go great with game night or movie night.

4. Movie Night -- Grab a family friendly movie, pop some popcorn and snuggle up on the couch.

5. Explore Your Own City -- go to a travel website (www.tripadvisor.com) and see what there is to do in your city. In Kansas City you could go to the Hallmark Visitor Center, the WWI Memorial, Steamboat Arabia, Nelson Atkins Art Museum, Union Station, College Basketball Experience and more. There are so many things to do right in your own backyard. Take a day and be a tourist in your own town.

6. Hit the Road -- I love Road Trips! I think there is nothing better for family bonding than hitting the open road together. You don't have to go far, try Omaha, Des Moines or St. Louis. Just be together and have fun. Play the license plate game, the alphabet game, sing funny songs, have road trip snacks. Enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

7. Be The Guest -- If you don't have a whole weekend to leave town, just get a hotel right here in town for one night. Kids love hotels no matter where they are. Just make sure you leave your phones at home (or at least turn them off), pack some of those card games, bring your swimsuits and enjoy a night off from the pressures of home.

8. Go on a Picnic -- pack a picnic (or swing by Subway) and then head to a local park. You can play some sand volleyball or kick around a soccer ball, walk a trail or just play on the equipment. On most city websites you can find an inventory of local parks and what kind of facilities they have. Print out the one for your city and then work your way down the list until you find your favorite.

9. Go for a Bike Ride or a Walk -- just take 30 minutes out of your day and go for walk or bike ride around the neighborhood.

I also think it is important to get one on one time too. So have "date days" with your kids. One Saturday have each parent take one of the kiddos (if you have more than 2 you'll have to be more creative in your pairings) and do something just the two of you. Next time swap kids. The goal is for each kid to get one on one time with each parent at least a few times a year.

My sister said her new word is "intentional". I think that says it perfectly. Be intentional in spending time with your kids. Take away the distractions, clear your mind, be present and be intentional.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm a Cheater!

I cheat, I admit it. I'm not a great baker but sometimes I have to provide dessert for some event or another so I've found a sneaky way to do this. I've discovered that pretty much any cake tastes better when it is soaked with something. Here are 3 great "recipes" that are sooooo easy but sooooo delicious!

Coconut Cake

1 box French Vanilla Cake mix
3 large eggs
15 oz. can cream of coconut
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
8 oz. cool whip
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cake mix, eggs and cream of coconut on low speed for 30 seconds. Increase to medium speed and beat for 2 minutes. Pour into greased 9x13 pan. Bake 35 minutes. While cake is still warm poke holes with fork all over top and spread condensed milk on top. Cool completely. Before serving frost with cool whip and sprinkle with coconut.


Lemon Cake with Citrus Glaze

Lemon cake mix
powdered sugar
orange juice

Bake cake in 9x13 pan according to box. Let cool 10 minutes. Meanwhile mix about 2 cups powdered sugar with 1/4 cup orange juice. Do this gradually until you get the consistency of glaze, may take a little more or less OJ. Use fork to poke holes all over top of cake then pour glaze on top. Let cool before serving.



Toffee Cake

German chocolate cake mix
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2-3 toffee candy bars, chopped
cool whip

Bake cake in 9x13 pan according to directions. Let cool about 10 minutes. While still warm poke holes with fork all over top and pour sweetened condensed milk all over. Let set until cool. Before serving top with chopped candy bars and serve with cool whip on top.

So there you go. I admit to being a big cheater...when it comes to desserts. So if you invite me to dinner and ask me to bring dessert you will most likely get something like this. They are deceptively delicious!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Web Surfing

I love the internet. I love shopping on the internet. I love planning trips on the internet. I love Facebook. I love proving myself right with the internet :) One of my favorite quotes "I'm gonna Google that!" Today I wanted to share some of my favorite web sites with you. I hope you find some fun, new, valuable resources!

www.goodreads.com

I love to read and Goodreads helps me keep track of all of the books I've read or want to read. Whenever I hear of a book I want to read, or see one in a magazine or in a store I just hop on Goodreads and add it to my list. You can build a list of friends and see what they're reading and if it sounds good with just a click of the mouse add it to your list. The one thing I wish they let you track is whether you own the book. I have a huge library (I'm still an old-fashioned reader) and sometimes when I'm out shopping for books I'll pull up my goodreads list on my phone but that doesn't mean the book isn't already sitting on my shelf.

www.vrbo.com

This is a great place to find rental properties all over the world. I have booked rentals from this website at the Lake of the Ozarks (numerous times!), in Florida, in South Dakota, in Branson, and they have houses, condos and apartments literally EVERYWHERE! I'll be honest, it isn't the most user friendly site as far as search functions go but the volume of properties blows every other site away. For your next vacation, check it out!

www.allears.net

Speaking of vacations this website has everything you need to know about Disney! It is very over-whelming so take it in small doses, when I was planning our first trip 5 years ago I would literally set a timer for 15 minutes and browse away until time was up every day for months. They review every restaurant and food stand, every hotel, every ride, pictures of everything, tons of questions and answers and user submitted tips. A great Disney resource.

www.allrecipes.com

I'm not a big recipe cooker but I still like to read recipes. Especially if I stumble upon something I want to make. Once I went to dinner at Avenues Bistro in Brookside and had the most amazing braised short ribs with risotto. I became obsessed with making those ribs. I must have browsed dozens of short rib recipes on this site before I tackled my own version. If you need a recipe I'm guessing they'll have it here. You can also create a profile and save recipes into an address book.

www.yelp.com

I love giving my opinion and I love getting others. Yelp is great for finding restaurants. I travel a lot for work (and for fun when I can) and I always use Yelp. Just type in what you are looking for, you can be specific like "cheap eats" or "Mexican Restaurant" and what area. It is all user driven so if you like it, sign up and start giving your reviews. These type of sites are only as good as the reviewers. Just on Saturday Haley wanted Chinese food so I went to yelp and asked for "chinese restaurant" in "Shawnee, KS" and we discovered Fortune Palace! It is only 1 mile from our house but we really didn't know it existed. It's our new favorite Chinese place (and I Yelped my review.)

www.tripadvisor.com

Along the same lines as above, this is a website that gives reviews of travel locations. Whenever I'm researching a vacation I'll search trip advisor for reviews of the hotels/resorts before booking. One thing to keep in mind is that there are people out there who will NEVER be happy. I have been to places that I think, How could anyone find anything wrong with this place??? And then remember that 9% of people HATED it.....WHAT???? I would really like to know what those people WOULD like. You can also look for things to do and places to eat. I love to see what the top 10 things to do are in a city before I go.

www.amazon.com

This may be a no-brainer but it is my favorite shopping website. They don't just sell books anymore, they sell just about everything. And if you spend over $25 shipping is FREE. Plus it never seems to take long to get your stuff. I love to pre-order books. As long as your total order is over $25 they won't charge you shipping on anything but they will ship the books as soon as they are available, not wait for the whole order to be available. I also download all my music from Amazon. They offer all the clean versions and it is Windows friendly.

www.sparkpeople.com

This website is amazing. You can set up your profile, put in your height, weight, fitness goals and it will give you a target for each day for calories, fat, protein and carbs. It will tell you exactly what to eat or let you just log what you choose to eat. There is so much information on this site it is crazy, from exercise to motivation to nutrition...... unreal. When I first discovered this site I lost 40 pounds in 3 1/2 months....thinking its time to get back on the Spark. Plus the story about the founder is great. He started an internet auction site which he sold to Ebay for a small fortune and started this site as his gift to human kind....or something like that.

So those are my favorite, go-to sites. If you have a favorite site you want to share, please comment below!

Thanks for reading! Pass it along!

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Dad Always Said

Yesterday was Father’s Day. Even after 3 years it is very strange for me to be father-less on Father’s Day. I know many people spend Father’s Day without their Father. My own husband hasn't seen his Father on father's day in over 20 years. However, my entire life my Father was very accessible to me every day, including Father’s Day. As a matter of fact until Father’s day 2008, just 1 day shy of the one month after my dad’s death, I had never spent a Father’s Day away from him. I was very blessed.

I can’t say that I have one vivid first memory. I know lots of people do. I have lots of fuzzy memories from the first 5 or 6 years of my life but not any one that really stands out as “MY FIRST MEMORY.” All of the fuzzy memories I do have involve my father in one way or another. Baking Christmas cookies, carving pumpkins, blowing out birthday candles, building snowmen.....always with my dad.

My dad was not a large man but he was larger than life. He always seemed very big. Teen boys were intimidated by him, but for the most part my girlfriends loved him, as did all of my cousins. Uncle Rick was a favorite. He was the uncle who would get on the floor and play with the babies and wrestle with the boys. My dad swears he was 5’ 10”. Maybe at one point he was but I think he was closer to 5’9” during my adult life. He wasn’t heavy but probably varied from his summer (mowing the yard, working on household projects) weight and his winter (Chiefs games, bbq and beer drinking) weight. He always did have the best calves in Greystone.

My dad was a very wise man. Over the years he was called Reverend Rick by our friends in Iowa who sometimes tapped him to lead us in spiritual reflection on our many camping weekends when we couldn’t make it to Mass. He was known as The Sage by many of our Kansas City friends who were privy to his wise words on many occasions. Since my father died I often find myself saying “My dad always said.....” in response to any number of subjects. I think that it is my duty to share this wisdom with the world.

"If Wal-mart doesn't have it, you don't need it." My dad was always try to impart to us the difference between wants and needs. To him, Guess jeans were NOT a need. Of course this was many years ago and now Wal-mart carries everything from real gold jewelry to 50" flat screen tvs but I think the sentiment still rings true.

"The Plaza lights come on every night for the next two months." This goes along with many other examples of "if your friends jumped, would you?" I remember in High School wanting so much to go the the Thanksgiving night Plaza lighting ceremony. Anyone from Kansas City knows this is total chaos, tons of traffic, usually very cold, no where to park, huge crowds and all there is to do is really stand around and wait for them to turn on the lights, none of the shops are open. Of course, I wanted to be in the middle of it with all my friends and my dad wanted me home with family (and to not be driving in that traffic!) So every year he pointed out that every night from Thanksgiving until the middle of January, they would be turning those lights on again and again. In my middle age, I have to say he was right.

"Spending a dollar to save 33 cents is dumb." My dad was very wary of spending money just for the tax break. I remember one time talking with him about paying off houses and my take was you should always have a mortgage because you need the interest for a tax write off. He just shook his head and said "Laurie, spending a dollar to save 33 cents......does that make sense to you???" Of course, he is right.

Some of my other favorites...

"I can get her a great deal on a Cadillac, doesn't mean she can afford it."

"It's only worth what you can get someone to pay you for it."

"Never buy the extended warranty, its a sucker's bet."

"The Democrat's sleeping on the porch."

I hope all of you with Dads available spend lots of time with them, give them lots of hugs and tell them everyday how much you love them. When they are gone, no matter how long away that is, it will be too soon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My World Famous (or at least Shawnee famous) Chicken Salad

Yesterday I got one of the best gifts a mother can receive! I got my baby back. Yes, she had only been away since Monday but that can seem like a lifetime (I cannot even begin to think about when she leaves for college)! So in honor of Miss Haley I'm making one of her favorite foods for lunch today.......CHICKEN SALAD. (some of you may be wondering why I'm not making Jeff's favorite food since it is Father's day and all but he is getting seafood dinner out tonight so lunch is for Haley)

I'll be honest. I make a mean chicken salad. I'm a little wary about giving out this recipe. This is my go-to gift food. You know, the one you take to people who just had a baby or who are moving. People always love it and ask for the recipe, to which I respond..."there isn't really a recipe." Which is totally true, since I just throw it together I couldn't really give measurements for any of the ingredients. But as I made it tonight I MEASURED!!! So here you go, my Shawnee Famous Chicken Salad with Grapes and Pecans.

2 lbs chicken breast, cooked and cut up (this is about 3 large breasts or you can use the meat off 1 Rotisserie Chicken)
1/2 onion, finely chopped (red or yellow will work)
2-3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 -3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3/4 cup mayo
3/4 cup pecans, toasted then coarsely chopped
1 cup red grapes, halved

Combine chicken, celery, onions, mayo and mustard in mixing bowl. Gently add in the grapes and pecans. Add salt and pepper to taste (your chicken source will greatly determine your need for salt and pepper as rotisserie chickens tend to be pretty salty.) Serve your salad on croissants, rolls, tortillas, pita bread, crackers or just eat it with a fork.

Happy Father's Day to everyone and enjoy what is supposed to be a very hot summer day!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Make or Buy

I have a Master's degree in Procurement and Acquisition Management and I am a Procurement Specialist in my real life. One of the decisions that you need to address on a daily basis in the world of procurement is to make or buy. Can you make what you need? Does it make sense from a stand point of cost and time? Are you the best most qualified person to make this product? Can someone else make it better or cheaper. This same question comes up frequently in the kitchen.

Some people assume that because I like to cook I make everything from scratch. Other people, people who know I throw together dinner every night of the week in under 30 minutes, assume I must be using a lot of store bought stuff. The truth is its a mix, there are certain things I only make from scratch or use fresh and other things that I just don't think are worth the effort, time or expense.

Brownies -- always use a mix. The homemade ones never turn out as yummy or chewy.

Lemon Juice -- always use fresh lemon juice, the bottle stuff taste fake to me.

Lime Juice -- oddly enough I'm not offended by bottled lime juice. In a recipe I can't tell the difference at all. I always keep a bottle of lime juice in the fridge.

Garlic -- always fresh, never powdered and never pre-minced in a jar -- YUCK!

Parmesan -- always freshly grated, never powdered out of a can.

Spaghetti sauce -- jarred. I prefer Ragu super chunky mushroom. I have made red sauce from scratch and it is good but I think the jarred stuff is just as good and cheaper and way easier. I remember Rachael Ray saying you could make a spaghetti sauce in no time that was just as good as any in a jar......um, hello? If it is just as good as the stuff in a jar, why wouldn't you just use stuff in a jar. Now the disclaimer is I never just dump it out of the jar. I always start by sautéing peppers, onions, and/or mushrooms. I sometimes add fresh garlic and fresh basil. Viola! Better than the stuff in the jar!

Cake Mix -- I'm not a baker. I make a mean carrot cake from a recipe that I got at work and that is made totally from scratch. Other than that one exception if I'm going to make a cake it starts with a mix. However, cake mix is great to have around for other stuff too. I have several cookie recipes that use cake mix (I've included one below) so I always keep some in the pantry -- lemon and yellow are my standbys.

Pancakes -- I use to always keep pancake mix in the pantry. Then when Haley was about 8 she got into a habit of making pancakes on the weekends and they were delicious. One morning I happened to be awake early enough to help (love my sleeping in days ;-) and she asked if I wanted to make them with her. I headed for the Hungry Jack and she headed for a recipe book. What?? You've been making pancakes FROM SCRATCH?? Turns out it is pretty easy, flour, eggs, milk.....a no-brainer. Now the only Hungary Jack in my house is the microwave-able bottle of pancake syrup. Recently we had some leftover buttermilk in the fridge from a failed batch of homemade blue cheese dressing so we made buttermilk pancakes and they were INSANELY good.

Waffles -- See pancakes above. They are actually a little more complicated because the recipe in the red and white cookbook (you know the one, everyone gets it as a wedding gift) says to beat the egg whites separately before adding but they are fabulously light and fluffy and again very basic ingredients.

Salad Dressing -- this is a mixed bag. For vinaigrette I prefer homemade but I keep Ken's Light bottled ones in the fridge for quick access. For creamy dressings (Ranch, Blue Cheese, Honey Mustard) I'm all about the bottled. Specifically KENS. If you have not had Ken's Honey Mustard you are missing out. We like to refer to it in our house as "the sauce of the Gods" (which Olivia finds offensive since "there is only ONE God." Good Catholic school girl :-) Anyway, Ken's Ranch, Blue Cheese and Honey Mustard are all great and I have never been able to make any of those from scratch that came close in flavor so why waste the energy.

Gourmet Food Mixes -- you know those companies that host home parties and sell mixes for things like chili, guacamole, etc. I don't get it. Guacamole is super easy (recipe to come in a few days -- keep checking back) and requires 3 ingredients -- one being avocados....so why the mix???? Beer bread mix for $6..... are you kidding me? Beer bread is 3 ingredients! What exactly are you getting for $6? Flour? I'm not a fan of the mixes. However, I do indulge in a bottled marinade from time to time.

Biscuits -- again, the baking issue but the God's honest truth is there are some rocking biscuits available in the grocery store. In the frozen section Pillsbury sells heat and serve buttermilk biscuits that are great and when cooking for a crowd, or if you just want to break them up and freeze them, Sam's sells restaurant quality biscuits and they are CHEAP. Now I do make a mean, completely from scratch sausage gravy to serve over those biscuits but that recipe is for another day.

Piecrust -- one of my few exceptions to the baking rule. I make the most amazing pie crust. This used to fall into the "buy it" category until I discovered Martha Stewart's pie crust recipe and the trick of using frozen butter and ice water. Now I will never use a store bought crust again.

So ladies (and perhaps a few gentlemen?) those are my opinions on some items that should be fresh/home made vs. store bought/pre-packaged. As promised here is one of my favorite cookie recipes. Perfect for summer!

1 pkg Lemon cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup flaked coconut
1 T. lemon juice
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine first 5 ingredients. Drop by tablespoon onto cookie sheet, bake 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Dust with powdered sugar while still warm.

Enjoy!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Have you been to the Drive In????

What's on the agenda for the weekend? Looking for a family friendly outing? May I suggest the Drive In? YES! There are still Drive In Movie Theaters! Here in Johnson County we love the Boulevard Drive In. Taking the kiddos to the Drive In is on our "to do list" every summer. Here's the down-low:

1. Movies start at dark, so this weekend that means a little after 9.

2. It is CHEAP!!! Anyone 12 and over is $8, kids 11 and under are FREE. This is for TWO movies! Not just one.

3. You can bring in all the treats you want. We have gone super easy, picking up a pizza or subs on the way, and we have done home-cooked, grilling up sausages with peppers and onions before we left home and transporting them in a Pyrex Portable with a hot pack. They also have a concession stand but I have to honestly say I have never set foot inside so I can't vouch for the quality of eats or what they even serve. We always pre-pop popcorn and bring some drinks and candy.

4. No grilling or alcohol is allowed.

5. Get there early. We usually try to be there by 7:45 so we can get a good spot, in the middle, toward the front. We've never had an issue.

6. Put the kids in their jammies and bring the pillows and sleeping bags. Our typical set up is we back into our spot, put soccer chairs up behind the van for the adults and let the kids set up their camp inside the van with pillows and sleeping bags. It can be a little stuffy if it is hot outside but with both the sliding doors open it allows some air to move through. Next time we have decided we will bring the F-150 and put a blow up mattress in the back. So if you own a truck you may give that a whirl.

7. Settle in and enjoy. We usually only make it through the first movie as the second one doesn't start til after 11 but a few weeks ago we made it through both movies for the first time (which makes the price tag even more reasonable!)

So what's the down side?

Honestly, this isn't the greatest part of town. It is on Merriam Lane in KCK. Leaving at 1:30 in the morning does make me a little uncomfortable but we've never had a problem.

It is near a train track so several time throughout the movie you will hear trains go by making it a little difficult to hear the movie.

So I hope you'll check out the drive in, with or without kids it is a great way to spend a summer evening. This weekend The Boulevard is showing Kung Fu Panda 2 and The Green Lantern. If you live in KC here is the link to their website which they update weekly with the movies of the week:

http://www.boulevarddrivein.com/

If you don't live in KC, check out this website which lists Drive In Theaters all over the country.

http://www.driveinmovie.com/mainmenu.htm

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beergaritas

Time to share my first recipe. Today I'm sharing a cocktail recipe. This summer my mom, sister and I have instituted Thirsty Thursdays (or Wine Wednesdays depending on our availability.) We meet on my mother's fabulous screened in porch for a few drinks and talking. Living so close you would think we see each other all the time. Unfortunately this isn't true. We are all so busy with kids, jobs, lives that we are lucky to actually see each a few times per month, so was born mandatory meet and drink night.

This is my favorite version of margaritas. Before you say you don't like beer let me promise you it tastes nothing like beer.

Beergaritas

1 12 oz. can frozen limeade
1 12 oz. can beer -- any kind will work but go light, no stout here please
6 oz. tequila -- I typically use CHEAP tequila
6 oz. water (my originally recipe was 12 oz. tequila with no water, let me just say people (mainly me) got way too drunk way too fast with that version.

Mix all ingredients and pour over ice. Delicious, refreshing, not too sweet, nothing like beer. Perfect by the pool!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Raising Kids Who Are NOT Afraid of the Kitchen

I'm a good cook. I love to cook. I'm honestly not sure where or when I learned to cook but I've always loved it. I started cooking young, using recipes and have graduated to "throwing things together" that almost always turn out yummy. I don't remember my mom cooking a lot but we always ate dinner so I'm guessing someone was cooking during the week. On the weekends my dad did "dad cooking!" You know, chili, grilling, those manly man things. He was a pretty great cook. I remember watching him and talking to him in the kitchen. I have always been very comfortable in the kitchen.

On the other hand my older sister is NOT. She can cook when she puts her all into it but she has always been very intimidated in the kitchen. She has seriously called me a dozen times over the past 15 years to ask me how to bake potatoes! She only cooks from recipes and often misses steps or makes a fatal mistake (like substituting 1/2 cup dried basil for 1/2 cup fresh basil in a red sauce).

Now on to my girls, Haley is 14 and has been cooking since she was about 7. She always loved being in the kitchen with me, helping out as much as she could. At an early age she was free to play in the kitchen as long as she didn't use the stove or oven without an adult. One day my husband and I were down and out with the flu and 8 year old Haley and 4 year old Olivia were forced to fend for themselves most of the day. Around 4:00 I came out of my stupor and realized I should feed them. Not to worry, Haley said she had made them grilled cheese sandwiches, but being the rule follower that she is she improvised and used the microwave instead of the stove top. After that I gave her a little more freedom in the kitchen and she blossomed into a great cook.

Olivia is 10 and very sporty. She will dabble with cooking now and then but has never had a passion for it. Occasionally, she'll see something on tv or in her American Girl magazine that she wants to make for us.

This summer I decided that in order to make my girls BOTH self-sufficient and fearless in the kitchen I would charge them each with the task of preparing at least one meal per week. This means they have to figure out what they want to make, put the required items on my grocery list and then prepare and serve. 2 weeks in and I would say it is going great! Haley kicked it off with Taco Pockets out of a Rachel Ray cookbook and Liv tackled garlic lime chicken from the church cookbook. Now, mind you, my instructions did not say they had to prepare recipes from scratch, from cookbooks. I clearly said they could boil pasta and serve it with jarred sauce as long as they took the initiative to make sure we had the ingredients and the time to cook them up, they had met their responsibility for the week.

The challenge is on. They are both scouring my mountains of recipe books (which I rarely touch, as I said above I'm more a 'throw it together' kind of cook), watch Food Network, scanning the internet. I believe they have their menus planned for several weeks out.

Yesterday my sister called me to ask what she can do with "small red and white potatoes" that her boys picked at their grandparents farm. I suggested she roast them and then explained that she would need to halve or quarter them, toss them in oil of some sort, sprinkle with some seasoning and then cook at a high temperature until done. This prompted 3 more calls to clarify whether she should toss them in a bowl or put them in a tuperware and shake them around, what exactly is a "high temperature" and how would she know when they are done.

Liv looks at me and says....."so that is why you are making us cook all summer."