Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Thanks Board- Part II


Our 2014 Thanks Board is almost complete.

Every morning in the month of November, at breakfast, we take turns listing and discussing something for which we are truly grateful.

We're happy to see some of the same selections as last year (see our 2013 Thanks Board here), but even more pleased with the mature conversations sparked by this project.

Sending out lots o' love to you and yours over this Thanksgiving holiday.
So much to be grateful for…
Snuggle up in the snow (safe travels, everyone!) and count your blessings!

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spicy Kale Chips: My Favorite Evening Snack

There are definite reasons why kale is all the rage.

High in vitamins, antioxidants, iron and calcium, the benefits of munching on this superfood are sure to impress.

When we started collecting bunches of kale from our local CSA, I began baking it into chips and got hooked.
spicy kale
My spicy kale chips are completely delicious, and their health benefits sure beat out my former evening snacks. Passing up chocolate for kale? Who'da thunk it?

-To prepare, preheat oven to about 325F. 
-Clean and dry about 4-5 kale leaves. 
-Tear into bite-sized pieces and spread over a baking sheet. 
-Lightly coat leaves with olive oil.
-Bake for about 10-15 minutes, flipping occasionally, to desired crispiness.
-Remove from heat and dust with seasoned salt and pepper flakes (see our amazing homemade recipe here). 
-Chow down!
spicy kale
Never thought I'd pass up my former evening snacks for kale chips, but I just can't get enough of the unique flavor and crunchy goodness. Jazzed up with my signature spice, these chips make an incredibly delicious…and healthy munchie.

Bake 'em and see.
Couldn't be a simpler or more scrumptious late night snack!

What are your favorite ways to prepare kale? Send us new ideas.
Have a happy chow sesh!

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Throw a Camping Theme Party

Got a camper in your crew?

We recently threw one BOSS camping-themed-birthday-party and wanted to share our shin-dig stylings with lil' campers everywhere.

Our party was in early November, and good weather was paramount. We planned outdoor activities, of course, so we kept our eye on the forecast. Keep a rain date set as a back-up plan. 
I found adorable camper party boxes, a camp-themed tablecloth, napkins, cups and plates, bug jars and bandanas (for party favors) at Oriental Trading Company and ordered several weeks in advance. 
Next, I hit up our local dollar store and found glow bracelets, bug stickers, tons of marshmallows, awesome LED flashlights and fun prizes to include in games, activities and the favor boxes. 
Prizes were stored in an old Easter basket for easy portability for the outdoor games. 

Also, weeks in advance, I ordered fun flannel shirts from Carters. These couldn't be cuter and were perfect for the camping theme. Other campers added vests, hats, scarves, boots, etc., and, of course, each kiddo got his/her own bandana in the favor boxes. 
We collected tons of gourds from our garden, purchased some Crayola washable paint and planned a gourd-painting event as one of the party activities. SO fun!
I threw paintbrushes, water cups, paper towels, smocks, extra bandanas, craft paper and googley eyes into a bag to easily tote out to the outdoor painting table.
We found these amazing signs and posted them all over our property to create a wonderful camping vibe.
 They added so much to the groove.
Our favorite was the welcoming sign, which we posted along with a camping lantern to usher guests toward our campground setting. 
Next, we planned a Scavenger Hunt for the kids to collect objects in the yard. Each guest was given his/her favor box immediately upon arrival so they could gear up and get ready for the events. Inside, we'd placed the Scavenger Hunt rules and items. They could use their boxes to store their found items.

We hid extra gourds all over the property to be found and collected during the Hunt. 
The first camper to complete the Scavenger Hunt chose a prize from the basket. 

We also had prizes for the most creatively painted gourd and the "Coolest Camper Award"-given to the camper who exhibited the most overall enthusiasm.
Inside, we prepared a "Kid Camper" table, for the birthday girl and her pals, a General Camper table, and an "Eagle Scout" table, which was reserved for the honored grandparents and adults. The kid table had the camper-themed plastic table cloth, and the Eagle Scout and General Camper tables were done up with traditional linens.
We added flameless candles and our own nature books to create centerpieces for each table in hopes that guests would flip through them and learn something new.
Wish I'd gotten a better photo, but we also added extra bandanas to create more striking centerpieces.
Then, I collected nature-themed objects from around our home to create areas of intrigue for the party. Here's a little set-up I put together for the guest bathroom. I added another flameless candle in here for evening ambiance.
As a family project, we dug out and prepared a new fire pit for the party. Stay tuned for the upcoming how-to.

Of course, we pitched our biggest tent for the party, and the children had a blast running in and out of their designated site.
We had a fire going as our flannel-shirted guests arrived and, naturally, it was a hot spot for gathering both kids and adults throughout the event.
Fun appetizer- clementines with organic celery stems, made to look like pumpkins!
When it was time for dinner, we all headed in to stuff it. After tons of food, our amazing Sweet Dutchess campfire cake (with edible flames!!!) came out for the big HAPPY BIRTHDAY ritual.
Campfire cake
As the evening rolled in and the darkness fell, the kiddos had a blast sporting their glow bracelets and flashlights.
Of course, we gathered 'round the campfire, roasted marshmallows, gabbed and giggled while sticky-handed kids ran back and forth between the fire pit and their tent. So fun!
One of the birthday girl's gifts, that awesome Uncle Milton Lantern, came in handy at the Smore Station!
You just can't beat a campfire, right?
The BIG prezzie of the night was this Orion FunScope Tabletop Reflector Telescope. Checking out that gorgeous moon with this scope was the icing on the cake! A perfect finale!
This turned out to be our favorite party yet, and it was a great way to welcome the cooler weather and celebrate all things AUTUMN!

We grown-ups even found time to sneak out to enjoy that campfire long after the kiddos were conked for the night. BONUS!

So what's the next theme party? Ooooooh whee, do we have a fun idea brewing for the next celebration. Stay tuned…

What are some other ideas for fun birthday theme parties for kids? Feel free to share your creativity here!

Happy camping, friends!
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hen-of-the-Woods (Maitake) Mushrooms: Eat THIS!

He did it. 
That mushroom-hunting fella o' mine scored big this weekend.

It's true that our crew gets reeeeeeeally into scouring our local hot spot for morels in the spring, but the hands down winner of most delicious 'shroom goes to this fall find— the hen-of-the-woods. 
maitake mushroom
Gorgeous and delicious hen-of-the-woods on a log
And NOW is the time to find 'em!

Hen-of-the-woods, called "maitake" (which translates to "dancing mushrooms" in Japan because those who find them tend to dance with joy!) has been used in traditional eastern medicine to enhance the immune system for thousands of years. Check out this info from the American Cancer Society about the benefits of consuming this 'shroom!

Uber healthy AND scrumptious?
Disco!
maitake mushroom
Hen-of-the-woods scores are usually BIG!
Scan living hardwoods (especially oak and occasionally conifers) and decaying wood for large, grayish brown and white clusters at the base.

Always positively identify your 'shrooms before consuming, but once you've confirmed…DO cook and chow down on these completely delicious delicacies!

I'm not even the biggest mushroom fan, but MAN, I'll tell ya…sauté these in a bit of butter and garlic and prepare for some gourmet goodness.

Toss 'em on top of your eggs. Breakfast has never tasted so good.
maitake mushroom
Give a scan while you're out enjoying the glorious splendor of fall, and see if you can't bring home something WAY better than bacon to add some oomph to your dining table.

You won't believe how delicious these are.
Happy hunting!

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours
***NEVER eat ANY raw mushroom in the wild and make absolutely sure you have positively identified any mushroom you intend to consume.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

5 Unconventional Tips for Soon-to-Be Mamas

Baby on the way?

Some of my favorite ladies are about to swan dive into motherhood, and I've been thinking about the bombardment of warnings, wisdom and wackadoo that came at us from every angle during my pregnancies.

Since our daughters brightened our world, people have asked for my best advice on becoming a new mother.

After great consideration, my list is unconventional, short and simple.

1. Celebrate your body…and your boobs.

Take a photo every week. Love your changing body and embrace every moment of the ride. You're totally beautiful while pregnant, without a doubt.
Invest in a great bra, celebrate your boobs and let the girls ride high! It's THEIR time now. Trust me on this.

2. Prepare for meddlers.

It seems that EVERYone has two-cents on pregnancy, birthing and parenthood. There's no way around it. Unless you plan to hide away in an underground fallout shelter for the rest of your life, learn to handle meddling with class.

Polite nods. Gentle smiles. Thanks but no thanks. Devise a plan of action to deflect unwanted advances, but try to stay cool, calm and collected.
Image Credit
Babies trigger excitement in so many hearts, and it's hard for people to contain their own nostalgia.
Remember that others have been there done that, so although some advice might seem outdated or not right for you, there could be something valuable to gain from those who have been down that road before.

Maybe.

3. Invest in a bad ass camera.

Do it today. Cell phone shots just ain't gonna cut it anymore.

We didn't get our bad boy camera until after our second child was born. Mistake.
Every B.C. photo (before camera) pains us. The difference is unreal. Get some muscle to make your memories more stunning. Worth every penny.

4. Take time for YOU before the baby arrives.

Be in the moment and appreciate your strength.
Image Credit
Need a vacation? Go.
Feeling achy? Get a prenatal massage and have lunch with your besties.

You (and everyone else) will spend the rest of your lives spoiling your wee one, so take the time to spoil yourself now. You deserve it.

5. Trust yourself.

Know that we all make mistakes, not everything always goes as planned and perfect pregnancies, deliveries or parents are as rare as two-headed unicorns.
Image Credit
Trust your instinct and be strong in the confidence that you've got this.

Be willing to always be working on yourself—to grow with the changes in your life so you can be an incredible role-model for your child.

You can do this.
Know that you'll be great and prove it every day.

CONGRATULATIONS, sistas!
Welcome to the best ride of your lives…

What's the best advice you have for the soon-to-be-mamas out there?

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours
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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How to Eliminate Odor from Lunch Boxes

It only took a few days for our kiddo's new lunch box to get a dousing of spilled milk. 
If there's any smell that gives me the heaves, old milk—
:::retch!

HAD to be remedied, STAT. 

The ol' soap and rinse couldn't cut through that lingering stench, so I got to researching and compiled a three-step attack combo that finally did the job.

Step 1- After a thorough soap and water cleaning, I dumped baking soda inside the box and shook it around. To activate the baking soda, I sprayed a 50:50 white vinegar and water mixture on top and let it sit for about 5 minutes before scrubbing and rinsing.

Step 2- I towel dried the inside of the box, filled it with crumpled newspaper to absorb residual odor and left it overnight. 
After this, the smell was almost gone, but a faint, gag-worthy trace remained.

Step 3- I soaked three cotton balls in vanilla extract and left them inside the lunch box for several hours.

Aaaaaand DONE-ZO!
No lingering stench!

I really thought I might have to toss this brand new lunch box if I couldn't solve this problem. Gagging while packing sandwiches is no good. Can't imagine how kids in the caf would react to chowing down next to a sour milk bag. Buh.

Tackle stink with these three simple steps and keep those appetites kickin'! Don't forget to leave a love letter along with the pack.

Any other tips for eliminating odors? Please add them to the comment list below.
Stink be gone!

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Preparing Houseplants for Fall & Winter

Winter is coming, but with warm autumn days upon us, it's the perfect time to ready houseplants for the big chill. 

Like everything else in our homes, houseplants get dusty over time. 

Pretty tedious to go over every leaf with a wet paper towel, and dusters just don't do the trick, so NOW is the time to give your greenery a good washing!

Choose a sunny afternoon and haul your pots outside for a seasonal cleaning. 
Remove any dead leaves or branches from the soil and, where appropriate, trim up your plants to promote healthy growth.

Once you've tidied up the scene, give your greenies a shower! Build up of dust and dirt on leaves can inhibit growth, so use a watering wand attachment on your hose to rinse off any accumulation.

If your plants tolerate direct light, let them bask in the sunlight to dry, but be sure to bring them back inside before any risk of frost.

Once your beauties are back indoors, find the perfect placements for fall and winter months. Some plants require more sunlight as seasons change, so consider the needs of each and rearrange to accommodate.
Avoid overwatering during the colder months and hold off on fertilization until the spring, when your plants are ready for new growth. Set 'em up in sunny spots away from any harsh drafts and enjoy your gorgeous greenery while we weather the wilds of winter.

For more tips on fall and winter houseplant care, check out this HGTV article and this resource from the National Gardening Association.

Go green ALL year long, friends!
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

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