Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Teacher Appreciation Week- Harry Potter Style

So, i'm a bit behind on this post. Teacher Appreciation week was Monday, May 8 and ended on Friday, May 12.  The school usually sends home a paper about it, but we didn't get one this year, so i  totally missed it.
 Always a day late and a dollar short,  i had the brilliant idea of doing a Harry Potter themed gifts. i figured i could use my time turner to get them there on time, but i couldn't get it working ;)  So we just had to send them in late.

Our school usually follows this format for teacher's appreciation gifts, but it's just a suggestion and you can really do whatever.

For the office supplies, i really wanted to make quills like this one.  i couldn't find feathers locally though, and didn't have time to buy them online. So we ended up making wands instead. i figure they can be used as a pointer.  If we do this again though, i'd love make sure and have quills too.

For the wands we used chop sticks and hot glue. They are super easy, and look amazing.  You basically just coat the chop stick in hot glue...make whatever design you want. After it's dry you can paint it. i used Craftamo in black, brown, blue, white and green. After painting the entire wand in your base color, we then dry brushed a gold acrylic paint over it. It really gives it a neat look!
 You can check out this video by Pins and Things for some inspiration. 

My girl and i had a good time putting these together. We made wands and candies. Chocolate frogs, peppermint toads, cockroach clusters, Bertie botts and a golden snitch. :D  The golden snitch is a Ferrero Rocher candy with wings added. You can find the full directions here. 
Yes, i really am that much of a dork. The owls are holding thank you notes. All the labels and the owl printable i found online.

For the flower, we were hoping to pot mandrakes and magical herbs. These are some of the herb pots i did a few years ago. i figured we could do the same thing using Harry Potter stickers, or painting the pots in house colors. We could easily give the herbs magical names and make these very Harry Potter themed.

This is a super cute idea for the fruit gift. Magic wand fruit skewers. i found the idea here.  This photo is from weelicious.com.  Unfortunately we never got around to making them, but i'm saving the idea for next time.

We were lucky enough to have a teacher this year that LOVES Harry Potter, so these teacher gifts were absolutely perfect for her. My daughter who is 10, almost 11 has shown absolutely zero interest in reading until this year. Her teacher was so into Harry Potter, that my girl decided to read it. Not only did she read it, but she has zipped through the series and is now on book 5!! This is a kid that wouldn't even read Magic tree house (because they were too long) lol! 

So Harry Potter themed teacher's gifts just seemed perfect! They were a lot of fun to make, and i know her teacher loved them! i just wish i'd had my crap together so we could have done them all on the correct days during teacher appreciation week. :) 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Homemade Maple Almond Granola- recipe

i had no idea that making  granola was so easy and that it is so good!!  While reviewing the Big Tree Maple syrup earlier this week, i played around with a few different recipes. This granola turned out so good, i wanted to share it too.  

All the measurement in this are approximate. The only thing i actually measured was the oats. After that i just sort of threw stuff in, you can add more or less to taste. 

Homemade Maple Almond Granola


3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup  unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
1 cup almonds
1/8- 1/4 cup hemp hearts
3 tbsp flax seeds and/or chia seeds
2 tablespoons  olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup Big Tree Maple maple syrup
1  cups dried fruit.  Dice it first if it's in big pieces.  i used raisins, cranberries and figs.

1 large egg white (optional) This will help stick it together to make big clumps of granola.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl except the dried fruit and egg white.  Stir until everything is mixed well.  If using the egg white,  beat until frothy and fold that in so everything is coated.

Place the granola on a greased jelly roll pan or a pan lined with parchment paper. Spread it out into an even layer and bake at 300 for around 45 min. Checking once about half way through to flip the granola using a spatula. When granola is evenly browned and dried out. Remove from oven and let cool before adding in the dried fruit. It keeps up to 2 weeks if kept in an airtight container at room temperature. i keep mine in mason jars.

Don't forget to enter to win a 15oz bottle of Big Tree Maple syrup here! 

* i receieved a complimentary sample of Big Tree Maple in exchange for my review.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Big Tree Maple Syrup- Recipes, Review and Giveaway

Big Tree Maple sugar house is located in Chautauqua Co., in southwestern New York. This father and son business began in 1993 by boiling sap from 40 taps, currently they process maple sap from over 4000 taps. Some of these taps are owned by other producers who deliver the sap to Big Tree Maple to be processed into syrup with our modern production equipment. Despite the modern equipment, making maple syrup is a labor intensive process that requires evaporating at least 40 gallons of water in order to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup!

Maple syrup is the world's best all natural sweetener. It is produced simply by concentrating the sap of the maple tree and its only produced in a small part of the world - northeastern North America. New York State produces some of the highest quality maple products made anywhere. Big tree Maple takes great pride in being part of that tradition. Their maple syrup is 100% natural and unrefined, goodness straight from the maple tree. It contains no additives, coloring or preservatives!

When many people think of maple syrup, they usually think of a topping for pancakes or waffles. We love using real maple syrup as a syrup, but it can also be used in recipes to replace granulated sugar. 

Maple Conversion Guidelines 
1 cup white granulated sugar = 1 cup maple granulated sugar or 1 cup maple syrup (reduce other liquids by 1/2 cup).

 1 cup packed brown sugar = 1 cup +1 TBSP maple granulated sugar or 1 cup + 1 TBSP maple syrup (reduce other liquids by 1/2 cup).

i decide to try it out replacing the sugar in one of my favorite breakfast casseroles.

Blueberry Maple French Toast Breakfast Bake

1 loaf of stale bread, torn into bite-sized pieces
 8 oz cream cheese or mascarpone, cut into small cubes
1 pint fresh blueberries,
8 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup plus more for serving
1/2 cups almonds, pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Grease an 8 or 9-inch square baking dish.
Place half of the bread cubes in the dish.
Sprinkle cream cheese cubes and half of the blueberries over the bread.
Top with remaining bread cubes, blueberries and nuts.

 Next combine eggs, milk, maple syrup and butter in a large bowl and pour over bread mixture.

Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Cover with aluminum foil if you notice the edges browning too much during baking.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Cut into squares to serve.

 Serve with additional maple syrup drizzled on top.
This recipe can be prepared the night before, and then baked the next morning.

The maple syrup really adds a wonderful maple flavor to the recipe!

Connect with Big Tree Maple!

Visit their website http://www.bigtreemaple.com
Follow Big Tree Maple on Facebook
Follow with Big Tree Maple on G+ 
Follow  Big Tree Maple on Instagram

BUY IT! You can purchase Big Tree Maple Syrup here
Use coupon 2syrup2017  to receive 10% off your order.


The generous folks at Big Tree Maple were kind enough to offer a 15oz bottle of pure Maple Syrup to one lucky reader!

 Please enter below using the rafflecopter form, you may have to wait a minutes for it to load! This giveaway is open to US only. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

i received this product in exchange for my review. My opinions are my own. The sponsor is responsible for shipping the prize.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Coconut Macaroons with Sweet Home and Kitchen measuring set- Review

i'm still moving forward on my goal to eliminate most of the plastic in my kitchen.  The measuring cups i've been using are a mismatched set of plastic measuring cups. Three different plastic sets combined to make a complete set.  So i was really excited to have the opportunity to review the #SweetHomeKitchen Measuring Cups and Spoons Set. 

This 10 piece set is stainless steel, so it doesn't rust or corrode.  They have colorful Anti-Slip Heat-Resistant Handles with silicone grips. They are engraved with both metric and Imperial measuring units and they have an easy to remove ring to keep them together while storing. The set is FDA approved and dishwasher safe. i'm excited to finally get rid of my plastic measuring cups and replace them with these lovely stainless steel ones.  

i put them to the test today making Coconut Macaroons.  The measurements are accurate and they are easy to clean. No oil residue left over, like you sometimes get with plastic. Coconut macaroons are easy to make, you can find the recipe below. 

Coconut Macaroons

3 cups sweetened, shredded coconut.
 4 large egg whites
 1/2 cup sugar
 1 teaspoon vanilla
 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 and grease cookie sheets or use parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer beat egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form.
Gradually add sugar.
Fold in the coconut and vanilla by hand until just mixed.

Drop by tablespoon onto prepared pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Optional- once cool dip the bottoms in melted chocolate if desired.

My daughter and i both love to bake, so having a good set of measuring cups & spoons is essential.  Four years after the house fire and we are still slowly replacing items that had been donated.  As excited as i am to replace the old plastic measuring cups, it's a little bittersweet as well knowing that each of those cups were gifted to us in our time of need.  Although the set is mismatched and the measurements have rubbed off some of them, i'll pass them on to someone else who needs them, as they still have plenty of life left in them.. It has been a long process of replacing lost things, but we are getting there and trying to simplify as we go. This set is a lovely addition to the other stainless steel kitchen accessories and tools that i've recently acquired.

You can find it for sale on Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N0SL4NH They are currently $18.99 free shipping with prime. Use code Z9Z6OU8O during checkout to get 10% off.

*i received this set of measuring cups and spoons at no cost in exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sweese Porcelain Kitchenware- Review and Giveaway

This week, i had the opportunity to review this lovely porcelain butter keeper made by Sweese. i love their simple, yet elegant designs.

Sweese is dedicated to creating the most useful products that’ll be a staple of your kitchen! They want to create products that not only enhance your daily cooking chores, but become an integral part of your everyday life. Efficiency and durability are two of their biggest values, and it’s one of the guiding principles when it comes to making their plates, bowls, and cooking tools.

i really like that they use natural materials in their products. Most are made with natural porcelain, cork, bamboo or slate.

The Sweese butter keeper is made from  pro-grade porcelain. It is dishwasher, microwave and freezer safe.  The butter holder part is FDA- approved and made of durable porcelain, a type of premium lead-free and non-toxic ceramic, chip-resistant and more sturdy than glass or stoneware. 

The Sweese Butter keeper is large enough to hold two standard sticks of butter. The lid is made of natural cord, and has a silicone seal to make it air tight. If butter gets on the inside of the lid it can easily be cleaned off with soap and water. The engraved saying "Alles In Butter" in the cork is German language, that means "All is Well" or "Everything is fine".

It also works great to store my homemade butter. Butter easily absorbs the odors of other foods and air is the source of turning butter rancid,  Sweese is proud of its airtight design, which helps keep your butter fresh and tasting great!

BUY IT! You  can purchase the Sweese Butter Keeper  http://amzn.to/2qbCV26 

Use this code  TREE0125 to get 25% off your purchase.


The generous folks at Sweese were kind enough to offer one of their porcelian butter dishes to a lucky reader.

 Please enter below using the rafflecopter form, you may have to wait a minutes for it to load! This giveaway is open to US only.  Must be 18 to enter. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

i received this butter dish in exchange for my review. My opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What's Growing? Garden News- First Week of May

Garden season has officially started. My last possible frost date was Mother's Day weekend. i have a lot of crops that were planted very early in the spring that are ready for harvest, and my summer crops have almost all been started in the green house so i haven't been in a huge hurry to get them into the ground.

At the end of April, first week of May my lettuce was really starting to come in. i have it planted both outside and in the greenhouse, so once the greenhouse lettuce is gone, the lettuce in the garden should be ready. 

i have many different varieties of lettuce. They grew really well in the greenhouse in the early spring, but it's starting to get a bit too hot for them now. They haven't bittered yet, but with the rising temperatures they will be soon.  i have the vents open, but really need to set the fan back up to keep the air circulated and temperatures below 100.

Blueberries are looking good this year. i have a couple bushes again this year, with no berries on them, but the majority of bushes are totally loaded. i ran out of blueberries (freezer) a few weeks ago and i'm eager to fill my freezer back up with them. We love having a freezer full of blueberries to use in muffins, pancakes and cakes. i don't think we could ever have too many blueberries.

i planted about a dozen broccoli this year, but may have planted it too early again. Several have buttoned and the rest look a bit stunted. i think this is from the temps being 80 degrees one week, then 16 degrees the next. Broccoli usually does better in the fall, but i always try it in the spring anyhow. 

Outside under row covers i have lots of spring mix leaf lettuce and spinach is coming in well.  Spinach really prefers the cool weather so i'm expecting it to start bolting soon. i have more planted in a more shaded area, so i'm hoping it keeps producing a while longer.  

So far it's been a good spring. Still getting asparagus and eggs, and lots of leafy greens.

This week i'll working on getting my garden planted. Almost everything was started in the greenhouse and had a good head start. i actually haven't done any garden planning so i really need to sit down and figure out where i'm going to put everything.  We moved the potatoes this year into a different garden, so i lost that garden space. We are trying corn in the old potato bed, and i'll be able to put some squash and beans in there as well, but that doesn't leave anywhere for tomatoes.  So i need to check last years garden plan so i know the best way to rotate things this year.

Looking forward to a good gardening season! i'm planting several new varieties i can't wait to check out! What's coming up in your garden?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Homebody Accents Review and Giveaway!

i recently had the opportunity to review an item from HomeBody Accents. Homebody Accents is a family owned and operated business. They started the business in 2007 in Fort Worth, Texas and each piece is handmade in the USA. They create each sign by baking an enamelized image into a tough, proprietary coating on a thick steel blank.

 The result is amazing durability, rich color, and fine detail. These are not like those thin, cheap tins other companies make. When you hold this sign in your hand, you will definitely feel and see the Homebody Accents difference. Homebody Accents' value-added, optional features include framing on rustic, one of a kind, reclaimed wood; and the application of a sun protective film to protect those pieces you wish to display outdoors.

Homebody Accents has an amazing selection of designs to choose from. They have everything from vintage farm signs, to inspirational quotes to holiday themed and so much more! 

i had a very hard time choosing a sign, because i loved them all! The vintage farm signs are my favorite. i was orginially planning to get one of the vintage Fresh egg signs to put on my chicken coop, but decided to get the wood frame so i could display it inside instead.  i'm so glad i did!

The wooden frame is made from reclaimed wood and looks like it's made from an old barn, it even has rusty nails to really give it an authentic vintage look! The attention to detail on the sign is fantastic. It is a really a very neat piece.

 i really love that they use recycled materials and that each piece is handmade in the USA. The signs range in price from around $18.98 up to $79.89.  Most of the signs are available with the reclaimed wood frame for around $39.98.

Homebody Accents have a special coupon that will give you 15% off and Free shipping on any order of 3 or more items. Just enter WINE15 in the checkout.

Connect with Homebody Accents! 

Homebody Accents on Facebook
Homebody Accents on Instagram
Homebody Accents on Etsy
Homebody Accents on Pinterest

Now for the Giveaway!!

The generous folks at Homebody Accents were kind enough to offer one of their metal signs to a lucky reader. The winner will recieve a gift code that will allow them to pick out any one sign under $50 with free shipping included!

 Please enter below using the rafflecopter form, you may have to wait a minutes for it to load! This giveaway is open to US only. 

*i received a product in exchange for my honest review. i was not compensated, my opinions are my own. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Harry Potter Festival- Roanoke, VA

This year, we celebrated Mother's day a little different than usual. Typically MOther's day is spent hiking, stopping at the Farm markets in Cana to buy a hanging flower basket and perennial flowers, and then out to dinner.

This year we celebrated it, at the first ever Roanoke Harry Potter Festival. i first caught word of the festival months ago, and was able to snag some free tickets when they first offered them when the festival was still in it's planning stages.  

So you can imagine my dissapointmment when i printed up our free tickets and my husband pointed out that my daughter had a double header softball game the same day. i was pretty much devastated. 

The day before the festival it rained all day. My daughter's softball practice was canceled, so i had my fingers crossed that the games the next day would be canceled too. i kept checking the weather and there was zero percent chance of rain for Sat. So i may or may not have cast a little rain charn. ;) Friday night we recieved word that both games were cancelled due to rain. 

So Saturday we got up early and headed straight to Roanoke, dressed up in our best wizard robes ready to enjoy the festival. The sky was clear and sunny. Not a drop of rain all day. Perfect weather for an outside festival. We stood in line, behind many other witches and wizards waiting to exchange out tickets into wristbands that would give us access to the festival.  This is the offical festival map. Not being very familiar with downtown Roanoke, it was pretty hard to follow.  We actually missed seeing quite  lot, as the places that were participating we not really marked well. 

Being that this ws the first year of the festival, so we really didn't know what to except. In the past my experience with first time festivals is that there are usually a lot of kinks to work out, and it typically takes a couple of years to get it right. In orher words, they usually suck.

This one was no different, it was all volunteer run. We had a fun time, even though there wasn't much going on.   The best part of the festival for us, was seeing all the cosplay. There were so many recognizable characters hanging out for photo opts, and also tons of fans in full costume. Sometimes it was hard to tell who were the volunteers and who were just fans at the festival. 

They only had a couple food vendors, but we really enjoyed the butterbeer cupcakes.

They had a few different photo opts set up. We got these out of the way when we first arrived, so we didn't have to wait in too much of a line.

The vendors were really sparse, and most didn't even have Harry Potter Merchandise. i did want to give a shout out to the Meckley Brooms who came all the way from Pennsylvania. Meckley Brooms has been crafting household brooms over 100 years, spanning 6 generations. Today our brooms are used as tools, d├ęcor & costume accessories. Their handmade brooms were absolutely gorgeous and a perfect fit for the festival. i do hope they did okay, to make the trip worthwhile so they come back next year.  You can purchase their fabulous brooms on etsy as well.  https://www.etsy.com/shop/meckleybrooms

This is me totally geeking out over the Snape impersonater. ha ha. My daughter told me i looked like a total fan girl, smiling from ear to ear.

We also tried out the butterbeer. The had both alcholic and non-alcholic butter beer for sale in the beer garden.

Many of the area business had special menus and decorations to 'transform' Roanoke into Hogsmeade. It was pretty sparse, and i would have liked to see more decorations, larger signs and i think all the downtown employees should have been in costume, The festival was definitely lacking when it came to an authentic Harry Potter feel. It was more like a very small street festival with a few people in costume.  Roanoke's Candy shop became HoneyDuke's, although it didn;t really. It always looks like this...tee hee, but it's a fun candy shop and seemed to be a very popular spot during the festival. 

We enjoy center of the square in down Roanoke, even when there isn't a festival going on. So we had a lot of fun just wandering around looking in the shops and farmer's market.  i'm sure anyone who traveled more than an hour or paid for tickets to the event were probably very dissapointed. There were a much of classes that required registration online, but every time i checked the classes were all full. So we were unable to register for anything.  Then according tot he reviews, a lot of classes were almost empty, because those who registered failed to show up. So hopefully next year, the classes will be first come first serve or handled a bit differently. 

 For the first year, it was fine for a free event. i hope that the folks putting it on, listen to some of the critiques and improve it for next year. i would LOVE to see it become an annual event. i think with just a few improvements, it could really be a fantastic festival.

Both kids really enjoyed seeing all the cosplay and getting their photos with the different characters. There was a scheduale of bands playing, but we never heard or saw any of them. We went into the Market building where they were sorting people into their houses, but it was so crowded the kids opted out of being sorted. i think all the official merchandise was being sold in the market building as well, but we never saw it.   We found one vender in the farmers market area, from Tink's place that was selling some Harry Potter themed items and both kids picked out a t-shirt. They has a really neat design and were pretty reasonable at $15 each. 

This was just a fan, but i thought he did a fantastic job with his Sirius Black costume.

The transportation Museum was supposed to 'transformed' into King's Cross station. You could see platform 9 3/4, and the Hogwarts express and i think Hagrid and Professor mcgonagall were supposed to be there. It was an additional $5 per person though, and after the lack of decorations downtown, we decided we didn't really need to pay $20 to see it.  If the kids had been interested in the transportation museum, it would have been one thing..but they weren't.

The science museum also had Harry Potter themed activities for the day, but at $15 a person, we decided to skip that too. 

There were some different paid activities that had to be registered for ahead of time, like the end of year feast, Yule Ball and Quidditch match, so we didn't get to do any of that either. 

We just stuck with the free stuff and had a fun time walking around Roanoke. i do understand how folks that traveled a long way to the festival would be disappointed, but for a first time festival run by volunteers, what did you really expect?   We are already excited about the next one....which we are hoping they will have. With just a few improvements, i really think this could become a new favorite annual tradition. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Attempting Homemade Vegan Gummy Bears and Kitchen's Son Gummy Bear Mold Review

My kids and i have a lot of fun baking and candy making.  Silicone molds are one of our favorite things, we have a small collection of geeky themed molds so we can make Harry Potter, Star wars and Doctor Who themed treats. :)  So when i had the opportunity to review these gummy bear molds i jumped at the chance!  We all love gummy treats, but they are so often made with gelatin and as a vegetarian family we try to avoid it.  Sour patch kids are one of the few gummy candies that do not contain gelatin, but i was really excited to try making our own.

 The molds really do work great! The bears pop right out, no sticking. They come out clean and the silicone mold is super easy to wash. The set i got came with two molds (50 bears each) and two droppers, so filling them it easy peasy. The molds are made of 100% premium, food grade silicone. FDA approved, BPA free. They are cold and heat resistant -40°F to 445°F. Safe for use in oven, dishwasher and freezer.

 So after several failed attempts at chewy gummy bears, i finally came up with an acceptable soft fruit bite. Texture is somewhere between finger jello and very set jelly. They taste great, but are definitely a fruit bite rather than a gummy. They still popped out of the molds perfectly, and i love the details in the molds.

We rolled them in sugar and citric acid and made some super sour gummy bear fruit bites! They tasted fabulous!

This is the first recipe we tried. It is the main recipe i've found online at various different sites.  i used white grape juice. They came out really firm, but the texture was weird and the flavor was pretty bland.

Vegan Gummy Bears I

1 cup fruit juice 
2 tablespoons agar powder
1-2 tablespoons sugar or honey
2-3 drops food coloring (optional)

STEP 1: In a small sauce pan, whisk juice and agar together and let sit for about 5 minutes before turning on heat. 
STEP 2: Heat the liquid over medium heat, whisking frequently. When it starts to thicken, add your sugar or honey (if desired) and stir. Let the mixture simmer until it thickens to the consistency of paint, stirring constantly. This will take a couple of minutes. 
STEP 3: Use the dropper to add the liquid into your molds. 
STEP 4: Let cool at room temperature for 5 minutes, then place in the freezer for 20-30 minutes, Carefully pop them out of the molds. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

This is the second recipe i tried.  So this recipe came out a bit too soft. It was more like jello. The flavor was fantastic though. The increased sugar and lemon juice really helped give it that sweet tart flavor.

Vegan Gummy Bears II

10 ounces 100% fruit juice
4 ounces lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 tsp agar powder

Boil the juice and sugar together for 5 minutes then remove from heat. Add the agar powder and whisk until dissolved.  Pour into mold and place in fridge for 2 hours until set. 

i've tried making this recipe several times increasing the amount of agar, but still can't come up with a good texture. i have one more recipe i want to try. It calls for lots of sugar and corn syrup...and heating to the soft ball stage. It will be a true candy, rather than a healthy 100% fruit juice snack. So i'm hoping that one has a bit of chew. 

So even though our gummy bear recipes were did not make chewy gummy bears, we had a lot of fun trying! The molds really did work great and they can be used for gummies, fruit bites, hard candies, chocolate, ice etc.  i'm going to keep working on the gummy recipe and will share the recipe if i can come up with one that is truly a chewy solid gummy bear.  

 You can find our awesome Gummy bear molds at  http://kitchensson.com. they are currently only $7.99 on Amazon with prime. 

i received this set of gummy bear molds at no cost in exchange for my honest review. i was not compensated.