January 27, 2012

Publix Romantic Dinner Giveaway - closed

Congratulations to the winner...
AllisonJan 29, 2012 08:34 AM
tweet https://twitter.com/#!/kitraz13/status/163661104101326848
kitraz13 at hotmail dot com

It's HERE AGAIN - Time for Sharing the LOVE!

I really love shopping at Publix, it is a pleasure. I have to say, I go where the deals are, but when they are at Publix I'm very happy. I love their buy one get one free deals!! They are nice to my kids and always help me out to the car. The stores and clean and well stocked. Their produce is wonderful. I also love the discounts I get with their two clubs. One is for babies (Baby Club) and the other is for preschoolers (Preschooler Club). If you haven't signed up, you really should. They send all kinds of great coupons and fun things for the kids. Just yesterday Sausage Boy got a birthday card in the mail from the Preschool Pals Club - how cute is that? The most treasured item they have ever sent us is the Publix-saures computer game. The game is so easy and comfortable that I have taught each one of my kids about the computer starting with it. The cursor is HUGE and easy to find. The questions are completely age appropriate. For example, you can help Pearl the Polar Bear put away the groceries in the right places. You can play hide-and-seek with Chaz the Cheetah or even learn about saftey rules with Barry the St. Bernard. My kids especially loved the coin rewards that the game gives you when you get the right answers. Whoever designed this thing KNEW kids!

I want to share the Publix love for the upcoming Valentine's Day. Publix (through My Blog Spark.com and General Mills) has given me a $25 gift certificate to giveaway to one lucky reader. You can even get multiple chances to win! Please leave separate comments for EACH entry and be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win. All of them are easy…you ready?…
•Simply leave a comment on this post (on the blog, not on facebook)
•Share this post on Facebook by hitting the FB button at the bottom of the post
•Like Chickenville on Facebook
•Subscribe to Chickenville by RSS or Email
•Add my blog button to your site(in blog roll etc.)
•Tweet this giveaway with button on bottom of post

Giveaway open to U.S. residents only. All entries must have a valid email in blog profile or leave email address in comments. This giveaway will close Sunday Jan 29th at midnight, in time for purchasing a romantic Valentine's Dinner for two!
The winner will be chosen by random.org and notified by email.


January 25, 2012

Cookie Dough Truffles

Are you suffering from sugar withdrawal? After all of those Christmas treats and wonderful parties, I sometimes find January a bit depressing - even if we really like being healthy around here. I was searching for a sweet treat when I remembered this one. I have to say, this really was a recipe for my kids. They are big fans of licking the bowl, but I don't let them when we are cooking with eggs - even though I know where the eggs came from. I actually am not a fan of eating cookie dough *shock* or even cookies 'n cream ice cream. I don't know, call me a cookie snob, but I like my cookies soft, homemade and well... baked. However, I recognize that not everyone falls in this category and some people actually like eating the raw dough. I remember back in college when my roommates introduced me to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. There was a little store in downtown Chapel Hill on Franklin Street. We would walk there from across campus and get a VERY small, delicious, expensive ice cream cone. That was the first time I ever even heard of someone eating cookie dough - and in an ice cream flavor! I thought it was crazy, but I soon learned there are many "cookie doughers" out there.

These truffles come from Taste of Home magazine. I love the down-home feel of their cookbooks. I figured I could make these for the kids and they would be tickled to eactually eat the raw cookie dough. The recipe doesn't use eggs, but it mimics the taste of cookie dough very well. (I had to taste it to see!) You take a small ball of the cookie dough and coat it in melted chocolate. That's where their recipe ends. I had to add to it. They were SOOOOOO super sweet I felt like they needed some salt, so I sprinkled some course sea salt on top of the truffles at the chocolate cooled.

The dough itself was very easy. Coating them in chocolate takes a little time, but it's not hard (and you really don't have to be that neat - mine are definitely not). No doubt a sweet teacher or students would LOVE these for Valentines Day.
If you need other ideas for Valetine's Day, just click on the label "Valentine's" on the side to get to my other recipes and crafts perfect for this time of year.
Cookie Dough Truffles
from Taste of Home
1/2 c soft butter
3/4 c packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1- 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk - NOT evaporated milk
1/2 c chocolate chips
1 1/2 lbs chocolate melting candy (sometimes called almond bark - find it in the grocery or Walmart) OR you can use melted real chocolate that you know will harden when cool
course salt

In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy and then beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour, alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips. Shape into 1 inch balls, or smaller - these are rich. Place on waxed paper-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or put in the freezer for 30 minutes. You want them firm so they can be dipped in the chocolate. In a microwave or double boiler (I got one for Christmas - thanks honey!) melt candy coating according to package directions. Dip balls in coating; allow excess to drip off. Place on cookie racks so the chocolate runs off as cooling, sprinkle with course salt. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. Store these gems in the refrigerator. 

Yield: 5-1/2 dozen.


January 18, 2012

Old Fashioned Date Nut Loaf

You know those gifts that somebody gives you and you thank them and you all go on your merry way, only to realize later how incredibly AWESOME that gift really was? This was one of those. We were given a loaf of Date Nut Bread and I thought - "well thanks, very nice". It wasn't until I actually opened this 5 lb brick of a loaf, cut a careful slice and bit into it that I realized what a gift it was. The taste is delicious: sweet, salty, nutty, crunchy and yum! I'm sure the cake was a labor of love to make and an expensive one at that with all of those nuts. I had to have the recipe and the precious givers, Linda and Mario, were happy to share...well Linda was happy to share. Mario might have had other ideas. When he delivered the cake, he told my husband, "if you don't like it - that's okay, just give it back to me". That kinda intrigued me. I mean, these are generous and giving neighbors we are talking about, what's this about giving it back?? Turns out, this is his FAVORITE cake of all time and he just wanted to make sure it was appreciated and not haphazardly scarfed or tossed out. This cake is THAT good. I'm very grateful she twisted his arm because it was delicious - every last bite. I was a little hesitant to share it with my nut and date loving Dad, but it was his birthday, so I relented.
The recipe comes from an old cookbook, which are some of the ones that I most enjoy and least use. I think what throws me off is the lack of pictures. There aren't usually photographs of the recipes and that's what gets my attention. I know the recipes are delicious and I usually enjoy what I make from my older cookbooks, but I just don't do it enough. I figure I might reignite interest in these older cookbooks if I make a few recipes and take some (hopefully yummy looking) photos. I'm really working on my photographs. Everytime I see the one of the hot chocolate cones on pinterest I have to cringe - it's terrible! I did just get a new lens on a girls trip to NYC, I went to B&H photo. That place is amazing! There are at least 47 check out registers - it's busy and big like the rest of Manhattan. Anyway, the lens I got promises to make my food tastier looking, fresher, healthier and all around yummier - that's what the sales clerk told me - really!
Can't you see the delicious difference in this Date Nut Cake? I guess that's cheating since I didn't actually make this cake, but it does look amazing. So if you can spring for the pecans - or you have a pecan tree in the backyard, this is a cake you want to make. It will last a very long time in the fridge and you only need a little slice to go with a cup of fresh brewed coffee. It's perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack. I figure it has the nuts so you've got a little protein - that makes it as healthy as a power bar in my mind! It kinda reminds me of another loaf I just made with nuts and dried fruits in it, only that one I turned into crackers. I promise to share that recipe very soon, but for now enjoy Old Fashioned Date Nut Loaf.

Date Nut Loaf
from Farm Journal Christmas Book
4 eggs
1 c sugar
1/2 c oil
1 c flour
1 tsp salt
1 lb pitted chopped dates
4 c pecans

Combine eggs, sugar and oil in large bowl. Beat well. Combine flour and salt in a bowl and whisk to mix and sift flour. Add flour to egg bowl and mix well. Fold in dates and nuts. Dump in a greased and floured loaf pan. Put loaf in cold oven and then turn it on to 300 degrees. Bake for 2 hours and then cover loosely with foil. Bake for 15 more minutes.


January 14, 2012

Magic Tree House Birthday Party

Do you know about Magic Tree house books? They are this wonderful series written by Mary Pope Osborne with titles like The Knight at Dawn, Pirates Past Noon,or Dogs in the Dead of Night. In essence, they are historical fiction for kids. You know learning WHILE they are having FUN??? That's my kind of homeschooling. I love that my oldest will pipe up some fact about Pompeii because he's read Vacation Under the Volcano Magic Tree House (MTH for those in the know) book. They even have these great companion guides (still written to kids) that teach actual history like the Pilgrims books that goes along with Thanksgiving on Thursday.
Can I share a secret? When I was in school I HATED history. I mean really, really did NOT like. I didn't understand why we learned things out of order (I'm kind of obsessive about chronological order). We learned all of these dates which meant nothing to me because I'm terrible with numbers. I remember one of my high school teachers, who looked like Abe Lincoln and smelled like coffee, would just drone on about these events that happened so long ago...really, who could care! I sure didn't. All of this indifference changed after I graduated from college and discovered historical fiction books. Here were actual life stories with incredible things happening to them. How real, how ordinary, yet extrordinary these events were. Imagine living in an underground bunker during the Nazi's reign in Poland (that's what I'm reading about now in Clara's War). Or how about the popular book Flags of Our Father's decribing the Marines' ordeal on Iwo Jima. Suddenly when reading books like these, the history hater in me became an ardent lover of the past. This kind of "ah ha" lightbulb- over- the- head moment, is one of the reasons I homeschool our kids. Depending on how, when and where things are taught affects how those lessons will be learned. When learning is fun - we love it. How many of you folks that are my age remember School House Rock? THAT was fun - that was a great way to learn things. Even today with it's completely dated hippy vibe my kids still love it.
I will get off my soapbox (fyi: they are called soapboxes because people giving speeches to crowds used to stand on soap shipping boxes to be heard better) and get to the birthday party if you promise to at least check out the MTH series. They appeal to kids from K-3 grade and adults like me!
Literally the day after Super Bear's 7th birthday party last year, he told me he wanted a MTH birthday party. The kid likes to get a jump start on planning - gee I wonder where he gets that trait from??  I loved the idea and kept my eyes open for things over the summer. I did find an amazing tree house play set from Hearthsong at a consignment sale. I figured it would make a fun play area for all of the kids since I still have younger ones. Beyond that I discovered the actual MTH website which contains TONS of fun ideas and information. There are games for the kids and they can earn passport stamps when they take quizzes about the books they have read. I printed off a few things for the goodie bags and got the logo for our invitation off their site.
When I first began planning the party I wasn't sure what theme direction to take it in. I mean, you could do a pirate party, an Egyptian party, a polar party. There are tons of directions you could take this them depending on what you kid loves. We decided to have different adventures (called missions on the books) in different book themes.
We started off creating our tree houses with popsicle sticks so the glue would dry before they took them home. I thought I'd let the kids figure out what they wanted to build, but looking back I should have done some examples because they struggled a little with this project. They couldn't figure out how to join the walls together. They still enjoyed their projects. Be sure to do this on a glass table or put down some butcher paper because they WILL get glue everywhere.

Then we travelled to ancient Egypt and talked about how and where the wealthy dead people were mummified. I divided the kids into two teams and gave them three rolls of toilet paper and told them they had to create a mummy. They had to decided who was going to be the mummy and the rest of the team had to wrap them head to toe. It required patience and team work. One team quickly learned you couldn't rush it or the paper would rip. Very fun!

Next they needed to get the wiggles out, so I sent them outside for Olympic foot races. Then we awarded them all with gold medals.
After all of that running, they were "starving" so we headed to King Arthur's court and had a medieval feast. They each received a goblet decorated with gems and jeweled necklaces (which they got to keep). Note to self - use NON washable glue when creating the goblets next time!

We talked about kings and queens liking jewels and huge banquets. We talked about Arthur's round table and the knights. The menu included a whole roasted chicken with potatoes and whole carrots, a platter of sausage, cheese and olives, braunschwiger, salami, bologna, a loaf of crusty bread, whole pears poached in a spiced syrup with pomegranate seeds, and a honey punch. There were many items our guests had not tried, but I was proud of them, they each tried something new. In fact, many of them said how much they liked the pomegranates. They loved the honey punch so much we ran out. It's great fun for me to introduce kids to new things - new sites, sounds, tastes, etc. I see that same joy on my kids' faces as they introduce their friends to new things.

I should mention each room in the main level of our house was decorated with a theme from a MTH book. It was all stuff we had around the house. There were dinosaurs in the dining room, knights in the kitchen, pirates on the porch, and buffalo in the bathroom. Entering each room, the kids squealed with delight over the theme. My kids were so excited to participate in decorating for the party, that setting everything up was a breeze.

The bathroom decorations were from an old set my husband had from childhood called Fort Apache. It's still up and the kids don't want me to put it away!

The pirates on the porch were a great buy from Craigslist. Thank you kind mom who knew exactly what I needed! All of the stuff got played with as the partygoers went from room to room with their activities.

After lunch we sent them on a pirate's treasure hunt complete with a genuine treasure map drawn by my wonderful husband. The kids went all over the yard looking for the treasure. Turns out it was in the family room right by the presents in a huge old steamer trunk..definitely a treasure chest!
We saved the cake for last. Most of the kids (and parents) didn't really know it was the birthday cake when they saw it still on the kitchen table. They said it looked like another decoration and thought it was a toy! That tickled me to no end! It's exactly the effect I was going for - a real tree house! I'm not sure the birthday boy really wanted to eat it. I think he was hoping to leave it up for a few days. But alas, all good things must come to an end. And it was worth the wait - it was a delicious Hot Chocolate flavor. A combo that I made up and I'll have to share.
This was one of the easiest cakes I've ever made. It's just a square with a little bit of cake carved out for a front door. Then I used piping tip #47all over in chocolate icing to create the planking. The tip has a jagged flat edge, but you could use any flat tip. I was going for a a rough, rustic edge to create boards. I made straight lines and then a couple of slanted lines to mimic boards just nailed up in random places.

My amazing MacGuyver husband created the stick ladder, rope and tree trunk stand. I couldn't believe how well it all turned out, especially with the real leaves. I got the leaf idea from this blog. It was the only other treehouse cake I could find. I'm much better with actual objects than creating artwork on a cake. I am NOT artistic, I can't even draw a stick figure. However this cake took no artistic ability - in fact, the messier it was, the better it looked!

I cannot recommend this party theme enough. So many ways to make it work for you and so many ways to make your birthday boy/ girl thrilled. I was actually shocked to hear my 8 year old declare, "that was the best birthday party ever, maybe we'll have Magic Tree House again next year!!"


January 2, 2012

Soap Snowballs with a Surprise

As you may know, my kids are homeschooled, so really that means we don't ever "break" from school. I know it sounds like a drag, but I am vying for the title, "Meanest Mom in the World"! (I need a shirt that says that.) Actually my kids don't really know we are doing school some of the time. In fact, the other day when I was teaching my oldest daughter, Banana Girl, about price per unit in the grocery store, she said, "Mommy, if we don't hurry up and finish shopping, we are never going to get schoolwork done!" I looked at her and was like, "what exactly do you think we are doing right this very moment?" Of course she had no idea she was learning and I just smiled. While I'm not a fan of sneaking in kid's vegetables, I'm a huge fan of sneaking in some learning. It's a beautiful thing!

For our Christmas learning, we have been baking and wrapping and crafting. Banana Girl decided she wanted to make this crafty project from the trusty fave Family Fun magazine. They looked so sweet and snowy and will make the perfect gift on Christmas for the kids in our extended family. You could also keep the materials on hand for winter break in February. In fact, go ahead and pin this right now, get the materials next shopping trip and you'll be all ready for a snowy project, real snow optional.

Here's what you need:
  • Ivory soap bars
  • small plastic toys
  • water
  • cheese grater
I'll show you the way we did it and then what you should probably do instead! First, we bought WAY too much soap. We bought enough Ivory to keep us clean for a long while. I would say each soap snow ball takes about 1/2 a bar of soap, so you be the judge on how many you need.
The first step, is to grate the soap into shreds. As each bar of soap went in my precious Cuisinart food processor, I had a thought. I wonder if this will make my next batch of coleslaw taste a little soapy? I don't recommend the processor way since I had to clean (well it was my husband doing the actual washing) the processor about 4 times before the soap smell/taste came out - Ivory is some strong stuff! We actually ran the processor through the dishwasher first, which is the normal way we clean this appliance, but everything in the dishwasher came out with a thin film of soap on it!! Agghh, not worth the hassle, so in hindsight I'd say use your hand cheese grater.
Either way you choose, go slowly on the feed so you get shorts shreds of soap, not long strings. The shreds look more like real snow as you get farther in the snowball process. See what I mean...
Get the shredded soap in a large bowl, add warm water and mix up with your hands. With 8 bars of soap, we used about  7/8c of water. If you use 4 bars, then you'll need about a 1/2c. If it's pouring down rain around you, like it is here today, you'll probably use a little less because you don't want soap soup. The warm water should create a chunky, sloppy *but clean* mess. The Banana Girl LOVED it. I imagine my Sausage Boy would have enjoyed it as well. The good thing is, even if your kid is the one who won't put there hand in the pumpkin guts, this mess just rinses off and you are left squeaky clean.

After it's pretty well mixed up, squish some into a half ball - blob shape. This is a very technical step, so be sure it's in the blob shape. ;)

After you have a blob or glob if you like that better, put a small plastic toy in the middle of it, then pack more soap on top of it.
The idea is to seal the toy up so you can't see any of it. Then form it into a ball shape, packing it all together tightly. After you have a ball, set it on a tray and repeat the whole process until you are out of soap, trinkets or patience. As a sidenote, don't you just love the way little girl hands' look with the nail polish all chipped? What is it that makes this look so cute on them and so tacky on me?

Your soap snowballs will have to dry for about 3 days before you give them away or use them (again this depends on how much moisture is in the air). The tighter you pack and the drier the ball, the longer it will hold together when you use them. I pulled this one open to show you the inside after about 2 hours of drying time, it was still pretty wet.
We packaged ours up in cellophane paper with a wintery blue ribbon.

So are you ready to make some squeaky clean fun??? Remember pin it for later!! And I'd love for you to follow my pin boards, just click on the Pinterest link on the right (the big P). If you have no idea what I'm talking about, be warned it is addictive. The concept is a virtual pinboard to keep track of all the cool recipes, crafts, books, clothes, gifts, etc you see out there on the internet. Incredibly brilliant idea - just wish I thought of it!!


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