Back to School Season – First Day Photo Prop

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials, witnessed the large bins of pencils, glue, and notebooks appearing in the stores, and have begun to notice the slow reappearance of school buses making their rounds. It’s back to school season.
My first day of school with students is next Monday and I couldn’t be more excited! In order to prepare for the first day, I’ve been doing a few arts and crafts of my own at home. Here is one that I thought you would enjoy!

First Day of School Photo Prop

 

I created this prop as a gift idea for parents so that they may see how their child has grown throughout their kindergarten year. At the end of the year I will create a “Last Day of K” sign. If you have any other ideas about potential uses, please feel free to share!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 large wooden letter (or number) to reflect your grade level (I found mine at Hobby Lobby)
  • paint (I used acrylic – it looks much brighter and bluer in person)
  • 2 foam paint brushes (1 large and 1 small)
  • adhesive foam letters and numbers (again, Hobby Lobby) – if you can’t find adhesive foam letters and numbers don’t worry about it! Just use tacky glue or a hot glue gun to adhere your message onto the letter.

What to do:

  1. Using a large foam paint brush, evenly spread the paint over the surface of the wooden letter. Use the small foam brush to paint the edges and corners.
  2. Let the first layer of paint dry and then apply a second coat.
  3. Once both layers of paint have dried, lay out the foam letters until you are satisfied with your design.
  4. Carefully peel the paper backing off of the foam letters and press, adhesive side down, onto your painted letter.
  5. Voila! You now have a beautiful photo prop for your first day of school.
  6. This craft can be used in many other ways as well! Take a look below for some other designs I created based off of this project.

2014 Photo Prop Kinder Photo Prop Name Photo Prop Diagonal Name Photo Prop Vertical

Quick, easy, and adorable in the hands of a 5 year old.

 

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A Season Well Spent – Bacon on Bacon Pork Tenderloin and Asparagus

This summer was pretty great. My husband and I traveled a bit, saw some friends we had been missing, celebrated birthdays, weddings, and even our own anniversary. In celebration of this wonderful season, I decided to cook a nice dinner for the husby.

Nice = Bacon

I don’t want to waste your time writing on and on about how amazing this meal tasted, so I’ll just let you go ahead and give it a try for yourself. Let me know what you think!

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Crumbled Bacon Asparagus

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

What you’ll need:

  • 1 pork tenderloink
  • 1 lb. bacon
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus
  • salt and pepper

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place a pan over medium heat. Cook bacon until lightly browned on both sides but still flexible.
  3. While bacon is cooking, trim any excess fat off of the tenderloin and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place on a foil lined baking sheet.
  4. Once the bacon is cooked, drain on a plate covered with paper towels to cool.
  5. Wrap the bacon, one piece at a time, around the pork and tuck the ends securely underneath the tenderloin. Set any extra bacon along with the bacon fat from the pan to the side for later use.
  6. Place the tenderloin in the center of the oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until no longer pink.
  7. As the tenderloin cooks, rinse the asparagus and trim about 1/2 inch off of the ends. Place on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Crumble extra bacon and drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat over the asparagus and toss to coat.
  8. Place asparagus in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes or until tender and the tips are slightly crispy.
  9. Let the tenderloin rest for a few minutes before slicing into medallions and serve hot with the asparagus on the side.

The problem with many bacon-wrapped foods that I’ve eaten in the past is that the bacon is limp, chewy, and not as flavorful as it should be. Precooking the bacon before wrapping the tenderloin is essential to creating the rich, crispy, melt in your mouth flavor that makes this meal so delicious. Enjoy!

A Season of Cake

One year ago, I married my best friend. My husband and I said our vows on July 11, 2013 on the most beautiful summer evening imaginable. The day went by in a flash, like many told us it would, and so did our first year of marriage! Throughout this first year many things changed, but there was one thing that remained constant. The cake sitting in our freezer – er, I mean, our love.

But really, that cake though!

My aunt baked our wedding cake for us. A simple white cake with a strawberry filling and white buttercream frosting. It was beautiful and perfect and above all, delicious. The whole one bite I had of it was great. Then it sat in our freezer for a year and I had to look at it every day. Every day. WILL POWER! As our anniversary approached, I began researching the best way to defrost a wedding cake. If you can’t tell, I was pretty excited about tasting this cake again (despite the whole keto/not supposed to eat sugar thing). After returning from our anniversary getaway in the city, I opened the fridge, unwrapped our cake, cut two petite slices, and the husby and I took our long awaited second bites of our wedding cake. It was still soft, sweet, and brought back a taste of the amazing day when my husband and I said “I do”.

Wedding Cake

I want to help all of you out there have a happy one year anniversary with your cakes as well, so here are some tips that I found on keeping your wedding cake fresh:

  1. Remove any flowers or bulky decorations from your cake.
  2. If your cake is sitting on a cardboard cake board, replace it with one covered in foil so the cardboard taste doesn’t seep into the cake.
  3. Chill the cake so the frosting hardens.
  4. Wrap your wedding cake in multiple layers (I would say at least three) of saran wrap. Make sure no part of your cake is exposed and it is airtight!
  5. Cover your saran wrapped cake in a layer or two foil.
  6. You may also want to place your wrapped cake in a large tupperware container for safe keeping in the freezer.

When your anniversary rolls around…

  1. One day before your anniversary, place your wrapped cake in the refrigerator.
  2. Set out on the counter (about 2 hours before eating), unwrap, and bring to room temperature.
  3. Cut, serve, and eat!

One year later

Not too bad for a year old cake! I hope your wedding cake brings back sweet memories just as mine did!

Tomato Basil Pizza with Almond Flour Crust

Pizza.

My husband’s kryptonite. A challenge I’ve been dying to accept ever since we made the switch to our keto lifestyle. I had seen recipes for cauliflower crusts, but an Almond Flour Pizza Recipe really caught my eye. Our pizza cravings were at an all time high and I decided it was time to give it a shot.

There were a few hoops I had to jump through to make this meal without cheating. I needed to find a pizza sauce low in sugar and a low carb crust. After looking at the standard pizza sauce I had in the pantry I decided to make my own. I kept this pizza simple and fresh and it turned out delicious. If you’re in the mood for pizza without guilt, give this recipe a try!

Tomato Basil Pizza with Almond Flour Crust

keto pizza

For the crust:

  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (I hadn’t gone to the grocery store in a while so I used mozzarella instead)

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes (cut in half)
  • 2 tbs fresh basil (roughly chopped)
  • 1 tbs garlic (minced)
  • salt and pepper

Toppings:

  • 1 cup small mozzarella balls
  • 8 fresh basil leaves (torn in half)

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix pizza crust ingredients together in a large bowl. The consistency will seem strange at first (mine stuck to the sides of my standing mixer bowl), but will come together into a squishy ball in your hands.
  3. Spread out the dough on a greased baking sheet. I suggest greasing your hands as well for this process because the dough will be very sticky.
  4. Bake in oven for about 8 minutes, or until dough develops a golden-brown crust.
  5. While the pizza crust is baking, combine cherry tomatoes and garlic in a small sauce pan. Set stove to medium heat.
  6. Cook the tomatoes and garlic until very fragrant and the tomatoes begin breaking down.
  7. Add chopped basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. This sauce will be chunky which is actually how I prefer it, but if you don’t care for large pieces of tomatoes in your sauce, try blending it in a food processor.
  8. When crust is done, remove from oven. Top with sauce, mozzarella balls, and fresh basil leaves.
  9. Return pizza to oven and cook for an additional 8 – 12 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
  10. Eat up!

Although this is a low-carb crust, it held together very well under the weight of the sauce and toppings. It had a unique, almost cornbread-like texture and flavor which I found very appealing. I will be trying this recipe again (and a cauliflower crust recipe) very soon!

Welcome back, pizza.

Caprese Salad in a Season of Celebration

In my family, the Fourth of July has always been celebrated with family and friends, a game or two of bags, fireworks, and, of course, lots and lots of food. I realized that this year I would have to be a bit more strategic in the dish I brought to the family cookout so that it would fit into my new keto diet. I knew there would be several tempting food items at our family get together this year and wanted to make a dish that would be delicious, satisfying, and keep me away from sweets and carbs.
I decided to prepare a caprese salad made with cherry tomatoes and a tangy balsamic dressing for the party. This salad gave me a taste of the sweetness I was craving from staring at rice-krispy treats, berry pies, and chocolate covered pretzels, and was a light and refreshing side to a hot summer day.

Caprese Salad

caprese salad

What you’ll need:

  • 2 – 3 (10 oz) containers of cherry tomatoes (I used a mixture of cherry and sunburst for a pop of color)
  • 1 (8 oz) container of small mozzarella balls
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil (about 10 medium sized leaves)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 – 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • salt and pepper

What to do:

  1. Rinse and dry the cherry tomatoes. Slice them in half and place in a large bowl.
  2. Drain the package of mozzarella balls and add them to the bowl with tomatoes.
  3. Roughly chop the basil and add to the same bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. Whisk thoroughly.
  5. Pour the balsamic dressing over the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil and toss to combine.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Though this salad was made with my dietary concerns in mind, everyone at the party enjoyed it and I think you will too!

Almond Flour Blueberry Pancakes

I have been neglecting my sweet tooth. My cravings have somewhat subsided and I don’t feel a desperate need for sugar, but after eating so many savory meals the past several days, I wanted to mix it up a little bit. I found this carb/sugar free pancake recipe yesterday at Elana’s Pantry and thought it would perfect for breakfast this morning. I had to tweak a few things so that it fit into my keto diet, but the pancakes turned out beautifully and tasted amazing. It was just what I needed to satisfy my sweet tooth and I was able to enjoy them without any guilt! This recipe is so good, you’ll swear you’re cheating.

Almond Flour Blueberry Pancakes

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What you’ll need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbs water
  • 1 scant tbs vanilla extract (organic would be best)
  • 3 packets of stevia (each packet is about 2 tsp each)
  • 1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup blueberries (1/2 cup for filling the pancakes, reserve the other 1/2 cup for a quick “sauce” – see below)
  • 2 – 4 tbs butter for cooking (can be replaced by coconut oil)

What to do:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, water, vanilla extract, and stevia.
  2. Add almond flour, sea salt, and baking soda and mix until all ingredients are combined. The batter will have somewhat of a cornbread batter texture.
  3. Add about 1 tbs of butter to a large pan and set to medium heat.
  4. Once the pan is hot and the butter is sizzling, add pancake batter one large spoonful (~1-2 tbs) at a time. I cooked the pancakes in small batches of three each time to keep from overcrowding the pan.
  5. Add 4-5 blueberries to each pancake. Once the pancakes begin bubbling, flip them over and cook for another minute or so.
  6. Remove pancakes from pan and set aside on a small plate. Before cooking another batch, I added an additional tbs of butter to the pan to keep it from burning and to make sure all of the pancakes got a little crispy around the edges.
  7. When finished, the pancakes should be golden-brown, with a crispy crust.

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*The blueberries really helped in adding sweetness to this meal and I was so glad I included them in this recipe. If you’re like me though, you’ll want something to dip your pancakes in. Unfortunately, syrup is not on the list of approved keto foods so I had to get creative. Here is what you can do with the remaining half cup of blueberries to create your own dipping sauce:

  1. Place blueberries in a microwave safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. As the blueberries warm, they will start producing their own natural juice and some may even pop!
  2. Take a fork or spoon and roughly mash the berries together.
  3. Spoon on top of your pancakes or just dip away! The pancakes will absorb this sauce nicely. You don’t need to add any extra sugar or stevia because blueberries are so naturally sweet and flavorful on their own.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did!

Baked Avocado and Egg Breakfast

It’s day five of the keto diet (we’ve finally given it a label) and the more research I do on this new lifestyle, the happier I am with my decision to drop carbs and processed sugars!  I have been experiencing a touch of the carb flu (dizziness, feeling light-headed, a little weakness – especially in the legs), but I am feeling inspired and motivated to keep going. I will tell you that drinking A LOT of water will be very helpful in curbing this “flu”.

This morning I decided to try a keto meal that had caught my eye quite some time ago, but was slightly skeptical about – baked avocado and egg. I wasn’t sure how I felt about eating a warm avocado or if I would like the egg/avocado combination, but I am pleased to say that I ended up finding this breakfast very delicious and super satisfying. It was also very easy to make which is always a bonus. I strongly suggest you give this one a try!

Baked Avocado and Egg

Baked Avocado and Egg

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbs crumbled bacon
  • salt and pepper

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut one avocado in half. Set the avocado half with the attached pit to the side to use later.
  3. Using a small spoon, scoop out some extra avocado around the center (enough to fit the egg yolk and white). I suggest eating the spooned out avocado with a tiny sprinkle of salt and a drop of lime juice…but that’s just me.
  4. Place the avocado in a small ramekin or a muffin pan to prevent it from rolling around in the oven.
  5. Crack one egg into the center of the avocado and season with salt and pepper. It’s okay if some egg white spills over the edge of the avocado.
  6. Sprinkle crumbled bacon over the top and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.
  7. Once egg is fully cooked, remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes to cool.
  8. Eat while still warm! The egg developed a slight crispy crust around the edges and I strongly recommend using the bacon! The avocado and egg had a soft, creamier texture, so the bacon provided a lovely crunch.

Seriously, give this recipe a try! I will definitely be making this again and again for breakfast.

Day 3 – Chicken Avocado Lettuce Wraps

I foresee lunch being a difficult time of day for me. It’s the middle of the day, I’m usually low on energy, and I start craving salty, crunchy food. Who doesn’t love a big sandwich on thick sliced, toasted bread or a handful of crispy potato chips for lunch?? I was starving on my way home from summer school and knew I had to think of a meal plan before I got home or risk binging on the last sleeve of Ritz crackers I found in the back corner of my pantry. I had tuna wraps in mind, but my plan quickly dissolved after realizing we were out of tuna. Things got a bit dramatic. Then my brilliant husband decided to cook up some chicken instead and we ended up eating a delicious and very satisfying lunch! So here you go, my take on a carb free, non-processed lunch!

Chicken Avocado Lettuce Wraps

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What you’ll need:

  • 2 small cooked chicken breasts
  • 1 large avocado
  • lime juice
  • salt
  • fresh cilantro
  • red onion
  • romaine lettuce

What to do:

  1. Cook chicken breasts as desired. My husband seasoned ours with salt and pepper and grilled it. We added some poultry seasoning as it was cooking. You could easily cook it in a pan on the stove or bake in the oven before adding it to the wrap.
  2. Slice up the chicken and allow it to cool slightly.
  3. Dice avocado into 1/2 inch cubes and sprinkle salt and lime juice over the top. Toss to coat evenly.
  4. Roughly chop 1-2 tbs of fresh cilantro.
  5. Finely slice about 1 tbs of red onion.
  6. Place chicken on a large romaine lettuce leaf and top with avocado, red onion, and cilantro.
  7. Eat! I served mine with fresh strawberries on the side and it was a very cool, refreshing lunch on this hot day!

A Season Without Carbs – Garlic Roasted Cabbage

Is this real life?? In an attempt to lose weight and become healthier humans, the husby and I are cutting carbs and processed food from our diet! I tried this lifestyle about one year ago (in preparations for the wedding dress) and found that I felt better, had more energy, and lost weight. Unfortunately, the honeymoon happened…at an all-inclusive resort…with breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets…and my new and improved lifestyle fell to the wayside. Well, we have decided to pick it up again and we’re getting serious. We cleansed the refrigerator and pantry of carbs and junky processed foods! We even donated our almost full carton of ice cream to my parents’ house (insert dramatic sob). I sound really excited and enthusiastic about this because it is only Day 2 of our new healthy eating habits. Anyway, we are now focusing on eating a healthy amount of protein, LOTS of vegetables, fruit, and nuts. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner now consist of meals prepared from fresh ingredients and are turning out to be very satisfying and delicious. I will say though, my sweet tooth is kicking into hyperdrive already. I think I’m going through sugar withdrawal.

Usually, my dinners consist of a protein, vegetable, and some form of carbohydrate. Tonight we ditched the carbs and went with an additional veggie instead – roasted cabbage. Cabbage is something I’m recently realizing that I enjoy and when I found this recipe on Pinterest I was interested in giving it a shot! It was very simple to make and my skeptical husband ended up loving it!

Garlic Roasted Cabbage

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What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 head green cabbage
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper

Let’s get roastin’!

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Using a large knife, slice the cabbage into about 1/2 inch steaks and place on a large baking sheet.
  3. Mince the garlic (I just used my garlic press) and add to about 3 tbs of olive oil in a small bowl.
  4. Brush the olive oil and garlic mixture onto both sides of the cabbage steaks.
  5. Season both sides of cabbage with salt and pepper.
  6. Roast the cabbage in the oven for 30 minutes or until the centers become soft and the tops and sides of the cabbage become brown and slightly crispy. I checked my cabbage about halfway through and used to spatula to move them around on the pan a bit so they would not stick.

I served my cabbage along with steak and roasted asparagus and it all went very well together! I will be making this again soon!

Season of Storage – Repurposed Candle Jars

School is out for the summer and as I left my classroom a few weeks ago, so did all of my belongings! I am moving from first grade this year to kindergarten in the fall and also moving to a new building. I packed up everything and currently have it stored in my parent’s garage, my garage, and my inherited summer school classroom. Organizing is something I take a lot of joy in, so needless to say I feel a little scatter brained right now not having my teaching supplies in one location. To compensate for the lack of organization in my professional life, I’ve been doing little projects around the house to keep my personal things in order (AKA finally attacking large piles of “stuff” that accumulated over the last few hectic months of the school year, still a work in progress).

There was one Pinteresty project I had been excited to try and decided to tackle it today. My husband, the lover of candles, and I go through at least one or two candles each month and have all of these pretty glass jars leftover once the wick dies out – which in my personal opinion happens way too soon! There is still half an inch of scented wax in there, come on! Anyway, the Ikea candles we bought came in especially pretty containers with lovely metallic tops and knew they would be perfect for creating some organization in the bathroom. I decided to use these jars to store q-tips and cotton balls for easier access on the bathroom counter. The fact that these candles came with tops was nice because I know my dog, Dexter would enjoy these items as a snack if left uncovered. Below you’ll find directions on how to easily clean out your leftover candle jars to repurpose for other uses around the house!

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Repurposing Candle Jars

What you’ll need:

  • used candle jars
  • freezer
  • butter knife
  • paper towels
  • windex
  • towel

What do do:

  1. Place used candle jars in the freezer and let them sit in there for at least a few hours.
  2. Once frozen solid, remove jars from the freezer.
  3. Use the butter knife to loosen the wax from the outer edges of the candle and pry it out of the jar. I could usually hear some sort of popping sound when it was ready to come out.
  4. Spray windex on a piece of paper towel and wipe down the inside and outside of the jar to remove leftover wax shrapnel and the black residue from the top of the jar.
  5. Once all wax is removed, run the jar under hot water in the sink and dry it with a towel. Be sure that any wax doesn’t make it down the drain of your sink.
  6. I filled my jars with cotton balls and q-tips but you can decide how these pretty new jars can be used in your own home!

*Note: I am not going to lie, the directions above sound easy enough, but not all candle jars are super easy to clean. Some wax can be stubborn and you’ll have to go around the outer edge of the wax quite a few times before it decides to loosen and pop out. I ended up cleaning out 6 jars today and the wax easily popped out of 3 of them, the others took a little more time and patience before coming clean. This freezer method is easier than the boiling water method though and overall was pretty simple to do.