Jul 23, 2014

Vintage Train Party Inspiration

Trying to come up with ideas for your kiddos' next birthday?  Think Choo Choo Trains... My little ones love anything that is on the move, so I have a PINTEREST BOARD dedicated to party ideas for planes, trains, automobiles and other things that go.

I was so excited to design this vintage train dessert table for a client who was planning her son's second birthday.

The invite is the opportunity to set the tone and theme of the event for your guests. An adorable photo of the birthday boy in his striped blue overalls was added to the back of this two sided vintage train invitation by Hank and Petunia.

For the decor, classic color choice of red white and blue were mixed with burlap to add to the vintage look.  In addition to the hand made burlap banners, a multi dimensional canvas featuring the birthday boy's name was also made to add another personal touch to the decor.

Desserts chosen for the table included colored to match candy, chocolate covered pretzels, kettle corn, vanilla bean cupcakes, red velvet cupcakes, and mixed berry parfaits.

Join me on Pinterest for more party ideas and decor inspiration.

Jul 14, 2014

Are Food Trucks Safe?

Are food trucks safe? Depends who you ask?  We are a house divided.  My husband and I would not answer this question the same.  I'll tell you why in a moment.  The number of food truck vendors exploded during the recession as entrepreneurs followed their dreams to serve anything from ice cream to Southern Mexican fusion to sushi.  The diverse menus, lower prices (for some), and mobility make them very popular.

Do you think food trucks are safe?  Have you ever wondered what happens and how it happens in such a small space on a truck?  I must admit, I look past the person taking my order to get as much of an inside view of the truck that is preparing my food as possible.  I do this as well at restaurants.  Mostly because I am a foodie and I am always curious.

Last summer, my husband got food poison from a food truck and has been hesitant ever since.  After this incident I decided to do some research to get the facts and arm myself with enough ammunition to convince hubby to not give up on all food trucks. This is what I learned.....

A recent study from, The Institute of Justice, titled "Street Eats, Safe Eats" contends that food trucks are actually safer and less complex than restaurant kitchens. In fact in many states, food trucks are subjected to the same regulations as restaurants. Researchers throughly analyzed 260,000 food safety inspection reports in seven major cities across the US including Miami, Seattle, Boston, Las Vegas, Louisville, and Washington DC.

Bottom Line...Food truck kitchens are smaller and less complicated so there are fewer opportunities to violate food safety rules.

The conclusion of the study contends that the notion or idea that food trucks are not safe is a myth.

We are fortunate to live in an area where food truck parks are all over the city.  It is a fun family outing to enjoy a sampling of foods and relax on the lawn.  My kids love to throw the football or frisbee while we catch up with old friends and make new ones.  It is a great way to picnic without needing to pack up your own food. In our community once a week throughout the summer, locals convene in the park to enjoy their favorite food trucks.  Some families make it a weekly ritual, which makes it nice to have a day off from cooking.

Armed with research and a little manipulation through the kids, I convince my husband to give food trucks another try.  Believe me when I tell you I was one happy Mamma.  Check out what I ate...

Pulled Pork BBQ Grits

Grilled Lamb Burger with Feta Cheese Sauce

 Pimento Cheese and Red JalapeƱo Deviled Eggs

Sesame and Chili Oil French Fries with Sriracha Ketchup

Orange Strawberry and Salted Chocolate Popsicles

Regardless of where you eat, you are placing a level of trust in the hands of those that prepare the food you eat.  Inspections are important and necessary to encourage the food industry to avoid short cuts that could affect our health and safety.

Food trucks though mobile rely on repeat business just like restaurants.  They are not in business to make anyone ill and want you to not only come back, but want you to tell all your friends to come as well. Any truck or restaurant that is not using safe practices will not remain in business for long as bad news always travels fast, especially in this social media age.

Jun 20, 2014

Enjoying Fruits of Our Labor - 10 Minute Berry Dessert

It's blackberry and blueberry season.  There is a distinct difference in taste when eating fresh picked fruit verses fruit from the local grocery store that has been subjected to refrigeration and transport.  I grew up near farms and had ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It was common for me to see fields of not only cotton and corn, but also cows daily.  My kids are growing up in a different time and place, so I take every chance I get to ensure they respect and appreciate the origin of the food they eat. A recent visit to the farm, yielded us a bounty of fresh picked blackberries and blueberries.

In case you are wondering why my little ones are wearing superhero costumes, we were invited to a birthday party at the farm and the 3 year old honoree requested superhero attire.  A superhero party at a farm? Why not?  It's his birthday and it should be about what he enjoys.

On the ride home, the kids came up with ideas on what to make with the berries they picked. Pancakes, cupcakes, and pie topped their list.

The kids were excited to help me prepare a dessert to use the berries the same day we picked them.  I needed to keep it simple as I was recovering from an event the night before. Semi- homemade was definitely the way to go.  I am calling it a deconstructed trifle because we literally threw it together in minutes.  We used ingredients I had on hand that was not used for the dessert table I set-up the night before.

Small Loaf Pound Cake
2 pints Mixed Berries
1 Jar Raspberry Jam (or any jam or preserves)
1 cup heavy whipping cream or 8 oz store bought whipped cream
3/4 cup sugar for homemade whipped cream
2 oz Whipped Cream Cheese (optional)
1 tsp Vanilla
Basil or Mint for garnish

Cut the pound cake into cubes.  Stir the jar of jam and drop tablespoons on top of the cake.  Sprinkle berries on top.  If making your own whipped cream, whip 1 cup of heavy whipping cream  and 3/4 cup sugar in a mixer with the whisk attachment.  Once soft peaks are formed, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and whip just until incorporated.  I also added 2 ounces of whipped cream cheese to give it added texture. I like the slight tartness it provides. Conversely, you can pick up a tub of whipped cream from the freezer section of your grocery store and add the vanilla. Stir the vanilla by hand using a large spoon right in the tub.  Top off the fruit with as much whipped cream as you desire and garnish with basil or mint. This is literally a 10 minute dessert and it tastes yummy thanks to fresh ingredients.

This is a great last minute dessert for unexpected guests or to take along to a picnic. Serve it in a pretty clear bowl and dessert is done.

May 1, 2014

Mother's Day Subway Art {Free Printable}

Children are a blessing and so are Mothers. I am blessed to have a strong and supportive Mother. And, I too am a mother to 3 little blessings of my own just like my Mom.  Two boys and one girl.  

It is a surreal experience when you one day look up and realize you look and sound just your Mother. I hear myself give the same advice and wisdom to my children that I received from my Mom. I sing some of the same songs, read the same bedtime stories that I enjoyed as a child, and cook some of the same family meals.  We are truly a product of our childhood one way or another.  Whether we choose to do things the same way as Mom or take a different approach.

At times it is hard to find the words to adequately express how much those special people in our lives are to us. I truly believe that you can never say," I love you" too many times as long as it is authentic. On this Mother's Day, I am using words that remind me of my Mother and just how grateful I am to have her as my Mother and a part of my life today.  

I am sharing them with you in four different colors for free.  You can use them to make a card by printing as a 5x7 photo onto card stock and fold in half or print as an 8X10 photo for framing. 

Happy Mother's Day!

Click To Download (Teal)

Apr 27, 2014

Groove Book Review (Get Your Free Book)

So, you have heard of it but have not tried it yet. I'll give you a quick overview of my experience with Groove Book to help you decide.  Plus I'll give you the details on how to get a free book.

Thanks to a feature on ABC's TV show "Shark Tank" in January of this year, Groove Book has become a household name.  Brian and Julie Whiteman founded the company using a printer from their small business.  The idea is a simple one, but solves the common dilemma of what to do with all the digital photos taken on your phone.

On average, I have 1,500 photos on my phone at any given time which are backed up automatically to a cloud storage. Setting up a back up service on your phone is an important thing to do given how much we use our phones daily. If something happens to your phone,  you can at least have comfort that your photos are safe.

There is a small percentage of mobile photos that make it to print form. So, besides using the digital photos to share online, wouldn't it be great to print some of them in an quick, easy, and low cost way.  

Well for just $2.99 a month, it is a subscription service, you can upload 100 photos from your mobile camera per month for printing.  This is done from the free Groove Book app (available on AppStore and Google Play) that you download to your phone. The photos are bound in a 4.6"x 6.5" book with perforated tear sheets.  Each photo has the date and time stamp included along the binder. The paper used for the book is thin and has an acid free glossy finish. Why the Groove in the book?  It is a patented design to keep the book flexible (like a magazine) and keep shipping cost low.

What if you have more than 100 photos that you would like to print in a given month.  No problem. You can order as many sets of 100 and it will still cost only $2.99 per book.  As long has you upload 40-100 photos, a Groove Book will be shipped to you.  It will always be 100 photos printed in your book.  They simply print duplicates to reach 100.

I just received my first Grove Book.  It took 2 weeks from my close date to receive my first book. Shipping times are a lot longer now that their business has more than tripled since before their Shark Tank spotlight. To keep costs low, books are shipped via USPS.  My package arrived worn a little and the outer edge of the book cover was torn. The photos, however, were not damaged. Overall, the Groove Book met my expectations. 

It is important to remember that the quality of the picture will be no better than the quality of the photo taken by the camera. Now that phone cameras have improved, the expectation for a crisp photo with all subjects in focus is achievable.  In my opinion the prints will work well for scrapbooking and other photo art/craft projects.  I would not use any of these for framing. You can of course also leave them in the book and start a collection or create a library. This would be a great gift to give grandparents or other family members who might prefer prints over digital media. They will have a physical album to show off as they brag about the grandkids. 

At this price point and having an easy way to quickly and easily order prints from your phone, I suggest you give it a try.

Want to try a book for free?  Use this code to obtain your free Groove Book. Enter the code at checkout. You are signing up for a subscription service and will receive your first book for free.  You can cancel at anytime.


Apr 25, 2014

Back Home With The Neelys {Q&A With Pat and Gina}

Pat and Gina Neely became what must feel like Food Network stars overnight.  They had no idea they would be on TV, yet alone have their own Food Network Show.   They are committed to keeping their values and actually prefer that you do not refer to them as celebrities. They consider themselves "real" people. Admittedly, with more money now. Gina will be the first to tell you that she does not consider herself a celebrity. However so humble they might be, it is hard to argue with the fact that they are indeed famous and viewed by millions.

Ironically, as I am writing this post, I am watching them as guests on the Arsenio Hall Show making their WTF Burger that is made with shallots to keep it moist and topped with pepper jack and white cheddar. As if this was not enough, 4 strips of bacon and a handful of pulled pork is piled on.  To top it off, their homemade BBQ sauce seals the sandwich between two slices of brioche with lettuce, tomato and red onion.  This monster burger is one that will challenge your ability to take that first big bite.

I recently met both Pat and Gina at a book tour for their latest cookbook, Back Home With The Neelys.  They are warm and inviting and make you feel like you are a part of the family from the moment you meet them.  It was as if I was hanging with family from back home. I laughed from the time I sampled bites along side them, during the Q&A Session, and chatting it up with them while snagging a photo (or two or three) and getting an autographed copy of their cookbook.

I am literally telling Gina at this moment to "act right and stop tripping so we can take this picture". I kid you not when I tell you I was laughing most of the night with these two.

If you are wondering whether the chemistry you see on TV is real, from what I was able to gather from meeting them it appears to be real.  After asking them how they are able to work so well together in the kitchen, they shared that their secret is to know thy role.  In case you have not noticed on the show, Gina takes the lead in the kitchen, while Pat chops the onions and asks, "Sweetie, how may I help you?" Conversely, Pat takes the lead on the grill. Gina is passionate about the fact that she does not grill.  She is not trying to get smoke in her hair.  I found myself shaking my head and saying, AMEN.

When asked, " How do you handle arguments that occur just before airtime or when you are about to go on stage", Gina quickly responds , " You come out and do your damn job".  Pat follows up and adds that they do not stay mad at each other for long.  Working together in the restaurant industry for over 20 years has taught them a lot about how to communicate with one another and regardless of what is going on they know how to get the job done.  Pat shared that even if Gina was mad at him while working at the restaurant, she would clearly express herself to him and then turn right around and greet the next guest with a smile. Always remaining professional. They made a commitment to one another that it may not always be easy, but they are going to make it.

When asked if they felt any pressure to include recipes in their latest cookbook that follow the latest food trends, Gina spoke about her experimentation with Kale.  She admits that she always thought of Kale as a garnish, but has now come to love it.  There are 3 recipes in the cookbook that use this trending ingredient: Kale Salad with Chopped Almonds, Feta, and Champagne Vinaigrette, Lemony Chicken and Kale Soup, and Halibut with Kale and Mushrooms. Pat also shared his first experience with eating kale.  When Gina presented it to him, he responded, " Kale, What The Hell?".

In case you have not picked up on it yet. What you see is what you get with the two of them. They told me personally, that after being together for 35 years, it is best to be who God made you.

The Neelys are passionate about Family, Love, and Food.  Their motto is to relax and keep it simple in the kitchen. Do you (i.e. be yourself) and keep love alive.  Life is too short to live with regrets. Release those grudges and invite the family back to the table for a good old southern home cooked meal.

Mar 7, 2014

Tutorial: How To Make Dr Seuss Truffula Trees

In honor of Dr Seuss' birthday week, I am sharing how easy it is to make truffula trees for a birthday party or any Dr Seuss themed event.  I styled a Dr Seuss themed birthday party which was so much fun for me and the kiddos. The yard was transformed into Seussville, so truffula trees were a must have to complete the transformation. Click here to see the party in action.

Here is how I did it...

5ft PVC pipe (1 per tree)
Black duct tape
16" paper pom pom (1 per tree)
Clear tape
Ground stakes

Take a trip to your local home improvement store and request to have white PVC piping cut to your desired height. If you want the affect of varying tree heights like a forest, then request varying lengths. I had all mine cut to 5ft, which fit well into my SUV.

Cut the black duct tape into 7.5" pieces.  You will need 10 strips per 5ft of piping.

Wrap the duct tape around the pipe and repeat process until all strips are used.  Leave approximately 4" of space between each strip.

Very carefully separate the layers of tissue to make the pom pom.

Use clear tape to attach the pom pom to the top of the pipe.  Place the white string inside the pipe and use the bottom outer layers of paper to secure the pom pom to the pipe.

For installation, ground stakes are recommended.  I used stakes from the solar lighting we have, but any stakes will work.  Place the stake in the ground leaving at least half above ground to provide support for the pipe.

 Place the pipe on top of the stake and your trees will be secure and stand upright.

One of my favorite quotes from Dr Seuss is, "Don't cry because its over.  Smile because it happened." Unfortunately, all parties must come to an end, but we can always remember the good times and smile.