Friday, November 27, 2015

Is it a brownie? Is it cookie? Its a brookie!

For thanksgiving dinner this year I decided to bring along one side dish and one dessert. I needed a dessert that was quick and easy to make, and would survive a long drive without refrigeration. After much deliberation I came across the hybrid brownie/cookie. I decided to combine a few different recipes I saw online and tailor it to suit my needs. I didn't have a lot of time on thanksgiving morning so I made a super easy version using Duncan Hines fudge brownie mix and Nestle Toll House cookie dough. I know this will taste ten times better if I make the dough and brownie batter from scratch. Tossing in a few marshmallows won't be a bad idea either!

To begin with I sprayed Pam in a 13x9 baking pan. Then I lined the bottom of the pan with one and a quarter tube of the chocolate chip cookie dough.

Next I added a layer of Oreo cookies, if your baking pan isn't deep enough you can crush the Oreo cookies up so you get a thinner layer of oreos. 

Then I mixed up the brownie batter by simply adding 2 eggs, a quarter cup of water and half a cup oil.  Once that was done I poured it on top of the oreos.

 I made sure the brownie batter completely covered the cookies.

I placed it in a 350 degrees pre-heated oven and it was done in about 35 minutes. Once it passed the toothpick test I took it out of the oven! I baked two of these at the same time and maybe that wasn't the greatest idea, the edges of the first one got a bit darker than I would have liked. Still tasted delicious though!

The smell alone made it worth it!! I thought it would be really hard to cut into but it actually wasn't. As long it has fully cooled down, cutting into it is just as easy as eating it!  As I mentioned earlier I plan to make this again soon and combine it with the s'mores recipe so there will be marshmallows, graham cracker crust and mini Hershey pieces!!

These taste best if they are warmed up right before you eat them. Smothering them in ice cream or whipped cream doesn't hurt either.

Happy Baking!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Toddler Gear: Potty Training Essentials

Potty training began quite early for us, and it wasn't intentional at all. I had been thoroughly warned by all moms that trying to start potty training too early could have dire effects {cue dramatic music} But my little girl had a mind of her own. Below I've listed all the gear we used on our potty training journey.

[1] Potty training seat
Just before her first birthday, we were finally winning our war against diaper rash when I started to notice that every single time I went to change her diaper she was completely dry and would proceed to pee on me only after I removed the diaper.  She did this consistently every single time. I happened to mention this to her pediatrician who suggested that I just place her on a potty as soon as I take off the diaper and see how that worked out. I was initially quite hesitant, she seemed way too young for a potty, but the more I thought about it, the suggestion made perfect sense. The truth is I've never liked the idea of a stand alone potty. It just seems counter intuitive, to train the child to go in the potty and then later transition them to an actual toilet. It also feels like its more work involved in having to clean out the potty after each use. So I made up my mind from the beginning we would skip right to a potty seat that fits over the toilet and save ourselves some hassle

As usual I was surprised at all the different options out there for something so basic; some seats were designed more for traditional round toilet bowls, whilst others could be adjusted to fit the more modern elongated toilets. And of course there were themed seats with different animated characters, especially mickey and the disney crew. I just wanted something simple but good quality so I decided to try the Prince Lionheart Weepod Basix.

On the manufacturers website it is advertised as being a soft, cushiony seat that provides ultimate comfort. I decided to try it because it seemed simple and straight forward to use. The seat is secured to the toilet seat with suction pads and can stand upright when not in use.

In some ways the material that this seat is made out of is similar to a bumbo seat.  The seat seemed to work well for us at first. I didnt notice anything wrong with it. And like magic my 11 month old daughter would pee in the toilet as soon as I took her diaper off and put her on the seat. I was confused by how easy it all seemed. 

Within a few months the seat developed a tiny crack underneath it and within days the cracked had widened until the seat was unusable. I contacted the manufacturer with photos of the seat showing the crack and they offered to send me a new one after I had filled out a claim form.

 The replacement seat came with additional instructions on how to remove the seat from the toilet. It stated that the proper way to remove the seat was to squeeze both sides of the seat together until the suction pads popped off the seat.  I assume this indirectly meant that I had been taking the seat off wrongly all along and that's why the seat had cracked. So I made sure to always remove the seat "correctly" but surprise surprise within a few months it was cracked again! I really didn't have the time to go back and forth with them about it again so I threw the seat out and decided I needed to find something better

This time around I bought the Bjorn Toilet Trainer Seat. This seat cost more than twice as much as our previous one but was totally worth it. We have been using this for a year now and its still good as new.

The key features that attracted me to it are as follows:
It is adjustable to fit most toilets with the aid of a dial underneath it.
It is easy to take on and off the toilet, my three year old is able to this all by herself.
Best of all there are no suction pads to worry about! I realized that this seat allows my daughter to sit more naturally on the potty than the Weepod Basix which was way to high. It also has a handle so it can be hung from a hook on the side of the toilet. I highly recommend this brand!

[2] Step Stool.  This is really a must have in my opinion. It is multi functional too so it can be used for much more than just potty training. These are some of the main reasons I decided we needed a step stool for her:
- To reach the sink to wash her hands
-To get up on the toilet by herself
-To provide support for her once she was sitting on the potty seat. Without the stool her feet just dangle in the air and if you have never tried this I challenge you to. Next time you're sitting on the toilet and trying keeping your feet up in the air... its pretty darn difficult to actually go without the support from your feet on the ground.

After looking around I decided to purchase the Bumbo step stool.

Step Stool Dimensions
15.12"w x 6.5"h x 11.125"d

It's available in a variety of colors and has been really helpful so far. It is lightweight and easy to move  around. My daughter can pick it up and move it by herself. It is designed to support all weights up to 110lbs  and it has a non slip base, so it stays put.
We also use this stool for brushing her teeth. All in all it's been great!

[3] Travel potty seat
The most nerve wracking part of potty training is venturing outside the house. Because suddenly you don't have complete control of the situation, you don't always have a bathroom close by and even if you do the toilet seats are disgusting and way too large for a tiny toddler to sit on. I came across the Kalencom Potette Plus portable potty system and it has been such a huge help in the process. It is a 2-in-1 travel potty system.

Firstly it can function as a seat that goes over a toilet. This is good for public bathrooms, the seat folds open and securely goes over the toilet in such a way that the toddler never has touch the actual toilet itself. Once your are done the seat folds down and fits into the drawstring bag that's included with the purchase. Its different from the potty seats you would use at home in that it is smaller and can be folded down to fit into a purse or diaper bag.

Secondly this portable potty can function as a full potty. This means if there is no toilet around the seat can be used as an actual potty. This is possible with the aid of either  disposable liners that go over the seat or a reusable liner that can be cleaned out and used again. The initial purchase includes three disposable liners and I also purchased the reusable liner which I keep in my trunk
I've had this travel potty for about seven months now and so far I've only used it as a seat in public restrooms and never had to use it as a full potty but its nice to know that I do have that option if I'm ever faced with that situation. Once I get home I disinfect the seat and put in a new plastic bag before placing it in the drawstring carry bag.

Reusable liner that fits over the seat
Disposable liner
I've used this seat so much, it has been really made potty training a lot less daunting for me. The only drawback is that that drawstring bag isn't the most durable bag out there and it ripped after awhile of using it.
[3] Underwear
This is actually a big part of potty training.  Transitioning from diapers to underwear is a big thing for toddlers so I ordered a variety of brightly colored underwear featuring her favorite characters as an added incentive. I tried a few brands and most of them ran large, the only brand that really fit true to size was the Fruit of the Loom brand. Despite the fact that the colors faded pretty fast, I still prefer that brand over the others just based on the fit.

[4] Vinyl Diaper Pants
I know this sounds super oldschool but for us it really worked. we only used these for a few weeks before she got the hang of things. we put her in her regular underwear and put the Dappi waterproof vinyl cover over it, so if she wet herself she would feel uncomfortable and wet but the vinyl would keep the mess contained so it wouldn't ruin all our carpets and furniture. For the most part it did work as we had hoped. We still had some leaks here and there but that can be expected with potty training. she was definitely very uncomfortable with these on once she was wet and would tell me immediately. Eventually she realized she could just tell me before and go on the potty instead of on herself.

[5]Potty Training Books
Although my daughter started going on the potty before her first birthday, we were not actively training her not to go in her diaper until she turned two.  Which meant that prior to that time, she would go on the potty when that option was available but would also have wet diapers too. Introducing potty training materials definitely laid the ground work for the process. Her godmother sent her the classic Once Upon A Potty book which has fun Play A Sound features.

This book was written by Alona Frankel in 1975 so as you can imagine its pretty old school, but still very effective. My daughter loves it!
We also got her the Potty Time With Elmo book and she loves it too.

Several people have asked me if potty books are useful. I would say they definitely are. Reading these to her really opened up the conversation about going on the potty and taught her the necessary vocabulary she needed to express herself.

[6] Disposable pull up diapers.
My daughter can't wear huggies diapers because they irritate her skin, so we went with the Pampers Easy Ups. Many people will tell you that these pull up diapers are the enemy and will sabotage your potty training process. I disagree wholeheartedly. I do agree that these pull up diapers pretty much feel the same as a regular diaper so they don't really teach the child to stop going in their diaper. However they still play an important role in the potty training process. These are good for overnight use as well as long drives or days out. We use them as our 'insurance policy' just in case she has an accident.

Overall our potty training experience has been in interesting one, I still dread the words "Momma I gotta go potty" when we are miles away from a bathroom. But somehow just like all the moms before me we've managed to laugh our way through it. Our little girl is 95% potty trained, with only a few accidents happening when she naps.  We are looking forward to reaching the 100% potty trained mark!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

DIY projects: Minnie mouse birthday party!

For her first two birthdays we kept it very simple, but for several months now I've known that her third birthday would be a different story. In the past few months she has been to so many different parties and fell in love with them all. She would ask me constantly when she would get to have her own birthday party. I knew, without a doubt, we simply had to throw a celebration for her.  After a long process of elimination we decided to go with a indoor bouncy jumping party place. I felt quite pleased with myself for booking an all inclusive party that would provide everything right down to the goodie bags. This meant I had to do absolutely nothing except show up in time for the party. This should have been good news for most people, except of course for DIY addicts like myself. I just felt that everything was a tiny bit too generic for my liking and I needed to add a few personal touches.

The event location gave us the option to provide an image for the ice cream cake that was part of the package, so our search for inspiration began there. My initial assumption was that my daughter would want an image of Elsa and Anna on her cake. Like all the other little girls the world over who can't seem  get enough of Disney's Frozen, so I was surprised when I told her she would have an Elsa cake and she said she didn't want one. She emphatically made me understand she wanted a minnie mouse cake and a mickey mouse clubhouse party. For the briefest moment I had a flash back to the minnie mouse giant cupcake that I made for her last year.

Her minnie mouse giant cupcake from her 2nd birthday
I considered making that again but I quickly snapped out of that thought. There was no way I would have the time to make that cake all over again with a party to plan.

Instead I decided to keep it simple.
Marshmallow Pops
In addition to the adorable mickey & minnie mouse marshmallow pops shown above, that I found when buying Easter candy,  I decided to take on three DIY projects:
  • Mickey & Minnie mouse ears
  • Mickey & Minnie mouse birthday banner
  • Minnie inspired dipped pretzels

[1] Mickey & Minnie mouse ears
I initially just wanted  to buy these, but I couldn't find any that I liked, at a reasonable price. Most of them were too cheap and flimsy or they had pink bows which don't appeal to me as much as the classic red and white bows.  I decided to try making my own and searched online for inspiration. As usual, I saw that many moms before me had gone through the same thought process as me, and there were many different tutorials for DIY minnie ears. The most straightforward blog post I saw was by Average But Inspired. Her post was easy to follow and incorporated materials that I already had or could easily obtain. I decided to use her post as a general guideline.
For this project I used:
Black satin headbands (from amazon)
sheets of stiffened felt
Polka dot ribbon
Glue gun

I used a soup can to measure out two circles about 1/4 inch apart and joined them with two concave lines on a piece of used card paper. I cut it out and used that as a template to draw that shape on the felt. 

 I used tailors chalk to draw on the felt. For every two sheets of felt I was able to get 6 cut outs which made 3 headbands.


Once I had cut out as many as I needed I used my glue gun to attach the ears to the headband. For the mickey mouse headbands that's all I needed to do


For the minnie mouse ears I still had to attach the ribbon. I cut lengths of the polka dot ribbon to size and created the bows which I attached to the headbands for the girls

Making these headbands was quite straight forward but cutting out the ears definitely took some patience!

[2] Personalized Mickey & Minnie birthday banner
I saw so many darling options of these that I wanted to buy, but again I was put off by the cost of them and amount of time it would take for me to receive it. As usual, my first thought was to attempt to make it myself. This project was probably the most time consuming of the three. The materials I used were;
Black card stock
White punch out letters
Whole punch
 Polka dot 1/4" ribbon
Red 1/8" ribbon
Fray Check fabric sealant

 Firstly I had to cut out the mickey mouse silhouettes for the banner. I printed a template from and adjusted the size to suit my needs. Then I drew it out multiple times on black card stock and cut it out. I needed a total of 18 heads to spell out "Happy Birthday" and her name. Cutting it freehand with a scissors was definitely less than ideal, I thought about digging out my glass cutting mat and paper blades but decided to just stick to the less than perfect circles using the scissors.

Once I had cut out all the circles. I attached the letters to them. I purchased the pre-cut push out paper letters commonly used by teachers.  They are really easy to use, they are partially self-adhesive but can be easily made permanently sticky with the aid of glue stick included in the pack. The brand I bought came in both white and black letters as shown below.

Then I made little bows out of the 1/4" polka dot ribbon. I made enough bows so that every other letter would have a bow. I punched holes in the top of every other silhouette and and attached the ribbon.

Finally I punched holes in each ear and threaded the 1/8" red ribbon through the ears to create the banner! I used the Fray Check liquid sealant on the ends of the ribbon to prevent it from fraying. I think making the banner was totally worth the time and it looked cute up at her a party!

[3] Dipped pretzel sticks
I decided to include these as a party favor, to add a pop of color to the favor table and to be a fun salty-sweet treat for the kids.

For this project I used:
Utz pretzel stix
Wilton's Candy melts in red and white
Wilton's treat bags
Wilton's decorating bags

I already had a bit of experience with the candy melts when I made the candy shell for her giant cupcake last year, so the dipped pretzels were quite straight forward.  I decided to use a mug to melt down the candy because it was perfect shape for dipping and would keep the melted candy warm for longer.

Once I had melted down the red candy in the microwave, I started dipping the pretzels in it and then placing them on parchment paper to set.

I made a few trays of it and put them in the fridge and freezer to set faster. Once they were fully cooled down. I melted down the white candy melts in a decorating bag and drizzled it over the pretzels. 


After allowing them to fully set and harden I placed three in each bag and closed with the the bag ties.

My daughter loved "helping" me work on all three projects and had an awesome time at her minnie mouse themed party!!