The easiest (and cutest) toddler Valentine craft

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! And while I have no idea what Mike and I are doing, if anything, Caleb and I already made our Valentines. They are obviously adorable and I kind of want to keep one for myself. That would be fine, right?

Supplies:

  • Cardstock (8.5″ x 11″)
  • Marker
  • Tissue or origami paper
  • Scissors
  • Elmer’s glue

We used the full 8.5″ x 11″ paper for a few very special Valentines and also made quarter-sheet Valentines – the size is up to you! Determine your paper size, draw a heart, write “I love you to pieces”, and cut tissue or origami paper into 2″ x 1″ rectangles or smaller. Then hand it over to your kiddo for some art action!

The plan was to have Caleb dip the pieces in glue and then stick them inside the heart… but that didn’t last for so long. What he enjoyed much better (being the messy boy that he is) was putting glue all over the heart and then making the pieces “rain down” onto the heart. This also ended up working out a lot better for his *ahem* short attention span.

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Easy crafts are always the best crafts for the little guys… especially when you get to share the results with others!

Adapted from babyology.com.au.

Bake15: Grandma’s Blueberry Pie (Pie #8)

Some days in the winter, a girl just wants blueberries. Am I right, or am I right? Those are the days when Grandma’s handy pie recipes come out of the cabinet. You just can’t go wrong.

I also wanted to play around with low contrast “faded” photos, so we’ll just call it a ‘vintage’ feel that goes along with Grandma’s recipe.

The pie crust is shortening + flour + salt.

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And then some water. The recipe says 4 – 5 tablespoons, but I find that 5 tablespoons is definitely the best for a flaky crust.

The dough gets divided for a bottom and top crust. Once rolled out, put the bottom crust in the pie pan.

PS – check out how cool this pie plate is!!! It is nerdy and awesome and such a great Christmas gift from my Uncle.

The filling is simple: blueberries, sugar, and corn starch. And, ironically, the blueberries are from my Grandparents’ garden. So this really IS Grandma’s blueberry pie.

Once fully mixed, it looks like this, and goes straight into the pie crust. No pre-baking this time.

While you are filling the pie, it’s possible that someone might sneak pie dough.

And continue to sneak pie dough from the actual pie as you add butter. 1/2 tbsp cut up into small pieces, set around the filling.

Then the top pie crust goes on and gets pinched together. Here’s where that extra tablespoon of water comes in handy for the crust: it’s so easy to pinch together and stays really well! Worth it.

As a part of the Christmas present from my Uncle, I also received a pie crust shield that I wanted to try out. Burnt crust is the worst!

It is a super flexible silicon shield that protects both the top and sides of the crust.

There are notches on the side to keep it in place so that it can be used for different sized pie pans. Super convenient!

I also got this lovely pie drip catcher… which my oven and my husband will be thanking my Uncle for. No more burning fruit filling smell coming from the oven! Woohoo!

The pie plate ends up sitting atop of a silicon ring in the middle of the drip pan so that air can still flow around the pie.

Cue music: Isn’t she loooovely? Isn’t she wonderful?

Look at that beautiful crust!!! The pie crust shield did a great job. The crust got a little smushed, but it was perfectly golden and not burnt at all! I guess the packaging was right when it said that the pie crust would get a nice tan.

Then… eat. Maybe two pieces. Grandma would approve, right?

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The pie review:

Crust: This is the classic crust, in my view – although, it is the crust my family uses for pies. I love it because it’s simple and so flaky. LOVE.

Filling: Super basic. Blueberries don’t need any additional spices, and the amount of sugar is perfect for the pie.

Overall: It’s Grandma’s pie. It’s delicious.

The pie ratings:

The pie rating scale is a Mike-determined scale from 1 – 10, with a 5 being the “classic, homemade apple pie”, and 10 being the highest rating.

Emily: 9.5

Mike: 9

Grandma’s Blueberry Pie

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tbsp shortening
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp cold water
  • 4 cups of blueberries (I used 9 cups of frozen blueberries)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp corn starch (use 4 tbsp if using frozen blueberries)
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter

Directions:

  1. Defrost blueberries if needed – straining liquid and/or patting with paper towels.
  2. Preheat oven to 425˚F.
  3. Combine flour, salt, and shortening in a large bowl with a pastry cutter.
  4. Once combined, add 5 tbsp water to the crust mixture, making sure to disperse the water over the entire mixture. Mix with a fork to form a ball of pie dough.
  5. Separate pie crust dough into two pieces. Roll out each piece of pie dough into a 13″ circle. I like to roll the dough out between two pieces of wax paper – this way, it is “portable” and won’t stick to the counter, and it’s very easy to transfer to the pie dish.
  6. Transfer one of the pie crust pieces to the pie plate.
  7. Combine blueberries, sugar, and corn starch in a medium bowl to make the filling. Transfer the filling to the pie dish.
  8. Place the second pie crust on top of the pie. Trim the pie crust edges and pinch together.
  9. Cut a few slits in the middle of the pie with a knife to allow proper ventilation.
  10. Add on your pie crust shield and place the pie pan on a pie drip pan, if needed.
  11. Bake pie for 40-50 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the top is turning golden.

Annual Memory Jar + Line a Day Journal

For two years now, Mike and I have been keeping an annual memory jar: aka, a giant yarn-covered coffee can.

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We seriously just think it’s the best. Ticket stubs, hotel cards, save the dates, hospital bracelets, placecards, programs, birthday candles, maps, invitations, you name it… If there’s a memory (good or bad) associated, it goes into the jar.

It is so much fun and super easy to keep up! We put the can on top of our china cabinet and add things to it whenever we remember. Or sometimes when I clean out my purse and find ticket stubs and hotel keys from the previous 4 months…

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On New Year’s Eve, we take everything out of the jar and go over all of our memories from the past year. There are always so many events we forgot about or say, “Wow! That happened this year?!” We love this way of reminiscing.

The best are always the quotes. If something funny is said, we write it down with a date. Half the time, by December 31, we have absolutely no clue what the quote is about. Other times, they’re just hysterical, like so:

IMG_2535Note: I did not ask.

This year, I also purchased a line-a-day journal that can be kept for five years (which Samson is apparently very interested in). I got my mom this one for her birthday.

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Each day has it’s own page, and you write the year number and a line about what happened that day. Then, you continue for five years. It’s an easy way to see what happened on a certain day over a period of time – and I can totally handle a line a day. I always try to start heavy-duty journaling and I just can’t keep the commitment. Maybe this will help me start a journaling habit :)

This is also pretty similar to the notecard memory calendar idea – except it’s compact, and if someone drops it, cards don’t go all over the place. (It’s possible that I might be speaking from personal experience with the notecard calendar. Total disaster.)

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I think that these will both be longheld traditions in our family. We’ve already started adding to our memory jar for 2015…!

2014 In Review

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2014 – a great year! Mike and I are more ‘permanently’ cemented into adulthood as we bought a house and our baby became a toddler. Caleb started developing his own particular, happy, energetic personality and causing trouble like most little boys. We are so excited at what’s to come in 2015!

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Family:

  • Bought a house in February
  • Participated in a Parent/child dedication at church

Mike:

  • Passed the quarter-life point
  • Spoke at ASME Conference in Boston in July
  • Passed PhD candidacy exam
  • Awarded a Nexus grant for fuel cell research / business

Emily:

  • Passed the quarter-life point
  • Donated hair to Locks of Love
  • Promoted to Quality Specialist at work
  • Started playing on a volleyball team

Caleb:

  • Turned one
  • Learned to walk, run, and jump
  • Finished a round of swim lessons
  • Started attending an open gym

Trips:

  • May: Flemington, NJ (Emily only for work)
  • June: Milwaukee, WI
  • July: Boston, MA (Mike only for Conference)
  • November: New York City

DIY Play Kitchen from Entertainment Center

Have you seen these ideas on Pinterest to convert an entertainment center or dresser into a play kitchen? They are just so cute… so we decided to make one as Caleb’s Christmas present!

It started when I went to Salvation Army and saw an entertainment center that could easily be converted to a kitchen. For $24.99, I thought it was a steal! Then I got to the register, and the cashier says, “Would you take this for $14.99 instead of $24.99?” Ummm… YES!

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Project planning then commenced… As in, a very long Pinterest search (my favorite designs were this one and this one) and then a very engineering-like drawing of all the features to be added to the kitchen.

Our first steps were to remove the glass doors (obviously a bad idea to keep glass around for use by a crazy toddler like Caleb) and turn one of the small, bottom doors sideways to open as an oven.

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Thankfully, I have a very handy husband who could easily make these first steps happen.

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Mike was able to cut wooden doors in place of the glass doors, sand we started priming the shelves for the pantry.

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Mike cut a hole for the sink, and we primed the kitchen.

Then, we used paint samples we had leftover from our living room (Sherwin Williams Heron Plume) to paint the main portion of the kitchen.

In the meantime, we wallpapered shelves with stick-on wallpaper that we already had from Target, and I painted wooden knobs for the stove and oven.

Mike, being the awesome and amazing man that he is, put the faucet in (Home Depot for $12), put the backing and handles on, and hand-crafted a longer handle for the oven.

I used chalkboard paint for the pantry doors, and added decorative Washi tape onto the edges.

We had to paint the backing after it was put on (note: definitely try to paint it before it’s on! duh.), and used another paint sample of Sherwin Williams Popular Gray (aka our living room wall color). I used paint chips cut into rectangles to make the backsplash, sticking them on using E600 glue and putting two coats of Mod Podge over top.

I also Mod Podged the Washi tape on to make sure that it stayed down.

Next, I painted a stove with very imperfect circles.

In the end, I decided to switch the more colorful Washi tape for silver tape. I didn’t like the mismatch of color between the backsplash and the Washi tape. Indecisiveness, for the win!

Mike put in the hooks, and added a shelf and light. We already had this light sitting around since it was purchased in a two-pack when we bought one for our pantry.

I painted another door with chalkboard paint (because… why not?) and put the stove knobs on. Note there’s a hook on the outside for Caleb to hang his apron ;)

As another part to the present, we purchased play food that is sortable by color off of Amazon. Learning Resources seems to have quite a few play kitchen products that also aid in learning. I have my eye on these and these.

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And here is the final product!!!

It was super fun to wrap :)

Caleb really seemed to like it and, of course, took all of the food out of the bins.

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Although I think his favorite feature was the chalkboard.

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Or the shelf on which to run his new cars.

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Oh, and this is the oven. We didn’t quite make the shelf for the oven yet, but eventually we’ll do that. Note the cool spring action that Mike created – he was very proud of it (as he should be)… even Caleb seemed to understand the cool engineering feat.

The final tally:

  • Entertainment center: $15
  • Backboard: $8 (only used half)
  • Dowel: $2 (only used half)
  • Handles: $14
  • Hooks: $6
  • Chalkboard paint: $9 (barely made a dent in the can)
  • Faucet: $11
  • Dog bowl (sink): $6
  • Oven rack: $2 Savers find
  • Light: had it ($5.75)
  • Shelving paper: had it ($30 – will not use all of it)
  • Washi tape: had it
  • Paint chips: free
  • Mod podge: had it
  • Polyurethane: had it
  • Paint samples: had them
  • Paint brushes: had them
  • E600 glue: had it

The total cost was around $75, and many of the supplies have further use. You might say, “Whoa! That seems like a lot!” Here’s some perspective:

  • The main Pinterest kitchen DIY I liked cost $500 to create.
  • The price range for play kitchens is about $95 – $175. Most are plastic.
  • We got to customize our kitchen, and who knows… maybe our grandkids will be playing with this one day!
  • We kind of had a lot of fun making this.

Here is the final before and after:

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Bake15: Persimmon Pear Brandy Pie with Vanilla Bean Crumble (Pie #7)

You guys… we have our first mega-fail pie. MEGA-fail pie. So, so, so, so gross. Even Mike said we should throw it out.

But… It was bound to happen eventually, right? No big deal. Kind of disappointing… throwing away a pie is never easy.

I tried this Persimmon Pear Brandy Pie with Vanilla Bean Crumble. Mainly because I had persimmons and pears to use up. Apparently, not the best idea.

I’m only going to share a few photos since it was a disaster. And you guys… I actually followed the whole recipe on this one. Step by step. Like, really. (That never happens).

Gross point A: Super runny insides. This should have been my first red flag, but sometimes pie insides look runny and then get better after they cook!

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Gross point B: WAY too much flour in the topping. It’s like… all flour. You’re thinking: you should have just added something to it before you cooked it if you knew it was going to be so bad. I’m thinking: SWEET I’m actually following the recipe!!!

Gross point C: It just tasted so bad. NOT a good flavor combination.

 

The pie ratings:

The pie rating scale is a Mike-determined scale from 1 – 10, with a 5 being the “classic, homemade apple pie”, and 10 being the highest rating.

Emily: 1

Mike: 1

Definitely never, ever making this pie again. Not good in any way. Seemed like an interesting flavor combination, but was a major flop!

Bake15: Pumpkin Pie From Scratch (Pie #5) and From Libby Can Recipe (Pie #6)

Yeah, I made two pumpkin pies. We had a pumpkin from our CSA, which Caleb nicely handed to me (“make a pie, mom!”).

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The other pie was a result of Mike needing a snack for his PhD candidacy exam. Pies are always great snacks.

But seriously, check this out. I made a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin! Remove top, remove seeds.

Turns out, when you make a pumpkin pie really from scratch, you make pumpkin puree first. So the pumpkin is roasted, then pureed until it is extremely smooth.

I used this recipe from the Food Network, and absolutely loved it! I knew I couldn’t go wrong with sweetened condensed milk and molasses.

For the really-from-scratch pie, I went with a typical butter and flour crust.

New methodology: pressing the crust down with a fork, which ends up looking pretty cool. Oh, and then you are supposed to set the pie crust by baking it covered in foil with pie weights or beans to hold the crust in place.

I didn’t have pie weights… or really a lot of beans… but whatever, you do what you can.


For pie #2, I followed the recipe on the Libby Pumpkin Puree can. No sweetened condensed milk or molasses here. I did, though, try the “best pie crust recipe ever” that my co-worker Jeanna sent to me. Instead of using just butter in the crust, I used half butter and half shortening.

Then we had two pumpkin pies and it was the best day ever. Which pie is which?

Yep, the darker one is the really-from-scratch pie.

The pie ratings:

The pie rating scale is a Mike-determined scale from 1 – 10, with a 5 being the “classic, homemade apple pie”, and 10 being the highest rating.

Libby Recipe Straight from the Pumpkin Recipe
Mike 9 9.5
Emily 8.5 9.5

I did totally love the hybrid butter/shortening crust better, which I think made for closer rankings than I expected. It’s fun to make a pie from an actual pumpkin from a local farm and pretty cool to get rid of one dish that is normally from a can on Thanksgiving. Even though it’s more work, I think it’s worth it :)

Bonus: I couldn’t fit all of the filling into the pie pan for the from-scratch pie, so we also got four MINI pumpkin pies. Now that really makes it worth the work.