Thursday, March 29, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

I have been looking for an alternative to the HFCS laden Hershey's chocolate syrup for a very long time. I would even go as far as to say years. Even when I cut out everything else with HFCS in it, I had to have my chocolate syrup. I am a chocolate milk fan and Hershey's had always been my go to. I make coffee with occasionally too and let me tell you, on ice that is the best summer cooler ever.

I have tried all of the organic and "natural" brands that are out there and lets face it, they just don't compare. They are too watered down or too bitter. Just not the same. So, I turned to the homemade recipes. Yeah, some of those have been total fiascoes. Some of the recipes were bad, some of them were just way too expensive, some of them burned quickly and some of them were just plain gross. I did learn a little each time though, about what temperature sugar burns at and how to cool things properly and that milk is never needed to add to milk. That last one was an ugly discovery.

This weekend though, I was messing around on Pinterest and came across a pin for a homemade chocolate syrup I had not seen before. Posted to the blog One Good Thing by Jillee, but originally from Glorious Treats, it was way more simple than a few of the others I had seen and it was ingredients I actually have on hand so I decided to just try it out really quick. Quick it was too.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli)
1 cup water
dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, add sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Whisk together gently.  Add water.  Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat and cook 1 minute.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Cool.  Store in the refrigerator. 



Easy Peasy, right? Best of all it is the closest to the name brand syrup as I have gotten! It is a little thinner but just as tasty.

The only thing I would  add or change:

  • Be to be sure be sure you stir the water into the sugar mix well before you add heat, otherwise you risk your sugar burning before it ever gets started.  
  • Heat slowly and stir almost constantly! There again, you don't want that burned sugar taste. 
  • Once it starts to boil, just take it off the heat immediately. It will cook the rest of the way off the heat.
  • Last, once that one minute is up, pour it into something else to cool. Bonus points if you put that container into an ice bath. The fast it cools, the better the consistency.
  • Personally, I will add half as much vanilla next time. That is kind of a personal taste thing though.




So, there you have it! The best homemade chocolate syrup that I have been able to find. I put mine into a spare picnic ketchup bottle (the kind you can get two for a buck) and just keep a plastic baggie over the top to store it in the fridge.

Like it? Now all you have to do is

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Target Free Second Tuesdays at Imagine It! Children's Museum!


Due to a renewed gift from Target and the consistent popularity of the program, The Children’s Museum will continue Target Free Second Tuesdays for the fifth year in a row. On these special days children and their caregivers are invited to visit the Museum for free between 1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

“We are grateful for the ceaseless generosity from Target which allows us to continue to open our doors to families that otherwise might not be able to visit. This special opportunity supports our mission to give all children the chance to experience the incredible power of play,” says Jane Turner, Executive Director of the Museum. 

“At Target, our local grants are making a difference in communities across the country,” said Laysha Ward, president, Community Relations, Target. “We’re proud to partner with the Children’s Museum of Atlanta as part of our ongoing commitment to strengthen communities where our guests and team members live and work.”

The free tickets will be available at the Museum starting at 1:00 p.m. during each Target Free Second Tuesday, and the Museum will close at 7:00 p.m. The free tickets are issued on a first come first served basis as Museum capacity permits and IT DOES LINE UP EARLY!! Once the Museum reaches capacity, tickets are only issued as capacity in the Museum becomes available. Reservations are not accepted.

2012 Target Free Second Tuesday Dates:

April 10
May 8
June 12
July 10
August 14
September 11
October 9
November 13
December 11

Museum hours: Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Admission is $12.75 plus tax for adults and children ages 2 and above; children under 2 are free. Imagine It! is located in the Lucky Marietta District at 275 Centennial Olympic Park Drive NW.

Monday, March 26, 2012

5 Simple Uses for 5 Kitchen Utensils You Already Own

One of the things on my 2012 list this year is getting my kitchen together. I have been cooking in what is essentially a bachelor's kitchen for way too long. I spent a little time this week kind of looking though what I have and what needs replaced and what I do actually need to complete my mission.

There was actually surprisingly little that I can think of that I needed in the way of actual kitchen utensils. I have learned to adapt to having limited space and limited funds so I have had to be crative in the things that are my must haves for the kitchen. Some of the things I use my kitchen things for are not even kitchen activities.

So, I decided to share with you some of the alternative uses for you existing kitchen tools that you may not have thought of. Hopefully it will even help you be able to declutter your drawers just a little.


Ice Cream Scoop (two sizes works best):
  • Perfect for portioning. Doesn't matter if its making perfect cookies or portioning muffin batter into the cups, an ice cream scoop is generally all you need and no more trying to get them all even. Several different sizes are handy but one can do the job. For example, a larger scoop makes larger muffins.
  • Making seeding your garden a lot less time consuming. You can use your ice cream scoop to make perfect, evenly deep holes for your seeds.
  • Making bath bombs for yourself or as gifts. You can find a super easy "recipe" to make these relaxing treats HERE. 
  • Scraping out perfect little melon balls. This is great for a picnic or party and is super quick and easy.
  • Making meatballs. Perfect size, every time.

Pizza Cutter:
  • Cutting sandwiches quickly. This is really only helpful if you are making several at once. 
  • Cutting food up into baby or toddler sized bites. A few passes over just about anything you cook and its all chopped and ready for little hands. 
  • A quick and easy way to chop herbs or vegetables. 
  • Painting a perfect line in a corner. Use a smaller brush and just roll it up the corner as you drag the brush. Makes for a perfect, straight line, every time.
  • Creasing hems before sewing. Makes a sharp line and heats evenly.

Colander:
  • Invert a metal colander over frying bacon or ham to prevent the splatter from covering your kitchen.
  • Draining bath toys. 
  • Keep produce fresh. Any kind of produce can be washed and stored in a colander in the fridge to prevent it from molding. I keep a basket of washed grapes and celery in the fridge where the boys can just grab a few for a snack.
  • Hand washing silverware. We have all done it and all been cut or poked by an errant knife. Just load all the silverware into the basket and dunk it in hot, soapy water. Then all you have to do is pull it out and rinse.
  • Floral frog. If you do very much flower arranging, you know what this is.

Coffee Maker:
  • Making iced tea. Just use three large tea bags and about 10 cups of water to brew and then mix with water (and sugar) to your taste.
  • Make noodles. Yes, you can cook noodles in your coffee maker. Just put the noodles in and run the water through. Let the noodles sit until they are cooked. 
  • Boiling hot dogs. This one takes a little longer but it still works just the same.
  • Cooking corn on the cobb. Put frozen or fresh ears half ears of corn in coffee pot, run water through the filter and cook until tender.
  • Cooking rice. Put 1/2 cup of instant rice per person in your coffee pot. Put the correct amount of water in and let it runt through. After the water is done, leave the pot on for about 5 minutes for the rice to fully cook.

Ice cube trays:
  • Portion and freeze yogurt for smoothies. Pop a couple cubes int he blender with some fruit and blend away.
  • Paint tray for crafts. Put a different color in each dip to save time.
  • Use as a cookie cutter. Place it upside down on rolled out cookie or biscuit dough for some square but equally delicious treats.
  • Sorting activity for kids. Give the kids a tray and different kinds or colors of just about anything and let them sort them. A perfect quiet time activity.
  • Make flavored ice cubes. You can freeze iced tea in them to keep your tea from getting watered down or you can use juice for a treat for the kids. 
How many of these have you used? Have you ever used one of your kitchen utensils for something clever?

*(All images courtesy of CrateandBarrel.com)

Want to keep track?

Friday, March 23, 2012

FREE Admission to Imagine It! Children's Museum for Military Families!

Thanks to a donation from The Home Depot Foundation, Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta will offer complimentary admission to active military service members and veterans and up to three immediate family members. The Military Appreciation Days will take place on Sunday, March 25 and Monday, April 23. Proper military identification will need to be shown to get their free pass into the museum.

Military service members and veterans will be given the chance to spend the day with their family at The Children’s Museum and take part in all that it has to offer, including the feature exhibit Adventures with Clifford The Big Red DogTM. Children can board the Birdwell Island ferry and take a journey to the world of Clifford™, America’s beloved Big Red Dog with a heart to match, where visitors can see Emily Elizabeth™ and many of the residents of Birdwell Island. Inspired by Scholastic Entertainment’s top-rated TV show Clifford the Big Red Dog® on PBS KIDS®, the exhibit offers numerous immersive “paws-on” adventures that reinforce “Clifford’s Big Ideas” – ten simple tangible life lessons designed to help young children navigate their world: Share, Play Fair, Have Respect, Work Together, Be Responsible, Be Truthful, Be Kind, Believe in Yourself, Be a Good Friend and Help Others.

In addition to the feature exhibit, visitors can experience the Museum’s four permanent learning zones where children can engage in imaginative, creative play that is essential for childhood development. Throughout the day families can attend unique and interactive performances by the Museum’s dedicated troupe of professional actors and educators – the Imaginators. This talented and enthusiastic group of actors will entertain children and their caregivers through singing, dancing, playing, and creating.

“As a token of gratitude for their services and sacrifices, we are thrilled to host Military Appreciation Days at the Museum. We hope those on active duty and veterans will take the day to spend quality time with their family members at the Museum, creating memories that will last a life time. We thank The Home Depot Foundation for their support of Military Appreciation Days at the Museum,” says Jane Turner, Executive Director of the Museum.

The Home Depot Foundation is dedicated to improving the homes and lives of U.S. military veterans and their families through volunteerism, grants and product donations. In April 2011, the Foundation pledged a three-year, $30 million initiative to address veterans’ critical housing needs.

Museum hours:

Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00
p.m.

Admission is $12.75 plus tax for adults and children ages 2 and above; children under 2 are free.

Imagine It! is located in the Lucky Marietta District at 275 Centennial Olympic Park Drive NW.

Friday, March 16, 2012

LISTERINE® Healthy Habits For A Lifetime Oral Care Challenge: Part Two!




Three weeks ago I told you about how the boys and I were going to take part in the Listerine Healthy Habits for A Lifetime Oral Care Challenge. Basically, we brushed, flossed and rinsed our teeth  Now, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you it was easy but nothing worth doing is ever easy, right?

First, the neighbor's dog chewed up our progress chart. I am not even kidding. It was a sad day. Instead, we kept track of our progress on my phone, putting a little star every time we went through the whole routine. All in all, we only missed twice! Not bad!

I think its fair to say that our oral care routine has firmed up though. The boys have gotten to where they ask to brush their teeth. Which of course not only helps remind me but it also means that its something they enjoy. Win, win!

Check out Mr. D doing his nightly routine!




Of course the both still need a little help from mama, and we also had to stop flossing D's teeth halfway through because he fell and bruised his gums on the side of his mouth (unlucky much?). Overall though, I am calling this a huge success!

Have you joined in on the challenge yet? You can check out Walmart's website to join in and shop for the best oral care products you can get from Listerine! If you did the challenge already, how did it go for your family?

Need a little more encouragement? You can explore the connection between your health and your mouth on the Listerine website!

Looking for some tips and tricks? Check out the American Dental Association's website for some of those too!

Disclosure: I received products and compensation from Johnson & Johnson and The Motherhood
as part of my participation in the Oral Care Challenge. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Start Your Day Off Right with @BJsWholesale

We all know the drill. The kids get up and are demanding food. They are likely whiney and hungry from all that sleeping (or not sleeping). Its easy to turn to the sugary, processed cereals in the pantry just to be able to get your coffee made in peace before the real fun and push of the day begins. Don't get me wrong, I always do my best to make the boys a homemade breakfast but some days that just doesn't happen. For one reason or another, I have to turn to either the homemade convenience foods or something store bought.

The good news is, BJ's wholesale has come up with some quick, easy was to skip that morning cereal and replace it with wholesome, cheap alternatives! Sprucing up breakfast time with five fast, easy, natural and organic breakfasts choices has never been easier on morning mommy brain.

BJ’s carries all-natural and organic products in a variety of categories from milk and cheese to poultry, meats, fruits and vegetables. There is still a perception that natural and organic items are pricey, time consuming, bland and difficult to cook. However, BJ’s offers delicious organic breakfast items at low prices with recipes anyone can make at 7 a.m

Start your day off right with these 5 easy and delicious options from BJ’s:



Sunny Side-Up Sunday Brunch- Complete the classic breakfast of bacon and organic eggs with an all-natural Finagle a Bagel mini bagel, Earth’s Pride Organics coffee and splash of Horizon Organic half-and-half. Approximately $1.25 per serving.




A Berry Good Start to Your Day- Start with Aunt Cyndi’s all-natural wild blueberry muffin mix and Horizon Organic unsalted butter to create the perfect healthy muffins. Then make a hot cup of Bigelow organic green tea to sip and savor the morning. Approximately 75 cents per serving.


Delightfully Decadent Dessert for Breakfast- Create scrumptious French toast with Wellsley Farms Artisan Organic Sourdough Boule bread with organic eggs, Earth’s Pride organic frozen triple berry blend and Natural by Nature whipped cream on top. This breakfast is packed with dessert flavor and a great way to get in antioxidants. Approximately $2.50 per serving.


One Bowl Full of Wonderful- Take cereal to the next level with Quaker Granola, Oats & Honey with a splash of Earth’s Pride Organics milk and a side of tart organic Granny Smith apples. Approximately $1.25 per serving.


Fast, Fresh and Fruity Fix- A protein packed cup of Chobani Vanilla Greek yogurt, Kashi GOLEAN Crunch! Cereal and fresh organic strawberries creates a beautiful parfait packed with protein. Just add a cup of Uncle Matt’s Organic or Organic Valley orange juice on the side and your breakfast is complete. Approximately $2.75 per serving.


I don't know about you, but those are all ideas that both me and my kids can get behind. Especially the yogurt parfait!

What are some of your favorite quick breakfast ideas? Are you a cereal family or a hot breakfast family?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Harlem Globetrotters Are Coming to @PhilipsArena!



The Harlem Globetrotters began in 1926 as the Savoy Big Five. Now more than 85 years and 20,000 games later, the team has become one of the most recognizable franchises in sports. The "New York Harlem Globe Trotters" started by touring Illinois and Iowa led by Tommy Brookins. The Globetrotters gradually worked comic routines into their act until they became known more for entertainment than sports. The Globetrotters' acts often feature incredible coordination and skillful handling of one or more basketballs, such as passing or juggling balls between players, balancing or spinning balls on their fingertips, and making unusual, difficult shots.

My first memory of the Harlem Globetrotters was when my Grandmother took my sister and I to see them one summer when the tour came through her hometown while we were there visiting. I remember the entertainment factor still and its been at least 20 years since then. I remember being in awe of the sportsmanship and how it looked like they were having so much fun. Style and grace at its finest!

If you are in or around the Atlanta area, you're in luck!

The Harlem Globetrotters are coming to Philips Arena March 17 @ 7pm and are offering you a special family discount! Through this special offer, you can purchase four tickets and receive a voucher for a free hotdog and soda with each ticket (savings of $34 or more)!

The Family Four Pack offer is valid on the $48, $38 and $27 tickets. Additional fees may apply.

To purchase your Family Four Pack, click THIS LINK and select the Family Four Pack option.


Have you ever seen a Globetrotter show? What are your memories?

Friday, March 9, 2012

On Birth and Feminism

Yesterday, I came across a post on HuffPost Parents. One that warmed my heart. Its about birth stories. One of my most favorite subjects related to parenting but one that is often very one sided. Women feeling like they have to defend their births like some sort of parenting Gladiator challenge. Each one competing to have the best, be the most informed, be the most shamed. Women are made to feel like if they didn't have "the perfect, drug free birth: then they are less of a parent.

Honestly, in any birth where there is a healthy mama and baby (even if its eventual) at the end of it all is an amazing birth story. It always irritates me to hear women putting down another's birth choices. Feminism is about choice, right? The ability to make our own and do what we believe is best for us. Who is anyone to try to take that away. To take someone's joy or hurt and use it against them? I am assuming that women have done their research and have made the best choice for them and their baby. Not once have I ever heard a woman say "The doctor said he should come out fine but I pushed for a c section so I could go to Disney." Not once. Not ever. To hear people talk, you would think it happened all the time.

D baby.
My two boys had different stories like so many others. My first came out over 9lbs and sunny side up (face up instead of face down) after 10 hours of induced labor. They induced me for low fluid and being post due. I opted for the epidural with him and I was thankful in the end even though I was anxious about the choice. He quite literally ripped me a new one. My poor nether regions... Pushing with him was awkward even though they had turned off the epidural and I was feeling it, it took me a bit to figure out just where to push. Once we realized he was the wrong way up, it made sense why he wasn't coming out quicker. Eventually he did though. They always do. The first time I saw his little face still brings tears to my eyes. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. His little face was bruised from being banged against my pelvis but he was so amazing and pitiful.

The last picture of me pregnant. 
My second was much shorter but much more intense. Induced again but was only an hour and a half which made my plan to skip the epidural blissfully easy. I had gone in with a very specific clause in my birth plan about not being checked but after an hour I just needed to know something was happening. About 20 minutes later a nurse came in and checked me. He was still floating, I was 100% effaced but only 3cm. I was progressing well. She talked me into getting up on the bed and hugging the back of it to open up my pelvis and see if we could ramp up the contractions. I will never forget the feeling I had when he went from floating in my uterus to *RIGHT THERE* in a matter of less than a minute. I started yelling "he is coming out!" and the nurse and my husband just laughed like I was nuts, assuring me it was just pressure and my water was probably about to break. After what felt like an eternity but was probably 30 seconds of telling them he was coming, the nurse finally lifted up the back of my gown to humor me and said "oh, sh!!! He is crowning!!". The next few minutes were a blur. They ended up pulling a midwife out of another woman's room to deliver my baby since we didn't have time to wait for mine to get there and my little man was born under the caul 8 minutes after I was checked. They put him up on my chest and it took him a few seconds to take his first breath. He was all blue and make that face that babies make. The angry troll face. I remember rubbing his little back and saying "hi my little angel, can you breathe for me? I love you, give mama a scream" and he did. It was just as amazing as it was the first time. He was so handsome. He looked like me with a head full of rich, black hair. He was perfect. Best of all, my nether regions were still intact.
K baby.

So, knowing that I was induced, does that make me less of a parent? Does it mean I was less "informed" about my choices? The answer is no. I did my research. I knew the ups and downs. I made an informed choice. I am confident in that. Every one should be allowed to feel that way. As much as I feel that every woman should feel the empowerment that comes with a med free birth, I am not delusional enough to believe that every one is capable of that.

Birth is the beginning of your journey as a parent but its not even close to a fraction of what being a parent means. Being a good parent isn't a epidural/ not epidural question. It goes so much deeper than that. Do you love them? Are you looking out for their best interests for the rest of their life? That is something worth striving for. Worth worrying about.

That's not to say you shouldn't look into all of your options. You do the best with what you have at the time these things happen. Do your research so you can be best prepared but don't do one sided research. Just because you don't want to have xyz doesn't mean it won't happen in an emergency.

What do you think? Have you ever altered your birth story to escape the mama drama? Have you eve been made to feel like your birth was inferior?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pizza Fun #WW





*Don't mind the fact my K looks like he has been drugged. He hasn't. Honest.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Princesses, Princes and Frogs @GeorgiaAquarium!


It's B.Y.O.T (Bring Your Own Tiara), day at Georgia's gorgeous Georgia Aquarium this weekend! An event your family won't want to miss!

Georgia Aquarium's Princess Day invites all princesses, princes and frogs* to join their very own royalty as they appear in person to help raise awareness for frog conservation. Georgia Aquarium is committed to ensuring the survival and conservation of all amphibian species, and what better way to highlight the struggles of the world's amphibians than to join with the frog's greatest friend, the princess. Festivities include princess interactions, photo opportunities, giveaways, arts, crafts and games - all with princesses and lots of frogs, too!

The details:

· Kids age 12 and under dressed in princess, prince or frog costume receive FREE admission!

· Radio Disney will be onsite from 12-2 p.m. to join in the fun.

· These events are available and complimentary for all guests in the Aquarium.

Join in the fun and enjoy all the Georgia Aquarium has to offer including the playful Beluga whales, the awe inspiring Ocean Voyager exhibit, and of course the Frogs: A Chorus of Colors exhibit!



· *1 FREE child age 12 and under in princess, prince or frog costume with each paid adult or Annual Pass Member. Each child receives 1 FREE Total Ticket, which includes Aquarium admission, AT&T Dolphin Tales show, Deepo's Undersea 3D Wondershow and Frogs - A Chorus of Colors.

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