Every. Single. Year. We have good intentions to plan ahead for the Super Bowl. This year The Big Game is especially hype for us since Ellen’s beloved Eagles are in it, and it’s what our neighbors and co-workers have been talking about non-stop for the past two weeks. But it’s birthday season for us, our kids are in sports, life is busy, and spoiler alert: we are once again under-prepared. At least we’re consistent.
So if you’re riding the same float as us, or even just jumping on the bandwagon, here’s a simple menu to please that will be kind to your waistline too.
Ooo, but wait. Here’s a way to spice up your party that’s zero calories!
We found this great ballot that includes fun things like “What color will Justin Timberlake’s shoes be at the beginning of his halftime performance?” to more traditional bets like “Will the team that scores the first win?” Click here for the fun.
Here’s a little sampling of the actual site. We love how they clarify the question about Pink’s hair with “predominate color.”
Okay, NOW we can get on with the menu.
First things first are the appetizers . . .
Lazy Girl’s Greek Dip
We are already starting out with the lazy because we’re feeling you on the time crunch, but with hummus, red peppers, and cucumbers, this recipe is heavy on the skinny, too.
It is seriously easy to assemble a couple of these casseroles, but sometimes you don’t feel like bothering with the oven. For those of you who would rather fix it and forget it . . .
Crockpot Chicken Bar-B-Q for a Crowd
This little gem is always a crowd-pleaser. You can even prep it today and throw it in the freezer until you are ready to thaw it out for game day. Hmmm, maybe there isn’t enough time for freezing, but you can assemble all of the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to pour it into the crockpot on Sunday. There’s a game plan for you!
We may be guilty of including this one in just about every recipe roundup we do, but it is just that darn good. Every single time we make it, the rave reviews pour in. Its crispy crunch complements everything, and with no gloppy mayo, it’s a healthy way to get some veggies into your gang.
Okay let’s be honest, snacking is our favorite . . .
Old Bay Lemon Pepper Seasoned Pretzels
We’re cheating a little bit with this one. These aren’t exactly low in calories, but when compared to tortilla chips and queso, this snack is the clear winner. Plus, the savory goodness of these pretzels is pure yum.
I do like a good party. I have even been known to go a wee bit overboard. Not like drop the down payment on a Winnebago overboard, but more like having fourteen four-year-olds crowded around my dining room table crafting with glue and scissors. Rest assured I drew the line at glitter. Never glitter. ::shudders::
For me, it all starts with a good theme I can sink my teeth into, but I am older and more exhausted now. Can you feel me? I now require my themes to be fabulous with a side of easy. So to that end, one of the easiest ones I have hit upon is a Flamingo Party. The best thing? It works for all ages and types of parties: birthday celebrations, baby showers, bridal showers, pool parties, and barbecues. One advantage to this theme is you can extend it cheaply and easily just by using color. Pink balloons, streamers, and netting can really extend the theme to fill your entire space.
My particular party was to celebrate a thirteenth birthday. For me it all begins with the cake . . . or in the case of the parties I orchestrate, cakessssssss.
Here’s the one I created for the family party:
Easy Flamingo Layer Cake
This cake is a great example of a wow factor that exceeds the effort. In other words, it’s easier than it looks. Always a bonus.
Next, frost it up with a base layer buttercream frosting.
Mix up a buttercream frosting and tint it with turquoise food coloring. You can find the food coloring I used here. Pssst, you can also use canned frosting. I won’t tell. Pillsbury even makes an aqua blue frosting that saves you all kinds of time.
If you need help with your frosting game, I recommend this tutorial. She mentions using a bench scraper to achieve a smooth frosting surface. I use this one.
The flamingo is made with fondant icing. I generally make my own marshmallow fondant because not only is it significantly cheaper than store bought, it is so much tastier, too. Your guests won’t be peeling it off into a discarded lump on the side of their plates.
I also find it more forgiving to work with. When you are rolling it and transferring it to the cake, I always have less frustration with breakage than I do with prepared fondant out of the package. This excellent video is EXACTLY how I make it.
She also has a video describing how to color it. Two caveats I have for that one, though. One, I almost always color mine by mixing my gel into the melted marshmallows as she describes in the beginning of her tutorial. It takes A LOT of kneading to mix color into a whole batch of refrigerated fondant. I’m talking kneading on the level of a P90X workout. And two, I always wear vinyl food prep gloves so that my hands don’t get stained.
One other tip: it’s not worth it to make black fondant. It takes forever and a ton of color to make it anything but a weird gray. I did it once, but never again. You can find it here. Keep in mind you can purchase a whole tub of white fondant, too, if you just want to skip making your own altogether.
I used leaf cookie cutters to make the feathers. I free-hand cut out the neck, used a small dish to make the circle for the head, and used the same dish to help gauge the size I needed for the beak. The eye was made from a dab of white buttercream and a speck of black fondant. Because the pieces are relatively small, it’s a much easier decorating process than trying to transfer an entire sheet of fondant to your cake. I have yet to be able to cover a layer cake with a sheet of fondant without curling up in the fetal position from the stress of it all. But just decorating with fondant pieces? That’s a hack I can completely manage.
Now remember I said cakessssssss? In my family, each birthday girl gets her own cake to dive into with abandon.
Fondant Flamingo Cake
This cake was also decorated with marshmallow fondant, but this one is all about the shape. I baked the body of the cake in a Pyrex oven-safe bowl. Once it was COMPLETELY cooled, I sculpted the body shape with a serrated knife making sure to carve out a complete shape that would work for the neck. The rest of the scraps went to the kids who were watching my every move.
The head is a cupcake. That little beaded necklace camouflages the joining of the head to the neck. Because this cake is personal-sized, I could basically pick the pieces up and wrap the fondant around them. In case you are new to working with fondant, you need to actually ice your cake with a buttercream first so that the fondant will adhere to it smoothly. I did not do that with the neck though. The fondant around that is very thick to achieve the rounded look I wanted. I figured there was enough cake-y goodness in the body and head to make it acceptable that the neck was just for decorative purposes.
And then there were the cupcakes . . .
Easy Flamingo Cupcakes
I’m going to be honest, by the time I got to the cupcakes I was TIRED. I ordered some pretty cupcake liners, some flamingo lollipops, let the kids ice the cupcakes anyway they wanted with the remaining blue frosting, and called it a day. See? Easy! You can’t accuse me of being a perfectionist.
But—and this is going to sound radical after the previous several hundred words—great parties need more than cake! Check out these fun ideas to rocket your party into the realm of success!
Flamingo Party Ideas
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We have reached the point of summer where we are ready to fly a white flag and surrender. Visions of summer fun are fermenting under a stack of musty pool towels, those dreams of beautiful family memories are fading, and the natives are more than restless. Hang in there, though. There is still much to love about the season. So pull yourself together, here are 10 reasons to be grateful summer isn’t over yet.
1. You can just add water.
One of summer’s finest points. From cranky toddlers to truculent teens, nothing will cure what ails them like a little H20. So feel free to toss those puppies into the nearest watering hole. Just make sure you keep them safe .
2. You can appreciate nature.
Summer is when Nature is all dressed up and ready to party. Hungry for a gorgeous view? Got a hankering for some sparkling blue water? Just get thee and thine out into the Great Outdoors and drink it all in. Bonus: nature is the perfect buffer for your herd of traveling monkeys. Besides when you are hitting a trail, you can always hang back and pretend all that noise is coming from somebody else’s kid.
3. You can appreciate science.
Big shout-out to chemistry for protecting our kids from summer’s dangers with a marinade of DEET, chlorine, and SPF. Brussel Sprouts should totally counteract this.
4. You can toss your calendar.
Hitting snooze to our heart’s content, pushing back bedtimes in favor of chasing lightning bugs, and generally ignoring our to-do lists, we barely recognize ourselves in the summer. We love the easy, breezy nature of schedules with a little more wiggle room. Of course, this also gives our kids the freedom to constantly bug us for sleepovers. Nothing says easy like a house full of other people’s kids.
5. You can hit the road.
Erin jokes that her Native American name would be Have Minivan, Will Travel, while Ellen fills our Instagram feed with her travel exploits. But whether you are traveling internationally with a a big brood or just down the street with a more travel-sized crew, there are still days left to make great family memories.
6. You can keep cool and carry on.
God bless air conditioning for preventing fratricide and swamp butt. Our kids appreciate living to see the light of a new day and, well, crack sweat is not attractive on anybody.
7. You can channel your inner Olympian.
Nothing like a little international sports competition to kick your crew off Netflix for awhile. You can use the month-long celebration of athletic excellence to align everybody’s TV viewing habits or even inspire a little Olympic spirit among your own people.
8. You can have the Good Eats.
With fresh fruits and veggies available all season long, this is the time to really get excited about food. These recipes are some of our favorites!
9. You can actually read Good Books.
Summer’s more relaxed pace means that you might actually make it to the bottom of that pile of books on your bedside table. Here are some sizzling reads we are loving this summer.
10. You can admire the sunsets.
Nothing tames the beasts or quiets the soul quite like a setting sun, especially over the water.
So take a deep breath and remember that summer’s time is fleeting. Make the most of its last few moments: you’ll be packing backpacks before you know it!
What’s not to love? They’re quick and easy meals that are the epitome of comfort food. They can be doubled–even tripled–frozen, and shared. However, they frequently get a bad wrap for being too creamy, too caloric, or too gloppy; but as is often the way in life, you just have to be selective.
Listed from “kindest to your waistline” to “be mindful of your portion size” are casseroles to rock your dinner menu.
This casserole has a freshness about it that makes it perfect even in the heat of summer, but the brown rice and cheese still lets it linger in the comfort food category. If you’re anti-glop, this is the casserole for you.
It also gives you one more way to use that summertime zucchini bounty.
Next up is this beefy, cheesy deliciousness. This recipe is the bomb because it is stick to your ribs satisfying without adding bounce to your booty. One sixth of this casserole is about 345 calories. Doesn’t hurt that it’s super easy and convenient to make, too.
Packed with more veggie goodness than you might think.
This weeknight casserole is so great because it’s made with UNCOOKED chicken, a real time saver. Bonus is that everyone loves this casserole for the taste . . . and for the fact it runs around 300 calories per cup. If you’re thinking you can just find this recipe on the back of the stuffing box, you would be close to correct. I added a secret flavor-boosting ingredient. Check it out.
While this casserole lands firmly in the land of comfort food, it’s not too terrible on the calories when you use turkey meatballs. I calculated on My Fitness Pal that one very generous serving containing 3.0 ounces of meatballs, one biscuit, 0.2 cups sauce, and 1 ounce of cheese was 470 calories. If you split the casserole evenly into ninths, the calorie count is about 300. Not too bad for something that is so satisfying.
This casserole is another one that can be assembled in minutes.
Okay, this one is a full-on classic cream soup casserole or hotdish as it’s known in Minnesota. No, neither one of us is from Minnesota, but it’s whatever. We have no idea how many calories is in this one, but that’s probably for the best.
Even if you lean heavily to the “Hallmark made this holiday up” side of the great debate about Valentine’s Day, you should know that lots of people disagree including the one you may have committed to love, honor, and share the remote with for all eternity.
But before you start stressing about gifts or holiday getaways, remember that it really is the thought that counts. Sweet can also be blissfully simple. Here are some easy breakfast recipes and ideas that will make you make your special person feel the love this Valentine’s Day and any other special day on your calendar.
1. Set the stage.
Nothing says “this was not an afterthought” like being prepared. Show your love you thought at least a day or two ahead by delivering all your yummy treats on a sturdy Breakfast Bed Tray .
2. Kick it up a notch.
You don’t have to be a Casanova or de Bergerac to bring the romance, but if your ability to string together coherent words of love went bye-bye with your epidural, here are some great ideas to help you tell your sweetie just how sweet they are.
Of course, everyone loves a little something sweet too.
This blueberry bread complements everything including a simple cup of coffee.
Everyone loves a good pancake. These pancakes are all dressed up and ready to wow with the power of their awesomeness.
They are honestly so good that it’s hard to believe we don’t make these pancakes every day.
But while the above pancakes are the best, variety is the spice of life and sometimes you don’t have buttermilk handy. These cinnamon chippancakes are such deliciously close runners-up, it is almost a tie.
And for your favorite health nut, here’s a smoothie that anybody can love.
This smoothie has the perfect combination of flavors to win hearts and tastebuds.
We hope these ideas help make this Valentine’s Day the best yet.
Let’s hear it for cranberry! It’s time this palatal pleasing trooper stops being overshadowed by its more lauded seasonal comrades! This taste wonder needs its due. While it’s true Thanksgiving and cranberries go hand-in-hand, there’s little argument that pumpkin really reigns supreme over fall. Seriously, a bajillion pumpkin EVERYTHINGS everywhere is pretty telling.
And just when you think cranberry should take center stage in December with its festive crimson hue, nope, peppermint gives it a hip-swish bump relegating it to the wings again.
Well, we’re here to tell you that while cranberry may never be the Brad Pitt of the stove top, it deserves some props for being a dependable and talented character actor. You know what? That’s not saying enough. Cranberry is the Kevin Bacon of the kitchen! It’s got a zip and tang that makes everything tastier.
Maybe the problem is cranberry needs to stop fighting for holiday attention and expand its arena. We challenge you to think of cranberry as an option throughout the year! Why not serve Vodka Cranberry Seltzers on Mother’s Day or Cranberry Apricot Pork at your next Fourth of July picnic? The only thing you’ll be risking is a standing ovation.
Let’s begin with a little refreshment:
Vodka Cranberry Seltzer
2 oz Vodka
4 oz Cranberry Juice Cocktail
Juice of 1/4 of a lime
2 oz seltzer or sparkling water
In a shaker full of ice, combine vodka, cranberry juice and lime juice. Shake for 10 seconds and strain over an 8 to 10 ounce glass filled with ice. Top off the glass with the seltzer or sparkling water.
OR . . .
You can do it the Lazy Sensible Moms way and just pour all the ingredients in a glass and stir it with a spoon.
Either way, while this beauty looks charming all decked out for the holidays, it is even more refreshing on a hot summer day.
Cranberry Rosemary Cheese Ball
Not even exaggerating a little bit about how much this cheese ball is loved. Is it the sweet and savory together? Is it the pretty presentation? Is it the make-ahead convenience? Is it the illusion that fruit makes it healthy? Who knows? Regardless, you can get the easy, printable recipe here.
Apricot Cranberry Crockpot Pork Tenderloin
So the previous two recipes have perpetuated cranberry’s strong role as a supporting player, but this one pulls cranberry into the main spotlight where is belongs. This pork is perfect for Christmas Eve or a Labor Day picnic, over rice or on a bun. It is elegant, delicious, and out of the ordinary. Oh, and easy. What more could you want . . . except the full, printable recipe here.
So seriously, stop putting cranberry in a corner and let it shine at your next meal or gathering! You won’t regret it with these easy recipes!
It is so overwhelming and painful and devastating and heart-wrenching to grieve over a loved one. When my mother was killed in a car accident a little over two years ago I learned this lesson all over again. But it is also hard to watch someone go through this heartache, and you just want to DO something to lessen the pain.
The key to comforting is acknowledging grief lasts beyond the funeral. Company abounds at the time of the funeral, but it doesn’t take long for a mourner to suddenly be alone. Fast forward several months, and while your friend may be going through the normal motions of school, work, and church, grief is still a sodden blanket tangled around her legs making each step just that much more difficult.
But at say, seven months out, it can be daunting to find the right moment to ask your friend how she is doing. Do you snag her in car line? Call her during her son’s basketball practice? Grind book club discussion to a halt with a “How are you doing with your grieving process?” One thing to remember, though, is you’re not in danger of “reminding” her of her grief. It is always there.
So what do you do?
The key to action is good intentions that are simple enough for you to carry out. Suggestions such as “go clean their bathroom” are all well and good, but let’s be honest. This is awkward except with your best of friends or your family. Even during the worst depths of my grief, I didn’t expect the woman whom I chat with regularly in Pilates to show up at my door with Comet and a toilet brush. The group of friends I would feel comfortable doing intimate chores for is small, but the circle of people I care about who I would want to do something for is wide.
And let’s not forget we are a far-flung society. What if you friend is across the state or even across the globe? You want to comfort in some way especially since you can’t put your arms around her.
With a loving heart, a little time, and these five suggestions, you can show you care in very doable ways.
This one is nothing new, but I charge you to put some extra thought into it.
Timing. Food tends to be overflowing in the first couple of days after a funeral. There are always those casseroles from efficient “first responders,” sandwiches left over from the service, and things that were already in the fridge. Takeout pizza hasn’t lost its charm yet. But in a month, when the autopilot wears off, feeding everyone is just as hard, if not harder. Remember, when you take food, you not only spare the family from cooking, but from shopping, putting away groceries and cleaning up, too.
Even if you brought food around the time of her loss, schedule to bring a meal around the four to six week mark. It is about this time that all of the turmoil of activity has leveled out, people have stopped calling, and people even start to avoid her because they feel uncomfortable. This is the perfect time to come bearing food and offering a listening ear.
Menu. There is someshared characteristic among “first responders” that compels them to bring pasta dishes. And who can blame them? They’re easy, freeze well, and most people like them. And those first five lasagnas are delicious, but pasta/red sauce/meat every night becomes a little tiresome. Break convention and bring something different; you’ll be promoted from hero to superhero. We have a menu all worked out for you.
Scheduling. This little act can be such a gift to someone who is grieving because even simple tasks can be overwhelming, like finding space in the freezer when four meals show up at once. Using tools on the free Meal Train website, you can invite friends via email and Facebook to schedule a day to bring a meal. What’s great is favorites, dislikes, and special dietary needs can be listed, and everyone can see what food is scheduled. With minimal effort on your part, you can make a huge difference in the burden on your friend.
2. A Year of Cards
One of the kindest things a friend did for me after my mother’s death was send me random cards every month for about a year. Sometimes they were sweet, sometimes they were funny, sometimes they were St. Patrick’s Day cards in November. It’s that acknowledgement thing again. She let me know she knew I was grieving.
Buy the cards all at once and address them immediately. I send them on random dates so it is more of a surprise and not something to be expected like “Ellen always sends me a card on the first of the month.” The cards have to stop sometime, so if they are not scheduled on specific dates, they will leave less of a void when they are no longer coming.
3. A Box of Comfort
I have a hard time sending flowers to a grieving person. Having gone through the deaths of both of my parents, each time the flowers overwhelmed me. I had no place to put them and the cloying smell reminded me of standing in the receiving line at the viewing . . . that is until they started to die and the stink of decay and moldy water took over. I had dead petals and pollen everywhere. Throwing away a bouquet took up an entire trash bag and triggered a vacuuming session.
I opt instead to send a box of comfort: chocolates, tea, and cozy socks or a scarf. And as you would guess, I don’t send it immediately. I wait at least a month or more to acknowledge grief doesn’t have an expiration date.
4. Remember the Anniversary
Immediately, if not sooner, add the anniversary of the death to the calendar on your phone and set an alert for a week before. Check in with a call or text in the days leading up to and on the actual date to empathize that this is a hard time. If you need help understanding why this is so important, I wrote about what the tsunami of anniversary grief was like for me. My friend, Kathy at Kissing the Frog, uses the term “crapiversary” to describe the day because it doesn’t deserve a word that even hits at celebration. She also makes a good point that it is such a comfort when people remember beyond the first year.
The old standby. It may not seem like the grandest action because it is so easy to do, but it will have the biggest effect.
In all, if you approach your friend with thoughtfulness and an open heart, you can’t go wrong. Never leave them alone because you’re afraid to bother them. Assume your friend is smart enough to let your call go to voicemail if it isn’t a good time. I always include in a text or message “don’t worry if you don’t have time to get back to me, I just wanted you to know I was thinking of you.” If you do make contact, never pass judgement on a grief journey or timeline. It is different for everyone.
Finally, never let fear of reminding her about her grief stop you from reaching out. It is always with her. Doing something wins out every time over doing nothing.
It’s really weird when you think about it. Being in need doesn’t have to mean a disaster has befallen you. A helping hand is just as needed when your world is spilling over with joy, like when you have a new baby or move into a new house, as when your life is contracting, like during a death in your family or surgery.
Even though these events represent two sides of the coin of life, they all are times when grocery shopping and meal prep can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That’s when friends can swoop in to the rescue.
Nothing says “I love you” like a home cooked meal. Most people default to lasagna or baked ziti when taking a meal to someone, but why not ditch the red sauce and really wow them? A well planned meal shows you’re a lover and a thinker.
You can pick and choose between the following recipes or be a rockstar and make them all. I personally like to provide enough food for lunches and leftovers. I also always like to supplement with a salad kit and cut-up fruit. It’s a luxury to have that healthy freshness without any of the chopping.
And this isn’t all about giving, if you double the recipes you’ll have your own meal preparation done for days. Give a little, get a little.
If you want to really floor them with some some real comfort food they would never be expecting, these Easy Oven-Baked Cheeseburger Sliders are just the ticket. The emphasis here is on the “easy.”
Another option is this Zucchini and Ground Turkey Cheesy Casserole. It’s filling, but with a healthy freshness you don’t often find in casseroles. This is also a great one if you think they might have to stick it in the freezer.
Main Meal for Picky Eaters/Side Dish/Lunch
Forget politics, here’s the real eternal debate: is mac and cheese a main dish or a side dish? The world may never know, but many picky eaters sure do love it. If a household has kids, I like to include some helpings of Mom’s Best Macaroni and Cheese.
Think pasta salad is only for summer? Try Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette Pasta Salad and think again! The mustard and olives in the dressing provide a tang and depth of flavor that makes it perfect for any season. It also makes a perfect lunch. Your friend will enjoy snacking on this rather than a bag of chips or cookies.
The Sweet Stuff
Be it good times or bad times, there’s always room for brownies and these Oreo and Peanut Butter Brownie Bites more than fit the bill. Don’t fret about having time for these though; they’re easy to make too. Being a champion isn’t always hard work.
I can’t name the number of times my friends have taken care of me, so I jump at every chance to pay it forward. If this helps you spread the love, then my work on the internet is done for today.
Well, it’s official—autumn is here. Although fall is just as likely to punk us as shower us with pumpkin spice everything, we still love it or, at the very least, have to live through it. Sure, jam-packed schedules, rushed meals on the fly, and school’s many demands threaten to take us down, but we have learned a thing or two.
Step 1: Mutter under your breath, “This too shall pass.”
Step 2: Repeat Step 1 often.
Step 3: Rock the life hacks that keep our families afloat instead of drowning in the carpool.
Click the image to enlarge.
To hear the conversation–or maybe brain dump is a better description—where we lay it all out for you, just click the player at the bottom to hear our latest podcast. We give up the goods about all the tricks and practices that make our lives work.
Now we mention some really great stuff in this podcast, and since we’re nothing if not helpful, we’re hooking you up with a bevy of links. But you should consider these links the breadcrumbs to lead you back to where you really want to be: listening to our podcast. That’s where it ALL is.
1) We wax awfully poetic about our love for crockpots in this podcast. Two of our favorite crockpot recipes are Apricot Cranberry Pork Tenderloin and French Country Chicken. We get really excited about these, so seriously, go check them out. Now, we don’t mention these other recipes specifically, but we have a whole slew of yummy crockpot meals so if you want more, have at it. We highly recommend it.
But you’re probably going to want to keep your copy and buy your sister-in-law a new one because we have a Sisterhood Secret for you right here. In an unusual turn of events, Ellen took organization to a new level and created a coordinated menu of eight of the recipes with a complete shopping list for them all. Yeah.
3) We also introduce you to this great gal named Alisa who blogs at Mondays are Forever because she introduced Ellen to the Keep app from Google, our newest tech crush. We might get a little excited talking about this in the podcast. Bringing everything full circle, you can input the menu shopping list mentioned above, and just use it over and over again. Worth checking out, no?
And if you need more of a teaser, we share the do’s and don’ts of carpooling, the school supplies we ALWAYS have in our stash, and a little more about how we juggle all of the balls and why we do it.
Homework on the fly.
Intrigued? Interested? Desperate to hear a little something funny with a side of sensible?
Well, click that player at the bottom and hear our podcast.