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A Fun & Versatile Craft Idea… Found in Your Own Backyard!

Who knew pinecones could make for so many fun holiday crafts? Nature’s decorations can be easily crafted into ornaments, table toppers, figurines, and more! So send the kids on a pinecone hunt around the yard, and gather some paint and glitter. The majority of these pinecone crafts are super easy, and don’t require many supplies (meaning they’re cheap, too!). With the wide variety of pinecone craft options, your kids will stay entertained for hours, all while creating fun holiday decor for the tree and the house! We found several different creative pinecone crafts on Pinterest. We’ll start with a simpler project, and give you the option for a more complicated one if you’re feeling up to the challenge :)

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This colorful craft takes nothing more than paint (in your favorite colors!), brushes, and some old newspaper to prevent messes. Using the paint brushes, simply coat the pinecones in paint and lay them out on the newspaper to dry! Add glitter if desired. You can display them in a pretty vase, or just place them around the house for some pops of color. They can easily be placed in the branches of your Christmas tree as ornaments, as well!

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These cute Pinecone Tree Pots are festive, but they require a few more supplies.

Supplies:

  • Mini pinecones
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Glitter
  • Mini flower pots

Instructions:

  • Paint the mini pinecones using the brushes, and dust some glitter on them before they dry. Place them on some old newspaper to dry.
  • Paint the mini flower pots, and add glitter if you’d like! You can get creative with the decoration of your pots. Let them dry on newspaper.
  • Place one dry mini pinecone in each dry mini flower pot. Place them around your house and enjoy!
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Crock Pot Monday: Soups & Stews Make for the Best Winter Meals

Today, we’re talking about crock pots. This versatile cooking tool will transform your kitchen, enabling you to make hundreds of new recipes. From soup, to stew, to chili, and even slow-cooked meats, it seems the crock pot can do it all. With all it’s delicious possibilities, the crock pot will surely become your new best friend in the winter! Another great plus: you can quickly toss your ingredients in the crock pot in the morning, set it to the right temperature, and by the evening you have a tasty meal waiting for you! It also doesn’t hurt that it leaves your house filled with savory smells. We decided to share a crockpot recipe for classic chili. It’s incredibly easy, the ingredients are cheap, and the longer you cook it, the tastier it gets! What more could you want on a chilly winter’s night?

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds coarsely ground beef round or chuck
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans red kidney beans, drained
  • 2 (14 1/2 oz.) cans tomatoes, drained
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • salt, to taste

Instructions:

In a large skillet, brown ground beef with the chopped onion. Put the ground beef, onions, and other ingredients in a 3 1/2 to 5-quart slow cooker. Stir well. Cover and cook on low for 9 to 11 hours. Serves 8.

It’s that simple! Enjoy!

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Stuff We Love: Unique Gifts from Etsy

For those of you who have never heard of Etsy.com, let us introduce you to the mother-load of all things handmade! Etsy.com is a DIY dream, jam-packed with hand-crafted clothing, accessories, home decor, gadgets, and basically anything else you can think of. This website is great year round, but it especially comes in handy during the holidays; with the click of a button, you can search through thousands of one-of-a-kind gift ideas. Our favorite thing to ogle on Etsy is their extensive collection of delicate (and affordable!) jewelry.

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You wouldn’t know it, but these dainty necklaces are only cost $23 and $12! These necklaces are just the start… There’s also a fantastic selection of rings; ranging from unique engagement stones, to stackable pieces in gold and silver, these rings can serve as a romantic gesture or a fun gift for a friend.

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Etsy goes beyond jewelry with thousands of great ideas for the men in your life. Knit caps, gloves, and scarves for the winter, bow ties, cufflinks, and belts to accessorize his suit, or decor for his man cave, will make for a memorable gift this season.

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Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show: Love It, Or Hate It?

Tonight is the annual airing of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.C/O (Celebuzz)

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This undergarment fashion show has raised many ethical questions since its first airing in 2001. Organizations such as: Parents Television Council, the National for Women, and the American Decency Association have all openly protested the broadcast according to Bloomberg Business Week. This specific article talks about how before the first show was broadcast in 2001, hardly anyone knew of or bought the brand. After the show, it took off nationally and then international viewers were asking for it to be aired in this country too. Read more of the article here: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-12-05/victorias-secret-fashion-show-traffics-in-girl-power

 

Love it or hate it, here are some of the appearances, performers and outfits that will be showcased tonight.

It’s always a star studded event, look out for a-listers like Jessica Szhor,
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Vanessa Hudgens,

 

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and Rihanna.

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The performers for this year are the uber popular band from their 2013 comeback Fall Out Boy,

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and the chart-topping Taylor Swift.

 

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This event is fun to watch, especially if you get up and dance to the smash hits being performed, and personally gets me excited for the holiday season! The last look the girls did was a snowy winter wonderland which always makes it feel like the holiday season. Props to the gorgeous ladies on a fabulous show tonight!

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Celebrate National Pastry Day!

December 9th is National Pastry Day, so break out your finest apron, whisk , and baking sheet, and whip up some bakery-worthy treats! We found some goodies that look gourmet- but actually take only 20 minutes! These puff pastries incorporate Nutella and slices of your favorite fruit; the recipe we found uses sliced bananas. The combination of sweet, creamy hazelnut spread,  yummy fresh fruit, and airy puff pastry makes for the perfect addition to your morning coffee or hot cocoa.

This recipe leaves you with 18 delicious pastries, and they are easy enough to bake before bed! Prep your batch by lining a baking sheet with parchment paper, and pre-heating the oven to 450 degrees. Here’s what you’ll need:

· 1 box of frozen puff pastry

· 1 cup Nutella

· 2 bananas, sliced or your choice of fruit

· Egg wash (recipe follows)

· ¼ cup of confectioner sugar (for dusting)

· ¼ cup of chocolate, melted (for drizzling)

Instructions: 

1. Thaw frozen puff pastry according to instructions on the box. Fill a pastry bag or Ziploc bag with Nutella and cut the corner for piping.

2. Once the puff pastry is thawed cut out 4 inch squares. Pipe Nutella in the shape of a triangle on puff pastry, place banana slices on top and then pipe a second layer of Nutella on top of that. Using a brush or your fingers spread a layer of egg wash along all four edges. Fold square into a triangle by pulling diagonally opposite corner towards one another. Using a fork, press edges together to seal. Finish with a final brushing of egg wash on top of the pastry. Bake at 450 degrees for approximately 10-12 minutes or until tops are golden.

3. Use a small sieve and dust the tops with confectioner sugar and then drizzle melted chocolate to finish.

Egg Wash

· 1 egg

· 1 tablespoon water

Instruction:

Lightly beat egg and water until blended

Thanks to the Endless Simmer cooking blog for these delectable treats! Happy national pastry day!

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Homemade Holiday Decorations Make for Fun Memories!

We can all go out and buy our holiday decorations… but what fun is that?! Homemade holiday decor not only creates fun memories for every member of the family, but leaves behind a pretty reminder for you to cherish (and show off to friends!) year after year. Whether you want a meaningful ornament to hang on your family’s tree, fun candles for the menorah, or a festive holiday wreath for the front door, there are countless options to choose all in one place: online! We found some cute ideas on Pinterest. This craft is super easy, and leaves your family with an adorable holiday snowman ornament for the tree!

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What you’ll need:

  • 1 clear glass ball ornament.
  • 1 vinyl snowman face (or you can cut one out from constructions paper or color/pain one on.
  • 2 red pom-pom balls
  • 1 pipe cleaner in Christmas colors
  • Christmas snow, packaged from the store (not the stuff that falls outside, just want to be clear about that!)

Instructions:

1) Take the top off your ornament and fill it with fake snow about 1/3 of the way.

2) Put the vinyl face on the front of the glass ball by pressing it in place and rubbing until it sticks.  Then just peel off the top plastic piece.  Really cute!

3) Cut the pipe cleaner so that it will run from side to side, as in the photo.  The pipe cleaner should run through the loop part of the hanger piece.

4) Glue the pipe cleaner to the side of the ball using a hot glue gun.  Put the glue directly on the pipe cleaner because the hot glue can melt the ball if it is made from plastic.  After you put the glue on the pipe cleaner, tack it down to the side of the ball and allow it to dry.

5) Now, glue the other side.

6) Place a dollop of hot glue on the red pom-pom and tack it down to the end of the pipe cleaner.  Now, the other side please.

7) Tie a ribbon or string to the loop to hang the Christmas snowman ornament craft from your Christmas tree. ALL DONE!

The finished product!

The finished product!

 

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Kardashian Kristmas Kard 2013 Revealed!

The Kardashians will turn any old average yearly tradition and turn it into an opportunity for publicity! Their annual Kardashian Christmas card is consistently the subject of tabloids across the country. This year’s Kardashian holiday greeting surprised the public featuring the family posed among an eclectic scene lacking any sort of holiday cheer… as well as noticeably lacking several important male family members: Rob Kardashian, Kanye West, Lamar Odom, and Scott Disick! E!News shows us an image of the card:

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As you can see, the image is so detailed that the family chose to present it in a panoramic photo- not very typical for the average family’s holiday greeting. Although some of the men of the family were absent, Kourtney’s adorable children, Mason and Penelope, were both featured in some fancy get-up.

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This crazy Christmas card has certainly got us thinking about our own family holiday cards… What will your family do this year?

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Yummy Bread-less Recipes Don’t Skimp on Flavor!

It’s hard to deny the delicious satisfaction of biting into a crispy, buttery baguette… but after the carb-filled celebration that is Thanksgiving (not to mention days of post-Thanksgiving leftovers…), it can be nice to swap the bread for a lighter, fresher option. These bread-less dishes work for lunch or dinner, can be prepared vegetarian, and are packed with fresh flavors. The first recipe is super easy to prepare, taking only 20-30 minutes from start to finish! A spin on the taco, this Turkey Lettuce Wrap Taco replaces the typical flour tortilla with iceberg lettuce.

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Ingredients

1 lb Lean ground turkey or beef (I used extra lean)
1 cup Salsa (I used Newman’s Own Pineapple salsa)
1 (4 oz) Green chiles
1/2 tbs Taco seasoning
Toppings:
1 (15 oz) can Corn, drained
1 (15 oz) can Black beans, rinsed and drained
1 Head lettuce OR 6 low carb tortillas
Optional: Low fat plain greek yogurt or low fat sour cream, additional salsa for serving, corn, black beans, sliced olives

Instructions

1) Spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Add turkey meat, salsa, green chiles, and taco seasoning to skillet, and turn on heat to medium high.  Stir everything to combine, breaking up turkey as best as possible while cooking. Cook for 8-12 minutes, or until turkey is completely browned, and cooked through, (no longer pink). Take off heat. Add beans and corn and stir to combine.

2) To make the lettuce wraps, Cut off the stem (or base) of the lettuce head, and cut in half long ways. Peel off individual leaves, and wash and pat dry.  Scoop 1/2 cup meat into lettuce wraps and and top with low fat plain greek yogurt or low fat sour cream, additional salsa, and olives if desired.

The next recipe, Paleo Stuffed Bell Peppers, is a lighter play on the classic Philly cheese steak hoagie. Bell peppers substitute the bread and make for a fun and colorful dish.

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Ingredients
Olive oil cooking spray
5 large bell peppers (7oz each whole, 6oz without refuse)
1 medium cauliflower head, cut into large chunks (12oz without refuse)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (8oz)
1 lb 85% lean ground beef
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
4oz shredded sharp cheddar (optional)

Instructions 

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray it with nonstick spray.

2) Remove the tops of the peppers, core and seed them. Cut each bell pepper in half, lengthwise.

3) Place the cauliflower in the food processor. Process until it resembles rice.

4) Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes. Add the riced cauliflower, the onion and the beef and cook, stirring and breaking the beef up as it cooks, about 7 minutes, until onion and cauliflower are soft, beef is lightly browned and liquids have evaporated. The mixture will not look very appetizing at this point. Don’t worry about it, it will transform once you add the spices.

5) Add the garlic, salt, black pepper, chili powder, cumin, paprika and tomato paste. Cook 2 more minutes, stirring, until everything is well-blended. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro.

6) Fill each bell pepper half with 1/10 of the mixture, packing it in, and place in the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with cheese, if using. Lightly spray with olive oil spray. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes, until pepeprs are tender and cheese is melted. Remove from the baking sheet onto paper towels and let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Craft Wednesday: Thanksgiving Fun!

It’s the last day before Thanksgiving and we’re sure you are all up to your ears in errands and last-minute prep for Turkey Day! When your hands are tied making the stuffing and setting the table, the last thing you need is a bunch of rambunctious children pulling on your sweater;  this creative craft idea will serve as a fun distraction for kids of any age while you finish up preparing your family’s Thanksgiving. The craft is called Footprint Thanksgiving Turkeys, comes from the Kid’s Activities blog, is sure to entertain and leave your family with some colorful new artwork.

Supplies:

Scrap pieces of paper (patterned looks great!)

Construction paper of any color

Orange construction paper

Scissors

Brown paint

Paint brush

Glue

Googly eyes

Thanksgiving stickers (optional)

Instructions:

1) Cut different pieces of scrap paper in feather-like shapes.

2) Glue feather-shaped scrap paper in a fan shape onto a piece of colored construction paper (think like the shape of the turkey’s tail feathers!). Let dry for a few minutes.

3) Paint bottom of child’s foot with brown paint using the paint brush and stamp the foot on the prepared construction paper. Place the heel in the center of the turkey tail feathers with the toes facing the bottom half of the sheet. (see picture)

4) Let dry completely. While drying, cut a triangle shape out of the orange construction paper for the beak. When dry, glue the beak and googly eyes to your new turkey! Add stickers if desired.

Be sure to lay down newspaper underneath your craft space to avoid a mess!

 

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Sweet Potato Topped Turkey Pot Pie

Another great (and easy!) way to utilize that mountain of Thanksgiving leftovers! This crustless pot pie, courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens, and tweaked by blogger Beth, of The First Year Blog, is very flexible; the original recipe calls for sweet potatoes and turkey, but either can be substituted with regular mashed potatoes or chicken/ham. Your perfect pot pie depends on your family’s taste preferences, and/or whatever leftovers you have available! Additionally, this delicious dish can be prepared gluten-free by swapping out the regular flour with gluten-free flour. So, get cookin’!

Ingredients

Sweet Potato Topping
    • 2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3-4 large ones) peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
    • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • Freshly ground pepper
Filling
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup diced celery
  • 3/4 cup peeled and diced carrot
  • Salt
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 & 1/2 cups chicken or turkey stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream, half-and-half, or light cream
  • 2 & 1/2 cups shredded roast turkey or chicken
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage (or dried)
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh thyme (or dried)

Instructions

Sweet Potato Topping
    1. In a saucepan combine the sweet potatoes, 1 tsp of the salt and enough water to cover them by 1 inch. Cover partially.
    2. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium. Simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes.
    3. Drain potatoes; return to the warm pan.
    4. Using a potato masher, mash potatoes.
    5. Stir in melted butter, nutmeg, the remaining 1 tsp salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
    6. Set aside. Position a rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Turkey Filling
  1. In a large saucepan melt butter with the oil over medium heat.
  2. Add onion, celery, and carrot. Cook and stir, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add salt. Cover partially. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until vegetables are very tender, about 12 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle the flour over vegetables. Stir to combine.
  5. Slowly stir in the stock. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until smooth and thickened, about 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer.
  7. Add the turkey (or other meat), parsley, sage, and thyme. Stir to combine and simmer for 5 minutes.
  8. Remove from the heat.
  9. Spoon the filling into a 2 1/2-to 3-qt. rectangular baking dish (3 qt is a 9 x 13 inch pan). Using a rubber spatula, carefully spread and mound spoonfuls of the mashed sweet potatoes over the filling, leaving some of the filling visible. Bake until bubbly, about 20 minutes.

The whole recipe shouldn’t take much longer than 1 hour, and leaves you with a delectable and beautifully vibrant post-Thanksgiving meal!

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