Zebra Zoo Cookies

Zebra Zoo Graham Cracker Cookies

Aren’t these CUTE???

I didn’t come up with the idea all on my own – I have my daughter’s last years preschool teachers to thank for it!  At the end of the school year, they sent home a “cookbook” of all the recipes they’d made.  My daughter was excited to flip through it and I let her pick out which recipe she’d like to remake first.

She picked the Zebra Zoos.

Now, they actually did theirs a little differently, so this is my version.

Below are all our store-bought ingredients that make this super simple to set up.  It’s the type of project where you can buy everything ahead of time and stick all the stuff in the back of the pantry until a rainy day.

Zebra Zoo Graham Cracker Cookies

You’ll need:

Graham Crackers

Vanilla Cake Icing

Animal Cracker Cookies

Black Candy Melts OR Chocolate Chips

Zebra Zoo Graham Cracker Cookies

The first step is to spread the icing over the graham crackers.

You don’t need a lot.  And you don’t need your Little Ones overdosing on sugar, so you may need to gently offer to help them smooth it out a bit.  :)

Zebra Zoo Graham Cracker Cookies

Melt the candy melts in the microwave according to the package directions within a small baggy (preferably freezer weight), then snip the corner off to drizzle the candy back and forth over the white icing.

This will make the appearance of the zebra stripes, which is where the treat gets its name.

Why did I use candy melts instead of chocolate chips?

First of all:  the black candy melts are darker than the chocolate chips.  Black instead of brown, so more zebra-like.  Also, I wanted the flavor of them to match the icing.  The candy melts have a vanilla flavor, like white chocolate.

[hint:  you can usually buy the candy melts at Michaels with a coupon.]

Zebra Zoo Graham Cracker Cookies

Then attach a few cookies by pressing them into the black candy melt stripes before the stripes have a chance to set.  (So, right after you draw on the stripes.)

Then enjoy!

Oh….. and it would behoove you to remember to coat your workspace with waxed or parchment paper first.  Just sayin’.

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Summer Fun Tip: Swim Diapers

Summer Fun Tip:  Swim Diapers Can Be Washed!  #momtips #frugalmom

Did you know you can wash swimmy diapers??

Because I feel like this is something EVERY Frugal Mom oughta know.

I remember reading it somewhere – a Facebook post I think – and I was a little wary at first.

But now I’ve done it tons of times and I’m so grateful I figured this out.  Cause those things are expensive!!

Of course, my youngest is at the point where I don’t really need to worry about this much longer, but if your Little One is like my little girl, who finds the pool, eh, “relaxing,” you’ll need swim diapers “just in case” much longer than you were hoping to have to buy them….

Anyway.

In the photo above you can see an example:  the one on the left has been through the washing machine and the dryer and the one on the right is straight out of the bag and unworn.  Almost the same, huh?

Here are a few tips:

* If there’s poop in the swim diaper:  throw it away.  Right in the trash.  That one’s done for.

* If there appears to be some pee in the diaper, it can still be salvaged by rinsing it out with the garden hose or something similar before washing.

* If there is no pee OR poop in the diaper after your child wears it to swim, I would still wash it before letting them wear it again.  It’s like a pair of panties and you don’t wear your underwear twice without washing them, do you?  Especially not when there’s chlorine involved.

* To launder these babies:  wash and dry just like they’re clothes.  I would say like bathing suits, but I don’t put those in the dryer.  But swim diapers don’t shrink like bathing suits do, so go ahead and toss them in the dryer.  Wash them with your regular load of clothes and dry them with your regular load of dryer-safe clothes.  If they’re still damp after drying, you can hang them up for a while.

I’ve never tried washing these more than twice – but hey, that’s still 3 wears out of something I used to throw away after using once.  Which was bad for the environment and bad for my wallet.  Let me know how they hold up if you’ve washed them more than that!

Or, you could use a reusable swim diaper.  But hey, when family and friends give me free disposable swim diapers, I’m gonna get as much use out of them as I can first.

Have you tried this?  Share your results with us here or on Facebook!

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Enough to Read

I was reading some reviews on GoodReads the other day, and I came across the profile for B.J. Novak.  On his page there were some questions people had asked him and as I browsed through them, I came across this:

(Feel free to ignore the random stuff in quotes since that refers to a previous commenter.)

novak

Wow.  Ain’t that the truth.

People DO have enough to read.  MORE than enough.

So why do it?  It kind of goes back to what I wrote last year in my post Why I Write.  I have to write.  It’s not really a choice for me (if I want to stay sane).  Writing is hard, but (not including being a mom, of course) it’s the only thing I really want to do and the only thing that makes me feel truly alive and fulfilled.

People don’t really need more books.  Even if you’ve got the most unique voice to ever hit the planet and your mind is overflowing with the next dozen Great American Novels.  People just don’t NEED it.  They’ve got enough to read.

So if you want to write, you have to do it first and foremost for yourself [myself].  Because you [I] want to.  Even if you [I] have to force yourself [myself] some days.

The end result is worth it.

And, on that note, I absolutely LOVE Neil Gaiman’s advice on how to easily become a writer.  Especially the part about Fox in Socks.  Because if your kids are like mine, as soon as you hit the last page and are silently praying thanks that you’ve survived it without your head exploding, your kids will request that you immediately reread it.

And that right there takes some REAL talent.

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Usborne’s “Noisy” Books Review

Noisy Books from Usborne Books & More (Review by Roaming Rosie)

Do your kids love to be noisy?  Because mine certainly do.

And, to be perfectly honest, the word “noisy” carried a rather negative connotation for me…. until I found these books!

I mean, I love when my kids get “noisy” by running around the backyard or playground and making a healthy ruckus…. but noisy TOYS?  No.  I avoid those things like the plague.

But when I started selling Usborne Books, I was intrigued by these.  Usborne has such amazing books, but would I like the ones that made sounds?  YES!  Would they be annoying like others I’ve found in stores?  Not at all!

In fact, even though my kids benefit by my being a consultant in that they get to read all the books that come through my house, the one I bought just for them was the Noisy Orchestra.  WE.  LOVE.  IT.  No kidding:  this thing rocks.  It has beautiful sounds, gorgeous illustrations, and it’s actually pleasant for me to listen to while my kids play with it in the car.

But the best part is – even though the orchestra book is our personal favorite – there are a TON of noisy/musical/sound to choose from and you can find one to fit the interests of the kids in your life!  Got a little one who loves monsters?  Pirates?  Trucks?  Castles???  We’ve got you covered!  :)

These books are rated for age 3 and up, but they’re also wonderful for beginning readers and early elementary ages.  Plus, they’re also sturdy enough when the younger siblings get hold of them:  rounded edges and thick pages for safety and a lifetime guarantee for accidents.  (Contact me for details!)

Here’s my video review of a few of the books:

And here are direct links to the books pictured above and featured in the video:

Noisy Castle

Noisy Circus

Noisy Diggers

Noisy Jungle

Noisy Monsters

Noisy Noah’s Ark

Noisy Orchestra

Noisy Pirates

Noisy Robots

Noisy Spooky Book

Noisy Train

Noisy Zoo

If you’d like more information about getting these books for free by throwing a Facebook party (anywhere in the U.S.!) or about how to become a consultant and enrich the lives of children by encouraging early literacy with amazing books like these, contact me on my book site or on Facebook!

Happy Reading!!

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Birthday Candle Pancake Breakfast … with Sprinkles!

Birthday Candle Pancake Breakfast with Sprinkles!

You wanna know what we love in our house?

Sprinkles.

Sprinkles are the bomb.

Tiny, sugary confetti bursts of celebratory color.  Perfect for just about anything.  Including pancakes.

For my girls’ birthday breakfasts this year, they got homemade pancakes.  With SPRINKLES!

Because… why not?

It looked awfully impressive, but was such a simple way to add joy to a special day.  Such a fun way to start out a birthday!

Anyway, I used some overnight pancake batter (I’ll get around to posting that recipe… someday) to make the pancakes, threw a couple on their “Frozen” plates, drizzled some syrup, and scooped on the cake sprinkles!

You could also add sprinkles to the batter, but I stuck to using the pop of color just as a topping.

I also stuck in a few candles and lit them just before placing them in front of the girls (whose birthdays are one day apart, so candles for both of them at the same time totally works).

Birthday Candle Pancake Breakfast with Sprinkles!

And if you love sprinkles as much as we do, check out:

Milk Sprinkles   Vanilla Fairy Fudge Recipe  Elf Sized Chocolate Chip Confetti Cookies   Sprinkle Cookies

Enjoy!  And please share your sprinkle pics with me on Facebook!

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A History of Noms de Plume

I just had to share this infographic!

This stuff is fascinating.  Obviously I knew some of these facts – but I still learned SO much by reading this.

And – I’ll have it known – I’m seriously considering changing my pen name to Secretary to the Emperor of the Moon.

Printerinks-Whodunit

I’d love to hear any stories of pen names that you’d like to share!

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(photo credit:  http://www.printerinks.com/a-history-of-noms-de-plume-infographic.html)

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

Did I REALLY just publish THREE fudge recipes in a row??

Yes.  Yes, I did.

And I may do it again one day…. I AM working on some new recipes… ;)

But for today, let’s just stick with this chocolate fudge with its INCREDIBLE chocolate chip topping.

Because, really, the awesomeness here deserves a massive amount of attention.

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

It starts out like any normal fudge (well – the kind WITHOUT condensed milk, which are the only ones I’ll cook now).

And go right ahead and ignore those mini chocolate chips in the photo…. I’d put them out before I realized they weren’t the ones I wanted to use.  Don’t ask.  Crazy Mom Brain, I guess.

What you SHOULD use are milk chocolate chips.  Why?  Because they’re softer and it’s a slightly contrasting flavor to the main body of the fudge.  In other words, it compliments the fudge while still standing on it’s own.

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

First things first:  whisk together the milk, cream, butter, sugar, and cocoa in a pot.

BUT in a bigger pot than what I photographed above.  Don’t ask.  Probably due to Crazy Mom Brain operating on no sleep.  Either way, this pot overflowed and you just really don’t want to waste any chocolate like that.

So use a bigger pot.

Like this one:

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

Bring the mixture to a boil without stirring it.

Then reduce to a rolling simmer.

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

After 15 minutes, check the temperature.  Remember:  no stirring.

It NEEDS to hit 235 degrees Fahrenheit.  If it doesn’t hit that temperature (also known as soft ball stage), it won’t set.

But you may need to keep simmering it until it hits 235.  Don’t worry if it takes longer – just keep checking until you get where you need to be.

It’s totally worth the wait.

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

Once you get to 235, you can take it off the stove and mix in the vanilla.

To really, really make sure that the fudge sets like it should, you should put the pan over a bowl of ice and stir it for a few minutes until it gets thicker.

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

Pour the fudge into a pan prepared with butter or cooking spray (foil really helps, too), and immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top.

Spread out the chips so that they cover the entire top evenly and press down gently to make sure that they adhere.

The fudge shouldn’t be hot enough to melt them at this point if you stirred it over the ice for a couple of minutes, but just warm enough to let the chips slightly melt just enough so that they stick.

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

There you go.

Isn’t that beautiful??

Let it sit, preferably on a wire rack to cool the bottom faster, then remove it from the pan.

Flip it over – gently! – for a few minutes to allow the bottom to dry, then – gently! – flip it back and cut it into pieces.

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

The inside will still be a little moist, which is why I suggest allowing the cut pieces to sit out, not touching each other, for at least an hour, if not overnight.

That way, the outside is completely dry.  But the inside stays nice and smooth and melt-in-your-mouth amazing.

Seriously.  If you love chocolate, you’re gonna be in heaven with these little bits of bliss.

Don’t be surprised if you take a tray to work or a pot luck and they’re gone before you can blink.

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Topping

Ingredients:

1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 cups sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Prepare an 8×8-inch baking dish with foil and a light coating of butter or cooking spray.

Whisk together the milk, cream, sugar, cocoa, and butter in a large saucepan. Bring it to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer it without stirring. This is important: do NOT stir the mixture! After 15 minutes, test the temperature with a thermometer. Once it reaches 235°F or soft ball stage, remove from heat. Do NOT stop simmering until it reaches this temperature, or it will not set. This may take a few more minutes. It will be noticeably thicker at this point, but still slightly runny. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Fill a large bowl with ice and place the saucepan into the bowl on top of the ice. Stir the fudge for a few minutes until it is very thick. Then (making sure not to let any of the melted ice get into your fudge) pour it into the prepared baking dish, spreading it smooth. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Spread them evenly, covering the entire surface, and gently press them down to make sure they adhere to the top of the fudge.

Place baking dish on a wire rack and allow to completely set. This may take a half hour or a little longer, depending on the temperature and humidity of your home. Carefully remove the fudge from the dish by pulling out the foil. Place fudge on a wire baking rack for a few minutes to allow the bottom to dry.

Cut into squares or rectangles with a sharp knife and allow the pieces to sit for a while without touching. I usually leave them out overnight to make sure each piece is fully set and has a nice solidity all the way around the smooth interior. Makes about 3 dozen 1-inch pieces.

[Note: you can also use semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips instead of the milk chocolate.]

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Click here to print the free PDF version of the recipe:

Chocolate Fudge with Chocolate Chip Topping

And if you like fudge, check out my Vanilla Fairy Fudge and my mini pieces of traditional Chocolate Fudge:

Vanilla Fairy Fudge Recipe Chocolate Fudge Recipe

Happy Baking!

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