Custom Pancake Bar & Reading List

Custom Pancake Bar 1

Sometimes I forget that my kids don’t always know where things come from (“Is the corn in cans different from corn-on-the-cob?”) or where things go (“What happens to the water after we flush it?”).

So I like to show them the extra steps for things when I can.  Of course, I don’t have wheat growing in my backyard so we won’t be grinding that into flour to make pancakes completely from scratch any time soon.  But what I CAN do is grab some colorful books to demonstrate the process.

I wanted to make a “Custom Pancake Bar” with my girls to show them how versatile pancakes could be.  But even without the grinding of flour, I still wanted to do more than just stir up a box mix.  Pancakes are easy anyway.

We’ve drawn with pancake batter and celebration pancakes are always fun, but I realized that I had yet to post an actual pancake recipe on this blog.  I’m calling this recipe the “Overnight or Now Pancakes” because I like to make the batter the night before, but it could also be used right away.

I am not, by any means, a morning person.  So I like to get things ready the night before:  breakfast, school lunches, my coffee maker … whatever CAN be done WILL be done.

Like this batter.  All made up and left to sit in the fridge until needed.  I also set up the griddle and toppings and even our plates the night before.

Because having kids means I’m often required to do things before I’m caffeinated.

Which can be … interesting.

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We had a lot of fun with this, though, because we personalized all of the pancakes.  Some had just mini chocolate chips or raisins, others sprinkles, and some a combination of everything.  A few had walnuts and cinnamon sugar, which is quite possibly my new favorite.

My daughter even made a face for one with walnut eyes, a chocolate chip mouth, and sprinkle hair.

There are other toppings you could incorporate, like blueberries or pieces of apples or bananas.  Coconut is also good (kinda like I used on my Tropical French Toast).  Just remember to use extra butter when flipping to make sure it doesn’t stick.

Before I share the recipe, I want to talk a little about the books we read.  I picked them all up at the library, but I’ve included (affiliate) links to Amazon in case you’d rather have your own copies.

Pancake Picture Books

Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle

This one is great because it shows the ENTIRE process for making pancakes from scratch – including harvesting wheat and churning butter.  The colorful illustrations demonstrate that there is an awful lot that goes into making our meals, but the story is told in a way that is playful.

There is also a board book version of Pancakes, Pancakes that is abridged.

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola 

This wordless picture book is a delightful story about a woman who wakes up and decides to make pancakes.  But she’s out of eggs and milk and needs to get some more from her chickens and cow.  She even gets maple syrup from a nearby farmer.  But when she gets back with the syrup, her pets have turned her kitchen upside down and she can no longer make her pancakes … but luckily her neighbors had the same idea!

The pictures are pretty straightforward but drawn in a charming way.  And because the wordless pictures are easy for kids to “read,” it works well for either story time or reading-to-self for even the youngest of readers.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes

This story is a little different.  It also includes some steps in making pancakes, like buying flour and spices, but it focuses more on the people doing the cooking.  It tells us about a boy named Adika who is headed to the market with his mother, who also happens to invite everyone he sees back to their place to eat their pancakes with them.  It’s a wonderful tale of joy and generosity with a positive message about sharing.

There is a recipe, but my kids were more interested in the background information.  They were eager to hear all about village life in Kenya, and as soon as I started to read off the glossary of Kiswahili words, my 7-year-old jumped up to grab a paper and pencil so she could take notes.  I loved the way this book helped me to show my kids that things as basic as shopping with mom or sharing exciting news with friends (or making pancakes) are universal concepts practiced all over the world.

The Runaway Pancake 

This is a fun story which is based off of a fable from Norway and Germany about a pancake who really doesn’t want to be eaten.  He rolls through the forest trying to escape everyone who is trying to eat him, but makes the wrong decision to trust a seemingly kind but very hungry pig.  It briefly mentions how pancakes are made, but the real draw here is the silly story and cute illustrations.  It’s also one a beginning reader can read on their own.

And now … back to the recipe!

I’ve made these to have a noticeable taste of vanilla, and strongly suggest that you invest in some Madagascar pure vanilla extract because it has simply done AMAZING things with everything I use it in, from cookies to cheesecake to, well … pancakes!

But the vanilla in the recipe could easily be halved if (for some strange reason) you’re not a big vanilla fan.  And you could stir in your add-ons ahead of time (like chocolate chips or walnuts or sprinkles) instead of doing it the pancake-by-pancake way.

The individual way was an awful lot of fun for my kids, but just make sure to keep safety in mind!  Remember that flipping pancakes can cause splatter — and nobody wants to be pelted with splashes of hot butter!

When it comes to making the batter, we did it the night before and stuck it in the fridge.  It’s easy for kids to put together, which makes it nice for them because they are so involved in the whole process.

One of the things I wanted to mention, was that we decided to add some extra milk to the batter the next morning.

I don’t know why I did that.  I blame it on the caffeine deficiency.

Anyway, my point is that the pancakes still tasted great, but were much thinner than I had intended them to be.  It’s not necessary to add the extra milk like I did.  If you follow the recipe and don’t add any extra milk, your pancakes will be thicker than the ones photographed here.  Just stir the batter when you pull it out of the fridge in the morning and start frying!

Custom Pancake Bar 7

I used an ice cream scoop to measure out the batter.  My oldest daughter measured out one or two, but I mostly did that part.

And (again) make sure there are plenty of reminders of how hot the griddle gets and how much we realllly don’t want to touch it.

Cooking is fun, but safety is important too.

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Some of the add-ons made things a little sticky, so make sure to add more butter, or non-stick spray, when flipping the pancakes.

You can see where we made some with only one topping, like mini chocolate chips, and others which were combinations of toppings, like the one with chocolate chips, walnuts, and cinnamon sugar.

Custom Pancake Bar 9

Don’t those look delicious??

You can see where the cake sprinkles seeped color into the rest of the pancake, but the flower sprinkles held their shape and color nicely.  Both tasted nice, and the thicker sprinkles gave a little sugary crunch to the pancake.

I put them on the platter with the topping side up and spread them out so you could see which was which.

Leftovers refrigerate and freeze nicely.

Let’s get cooking…

Overnight or Now Vanilla Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
4 tablespoons (half stick) butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Optional:  Toppings like mini chocolate chips, nuts, sprinkles, chopped fruit, etc.

Combine the milk and vinegar and allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes to “sour” into buttermilk.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk eggs, melted butter, and vanilla into the milk.  Then whisk the milk mixture into the flour until the large lumps are gone.  Make sure all the ingredients are fully incorporated, but don’t over mix.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or use right away.

Before cooking, stir in any extras you’d like.  For example, you can mix in about 1/2 cup of miniature chocolate chips, blueberries, strawberry pieces, or something similar.  Or you can do the Custom Pancake Bar (see below).  For the Custom Pancake Bar, do not mix anything extra into the batter.

To make pancakes, preheat a large skillet or griddle to medium heat.  Coat surface with butter or nonstick cooking spray, and spoon about 1/4 cup of batter onto cooking surface for each pancake.  Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, then flip and cook 2 minutes or until browned on the other side.

Serve with syrup.  Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen.  Makes 15 to 20 pancakes.

For Custom Pancake Bar:  Do not mix extras into batter.  Leave batter plain.  After scooping batter onto griddle, sprinkle your toppings over the pancake.  When it bubbles, flip the pancake and cook for about 2 minutes or until lightly browned on the other side.

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Click here for the free printable PDF copy of the recipe:

Overnight Or Now Pancake Recipe

Follow me on Facebook or Pinterest for more recipes!

Happy Cooking!

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Painting with Crayons & Water Colors

Painting with Crayons and Water Colors 1

This was one of those super-simple craft projects that’s nearly free.  You may already have all of the supplies on hand, but this changes things up from a normal painting or coloring project because it mixes the mediums.

It’s also a lot of fun.

What we did was create a drawing with crayons, and then color it in with watercolor paints.  We did some regular pictures (butterflies and flowers) and some that were patterns of lines and shapes.

And don’t mind the ancient crayon box full of mixed crayon types…. this is a “rediscovered” conglomerate of art supplies from my own youth. We use what we can here… it’s part of what makes this craft free, or nearly-free (the water colors are new).   We keep a craft drawer of leftover supplies from other projects, too, and sometimes we have a free-for-all craft with whatever we can find.

The kids love it.

Painting with Crayons and Water Colors 2

We discovered that the crayon looks much better if you draw thicker lines to help it stand out against the paint.  It also creates a neat, smooth texture.

And we experimented with the paint as well.

My older daughter tried painting with her fingers, instead of the brush, and she also would tilt the paper in different directions to see what happened when the excess paint dripped across her picture.

Painting with Crayons and Water Colors 3

My youngest daughter tried different things, like using multiple paintbrushes at one time.  This project gave them both the freedom to be creative in their own ways.

This project was cheap (free if you already have the crayons, paint, and paper) and easy to set up.  It gave them a creative outlet, and it kept them busy for a long time.  It had a lot of benefits on top of the fun-factor.

Plus, I had some beautiful fridge-worthy artwork at the end of it.

Here are a few of the finished products, including one of mine:

Painting with Crayons and Water Colors 4

Happy Crafting!

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Book Review: A Unicorn Named Sparkle

A Unicorn Named Sparkle

I recently read A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young and it seriously gave me a case of the giggles.

I mean, it’s a story about a little girl who orders a unicorn for 25 cents from an ad in the back of a magazine (whoever tells you that’s not a dream come true is lying), but what shows up is a goat with an ice cream cone stuck to his forehead.

How can you not love this premise?

It’s a delightful picture book that my children found to be fun and silly.  The illustrations are bright and colorful and … sparkly.

Lucy’s wild hair and polka dot shirt are painted with soft watercolors and dance across pages of wide white spreads, and the baby unicorn/goat practically dances right into your heart with his own little heart-shaped cutie mark.

Now, when Lucy imagines what kind of unicorn will be delivered to her, she pictures something perfect and pretty with a flowing mane and impeccable manners.  When the goat arrives, with his scruffy mane and tendency-to-eat-things manners, she decides to return him.

The truck arrives to take him back, but, luckily, Lucy realizes her mistake before it’s too late.

Because although he was not quite what she expected, “she had to admit:  sometimes he made her smile and sometimes he made her laugh.”  And while friends might not always be perfect, they are certainly precious.

So if you or your kids love unicorns (or goats), check out A Unicorn Named Sparkle for a fun and charming story!

Happy Reading!

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Strawberry Butter

Strawberry Butter 1

I made some Strawberry Butter with my kids for a fun sweet treat, so I wanted to share it with you.

It was super simple to make (just 3 ingredients), and it made for a fun snack or breakfast dish.

It’s the type of dish you could make when you wake up in the morning for a fresh homemade breakfast with very little effort.

Strawberry Butter 2

The first time we made it, my oldest daughter said it was actually too sweet, so we adjusted it for less sugar the next time, which is what you’ll find in the printable recipe below.

It was also a nice way to use up some extra strawberries, since my girls prefer to eat strawberries only when they’re fresh and crisp.  Once they start to get soft, I have to incorporate them into a recipe.  They won’t eat “mushy” berries.

But mushy or crisp strawberries both work for this.

You could use the butter to top any kind of bagel or English muffin or pancakes, but we like it in the King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, which is what you see in my photos.

Make sure your butter is completely room temperature when you start, to make it a quick and simple process.  If you’re going to make it in the morning, leave the butter out overnight.

You can refrigerate this Strawberry Butter if you don’t use it all right away, but allow it to come to room temperature before serving.  Or at least don’t use it right out of the fridge, because it will be too stiff.

Strawberry Butter

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup diced strawberries, fresh or frozen

In a small bowl, beat the butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy.  Stir in the strawberries and mix well by hand.

Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature before serving for best results.  Best if used within three days.

Note:  You can use salted or unsalted butter for this.  The salted butter will balance out the sweetness.  And you can use fresh or frozen strawberries, but keep in mind the frozen strawberries may add more juice to the butter, and be sure to thaw them fully first.

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And click below for the printable PDF version:

Strawberry Butter

Happy Eating!

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Nutella Chocolate Birds Nests

Nutella Chocolate Birds Nests Recipe

We’ve made Chocolate Birds Nests in the past, but this year we changed it up…. by adding Nutella!

These Nutella Chocolate Birds Nests were a lot of fun to make with my girls.  It gets them in the kitchen with a combination of cooking and crafting.

And we also picked up a little Edible Grass this time around.  It’s easy to snip into bite-sized pieces with kitchen shears and adds a nice visual touch, but it isn’t necessary if you’re having a tough time finding it.  (And I picked mine up for half off after Easter – since these can be a fun treat all season long.)

Nutella Chocolate Birds Nests 2

All our ingredients gathered and ready to go….

Since there is no actually baking involved, it’s mostly mixing and shaping and decorating, once the chocolate chips are melted.

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Melt the chocolate at half power, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth.

Then stir in the Nutella.

(And, yes, my kids are wearing superhero costumes while we cook.  That’s how we roll at our place.)

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I slowly poured in the noodles while they stirred.

Make sure all the noodles get covered in the chocolate mixture, because that is the glue that holds everything together.

Nutella Chocolate Birds Nests 5

Spray some nonstick baking spray in the muffin tins and scoop in some of the chocolate noodles.

You want to be able to shape them into nests with your fingers, so with a small indention in the center, or at least flat as opposed to hill-shaped.  If it’s too bumpy and you’re having trouble flattening it, just take some out.

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Put three eggs in the center of the nest and sprinkle a little edible grass over top, if you like.

You can see that my kids also added a few of the confetti-like bunnies that came with the edible grass.

This recipe makes 24 nests, but if that’s just too much for you, you could half the recipe.  Or share with all the neighbors.

When you first make them, the nests will be gooey and will fall apart if you try to pick them up.  They are still okay to eat, especially for anxious kids who want to try their creations, but they’re much easier to eat if you let the chocolate set first.

Put the pans in the fridge for an hour or so to help the chocolate set (because if you live in a humid place like me, that would take forever at room temperature), and then scoop them out with a spoon.  Preferably a plastic spoon so you don’t scratch the metal.

Store them in covered containers, using waxed paper to separate stacked layers.

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Chocolate Nutella Birds Nests

Ingredients:

1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup Nutella
12 oz. chow mein noodles
72 candy-coated malted milk chocolate eggs (I used Whoppers Robin Eggs)
Edible Grass, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)

Melt the chocolate chips in a large microwave-safe bowl at half power, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth.  Stir in the Nutella.

Pour the noodles into the chocolate mixture and stir gently until they are all fully coated.

Spray 24 muffin tins with nonstick baking spray and scoop a spoonful of the noodle mix into each tin.  Move the noodles with a spoon or your fingers so that they are shaped like a nest.

Place 3 chocolate eggs in the center of your nest while the chocolate is still slightly melted.  Sprinkle a little edible grass over the top, if desired.

Put the nests in the refrigerator for at least an hour to allow the chocolate to set.  Remove from the muffin tins with the help of a spoon.

Store in a closed container in the fridge, using waxed or parchment paper to separate stacked layers.

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And here’s the free printable PDF of the recipe:

Nutella Chocolate Birds Nests

Happy Eating!

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Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Annnnnd….. now that it’s almost Easter, I’ve noticed that I’ve completely forgotten to post our St. Paddy’s Day dessert.  So here it is!  ;)

We made these Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Cookie Bars based off of the Lemon Cheesecake Bars that I love so much.  But we made these green (and mint) to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

They were a hit with both my kids and my coworkers, so I may try other variations in the future, since the recipe is flexible.

Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Bars 2

The ingredients are pretty easy to pull together, especially if you already happen to have cream cheese on hand.

The base for it is a box of cake mix, which makes it a speedy dish to throw together.

Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Bars 3

The crust will seem a little dry at first, but massaging the ingredients together will help.

If your kids like to get messy, this is a great job for them to help with.

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You’ll reserve some of the mix for the crumbles that go over the top, but the rest gets pressed into the bottom of the pan.  This is also a good task for little hands.

The crust will seem very thin but don’t worry, it will rise a little as it bakes.  Just be sure you spread it out to cover the entire bottom surface of the pan.

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I add the food coloring to the cheesecake ingredients before blending, so the mixer brings it all together evenly.

The more you use the deeper the color will be.  I was going for bright and bold because it was a themed dessert for St. Patrick’s Day, but if you’re going for a subtler minty look, start with only a little color.

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You can see tiny chunks of cream cheese in my cheesecake mixture because it wasn’t fully at room temperature when I mixed it.

This is okay, though.  It will still bake up just fine.

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Sprinkle the crumbles over the top for a fun look.  They also add a nice texture to the finished dessert.

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You can technically cut them into any shape you’d like, but I favor the rectangles.  I cut it twice lengthwise, and then cut those three rows into pieces about an inch thick.

This gives me 30 pieces, which makes it a great recipe for sharing!

Don’t eat these when they first come out of the oven and are still warm – chill them for the best results.  They can be enjoyed at room temperature too, but because of the cream cheese, you’ll want to be sure to store leftovers in the refrigerator.

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Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Ingredients:

1 box chocolate cake mix (15 to 18 oz.)
2 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Green food coloring, gel or liquid

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

In one bowl, combine the cake mix, one egg, and the vegetable oil.  You may need to use your fingers to help it all come together.

Spray a 13” x 9” baking pan with nonstick spray.  Reserve about 3/4 cup of the chocolate crumb mixture for later use, and press the remaining batter into the pan.  It will be thin but should cover the entire bottom of the pan.

In another bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth.  Then mix in the other egg, the sugar, extract, and a little food coloring.  Beat until smooth, adding more food coloring if needed until you reach your desired color.

Spread the cream cheese mixture over the chocolate crust in the pan.  Sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture evenly over the cream cheese.

Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with dry crumbs.  Cool on a baking rack until it reaches room temperature, then slice.  Make two cuts lengthwise and then cut into ten pieces across to make 30 pieces that measure approximately one by three inches.  Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving for best results.

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For the free printable PDF version of this recipe, click the link below:

Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Happy Baking!

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Fiona’s Luck: a Book Review

Fiona's Luck

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, I’ve seen a few book recommendation lists that include Fiona’s Luck, which is written by Teresa Bateman and illustrated by Kelly Murphy.

I love seeing this book recommended at any time of year, however, because it is simply one of my very favorite picture books.

Both of my children love it, but of course it is my eldest, Fiona, who gets especially excited about it.  My girls love to find their names in books or movies, as most children do, and that was what attracted me to Fiona’s Luck in the first place.

And I am so happy I decided to buy it.

Not only does it give me a chance to have fun playing around with my horrible Irish accent (which is possibly more entertaining to me than my kids), but it delivers a wonderful lesson in the form of a fun and engaging story.

Fiona is a young woman in Ireland, living in a time after the Leprechaun King has stolen all the luck that used to be floating freely around the country, and locked it away in a big wooden chest.  He was upset that all of the luck floating around out there was getting attached to the Big Folk, and so he decided to keep it all for himself.

But he took ALL of the luck, every bit of it, and with no luck left floating around Ireland, a famine developed.  The cows wouldn’t let down milk, the hens weren’t laying eggs, and the potatoes rotted in the ground.

Fiona uses her wits to trick everyone into thinking that she is in fact very lucky by pretending to harvest potatoes and be overloaded with baskets of eggs and buckets of milk.

Her ruse works, and the Leprechaun King magically transports her to his throne room to demand that she return the luck.  Since she knows she is not lucky, she uses that to her advantage when he challenges her to tests of luck.  And though she fails all of his tests, she wins something much greater:  a little bit of the luck that he had locked away.  And as it turns out, a little bit is enough.

Fiona's Luck

Illustrations © Kelly Murphy

Amidst this tale of a woman who would rather have her “wits about her” than all the luck in the world, are gorgeously painted illustrations.  While reading the story, there is so much for kids to look at, and so many beautiful details for their eyes to peruse (like tiny sparkles of luck or hidden leprechauns).

The mood of the story comes alive against the soft natural colors, with the gloomier parts reflected by more subdued shades, and the lighter moments highlighted by the playful twinkling of the luck.  The friendly faces set against the sprawling Irish countryside makes for gorgeous viewing for adults and kids alike.

I highly recommend this book.  You won’t regret sharing the brave and spirited Fiona with your own amazing kids!

Happy Reading!

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