Easter Craft Ideas: Artsy Dyed Eggs and Cross Painted Glass Marbles

March 17, 2013

Easter is just two weeks away, so there’s still time to get your Easter craft on! Gather your kiddos or friends, and a few supplies, and have fun creating!

Here is a recap of our favorite Easter craft ideas. Just click on the title for all the instructions and lots more photos.

Silk Dyed Easter Eggs

Natural Dye Colored Easter Eggs

Cross Painted Glass Marble Magnets

Easter Candy Gifts

~BigSis

Spring Forward for Daylight Savings Time

March 9, 2013

Daylight Savings Time

I always look forward to getting that extra hour of light in the evening once we move our clocks forward for daylight savings time in the Spring. The hard part for most of us though is adapting to getting up in the morning since we feel like we’ve lost an hour of sleep. There have actually been studies done that indicate more car accidents, heart attacks and injuries on the job occur immediately after this Spring transition due to sleep deprivation.

As we spring ahead into daylight savings time, it’s important to try to maintain a consistent bedtime and waking schedule.  Since I already have some “pre-menopausal” sleep issues, I really have to make a conscious effort to try and get at least 6 hours of sleep even though 7  hours is supposed to be the amount we really need each night.

Here are just a few tips that might help you get some quality ZZZs during this transition to daylight savings time.

  • If at all possible, go to bed an hour earlier than your normal time starting on Saturday night. If you normally go to bed at 10:00, try going to bed at 9:00 for the first week or so after we move the clocks forward.
  • Try not to drink any alcohol or caffeinated beverages close to bedtime.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine, whether it’s a hot bubble bath or just reading for a few minutes. Try not to work or watch TV in bed and unplug from social networking by leaving your cell phone in another room.
  • I find essential lavender oil to be soothing and relaxing. Just rub some on your pulse points before nighttime. I also love putting on lavender foot cream before bed.
  • Wear an eye mask if you have any light at all coming into your room.
  • If you sleep next to a snorer, like I do, use ear plugs or put a pillow over your head. (That trick works for me if I don’t have earplugs handy.) Having a fan on for some white noise definitely helps too.

I think it would be glorious to get a solid 8 or 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night but for most of us that’s not really practical due to our busy lives. For now, if I get 6 or 7 hours, I can wake up feeling pretty rested. I hope some of these tips help you get a good night’s sleep.

So, don’t forget to move your clocks forward for daylight savings time before you go to bed tonight. Happy snoozing!

~LilSis

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How to Make the Best Blueberry Smoothie

February 24, 2013

The best blueberry smoothie is the perfect way to start my day. My body craves it. Even in the winter, I have to have it. If I include protein powder, a big smoothie will last me for 3 hours until I get hungry for second breakfast.

You do know about second breakfast, right? (Sorry for the dorky “Lord of the Rings” reference. I love those movies.)

Best Blueberry Smoothie Recipe

 

You can throw whatever you like into the blender, but here’s my basic recipe for what I think is the best blueberry smoothie.

Best Blueberry Smoothie

1-1/2 cups frozen organic blueberries
1-1/2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 tsp ground flax seeds
1 heaping scoop unsweetened vanilla brown rice protein powder
1/2 tsp maca powder
1 tblsp coconut oil
Splash of homemade vanilla extract (see note below)
Optional: a tiny bit of chlorella powder

Place everything into a blender and mix until thoroughly blended, adding a little water if the mixture gets too thick. Enjoy!

Notes:

  • I use blueberries because they’re such a nutritional powerhouse, but you can use any fruit. I used to mix in some strawberries, but I’ve been reading that even organic strawberries are likely to contain pesticide residue. I prefer frozen fruit because then I don’t need ice cubes to get a nice freezy texture.
  • My usual liquid is Almond Breeze, but I’ve added a splash of orange juice for flavor when I had it around. I don’t like using much juice though because of the high natural sugar content. If I wanted a sugar buzz, I’d rather have a piece of chocolate.
  • Instead of the flax seeds or in addition to them, I’ve also used hemp seeds and chia seeds. They’re all good in smoothies.
  • Maca is one of my favorite little foods, and I think it’s highly underrated. Google it and see. It’s a powdered Peruvian root that I first read about it in Brendan Brazier’s book Thrive. It helps balance out hormonal issues for menopausal women, and is said to have a variety of other benefits including increasing energy and endurance, and reducing stress and adrenal fatigue. I don’t know about all of the claims, but I can tell you that my hormonal issues are lessened when I use it and I just feel better. I like the Royal Maca brand. It is gelatinized, which means it is less starchy, more potent, more concentrated and easier to digest than raw maca.
  • Coconut oil is another little jewel that I love. It’s supposed to reduce night sweats and other hot flashy problems, as well as helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and provide quick energy since it doesn’t have to be metabolized through the liver first like most other fats. I’d really like to get one more tablespoon of it in my diet each day.
  • Homemade vanilla extract is pretty complicated, so pay close attention. Once I finish a bottle of my favorite vanilla extract, Penzey’s Mexican Vanilla, I keep the vanilla bean inside the bottle and fill it up with the cheapest vodka I can find. Then I just store it in the back of the pantry for a few weeks. I have 3 bottles in rotation, so while I’m using the oldest bottle, I have 2 others marinating in the pantry. Why do this? Because I’m a vanilla extract snob; I like the good stuff which is pricey. There’s no need for it in a smoothie though and this cheap version works perfectly fine.
  • Chlorella is another food I learned about from Thrive. It’s a freshwater algae that is a detoxifying super hero! It helps speed up the rate at which toxins are removed from our bodies, and is even used in cases of mercury overload. You have to respect chlorella for the power it possesses, and add it into your smoothie very, very gradually, otherwise you’re likely to experience bloating and real discomfort. I don’t add in chlorella all of the time, and when I do it’s usually 1/4 tsp or less.

I hope you’ll give the Best Blueberry Smoothie a try, and start your morning with a team of super nutrients that will go to battle for you throughout the day!

~BigSis

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnets for Valentine’s Day

February 10, 2013

Almost 2 years ago, I showed you how to make painted marble magnets with crosses. Remember these?

Glass Marble Magnet Red Cross

Glass Marble Magnet Green Cross

I’ve been making them for years, and I especially like to make them for Easter gifts and Christmas stocking stuffers. There’s another holiday coming up that lends itself perfectly to these little gifties though. Its Valentine’s Day, and that of course means we draw hearts!

The method is the same as I showed you for crosses. With the hearts though, I just freehand it instead of using a guide behind the marble. I’m not sure why I forego a guide with hearts. Maybe it’s a deep-seated psychological ideal that matters of the heart should be allowed to be free to become what they will, rather than following a template.

Nah, that’s not it.

I think I just like the imperfect nature of these drawn freehand and it kind of reminds me of making Valentines as a kid, back when we weren’t so obsessed with everything being perfect. Heart shapes are like pizza to me; even a flawed heart shape is still a happy heart! Bad pizza is still pizza!

If I could give you one piece of advice, however, don’t have 3 cups of coffee like I did before you start painting these! Shaky hands and this project don’t go very well together. Your hearts might be more imperfect than you expect!

I’ve tried a lot of different glass paints, and this time I tried a new one. I bought several bottles of Martha Stewart’s relatively new line of craft paints that are approved for a variety of surfaces, including glass. It’s called Multi-Surface Acrylic Craft Paint, and I chose the pearl finish because I think it’s prettier than flat or plain glossy finishes on the marbles. I chose a variety of pinks and lavenders since it’s Valentine’s Day: Purple Martin, Eclipse, Fruit Punch, Pink Taffeta, and Antique Silk.

Martha Stewart Glass Craft Paint Painted Glass Marble Magnets

Martha also has a new-ish line of glass paint, but it’s slightly more expensive and I wanted to see how this multi-surface paint held up. You can air-cure both paints for 21 days, but you can bake the dedicated glass paint if you wish to speed up the process. For these magnets, neither is necessary since we don’t need the magnets to be food-safe or dishwasher-safe. I’m just reasonably careful with the marbles until the paint has had a chance to bond with the glass.

Overall, I really like Martha’s craft paint. The selection of colors is awesome – as you would expect from Martha. There are also metallic, gloss and glitter finishes in the line too. I would have chosen the glitter variety, but I think it probably would have clogged the tiny painting tips I use.

The coverage was great, and I didn’t get many bubbles which is fantastic. If I could change anything, I might wish for the paint to be the tiniest, tiniest bit thinner so that it took slightly less effort to squeeze the paint out of the itty bitty painting tip. On the upside, when I made dots they held their texture and didn’t completely flatten out.

So, let’s get to it! For more detailed instructions and photos, please refer to my previous post on how to make painted marble magnets with crosses.

The first thing we need to do is gently clean the glass marbles. I like to use straight white vinegar with a water rinse afterwards. Let them dry for a bit, and then dry each one to make sure you don’t get spots. Place them on a foil or paper towel lined baking sheet. Be careful not to touch the surface of the marble with your hands, just to make sure no body oils get on your squeaky clean marble. This will help ensure that the paint adheres.

Attach a metal glass painting tip to the nozzle of a plastic paint bottle. You can get the bottles and tips in a kit at many craft stores. Then just draw a heart, and fill it in with paint.

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnet

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnet Lavender

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnets

If you see any air bubbles form, try to immediately pop them with the painting tip. Allow the paint to dry, at least 2 hours, depending on how thick your paint is.

Once your first coat is dry, go back and apply a second coat. The second coat will be essential if your paint is somewhat sheer or streaky, but I think a second coat always helps to smooth and even out the first coat.

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnets

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnet

I added one little twist with the hearts that I didn’t do with the crosses. I added a sprinkle of glitter to the marble while the second coat of paint was wet, and I like how it came out…sparkly!

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnet 2c

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnet 2

After the second coat of paint is completely dry, I flip the marbles over and apply a thin coat of shimmery white to the back. I think it helps to hide the magnet a little bit, but this is totally optional. My favorite paint for this purpose is PermEnamel in White Pearl. With the crosses, I used a variety of colors for the back of the marbles, just for fun and different effects.

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnet Back

Once that background coat dries, it’s time to get dotty. Using a contrasting color of paint, just make dots all over the hearts with the same painting tip. On some hearts I just make an outline, but on others I go dot wild! Here are the finished heart glass marble magnets.

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnets

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnet d1

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnets d2

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnets d3

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnets d4

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnets d5

After your dots have dried, you can attach a magnet to the back and then decide how to package these little gems.

Heart Painted Glass Marble Magnet Candy Box

This is my favorite way. I think they look like little candy bon bons! I used a tiny paper candy cup tucked inside a clear plastic Wilton box that is often used for wedding favors.

You could also package the marble magnets in small drawstring organza bags with a bit of colored shred, or in a stamped paper mache box like I made for the cross painted magnets. Inside the lid, you could include a scripture that focuses on love, a verse from a favorite poem, or anything else that has meaning for you and the recipient of your gift.

Cross Painted Glass Marble Magnet

However you choose to package these heart painted glass marble magnets, I’m sure that everyone you give one to will appreciate that you created a personal handmade gift just for them! That to me is the meaning of the holiday. Happy Valentine’s Day!

~BigSis

Creamy Kinda Healthy Spinach Dip

February 2, 2013

Creamy Healthy Vegan Spinach Dip

I’ve been pinning some pretty decadent/wicked recipes on Pinterest lately. That’s what we all do, right? It’s no fun to pin a plate of carrot sticks. Boring.

This pin of Game-Day Garlic Knots Monkey Bread is one of the wicked ones. I’m really on a mission to eat clean, so I can’t do bread or even any wheat so Game-day Garlic Knots Monkey Bread is out. Totally out of the question. Boo.

Even while eating WELL, I think it’s still possible to eat FUN. If I go to a Super Bowl party tomorrow, I want to be able to enjoy something warm and gooey and spicy and delicious while I’m watching commercials and Beyonce’s half-time show.

Just because I’m being good right now and trying to make amends for my lack of discipline around the holidays doesn’t mean I have to be deprived. This recipe for Creamy Spinach Dip does the trick for me. Whole Foods was sampling it the other day so I grabbed the recipe and was surprised at how good it was! And as a bonus, it’s vegan, gluten-free, and high fiber!

Whole Foods‘ recipe suggested serving it with celery, carrots and red bell pepper. You can do that if you want, but that’s not my thing. I like it warm and stuffed into little bite-sized tomatoes or served alongside gluten-free crackers. I love Crunchmaster Multi-Seed Crackers and everything from Mary’s Gone Crackers.

Creamy Healthy Vegan Spinach Dip Tomatoes

Creamy Kinda Healthy Vegan Spinach Dip

(based on Whole Foods’ recipe but jazzed up)

  • 2 fresh jalapeño peppers, chopped (seeds removed, if desired)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain almond milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3 cups cooked cannellini beans (or 2 15-ounce cans), rinsed
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 (16 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, prepared and squeezed to remove excess liquid
  • 1/2 cup vegan cheese (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Frank’s Red Hot Sauce to taste

Cook peppers, onion and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat until browned and softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add almond milk and simmer, scraping up any browned bits, for 2 minutes more. Carefully transfer contents of skillet to a food processor along with lemon juice, yeast, beans and avocado and purée until smooth. Stir in spinach, and vegan cheese if using. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Frank’s. Serve warm or at room temperature. To heat dip, keep in a crockpot on low heat, or spread in a baking dish and bake in a 350°F oven until hot throughout, 25 to 30 minutes. Makes enough for a crowd.

 Creamy Healthy Vegan Spinach Dip

By the way, are you following us on Pinterest? We’re BigSisTexas and LilSisCA. Come check us out!

~BigSis

Sausage, White Bean and Spinach Soup

January 22, 2013

Sausage, White Bean & Spinach Soup

Sausage, White Bean and Spinach Soup

Last week when cleaning out some of the clutter in my pantry, I ran across this recipe that I hadn’t filed away.  I’ve only made it once so I had forgotten how delicious and EASY it is!

Luckily,  my guys don’t mind eating Campbell’s Tomato Soup or Chicken Noodle Soup occasionally, but I don’t eat canned soup at all; mainly because it has WAY too much sodium for me.  I absolutely love making homemade soups but since most of us don’t always have that much time, it’s nice to have a few quick and easy, family-pleasing recipes on hand to make on those busy days.

This recipe is very similar to the Hearty Chicken Italian Sausage Soup recipe that I’ve made a couple of times but for some reason, my family really loved this soup.  Anytime I can make something this easy and have the family rave about it, I am one happy camper!

I doubled the amount of sausage from what the original recipe called for and also added three times the amount of spinach, so each spoonful was just perfect! :-)

Soup-Closeup2

Sausage, White Bean and Spinach Soup
(adapted from Cooking Light)

5 turkey Italian sausage links
2 t. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. chopped onion
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2  c. water
1 15 oz. cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
32 oz. low sodium chicken broth
6 cups baby spinach
3 T. chopped fresh basil

Remove sausage from casings. Heat oil in large saucepan and cook sausage in the oil until browned, stirring to crumble. Add onion and garlic to pan, cook for 2 minutes. Stir in water, beans, tomatoes, and broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and cook for another five minutes or so until soup thickens slightly.

Remove from heat and stir in spinach and basil. You can top with grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Note: If you’ve got big grown boys who don’t necessarily consider soup a main course, I made a pound of pasta shells on the side and let them add pasta to their bowls to make the soup a little heartier.

BigSis’ Vegan Twist: This is an easy one! I’d use veggie broth instead of chicken, and just leave out the sausage. Since I’m a kale freak, I might use it in place of the spinach. I love it in soups. On top of being a nutritional powerhouse, it adds a lot of texture, whereas spinach gets more wilty.

I bought the new Trader Joe’s vegan mozzarella shreds recently, and to me they have more of a parmesan vibe so I bet they would be tasty sprinkled in this dish. I think this soup sounds awesome, and I’m trying it soon!

~LilSis

Six Years Without Daddy

January 21, 2013

Elton John Red Piano 1

“You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were.”
-Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Elton John Red Piano 2

~BigSis

Cheesy Black-Eyed Pea Dip

January 10, 2013

blackeyed-pea-dip2

Every year between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day our family consumes a ginormous amount of black-eyed peas; but, I may have finally gone a little bit overboard.  This year my black-eyed pea eating marathon started around noon on New Year’s Eve when I started cooking them and ended late on New Year’s evening when I polished off what was left.

We’ve always said that you can never eat too many peas on New Year’s since they’re supposed to bring you good luck, but I’m sure that I probably consumed several hundred of those little black eyes. Is that overkill?

Don’t know yet. I guess time will tell.

Our Southern family tradition has always been to serve ham, black-eyed peas,  greens and cornbread at midnight on New Year’s Eve. We’ve done it for as long as I can remember and I continue to do it every year whether it’s for a large group of friends or just our family. This was last year’s dinner plate.

peas-and-ham-450x337

This year we were invited to a neighbor’s house for New Year’s Eve so I decided at the last minute to make this Cheesy Black-Eyed Pea Dip to share with our friends for some added good luck!

Cheesy Black-Eyed Pea Dip
(adapted from Recipe Girl)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 medium onion, chopped
16 ounces Mexican-style or regular Velveeta
3 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed & drained
1 medium jalapeño pepper, seeded, ribs removed & diced
1 can stewed tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chilies, drained
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until golden brown. Turn heat to low, add the cheese and stir until melted. Add peas, peppers, chilies, tomatoes, and garlic salt. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour into a crock pot or and serve hot with chips.

Note: I couldn’t find the Mexican Velveeta at my store so I used the regular instead and just added some chopped stewed tomatoes, an extra can of green chilies and an extra can of peas to make it a little chunkier. I also eliminated the green onions from the original recipe because I just don’t like them.

This dip is very similar to another family favorite and one of the guys’  most requested football watching snacks; the infamous Rotel Dip.  The main difference between the two dips is that this one uses the black-eyed peas instead of ground beef, which makes it perfect for vegetarians.

And, something tells me that BigSis knows exactly how to turn this recipe into a yummy vegan dip. :-)

BigSis’ Vegan Twist: You got that right, LilSis. No one loves a dip more than mwah, and I’ve probably eaten my weight in that Rotel dip over the pre-vegan years!

Blackeyed Pea Dip Chip Vegan

This is actually a pretty easy recipe to veganize. Just nix the Velveeta and substitute a vegan queso. You can find several brands on the shelves of Whole Foods and other grocers who carry natural foods. I prefer to make my own with just a few ingredients like flour, nooch, tomatoes with chiles, and a bunch of spices. It sounds weird/gross, but I even feed it to non-vegetarians and they eat it up.

I started with a bunch of sauteed garlic, jalapeno and onion then built my usual queso and tossed in the peas.

Blackeyed Pea Dip Vegan

My version of the black-eyed pea dip is thicker than the Velveeta version, and not that photogenic really, but I’m fine with that. It’s darn tasty, and now it’s gone. Happy new year, everyone!

~LilSis

In-Sync Exotics Bake Sale 2012 Wrap-Up

December 30, 2012

In-Sync Exotics Bake Sale

Could I get a drumroll please? The total for 2012′s charity bake sale benefiting In-Sync Exotics is…

$15,192!

You read that right. After all the contributions were counted and our sponsor matched them dollar for dollar, the grand total was $15,192. Unbelievable!

We, first of all, thank God for blessing this event! We experienced a lot of challenges and spiritual warfare during the planning and execution of this year’s sale. When that happens, it’s always a sign to me that we’re on the right track to something awesome if the Enemy is interfering to that extent. He was and we were!

Second of all, thank you to our sponsors. Paper Mart provided us with a generous discount on all of our packaging, which helped us enormously. Since all of our ingredients, packaging, printing and every other expense comes out of our personal pockets, we really appreciated Paper Mart’s help. Thank you, Paper Mart!

City Vet was back as a third-time sponsor, and we are so grateful for everything they’ve done for our event. They help promote it via social media, and have donated gift cards and a wide variety of fun things for us to sell and give away. They’ve also shopped with us, so we’re doubly blessed by them and their friendship. Thank you, City Vet!

We, of course, are extremely thankful for the 100% matching gift provided for the second year by our employer. We hope these checks will continue to grow each year as they have been so far! 2011′s match was $4,175 and 2012′s was $7,596.

Huge appreciation also goes to the In-Sync Exotics volunteer who donated $2,500 to the bake sale total. You, kind lady, are responsible for $5,000 of the $15,192 that went to In-Sync this year. We don’t even know what to say about that, except that your generosity is an enormous blessing to the big cats and everyone who cares for them. Thank you!

Last – but absolutely not least – I want to thank all of the bakers! My co-workers Kristen and Lauren were back with all their goodies, and also recruited Erica and Susan for cookie duty. My SisMama baked 105 pound cakes (!), and Cyndi brought a wealth of brownies in all flavors. Thanks for doing this with me, girls! We make a good team!

Because we were so darn busy (good problem) during this year’s sale, my photography was a little rushed and skimpy. Following are the photos I did manage to snap before the goodies were snapped up by lots of hungry people with Christmas shopping lists and cash in their hands. Thank you to everyone who made this happen for the wild ones at In-Sync Exotics. We are beyond grateful!

~BigSis

2012 In-Sync Exotics Bake Sale…Now!

December 16, 2012

Gideon, baby bobcat

Gideon the baby bobcat is our poster child for this year’s bake sale!

After much planning, shopping, fretting, stressing, and finally baking, wrapping and packaging…the 2012 Bake Sale benefiting In-Sync Exotics is here! The only things left to do now are to sell like crazy, and pray, pray, pray!

I promised to talk about this year’s goodies, but apparently I got too immersed in actually working on the goodies to get that done! I will absolutely put together a post-sale follow-up with a bunch of photos and results from the day.

Before I get back to sale preparations, I have to say again that we just can’t thank our sponsors enough for their support.  We are very, very grateful to City Vet, Paper Mart and Venable Royalty. This event would definitely not be as successful without everything they do for us, so thank you!

Wish us luck. For the wild ones!!

~BigSis