Graham-a Crackers

On October 3, 2013, by Glenda Embree- BusyAtHome

Sometimes the simplest things are the best way to connect and start conversations.  Sometimes, they become time-honored traditions and memories that will last a child a lifetime.  Sometimes, they say, “I love you sooooooo much and your smile just melts my heart.”  Sometimes, we’re lucky and they are, and do, all of those things.  Graham-a [...]

Sometimes the simplest things are the best way to connect and start conversations.  Sometimes, they become time-honored traditions and memories that will last a child a lifetime.  Sometimes, they say, “I love you sooooooo much and your smile just melts my heart.”  Sometimes, we’re lucky and they are, and do, all of those things.  Graham-a Crackers fit that definition.  :)

As our grandchildren have grown and learned to talk, we have had the opportunity to laugh and enjoy their attempts to translate the English language and define the things in their world.  Our oldest granddaughter went from calling me Nana to Gramma Nana as part of her earliest vocabulary.  The funny part about this is that it wasn’t related to anything about Grandma, but about bananas.  :)  I always made sure to have bananas on hand for her.  (Seven years later, I still do.)  From the time she could toddle into our house on her own, she would burst through the door and run to me as fast as her short little legs could carry her, saying, “Nana.  Nana.”  Now, she was actually calling me that, but she was also asking for a banana.  I and bananas were synonymous.  lol  I can’t remember when the Nana part finally fell off and I became just Gramma, but it ‘s such a fun memory to remember the Grandma-banana connection that was such a big part of Katie’s first year.

Graham-a Crackers

Graham-a Crackers – simple, tasty and they’ll make you a legend with your kids and grandkids!

Another one of my favorite memories, also connected to grandkids, is Graham-a crackers.  Instead of mistaken (or merged) identity, though, our now four-year-old grandson, actually thought we were saying Gramma, when we would offer him graham crackers at our house.  They have been lovingly dubbed Graham-a Crackers ever since and when Grandpa is home, Graham-a crackers MUST have chocolate filling, so that version has become the most favorite of all Graham-a Cracker and is the one I am sharing with you, today.  It is the simplest of all snacks/cookies and will be a hit with young and old alike.  They are almost always spread with left-over frosting of some sort, rather than making something new.  On this particular occasion, I had melted semi-sweet chocolate chips, for dipping a new truffle recipe (I’m sharing that one with you, tomorrow!) and I spread the leftovers on graham crackers and stuck them in the fridge.  These are MY personal favorite version of Graham-a Crackers, as they have much less messy filling.  The melted chips harden and give that wonderful sandwiched-in chocolate flavor without the squishy mess of soft frosting.  Try this, today, as an afterschool snack with a glass of milk and I promise, you’ll be a hero!

Graham-a Crackers

Graham-a Crackers

Ingredients

  • 20 - 25 graham crackers
  • 1 (12 oz) pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and melt on high power for 1 to 2 minutes. After the first minute, check and stir every 15 seconds, to see if the desired consistency has been reached.
  2. Break each graham cracker in half, along the perforation.
  3. Spread a thin layer of melted chocolate on a chocolate square.
  4. Cover with another square, creating a chocolate "sandwich" cookie.
  5. Repeat until all graham crackers have been filled.
  6. Refrigerate until set up.
  7. Enjoy!
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Do you have any nonsense word traditions or memories, created by your kids or grandkids, that still make you smile?  Did any of them “stick” and are still being used, today, like Graham-a Crackers?

Decorating Easter Eggs for the Make-a-Wish Foundation with PAAS and Heinz

On March 30, 2012, by Glenda Embree- BusyAtHome

More than 180,000,000 eggs!  That’s a lot of egg salad — AND the number of eggs that Americans typically decorate for Easter.  It sort of boggles the mind, doesn’t it?    Paas Egg Decorating Kits and Heinz Vinegar are as much a part of that tradition, as the eggs.  We were using both, even, when I [...]

paas

All you need for an afternoon of egg decorating fun with the kids!

More than 180,000,000 eggs!  That’s a lot of egg salad — AND the number of eggs that Americans typically decorate for Easter.  It sort of boggles the mind, doesn’t it?    Paas Egg Decorating Kits and Heinz Vinegar are as much a part of that tradition, as the eggs.  We were using both, even, when I was a child.  You know — back with Abe Lincoln and the dinosaurs.  :)   It was always a fun part of our family Easter tradition and something we looked forward to doing.  Today, it’s still a budget-friendly family activity!

egg decorator app

An iPad screen shot from the Egg Decorator app.

You can keep up your family tradition, and this year, you can add some new fun, while you help the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  Paas and Heinz have teamed up to create a FREE app for the iPad, called “Egg Decorator”.  Just search iTunes for Paas/Heinz and download the app.  These generous companies will donate $1 for each egg that is decorated and shared, up to $25,000!  So, go decorate some virtual eggs and start a new tradition of fun and giving with your kids, for Easter.

Paas products

We used a Classic Kit from Paas. Here's what was inside.

Once you’ve shared the virtual fun, gather the family in the kitchen and break out the Paas Egg decorating kits and Heinz Vinegar.  With eight new kits available, you can have a decorating bonanza!  You can try out the new Go Wild kit, with trendy animal print patterns or the 3D Eggsplosion, that allows you to view your designs in 3D.  There are so many other great kits and they’re easy to find at your local grocery stores, retail stores and markets.  Give it a whirl.  You and your kids will have a blast!

egg bands

We decided to try a couple of new techniques, so wrapped rubber bands around some of the eggs before dying them, to create stripes and designs in the colors.

 

crayon

We also tried drawing designs with a wax crayon,so that it would work as a "resist", before dying the eggs.

 

paintbrush

We also tried dripping designs onto the eggs with a paintbrush and several colors. This was a little messy, but the eggs turned out so cool!

 

finished eggs

Beautiful for decorating, yummy for eating and a fun activity for the family! Grab a Paas Egg Decorating kit, some Heinz Vinegar and enjoy the fun with your own kids!

 

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Heinz and PAAS and received a Heinz Vinegar bottle, a PAAS Egg Dyeing Kit, and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.  As with all Busy-at-Home reviews, the views and opinions expressed are wholly my own and based on my personal experience with the product.

 

Mardi Gras Traditions and Our House Party

On February 11, 2010, by Glenda Embree- BusyAtHome

The kids and I are learning all the things we never knew we never knew about Mardi Gras.  Since we were selected to host a Zatarain’s Mardi Gras House Party through www.houseparty.com we have been researching exactly what it is.  I have never been to Mardi Gras and all my preconceived notions about it are [...]

The kids and I are learning all the things we never knew we never knew about Mardi Gras.  Since we were selected to host a Zatarain’s Mardi Gras House Party through www.houseparty.com we have been researching exactly what it is.  I have never been to Mardi Gras and all my preconceived notions about it are based on the sensationalistic reports of the media, each year.  I had no idea of its origins.

The season for Mardi Gras begins on January 6th each year, and runs all the way through Fat Tuesday (the day before Pentecost).  Mardi Gras is literally translated “Fat Tuesday”.  The 12th day after Christmas is sometimes called “Twelfth Night” or “King’s Day”,  supposedly coinciding with the day the Magi brought gifts to Jesus.

The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple, which symbolizes justice; green, which stands for faith; and gold, which represents power.  Mardi Gras decorations, costumes and even food will often be found in these colors.

Another tradition, unique to Mardi Gras is the serving of something called a King Cake.  It’s a tradition that came to New Orleans in the 1870′s with the French settlers.  King Cake really is not a cake at all, but more of a ring of cinnamon rolls or pastry, drizzled in icing and sprinkled with sugar in the traditional Mardi Gras colors.  It is usually shaped in an oval or ring to symbolize the unity of faiths.  Prior to the mid-1900′s, coins, beans, pecans, and peas were baked into the cake.  Wealthy landowners were even known to hide precious stones or jewels in their King Cakes.  Now, since the mid-1900′s, a small plastic baby has come to symbolize the Holy Day, and is hidden in the pastry.  The guest who finds the baby in their slice is King or Queen for the day and is obligated to host the party and supply the King Cake the following year.

While the origins of Mardi Gras are primarily from Medieval Europe, the way it is typically celebrated today, with Mardi Gras colors, brass bands and Kings can be traced to New Orleans.  Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, a French-Canadian explorer, landed south of New Orleans in 1699 and in 1702, built Fort Louis de la Mobile (which is now Mobile).  This is the site of the first Mardi Gras celebration in the New World. Seventeen years later, New Orleans was established to the north and by 1730, Mardi Gras was being openly celebrated there.  Early celebrations were elegant balls thrown by the city’s governors.

The earliest references to “Carnival” date from 1781 and by the 1830′s, New Orleans was holding street processions with masked participants.  The throwing of trinkets to the crowds was started in the early 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers.  In 1872, it was local businessmen who started the tradition of having a King of Carnival, “Rex”.  It was at this time that daytime parades began and Mardi Gras colors, a song and even a flag were established.  In 1873, floats began showing up in the parades and in 1875, then Louisiana governor, Henry Clay Warmoth, declared Mardi Gras a state holiday.

So, Mardi Gras, as we think of it, today, has definitely been a process of evolution.

“Fat Tuesday”, February 16, did not work out for our family as a party day, so our Zatarain’s Mardi Gras House Party is going to be held on Sunday afternoon, February 21.  Our first Mardi Gras celebration and already we are outside the traditions.  – lol -  But as always, House Parties are more of a promotional tool for the company sponsoring them, (in our case Zatarains), than anything else.  We will bake our own King Cake and fun masks in the traditional Mardi Gras colors will be available.  Thanks to Zatarains, there are even trinkets (beads and dubloons in green, purple and gold) for our party guests.  The party pack for this party was actually extremely generous and will give us an opportunity to showcase the Zatarains products very nicely.

The party pack includes:

  • Jambalaya Mix
  • Reduced Sodium Red Beans & Rice
  • Creole Mustard
  • Root Beer Extract
  • Creole Seasoning
  • 1 Zatarain’s Apron
  • 1 Mardi Gras Party Guide
  • 1 Sample Mardi Gras Menu
  • 6 Mardi Gras Recipe Cards
  • 5 feathered Mardi Gras Masks (and our family is supplying some others for additional guests and party decorations)
  • 15 sets of Mardi Gras Beads
  • 15 sets of 3 Doubloons
  • 15 Money Saving Coupons for Zatarain’s Products
  • 75 Gift Cards for 35 Free MP3 Songs from E-Music

I have done a rough plan of the menu and found the recipes I will be using.  This is still somewhat fluid as I am not 100% certain on the King Cake, yet.  Plus, though not traditionally a “Mardi Gras food”, I want to make beneigts…so I am.  Ü  We will have Carnival Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice, a veggie platter with Creole Mustard dip, Crackers with Cream Cheese and Hot Pepper Jelly, Root Beer Float Bars, and Beneigts.

We’ll do another post with pictures of decorations, food and the actual party, later in the month.  It’s going to be  a fun party!  There will be lots of purple, green and gold.  I will model the Zatarains apron  Ü, we will taste and evaluate the Zatarain’s products and enjoy a wonderful time with friends and family.  If you have never hosted or attended a House Party, you should click on over to their website and sign up.  If you are selected as a host, you will receive a party pack from the sponsoring company absolutely free and have a chance to try some new products, (and sometimes be educated, like we were about Mardi Gras), share the new products with your guests and enjoy your favorite people in the process.

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Thanksgiving Essentials

On November 24, 2009, by Glenda Embree- BusyAtHome

Of course there is always turkey with creamy mashed potatoes and gravy.  There must be stuffing, sweet potatoes and corn.  Everyone knows that.  They are part of the original Thanksgiving Constitution.  But, Thanksgiving dinner must also include all the side dish essentials that are personal to each individual family — the food that traditions are [...]

Of course there is always turkey with creamy mashed potatoes and gravy.  There must be stuffing, sweet potatoes and corn.  Everyone knows that.  They are part of the original Thanksgiving Constitution.  But, Thanksgiving dinner must also include all the side dish essentials that are personal to each individual family — the food that traditions are made of.  I want to share two that our family would never imagine Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without — Orange Salad and Cranberry Salad.

Years ago, when our oldest daughters were small I unearthed the orange salad recipe from an old Mary Kay cookbook.  There has never been an Embree holiday meal without it, since.  It’s creamy, cool and citrusy.  It is sweet and delectable.  The cranberry salad is born of my distaste for the typical quivering plate of canned cranberry sauce and combines bits and pieces of different recipes I have seen over the years.  Aesthetically, it is lovely, with a deep crimson color to contrast with other holiday fare.  Flavorfully, it is outstanding, a perfect sweet-tart complement to the turkey, and boasts a wonderful combination of textures.  Both of these should be prepared the day before, but hurry, there is still time to make them both and you will be so glad you did!  Your family will adore you, your tummy will thank you and a hush of peace will hover over the land.  (Don’t get too excited, it’s just the turkey-induced nap, but hey, take a hush of peace wherever you can get it!)

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

(Right click on any image and select View Image to see it a little bit larger.

Images of finished salads will be added as soon as mine are set up.)

Orange Salad

  • 3 small boxes orange gelatin
  • 3 small boxes cook and serve vanilla pudding
  • 3 small boxes tapioca pudding mix (This is not straight tapioca.  Jello makes it and it is a pudding mix on the shelf with all the other pudding flavors.)
  • 3 small cans of mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 small tub of Cool Whip
  • 6 cups of water

Empty all the jello and pudding mixes into a large stock pot or sauce pan.  Add the water, and over medium heat, bring to a boil.  Stir constantly, to avoid scorching.  Once the mixture reaches a full, rolling boil, allow it to continue to cook until it has thickened.  Remove from the heat and cool.

Pour into a covered container and refrigerate for at least 4 -6 hours – overnight is best.  Remove jello mixture from the fridge and stir in the tub of Cool Whip and the drained mandarin oranges.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cranberry Salad


  • (2) 12 oz. bags of fresh cranberries
  • 5 or 6 medium-sized apples, peeled and diced
  • 4 stalks of celery, minced
  • 1 cup of walnuts or pecans (Though I usually prefer pecans in most recipes, I like walnuts best in this.)
  • 3 small boxes raspberry jello
  • 2-3 cups sugar, this is to taste
  • 3 cups boiling water

Coarsely grind the cranberries.  I do this in my blender.  Fill the blender 2/3 full with cranberries and then add enough water to cover them.  Put the lid on (this is critical – lol) and use the pulse button or if yours doesn’t have pulse, just cycle the blender off and on, off and on, until the cranberries are coarsely ground, but not mush.  Pour the blender contents into your strainer and let the liquid drain while you grind the next batch and repeat the process until all cranberries have been processed.  It is VERY important to drain all the liquid from the cranberries before proceeding.

Peel and dice apples.  Add to drained cranberries.

Finely chop or mince the celery.  Pieces should be quite small, not bite-sized.  Add the minced celery to the cranberry-apple mixture.

Stir in the nuts and then add the sugar.  Stir well and make sure the sugar has coated all the pieces of fruit.  It will start to “sweat” a bit of syrup from the fruit, so don’t panic if you see liquid, now.

Dissolve the raspberry gelatin in the boiling water. (Do NOT add additional cold water as package directions indicate.)

Put your cranberry mixture into the bowl you would like to serve it in or for the very adventurous, your gelatin mold.  Press it down firmly in the bowl.  Pour the dissolved gelatin over the top and refrigerate until set.

Printable Orange Salad Recipe

Printable Cranberry Salad Recipe


So, what is the Thanksgiving essential at your house?  What would it not be Thanksgiving dinner without?  I’m looking forward to hearing about your own personal traditions.

Stay warm and be blessed.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Blessing Box

On November 12, 2009, by Glenda Embree- BusyAtHome

Psalm 100 A Psalm of Thanksgiving. Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;  We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  [...]

Psalm 100
A Psalm of Thanksgiving.

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;  We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.  For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.

We’re freshly moved and almost completely unpacked.  As I sit here this morning, it occurs to me that we don’t have a Blessing Box this year.  When our grown daughters were small we started this tradition.  Over the years, we have had times when we were so caught up in life and just getting through it, that we didn’t really stop to enjoy everything in a day that is a blessing, a gift.  There are so many, no matter what your present circumstances.  A Blessing Box is a way, even for just a moment, to take a deep breath and be thankful, to stand still in the middle of your day and say, “Thank you, Lord.  I know you’re in this and I am so blessed to  ______________ .  You fill in the blank.

Ideally, you will make this box, as a family, on Thanksgiving; and then have the whole year to get it ready for next Thanksgiving. You could hurry and whip one up for this year, but this is my personal experience when we have done that in “off” years.  People tend to try to “fill the box” and so something is lost in the heartfelt thanks of the moment.  It’s more about the box than being thankful.  My suggestion is to work together on Thanksgiving Day and make it beautiful.  Then take a year to “count your blessings”.   Next Thanksgiving, when you open that box and pour your “mountain of blessings” in the center of the table to read, you and your family will be reminded of just how much you have been blessed and cared for and as you read through what others have written, you will share and relive those awesome memories.

I don’t have pictures handy of the ones we have done in the past, so I have scanned the Internet for a few  picture ideas to share with you.  The images on this page are some great decorated box ideas from the web.  With any luck, my menopausal brain will remember to come back and post the picture of the one we do this year.  If not, then my sister or one of the kids can remind me.  lol

Here’s all you will need:

  • cardboard box (large enough to hold a year’s worth of blessings)
  • construction paper, wrapping paper, fabric, paint, markers, crayons, tape, glue
  • rhinestones, sequins, foam shapes, shells, glitter, ribbon or other decorative items
  • scissors
  • plain white paper
  • pencil or pen
  • 12 – 18 inches of string or yarn
  1. Construction is pretty simple.  You will want to wrap or paint your box and decorate it. Just remember to leave a way to open the box, later.  Wrap the lid separately so it can be lifted off, or leave the bottom unwrapped, etc.  Our kids always had very specific ideas about what should be on a Blessing Box and I bet yours will, too.  They can write verses on it.  They can make or glue pictures of things they are thankful for on it.  Or they may just want it to look like a treasure box or a jeweled box for a king.  Their minds are so creative and if you let them, they will create something very significant, telling you all along the way, why they are doing what they are doing.  This project allows for so much good conversation and those “teachable moments” where you remind them that everything we have, all that we are, and ever will be, is because of God’s love, mercy and grace.
  2. Somewhere, high on the side, or in the top carefully cut a slot that is big enough to slide slips of paper through.
  3. Use your white paper to cut small slips of paper, maybe 2″x3″, whatever works best for the little fingers in your family.
  4. Knot one end of your string around a pen or pencil and tape the other end of the string to the top of your box.  That way you are never left without something to write down the blessings.
  5. Place the box in a commonly used area of your home. Set the stack of paper slips next to it and remember to check periodically, to see if more need to be added.  (They will disappear very quickly at first.  -  lol)

As you or a family member passes the box, you will stop and consciously think of ways you have been blessed.  Jot them on a slip of the paper and tuck it inside the box until Thanksgiving.  You will have a veritable avalanche of praises when you open it up.  It’s a simple way of reminding your children (and yourself) how very blessed all of us are and to be thankful to the One who made it possible for us to enjoy that bounty.  If carefully constructed, you can use the same Blessing Box every year; or if the creating is as much a blessing for your family as the rest of the celebration, you may want to make a new box each Thanksgiving.  Either way, use this inexpensive and simple way to share some great activity with your family and reflect all year long on how truly blessed you are.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lord,
Help me to remember to give You thanks in all things, to see your Hand in every situation.  Help me not to be so caught up in life that I miss the opportunity to see every blessing, big and small, and thank you for it.  Thank you for the love of family and the times we can celebrate together and enjoy the blessings of fellowship. Thank you for the chance to teach our children to be thankful and recognize that they are blesssed.
Amen

Easy, Frugal and Meaningful DIY Gifts for Christmas

On November 10, 2009, by Glenda Embree- BusyAtHome

Yes, there are only 44 days left, but no worries, you’ll be fine.    Instead of stressing over the gifts, planning and shopping, remember to take the time to enjoy friends and family and celebrate the gift of Jesus.  It’s easy to get caught up in the world’s frenzy this time of year, but you [...]

Yes, there are only 44 days left, but no worries, you’ll be fine.  :)   Instead of stressing over the gifts, planning and shopping, remember to take the time to enjoy friends and family and celebrate the gift of Jesus.  It’s easy to get caught up in the world’s frenzy this time of year, but you really can give some wonderful gifts without breaking the bank, focus your family on the true meaning of Christmas and enjoy the festivities, instead of fretting over them.

In 2005, I started a tradition in our family that was so well received and was a thorough joy for me to produce and give.  I made a family cookbook and you can do it, too.  It’s simple, personal and something that continues to give throughout the year.  Each year, I make new pages for the recipients to add to their book.

All you will need is:

  • a 3-ring binder with the plastic pocket on the front
  • your favorite family recipes
  • sheet protectors
  • a computer with word processing software
  • images of family and friends
  • the stories and memories that your recipes evoke

For the first edition of my cookbook, I wrote to family members and asked for recipes that had significance or meaning to them or for ones that I remembered from childhood and did not have copies of.  I also used my own recipe files.

As I typed up the recipes, I added pictures of the people who made them or loved to eat them, and added memories about the recipes or people in anecdotes on that page.

All that’s left after you layout your cookbook, is the assembly.  Print it out and put it all together in the binder.  I slipped two pages, back-to-back, into a sleeve protector and inserted that into the 3-ring binder.  It preserves the pages and makes cleanups simple if something spatters when assembling a recipe.

Each cookbook had a personalized cover with the recipient’s name and a graphic that was representative of their own tastes.  Every Christmas, I can put additional pages under the tree and share more great family memories.  Here is a link to the first cookbook, so you have an example of how I put it together.  FAMILY COOKBOOK (This file is the entire first cookbook, so give it a minute to load.  It should open a new window, so you can come back here and read some more, while you wait.)  The cover was not included in this example, since each was customized to the individual recipient.  Get creative and you’ll come up with some great ideas for your covers.  Slide them in the pocket on the front of your binder and your project is complete.  This gift is simple and inexpensive to produce, plus it’s bound to be a hit at a family gift exchange.

The second idea I am using for Christmas, this year, is for our 7 yr old daughter and two granddaughters.  All of them love to be in the kitchen and are great “helpers”.  Our 7 yr old has requested her own apron, because mine are “too big” for her.  I spoke to their mom and she concurs that the granddaughters would love these, too.  I found these adorable patterns for vintage aprons on Ebay and now with a trip to my scrap bag, I can wrap three more great Christmas gifts without spending a ton of money.  Once the sewing is complete, I’ll post pictures of the finished products.

I hope to have time to post other ideas for inexpensive Christmas gifts that will be warmly received by those you love.  In the meantime, any of you that have ideas are welcome to post them here, in the comments.  We can learn and save money when we help each other.

Get creative, have some fun and make some memories for your Christmas morning celebration.  I’ll be back soon with more ideas.

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