Sunday, March 18, 2012

Busy Bag - Memory / Matching Cards

One of the moms in my playgroup came up with the idea of doing a busy bag swap. If you're a parent on pinterest you've seen a few hundred different ideas for busy bags, or small activities to entertain your toddlers. The challenge is, who has the time to make them all, let alone the money to buy all of the different types of supplies etc...? So her idea was to get a group of twelve moms together who would each pick a busy bag and make 12 of the same project to swap right before spring break. We all make a project for our kid (plus 11 copies of that project) and walk away with 11 new ideas for entertaining and educational activities to keep them entertained in the car, on a plane, or even at home on a rainy day!

I picked the Memory/Matching Cards. My reasons we two fold 1. It looked easy and like something I could complete quickly, and 2. Andrew has some small books with pictures on the front and he was playing a seek and find type of game with his wonderful nanny where he looked for the one with the duck on the cover, then the one with the ball etc... I figured these cards would be a hit. Instead of using the images on the cards in the pin I decided to create my own. I used some images that Andrew loves and knows the words for (duck, ta-reee, cat, dog, ball...) so that he would catch on to the game quickly and be enthusiastic about playing. I also tried to mix up the colors so that later I can ask him to find the green things (the tree and the turtle etc...). I put these images together in a publisher file and then created a back with question marks for each card. I printed these up, on a single sheet of paper for each set of cards and laminated each sheet then cut the cards. (Ok, to be honest, I had a few issues with the laminating along the way... I don't even want to go into it here because the mistakes I made are too absurd to admit publicly, and my attempted solutions to the perceived problems are even more ridiculous! I'll just give you one small tip that should not have taken me more than 24 hours to figure out... be sure that your laminator is on the highest appropriate heat setting for the thickness of lamination sheet you are using, and maybe run it through twice to be sure it's all good.) So like I was saying, just ran them through the machine and trimmed them up, easy peasy. After trimming them into squares I found the corners to be a little too sharp, so I rounded all of the edges. I highly recommend this, I tried to tough it out but kept getting poked and the rounded edges really are so much nicer feeling and looking. Oh, and I recommend using higher quality paper (maybe even card stock) and springing for the higher weight laminating sheets. Makes for much stronger cards in the end.

Andrew and I have had a lot of fun playing different games with these and I feel like they have a lot of room to grow into more games. Right now I place them all out on the table face down and he flips them over and tells me what they are. Sometimes we match them (working on that) and other times we play a version of 52 card pick up he's invented that he calls "24 card toss on the floor and go find the duck"... his favorite of all of the cards :) I also have a solid sheet that I laminated but never cut that I lay out like a placemat and we match the cards to the "board." I think we're working our way toward the traditional memory game and as I mentioned before we can identify colors etc... as we get further down the road. I put the cards in little drawstring gift bags that I had leftover from my wedding favors (who's a hoarder??) and they are a great size to toss in my purse to take to a restaurant while waiting for our food or for him to play with in the car. I'm really happy with how this project has turned out and may be making more as we master the items in this set. I'm not sure how to make the images I used downloadable on this blog, but if you want me to e-mail you the file just shoot me a message and I'm glad to share.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Toddler Distractor for Diaper Time

Technically this was called a Treasure Bottle by the initial pinner, but who am I kidding, the pom poms, glitter sequins and paperclips that I put in the bottle aren't exactly treasure. But the gold I'm looking for in this project is something to keep my toddler still and entertained for the minute I imagine it would take me to change his diaper if he would just hold still! He loves to play, jump around and generally be active... (I know so unlike most toddlers ;) I love this about him 99% of the time, but the giggling while he rolls over and tries to get up when I'm dealing with a dirty diaper is not so funny... fingers crossed that this works. I'll do an update tomorrow when I see how he reacts. (Side note, I'm using super glue to put the lid on instead of hot glue... gel super glue so holds super strong and fills all crevices... I'll update on those results as well).

UPDATE: The Toddler Distractor seems to be working! Andrew was very intrigued by it and content to sit still long enough to get on a clean pair of shorts! I think I put in a bit too much glitter because you can't really see anything else when it's all shaken up, but the glitter is very eye catching so I do recommend it. I also recommend something that will make a noise as it clinks back and forth in the bottle. The paper clips did that in my bottle and Andrew loved it! Negatives so far... because it's a water bottle he keeps trying to drink out of it... the lid is on very securely so I'm not too concerned. He also seems to enjoy chewing on the bottom of the bottle a bit. Worst case scenario he makes a small hole and we get a little glitter water on the floor... cheap fix, new bottle :)

UPDATE #2: Less than a week later Andrew is officially over the "Distractor" and has found the best way to communicate that is to immediately throw it on the floor... moved my toes just in time. Oh well, good idea in theory... I'm thinking my next attempt may be something made of cotton or feathers so there's less chance of injury when the newness wears off.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Jack and Coke Cupcakes!

A little over a month ago I made Blue Moon Cupcakes for a Superbowl party. They were good, but a friend at the party who shares our preference for Jack and Coke over beer said "you should figure out how to make Jack Daniels cupcakes next" little did he know the power of pinterest. I was on pinterest a day or two later when this recipe for Jack and Coke cupcakes came up! SHUT UP!!! Seriously? I pinned the receipe and planned to make them for next year's party. But then, this same friend had a baby and we planned to go visit and take dinner... what better for desert for new parents than cupcakes with alcohol? Yeah, I couldn't think of anything either so I whipped up a batch.

Of course when I say whipped up, it wasn't quite that simple... first there was shopping for the ingredients. I did a quick scan of the list and made a mental note of what I didn't already have and planned to go to the store later that day. Ran a few errands and found I had more time than I thought so figured I'd go to the store and surely I'd remember everything... not sure why I thought that, my memory is horrible... I guess I forgot. Got some wrong stuff, forgot other stuff, went home and realized back to the store it was.

This time I made sure I had the whole list with me. And while that helped a lot I think my general lack of cooking (particularly when it comes to things from scratch) hurt me a little bit. For example, unsalted butter? Never heard of it... the closest I could find was unsalted sweet butter, is that the same? If not it makes a good substitute because it's what I bought and used. Next up, preferably Dutch-process cocoa powder? Does Hershey have a cocoa powder plant in Holland? If not I'd say they make something pretty darned close, because that's what I used. Heavy cream... heard of that, figured easy enough... hm... the closest options I could find were organic heavy whipping cream, and whipping cream. I went with whipping cream, if that's not right it seemed to be a good substitute.

I made the cupcakes, filling and icing all in the same day. I had enough time, so not a big deal, but it wasn't a quick process. Well worth the effort though, they turned out AWESOME!!! The coke added to the cupcake batter gave a nice hint of coke flavor, the whiskey in the chocolate ganache was just enough for a little nip... and then there's the icing... shazam! A little powdered sugar, a little butter and a boat load of Jack Daniel's! It's like having a shot with every cupcake. A delicious, delicious shot... enjoy!!!

Jack and Coke Cupcakes - Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.

Coca-Cola Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup cola
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
at room temperature
2/3 cup sour cream at room temperature

Ganache Filling

8 ½ ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Jack Daniel's (I suggest 2 - in this case more is more)

Whiskey Buttercream Frosting

6 cups confections sugar
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperatue
6 tablespoons Jack Daniel's


Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup cola and 2 sticks butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Allow to cool for at least fifteen minutes.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, whisk eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add the sugar and whisk to combine. With the mixer on, pour in the cola-chocolate mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.
Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Be really careful about not overfilling them – this cake rises and will spill over. I put the batter in a plastic bag and pipe it into the papers. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

Ganache Filling

Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined.

Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped.
Meanwhile, using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, an apple corer, or a paring knife, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes.

Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.


Whisk the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time. It does make a difference. The frosting will be less grainy, and require less sugar to thicken them up.

When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the whiskey and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin, beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar. Don’t worry about trying to use all 6 cups, just use your intuition and stop when it seems thick enough.

Ice and the cupcakes and top them with Wilton’s white sparkling sugar and Haribo gummy colas.

EDIT: I made these again for my brother in law's birthday but decided to take a little short cut. I bought cake mix and substituted the water with coke... much faster and just as good! Here's a pic of how they turned out!