Prettying Up The Front Door For Fall

Fall in New England....it doesn't get much better!  This might be my favorite time of year.  Wait no, it's spring in New England.  Wait, no - it's summer.  No - it's definitely fall!  Okay any season but winter is my favorite in New England!

This year I'm all about distracting with my outdoor decorating for fall.
Why, you ask?

Oh, I know it doesn't look so bad, but our front entrance is in a desperate state.

While painting the lights and the front door has been an improvement, there are miles to go before we sleep.
The railings have completely rusted out at the base and are hanging in there by a thread, and the original cement steps are crumbling in places and have completed pulled away from the house.  The screen door is falling apart and hanging askew since Hurricane Irene came to town last month, and the entire walk needs to be reset since the bluestones have shifted into precarious little tripping spots.   Never mind the holly bushes that attack our guests as they attempt to ring the doorbell!

Until we can remedy this sad state of affairs, 
I'm all 

look over here!

No not at the front door,
here at the adorable pumpkin!
How cute is that tendril?!

Never mind the rusty railing!
oooh pretty colors!

Forget the crumbling cement!
check out that crazy wild grass! 
Isn't it fun?
(It's probably not "supposed to" go into pots, but I like to live on the edge.)

Eyes over here!
oooooh!  ahhhh!
{How many of you think that moss I added will end up in every bird's nest on my street?}

This year I incorporated some autumnal elements into what was still going strong in my front urn - the spikes and the one that creeps over the side (who's name escapes me right now) {both of which I read are "out of style" as far as planters this year....I didn't even know that there were trends in gardening!}
Every year I like to change it up a bit and try something new.  

Despite the shabby (but no, not chic) state of our front door we still are happy to have you come visit and hope you don't mind our humble entry!

I hope you have a wonderful autumn 
wherever you live! 


Mangia Mondays:: Birthday Yumminess

Welcome to Mangia Mondays, the weekly blog hop I co-host with Kristin of the fabulous foodie blog Delightfully Dowling!

This month my eldest turned thirteen.

I'm still trying to figure out how my 8 lb., 7 oz., 21" little bundle of joy somehow managed to morph into this young lad who, as of last week's measurements, is taller than both his parents.  Of course I know how it happened - hundreds if not thousands of PB&Js are responsible for this baby growing up before my eyes - but witnessing this transformation never ceases to amaze me.  We center our whole life around these kids, feed them and care for them, watch them learn to sit up, walk, talk, socialize, develop personalities and skills, uncover talents and become independent people - and in the busy-ness of life I don't reflect often enough on what a blessing and a gift it is to raise a child!  It's also a job that is tiresome, stressful, underappreciated, aggravating and even annoying at times.  But to see my kids growing into healthy, happy, kind and hardworking people is worth every second of the more challenging parts of parenthood!!

{Peter, you are a great kid and I love being your mom!}

I am glad for my kids every single day, but I use the excuse of their birthdays to get all sappy and smother them with the warm and fuzzies.  I talk about the day of their births and pull out their birthday books (I'll show you those one of these days.)  No matter their age, I hang up decorations and make their favorite foods.  I have hung the same "Happy Birthday" banner up since Peter's very first birthday.  It's all bent and warped and I will continue to tape it back together and hang it up until this boy is all grown up!

This year I once again made Peter's favorite dessert, which he has requested five years running for his birthday.  Who said you have to have an actual cake for your birthday anyway???  This is the very first recipe I ever posted on Shine Your Light, and I think in honor of Peter's big day it should be revisited!  The recipe first debuted as Chocolate Cheesecake with Thin Mint Crust, but 'round here it's known as.....

Chocolate Cloud Pie
{Note:  For Peter's birthday I made this homemade Oreo crust, but you could substitute a store-bought Oreo crust  or try one of the crusts from the original recipe - using either Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies or Famous Chocolate Wafers.}
22 Oreo cookies
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325F. Break up cookies into food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Add butter and combine. Press firmly onto bottom and sides of 9" pie plate. Bake 10 min.

2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
3/4 C firmly packed brown sugar (not pictured)
1 t. vanilla (have you ever made homemade vanilla extract? mmmm it's yummy)
2 eggs
6 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted, cooled slightly

Beat cream cheese, brown sugar and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time. Blend in chocolate; pour into crust.

Bake for 35 minutes or until all but center is set. Chill before serving. Garnish with real whipped cream.

But hang on!  This is a two-for one birthday special!  Since we're on the subject of alternatives to the traditional birthday cake, I should tell you about the ice cream cake I made for Hannah & Sean's birthdays back in May.  This dessert was messy and yummy and both the kids and adults thoroughly enjoyed it!

Ice Cream Cake

2 gallons of ice cream
4 sugar ice cream cones
fudge topping
colored jimmies

Take one gallon of ice cream out of freezer and leave on counter for at least a half hour to soften.

Trace the bottom of a springform pan on wax paper.  Cut out this circle for the bottom and strips for the sides; grease or spray the pan and then line with wax paper.

Spoon entire container of softened ice cream into pan and spread evenly.  Put in freezer for 1/2 hour, and in the meantime take the second gallon of ice cream out of the freezer and leave on the counter to soften.

Spread second gallon of ice cream in pan and return to freezer for at least a couple of hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, unlatch side of springform pan and invert ice cream cake onto serving plate.  Peel wax paper off cake. 

Spread chocolate topping over top of cake, letting it ooze over the sides.

Crush ice cream cones into small pieces and spread on top of cake, along with colored jimmies.
Serve quickly!  As you can see our cake started melting immediately but it was still yummy!

I've reused this little paper cake bunting several times and it's still going strong (I replaced a couple letters that smudged and covered them with scotch tape)  Check out this post for a few more cake bunting inspirations.

Happy kiddos.

I hope these fun takes on birthday cake have inspired you to make something different for the next birthday you celebrate!  
Now what have you been cooking up in your kitchen?  Please join the Mangia Mondays fun and thanks for visiting!


An Un-Fancy Pantry

Wow - there are a lot of really beautiful pantries out there!  I am constantly amazed by the creativity of people who can make even a storage space aesthetically pleasing as well as functional!

I am all about making spaces in my 80s-era house more attractive, but I just want my pantry to be clean and organized.  Is that too much to ask of myself?

I went food shopping after work the other day without a list and came home with school snacks galore only to discover that I already had something like 10 boxes of chocolate chip granola bars, 2 bags of pretzels, 3 boxes of peanut butter crackers, 17 packages of applesauce and 2 packages of raisin boxes buried in the back of the pantry.  From having the kids home in the summer, to the busy beginning of the school year and sports and work and life, our pantry has become a complete disaster zone.  With a family that includes three growing kids rifling through there on a daily basis, I find it necessary to clean out my pantry every six months or so.  It's not something I enjoy, but much like cleaning out the fridge, it's necessary once in a while and is so gratifying to have done!!

This is our pantry before we moved in - two closets with lots of shelves.

You may recall that our house was the Peach Pit when we moved here last year - everything, from the trim to walls, was painted some shade of murky peach or burnt orange.  The very first thing I did when we moved in was paint those doors (and from there, every other bit of wall and trim in the house!)

What a difference a color change can make to a space!

Since the shelving inside was old and dingy, I even painted those (with Kilz primer as they were raw wood) to give the space a fresh start.  I knew the paintjob would get banged up but I just wanted it to feel neat and tidy.

Ahhh, much better!

Even though my children are often heard saying "there's nothing to eat!", over time these shelves get jam-packed and require some organizing.  If you like to cook, I sure you can relate when I tell you that I'm constantly picking up ingredients for recipes.  When I clean out the pantry I feel inspired to use up things that have been in there a while.  Time to make some soup, homemade pizza or marinara sauce!

One of the changes I made yesterday was to put our baking supplies and whatnots in these organizers.    Cupcake liners, sprinkles and such things that we don't need on a daily basis seem to clutter up the pantry so I put them on the highest shelf and labeled the drawers so my little baker, Hannah, can find things easily.

I also have an ongoing issue of a certain teenager in my house who has an insatiable appetite and gets into all sorts of packages when his mother is not looking.  After he's done emptying out my fridge of milk and yogurt, he meanders over to the pantry looking for a sweet something something, and has been known to take handfuls of chocolate chips despite his mother's threats.  I go to bake cookies and find half the bag of chocolate chips has somehow disappeared.

So where are the baking goodies now I ask you??

Hehehehe!  Shhh, don't tell.
Let's see how long it takes him to figure it out!

The inside of the pantry doors are a great place for school lunch menus.....

 sweet notes and artwork from the kiddos, and a place to hang aprons.

Baskets for vegetable and fruit storage....

one for school snacks and baggies....

and a caddy for homework supplies keep everything we need in easy access.

I also keep dry goods, paper towels, etc. on a shelf in our basement so the pantry doesn't get too chaotic. 

There are so many great ways to keep your pantry organized.  
I love chalkboard labels like these:

Baskets are a must for choraling snacks, baking goods, oatmeal packs, etc.  I wanted a little splash of color so I picked up those green ones at Homegoods, but Ikea also has a nice selection of inexpensive baskets.

And of course, you can always hide things from your kids in plastic containers you already own by lining them with pretty scrapbook paper!  (Oh I think I'm so tricky!)

I hope that keeping our pantry more organized will help us to USE what we already have, WASTE LESS and in turn SPEND LESS....all good reasons to clean out the pantry on a more regular basis!

And now that I've shown you my lame, un-fancy, but organized!!! pantry, check out THE most tricked out and beautiful of all pantries right on over here!


Mangia Mondays:: Monkey Bread

Hello lovelies!  How are you today?  Hope you had a great weekend!
We had sunshine and blue skies but also those crisp mornings and evenings that I love about September.  While I adore summer, I don't know if New England could be any more gorgeous than this time of the year!!
If you could all remind me how much I love living here around January first, that would be terrific.  Thanks so much.

I'm so glad you've stopped by to check out what's cooking for Mangia Mondays - the weekly foodie blog hop I co-host with chef sensation Kristin of Delightfully Dowling!  You're invited to join in the fun and link up a food related post or share in the comments section!

My youngest fella has once again inspired a Mangia Mondays blog post over here.  He thought going back to school merited a special breakfast (not to be confused with the going-back-to-school-celebratory Rocky Road Bars I posted last week!)

This boy loves Monkey Bread so much that he actually requested it as his birthday cake one year (my kids are such weirdos!  Wait 'til you see what they all had for their 2011 birthday "cakes"  in next week's post!)  Have you ever had Monkey Bread?  It's definitely a kid crowd pleaser in all it's sticky gooey yumminess!  Now, I'm not going to tell you that this is a healthy breakfast, but I'm all about enforcing healthy eating habits on a regular basis and indulging on occasion.  Supplement this "breakfast" with fresh fruit and a big cup of milk and you'll feel a bit better!  It's the kind of treat that can't be missed in childhood {or apparently adulthood since Mark & I both helped ourselves to some Monkiness!}

2 cans Pillsbury Grands buttermilk biscuits
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
chopped walnuts or pecans if desired

Grease bundt pan.  Sprinkle chopped walnuts or pecans around bottom, if using (I omitted this step).
Unroll the biscuits on a cutting board, and then slice into quarters.

Place white sugar and cinnamon in a brown paper bag and add quartered biscuit dough.
Shake, baby!
Unstick dough pieces from each other and then shake again!

Place biscuit dough in pan evenly.

Melt butter and combine with brown sugar.
Spoon over dough.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from pan immediately.  Let cool slightly before serving.

Let munchkins pull the monkey bread apart and eat with their hands - that's part of the fun!
I wish I had picture of my kiddos pulling this apart and devouring it, but I was...um....a bit sticky myself. :)  
This is the stuff childhood memories are made of, my friends!

What have you been cooking up lately?  Do share!  Thanks for visiting and have a great week ahead!