Cave Woman Costume

Halloween is around the corner, and as I scramble to gather this year's costumes, I thought I'd share one of last year's costumes!

Now let me tell you that I love to make a costume for my kids, if I have time.  But I don't necessarily do it for every kid every year.  Last year, I bought 1, made ... and a halfish.  And I feel good about it.  One is all I had the time and the vision for.  When this little middle child told me she wanted to be a cave woman, I knew that was something I could manage.
cave woman costume 1 copy

I went to the fabric store and got some various animal prints, some fuzzy, some not.  No pattern or goal in mind, guessed on the yardage.  Yes, I'm that unorganized lately.  But the beauty of a cave woman costume is that torn, crooked edges are a.o.k!  I basically made a lined bodice, then attached sleeves and a skirt.  I cut the length of the sleeves and skirt while it was on her.  I gave her a little sash, made a little fuzzy shoulder bag for candy and then accessorized with a pack of plastic bones from the party store.  For the finishing touch, I put a piece of fur fabric inside her ugg boots, and tied some fabric around them to hold that piece of fabric there.  I did the same thing around one wrist, because we had another scrap of that fabric.
cave woman costume 2 copy

This girl right here LOVED her costume and LOVED the photo shoot where I told her to act the part!
cave woman costume 3 copy

And this boy right here LOVED his Costco costume.  All of his gladiator dreams came true.  And yes, this baby came with the sword.  Doesn't get easier!
cave woman costume 7

This girl didn't trick or treat, but she couldn't be caught not dressing up at a Halloween party.  So this is the "half" costume I made.  I modified my indian shirt I made for myself a few years ago.  I took it in, and added fringe at the bottom.  Done and done.  The best part for her was going from blonde to brunette!  Kinda fun!
cave woman costume 4 copy

I still get a twinge of heartache that they don't want to do a "theme" anymore, but I call it a success when they are all excited about what they are going to be!
cave woman costume 6

I'm hoping for the same success this year!  Better get busy!

Caramel Apple Techniques: Gravity is Your Friend

This post is brought to you by:  lots of experimenting, lots of recipes tried, lots of dishes, lots of mistakes and about 3 years of procrastination.  :)  Yes, I started my research 3 years ago, took the pictures 2 years ago and experimented more last fall, and recently!

I've used any excuse to "need to make" caramel apples and try another recipe.  I've made them for big and small events, but always trying to pay attention and take notes.  It really isn't that complicated, it's just that when I try one recipe, I have to write things down, or I will be starting from scratch next time.  So this post is the cumulation of all of those experiments.

The most I ever made at once was 350 caramel apples.  It was after all of those batches, that I felt like I could call it good!
all about caramel apples

By far, the more complicated part is getting your homemade caramel just right.  You've got to cook it long enough to get a nice thick caramel covering and not have it sag off the apple.  However you cook it too long and it won't go on smooth, or it will dry too hard to eat!  We'll go over all that...
caramel apples

I also experimented with ways to put on toppings, this became my favorite "look" for may apples.
The biggest thing I learned, was that GRAVITY IS MY FRIEND.  I started from the top down with chocolate and toppings, letting them tumble down the sides.  This was less frustrating to me than dipping part of the apple in chocolate, then having the toppings tumble down the sides.
caramel apple toppings 3

Allright, enough teasers!  Let's get down to business.

I'm a fan of using granny smith apples.  These are some nice round ones from Costco.  You gotta wash and dry them thoroughly.  Any water puddles will mess up the caramel.

TIP: Use room temperature granny smith apples that are washed and WELL dried.

For the stick's you can use what you want, I used dowels in this example.   If you live near a Smart and Final, they have a great box of "caramel apple sticks" there that are pointed on the end, which makes it easier to insert.  I just got dowel from the craft store, cut them, then put the cut end in the apple so it wouldn't show.

TIP: set the apple on a table, then try to put the stick in perpendicular to the apple.  The apple is often crooked so if you hold the apple and put it straight though the core, it will be really crooked when you set it down.  Also, it's easier to push it in, beside, not through the core.
caramel apple sticks 2

TIP:  After you put the sticks in, you will see a pool of apple juice at the top.  Dab a paper towel and dry that up.  If you dip it in caramel with that puddle, it will dilute the caramel and leave a bubbly, wet hole on top later.
caramel apple sticks 1

You can't tell once it's decorated, that the stick isn't in straight, or that it's not right through the center, so don't freak out at this point.
caramel apple sticks 3

Your apples are ready and set aside now.  It's caramel time!  Before you start, have a cup of ice water set out.  My recipe is sort of a combo of several I've tried:  It covers 14-16 full sized granny smiths and about 18-20 small ones.  (Also, just to prepare you, this is about a 30-40 min process.)

1 cup butter
2 c light corn syrup
3 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 can sweet and condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
2 tsp vanilla

First, melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat.  Add the corn syrup, sugar, salt and sweet and condensed milk.  Stir on medium heat until it comes to a simmer, then add the evaporated milk.

Then you need to stir, and stir and be patient.  :)  Be sure to stir over ever inch of the bottom and side of the pan.  If you don't, you'll end up with little burned chunks, which don't taste horrible, but look kind of bad.  When the color starts to change from ivory to light brown, it's time to put the thermometer in.

TIP:  Keep stirring, going behind where the candy thermometer is clipped.  You don't want a bunch of burned caramel behind it when you take it out.

making caramel apples copy

Your goal temperature is around 240 degrees (between soft ball and firm ball).  However, I rely on on the thermometer AND the ice water test.  I've had two candy thermometers on the same pot that read slightly different the whole time.  Because I never know if my thermometer may be off, I do the other test too.  It is important to know that it doesn't change temperature at a steady rate.  It might stay the same for a while, then go up faster.  Just be diligent in paying attention.

TIP:  Have someone else help stir while you test it out.  You can stir with one hand and test with the other, but it's trickily.

When the temp reaches about 235ish, take a spoon and drop a little in that cup of ice water you have handy.  Let it cool for 30 seconds.  Take it out and set it on the counter.  Does it pretty much hold it's shape, but it's still squeezable and soft?  If yes, its ready.  If it sags into a puddle, keep cooking.  But do this test again and again, until it's right.  If it isn't there, it will be really soon!  Don't wait too long to drop another spoonful in your ice water.  (If it gets hard and brittle, oops, you went too far.  CRUD!)
making caramel apples 2 copy

Okay, the caramel is at the right temp, now take it off the heat, stir gently for another minute, then add the vanilla.  Then let this sit for about 5 minutes to cool a bit.
making caramel apples 3

Now it's dipping time.  I tilt my pan with one hand and "dip and turn" with with the other.  Then you want to shake off all the excess you can by making quick small circles in the pan.  Don't wait forever or you won't get all your apples dipped before it cools, but quickly try to get off the excess.

TIP:  To avoid the caramel pool at the bottom of the apple, I scrape the bottom of the apple off on the side of the pan.  Then I scrape the bottom 1/2 inch or so off at an angle.  This will be covered as gravity interferes while cooling.
dipping caramel apples

TIP:  Please know in advance: with each apple you dip, the caramel is cooling.  Therefore, the caramel will sag a little less with each apple.  In other words, I scrape more off the bottom with the early apples, then the last few, I only scrape off the very bottom of the apple.
caramel apples 2

This is a picture of one that was scraped at an angle, and is making it's way down to cover the apple as it cools.

TIP:  Set them down on parchment that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  They will lift off easily and not get messy when you move them.
caramel apples 3

If you do this, they won't all be completely perfect, but they won't have huge pools of caramel at the bottom either.
caramel apples 4

TIP:  Time is of the essence.  Because the caramel gets thicker as it cools, it eventually gets too hard to smooth out.  The last few, you are scraping the pan, trying to have a big enough puddle to dip and twist in, and you may find that your caramel looks a little rough.  Next time, just try to work a little faster.  :)

Now lets do a little trouble shooting.

TROUBLESHOOTING:  If your apple looks like the one on the left, your caramel didn't reach the correct temp.  It is too thin and doesn't get that nice, thick caramel layer.  Even the small amount on it is "pooling" a little.  Another reason for pooling could be not letting it cool for 5 or so minutes after you take it off the heat.  It is really thin when it's hot.
caramel apples 6

TROUBLESHOOTING:  This apple is not pooling because it's undercooked (see how it went on nice and thick)  It is pooling because there wasn't enough scraped off the bottom.

TROUBLESHOOTING:  Do you see the bubbles on the one on the left.  The only explanation I could give to the times I got a lot of bubbles was, either stirring the caramel too vigorously while it was cooling, or not cooling it after you add the vanilla.
caramel apples 5

TIP:  Once you've dipped all the apples you can, and there isn't a big enough puddle of caramel in the pan, there will still be SOME, and we don't want to waste it!  So I pour it, scraping the sides of the pan and dump it onto a greased piece of parchment.

After it cools, you can cut it with a pizza cutter and wrap it in parchment squares.  These make a great gift, or something for your treat stash!

Okay, are you with me still?  This is TMI, I know!  For the chocolate...  Oh, chocolate is a whole conversation in and of itself, but I'll just tell you how I like to do it.

First, I usually use the flat melties you can buy at the grocery or craft stores.  If I'm trying to impress someone, I melt down some fancier chocolate.  But this stuff works great, so lets go with it.

I melt it in a 2 cup measuring cup, in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Then about 20 more seconds and stir.  It will be lumpy, but just gently stir it until it all melts in.  When it's almost smooth, drop about 1/4 c more.  This cools the chocolate a little to prevent blooming.  Stir that gently till its all melted down.

TIP:  Make sure your caramel apples are at room temp when you put the chocolate on.  If they are refrigerated or cool, the chocolate will harden too fast, before it can smooth out and look nice.
caramel apple chocolate

TIP:  When it's smooth and melted, I put it in a squeeze bottle.  My love for this must not be underestimated.  That's another story, but really they work great!  I find it harder it easier to work WITH GRAVITY and let the chocolate melt from the top down.  If you dip, you end up with lots of pooling at the bottom and sometimes the toppings don't want to stick and just end up in that pool on the bottom.
chocolate caramel apples

We are going with the rustic, random, drippy looking chocolate!  Start by pooling around the stick, then zig zag some drips.  Twist the apple till you've gone all around.  It won't look smooth at first, so you are going to shake your apple (vertically) until the drips, drip down and smooth out.
chocolate caramel apples 2

TIP:  You can also get more chocolate coverage by putting it on heaver, letting it drip all the way down, covering the whole apple like in this post.  I find that I waste a lot of chocolate that way, and I usually prefer the drippy look, but it's an option.

Then you are going to add your toppings.  It's okay if they tumble down the apple onto the drips a little.  We are going for that look!

Now that alone is enough.  But I can't help but wanting to make it fancier with a chocolate drizzle.

TIP:  Wait until the first chocolate and topping are dry, then drizzle another color chocolate on top.  Hold at an angle, draw stripes (holding it over parchment to catch your mess), then rotate apple 1/3 way around and drizzle again.  Repeat till it looks great!
caramel apple drizzle

The only ones I didn't like the chocolate drizzle on were the rainbow sprinkle and the cinnamon/sugar.  These aren't rules though, just preferences.  :)
caramel apple toppings 4

To package these, I bought some food safe cellophane bags.  Because you set them on cooking spray, they have that protective layer and won't stick to the bottom of the bag.  I tied the bag up for freshness.

TIP:  These can be made a couple days in advance.  If you aren't eating them within the day, I'd put them in the fridge.  I think they are good for 4-5 days in the fridge.
caramel apple toppings 5

TIP:  A fun way to package these, is to use a flat board or cardboard at the bottom, throw some natural filler and fall leaves on there and place your individually wrapped apples on them.  Then tie up that board with cellophane.  It makes a pretty gift!
caramel apple packaging

TIP:  My last tip of all is what to use for toppings (feel free to pin it!).  Although the possibilities are endless, these were some of my favorites:
Caramel Apple Topping Ideas

If you have survived this post, congratulations!  You are now too tired to go make caramel apples!

Just kidding, hope it helps!

Polka Dot Chocolate Bunnies

I just can't get enough of pretty pastel Easter treats.  They never get old.  Neither do Cadbury mini eggs, but that's another story...

I got to participate in "The Polka Dot Project" again this year!  Melissa is one of my very favorite bloggers and you just must check out all of the cute craftiness at!

I know I did polka dot bunnies last year, but I'm bringing them back in a new way!  This time I'm adding polka dots to our friend, the chocolate bunny!
polka dot chocolate bunnies 1

If you haven't ever worked with chocolate molds, you're about to find out how easy it is!  I got this chocolate bunny mold from Target but there are so many more available out there.  Check out this site for tons of options.  Usually craft stores like JoAnn's or Michael's have a few.   Cake and candy stores have great selections, and if you're willing to order online, you can find everything you've ever dreamed of!

I also purchased dark chocolate, vanilla melties and pink melties (wilton brand).
polka dot chocolate bunnies 2

Start with the pink chocolate.  I melt it in the microwave, in a glass measuring cup.  I put it in for 30 seconds, stir, put it in for 30 seconds more, stir and sometimes it's done.  Sometimes it needs 15-30 more seconds.  It is done when it is mostly smooth but still has some lumps in it.  Continue to stir those until it becomes smooth.  If you microwave it until it's all the way smooth, it will end up being overcooked.  After my pink was ready, I made my polka dots with a sucker stick.  Super easy!
polka dot chocolate bunnies 3

After I did all the dots, I put this in the freezer for about two minutes to harden.
polka dot chocolate bunnies 4

Next, I melted my white and dark chocolate, put the sucker sticks in and poured (easy when you are using a glass measuring cup) it into the mold.  Tap the mold on your counter to level it and get the bubbles out.
polka dot chocolate bunnies 5

If you hold it up and look underneath, you can see if you have any bubbles or empty spaces on the molds.  This needs to be put in the freezer for 10 minutes or so, depending on how big your mold is.  When they're are done, you twist the mold and your polka dot bunnies will pop right out!
polka dot chocolate bunnies 6

These little guys look pretty cute all dressed up in their polka dots!  This is a fun project to do with the kids, or your big kid friends too!  I hope you give it a try!
polka dot chocolate bunnies 7

Yes, these guys are going to rock my Easter baskets this year.  Back in the freezer they go, until then!

Real Life, Easy Way to Save with the Target Cartwheel App

I've always admired my frugalista friends.  Some people seem to get deals on everything!  I've tried to be a "couponer" but I just couldn't hack it.   I'm not dedicated enough to get multiple newspapers, clip a ton of coupons, organize them in a binder, scan multiple couponing blogs for tips on deals, and go shop at 5 different stores.  I wish I was that awesome, but it's just not in me.  
But what IS in me, is the feeling that I need to be doing the best I can to be prudent with our means.
So I need a happy medium of REAL SAVINGS with VERY LITTLE TIME AND PLANNING.
Well, my friends, Target answered my call!  
I first heard about the Cartwheel App from one of my cutest and most "on trend" friends.  I knew if she approved, that I would love it too.  I already love Target.  And I mean LOVE Target.  It is my happy place.  My kids beg me to take them when I'm going there, so I have successfully instilled a love of Target in them as well. 
Let me tell you how this app works and how easy it is to use!
There are over 700 offers on this app, waiting for you to save big on your next little Target run.  It takes one or two minutes to scan the deals, by department, and see if there are any items you already need.  If you want that deal, you add it to your "Cartwheel" on your iphone or Droid phone.  
Cartwheel 1

I usually do it after I pull in my parking space at Target.  I give the app a quick scan, then go in and do my shopping as planned.  Then when I check out, I have the checker scan my phone ONCE (not like using multiple coupons, even though I am).  The savings are applied and I am good to go!

This is not hard.  I have this soap dispenser (from Target) by my kitchen sink.  I refill it with Target soap because I like the smell.  It was already on my list, and now I used a coupon on it.
cartwheel 2

The app also lets me know of other things I might "need."  When I saw that Giada De Laurentiis kitchen tools were on sale, I thought I should go check them out.  When I saw some mini spatulas I need for my icing escapades, I put this coupon in my Cartwheel.
cartwheel 5

I love this brand of clothes for my little boy because they're stylish and fit him well.  I saw that it was 25% off with my Cartwheel so I grabbed a shirt and I'm started on his spring wardrobe!
cartwheel 3

Another handy thing is the scanner.  Say you don't look at the app before you go.  But you see something you must have and wonder if there might be a Cartwheel deal on it.  You can just scan the barcode!   If there is a deal that applies, it will bring it right up and you can use it right away!
Cartwheel 4

The very best thing about this app is that all of these savings work ON TOP of my red card discount.  I'm a huge believer in my red card where I get 5% off my purchase every time.  With Cartwheel and my red card, I can feel good that I'm making an effort to save on the everyday items my family needs!  And for all of you people dedicated enough to clip coupons and have the binder or card file, you can use those bad boys with the Cartwheel discounts too!

Honestly, this is something I tell my friends about already.  When I get excited about something, you usually hear about it too.  This is real life stuff here.  On my last little Target run, my total was $31.00  My Cartwheel saved me $6.65.  My red card saved me an additional $1.50

I saved more than $8.00 on a $31.00 Target trip.  Sometimes I impress, even myself!

Enter to win a $1,000.00 Target GiftCard®!
Just leave a comment telling me what item from Target you want to save on!  p.s. The app is FREE
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Double-Decker Camera Cookies

In the words of Dora, "Say Click!  Take a Pic!"

These little camera cookies were some of my favorites I made last year.  I have a petit little camera cutter that made these little (2" x3") cuties.  I knew from the start, they needed to be 3-D to get the effect of a camera lens.  This circle cutter didn't come with the set, but I just grabbed the smallest one from my favorite cookie cutter set.

With a picture this close-up, you can see all my imperfections and shaky handedness, but it doesn't stop these cookies from being adorable.
camera cookie

I've only made a couple of Double decker cookies, but it makes me want to take pictures, (and eat them) from every angle.  The "lens layer" was frosted separately, then after they were both dry, I put a dime-sized drop of royal icing down to stick the layers together.  They held like a champ.

I was thinking that they would need to be pulled apart to eat because of the 3 layers of hardened icing, but they were actually delicious to eat all together.  My cookie recipe is soft, so biting through all the layers was still soft and delicious!  Yay!
camera cookie 2

These cookies are the perfect gift for your favorite photographer, or anyone who can appreciate a double-decker sugar cookie!
camera cookies 3

So, say... Cheese!  Or say... Cookie!  Because whoever you make these for, is going to smile!

For more on my recipes and decorating instructions, go to "The Basics of Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing."
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