Simple advice for a better life.

Dora ThemeAnother Birthday party for my granddaughter.

This year’s Birthday Party’s theme was Dora The Explorer, with her whole entourage, whom all the little girls totally adore.

My daughter, as always, went all out with her craft talent, imagination, and lots of planning effort, to prepare a wonderful and fun Birthday Party for her daughter.

I will share some pictures, for your pleasure, and some fresh ideas for your next party planning.

The invitations were handmade, to resemble a “Backpack”, one of the main characters in the Dora adventures.  The inside of the invitation was in a form of a map, also very fitting with the theme.  Very original and cute!

Dora the Explorer party invitationDora Birthday Party Invitation - Back side

She made these out of construction paper, plus the use of her stamping tools, and with a helping hand from the Birthday Girl, who loves crafts, and helping her mom with all fun projects.

Dora Theme Birthday Party Invitation -Inside view

This is the inside of the invitation, resembling a map, which Dora always carries in her backpack to help her navigate her travels (for confidentiality and protection of identity, I blocked off the personal information about the party.  Basically, I do not trust cyberspace that much….and  recommend that you shouldn’t either!)

Wall decoration 2Wall decoration 4

Wall decoration 3Wall decoration 5

The “Birthday Princess” was helping her mom to color these giant pictures of the other significant characters in Dora the Explorer adventures, and used them to decorate the walls of the party rooms, in addition to the numerous balloons, including a giant balloon of Dora, of course.

Birthday Fun Food and Snack table

The main snack table is ready for the party, and each food item is appropriately identified to go with the party theme.

Cheese Doodles Cheese and crackers

“Swiper No Swiping” Cheese Doodles, Isa’s Cheese & Crackers

Salsa and Chips
The Fiesta Trio’s Salsa & Chips

Veggie snacks - Tico's veggies

Tico’s Veggies

This was a very popular snack with the little ones.  Today’s Moms are doing a great job with introducing their children to not only steamed veggies, but also raw ones.

Stars Jello Jigglers   - Dora Theme

Jello Jigglers was another favorite snack with the Birthday Girl and all her guests.

These were cut out into star shape, once again, to match the Dora party theme, as well as an easy finger food for those little fingers.

There were also star-shaped, freshly made toasted Melted Cheese Sandwiches, totally enjoyed by the young birthday crowd, paired well with other snacks and veggies, plus individual ice cream cups. (Parents of course had their own “grown ups” food for their meal).

The party attendants also had lots of fun activities outdoors, as Mother Nature cooperated with gorgeous weather.

Easter Eggs ready to be found More Easter Eggs ready to be found

The whole back yard was  full of over a hundred of Easter Eggs filled with candy and small toys, strategically strewn all over the grassy area,  ready for a fun egg hunt.

Bean Bad Toss, crossing under the river tunnel

Here is two more outdoor games set up for everyone’s enjoyment, as prerequisites to the egg hunt game.

These are: Dora’s Bean Bag Toss game, and Crossing The Tunnel under The River challenge.

Backpack

Each party attendant was equipped with a specially made “Backpack” , and a map to follow to execute each consecutive event.

The Birthday Girl’s mom was also assisting with further instructions, to help the games move along in a fun way.

The parents had fun watching their little ones having fun, and capturing it all on their cameras and videos.

Dora's Bean Bag game

The first game was a Dora Bean Bag Toss.   Everyone received 4 bean- filled bags, which they needed to toss into the pockets of the Dora Target.

The youngest players needed to get a little closer than the older ones, and that was OK, as long as they had fun doing it.

Crawling through the tunnel

According to the map, the next obstacle was to crawl through the tunnel, to cross under the river, to reach the egg hunt event.

The river was constructed out of a plastic slip-and-slide, positioned over a toy tube tunnel.

The kids had lots of fun playing these games, then running quickly to line up for the egg hunt.

Play yard

Once all the eggs were collected into their backpacks, they still had energy to enjoy the activity gym in the back yard, before going back in for some cake and cupcakes.

Dora Theme Birthday Cake

Dora The Explorer chocolate flavored Birthday Cake, selected by the Birthday Girl, and prepared by a local bakery, was a dream come true for all Dora admirers.

Rainbow cupcakes Rainbow cupcakes - Princes Platter

There were some vanilla flavored rainbow cupcakes, available for those who did not care for a chocolate flavored cake.

Party time was almost over, as most of the party goers needed their nap by now (including their parents or grandparents…), but as always, everyone got to keep the special backpack full of fun stuff inside their Easter Eggs, and in addition they also were treated to additional party favors.

Party Favors

Each guest received a Dora coloring book, and a special 4-pack of multi-color playdough, to add to their backpack treasures.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and felt like you also attended the party (without feeling burned-out, or indulging in the additional calories of party food….)

March treats - Chocolate Rum Cake - serving piece

March treats - Phillo Pastry cups with chocolate and raspberries

I have been so busy with Easter preparations, and spring gardening projects, that April almost passed me by, yet I have not posted any pictures of the March Birthday treats at the office.

I am sure you will agree, from viewing the pictures above, that once again, Sue prepared some scrumptious treats for our birthday celebrants.

This month we “gently” indulged in a low sugar Chocolate Rum Cake, which was out of this world, and low sugar/fat Phyllo Pastry Shells partially filled with melted Dark Chocolate, topped off with a fresh raspberry, and for added touch and nutrition, sprinkled with almonds.

We also had low calorie/fat/sugar mini brownie cupcakes, but I did not get a chance to snap a picture of these treats.

We are so lucky to have at least one person, every month, to celebrate their birthday, thus special treats for  the office bunch as well.

Everyone is becoming very health conscious these days, and of course summer vacation time is  fast approaching (trips to the beach….bathing suits… weddings… ), so we all agreed to narrow down our office treats to only once a month event.

Since I am not the baker of these treats, I am only sharing pictures with you, rather than a recipe.

Three layer jello - serving pieceIn my previous Jello Dessert post, I promised to share a European recipe from my sister-in-law, for a Three Layer Jello mold.

This is one of my family’s favorite jello desserts, because it can be made from regular jello, or sugar-free jello, without jeopardizing its texture, or taste.

The recipe is quite simple, but it does require a little patience, to allow for the waiting time between each layer, to completely solidify.

Even though this recipe is for only three layers, you can easily make it into 5 layers, by adding one more layer of jello (Lime or Grape), and splitting the cream cheese filling into 2 thinner layers (which I personally prefer to do).

Ingredients:

  • 2 – 6 oz. packages of Jello (regular of Sugar Free), your choice of flavor
  • 1 – 2 oz. package of Lemon Jello
  • 2 – 8 oz. packages of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla or Lemon extract

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring to boil, 1+1/2 cups of water.
  2. Mix one 6-oz package of jello into the boiling water.
    Three layer jello - Orange jello layer
  3. Remove from heat, and pour into a glass casserole dish, 9 x 13 inches.
  4. Set aside for about 15 minutes, until the jello stops steaming.
  5. Place the dish with the jello in the refrigerator, to cool completely, and to solidify.
  6. In a small saucepan, bring to boil 1 cup of water.
  7. Mix in the 3 oz package of Lemon Jello.
  8. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool, until saucy, but not solid.
  9. While the jello is cooling, place the cream cheeses into a medium missing bowl.
  10. Add the extract, and mix for few minutes.
  11. Add the powdered sugar, and keep mixing until, light and fluffy (15 minutes)
  12. Set aside.
  13. Mix in the saucy Lemon Jello, until well incorporated.
    Three layer jello - cheese layer step 1 Three layer jello - cheese layer
  14. If the refrigerated jello is completely set by now, spread the cream cheese/jello mixture over it.  Smooth it out with a back of a spoon, or a rubber spatula.
  15. Place it back in the fridge to cool, and solidify.
  16. Prepare another 6-oz. package of jello same way as the first one, with only 1 + 1/2 cup of boiling water.
  17. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool, but not to turn saucy.


    Three layer jello - full size 3
  18. Once the cream cheese/jello layer is firm, pour the second cooled jello over it.
  19. Decorate to your preference. I used strawberry and grape slices.
  20. Cover with Saran wrap, place it back in the fridge, until cooled completely and solid, or overnight.

Enjoy!

Jello wedge - serving piece

Everyone loves jello, or at least most of us do.

Three layer jello - Orange jello layer

Jello desserts can be plain and simple; prepared in a single serving dish, then served in chunks.

I love my jello served with whipped cream on top. How about you?

Jello Mold - 2

Jello can be mixed with other ingredients, such as cream cheese and fruits, and turned into a more festive dessert.

Slice of jello dessert

Jello can also be used as a top layer of a cake, and served as an elegant, after dinner  dessert.

Jello in a Grapefruit shell

Today’s jello recipe is somewhat plain, but at the same time, very creative.

It takes some prior planning, as you can see in the above picture, I used hulled out grapefruit shells, as individual vessels for the jello.

Directions:

  • You simply cut your grapefruit, lemon, or orange, in half, consume the fruit, but save the shell.  You need to preserve the shell undamaged, or your jello will leak out.
  • Orange shells do not need any additional preparation, as long as you remove the orange sections carefully, as not to damage the shell.
  • Grapefruit however, requires additional careful removal of the remaining section fibers, after you scoop out most of the sections and the juice.
  • I also peel out some of the white pulp attached to the section fibers, to leave a nice clean shell.
  • If you need more than one day to save up enough shells, that is fine, as long as you keep them refrigerated , or leave them out in the open air, for a day or so.  They will begin to dry out slightly, but this will not affect their performance.
  • Once you have enough shells, cook your jello per package directions, but use only HALF of the recommended amount of water, to make a firmer jello, thus easier to cut into serving portions.
  • Position your fruit shells on a platter.
  • Fill each shell all the way to the top, with cooked jello.  Hot will not hurt it, and warm will be fine as well.
  • Cool completely. I cool mine at room temperature until mostly set, then I transfer them into the fridge, in a more convenient container.

Jello wedge  -  in a Grapefruit shell

  • Before serving, use a sharp knife, and cut each shell into serving wedges.
  • First, I cut each shell in half, as above.

Jello wedges

  • Then, I cut those halves, into three even sections.  Therefore, you will get 6 jello wedges from each 1/2 grapefruit shell.

This dessert was a huge hit with my four year old granddaughter.  She absolutely loved eating these jello wedges, as if they were orange sections.

This is a fun way to serve  jello at kid’s parties!!

I used Lime jello, for a more springy color for Easter Sunday, but any flavor is suitable.

The grapefruit aroma of the peel, does slightly permeate into the jello, but does not affect it adversely.

Using the fruit shells for serving jello, eliminates washing the serving dishes.  The leftover peel can be chopped up, and thrown into your garden to add acidity to your soil, or shredded in your garbage disposal, to freshen it up.

It is an all around winner!, no matter how you look at it.

Stay tuned, as my next post will also be dedicated to jello dessert;  European recipe shared by my sister-in-law.

Paska 2012Easter is just around the corner, so all the necessary preparations for this Holy, and very traditional holiday, have to be planned well in advance, to be fully achieved in a timely fashion.

Ukrainians, and many other nationalities, enjoy many very rich traditions associated with Easter celebrations.

You can click on the links below, to learn more about the Ukrainian Easter Traditions.

This weekend was Paska Baking time for me and my daughter, as well as my 4 year old granddaughter, who not only loves to watch, she also was a very enthusiastic helper.  We are so blessed to have her in our family.

As a result of about 10 hours of Paska Baking time, we ended up with 9 round Paska loaves, as pictured above ( the small “roll” like loaf, was a left over dough from our decorations, so we decided to bake it for the youngest member of our family, who is only 10 months old).

We doubled our original recipe (in the link above), and implemented some changes to the second batch of dough, just to test the theory passed on to us by our friends.

In the second batch, we replaced 2 cups of regular flour, with 2 cups of CAKE flour, and used only 1/4 cup of melted butter plus 1/4 cup of Canola oil.  We also kneaded the dough for about 30 minutes in the bowl, and skipped the kneading on the floured board.

My oven seems to be baking better at lower temperatures, so I bake my paska for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F, and another 30 minutes at 325 degrees F, rather than the 15 @400, and 30 @350.

Paska - cross section

Here is a cross-cut section of our paska bread.  As you can see it turned out very light, and fluffy.

The paska with the cake flour was fluffier than the regular recipe, and the one with the mixture of butter and oil crumbled less, than the one with butter only.

Per baking tips from my mom, I always brush the tops of my baked, still slightly warm paska, with melted butter, to give them a nice finish, and to soften the crust.

Since I bake my paska at least a week before Easter, so to keep it nice a fresh, I freeze it until Easter Saturday.

Once the bread is totally cooled off, I wrap it in aluminum foil, place it in a freezer bag, and freeze it.  I also store it in a zip-lock bag after blessing of the basket, to keep it from drying out by Easter Sunday.

In my previous post about the different bakeware for baking paska, I promised that if I find more information about my favorite pans, will share it with you.

Paska baking containers

I stopped at a local Goodwill store, and to my surprise, I found several similar (brand new) pans, and bought them all @ one dollar each.

Most of them still do not have any manufacturing information on them, however one set was made by KOBE mixing bowls, designed exclusively for JC Penny, made in Indonesia.

Also, some of the flower designs of these bowls, resemble Corningware dinnerware, wouldn’t you agree?

If you still need to bake your Paska, now you have additional tips on the original recipe, and the paska bakeware.

Enjoy your Paska Baking experience.  Please share your pictures and tips.

HAPPY EASTER!

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KHRYSTOS VOSKRES – VOISTYNU VOSKRES !- (in Ukrainian)

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KHRYSTUS ZMARTVYCHVSTAL – PRAVDZIVIE ZMARTVYCHVSTAL! (in Polish)

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KRISTUS ER OPSTANDEN! -  JA HAN ER SANDELIG OPSTANDEN! (in Danish- shared by one of my readers)

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CHRIST IS RISEN – INDEED HE IS RISEN!

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