Our lovely gingerbread house!

Earlier this week my friend Rick invited me to join him for a Gingerbread class at the Crescent Hotel. A second date, I was a bit nervous that I would scare him off with my OCD crafting tendencies, but as it turns out he’s a bit of a perfectionist himself, so things went super smoothly!

Neither of us really knew what to expect, so when we arrived we were excited to find not only pre-constructed gingerbread houses but also a well stocked bar! We grabbed some wine and settled in to get the scoop on the evening’s activities from Erica and Juan, the Crescent’s executive and pastry chefs.

They showed off a towering rolling cart with candy, gave some piping tips, and then let us alone to decorate as we saw fit. Rick and I started with a plan to tile the roof in grey M&Ms, but after a few rows we scrapped that idea and opted to start over.

Our second stab at the roof was much more successful. We coated the entire roof in red icing then smooshed candy cane crumbles on top. (Is smooshed a word? Maybe not, but I’m going with it.) We outlined the roof with alternating red and green M&Ms to look like Christmas lights.

Next, we decided to put a wreath over the front door. Rick had insane piping skills so he was tasked with creating the wreath. (Not until after I had him practice on the table cloth, that is. I’m such my mother’s daughter.) While he took care of the wreath, I used a half strand of red candy tape to create a lovely little bow. I LOVE how this part of the house turned out, and I am proud that we did it all by ourselves!

For the back of the house we didn’t have enough faith in ourselves to pipe the snowflake what we desired, so we recruited Erica – a piping pro – to work her magic. While she worked on the back, we added a marshmallow lined pathway, red twizzlers to the door, and brown swirly “flower beds.”

A few short minutes later Erica revealed her amazing creation! Not only did she make an incredible snowflake, but she also added super cute icicles.

It’s hard to see in this picture, but we made little flower boxes to sit in each window with green icing and red flowers out of M&Ms. We lined the outside of the house with white Christmas Tree shaped pretzels. We also went back and made our pathway red to make it pop a bit more.

For the finishing touch, we spread white icing over the entire base, covering it with granulated sugar to make it appear glittery. A huge fan of things that sparkle, this was by far my favorite part! Using powdered sugar, Rick coated the Christmas tree in front with snow and used more white icing to create realistic looking snow drifts. We also lined the entire thing with red berry candies, which was a great accent.

Here is a snapshot of Rick and me with our completed gingerbread house! Although it’s hard to be unbiased, I thought ours turned out the cutest of any house there.

The evening was so fun and I would recommend this class to anyone! In fact, I think it might need to become a holiday tradition!

Filed in: Christmas, Holidays | 2 Comments »

This year I’ve been super inspired by all the fabulous gift guides that my favorite bloggers have been posting on their sites and pinterest. I have been running a gift guide series on my work blog, LowerOakLawn.com, and I’ve been having so much fun I just couldn’t resist the idea of putting together some entertaining focused gift guides for my readers over here.

I have a fairly well stocked set of party ware, so I am excited to guide other gift givers to some of my favorite finds! If anyone else is like me, they’re watching their purse strings this holiday season. As such, all the gifts listed below come in under $30. Despite their economical price tag, I think all these choices feel like big ticket items!

 

Ultimate Entertaining Gift Guide

Entertaining Gift Guide: Under $30

1. Gala Wine Glasses - Any entertainer can attest that you can never have too many wine glasses. Pick up a set of six Gala glasses (I prefer the 16 oz. versions) for just $24. I love how wine tastes out of them — they’re nice and thin. And with a price tag of less than $4 a piece, I don’t feel as bad when I break one! $3.95 a piece // Crate & Barrel

2. Giada Gourmet Panini Maker - I walked away from our family white elephant exchange with one of these puppies and now I’m obsessed! It works just as well as the more expensive models and grills everything from chicken breasts to sandwiches in a jiffy. It’s fun to feel like you’re having a gourmet sandwich every day of the week! $29.99 // Target

3. Oster Electric Wine-Bottle Opener - Every hostess loves a good gadget. This is the niftiest one I’ve found yet! Easy to use and practically foolproof, Oster’s electric wine bottle opener takes the hassel out of uncorking your favorite bottle of vino. My family gifted several of these last year and not only have they gotten rave reviews, they’ve held up too, standing the test of time! $19.49 // Amazon.com or your local grocery store

4. Chargers - Chargers are a fun, inexpensive gift idea for your favorite tablescaping friends. Assemble a set of 6 to 12 depending on your budget and package them with a cute bow. Chargers are something fun to have but I never think to buy them for myself. Several retailers sell chargers in a variety of great colors and I have seen these on sale frequently at craft stores this season. $1.50 a piece at Michaels // $1.99 a piece at Hobby Lobby // $ a piece at Walmart

5. Le Creuset Stoneware Mini Pitcher – I received one of these cute little pitchers as a gift and use it literally all the time. I use it mainly to water plants and hold little flower arrangements, but my favorite use is to serve wine. When I traveled to Italy this spring they would use pitchers like these to serve wine and I love to mimic this tradition for small, casual occasions. It’s less fancy than a decanter, but a nice change up from serving wine out of the bottle. They come in many colors (I have red) and you can find them for cheap at discount retailers like Home Goods and TJ Maxx. $9.99 // Home Goods or TJ Maxx

Filed in: Give | Leave a Comment »

Each year all of my coworkers gather together for our annual company holiday lunch. We cater in food to our office and enjoy an afternoon of eating and chatting. Last year when my boss asked me to pitch in for the planning, I asked if I could take things up a notch and decorate for the event. A $50 budget was all I would need, I promised. He agreed, and I got to work!

Half of me really wanted to do something neat for the event to make it special for my coworkers. The other half of me was intrigued by the challenge of decorating for a party for 20 on such a limited budget!

There are people of every faith in our company so I decided to go for a neutral “Winter Wonderland” theme for the party. The starting point for my decor was a roll of white and silver snowflake wrapping paper that I decided to use as a make-shift table cloth. Not only was it cheap, it made clean up a breeze!

Since the place setting would be the biggest feature of the table, I decided to concentrate most of my budget here. I purchased a pack of white, 12×12 inch scrapbook paper from Michaels to use as placemats. Next, I layered a silver charter plate. I own ten silver chargers and borrowed another six from a friend who I had gifted a set to the previous year for Christmas.

I splurged on large square paper plates that I found at Paper Affair. They matched perfectly and I just had to have them! Mixing the chargers with the paper plates gave a much classier look to the table.

I used white napkins and plastic silverware that we had around the office and rolled them up nicely tying them off with white curling ribbon I already had.

The place settings were completed with clear plastic cups that we had at the office. I spiced each cup up with a sparkly foam snowflake sticker.

For the centerpieces I decided that balloons would be a cheap way to make a big impact. I bought a pack of white balloons at Michaels, filled them for free using the helium tank in my apartment leasing office, and tied them off using white curling ribbon.

I anchored the balloons into three round, short glass vases that I own. I tied the balloon bouquets to binder clips and hid the clips by covering them with white floral beads, which I had from another party. (The binder clips were a last minute solution that our engineer Gary came up with!)

I used my trusty hot glue gun to adorn each vase with a stripe of glittery ribbon that I bought at Michaels and accented them with glittery foam snowflake stickers. Tea light holders were given the same treatment, except I added a white ribbon on top of the silver for a bit more depth.

I over bought on the ribbon for the vases and ended up using a spool to serve as a table runner. I spaced the balloon vases and tea lights down the table and filled in the blanks with silver jingle bells.

For the buffet I also covered the tables in wrapping paper. I used extra white scrapbook paper to outline where the dishes should sit and put out serving spoons. I decorated with two silver sparkly reindeer that I use in my home Christmas decor, plus a few snowflake napkin holders I had lying around. I used white chipboard letters that I had from a different party to spell out the party’s theme.

For the party I brought my two Crate & Barrel Cold Beverage Jars to serve water and iced tea. Again, I used the snowflake stickers  and silver scrapbook paper to give them a little interest!

We already had our Christmas tree up and poinsettias around the office which also added to the ambiance. As a finishing touch, I brought my Yule Log DVD and put it up on the flat screen TV that is displayed behind my desk. Everyone got a kick out of it and it added a homey feel to the office!

The best part of the party was enjoying the food and the company of my coworkers. The party lasted into the late afternoon and everyone had a blast! Here is a pic of me and Mike and Steve, the two partners in our company:

Our holiday lunch was proof positive that you don’t have to have a big budget to throw an impressively decorated party. I had so much fun putting it together and fit all my purchases in just at $50 and a dime!

For those of you who are interested, here are the supplies I used. I broke them down by what I own and what I had to buy. Not everyone probably has as well of a stocked craft/party closet as I do, but simple substitutions could be made if you don’t have all these items. This also makes a good case for making investments in neutral party decor like vases, tea light holders and beverage dispensers that can be used across your various parties, no matter the theme! 

What I Had:

  • White curling ribbon
  • Paper napkins
  • Plastic silverware
  • Clear plastic cups
  • Silver chargers
  • Round, clear glass vases
  • Clear glass tealight holders
  • White floral beads
  • Silver reindeer
  • White chipboard letters
  • Cold Beverage Dispensers
What I Bought:

  • Snowflake wrapping paper
  • 1 Package white scrapbook paper (12×12)
  • White Balloons
  • Several spools of thick, silver sparkly ribbon
  • Fancy paper plates
  • Sparkly foam snowflake stickers
  • Silver jingle bells
Filed in: Christmas, Holidays | 5 Comments »

Quick & Healthy Pumpkin Muffins

My new obsession with pinterest has me in recipe overdrive. Last weekend I decided to try out an easy and cheap recipe for tw0-ingredient pumpkin muffins that recently took my pinterest feed by storm. I was totally intrigued by the idea of such a simple pastry and just had to try it for myself!

Given the simplicity of this recipe, I decided to start by doing some research and figure out which ingredients would make for the best result. The original pin called for a yellow cake mix, but after a bit of googling and reading through comments, I found that people who had made these multiple times liked a spice cake mix better. I can’t find where I read it, but one site suggested that you use Duncan Hines Spice cake mix in particular. I also found a few recipes that called for a yellow mix with nutmeg and cinnamon added, but that just seemed like too much work!

As you would suspect with a two-ingredient recipe, these babies were a breeze to make. It took no time at all! One thing that did surprise me was that this recipe didn’t make a full two-dozen muffins. On the recommendation of another blogger who said that they wouldn’t rise like regular cupcakes, I filled my liners with more batter than usual, which is probably why I ended up with 17 muffins instead of 24.

Some blogs showed the muffins topped with powdered sugar or iced with cream cheese frosting, but trying to keep them healthy and low-cal, I decided to leave mine plain.

Not only are these muffins easy to make, but they turned out super moist and very delicious. I brought them to the office this morning and everybody loved them! These are certainly going into my go-to recipe file for fall!

Two-Ingredient Pumpkin Muffins

Makes about a dozen and a half muffins

  • 1 box Duncan Hines Spice cake mix
  • 1 15 oz. can 100% Pumpkin Puree (Do not use pumpkin pie filling.)
  • 1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips, if desired

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Dump ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Blend with a mixer for two minutes on medium speed or until well mixed. The batter will be thick. If desired, use a spatula to fold in chocolate chips. Scoop batter into lined or greased muffin tins.

These muffins won’t rise like traditional cupcakes so fill them with more batter than usual. If you like smooth rounded tops, use a spoon to even out the batter. These will not settle like normal muffins or cupcakes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let muffins cool before removing from the muffin tins. You may choose to top them with powdered sugar or creme cheese frosting, but I thought they tasted delicious plain!

Tips & Tricks:

  • When made without chocolate chips, these moist and delicious pumpkin muffins are only 2 Weight Watchers points!
  • You may choose to top them with powdered sugar or creme cheese frosting, but I thought they tasted delicious plain!
  • As tempting as it may be, do NOT add the eggs, water or vegetable oil as instructed on the box.

Download the Recipe

Filed in: Desserts, Recipes | 31 Comments »

Everybody needs a go-to appetizer, something you always have the ingredients for and can make from memory. This creme cheese and sausage dip is mine. With only three ingredients, it’s easy to make, delicious and perfectly suited for almost any occasion!

I first tasted this recipe when my Aunt Connie made it for a family gathering and it’s been a Shiffler family favorite ever since. I’ve honestly never seen a dish of this stuff go unfinished. Your guests will be scraping the sides trying to get one last delicious bite!

Though it’s served hot, this dip makes a great dish all year round — even in the summer! Also, it freezes well, making it a marvelous make-ahead dish. In fact, I often double the recipe so I can have enough to freeze a batch for unexpected occasions. Pop it in the oven for 30 minutes and it tastes fresh as ever!

Tostitos Scoops (the multi-grain kind) are my chip of choice with this dip though many of my friends prefer it with Fritos Scoops instead.

Do you have a go-to dip? Share yours in the comments below! Or keep reading for step-by-step instructions & a downloadable recipe card.

Creme Cheese & Sausage Dip

  • 1 pkg Jimmy Dean sausage (Regular or hot, depending on your taste)
  • 1 can Original Rotel tomatoes
  • 2 8oz Whipped cream cheese (if you use the blocked cream cheese, make sure it’s softened)
  • 1 bag Multi-grain Tostitos Scoops or your favorite tortilla chips

Crumble and brown sausage. In a separate bowl, mix together Rotel and cream cheese. Drain sausage in a colander or on a paper towel then add to the cream cheese mixture. Mix together and put in baking dish (I use chafing dishes – it fills two). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until bubbly. Serve hot with tortilla chips or fritos.

(I usually make two batches and freeze one – before cooking – so I have it around. I have one in the freezer now!)

Download the Recipe

Filed in: Appetizers, Recipes | 5 Comments »

Next week, while I am off exploring Italy, everyone elses eyes are turned on the UK as the world awaits the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The occasion is poised to be nothing short of spectacular and I know, wherever I am, I will be toasting the couple with a glass of champagne as I take in the spectacle on a television somewhere.

As blogger Elizabeth Andreson wrote, “It’s like Christmas & the Oscars & a season finale episode of The Bachelor all wrapped into one!” I couldn’t agree more.

Though I didn’t have time to put together anything extensive, here are some quick ideas I’ve thrown around with friends for a royal wedding watching party:

  1. Six in the morning might be a little early expect your guests to don their finest evening ware. Instead ask guests to wear their fanciest pajamas. The Satin After Hours Pajamas from Victoria’s Secret come in KM’s signature blue and would make for an elegant early attire. White gloves are also a must-have accessory for this oh-so-chic occasion.
  2. If you’re going to get dolled up, you might as well take pictures! Set up a photo booth and use these adorable printable prop set from Paper & Cake to capture pictures that are fit for royalty.
  3. The royal wedding is sure to is sure to breed a lot of pomp, circumstance, and if I know NBC, commercials. Keep guests entertained by offering  a craft. Set up a station allowing them to make their own Kate-inspired fastenators. You might offer toile, feathers, silk flowers and netting as possible accessories. (Thanks to Kaycee for this idea!)
  4. Another, cheaper option would be to pick up crowns at Burger King. Spray paint them gold the day before then allow guests to adorn them with jewels from the craft store. Just make sure to have plenty of hot glue guns on hand!
  5. Most people won’t want to splurge on an engagement ring knockoff from HSN so offer blueberry ring pops as a cheap and delicious alternative!
  6. The is essentially the woman’s Superbowl. Make sure you do the event justice by watching the festivities on a big screen, HDTV. From the hair to the dress to the church, it would be a shame to miss out on little details on account of a poor picture.
  7. This spectacular shindig might start at 6 am (EST) but I believe it’s never too early to serve champagne! Have your guests toast to the lovely couple with a glass of bubbly then send guests home with a split of champagne as a party favor.
  8. While the bubbly is out, consider a drinking game like the one outlined on I Do Declare. Possible rules include drinking when someone says “future princess,” or every time someone bows or curtsies.
  9. Also be sure to offer warm tea for the teetotalers in the group and those who have to make it into the office that day.
  10. Speaking of the office, if at all possible, remember to ask your boss for the day off work. Coming into the office tipsy is unbecoming of a lady!

What other ideas do you have for a royal wedding watching party? Sound off and share links to your party ideas in the comments below!

Filed in: Parties, Weddings | 4 Comments »

Today Kate and I are being our Italian adventure, traveling from Dallas to Amsterdam and finally Rome. While abroad we’ll visit three of Italy’s most exciting cities: Rome, Florence and Venice. To keep all of of our important hotel and flight information in one place I made up a easy to fill multi-city travel itinerary.

Multi-City Travel Itinerary

Of course it only makes good sense to share this helpful template with my amazing readers. I hope it helps you in planning your next exciting excursion!

Download the Multi-City Travel Itinerary

{Photo via Pinterest}

Filed in: Freebies, Life, Travel | Leave a Comment »

My bags are packed!

I am a list person. I make to-do lists, idea lists, life lists, and, of course, pack lists! A few years ago I stumbled across this handy little travel checklist over at The Project Girl. Every time I’m going on a trip be it for a fourteen-day European excursion or a weekend jaunt home, I print this baby and get going!

After years of hand writing in a few necessities I felt missing from the list, I recently broke down and decided to recreate the list to specifically meet my needs. My changes are minimal…mainly I added a few items I often found myself forgetting, like my glasses and extra contact lenses. Shampoo and conditioner, jewelry, and a travel journal are other adds. Also, I changed diarrhea medicine and laxative to simply antacids. The idea of thinking of diarrhea before a trip just kinda took some of the excitement out of packing!

The design I left the same. I changed to color to match my luggage, but that’s about it. I didn’t want to rip off Project Girl, but if it’s not broke…

The Ultimate Travel Packlist

Do you use a pack list to get ready for a trip? Is there anything I’m missing? I’d be happy to make some adds if someone thinks of something that might be helpful for everyone! I’ve also licensed mine under the creative commons so feel free to add, remix, restyle as you please!

Enjoy this free printable and happy travels!

Download The Ultimate Travel Pack List

Filed in: Freebies, Life, Travel | 4 Comments »

Dear self, Today you will shine!

Earlier this year, while attending a provisional meeting for the Junior League of Dallas, I had the opportunity to hear Colleen Walker, CEO of Girl Scouts of North Texas, speak. She ended her speech with a poem that she said inspires her and promotes the message of leadership that the Girls Scouts promulgate.

Something about these words really resonated with me. Especially the line about playing small. Being the best version of yourself isn’t just good for you; it’s good for others.

The inspiration this poem provides is applicable for so many pieces of my life: career, relationships, family and more. Read it for yourself. Then tell me what these words mean to you in the comments!

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness,
that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually who are we not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people
won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine as children do.
We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And when we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

- Marianne Williamson

{Photo via Pinterest}

Filed in: Life | 2 Comments »

Whole Foods Crab Cakes

Yesterday I touched on the fact that I find cooking for one less than ideal. Though I don’t enjoy cooking for myself nearly as much as I enjoy cooking for others, I have perfected a few meals for one that I simply adore.

One of my favorite spring/summer meals is crab cakes from Whole Foods. Though they come packaged in twos, I usually ask them to split a pack since I just need one. They always happily oblige. This saves me money and from having to eat the same meal two days in a row. One crab cake usually costs about $6.

Of the two varieties usually offered, I prefer the Maryland Blue Crab Cakes. I don’t remember the name of the other one, but I’ve tried it and found it a bit spicy for my taste.

I usually sear both sides of the crab cake on the stove then pop it into the oven for 10-20 minutes. Served with a light, summery salad (like the strawberry vinaigrette salad pictured above), this meal is both quick and easy to make. And at only 330 calories, it is a marvelous meal option for those trying to stay slim during swimsuit season!

{Photo by: Kendall Shiffler}

Filed in: Entrees, Recipes | 2 Comments »

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