IKEA Hack: Expedit Lego Duplo Table with Storage

Thrifty Travel Mama | Ikea Hack: Lego Duplo Building Table with Storage Made From Ikea Expedit ShelvingWelcome back reader friends!  I trust you’ve had a nice long holiday break, wherever in the world you are.  We spent a wet week in Paris (more on that later), and now I’m dealing with a very particular toddler who has decided two naps per day is tooooo many.  Oh, joy.

Luckily, the little stinker has found his happy place smashing up his Christmas present – a Lego Duplo table that Doc Sci and I made from an Ikea Expedit shelf.

I was inspired by the Lego Playhouse I saw here.  However, I had a slightly different vision of what would work better for our family and apartment.  I wanted the table to include space for storage, and I wanted it mobile.

I absolutely loved making this gift for the boys, and I know your kids would be thrilled to receive this, too.  So, today I’m sharing how we did it.


*The large Lego Duplo building plates are too big to fit on the lower shelves (but, they are perfectly sized for the top!).

We could’ve bought them anyway and cut them to fit, but I wanted a lower stress option (what if the cut looked bad?  What about the rounded corners?).  We found smaller boards on ebay (none available on amazon!).  The size I used is 12×16 knobs as seen below.Thrifty Travel Mama | Ikea Hack: Lego Duplo Building Table with Storage Made From Ikea Expedit ShelvingActually, I bought all the Lego Duplo building plates on ebay.  Those suckers are crazy expensive, and I knew my boys wouldn’t care if a few of the knobs showed a bit of wear and tear.

Assemble the Shelf

First things first – put your Ikea Expedit shelf together!  I don’t think you need much help here – the shapeless nonverbal figures in the instructions should tell you everything you need to know.

Add the Wheels

Wheels are completely optional.  I wanted them because we have a very small apartment, and Big Foot takes a 3-4 hour nap in the boys’ room.  I thought it would be nice for the older boys to not have to carry out armfuls of toys to play with while the little one sleeps. Thrifty Travel Mama | Ikea Hack: Lego Duplo Building Table with Storage Made From Ikea Expedit ShelvingJust as a side note, it’s not necessary to use Ikea’s casters.  If you find wheels that suit your fancy elsewhere, just use those.

Again, I was going for low stress.  The wheels are competitively priced (at least in Germany), fit the Expedit shelf perfectly, and have a locking wheel which is crucial if you don’t want your playhouse running away from you.

A drill is handy to have when attaching the wheels, but it’s not critical.  Doc Sci was too lazy to bring ours up from the cellar, so he used good old fashioned elbow grease.

Glue the Boards

Decide where you want to position the boards, and glue them down one by one.  A few tips…

  • If you bought used boards, clean them first before gluing!  I totally forgot to do this (you can see it in the photo), and it was a pain in the you-know-what to scrub in between those little knobbies after they were cemented down.
  • It’s helpful to have two people glue the boards simultaneously in case you need to shift them slightly to ensure proper spacing.
  • Use Duplo bricks to attach adjacent boards together (see second photo below).  This will ensure you get the spacing correct.  If you glue the boards with the edges flush, they will be too close!
  • Pile heavy books on the boards while the glue dries overnight.  Keep the Duplo bricks in place during this time, too.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Ikea Hack: Lego Duplo Building Table with Storage Made From Ikea Expedit ShelvingThrifty Travel Mama | Ikea Hack: Lego Duplo Building Table with Storage Made From Ikea Expedit Shelving

Add Storage and Decorate

Zip your bins together, and fill them with your bricks.  I put a few extra of the bigger building plates in one of the bins so that play didn’t have to be confined to the table.  They do fit, but only at an angle.

I attached some colorful 2×2 Duplo bricks around the edges for decoration and to encourage “out of the box” play.Thrifty Travel Mama | Ikea Hack: Lego Duplo Building Table with Storage Made From Ikea Expedit Shelving

I liked the idea of laminating paper scenes and placing them inside the middle shelf.  However, I didn’t have time to do this, and I wanted to see how my boys would use the table first.

If I end up adding the pictures, I’ll use velcro tabs on the back of the laminated sheets so they can switch them out.  I’m thinking they would love the ability to rotate between airport, fire station, police station, post office, zoo, construction zone, and city scenes.

I added some vehicles, buildings, and people (all from ebay, of course) to make the gift super sweet for them.Thrifty Travel Mama | Ikea Hack: Lego Duplo Building Table with Storage Made From Ikea Expedit Shelving

And… You’re Done

That’s it – easy peasy!

We gave the boys this table as a joint gift.  We’re resisting the draw of the regular, smaller Legos as long as possible since Big Foot still puts everything in his mouth.  My hope is that this table will help the Duplos remain cool just a bit longer.  So far, so good!

Would your kids like this table?  What other variations can you think of to customize it for your family?Signature-Marigold


Make It Yourself: Family Activity Advent Calendar

Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar IdeasHappy Thanksgiving week to all of my American friends!

Not to add one more thing to your (virtual) plate this week, but… psssst!  Did you know that this Sunday is December 1?  You do have your advent calendar done, don’t you?

So far, I’ve only put together three homemade advent calendars.  The first two years, I stayed up until well after midnight working on the dang thing.  You are more organized than I am, right?

I vowed to be more on top of things this year, and I set a reminder early in my calendar.  I put it off last week, but since I am not roasting a turkey this year for the big thankfulness feast, I made time to finish our family advent calendar before Thanksgiving.  Whew!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

Naughty little Big Foot, photo-bombing my project.

The Design

If you’re freaking out right now, can I do that annoying thing people do and say… don’t!  An advent calendar does not have to be Pinterest-worthy.

Remember that the whole point is to slow down and make memories with your family.

So, if brown paper bags are all you have?  Use them!  Kids construction paper lying around?  Grab the stack!  White business envelopes?  Pfft, you got this!

I upcycled last year’s calendar that my husband (mostly) made by replacing the paper numbers with some cute felt ornament stickers and glitter glue I had on hand.  Not really homemade, but my kids totally do.not.care.

For another easy idea, see my not-so-crafty matchbox calendar here.  It’s just big enough to slip in scraps of paper with your chosen activities scrawled on them.Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

What Goes Inside?

The first year I put together an advent calendar for our family, I went with 50% activities and 50% candy because that’s what I knew I could handle.  Last year, the activity percentage climbed to about 65%.

We’re hovering at around 75% make-your-own-fun this year, and I’ve replaced the candy with books.  I absolutely love the idea I saw on Simple As That of wrapping up Christmas books.  I know other bloggers have done this too, but it was news to me.

P.s. – I will be getting most of my books from the local English library (keep an eye on due dates!), but I may order some from Amazon as well.Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

A List of Family Activities

In no particular order, I present you with a list of suggestions for your own family’s activity advent calendar:

  • Bake a favorite Christmas cookie recipe (or find a new one)
  • Make gourmet popcorn to eat or give as gifts
  • Decorate a gingerbread house
  • Watch Elf and eat your gingerbread house
  • Brew your own Christmas punch by simmering a combination of orange, apple, cranberry, and black currant juices spiked with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks on the stove or in the slow cooker
  • Create your family’s signature hot chocolate using white chocolate, dark chocolate, peppermint extract, chai spices, peanut butter, homemade marshmallows, etc. (just not all together… please)
  • Donate toys and clothing to children in need
  • Set up an advent wreath
  • Cut out paper snowflakes and tape them on the windows
  • Visit a Christmas market (if your city offers one)
  • Compose a silly letter to Santa (adults too!)
  • Head to your nearest St. Nick for a chat on Santa’s lap
  • Celebrate the coming of the European St. Nikolaus on December 6 by setting out stockings and reading the real story of Nicholas of Myra
  • Go sledding (geography matters on these next few, sorry)
  • Pick teams for a snowball fight and have at it
  • Make a heavenly host of snow angels
  • Find out if any local attractions feature an indoor winter wonderland
  • Experience a live nativity scene
  • Go ice skating
  • Attend a Christmas concert in your area (or put on one in your living room)
  • Get out the glitter and make Christmas cards for your neighbors
  • Host a Christmas pizza and movie night
  • Use felt or paper to make stockings for the kids to hang in their room(s)
  • Sing everyone’s favorite Christmas carols by candlelight
  • Go on an Ikea Christmas Scavenger Hunt (modify this one to include holiday merchandise which you can browse on your preferred Ikea website)
  • Construct a holiday village out of milk cartons (okay, maybe just one house) and use LED tea lights inside (like this)
  • Make luminaries for your front porch, balcony, or backyard
  • Take a drive to see the Christmas lights
  • Attend midnight mass (even if you’re not Catholic)
  • Read the real Christmas story (Luke 2)

Obviously, that’s more than 24 (or 25, if you prefer).  And, really, who has time/energy/money to do one of these every single day?  Just pick the ones that work for you, and fill the rest with books or these advent calendar devotions.  Simple or snazzy, your whole family is sure to love your activity advent calendar!

If you’re Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah instead, Sweet Happy Life has Hanukkah calendar ideas and Made by Mamaleh has a printable countdown.

What’s in your advent calendar this year?  I’d love for you to add to my running list in the comments below.Signature-MarigoldDisclaimer: At this time, I do not use affiliate links. You’ll only find honest personal recommendations in the links above.

Make It Yourself: Recipes for a Kid-Friendly Tuscan Pasta Feast!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Make it Yourself - Tuscan Pasta Feast

Along with cycling the walls of Lucca on a “gear bike,” the absolute best part of our trip to Tuscany according to my five year-old was learning how to make “noodles and sauce.”

I thought maybe I should correct him – actually we made tagliatelle, ravioli, ragu, and marinara – but I decided against it.  These are kid-friendly recipes, so let ’em call the food whatever they want!

T-Rex had a hand in every part of the recipes below from cracking eggs to pulsing the food processor to rolling pasta dough to cutting ravioli.

To create your own Tuscan pasta feast, whip up the pastas and sauces above.  Add a green salad tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and a loaf of rustic Italian bread.  Don’t forget a bottle of Chianti for the adults.  Bonus points for adding a cheesecake and coffee for dessert.

So.. are you ready to make your own “noodles and sauce,” Tuscan style?  Bring on the recipes!

Tuscan Ragu with Tagliatelle

1 medium carrot, peeled
1 small stalk celery
1 medium yellow onion, peeled
3 sprigs flat parsley
1/4 c olive oil
350 g (12 oz) ground beef
60ml (1/4 c) red wine
2 – 400g (14oz) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
500g (1 lb) tagliatelle pasta*
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Cut the carrot, celery, and onion into several pieces so that the vegetables fit in the bowl of a food processor.  Remove the leaves from the parsley sprigs and add them to the vegetables.  Pulse until fine.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make it Yourself - Tuscan Pasta FeastHeat the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat, and add the chopped vegetables.  Saute for about 5 mins until they begin to soften.  Add the ground beef and crumble.  Cook covered on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender.  Add the red wine, and let the alcohol evaporate.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make it Yourself - Tuscan Pasta FeastWhile the meat mixture cooks, place the tomatoes in a food processor using a fork (do not add the tomato juice), and puree.
When the vegetables are tender and the meat is fully cooked, add the tomato puree.  Bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 1 hour.  Add a little water (no more than 60ml or 1/4 c) if the sauce looks like it is drying out.  Salt to taste while the ragu is still warm.
To serve, make a small nest of tagliatelle (recipe below) on a plate or in a bowl.  Ladle the ragu over the nest, and top with Parmesan cheese.
If you don’t have time to make Tagliatelle from scratch and you can’t find it in your local grocery, fettuccine is a fine substitute.  Make sure to cook it al dente!

Quick & Easy Italian Marinara

3 whole cloves garlic, peeled
60ml (1/4 c) olive oil
4 basil leaves, washed
2 – 400g (14oz) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
salt, to taste

Thrifty Travel Mama | Make it Yourself - Tuscan Pasta FeastPlace the tomatoes in a food processor (do not add the juice) and puree.  Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat, and add the garlic when hot.  Let the garlic sizzle for 1 minute, stirring constantly (don’t burn or brown it).

Carefully add the tomato puree to the hot garlic oil, and bring to a simmer.  Add the basil leaves, and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes until the flavors blend.

Serve with any pasta that strikes your fancy.

Basic Tuscan Pasta Dough

150 g all-purpose or type 00 flour*
50 g semolina flour*
2 pinches of salt (optional)
2 eggs

Thrifty Travel Mama | Make it Yourself - Tuscan Pasta FeastMeasure the flours into a medium bowl.  Whisk to combine the two types (if using).  Pour the flour into a small pile on a large, clean work surface.  Sprinkle the salt on the flour.

Make a well in the center of the flour, and crack the eggs into the well.  Using a fork, carefully scramble the eggs, and then gradually work the flour into the eggs until a dough forms.

Knead the dough with your hands until it become smooth.  Use the heel of your hand to form the dough into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 15-30 mins.

This sounds a lot harder than it actually is.  To see pasta making in action, The Italian Dish has a short video demonstrating how to make the dough.

Using a large rolling pin, roll the dough out on a well floured surface in a large rectangle.  Make it as thin as you possibly can, all the while checking to make sure the dough does not stick to the work surface.  When the dough is about 1-2mm (1/8″ to 1/16″) thin, leave it alone for 15-20 mins to dry it out a bit.

From here, you can make ravioli (filling recipe and cutting instructions below) or continue on with tagliatelle.Thrifty Travel Mama | Make it Yourself - Tuscan Pasta FeastTo make it easier to cut into strips, fold the dough inward in two inch sections starting from the outer edge and alternating sides until the two folded sides meet.  Use a large, sharp knife to cut off sections of noodles, about 6mm (a little less than 1/4″) wide.  Toss with a sprinkling of semolina flour on a large baking sheet or plate until ready to cook.

Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes or until al dente.  Drain and serve hot with the sauce of your choice.

* Italians use Type 00 flour and semolina, but you can substitute all-purpose flour for the Type 00.  Semolina is fairly easy to find (try Bob’s Red Mill), but in a pinch, you can simply use 200g of all-purpose flour.  Also, it’s best to weigh the flour for this recipe, but if you don’t have a scale, use 2 cups of flour with 2 eggs.

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

45 ml (3 Tbl) olive oil
1 clove garlic
200 g (7 oz) frozen spinach
80 g (~3 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
200 g (7 oz) ricotta cheese
Basic Tuscan Pasta Dough, doubled (recipe + instructions above)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Make it Yourself - Tuscan Pasta FeastHeat the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat.  Add garlic when hot and swirl for 1-2 minutes to flavor the oil.  Carefully add the frozen spinach.  Add 60 ml (1/4 c) water and cover.  Cook on low until the spinach is heated through.  Salt to taste, and let cool to room temperature.

Place the Parmesan in a food processor.  Add the cooked spinach and puree until smooth.  Add the eggs and pulse until incorporated.  Remove the mixture to a medium bowl, and stir in the ricotta cheese.

Separate the pasta dough into two equal portions.  Keeping one covered in plastic wrap, roll the dough out on a well floured surface in a large rectangle.  Make it as thin as you possibly can (1-2mm or 1/8″ to 1/16″), all the while adding more flour as needed to make sure the dough does not stick to the work surface.  Repeat with the second ball of dough, and leave both pieces alone for 15-20 mins to dry it out a bit.

Use a ravioli cutter to trim off any rounded edges to form a rectangle.  (Pass the scraps to the kids and let them make their own creations.)  Fold a strip of the dough over to indicate how large you’d like to make the ravioli.  Gently use the cutter to press a guideline along the cut edge of the folded strip of dough.  Unfold.

Drop teaspoons of filling along the inside of the fold in small piles where the center of the raviolis will be. When the row of dots is completed, again fold the dough over, lining the cut edge up with the previously pressed guideline.

Using a ravioli cutter, slide along the guideline, pressing firmly to seal the edges of the dough.  Now use the cutter to separate the pasta pillows from one another.  Set on a lightly floured baking sheet in a single layer to rest while you finish making the rest of the ravioli.

Fill a large pot with water and salt generously.  Add 45ml (1 Tbl) olive oil, and bring to boiling.  Cook the ravioli for 2-3 minutes or until al dente.  Drain and serve hot with the marinara or ragu.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Make it Yourself - Tuscan Pasta Feast

Buon Appetito!

This post is part of Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Bagels!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!A bagel is as practical as you can get when it comes to breakfast on the road.  Back when the bagel first became a hot item, bakers could easily display and transport the goods thanks to the giant hole in the middle.

Nowadays, that hole is the perfect size for little hands and an excellent vehicle for a nutritious on-the-go meal.  Fill it with peanut butter, almond butter, cream cheese, whatever!Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!There’s just one problem.

Germans aren’t into bagels.  Oh, the horror!  But, ’tis true, my Panera- and Einstein-loving friends.  Once or twice a year, the discounter grocery stores sell a package of 3 or 4 “American” bagels full of preservatives.  Outside of that offering, you’ll have to settle for a whole roll.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!So, why not try your hand at making bagels yourself?

Actually, I have tried once or twice.  But, I used the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I love their dough.. for bread.  The bagels turned into a sticky, sloppy disaster.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!I’d given up when I came across this recipe on A Beautiful Mess for everything bagels.  Emma always makes everything look so easy.. and gorgeous!

I resolved to give bagel baking another shot… and score!  We all loved these and chowed down on them while driving through Switzerland on our way to Schilthorn in the Alps.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!For the recipe, hop on over to A Beautiful Mess.  Since comments there are closed, if you make these everything bagels, leave one here instead to let me know how they turned out!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!Need more road trip meal ideas?  I’ll be posting more on this topic very soon!  Until then, click over to my Pinterest board, Meals For Traveling Families, to check out hundreds of ideas.


Make It Yourself: Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Thrifty Travel Mama - Whole Grain Peanut Butter Ice Cream SandwichesHave you ever made something in your kitchen so divine, so rich, so utterly successful that you can’t quite believe it?

Spoonful follows spoonful, one taste test after another.  You pester anyone within earshot, subjecting even your own self to this barrage of enthusiasm.  I made this! … I made this! … I made this!

Wanting to put you out of your self-delusional misery and pop your obviously over-inflated ego, the annoyed but oh-so-lucky onlooker grabs a spoon and snatches a bite.

A cold silk ribbon of flavor.  Immaculate texture.  Pure peanut butter.  You made that? … You made that? … You made that?


Up until exactly twelve days ago, I was utterly convinced that peanut butter ice cream did not exist in Germany.  But, oh joy, I was wrong!  I now know of two places to enjoy such a smooth and sultry summer treat.  One is Ben & Jerry’s (for 6 euros per pint!), and the other is my own Barbie dream house kitchen.

I usually make something obnoxiously smothered in peanut butter for my husband’s birthday.  Though Doc Sci can’t help but love anything riddled with this legume paste, in my more neutral opinion some years treats have been showstoppers (Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Cupcakes), others complete flops (Peanut Butter Pound Cake).

I keep a running list of new, time-consuming, peanut butter-laden recipes.  But this one just came to me, waiting patiently for me one day when I actually had time to clean out my Google Reader (er, shall I say Feedly).

Even better, this recipe comes from a friend, another American expat in Berlin.  Dare I say that this peanut butter ice cream is so epic it’s worthy of tradition?

For the recipe, hop on over to Texanerin Baking.  With only 5 ingredients and no raw eggs or ice cream maker needed, you won’t have any excuse not to make this today!  Thrifty Travel Mama - Whole Grain Peanut Butter Ice Cream SandwichesJust whip up the ice cream in a bowl, and set it in the freezer for a few hours.  I’ve heard that you should stir your ice cream every 30 minute if not using an ice cream maker.  I tried this, and it seemed like a waste of time.  I gave up, and three hours later I had frozen peanut butter bliss!

I almost didn’t make the peanut butter cookies because the ice cream alone knocked my socks off.  At the last minute, I changed my mind.  My house full of taste testers appreciated the extra effort.  This summery peanut butter combo will put any obsessed fans over the edge.

By the way, you don’t have to use coconut oil (sub softened butter) or coconut sugar (sub the regular, processed, terrible for you white stuff).  I did use whole spelt flour, but it didn’t adversely affect the taste at all.

Erin makes her cute little sandwiches with cookie cutters.  But because I didn’t know what to do with the leftover cutouts, I wanted to make mine square.

I used a German baking sheet lined with parchment for the cookies, removed them to cool, and then spread the ice cream on another sheet of parchment in the same (now cold) pan.  I folded the parchment over so that the ice cream would only take up half the pan.  Once frozen into this shape, I cut everything into squares and assembled the sandwiches.

Enjoy these seriously cool sweet treats.  You can bet I’ll be cranking out whole grain peanut butter ice cream sandwiches again!Signature-Marigold

A Sip of Summer: Refreshing Blueberry Drinks

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaOur little Florida family has grown accustomed to the winters here – the snow, the slush, the sweaters.  But everyone has their limits.  Ours is June.

June means that no speck of winter should remain.  The sun should shine, the sweat should glisten, and salads should be served.  Not this year, though.  We’ve just greeted June in scarves and boots (yes, really).DThrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaSo, as the older boys lamented the impossibility of traipsing about in shorts and flip flops, and the baby protested the endless layers of fleece, I decided something.  If warm weather won’t come to us, we’ll just have to go ahead and make some summer ourselves.  Since summer means ice in your glass and not under your feet, it only seems fitting to start with drinks.

What’s that saying?  If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaAnd make lemonade, we shall.  But not just any lemonade.  And not just lemonade.  Let’s dress up ice cold lemonade and chilled green tea with blueberry ribbons, shall we?

First things first – we must make some blueberry simple syrup!  This drippy sweetness will be used to brighten up lemonade and green tea.  Have leftovers?  Drizzle it in yogurt or over pancakes or ice cream.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaLet’s talk lemonade.  It’s easy to make from scratch, but I had visions of lemon seeds flying all over the kitchen and juice stinging my eyes. I wanted a shortcut.

Germans only have something called bitter lemon soda, and I highly recommend taking the label at its word.  No frozen lemonade concentrate is to be found either.  But, knowing their fond affection for beer mixed with “lemonade” (known as a Radler), I persisted and discovered a huge glass bottle of Zitronensaft right next to the apple juice.  Score!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaAfter our adventures in lemonade, it’s time to conquer green tea.  If you don’t like green tea, it’s usually due to one or more of these things: you’re drinking Lipton, you’re making it with boiling water, and you’re steeping it for more than 3 minutes.

Green tea is sensitive.  Use quality tea leaves (loose leaf is best), brew it with water heated to 185°F/85°C, and remove the leaves after 3 minutes.  For more tips, click here.  But, even if I haven’t converted you to the green tea lovers club, don’t worry.  Blueberry syrup makes everything better.

To add another dimension to our drinks, let’s add bubbly… water, that is.  Replace some of the water in the lemonade with club soda or mineral water.  Make a refreshing drink worthy of coffee shop fame by mixing some sparkling water in with your blueberry green tea.

Sip slowly and imagine that summer is really, truly, FINALLY here.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaBlueberry Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
Juice from 1/2 lemon

Place the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer 15 minutes.  Smoosh the blueberries while cooking if desired.

Remove from heat; cool slightly.  Run the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, and mash blueberries with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.  Reserve the solids for another use (smoothies, ice cream topping).  Stir in the lemon juice.  Pour into a jar and refrigerate.

Adapted slightly from Closet Cooking

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaBlueberry Lemonade

1 cup lemon juice
1 cup blueberry syrup (recipe above)
4-5 cups water or use half water, half club soda for sparkling lemonade

Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher.  If using the German Zitronensaft, use slightly less than 1 cup as it is slightly more tart than fresh lemon juice.  Chill.  Serve in glasses over ice.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaBlueberry Green Tea

1.5 liters water
2 t green tea leaves
2/3 c blueberry syrup (recipe above)

Heat the water to 185°F/85°C.  Remove from heat, and steep the green tea leaves in the hot water for 3 minutes.  Discard the tea solids, and stir in the blueberry syrup.  Chill.  Serve in glasses over ice.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaTo make a blueberry green tea spritzer, fill a glass with ice.  Pour in 1/3 to 1/2 glass club soda.  Cover with enough blueberry green tea to make a full glass.  Stir gently with a spoon.  Sip, and enjoy!

What’s your favorite refreshing summer drink?Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body Scrub

Thrifty Trave Mama Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body ScrubThough I make lots of food items at home (as well as household cleaner), I haven’t quite immersed myself in the DIY beauty product world… yet.  Pinterest often features delicious body scrubs that look good enough to eat, and a friend’s birthday party was the perfect occasion to try my hand at making my own.

After I whipped up a batch for her, I couldn’t help but make another one for me.  It smelled heavenly!

And my-oh-my was it easy.  Crafting the label took the most time.  If you’re just putting together this luxurious sugar scrub for yourself, the whole process should take less than five minutes!  Thrifty Trave Mama Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body ScrubThough it’s in the name, you do not have to use brown sugar.  I made my scrub with half natural brown sugar (the kind with the crystals, not the soft American stuff) and half white sugar since it was more cost effective.

Also, if you don’t want to (or can’t) use coconut oil, olive oil works just as well.  But, of course, you won’t have that sultry coconut smell, so I highly encourage you to go coconut if you can!

Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body Scrub

1/2 cup sugar (natural, brown, or white)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted or softened (or olive oil)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, mix the vanilla and the coconut oil, stirring vigorously to incorporate the liquid into the fat.  Pour in the sugar, and stir until combined.  Let the mixture rest for an hour uncovered to allow the alcohol in the extract to evaporate (you want the scrub to smell like a tropical paradise, not booze).  Store in a glass jar with a screw-top lid.  Thrifty Trave Mama Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body Scrub



Make It Yourself: Homemade Wheat Thins

Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat Thins &Roasted Red Pepper HummusDoc Sci and both love Wheat Thins!  Our boys also love Wheat Thins; they just don’t know it yet.  When we have an occasional box stashed from a trip to the US or a care package from back home, we (ahem) don’t share.  Before I hear from the haters, just know that the boys eat all most of the cheddar Goldfish.

Why are whole grain crackers like Wheat Thins so awesome?  I think it has to do with their versatility.  Don’t get me wrong, they are secure enough in their taste to stand alone.  But hook these babies up with cheese, fruit & veg, homemade peanut butter, salsa, cinnamon vanilla almond butter, or hummus and you’ve got dibs on the best snack in town.

And, speaking of hummus, if you missed my recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Hummus from earlier this week, you can find it here.

I’ve made crackers before (these cheese ones are pretty awesome) with varying results.  Many times the crackers are just thin bread – no crunch.  And, even if they come out of the oven all crisped up, they don’t stay that way when stored more than 30 seconds.

These little whole wheat gems, however, were snappy from the get go – AND they stayed that way for five days.  I can’t really advise past that point because, well, I couldn’t possibly be asked to muster enough self control to keep these crackers around longer than that.

How do these homemade Wheat Thins stack up to the real deal?  Doc Sci thought they weren’t as salty, and I thought they were a little more buttery than the originals.  But, I did not have a sample on hand to compare, and I often buy the reduced fat variety, so don’t let my opinion sway you from giving these yummy, preservative-free, homemade snacks a try.

Homemade Wheat Thins
as seen on Smitten Kitchen

1 1/4 cups whole wheat or whole spelt flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsPreheat the oven to 400F/200C.  Mix the flour, sugar, salt, and paprika together in a mixing bowl.  Thank God for paprika; coming up with ways to make white flour, white sugar, and white salt in a white bowl look interesting is exhausting.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsCut the butter into small pieces, and drop into the flour mixture.  Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsUsing a pastry blender, a whisk that’s masquerading as a pastry blender, or two knives, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Or, if you’re in a hurry, just make sure there are no large pieces of butter remaining.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsAdd the cold water and vanilla.  Use a spatula or spoon to work the water into the flour as much as possible, and then knead several times in the bowl with your hands until a ball comes together.  It’s pretty dense, but still short of hockey puck-grade.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsSplit the dough in three equal parts.  Taking one of the thirds, roll it out on a well floured piece of parchment paper.  Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough as thin as humanly possible.  Remember, thin = crispy; and thick = chewy.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsThe edge of the dough will look like an old map, crinkly and tattered.  You can cut these edges off or leave them.  A little secret… they look the worst but taste the best!Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsUsing a pizza cutter or a knife, cut the dough into cracker-sized squares.  Poke holes in the squares using a small fork.  A toothpick or the end of a meat thermometer also work but will take much more time.

If you want to be all authentic about it, the real Wheat Thins have 9 holes per cracker.  I promise that no one will care if you make 12.  After all, it’s also a multiple of 3.  But go all 11 on me, and, well, someone might guess that these are not actually Wheat Thins…Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsThe holes do not need to be perfect or pretty, but do not skip this step.  Crackers with no holes puff up and have little to no crunch.  I made one third of my dough this way, just for you to know what not to do.  Yeah, you’re welcome.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsSlide the parchment paper onto a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with extra salt, if desired.  Bake for 5-7 minutes or until crisp.  The funky crackers on the outside will be more crisp than the ones on the inside.

Keep an eye on these babies, and do not walk away!  Burned Wheat Thins are worse than no Wheat Thins.

Repeat the rolling, cutting, poking, and baking for the remaining two thirds of the cracker dough.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsLet the baked Wheat Thins cool completely, and then store in an airtight container for 5 days (or more, if they last that long!).Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Travel Journal

Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalI’ve long ogled the amazing travel journals littering Pinterest, and I finally decided it was time to make one myself.

Honestly, I haven’t used travel journals much, and I think that’s probably a big mistake.  I have to write down each and every little nit-picky thing that must be accomplished for the day in my planner.  If I don’t put pen to paper, I’m lost without a thought in my sleep deprived brain about what I need for the day.  So why not use the same strategy when I’m traveling?  Doh!

Before now, a travel journal was just one.more.thing that I had to remember, pack, keep track of, and protect from flying food and other luscious infant substances.  But since I seem to want to keep traveling and telling you about our adventures, maybe I oughta make a note or two.  Just sayin’.

And, just maybe making a pretty place to put my thoughts will help with that?  Fingers crossed!

Here’s how I made my journal – you should make one too.  Don’t have any trips coming up?  Make one anyway.  It doesn’t have to be just for traveling.  Your journal could be anything you want it to be – thoughts, notes, grocery lists, whatever.  Just make sure you like it, so you’ll be more inclined to write in it.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFirst, you’re going to need some materials: cardstock, paper, scissors, tape, glue, ruler, pencil, eraser, and, oh right, a notebook.  Actually, you probably could just staple a stack of plain white copy paper right smack in the middle and fold it over to create a little booklet.  But my stapler is teensy weensy, so I went with a ready-made notebook that cost me a whopping 49 cents.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNext, you need to make a cover for your notebook.  Since I only had one sheet of desirable cardstock, I decided to make a template from IKEA packing paper.  Better to completely bomb out on something I’m going to recycle anyway than to irrevocably trash my one and only piece of pretty (thick) paper.

To make a template, trace the outside of the piece of cardstock you will be using.  Then, line up the notebook inside of the cardstock and trace the edge of one side, then the spine, and then the other.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalLop off each of the corners and a v shape at the spine so that the cardstock cover will wrap around the notebook’s existing cover.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalWrap the template around your notebook, and make sure the cover will fit the way you’d like.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalEven if you’re satisfied, I’d recommend expanding the outline of the notebook’s cover by an additional 1/16″ or 1/8″ all the way around the outside.  Better to have a little extra than to have the card stock fit too tightly. Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNow, lay your template on the card stock.  Trace the areas to remove in the corners and at the spine.  Grab the scissors and snip, snip.  Gently fold the cardstock around the notebook’s cover, and glue the edges.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFind some complimentary (or contrasting!) cardstock and cut it to fit over the ugly old notebook cover.  We can’t have that ruining our travel journal vibe.

Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalNow it’s time to have some fun, and really make the design your own.  Think about how you will use your journal.  I am always collecting receipts, ticket stubs, product tags, etc., and I never know where to put them.  An envelope inside the cover is a great place to stash these items to write about later.

Create an envelope for these treasures by folding a piece of colored paper as shown.  Cut off the top with decorative scissors.  Use regular scissors to cut out the squares in the corners.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFold over the two side edges and place a little glue near the bottom flap in the corners.  Next, swipe your glue stick around the folded edges, and then press it down inside the front cover.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalBut, we don’t want to stop there, now do we?  Let’s add a bigger envelope in the back.. and while we’re at it, let’s make this one with a flap.

Fold the paper the same way we did with the front envelope.  Then grab another piece of paper (either the same or mix it up with a different color or pattern) and fold to be the same width as the bottom piece.  Fold it in half to create the top flap portion.  Cut the corners in a triangular fashion, if desired, to cut down on bulk.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalBefore gluing the envelope to the back cover, poke one brad through the top piece, and one brad through the bottom piece.  If your envelope paper is thin, strengthen the brad with tape on the back side.

Attach the top flap with glue first and then the bottom piece.  Add a pop of color underneath the lid if you’d like.  Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalFinish with a thin ribbon or string to keep the envelope fastened.Thrifty Travel Mama Make Your Own Travel JournalMany of the travel journals I’ve seen have themed pages (what we ate on Tuesday, our top 10 on Saturday).  This stifles my creativity.  I find I have more to say if there’s just one question to start, and not a whole template to fill in.

If you’re more of the template persuasion, have a gander at my Pinterest board featuring loads of travel journals and other Vacation Memory Makers.

I found these really, REALLY good prompts at GoNOMAD.com, and when I get ten kid-free moments, I’ll scribble them on the front page. Then, it’s just a matter of picking a prompt and doodling about our day.  (Full disclosure: the link above does have a few words in it not suitable for children, so use with caution.)http://pinterest.com/thriftytrvlmama/vacation-memory-makers/You’re almost done!  Just add embellishment to your little heart’s desire, remembering that the prettier your journal, the more likely you are to use it.  Later on, I plan to add tabs to separate the different trips using this tutorial.

I’m looking forward to filling this notebook up with memories, starting with a trip to the Netherlands next month.  Yay!

Have you made a travel journal?  Leave a link in the comments so we can see your creation!  Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Spiced Whole Grain Donut Holes

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut holesHappy Donut Dress Up Day, also known in Germany as Fastnacht!  Okay, no one calls it Donut Dress Up Day, but really that’s what it is.

Children and adults run around in costumes and stuff their faces with fried food.  There’s a parade and a whole lotta crazy, freaky masks.  We went the first year, and that was enough for me.

I also must admit I’m not much of a donut lover.  The greasy sponge of choice here is the Berliner, a jelly-filled type dusted with powdered sugar.  I just can’t bring myself to indulge.  Squishy fillings completely creep me out.

But donut holes?  Covered in spiced up sugar?  And whole grain?  Well, I am ALL over that.  And since Germany isn’t really into the whole grain donut thing, I’ll have to whip some up myself.

Given my laughably miniscule amount of free time, I prefer to use the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day doughs whenever possible.  The recipes are simple, and there’s no kneading or other complicated professional baker type stuff.

I own both books, but my copy of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day is resting comfortably in a friend’s kitchen on the wrong side of the Atlantic.  Thankfully, I had a few notes scribbled on a random piece of paper as to how to make these delightful dough balls.

If you don’t have the book, you can find the recipe and directions for mixing up Whole Wheat Brioche dough here.

Just a heads up for those with will power issues… The recipe makes a LOT of dough.  One quarter of the recipe should yield about sixteen donut holes.  I had my two best eating machines around to make sure that none went to waste (or to my waist).  If you decide to make the whole batch of dough – consider yourself warned!

Because my boys are home from school for a few days this week, I had my kitchen-crazy five year-old help me make the donuts.  Just a little heads up if you do the same.. he did an awesome job fishing the finished donuts out of the pot.  Plopping the dough circles into the hot-enough-to-send-you-to-the-ER-if-you-get-splashed-the-wrong-way vat of oil?  Eh, not so much.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesStart with your dry ingredients; I used whole spelt flour instead of white whole wheat.  Salt, yeast, and vital wheat gluten round out the mix.  (Vital wheat gluten can be found at health food stores or in nice care packages from your brother.)

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesYou’re also going to need some honey, melted butter (or oil), and eggs.  Whisk the wet, and mix into the dry.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesThe result is a wet and shaggy dough that needs some alone time.  Two hours at room temperature, and then at least two hours in the fridge.  Sheesh.  What I wouldn’t give for four hours to myself!

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesMeanwhile, get some good old-fashioned white sugar out and spice it up.  The recipe in the book calls for one half cup of sugar plus 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cardamom, and 1/4 tsp cloves.  I subbed nutmeg for the cardamom and upped the cinnamon ’cause I seem to be completely unable to follow a recipe from start to finish without changing a single thing.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesWhen your moody dough is ready, turn it out on a flour-covered surface.  Flatten it using your hands or a rolling pin until it’s about 1/4″ thick.  Any thicker and the donuts will not cook all the way through.  Using a small circular biscuit cutter, cut out your donut holes.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesPour a mad amount of oil in a deep stock pot.  It should be at least 3″ deep and creep about halfway up the side.  Heat it up until it reaches 360/370F.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesCarefully drop two or three dough blobs in the hot oil.  Cook for 1-2 minutes and then flip over using a spider.  Fry for an additional minute or two, and then remove (again with the arachnid on a handle) to a paper towel-covered plate.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesWhen cool enough to handle, roll the donut holes around in the spiced up sugar.  Pile ’em high and serve ’em hot.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesHave leftover dough?  Make this super cute Valentine’s Day bread with the rest of your brioche.  Enjoy!

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut Holes