19 Cheap & Easy Last-Minute Halloween Ideas

Over the last four years we’ve lived here, I’ve noticed Halloween has become more and more popular in Germany.  While I don’t see trick-or-treating going viral yet, stores have at least started carrying costumes and snacks for the occasion (though sadly, not candy corn).

This year, we’re putting on a small party for some of the kids in our building, and I needed some fun yet simple ideas for food, decor, and activities. 

I really can’t justify going to great lengths to plan an amazing bash.  My kids aren’t even familiar with the word Halloween or what the holiday really entails.  They were too young to remember the holiday in America (and we usually ended up in tinfoil in honor of Chipotle’s free burrito day).  Plus, this year we’re busy getting ready to head over to Scotland (yay!).

So, if you’re strapped for time like I am, check out these inexpensive, cute, last-minute Halloween ideas from Pinterest.  Have more fun food, decor, and crafts?  Leave a link in the comments below!

Food:

Hard Boiled Monster Eggs from Chew Chew Mama

Banana Ghosts and Clementine Pumpkins from Creamty

Spooky Popcorn Hand from Little Nummies

Spider Web Snacks from Mom Endeavors

Pumpkin Pretzels from A Thrifty Mom

Mandarin Orange Pumpkins from Serving Pink Lemonade.

Decor:

Halloween Eyeball Topiaries from Crafts ‘n Coffee

Glowing Recycled Milk Jug Jack O’Lanterns from Sassy Girlz

Trash Bag Spider Webs from How About Orange

Halloween Pac Man Garland from Minieco

Plastic Cup + Sharpie Halloween Lanterns from The Australian Baby Blog

Activities:

Haunted House Halloween Cut Out from Sarah Jane

Q Tip Skeletons from Crafts for all Seasons

Footprint Ghosts from Hand Print and Foot Print Art

Paint Chip Monster and Candy Corn Cards from All Free Holiday Crafts

Leftover Candy:

Candy Bar Cookies from Pip & Ebby

Leftover Halloween Candy Bark from Brown Eyed Baker

Halloween Candy Gingerbread Houses from Cake Central

November Thanksgiving “Advent” Calendar, Harvest Tree, and Turkey Pinata from Alpha Mom

It’s time to break out the craft supplies, corral all the extra candy, and give some of these ideas a try!  Which is your favorite? Signature-Marigold

Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple (Breakfast) Cookies

Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesBack in July, I asked on Facebook what y’all eat on a family road trip.  Surprisingly, many of you snack on cold chicken tenders (which we tried and loved, thanks!) but very few of you take your breakfast to go.

Oh, friends, eating breakfast in the car is one of the main reasons that our road trips with one, three, and five year-old boys are even remotely possible.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesYears ago, when T-Rex as a mere four months old, we discovered during a torturous and frustrating road trip that driving in the dark was the least stressful way to travel long distances by car with a baby.  We rarely drive all night, but we are often setting out in the wee hours of the morning.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesThe idea is that if the kids are drowsy enough, they’ll snooze several hours under the cover of darkness (works better in winter than in summer, obviously).

When they wake up, we serve breakfast to eek out an extra 30-45 minutes of drive time.  By the time they’re littering the backseat with stray crumbs and wayward yogurt drips, we’ve usually arrived at our destination.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesBut, what to give the hungry backseat monsters?  Cereal with milk is out; easy-to-eat carbs are in!  And bonus points if you can shove some extra fruit, veg, or protein in that package.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesEnter cheesy apple cookies.  Now, you may think I’ve let 13 kilos of apples affect my better judgement, but have no fear.  These sound ridiculous, but we’ve eaten them on the way to Italy, Zurich, and Berchtesgaden (posts coming next week!).

Everyone in our family happily scarfs down these crazy creations.  Well, except the grumpy baby… but we love him anyway.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesSo, seriously – don’t knock ’em before you try ’em.

p.s. – These cookies aren’t just for breakfast.  They make kids happy at lunch and snack time, too!Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple Cookies

Cheesy Apple Cookies

adapted from The Kitchn

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup unrefined sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 T ground flax seed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans*
2 medium-sized apples, preferably Granny Smith or another tart variety
4 ounces cheese, finely chopped (about 1 cup)**

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Whisk the olive oil, egg, and vanilla together in a glass measuring cup until combined.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, oats, flax, and nuts together.

Grate the apples into the flour mixture, stopping at the core.  Stir to coat the apple with the dry ingredients, and then add the chopped cheese.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until combined. The dough will be loose and lumpy. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden and the cheese browns just a bit. Allow the cookies to hang out on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes and then remove them to a rack until completely cool.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the freezer for several months.

*The nuts are optional; feel free to substitute dried fruit if you’re a nut-free household.  **I’ve made these with regular (young) gouda, smoked gouda, and cheddar.  Cheeses with a stronger flavor (sharp cheddar, aged or smoked gouda) work best.  Otherwise the cheese flavor literally melts away.

If you want to make these whole grain, try using white whole wheat.  Going with 100% whole wheat will give you gummy cookies in this recipe.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesSo, what do you think?  Will you give these nutty cookies a try?  If not, there’s always bagels!Signature-Marigold

Apple Madness! A Recipe Round Up to Whittle Your Stash

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashOur boys so loved picking strawberries this past summer, that I determined we must go apple picking once fall arrived.  Well, fall is certainly here, and her glory is starting to show.  So, a few weeks ago, the boys and I headed out to a nearby farm with some friends to see how we fared at harvesting our own apples.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashI was a teensy bit worried that apple picking wouldn’t turn out to be a good activity for little boys who are even more vertically challenged than I am.  Luckily, the fruit was within their reach, and we picked about 13 kilos in less than an hour.

Um, yeah.  13 kilos…

All I can say is that it didn’t SEEM like a lot at the time.  But we were (and kinda still are) up to our eyeballs in fragrant fruit.

So, if you find yourself fortunate enough to be wandering an apple orchard or unfortunately sitting on ten bushels of the suckers, here are some scrumptious ways to use those apples up.

By the way, Kim at Stuffed Suitcase has some excellent tips on going apple picking with kiddos in tow.  Check them out here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApplesauce.  Duh.  There are a zillion variations (sugar, honey, no sugar, spiced, crockpot, stovetop).  Just pick one, and go with it.  It’s okay if you don’t have any special equipment (I don’t).  We’ve whipped up four batches of silky puree; the kids love making and eating it.

Apple butter.  Contains no butter – apple butter is really just applesauce cooked down further, usually with a little sweetener and spices.  The crockpot method is the most fool-proof, but you can also make it on the stove.  Some recipes contain a LOT of sugar;  I’d recommend only adding a tiny bit of sweetener and then adjusting to taste.

Fruit leather.  You’re basically drying out your applesauce in the oven when you make fruit leather.  Try this easy peasy cinnamon variation.

Apple chips.  Another simple, healthy, kid-friendly snack.  Even the kitchen-challenged can make apple chips.  I like the simplicity of this no-sugar-added recipe.

Dried apple bits.  Make these at the same time as the apple chips, and use the bits in oatmeal or yogurt.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApple S’mores.  This was one of those happy accidents, born out of the desire to make a quick and easy apple dessert that went along with what I was already making for dinner on the grill (these juicy fajitas).  You don’t really need a recipe, but here’s what to do:

Wash your apples, core them, and slice into 1/2″ thick rounds.  If you don’t have an apple corer, use a knife to carefully cut out the core after slicing the apple.  Grill about 5 minutes.  Then flip, and grill the other side.  When the apple slices are done, cool slightly while you roast the marshmallows.  Carefully slide a gooey marshmallow onto an apple slice, and finish with a dollop of apple butter.  Devour while warm.

Baked apples.  I’ve made these in the crockpot and the oven.  My kids loved the Skinnytaste version.  For an extra special treat, serve a la mode.

Apple nachos.  These are on my recipe list for the weekend.  Apples?  Peanut Butter?  Nutella?  Yes, please!

Apple crumble pizza.  An indulgent-yet-healthy dessert.  I served this at brunch with chai tea.  Wowzers.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple Stash

Apple butter donuts.  Alas, I do not have a donut pan, so I made these as muffins.  And instead of the glaze (though I’m sure it’s scrumptious), I filled the muffin cups with half of the batter, then added a tablespoon of apple butter before topping with the remaining batter.

Apple walnut lentil salad.  Crisp, sour apples make excellent salad toppings, especially when paired with spinach.  Add toasted walnuts, cooked brown lentils, and Parmesan cheese.  We ate ours drizzled with a balsamic honey mustard dressing which is really just a hybrid of two of my all-time favorites.

BBQ chicken apple pizza.  Everyone in the family LOVED this pizza variation.  I used an ABin5 dough, slathered it with a thin layer of BBQ sauce, and added finely sliced apples followed by a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.  I topped it off with BBQ rotisserie chicken and sliced onions.  A new family favorite!

Apple pie grilled cheese.  Change up your lunch routine with this funky sandwich.  Doesn’t it look scrumptious?  I can’t wait to try it!

Apple cheese cookies.  I’ve made these several times now, and they make perfect road trip snacks.  I’ve got a whole post on these babies coming soon!

Scrumptious apple pie.  And last, but certainly not least, if you need a showstopping dessert for any occasion, I can highly recommend this recipe from Pioneer Woman.  You’ll never go back to regular ol’ apple pie again!  (p.s. – it’s pretty easy to make your own caramel sauce!)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashIf you’ve been paying attention, I’ve made all of the recipes above (except the nachos and grilled cheese which will be making an appearance at my table very soon)… and I still have more apples! 

So, instead of going bonkers for a few hours on Pinterest, I’d love to hear your favorite apple recipes.  Leave a link in the comments, and I’ll gladly take a peek.

If apples aren’t your thing, don’t worry – pumpkins are next!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.

Signature-Marigold

Strawberry Madness!

Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesMmmmm strawberries!  Nothing says summer like a juicy bite out of a gigantic ripe strawberry.  The deepest darkest crimson ones are the sweetest, bursting with flavor.  Savoring each refreshing berry, it’s hard to think that life could get any better than this.

The boys and I have embraced this season by heading out to some fields in our area and picking our own strawberries.  Since we haven’t joined the harvest-it-yourself bandwagon for several years, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Would they be bored?  Rowdy?  Would they turn into little thieves, stuffing their faces with pilfered fruit?Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesThankfully, after a quick lesson in which berries to pick (big, bright, all-over red) and which ones to leave (small, white, green, rotten) each of the boys dutifully placed the strawberries in their designated buckets.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesWhat’s more, I didn’t even have to give a soapbox speech about stealing.  Okay, we “taste tested” a few to make sure we were buying quality goods.  But, after doing our due diligence, we picked our way past 4 kilos!

While it’s great fun to fill your baskets, afterward you must decide just what to do with allllll those strawberries.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesMay I offer a few simple suggestions?

Fruit leather.  A huge hit in our household, you won’t believe what a cinch this is to make.  Simply puree your fruit, spread it on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and dehydrate in the oven at the lowest possible setting for 6+ hours.  If you must have a recipe, this one’s handyThrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesFor thicker, more pliable fruit leather (and a more balanced taste), add 1/2 cup applesauce to your strawberries before pureeing.  P.s. – you totally do not need sugar in your fruit leather.  You do, however, need to sweeten your syrup (see below).Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesBerry Sorbet True sorbet isn’t made with dairy, but this particular recipe uses a bit of yogurt to smooth out the texture.  Place frozen berries, yogurt, and a few tablespoons of sugar in a food processor.  Give it a whirl, and voila!  An easy summer dessert that’s good enough for company.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesStrawberry Syrup.  Another mighty fine condiment, this one is just as easy to whip up as blueberry or chocolate syrupBoil strawberries, water, and sugar until the berries break down.  Blast to bits with a hand mixer.  You can either leave the syrup as is or strain it to remove the seeds and pulp.  Though I strained the blueberry variety, I decided to leave the strawberry syrup as is.  If you need a recipe, here’s a good one.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and Recipes

Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesThis sweet & pretty dark pink puree is the base for all sorts of kitchen magic.  Allow it to work wonders as a French toast topping or be the star of pink lemonade.  Make show-stopping strawberry milkshakes with this syrup and vanilla ice cream.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesOther ideasBesides the obvious jam option, toss sliced strawberries into a spinach salad with balsamic and toasted walnuts.  Make chocolate-covered strawberries with the biggest ones.  Bake a strawberry crumble, or even this amazing no-bake strawberry cheesecake.  If you really want to impress, this is the best strawberry cake EVER.

Dairy-free berry tart: crust recipe here, but sub coconut oil for butter.  "Cream" recipe (and gluten-free crust option) here.

Dairy-free berry tart from our Fourth of July picnic in Badenweiler: crust recipe here, but sub coconut oil for butter. Vanilla bean custard recipe (and gluten-free crust option) here.

Whatever you do, do it quickly for these sweet red gems don’t last long.  Eat, drink, and enjoy because soon the strawberries – and summer – will be gone.

In the mood for blueberries instead?  Indulge in a sip of summer with these refreshing summer blueberry drinks!Signature-Marigold

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?

Daaaaaaaang.

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

Visiting the Kinderkookkafé in Amsterdam

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

I live with a five year-old aspiring chef.  T-Rex constantly asks me if he can help cook dinner, bake a cake, make pizza, etc.  His kindergarten allows children to prepare a meal every Wednesday for the whole class, and it’s rather dramatic if he can’t participate.  So when I heard about the Kinderkookkafé in Amsterdam, I knew we had to go!

The Kinderkookkafé is a unique cafe in Amsterdam where children run the show.  Each child selects what he or she would like to eat, prepares the dish, helps place it in the oven (if applicable), serves the food, and cleans up afterward.

The cafe hosts cooking classes and birthday parties on weekends.  The children congregate in the open kitchen for instruction and then play while the food bakes.

The cafe hosts cooking classes and birthday parties on weekends. The children congregate in the open kitchen for instruction and then play while the food bakes.

Menu choices include lunch items such as ham and cheese croissants, open face sandwiches, and pizza to desserts like cupcakes and cookies to simpler snacks of carrot and cucumber cut-outs.

Standard menu choices are pictured, but daily specials are written on the blackboard.

Standard menu choices are pictured, but daily specials are written on the blackboard.  The top photos represent the finished product, and the bottom photos help children to select all the required ingredients.

Both of my boys chose to make pizzas.  The menu card showed what items they needed to collect from the self-serve area to create their meal.  With dough, sauce, cheese, vegetables, flour, rolling pin, and pan in hand, they got to work.

First step - smear liquid butter all over the pizza pan.  Really.

First step – smear liquid butter all over the pizza pan. Really.

T-Rex and Screech had a blast doing everything themselves.  Doc Sci observed that the hardest part about a visit to the Kinderkookkafé is actually letting the kids do everything themselves.  Perfectionists will squirm when their child puts all of the cheese in one spot and doesn’t cut up the bell pepper.  Not that I know anything about that…

Ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

I must say that there’s not a whole lot to entertain the little ones while their food bakes.  I noticed a stack of books and a table with paper and colored pencils.  In warmer weather, the children could play outside in the little attached playground.

The cooked pizzas were rather crispy (food safety?), but neither of my boys noticed or cared.  It didn’t take long for the chefs to devour their masterpieces.

Food prices are reasonable; the pizzas cost about €3,50 each and most other dishes cost less than that.  I assume that the cafe makes most of its money from adult refreshments (coffee, cake, etc.).

Bathroom cleanliness was questionable.  The sinks were rather stopped up from all the dough bits washed off of little hands.  T-Rex almost overflowed the basin.  Let’s hope the staff uses separate facilities and keeps the kitchen cleaner than the restroom.

The staff members spoke English and were happy to answer all of my first-timer questions.  When I was mixing up a bottle for Big Foot, one of the women working there walked over and offered to warm it up for me.

The Kinderkookkafé concept is brilliant, and it’s obvious that the place has had great success.  I highly recommend stopping here for a meal or even just a snack when visiting Amsterdam with kids.

Have you been to the Kinderkookkafé?  If you had the opportunity, would you enjoy going to a restaurant where your children prepared and served the food?

Headed to Amsterdam?  Check out our Snapshot of Amsterdam with Kids, and don’t miss a visit to Keukenhof Flower Gardens!Signature-Marigold

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

Simple Pleasures: Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola

How could you resist?  Good and good for you!

How could you resist? Good and good for you!

Though I am a pancake fan, my true breakfast love is cereal.  I could eat cereal for several of my six small meals a day and be totally content.  But I’d have to be in America, because Germany doesn’t have any of my favorites.

Sure, we have cereal here, but it’s of the Frosted Flakes variety (eh).  Germans usually go for muesli, and most stores stock something called Knusper (crispy) Muesli which Americans know as granola.

Mmmmmm, granola!  The best granola in all the world (according to yours truly) is Cascadian Farm Organic Oats & Honey.  It’s crunchy with the right amount of sweetness, neither overpowering nor bland.  I couldn’t possibly hope to replicate it, though it’s not for lack of trying.

I’ve made at least a half a dozen granola recipes (even this one in the crockpot!), but none of them came out crunchy.  They all either started out soggy or ended up there within a few days.  No good.  In my book, granola MUST have a good, tooth-endangering bite to it.

I’m stoked to report that the following recipe provides all the crunch you could want… and without any oil!  Now, how’s that for helping you pick up where you left off on those New Year’s resolutions?

Though this recipe is titled Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola, please give yourself permission to break the rules.  I would much prefer my granola to have pecans, but they’re scarce around these parts.  Don’t like nutmeg or can’t stomach wheat germ?  Leave it out.  Have a hankering for coconut, raisins, pumpkin seeds, or all three?  Toss ’em in!

The main thing to remember is that the more liquid you have, the more clumps you’ll end up with.  So if you go crazy adding extra ingredients, you might need to increase the liquid or decide you can live with less chunks.

Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola

5 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup oat bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 Tbl ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup raw or brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 275F.  Whisk together oats, walnuts, flax, oat bran, wheat germ, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Combine water and brown sugar, microwaving at 30 second – 1 minute intervals and stirring until dissolved.  Add maple syrup, vanilla, and salt to the sugar syrup.  Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients.  Stir to combine, making sure to coat the oat mixture as thoroughly as possible.  Pour onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Using a spatula, press granola down until flat.  Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, flipping carefully every 15 minutes.  Cool completely.  Store in an airtight container or zip top bag.  Granola should keep for one week at room temperature.

First, start with your oats.  Get the big'ns, none of that short quick oat stuff.

First, start with your oats. Get the big’ns, none of that short quick oat stuff.

Scoop some nuts.  Get a little sassy and don't measure exactly.

Scoop some nuts. Get a little sassy and don’t measure exactly.

Chop the suckers up as fine or as course as suits your fancy.

Chop the suckers up as fine or as course as suits your fancy.

Be kind to your insides - pile on the ground flax, oat bran, and wheat germ.

Be kind to your insides – pile on the ground flax, oat bran, and wheat germ.

Spice things up with a heaping scoop of cinnamon and a few shakes of nutmeg.

Spice things up with a heaping scoop of cinnamon and a few shakes of nutmeg.

It's time to bust out the sugar.  One cup may seem like a lot, but remember it's going to be watered down.

It’s time to bust out the sugar. One cup may seem like a lot, but remember it’s going to be watered down.  Pour the sugar and the water in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl, the bigger the better.

Microwave the sugar water at one minute intervals.  Do not walk away!  These two get a little feisty, bubbling and foaming all over the place.  Remove from microwave, stir, and repeat until all the sugar is dissolved.

Microwave the sugar water at one minute intervals. Do not walk away! These two get a little feisty, bubbling and foaming all over the place. Remove from microwave, stir, and repeat until all the sugar is dissolved.

You will then find yourself in the presence of this drippy deliciousness.

You will then find yourself in the presence of this drippy deliciousness.

But we can't leave our mixture mediocre - no, we need to take it to a whole new level with the addition of pure maple syrup and...

But we can’t leave our mixture mediocre – no, we need to take it to a whole new level with the addition of pure maple syrup and…

pure vanilla extract.  Remember this?  Yep, still going strong one year later!

pure vanilla extract. Remember this? Yep, still going strong one year later!

After adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract to the brown sugar syrup, toss in some salt.  You can leave this out, but unlike most baked goods, I can taste this when I eat the granola, and the salty/sweet combo is a (delightful) kick in the pants each morning.

After adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract to the brown sugar syrup, toss in some salt. You can leave this out, but unlike most baked goods, I can actually taste the salt when I eat the granola, and the salty/sweet combo is a (delightful) kick in the pants each morning.

Give the liquid mixture a good stir, and the dry ingredients a quick whisk.  Then it's time to pour the sweetness alllllll over the oaty-nuttiness.

Give the liquid mixture a good stir, and the dry ingredients a quick whisk. Then it’s time to pour the sweetness alllllll over the oaty-nuttiness.

Mix it up, leaving no oat uncoated.

Mix it up, leaving no oat uncoated.

Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or, in my case, broiler pan).

Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or, in my case, broiler pan).

Smash it down, pressing it as if you were making granola bars.  This encourages clumping, a definite "yes" in my book.

Smash it down, pressing it as if you were making granola bars. This encourages clumping, a definite “yes” in my book.

Bake at 275F for 45 minutes - 1 hour.  I usually bake for 30 minutes, flip carefully as to not break up established clumps, and then return to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Occasionally, the granola needs another flip and a few more minutes.  Watch carefully, and don't let the oats and nuts burn.

Bake at 275F for 45 minutes – 1 hour. I usually bake for 30 minutes, flip carefully as to not break up established clumps, and then return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Occasionally, the granola needs another flip and a few more minutes. Watch carefully, and don’t let the oats and nuts burn.

For a super awesome snack or dessert, make a parfait!  Layer non-fat plain yogurt, homemade chocolate syrup, and your freshly baked brown sugar walnut granola.

For a super awesome snack or dessert, make a parfait! Layer non-fat plain yogurt, homemade chocolate syrup, and your freshly baked brown sugar walnut granola.

My Pinterest Christmas

Merry (belated) Christmas!  Yikes, it’s almost the new year.  I hope you and yours had a simply joyful holiday, whatever it is you celebrate.  Though Christmas is officially over for 2012, you probably still have your tree up.  So, while you’ve still got the holidays on the brain, I thought I’d share my very Pinterest-y Christmas with you.

Last year, I put together my very first homemade advent calendar.  This year, I wanted to add a twist.  I found a puzzle with 20 pieces that depicted a manger scene.  I wanted to add a piece to each day’s surprise (well, the first 20 anyway).  The puzzle wouldn’t fit in the matchbox calendar, so I had to come up with a different design.

Our advent calendar made from colored paper, ribbon, and an old IKEA mirror frame.

Our advent calendar made from colored paper, ribbon, and an IKEA mirror frame.

I was totally strapped for time, so I have a confession.  Doc Sci actually did most of the work on this advent calendar.  I just arranged the envelopes, slapped on the numbers, and strung them up in an old IKEA mirror frame.  The man’s got skills beyond brainiac physics, thank God.  He’s also got some pretty rad muscles, but luckily we didn’t need those for our Christmas-y arts & crafts.

Along with the puzzle pieces, I slipped in short devotions for each day.  These were designed to be quick (and they were), but I found some of the questions to be a smidge over the heads of my three and five year-old boys.  I just altered several on the fly and kept my expectations for deep, thoughtful discussion very low.  Perhaps next year T-Rex will be ready for more.  I plan to keep these inserts around and reuse them.

My favorite part of the advent calendar, however, are the fun things we get to do.  I don’t have the time or energy for something amazing every day, but I was able to pull off some memorable activities.

This year's Christmas tree!

This year’s Christmas tree!

For starters, we decorated our new Christmas tree.  Last year, we had a real tree.  But, on a clearance hunt after Christmas, I came across a small, pre-lit artificial tree… for 2,50 euro!   We hung the cheapie ornaments we bought last season as well as these 3D stars which I made out of photocopied sheet music.

Our "snowy" view.

Our “snowy” view.

It snowed for the first time this year in late October.  That quickly melted, but we received another decent dumping around T-Rex’s birthday in early December.  It seemed fitting to decorate the windows with paper snowflakes.  I folded the paper and sketched the patterns.  T-Rex cut (with Doc Sci’s help), and Screech smoothed out the finished flakes.

T-Rex and Doc Sci cut...

T-Rex and Doc Sci cut…

and Screech smooths out the finished product.

and Screech smooths out the finished product.

I had planned to make these fun Christmas cards that feature easy paper strip Christmas trees, but I ran out of time.  I was too busy preparing for a cookie swap party.  I do not know what I was thinking, hosting such madness while juggling two preschoolers and a four month-old baby.

The loot!

The loot!

I invited at least 25 people, thinking most of them would not come.  Wrong!  Many of my guests had never heard of such a thing as a cookie swap and just so happened to think it was a fabulous idea.  I had more than 15 adults plus kids in my teeny tiny apartment.

Swappin' cookies.

Swappin’ cookies.

The boys and I decorated sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies.  I put the nice ones out for the party and sent the crazy-looking creations to the boys’ kindergarten Christmas fest.  I also served this show-stopping Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread.  And then I prayed for leftovers.

And, of course, we had to bake our own cookies for the swap.  Since I asked each guest to RSVP with their cookie choice, I was forced to choose a cookie that no one else was making.  In the spirit of our Florida roots, and since citrus is plentiful this time of year, I went with Creamsicle Dreams.  If you make these, don’t skimp on the orange zest or the white chocolate, and double the amount of orange juice for some really punchy pucks.

Just between you and me, I really wanted to make these Cafe Coffee Cookies.  But Doc Sci gags at the taste of coffee, and I thought they might not be as universally pleasing as the Creamsicle Dreams.  Maybe I will be bold and go for it next year!

Elf on TV and gingerbread popcorn on the mantle.

Elf on TV and gingerbread popcorn on the mantle.

Since I didn’t want guests to just go home with a zillion cookies, I made several batches of Gingerbread Popcorn to give as party favors.  Disclaimer: this popcorn is totally addictive.  Especially if you decide it should have some salty pretzel sticks added in and melted white chocolate drizzled all over.  I probably ate as much of this stuff as I gave away… and I enjoyed every calorie-laden bite.

IKEA gingerbread house kit.

IKEA gingerbread house kit.

Gingerbread houses are not just fun to make; they’re great party decorations, too.  I originally thought it would be a good idea to deck it to the 9’s with the kids.  Then, I came across a much better idea – have the boys decorate ice cream cone “trees” and then put those up around the house.  Genius!

The boys decorated these ice cream cone "trees."

The boys decorated these ice cream cone “trees.”

Our completed house!

Our completed house!

Rear view.

Rear view.

A candy cane fence is good for keeping out sour patch kids.

A candy cane fence is good for keeping out sour patch kids and lemonheads.

Peppermint path.

Peppermint path.

My boring front door needed some pizzazz to welcome guests, so I whipped up a toilet paper roll wreath.  I gave it my own trash-to-treasure touch by adding newspaper flowers.

If you make one of these wreaths, please do yourself a favor and use spray paint.  Painting every crack and crevice can really kill the Christmas cheer.

If you make one of these wreaths, please do yourself a favor and use spray paint. Coating every crack and crevice by hand can really kill the Christmas cheer.

After the party, we had a family Christmas movie night.  I made veggie Christmas tree pizzas (although this snowman pizza is adorable, too) to snack on while we watched Elf.  It also seemed a fitting time to devour the gingerbread house while Will Ferrell poured maple syrup on his spaghetti and sprinkled it with M&Ms, chocolate syrup, and Pop Tarts.

Christmas pizza - step 1!

Christmas tree pizza – step 1!

Decorating the trees.

Decorating the trees.

Bubbling over with anticipation.

Bubbling over with anticipation.  Pour some syrup on it and Buddy would be proud.

Thanks for taking a tour of my Pinterest Christmas.  I’d love to hear about your Pinterest-inspired Christmas experiences too, so leave a comment below to share!