Thursday, December 14, 2017

Awesome Life Friday #141

Welcome to Awesome Life Friday!

We're so looking forward to seeing what you've been cooking, creating, growing, decorating, reviewing, giving away, and thinking about this week!

While you're here, leave your posts at the other link up we co-host here - Party in Your PJs!  It starts on Tuesday evenings, and runs through Sunday.  I hope you'll join us there as well!

This is our favorite part of this party each week - the FEATURES !  If you're one of our featured posts, we'd love it if you'd grab a button, and thanks to all of you who shared with us last week!

Mini Christmas Stocking Ornaments // KBB Crafts & Stitches
"These mini Christmas stockings are super simple to sew from felt, embroidery floss, buttons, and trims from your sewing basket. They make adorable ornaments, obviously, but you can also use them to decorate packages and brighten your holiday place settings."

Angel Ornaments Made From Burlap // The Country Chic Cottage
"Angel ornaments are easy to make and can be a rustic addition to your tree when made with burlap."

Minion Marshmallow Pops // 5 Minutes For Mom
"These Minion Marshmallow Pops are a fun and easy treat that will delight your kids as much as the movie itself!"

Chili Cheese Dog Chili - Pressure Cooker // The Bearded Hiker
"Guys, it’s like…a chili dog in a bowl.  Low-carb if you will.  Maybe Keto, maybe Paleo.  I have no idea what I’m talking about – I have no clue what any of those diets are all about!"

How to Make a Rustic Christmas Wreath // The Boondocks Blog
"This year I wanted to try my hand at a rustic wreath but with items not normally used in a wreath."

Mocha Peppermint Cookies // Cook with Sara
"Coffee and peppermint together in a cookie. And also, chocolate. This was a brilliant idea. Not only that, but they're dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes. Beautiful, festive, delicious."

If you are one of our FEATURED bloggers, this button is for you!

Thank you all so much for sharing your awesomeness!

Are you all ready to party?  If you like, we'd love it you'd help spread the word by grabbing our button:

Here we go!

Peppermint White Chocolate Fudge #improvcookingchallenge


One of my favorite family traditions for Christmas comes from my time as a child, when my Grandma taught me to make fudge! We would spend a full day making all different flavors and make up big trays to hand out to all of our family members.

It was something that everyone looked forward to each year. Grandma's peanut butter and chocolate fudge became a staple in the kitchen for about a month (unless you had a crazy sweet tooth and ate it all fast).

It can be such a tedious process to make a good fudge. It is so much easier if you have a partner to help you with the stirring (which I will get to later).

This is something that I plan to pass down to my kids when they are old enough. Right now they are only 7 and 4, and I am not comfortable with them working on the stove for this process. I cannot wait until I can teach them what my Grandma taught me.

So, this month, we are again collaborating with the Improv Cooking Challenge, and this month the two ingredients are Peppermint and Chocolate! Perfect for the month of December!!

I decided to stick with my traditions, but give it a little twist by doing Peppermint White Chocolate fudge, yum! I mean you really cannot think of Christmas without thinking of Candy Canes, right?

(Honestly, I personally do not like candy canes, but boy do my kids!!)

This recipe is pretty easy, ingredient wise, but does take some muscles when it comes to stirring the ingredients together.

Peppermint White Chocolate Fudge
Makes approx 50 pieces

1 Can Jet Puffed Marshmallow Creme
3 cups of white sugar
3/4 cup of melted butter
1 small can of evaporated milk (2/3 cups)
1 package of Hershey Candy Cane Kisses (unwrapped)
1 tsp vanilla
2 aluminum trays

So to start, you want to make sure that you are using a large saucepan (like the ones you use to make a huge pot of noodles). Mine got damaged, so I ended up using my Wok!

You want to make sure that all of your ingredients are ready to use before you start. Take the lid off the marshmallow, have the chocolate ready, vanilla measured out.

The process once you remove from the heat is something that needs to be done right then, no time for breaks.

Combine the sugar, butter and evaporated milk into  the pan, and bring to a boil. You need to constantly stir the mixture to make sure it doesn't burn.

When it comes to a full, roiling boil, set a timer for 5 minutes and vigorously stir while it continues to boil, continuing to stir.

Once the timer ends, remove from the heat.

Immediately stir in the marshmallow creme, and stir until it is completely melted in.

You then want to add in the chocolate kisses, and then the vanilla. continuing to stir stir stir.

(This is about the time that I hand it over to my husband to help me stir. My arm gets tired so he gets his man power into it and makes sure it is completely mixed.)

Once you have it all completely combined, you want to immediately pour this mix into two 9"x9" aluminum trays and get them into the fridge.

Let it set up in the fridge for about 3 hours. If you take it out sooner then it won't set correctly, which means that it will be crumbly and/or will turn too soft. You want to be able to cut it up with a butter knife.

To give as gifts, you can make up some platters with your favorite holiday cookies and fudge and hand them out to your family and friends, or pass out little treat boxes of the fudge to those who stop by. They are bound to fall in love with this yummy treat, as I am sure you will too.

Happy Holidays everyone!!

Don't forget to check out what the other Improv Cooking Challenge folks are doing:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Stars My Destination: Blind Date with a Book (GIVEAWAY)


I took a Blind Date with a Book a while back, a book service that is pretty unique in the way they deliver their product. On the front page of their website you'll see books wrapped in brown paper with nothing more than a few words to describe them. You don't know the title or the author. You don't get to peek at the cover art. The only thing you get is a few words. Quite literally this is a blind date with a book.

I love to read but I have a seriously hard time finding books that keep my attention. I find that even if the subject matter is up my alley, I often times have trouble staying interested because of the way the book is written.

It's nothing against any specific authors. I am just very likely to drop the book after a few chapters if I don't like the way its written.

For example, in the famous Lord of the Rings series Tolkien has a tendency to go so in depth with the description of the scene that I find myself falling asleep before the action picks up in the chapter.

That being said I have read the entire series, including The Hobbit.  So I think it's safe to say I prefer books where the action is steady enough to keep me interested.

After being disappointed by so many books that I spent my hard earned money on, I kind of gave up on being a reader.

That was my situation when Blind Date with a Book helped me out. They offer tons of books but you have no idea what they are. You pick them solely on the few words they use to describe them.

I have to admit, I had quite a bit of anxiety picking my book. Luckily their selection isn't too large and they are constantly rotating titles.

The last time RCHReview looked at Blind Date with a Book, we gave the concept and the words describing the book that was chosen, but were careful to not disclose the book.

This time we chose to take an opposite path. Lets take a look at the book I received but we won't spoil which book it was, so that you can explore what they offer without losing the suspense of selecting your own Blind Date with a Book.

After some careful consideration I chose the book I thought sounded best to me based on my interests.

That book turned out to be The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester - a futuristic sci-fi novel written in 1956, about an average man who was wronged and left to die and his search for revenge among the stars.

Gully Foyle, uneducated, great at nothing with no real desire to be better than he already is, is a crew member aboard a star ship called The Nomad. The ship is attacked and the entire crew is killed except for Foyle.

He spends months scavenging the wreckage floating in space collecting what leftover food and supplies he can, find until one day another ship happens upon him. Foyle sets off the beacons in an attempt to signal the passing ship and be rescued. The ship examines the wreckage then turns away and leaves.

Foyle notices the name stamped on the side of the ship "Vorga". Knowing that there is no way they didn't see the distress beacon he becomes enraged and filled with the desire for a swift and brutal revenge.

Foyle eventually makes a crash landing on a populated asteroid, after rigging the ships engines to fire for a short period.

When he comes to, he finds that his face has been hideously tattooed, an ancient and primitive way of marking the body.

The men and women of the asteroid colony have indoctrinated him into their society and even assigned him a wife.

But Gully's hatred fueled desire for revenge is too much. He finds his way off the asteroid and embarks on a journey to find the pilot of the Vorga, find out why he was left to die, and make them pay.

Gully learns the art of "jaunting", a means of teleportation that is done using nothing more than the human brain, and continues his hunt, eventually finding himself in prison. The burning desire in his soul for revenge drives him to team up with a woman in the prison and attempt to escape.

Will Gully Foyle escape the prison and find the Vorga? Why did they leave him to die? Will he exact his revenge?

Well, there's only really one way to find out. Read the book!

I have to say that even as nervous as I was regarding choosing a book this way, it worked beautifully for me. This quickly became one of my favorite books and I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the Sci-fi genre.

I was so pleased with the way that my choice worked out that I plan to try out other books from Blind Date with a Book in the not-so-distant future.

Have you read The Stars My Destination? Let me know what you thought of the book (without giving too much away, of course).

If you are interested in checking out Blind Date with Book for yourself you can find them at the links below.

And keep reading - we are hosting a second Giveaway! Two of our readers worldwide will win a Blind Date with a Book of their own!

Two winner will each receive a Blind Date book of their choice from among those available online at the end of the giveaway.

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Giveaway Tools Entry Form below. This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning. (If you don't leave a comment, any additional entries will be void.)

This giveaway is open WORLD-WIDE and will end just before midnight ET on 12/28. 

The winner will be notified by email 24 to 48 hours after the end of the giveaway by email. In order to claim the giveaway prize, the winner will need to respond within 24 hours of notification, or an alternate winner will be selected.

Good luck!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Party in Your PJs #187

Happy Tuesday!

Welcome to the Party in Your PJs Link Party, where your posts will be seen on four different blogs each week.

You'll also find the Awesome Life Friday link-up here at RCHReviews, every Thursday evening at 8pm ET so we hope to see you there as well.

Are you ready to party? I can't wait to see what you've brought to share!

 Meet the Co-Hosts

Nina @ Grandma Ideas 

Lynda @ Reviews, Chews & How-Tos 

Facebook // Pinterest // Twitter // Instagram

Teresa @ Aging Like a Fine Wine

Facebook // Pinterest // Twitter // Instagram

The rules for the group board include:
1. Limit of one pin a day.
2. Just like the party anything goes, but clear wonderful pictures with great descriptions are most successful.
3. Please no Spam ( Spammers will be deleted without warning)
4.  If you pin to the Pinterest Board, please link to the Party in Your PJs Party also, the party runs from 7 pm Tuesdays-Midnight Saturday (Central Time)
5.  Finally have fun and share this group board  with blog friends and followers!  The more success the group board is the more success you will see from your pins.

Lynda's Features!

If you were anywhere on the eastern side of the US this past weekend, you probably got at least a little bit of snow! For us, it was the first snow of the season and gave us a pretty powder coating on the grass and in the trees, while being just the right temperature to melt away on sidewalks and roads.  By the end of  the next day, it was nearly all gone.

In honor of that snowfall, I selected a few snow-themed posts to feature this week:

Burlap & Blue ~ The Best Gingerbread Cookie Recipe (Gingerbread Snowflakes)

Hoopla Palooza ~ DIY Christmas Snow Holly Ornaments

Sew Historically ~ DIY Snow Pine Cones with Salt & Wheatpaste

Domestic Deadline ~ DIY Snowman Bath Bomb Gift

 Make sure you head over to the other members of Party in Your PJs
 to see their features - we each pick our own!

All links are pinned to a Party can follow the board on Pinterest...feel free to follow the board, there is lots of inspiratioPn to be found there.

Ok...let's party!

Rules -Link to post, not your home page
-Link to something YOU made, wrote or thought
-No Etsy or Business Pages
-Link Parties, Roundups and Giveaways welcome
- Don't Link and Run! Please visit other links, make friends, learn something new, leave a comment.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Spice Up Your Popcorn



I’m new here and for my first post, I thought it best to share with you one of my favorite things.


I think popcorn is one of the world’s most underappreciated snack foods.

While at first glance it may appear to be somewhat boring, I’m here to stand up for the awesomeness that is popcorn and share with you all the ways I enjoy it. Or at least several ways I enjoy it.

At this point, I’m up to 36 different spice combinations in my Popcorn Library. But I don’t wish to overwhelm with my first post, so instead, I’ll share my totally scientific (cough) method of popcorn experimentation and hopefully inspire you to boost your popcorn satisfaction.

A slight tangent, but when I research something, I go all out. I just finished a two year quest to find the perfect antiperspirant/deodorant. Really. There may be a future post on that, but not today.

So. Popcorn. In case you are not already an aficionado, let me convince you that popcorn is good for you. There are not a lot of snacks you can say that about.

To be fair, the healthiest popcorn is plain and air popped. However, you can still enjoy the benefits of popcorn even if you add some butter and salt or spices.

It’s all in the method. There is no need to drown the popcorn in butter to make it tasty. Think of the butter, should you choose to use it, as the glue on the canvas of popcorn art.

Ok. Maybe I’m overstating it. Let’s get down to it.

The first thing to consider is how you’re going to pop it. I don’t go for the completely dry air popped usually. I also don’t abide by prepackaged microwave popcorn. After starting more than one fire in my microwave trying to dry pop in a brown bag lunch bag, I turned to the internet for help.

Turns out, there are several serviceable microwave vessels to pop your corn. I decided on one with a melamine bowl and a plastic top with excellent air vents.

The beauty of this popper is you can pop dry or with some oil or butter.

I have tried both and I usually like a tsp of oil (usually olive, but I also like sesame and peanut) and 1/3 c of popcorn.

Directions say you should set it for 3-4 minutes, but I go by the rule that once there is a two second lapse between pops, you’re done. For me, that's just under 3 minutes. YMMV.

Now onto the good stuff.

Even if you pop it with some oil, your spices will likely fall to the bottom. Here are some that kind of stick.

1.     Cinnamon/sugar—for whatever reason, even without butter, cinnamon and sugar has good stick. Amp this combo up with nutmeg, allspice, and star anise. A little goes a long way here.

Consider also pumpkin pie spice. I know. It sounds weird, but I promise you’ll have a spicy snack that doesn’t at all resemble a pumpkin pie.

2.     Chipotle/Adobe/Smoked paprika—I don’t suggest all three at once, but I’m suggesting a spicy smoky profile. I’ve tried them all.

I tend to the smoked paprika, but I recently tried an Adobe seasoning with finely chopped jalapenos that was pretty great.

This is something else to broaden your horizons. Wet things. I used canned jalapenos because fresh sunk like a rock…and they were tasty. Include enough of the juice to make it stick but not result in soggy popcorn.

Also, while we’re on the topic, chili seasoning is amazing on popcorn.

Also, pickles are great on popcorn. But they need to ride solo.

3.     Smoked salt—enough said.

4.     Italian—I won’t spend a lot of time on this because most of you have already figured it out. Garlic salt is excellent on popcorn. But have you considered basil, oregano, and thyme? Because of their wide surface area, they tend to stick on popcorn without extra glue (read: butter)

5.     Cheese—frankly, cheese is a tricky thing. You don’t want to administer cheese in large amounts that makes everything gooey and disguises the star that is popcorn. So, you’ll want to finely grate the cheese. I like a pecorino, but a finely grated Parmesan is also great.

Penseys puts out a cheese blend you should look into.

6.     Truffles- - I love me some truffle salt and although a little spendy, I recommend it highly. Even some white truffle oil would be awesome. This one I use with butter. Actually, I like it with butter, truffle salt, and some finely grated Parmesan.

7.     Curry—I’m not a curry expert, but I have used a variety of curry spices with some butter and loved it. In addition to garam masala. I have used a Balti and a Maharajah spice blend. Still from Penzeys. Not too hot, but with an amazing spice.

I think I’ve gone far enough tonight. I hope I have inspired you to think of the humble popcorn in a new way. It’s a canvas. Go forth and spice!


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Awesome Life Friday #140

Welcome to Awesome Life Friday!

We're so looking forward to seeing what you've been cooking, creating, growing, decorating, reviewing, giving away, and thinking about this week!

While you're here, leave your posts at the other link up we co-host here - Party in Your PJs!  It starts on Tuesday evenings, and runs through Sunday.  I hope you'll join us there as well!

This is our favorite part of this party each week - the FEATURES !  If you're one of our featured posts, we'd love it if you'd grab a button, and thanks to all of you who shared with us last week!

Winter DIY Snowman Wreath // Live * Craft * Love
"Make this DIY snowman wreath and add it to your front door for the holidays then leave it up all winter long."

Scandinavian Buffalo Check DIY Christmas Tree Ornaments // Blowing Away Out West
"Maybe it’s because buffalo check reminds us of cabins with big windows to watch the snow fall, but it’s all the rage for Christmas these days."

Gingerbread Cheesecake Roll Ups // This AutoImmune Life
"Christmas is fast approaching! And nothing says Christmas like gingerbread! Enjoy one of Christmas’ favorite flavors in these Gingerbread Cheesecake Roll Ups."

Crockpot Cranberry Citrus Cinnamon Tea // Housewife How-Tos
"Crockpot Cranberry Citrus Cinnamon Tea is one of the first things I make when someone in my family feels like they’re coming down with a cold. It’s a warm and soothing drink, especially with the addition of honey to comfort coughs and scratchy throats."

Winter Travel Survival Tips // The (mis)Adventures of a Homesteadin' Mama
"Winter survival kits are not just for motorists who drive back roads. Unexpected weather conditions can find even city drivers in a predicament. No matter where you drive, you are your own first line of defense against Old Man Winter, because you never know when help will arrive."

Scatter Kindness // Dragonfly Treasures
"Yep, we've jumped on the bandwagon too! After all the world definitely needs more kindness!"

If you are one of our FEATURED bloggers, this button is for you!

Thank you all so much for sharing your awesomeness!

Are you all ready to party?  If you like, we'd love it you'd help spread the word by grabbing our button:

Here we go!

Anza Borrego Mud Caves and Sandstone Canyon With Kids


Nestled in the middle of the California desert is the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves or as us desert go-ers know them as, the Anza Borrego Mud Caves. These are a site that you definitely want to see at least once in your life!

These caves are estimated to be over 5 million years old. They are created from the erosive nature of rainfall and the mud hills. There are multi-level caves, caverns that open up to show the sky in an otherwise completely dark area, tiny crevices that you have to crawl through and 35' open areas.

Some of the caves are as much as 5 miles long, going deep into the ground and raising up the sides of the mountains.

These are located about 25 miles north of the I-8 freeway in a small community of CranBrake, CA.

As you are driving down the road in the middle of the desert, you will see a sign that points Left to "Palm Springs" (not THE Palm Springs so don't make that mistake).  Take that turn and follow the dirt path for a few miles until you see the signs for Arroyo Tapiado, from there you have a two mile journey before you hit the peak of the mountains and start to see the caves!

There is roughly 5 caves that are visible and accessible from the road.

Now, with any of natures beautiful wonders, there is some danger. You never want to go near the caves after a rainstorm or an earthquake. The worry of rock/mud slides is always a thing to keep in the back of your mind.

These are located in the middle of the desert, where the heat can raise well above 100 degrees. As with any setting like this, you need to remember to drink water and carry the proper provisions for your journey.

Don't worry though, as soon you come close to the entrance of the cave, you begin to feel the cold air. The further in you go, the colder it gets. It is truly amazing to be sweating in the 100 degree weather and the next minute cooling down.

My family and I have been to these caves four times now. This was our first time with my 1 year old son going to the caves. He just learned how to walk last month so it was definitely an adventure!

You can camp along the trail anywhere you would like but beware at dark, because a lot of people come flying through there in their trucks and if you are not far enough off the road, you can get hurt.

We happened to have found THE perfect spot and try to get this spot every time we go.

It is a big cleared out spot that is right in between the huge mountains and right across the road is the entrance to the biggest cave! It really is perfect!

We set up our tent, got all our firewood ready and started our fire.

We usually have a camp stove and set it all up to make our "gourmet camping food" but this time around we kept it simple with a few cans of soup and raviolis.

You have to remember that your kiddos are probably going to be playing more than they would be at home, getting dirtier and being more thirsty than at home. Pack accordingly!

I have a 6 year old, a 4 year old and a 1 year old. I packed double their snacks, juices, milk and tons of water.

It is always better to be over prepared than it is to regret not bringing that second box of crackers.

Being out in the middle of the desert on an off road trail, unless you have experience could spell disaster. You have to think anything could happen. What happens if you get a flat tire with no spare? Something happens to your car that you cannot fix? Better to have that extra food and drink laying around, just in case.

You also want to remember that you are in the desert, so when you pack clothing, it will be hot during the day and cool at night. It is sand and rocks everywhere, so bring lots of extra clothing for those kiddos.

Flashlights, head lamps, etc are always a must while in the caves. It is pitch dark the second you walk into these caves.

I always made sure to equip each kid with a flashlight or head lamp before entering.

Of course our little man was carried almost the whole time, but he was able to walk for a small portion of it.

I carry a backpack with wet wipes, extra drinks and snacks.

As you are walking through you can visibly see where the water has run through the floor of the caves. You can see how it has carved the paths and made bridges and walkways for you to explore. It is truly breathtaking to see what nature is capable of.

As you venture through, there are a few spots that open up to caverns and openings to the sky! You can be in pitch dark and all of a sudden come up on a spot that you can see the stars!

You can follow the caves as far as you would like to go, some go for miles. With the kids, we lasted about 40 minutes of just straight walking down into this cave. We have gone without the kids before and have spent hours in them!

There are a lot of really cool carvings and photo opportunities inside, if you have a camera.

This time around, we stayed at this spot for just one night. The next morning we woke up and packed up the truck. You can either come back the way you came and hit the main road, or you can take the off road journey through the desert which takes a good 3-4 hours and head through the Solidified Highway. We chose the latter!

As you head away from the caves, there are a lot of small, tight trails that you must take with rock walls on both sides of you. Rocks and valleys where the rain has just destroyed the roads are always a common threat. You have to be on your toes at all times when you are out there.

Drive slow, drive smart and think!

It is said that 4 wheel drive vehicles are a must, but if you know what you are doing, you should be able to get through with no problems. We have driven in a Ford Explorer, a stock Toyota Pickup and most recently a stock Dodge Ram with no issues.

You will eventually hit the end of the trail head, and be able to go left to Diablo's Drop off or head off to another trail which would lead you out into Ocotillo. We always choose to go to Diablo's Drop off.

Now the name alone sounds scary, and for an amateur it is probably a scary site. It is a steep hill that goes straight into a gorge with cliffs and deep ravines on both sides of you. It takes some maneuvering to get down. We have experience driving off road so it is no big deal for us.

As you continue to go down the trail, you start to come up on these huge sandstone mountains, mountains that tower over you on both sides. They are absolutely beautiful, colorful and you can see all the layers in them as they have been there for millions of years and the wind and rain is just slowly chipping away at them.

This area of the trails are called Fish Creek Trail. This is where it is said that you can find dinosaur tracks, the earthquake fault lines and wind caves.

This area leads to Sandstone Canyon where it will finally bring you out to asphalt! You've finally made it out.

You end up at Split Mountain Road in Ocotillo Wells. Once you are here, it is time to get away from the rocks, hop in the dirt and have some fun.

All of this trip was made in about 4 hours. We, of course, stopped a few times to let the kiddos run around, change a diaper or two and have some snacks.

Make sure that your camera is charged as there are a ton of places to take some pretty epic pictures!

This is an amazing day trip to take with your family or a group of friends. Make the most out of your day and explore what the desert has to offer you!