Friday, November 13, 2015

The Oven Light: Jalapeño Popper Dip

Here on our "Oven Light" feature we share mom-tested, simple, family recipes... some from us, some from guest bloggers.  We hope they help simplify the mealtime aspect of your busy life!

Jalapeño Popper Dip

A long, long time ago, Katie from The Little Thing Blog turned me onto this one.  Since then I've made it a billion times!  Katie and I like to think we are “Appetizer Queens” because we make them all the time and constantly swap recipes.  We both prefer appetizers over a regular meal anytime! This dip tastes just like the creamy center of a jalapeño popper.

2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained
1 (2-ounce) can diced jalapeno peppers, drained
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Mix together the cream cheese and mayonnaise in a large bowl until smooth.  Stir in green chilies, Parmesan cheese and jalapeno peppers.  Pour mixture into a microwave safe serving dish.  Microwave until hot, about 3 minutes.  Serve with tortilla chips or Fritos Scoops.  (Note: I prefer to bake it at 350º for 20 minutes instead of microwaving.)

Monday, November 2, 2015

You Can STOP "Over-Organizing" Now!

On a recent episode of The Big O: Organization, (called Stop Over-Organizing!) Monica Ricci gives us permission to do "just enough" to get the job done.  No, we're not slackers.  We're just learning how to maintain effective, simple and manageable organizational systems that REALLY work!

In her many years of helping clients lead joyful and productive lives, she's seen over-organizing (and stress) often in the areas of paperwork, books and entertainment, clothing and spices in particular.  It's always interesting how organizing tools can be such a personal matter and there isn't a "one size fits all" answer.  Spices are the perfect example and each of us have a different solution for organizing those.  Listen HERE for the details!  In the show we said we'd share photos, so here you go:

Jen's many not-lazy-at-all Susan's.
Vicky's wooden step shelf organizer. 
Monica's SpiceStack®.
As discussed on the show, and on a non-spice note, Jen shows us how her clothes are stacked and sorted.  And Vicky shows how her hats rest on thumbtacks.


The "Big O" question that came up was: How long should I keep tax documents and related papers, bills, and receipts?  We found a great resource directly from the IRS with the answer!  (Monica was right... 3 years in most cases, but there are reasons some people may need to keep them longer.)  Here you go: 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tasty (and safe) Lunches

No one likes a soggy sandwich or warm-ish yogurt...  Thanks to the Institute of Food Technologies for these tips to maximize the taste of our lunch while minimizing the chances of contamination.

Containers and Cleaning

The first step to good food safety is to wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item, and be sure to sanitize countertops after making lunch. 
Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before eating and packing them in a lunch container.
To avoid cross-contamination, don’t reuse packaging materials such as paper or plastic bags, food wraps and aluminum foil.
Use an insulated container for foods like chili, soups and stews. Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty, and then add hot food. Keep the container closed until lunchtime to help minimize bacterial contamination and growth. 
Rinse out soft lunch boxes with water (for food debris), spray with a store-bought chlorine sanitizer or soap, rinse, and let dry.
Throw away soft lunch boxes if the liner is cracked or broken.

Temperature Control
Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags can also be used. If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food.
Harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly if the temperatures are between 40 and 140 °F. Be sure to transport food with an ice source and refrigerate upon destination.
Studies show that bacteria growth begins after about four hours at room temperature, and shorter (around an hour) if above 90 degrees.
Perishable foods that won’t be kept refrigerated should be kept cold by using freezer gel packs or a frozen juice carton.

Leftovers and storing food

Pack only the amount of perishable food that will be eaten at lunch. With no extra food to carry home, you’ll avoid the inconvenience of keeping leftovers at the correct temperature on the commute home.
Preparing the food the night before and storing it in the refrigerator will help keep the food cold longer.
Discard of all used food packaging and paper bags after eating. Throw away perishable leftovers, unless they can be safely chilled immediately after lunch and upon returning home.
Pack all beverages and perishable foods in separate containers/coolers.
When storing leftover food in the refrigerator, use smaller containers for hot food. A storage container two inches deep or less is ideal for chilling food quickly.
Label storage containers with the date you packed the container, so you know when it is time to either eat or dispose.
When using the microwave oven to reheat lunches, cover food to hold in moisture and promote safe, even heating. Reheat leftovers to at least 165 °F, ensuring that they are steaming hot. Cook frozen convenience meals according to package instructions.

Sources:  Ben Chapman, PhD, IFT Spokesperson, North Carolina State University Assistant Professor ; Don Schaffner, PhD, IFT Spokesperson, Rutgers University Professor

Monday, October 5, 2015

Gooooood Morning ... Ninja Coffee Bar™!

Good Morning!
It's been absolutely java-rrific reviewing the new Ninja Coffee Bar™!  It's always a "perk" to get our hands on new stuff over here at but this review is right up my alley.  I am a coffee freak all the way around - I've always claimed my Keurig is my favorite kitchen appliance at home and I do love my specialty coffeehouse drinks when I'm out and about.  Plus, Jen and I are Ninja fans anyway - we love our blenders.

I've played and experimented ... 36 coffees in 15 days, so I'm ready to report.  I can go on and on (and I will), but I want to give you the skinny right now!  Here it is:

The Ninja Coffee Bar™ ... makes a really, really, really dang good cup o' joe.  Really good!  And it's a keeper.  Here's more of what I think:

(good things)

• It brews a nice, big full cup of coffee, size-wise.  A Keurig k-cup fills my mug only half-full.

• It comes with an awesome frother that is very easy to use and works extremely well.
Not bad for my first time frothing!

• It has the best assorted settings / options for a house of mixed-coffee preferences in a household such as over-ice-brew; specialty brew (concentrated); and rich brew that creates coffee that holds up to ice and milk.  Hubby loves rich brew.  I prefer classic.  Something for everyone.

• The coffee is the perfect temperature ... and I like mine hot, hot, hot.

• I thought I would have to buy a lot of additional ingredients to make coffeehouse-style drinks.  Come to find out, the Ninja recipes call for ingredients I already have on hand.  (For example, skim milk makes perfectly great froth!)

• Less waste, right? ... fewer k-cups in the landfill.

My 1st Caramel Macchiato
• Cheaper, right? ... my three 12-ounce bags of Panera Coffee, McDonald's Coffee, and Elvis Coffee (yeah, you read that right) ... together all cost almost 50% less than a box of 96 k-cups from Amazon.

• The coffeehouse-style drinks are spot on.  I made the Creme De Caramel Coffee, Cappuccinos, Caramel Macchiatos, and a Frozen Ninjaccino.  YUM!

• Back to the skinny ... The Ninja makes a better tasting cup of coffee than any other coffee machine I've used.

(okay things)

By the way, The Rosie Project and
The Rosie Effect are GREAT reads
with your morning coffee!
• It takes approximately 4-minutes to brew a cup of coffee - and possibly longer if you are making a specialty coffee house drink.  It only takes seconds in the Keurig. This is because the Ninja uses this fancy-pants "thermal flavor extraction™" technology (a pre-infusion and saturation thing).  However it works - I love it!  And good things come to those that wait, right?

• It requires a little clean-up.  Whoa! I haven't had to empty and wash a filter basket in years (not to mention a coffee scooper and frother), but it's worth the few extra steps.  (See above, less waste.)

• If you don't add enough water to the reservoir before you start, it ends your brew cycle mid-brew.  I've done this twice and my coffee stops brewing and I have to start over.  In the Keurig, you add more water and the cycle continues on from where it left off.

(final review)

I just love it! Happy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eat Well on $4/Day: Good and Cheap!

I'm a cookbook geek!  Even with billions of recipes at my fingertips via my laptop, I still love collecting and browsing my cookbooks ... all the time.  Recently, Jen and I were sent a copy of Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown.  The first thing that caught our eye was the author's promise "You Buy. We Give."  For every book she sells, Leanne will donate a copy to someone who really needs it.  LOVE!
Vicky's Cookbook Collection 

There's even more to love about this cookbook .... mouth-watering photos of the recipes (a plus!), proof that eating healthy doesn't have to cost a fortune, and most importantly, simple and delicious meal ideas that are family-friendly.  You'll love the supermarket strategies, tips for eating well, and the seasonal produce chart (I've always needed one of those) too.

Stuff on Hotdogs

My favorite feature of all ... Leanne provides several ideas for turning basic kitchen staples into something new and interesting.  For example, things to do with toast (avocado lime to apple cheddar to salty broccoli), stuff on hot dogs (Teriyaki carrots to Mexican street corn to sweet or savory pineapple salad) and ideas for popcorn (minced scallion and cilantro to brown sugar and orange zest to parmesan and black pepper).

Since we have permission to reprint a recipe, I'll share ideas for oatmeal.  I'm always tempted by the pre-packaged oatmeal since it's easy and very flavorful, and I rarely use my canister of instant oats or my fancy steel-cut oats outside of using them for oatmeal raisin cookies (my hubby's fave) or these best granola bars ever.  Plain oatmeal never hits the spot in my house because, obviously, it needs a revamp!  Leanne has a few unique ideas for that:

Ideas for Oatmeal
Basic Oatmeal (serves 2)
1 cup rolled oats
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Add the oats, water, and salt to a small pot and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Immediately turn the heat to low and place a lid on the pot.  2.  Cook for 5 minutes, until the oats are soft and tender and most of the water has evaporated.  You can add more water if you like your oatmeal smooth and thin, or use slightly less to make it thick and creamy.

Pumpkin ($0.75 serving / $1.50 total)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup milk (or almond milk or soy milk)
2 tablespoons brown sugar, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
additions: 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, drizzling of maple syrup

Whisk the pumpkin, milk and 1 1/4 cups water (not the full 2 cups in the basic recipe) in a pot.  Add the oats, salt, brown sugar, and spices.  Cook over medium-low heat until the mixture just comes to a boil, 2 to 5 minutes.  Turn to low for 5 more minutes.  Add maple syrup or more sugar to taste.

Savory ($0.75 serving / $1.50 total)
2 or 3 scallions, white and green parts, finely chopped
1/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon butter
2 eggs

Cook the oatmeal as directed in Basic Oatmeal (above), adding scallions in Step 1.  Just before it's done, stir in cheese.  While the oatmeal cooks, melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.  Crack in the eggs, then cover the pan and fry until the yolks are runny but the whites are cooked, 2-3 minutes.  Top each bowl of oats with one fried egg.

Baklava  ($0.75 serving / $1.50 total)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons chopped almonds or pistachios

Add the cinnamon, orange zest, and 2 tablespoons of the honey before cooking the oatmeal as directed in Basic Oatmeal (above).  Once it's done, top each bowl with another tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of nuts.

In the book, there's more ... a recipe for Chocolate Oatmeal, Fruity (any favorite fruit like berries), Apple Cinnamon, and Coconut Lime.

You have to agree that almost always - homemade is better!  Those oatmeal recipes are so much healthier and tastier than the store-bought packets my family was accustomed to.  Not to mention, cheaper.  The ultimate example of "homemade is better" lies with homemade ricotta!  We have made our own homemade ricotta for YEARS.  It's actually pretty easy, it can cost 1/2 the amount of store-bought and of course there's nothing that taste like homemade (night and day difference).  There's a recipe for homemade ricotta in the book!

See ... cheap certainly doesn't mean blah!  These "good and cheap" recipes can get you out of a rut (if you find yourself in one frequently like I do), help you use up those ingredients in your pantry or fridge that you don't know what to do with (like plain rice, chili sauce, or dried beans).  Best yet, they  will open up your meal planning to fresh recipes that are healthy, affordable and kid-friendly.

Jen and I will have to figure out how to share this book since there are so many recipes we both want to try!  It's a good thing Leanne provides free recipes on her site.  Check it out and let us know what your favorite "Good and Cheap" recipe is!  And thanks Leanne Brown for creating a cookbook our families can enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mmmmmm ... Crispy Fruit Snacks

Looking for a healthy, easy-to-pack snack for the lunchbox, or anytime?  We have a solution because we sampled Crispy Fruit from Crispy Green®!  Apple was the favorite in the Rehberger household and Banana in the Thornton home, but there are a variety of flavors including Tangerine, Asian Pear, Cantaloupe, Mango and Pineapple.

They're a nutritious, mess-free, and non-refrigerated snack that scores high with kids, parents and nutritionists. The tasty, 100% natural, Non-GMO Project Verified snack is ideal for extracurricular activities and kids constantly on the go.

Now is the time to give them a try since Crispy Green is very passionate about kids’ health and nutrition, they’re proud to be a sponsor of the Power Your Lunchbox Campaign from Produce for Kids®! Now through September 18, parents can take the "Power Your Lunchbox Pledge" to pack healthier lunchboxes and get access to lunchbox ideas, tips and coupons. For every pledge taken, $1 will be donated to Feeding America to support children’s hunger programs. Take the pledge at
Crispy Fruit is available online and in retailers such as The Fresh Market, Harris Teeter, ShopRite, Giant Eagle Market District, Earth Fare, Ahold, Schnucks, Dierbergs, King Kullen, Safeway, Weis Markets and selected Whole Foods Markets. To find a retailer in your area that carries Crispy Fruit, go to For more information, visit

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Find YOUR Park

A park can be many different things to many different people. Everyone finds their park in a different place and in a different way.  These stories just might inspire you to find yours. Visit to watch inspiring and beautiful videos.  

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act creating the National Park Service (NPS), a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established (now there are 408 national parks!).

To celebrate the upcoming centennial of NPS in 2016, the National Park Foundation (NPF) launched their FIND YOUR PARK campaign to encourage everyone to get up, get out there and #FindYourPark - no matter your interest.

Click here for 99 ways to find YOUR park, so let's all celebrate NPS’ 99th birthday today, August 25, 2015 - Free Entry to ALL National Parks.

Get ready for NPS’ big 100th birthday next year.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kids Can Do: Five Pounds of Macaroni

What is Kids Can Do? We know that children get the most joy from simple things such as playing with empty cereal boxes or used wrapping paper.  That's why we share our "kid ideas" that are simple, educational, practical and easy. They are made with common household materials that you probably already have on hand and they don’t require much preparation or expense.  
This "Kids Can Do" activity is about sensory play using Vicky's Macaroni Bin!

At least 10 years old and still going strong ... our 5 pound macaroni bucket o' fun!  Aidan played with it and now Ellie, even at 4 years old!  We may be down to 4 3/4 pounds since the dog ate a few and I sucked up a few in the vacuum cleaner.  This is absolutely my favorite homemade toy ever!  I even gifted one to my nephew once.  The most expensive part is the type of bin you store it in.  Other than that - it's so cheap and long-lasting.  Find your macaroni on sale at it's lowest or buy in bulk at your local wholesale club, then venture to the dollar store for the props.  Now it's time to sift, pour, scoop, dig and stir for hours.  The key to success is a mat or thick table cloth to play on so when it's time to clean up, you curl up the mat and pour the spilled macaroni directly into the bin.  My kids love(d) it and I bet yours will too!

Possible containers:  

dishwashing pan, cookie sheet, cake pan, rubbermaid containers, shoe box, small bucket, shallow but large cardboard box

Items to fill bin with: 
rice, macaroni, packing peanuts, shredded paper, snow, oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, sand (recipe below), sudsy water, shaving cream, dry beans*, indian corn (the kids pick off the kernels), colored water, fall leaves.  
*Note: our dry pinto beans smelled like cat litter after one year! Ewww!

Recipe for Homemade Sand: Ingredients - 4 cups dried and used coffee grounds; 2 cups cornmeal; 1 cup flour; 1/2 cup salt.  Directions -  Dry the grounds in the sun or in your oven on low heat.  Make sure the grounds are extremely dry - otherwise they’ll mold.  Stir all ingredients together. 

Ways to minimize the mess: 

shower curtain liner, large bath towels, bed sheet, infant drop cloth, or a plastic blow up pool

Props to play with include:
funnels, bowls, cups, sieves, measuring spoons, measuring cups, spoons, ladles, combs, small rakes, scissors, kitchen gadgets, squirt bottles, magnify glasses, toy cars, objects to find in the material such as marbles or small animals, items that sink and float in water

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Meet this Fun Guy: Michael Phillip Cash

Have you met award-winning novelist and screenwriter Michael Phillip Cash?  Here’s your chance!  He’s witty, funny and talented and we would just love to meet him in person one day.  His latest book, The Witches Protection Program, brings you a little bit of everything: supernatural fun, science fiction, and even comedy.

Here’s what it’s about ... A disgraced law enforcement agent has one last chance to prove himself and save his career when he’s assigned to a 232 year old secret government organization.  His first assignment - uncover a billion dollar cosmetics company’s diabolical plan for global domination through witchcraft.

Now, on to this super fun e-Interview with author Michael Phillip Cash ...

Where did the idea for this book come from? 
This is a little embarrassing, but I was in the bathroom, and I was glancing at my wife’s trashy magazines. There was a caption called Wetless Protection Program, and I thought it said Witches Protection Program. Then I thought to myself, what a great idea for a script/book. Now we’re here, and WPP is a best-seller on Amazon.  Funny how ideas find you. 

Tell us briefly about the book family.  Do they reflect your family or a family you know? 
I really enjoyed beating out the relationship between Wes and his father, Alastair, Morgan and Bernadette. Without giving too much away, I will focus on Wes and his dad’s relationship.  Every son, or at least every son that I know, wants to impress his dad. He wants his approval. I know I still do. I wanted Wes to have this longing to ensure he got his dad’s approval, but I didn’t want him needy.  I wanted the conflict to be that all Wes was looking for his dad to say he was proud of him…and it doesn’t really come until the end.

Have you ever met a witch? 
I’m married to one.  I’M KIDDING!!  Sorry honey, didn’t mean that, you’re amazing. Anyway, I believe there are witches, and yes I feel that I’ve met them.  Most of the psychics I’ve been to (I’m a big psychic guy) admitted they were witches.  I 100% believe them.

You have written about ghosts and witches - what other supernatural topics do you want to write about in future books? 
Bigfoot.  Again KIDDING!  I’m right smack dab in the middle of my monster masterpiece, MONSTERLAND.  If Jurassic Park and Superbad had a baby, you’d have Monsterland.  A teen must save his date in a theme park whose main attractions – real vampires, werewolves and zombies – descend the place into chaos.  I’ve been having a BLAST writing this one.

Do you ever have bad dreams about any characters in your books? 
Nope, never, not once. I love each and every one of my characters like they were my children.  I’ve nurtured them, fed them and played with them.  No bad dreams whatsoever.

Should law enforcement work with the supernatural to solve crimes? 
Absolutely!  Actually, that sounds like a good novel idea.  I'm going to put that on the “future story list”.  Thanks!

Where did your interest in the supernatural come from? 
I’ve been watching supernatural movies my whole life. I firmly believe in an afterlife and writing about the supernatural just came supernaturally (ha!) to me. It’s hard to pinpoint one time when I got interested in the supernatural…the love for it has gone as far back as I can remember.

Is your house haunted? 
Um…yeah. I’ve been living with ghosts for ages.  I just moved into a new house about nine months ago. It’s insanely quiet here at night, I mean like you can just hear frogs and crickets and that’s it.  In the middle of the night I’ll hear ghostly conversations in my hallway.  I smile and just go back to sleep.  I think they’re awesome, whoever they are.

Do we have secret government organizations? 
Come on.  What kind of crazy question is that?!  Of course we do!!!  Something has to protect the aliens, monsters and witches. 

How do you write books so quickly - do they “come out” all at once? 
I actually start all my books as a screenplay. It gives me a great starting point and allows me to beat out my story & characters.  Then, after the script is done (which usually takes 2 to 3 weeks), I plow through the novel.  When I’m typing, and I know the course of where I have to go, it’s like my eyes roll back in my head and I go to this place where the characters talk to me.  The story plays in my mind and my fingers don’t stop for hours.  It takes me another couple weeks, sometimes three to complete a novel. I prefer writing in the evening hours, when the kids and wife are asleep. During the day, it’s all about research and development. it.

Why do you put humor in books that are science fiction and fantasy? 
Humor is the key to life. If you’re not laughing and having fun, even if you’re writing a fantasy book, you’re not loving life.  Fantasy is that…it’s fake, it’s fun, you make up your own world with characters.  It's important to have some funny quips in there.  I’m watching Lord of the Rings right this second with my son. This is the ultimate Fantasy story of all time. The writers brilliantly added in humor in the most perfect moments.  Like when Gimli and Legolas are competing how many Orcs they kill.  Genius. And very funny!

Reviewers want a part two - is it coming? 
Beating it out as we speak. I have some wickedly cool ideas for WPP Part II.  Don’t want to spoil anything, but I have some bigger, badder witches ready to wreak havoc on our beloved Witches Protection Program. But in the meantime, I gotta finish Monsterland.  My monsters want to meet my readers…

You like this guy already, don't ya?  Doesn't the book sound gripping? It really is and it’s ranking high on Amazon’s Best-Seller List right now.  Get it there (on Kindle for just $2.99) or through  Other books: 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Kids Can Do: Re-Purpose Stuff (and Learn!)

We've had fun with our "Kids Can Do" posts here on this blog and our kids love it too!  If you're new to it, the requirements are basic: 1. simple 2. fun and 3. inexpensive.  That's it!

This time around, we are re-purposing common household items into fun and educational activities. Should make for fun rainy days or "I'm bored" days this summer!   

Paper Plates

You can make a silly spinner with a paper plate and a straw!  Draw lots of colored circles around the paper plate.  Make a hole in the center of the plate and poke a straw through it so that the tips stick out a couple inches.  Spin the straw and watch the colors blend together for a cool effect!  

Play JUMBO Tic-Tac-Toe!  All you need is 9 pieces of letter-size paper and 10 small paper plates.  To create the game board, lay 9 sheets of paper in three rows of three.  Draw an “X” on the front of five paper plates and an “O” on the front of five others to create the game pieces. 

Cookie Sheets: 

Finger paint on a cookie sheet.  Rinse or wipe off and create again!  There are a lot of homemade recipes online like this one from Martha Stewart.  To capture a design, lay a piece of paper down on top of it, press down, and peel off.

Dollar Store Tablecloth

Write all the letter of the alphabet (evenly spaced) on a cheap vinyl tablecloth and large enough to been seen from a few feet away. Let children take turns tossing a beanbag onto the cloth. Ask them to say the letter they land on aloud and then a word that begins with that letter. This game is great for encouraging hand/eye coordination and letter/sound recognition.

Remaining Crepe Paper Roll
Got a partial roll of crepe paper?  They make beautiful moving mosaics!  Children dance and twirl with the streamers as they catch the wind outside.

Odd Puzzle Pieces
Glue magnets (found at any craft store) onto odd jigsaw wooden pieces and play with them on the fridge.

Unused Coupons
Occupy your little shoppers by giving them left over coupons.  Challenge them to find the pictured items during your trip .... a grocery store scavenger hunt!

The Comics

Using the "funnies" from your newsletter, help your child learn sequencing and order.  Cut apart a comic strip then put them in order to tell the story.  Another fun activity is letting your child tells his own story based on the pictures he’s just put in order.