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HOLY MACARON - Quick and Easy Recipe

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Being one of the pickiest eaters in the world, I waited a LONG time to try macarons. They looked weird, and they were all different colors. I thought there was absolutely no way they could be good... AT ALL. Boy, was I wrong. My brother and sister-in-law have recently become obsessed with a bakery in their town that sells these bad boys. Every time they come home, they bring a bag with a mix of flavors. Because of them, I finally tried macarons, and I can now say I, too, am completely obsessed. They are DELICIOUS! The only drawback? The cost. The cheapest I have found macarons for is $2 a piece. If i want more than a few, whether it be for a party or just because I want to binge eat for a weekend (you know you do it too), that could get quite expensive. After scouring the internet and trying my own variations, I have nailed down the BEST and EASIEST recipe yet. 

What You Need:

  • 1 Cup Icing Sugar (Powdered Sugar)
  • 2 Medium Egg Whites
  • Small Pinch of Salt
  • 1 Cup Finely Ground Almonds
  • 1/4 Cup Fine Sugar
  • Vanilla Extract 
  • Piping Bag with 1/3" or 1/4" Tip
  • Silicon Mat or Baking Paper/Parchment Paper
  • Baking Sheet
  • Food Coloring (You choose the color based on the flavor you're making - for this example we will use Lemon - my favorite!)
  • For the Filling
    • 1 1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter (Softened)
    • 2/3 Cup Icing Sugar
    • Filling Flavor (You can use any variation or filling. For this example we'll use lemon zest and a few drops of juice)
  • Preheat the oven completely to 300F. Macarons need to cook low and slow to avoid burning and to cook all the way through.
  • In a large mixing bowl, sift the Icing Sugar and Ground Almonds together. Dispose of any lumps left in your sifter. 
  • In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt together until you see them form soft peaks. Slowly add small amounts of the Fine Sugar in and continue to whisk. This mixture should become very thick and look glossy. Once you have reached this point, lightly stir in the Ground Almond/Icing Sugar mixture. Don't panic if this makes the mixture look differently. It will begin to lose some air during this point, and it will become somewhat loose looking. 
  • Add a couple of drops of food coloring (yellow if you're making lemon - my favorite!) and two drops of vanilla extract. 
  • Transfer the mixture into your piping bag, and place your Parchment Paper or Silicon Mat on a baking sheet. 
  • Holding the piping bag vertically, pipe 1 1/4" circles onto the paper/mat.
  • Tap the sheet twice on the counter in order to get any air bubbles out.
  • Let the macarons sit for about 15-25 minutes (depending on humidity) until the tops are no longer sticky to the touch. Slide another sheet of Parchment paper under the first one in order to protect the bottoms from heat a little better.
  • Bake the macarons for about 8 minutes then open the door to release any steam. Close the door back and continue baking about 7-8 minutes. The cooked macarons should rise about 1/8" and be shiny on the outside.
  • Remove from the oven and immediately place paper/mat on a wire cooling rack until they are completely cooled. If you try removing before they are cold, they will break easily, so be careful!
  • Once cooled, remove from paper/mat and fill with approximately 1 tsp. of filling (see below for filling recipe)
Making the Filling
  •  In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter on medium speed until fluffy, then begin to gradually add in the Icing Sugar. You can then add in any flavoring you would like. My personal preference is lemon, for which I use a little lemon zest and about 1-2 tsp lemon juice. For more filling flavor ideas, see below. 

    • Raspberry - add in seedless raspberry jam
    • Mint Chocolate - cocoa powder, Mint extract and mint green gel food coloring
    • Pistachio - finely ground pistachios and green gel food coloring
    • Vanilla - vanilla extract
    • Strawberry - seedless strawberry jam
    • Chocolate - cocoa powder 
    • Orange Dreamsicle - orange zest 
    • Honey Lavender - honey and ground dried lavender 
    • Wedding Almond - almond and vanilla extract

As always, we would love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below with questions, feedback or suggestions! 

LUAU on a Dollar Tree Budget

Saturday, August 26, 2017

In all of my party planning years, I have spent countless hours and countless dollars on parties. I normally plan birthdays for at least 6 months before, if not longer. I bend myself to the point of breaking in order to pull off the most elaborate theme, best food, etc. This year, I decided I was not going to break myself... or the bank. 

My daughter went to Disney World in March and got to experience the Polynesian Luau for the first time. She absolutely loved it! With her birthday falling in the middle of July, I thought there would be nothing better than recreating the luau she obsessed over combined with a swimming party. Keep in mind, on her first two birthdays, I spent somewhere close to $1000 each on decorations, party favors, food, games/activities, etc. I was determined not to do so this year. After all, what is the point? Sure, we have the pictures. In all reality though, my daughter is worried about two things - blowing out her candles and playing with her friends. With that in mind, I set out to pull off a super fun, super cute luau with a TINY budget and very little effort. 

I started stalking every Dollar Tree within a 25 mile radius of my house. Luckily, there are a few around. Starting in the early summer months, their shelves are stocked with tons of luau and beach gear. You'll find everything from leis and pineapple cups to blow up pool toys and beach pails. I started collecting things slowly from every store I visited. I also purchased a few of the "nicer" items from Amazon at super low price. Some of these were not required, but the space I was using was huge, and I didn't want it to look too empty. 

I saved a ton of money this year by making the majority of the food myself. We had homemade cupcakes (find the recipe here), Captain Rodney's Dip, BBQ Cocktail Weenies, Chips with Ranch Dip, Pineapple Dip, Fruit, Sandwiches and my FAVORITE Pinterest Punch. For such an effortless-seeming spread, I have to say, the food was great! It makes me wonder why I've stressed so many times about party food. (Note to self - people will eat what you put on the table. End of story.)

I must say, having a stress-free, low budget party was the best idea yet! For once, I was able to get everything done with hours to spare before the party. I relaxed and spent time with my daughter during her birthday instead of stressing over every detail. She had an absolute blast, and where her decorations came from or how much I spent on them was the last thing she cared about. She walked into a luau paradise and was SO excited! That, in itself, made the entire process worth every second and dollar that I saved. 

Without tallying up the food cost, I was able to pull the theme of this party off for less than $100 total! Crazy, isn't it? Considering how much I've spent in the past, I wouldn't trade this budget-friendly luau for anything. Here is the entire list of what I purchased:

All in all, the party was a complete success! As always, we'd love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below with questions, tips or suggestions. Remember to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for updates and more! 

Disney on a Dollar Store Budget

Friday, August 18, 2017

That's right, I said Disney... on a dollar store budget. Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to Disney World, I'm like a child. I obsess. I dream. I plan my entire year around the next trip I get to take. For most, the price tag alone is enough to drive you away. It was for me as well, that is, until I discovered some of the secrets I'll share with you today. Disclosure: I have gone to Disney World on many different budgets, with many different plans. However, whether all in one trip or spread over multiples, I have utilized every tip I'll share with you. Listen closely, my friends, I see a trip in your future!

Let's start with the most important and probably the biggest money saver there is - FOOD! A few years ago, while doing some of my obsession research, I discovered the amazing world of Disney Dining. I will tell you, it completely overwhelmed me. On Pinterest alone, there are thousands of posts on Disney restaurants, "best of" food lists, the Disney Dining Plan, etc. The first time I began to research, I almost threw my phone down and cried. After staring at websites for hours, I still had no idea where to go or what to do. Then one magical day, I found the light at the end of the Disney Dining tunnel. I'm referring to what Disney is now calling the "Free Delicious Offer". Yes, I said it - FREE.

Before we get into all the details of how to get free dining, I want to make sure you have an understanding of the Disney Dining Plan (DDP), for any Disney newbies. The Disney Dining Plan is something you can add on to your Disney vacation package (typically including a resort stay and park tickets at minimum). The DDP typically includes Table Service Credits, Quick Service Credits, Snack Credits and refillable drink mugs for everyone on your reservation. Don't worry - for those of you who have zero idea what I'm talking about, you can read all about the Disney Dining Plan in our post here.

Now that you have a better understanding of what the DDP even is, let's talk about how and when to get it for free. Historically, the FREE dining plan package has been offered for resort stays falling sometime between August and December. By that I mean, over the past five years, the dates have been similar but never the exact same. In order to score this awesome package, you typically have a booking window that opens sometime between spring and early summer. Now, if you're anything like me, you're saying to yourself "that's great and all, but HOW do I actually get this?". You really have three options. Option 1 - you can obsess over Disney blogs, insider tips and websites that give you a heads up when it MIGHT be announced, and you can pounce on booking a reservation the second it is truly announced. Option 2 - you can take a chance on booking a reservation and pray that it actually ends up falling during your reservation time, then immediately call the booking line to have it added to your reservation on the morning it rolls out. If you choose this option, good luck with the hold times on the phone. Grab a cup of coffee, a book, maybe a movie or two. It could take a while. Option 3 - also known as my favorite option. You can find a Disney-obsessed person who happens to run a blog (ahem - me.) and keep up with our updates on when this magical plan will be released. Once you hear confirmed rumors from our email updates, you can contact an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner and have them book a reservation for you, AT NO COST TO YOU. That's right, I said no cost to you, which brings us to my next money saving tip.

I can tell you honestly, I will never book another Disney World trip on my own. With all the options, and the website sometimes running quite slow, I just can't handle the pressure. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a wonderful Disney Vacation Planner who has made my booking process incredibly simple. What's the benefit, you ask? Everything. Number one, their service is completely free to you. Disney pays their commission, so you get all their knowledge and skills for absolutely no cost to you. Number two, they have magical powers. Yes, that's right. I have used the same Disney Vacation Planner for years, and I could not live without her. She made my first booking experience incredibly easy, and she saved me every bit of hassle of getting the FREE Disney Dining Plan added to my booking. I had heard that the dining plan was historically given out free between a certain set of dates. On a leap of faith, I had her book a vacation package for me that fell within that time frame, but I let her know I was really interested in the free dining. The morning I found out the Free Dining Plan had been announced, before I could even call her, she sent me an email to let me know she had already added it to my booking. She's basically my Fairy Godmother. End of story. If you'd like your own Fairy Godmother, you can find mine at Air and Sea Travel - ask for Robin. You can thank me later. 

So, you've reached out to your Fairy Godmother, you've booked a vacation package, now what? That's not at all where the savings stop. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve. For me, half of the fun of Disney World is all the planning, shopping and crafting I get to do during the months before my trip. In my opinion, this is where I save TONS, and I mean TONS of money. To begin, I create a Disney Vacation Planning Binder. Yes, I'm that much of a nerd. For me, the designing part of the binder is a thrill. However, I understand that not everyone gets that excited about it. For those of you that would prefer a pre-made template, send us an email and we'll send you a FREE copy of our most recent binder.

My next money-saving step is to start SHOPPING! Got your attention now, don't I ladies? You read it right. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have a toddler. This is one of the most fun parts for me. I love making sure she is fully decked out in Disney clothing, princess dresses, etc. for everything we do in the parks. If she's meeting Cinderella, you can bet she'll be dressed to suit. I also LOVE using my Silhouette to create precious shirts for her to wear in the parks. Check out our Instagram page for pictures of what I made and what we packed on her most recent trip. Other than shopping for clothes, there are a few items I never leave home without when heading to Disney World. You can find a complete list of those items and where to get them in our Disney Packing List post here. Trust me, when you get to the parks and the kids are screaming for literally everything they see in every store or every street cart, you'll be glad you planned ahead.

My next step is crafting, and who doesn't love crafting? Just like with the outfits, I like for my daughter, and admittedly myself, to have a different pair of ears for every day in the parks. I have tried just about every way of making ears I could find, but my newest favorite is Floral Wire Mickey Ears. You can find a plethora of these beauties on Etsy, but they'll typically cost you at the very least about $20 a piece. No thanks. I love the fun of designing and crafting my own. It has been trial and error, but I've finally got it down! You can read all about how to craft these puppies in our Floral Wire Ears post here. Also, check out our Instagram page for a few of the other types of ears I've tried out.

My second favorite item to craft for every Disney trip is a customized autograph book. These bad boys will cost you upwards of $10-15 if you buy them in the parks, and they're generic. Sure, they have a cute theme on the front, but the inner pages are blank. I used to find a deal for a 20-page photo book for only $5.99. I then created my own front page template and inner pages with cute miniature pictures of Disney characters on each page. With my daughter being so young, this was a great way for her to associate each character with their picture. I have to say, watching her light up when Doc McStuffins signed her name beside her picture made the entire trip completely worth it! If you'd like a FREE front page template for your custom autograph book, check out our post here.

One of my favorite money saving tips comes from an idea I've received from many other bloggers. I admit, at first I was skeptical and thought it was just another money making scheme. Boy, was I wrong. If you plan your trip with enough time, you can utilize this trick to its full potential. Have any of you ever heard of the Target Red Card? If so, then you are already aware of all the benefits that come along with having it. However, I have a new benefit for you. The Red Card can be used at Target to purchase Disney Gift Cards at 5% off. Now, I know 5% doesn't sound like much, but it adds up. For every $500 in gift cards you purchase, you save $25 with this trick. When you book a Disney trip, you only have to pay a $200 deposit. Even working with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, you can pay your balance in increments (or in full) with Disney Gift Cards. You've basically added an extra discount on your vacation just by purchasing gift cards with the Red Card. You can also purchase discounted gift cards through a website called In my experience, finding Disney Gift Cards on this site is hit or miss, but when you do, it is completely worth it. Hey, I'll try almost anything to save money! If that means checking a website like a complete stalker, I'm not afraid!

Now, with all your new money-saving tips in hand, it is time to book your next Disney Vacation. Remember folks, I'm obsessed. I'd love to hear all about your experience and any extra tips, pictures or requests you have to share with us! Leave us a comment below or send us an email!

HOLY MACARON - Quick and Easy Recipe

Being one of the pickiest eaters in the world, I waited a LONG time to try macarons. They looked weird, and they were all different colo...

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