Hannah’s Birthday Tea Party

Firstly I need to apologize for not bringing a nice camera to Hannah’s first birthday party; to her family- because my photos do not do it justice, and to my readers- because my photos do not do it justice. Phew! Now that is out of the way.

We were invited to the most lovely tea party the other afternoon to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of the birth of our dear friends’ daughter Hannah. The event was stunning! It included a beautiful backyard tent and a vast assortment of delicacies…

It was hard to contain our excitement.

tea sandwiches, dainty scones and sugar cookies,

darling pots of tea and tea cups,

a gorgeous cake,

a wonderful hosting family,

and great memories to share.

I wish everyday had a tea party…

So we could have our cake,

and eat it too!

Loving Lately 🎂

Loving Lately: Party Cakes

August is a big birthday month for my family and friends. I love parties, and pretty things- that you can eat. I appreciate the art of it all. You know how they say you want what you can’t have? I don’t know it that if that applies exactly…


But I really wish I could decorate a cake.


I’d be happy if it would turn out half as good as these ideas.


I am amazed at the creativity of people; how they get ideas in their heads and have the ability to make it happen.


I think “Wow! Can you imagine the party that goes with these cakes!”


Well, they are probably fabulous. (Like Pinterest, which supplied me with the photos)


Simple Summer Entertaining

It occurs to me that I haven’t contributed to my entertaining section of my blog in a while. And although I haven’t hosted any major gatherings lately, there have been several little ones. So here are some tips for those awesome summer days that turn into impromptu gatherings. I just love this time of year. 

1. Invite (or cordially accept) your friends over. Maybe the people you hung out with on the 4th of July? You probably like them.


2. Whether you are sending out informal invites (phone calls or texts) or the neighborhood has migrated to your back yard, serve snacks. Everyone wants to eat- usually right away, and in my experience often all day. Keep corn chips and salsa on hand at all times. (If you happen to have avocados, tomatoes, onions and seasonings, a little guacamole is a fun seasonal treat.) Of course most kids (and adults) I know are happy with Doritos too.

3. The same goes with drinks. Sure it’s nice to have a cooler full of chilled pop (or whatever you like). If you have the time to stock up on beverages great! Maybe you have a limited budget? Hey, no worries, it’s just nice to be together… but at least serve water… iced is even better… and if you have time for lemon or limeade, they’re just classic.


4. Just add water. In the northern midwest we have a short season where it is desirable to be wet while we are outside. I like to take full advantage of it. You don’t have to have a pool or pond or lake… The kids I know are happy with a sprinkler or slip ‘n slide or good old fashioned balloon fight!


5. Now you are not obligated by any means to feed everyone a meal unless you have said you would, but I can’t imagine another way. If you’re not prepared, it’s always fun to order pizza. I think it’s a good idea to keep hot dogs and buns on hand all summer long. We’ve had parties where everyone brings their own meat (and/or veggie patties) to grill which can be fun too. Of course it’s always a winner when you put burgers and brats over the flame. Can you smell the summer in the air?


6. The fun is not over until you serve something sweet. It can be cheap and store bought. It can be thoughtfully homemade. My suggestion? Make it something that’s going to melt. Popsicles or ice cream cones… Sticky chins and drips down shirts are what memories are made of this time of year.


Brenda’s Cheesy Dip

It’s the weekend, hurray! Time to cut loose, invite some friends over, and eat some corn chips!  Well, for some of you anyway. I thought it would be fun to post an easy and oh-so-tasty little dip. Hey, not everybody is clean eating these days, and for those who take occasional days off… Here’s to having a little fun! My friend Brenda brought this retro-style deliciousness to a party not so long ago. She called it “Bean dip”, and she was like “I don’t know why, there’s no beans in it.” Lol. Stuff like that cracks me up! Regardless, it was yummy and I had to have the bean-less recipe to share with you! (Call it what you want.)

Now the original calls for Velveeta, which even my favorite celebrity home cook Ree Drummond herself condones at times. However, I’ve listed a more “natural” option that I’ve come to appreciate- for all of you purists out there. (I can see both sides.)

4 – 15 oz. cans Hormel chili (no beans)

8 oz. Sour Cream

1 – 16 oz. block of Velveeta (or 2 – 8 oz. jars of Trader Joe’s Chipotle Queso)

2 – 10 oz. cans original Rotel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies

2 bags of your favorite corn chips

Family and/or friends (optional)


Place all of the ingredients into a crock pot and turn on low, stirring occasionally. When all ingredients are well incorporated and warm, bust out those corn chips and dip on. Whoot Whoot!


A Birthday in Jurassic Park

The only problem with having a birthday in Jurassic Park is… the dinosaurs! Aaaah! Run for your lives!


Okay, don’t be frightened. It’s actually just a cardboard cutout, and you (or the birthday boy) can totally pretend that you are about to punch it in the face.


It was a group effort to turn my nephew’s home into a Jurassic World. My sister does an amazing job making her ideas become a reality. She, along with her husband, work really hard to make their kids birthday dreams come true. I wish I could say I contributed. (But if you remember, I just got home from vacation and didn’t even have milk in my house…) Needless to say, I was completely useless. But I do know how to appreciate (and photograph) the details!




My dad made the awesome “Jurassic Park” sign over the door. My mother, inspired by Pinterest, made dinosaur bones from marshmallows, pretzels, and white chocolate; she baked sugar cookie “fossils” imprinted with dinosaur tracks; and she painted an umbrella to replicate that crazy dinosaur (the Dilophosaurus) that everyone (or just I) thought was harmless and then it let out that terrible screech and the head fans out and it spits acid at Newman from Seinfeld. Scary.


It was just protecting the Dino Juice… and it’s eggs. Muwahhahaha. (That’s my maniacal laugh.)


There really wasn’t a detail left undone. From the vines hanging from the chandelier to the dinosaur salivating over the food table, for the moment we were all transported to another time.


A time with danger lurking around every corner… or hanging on every wall.



On a side note, I think it’s adorable that my nephew requests cheesecake for his birthday. I mean, you might as well have something you’re going to enjoy… If you can get it out of the cage.



Whew! That was dangerous, but I got a piece.

And I’d like to thank every dinosaur big and small who made an appearance. The birthday bash was a roaring success. (Get it? I’m so funny.)


Happy Birthday Jude!

How to Have a Last Minute Potty Party

Well if you time it right, you can potty train your child right in time for Super Bowl weekend; which could make things absolutely pun-tastic! If you’re anything like me, by the time your third kid comes along, you’re planning has mostly resorted to a last minute now-or-never wave of effort. I literally think we finished the nursery the week of his arrival. (And don’t get me started on number four, who is already one with an unfinished nursery.) By now, we already know things will turn out fine… the biggest concern during my pregnancy was about what we were going to drive- that could accommodate all of the carseats.


But finally my Elijah, baby number three is potty-trained and it was time to celebrate. Admittedly we’re a little over-the-top with our celebrations… but life is too short not to celebrate everything from the mundane to the mile stones! And because I am not above bribery to my children (or “incentives” if you will), I promised a party, with a cake, and presents when the diapers were off… A Potty Party! So you send out a few invitations to your closest friends and family, to let them know the moment has arrived. It’s a last minute thing really, because you have to strike while the iron is hot- you have to go with the momentum.  The texted invites have been sent! (No time for snail mail in a moment like this).


Then, since you’ve had a couple days to prepare but haven’t called about the promised cake, you swing by the supermarket to try and pick up an undecorated cake… because he wants lightsabers on his cake, and you’re like “Cool, I’ll pick up a couple edible gel pens and make some lines and call them lightsabers, because I’m just glad everyone’s teeth are brushed and hair is combed, and we’re out the door.” But your awesome supermarket has a Star Wars cake for sale in the showcase because your timely son has chosen something that all kids want right now and happens to be readily available. Score!


Now, you’re winging it remember, so don’t worry about making a reservation at your local Chuck E. Cheese. You never have a problem walking in anyway! That is until you realize that everyone in town has a party planned this weekend, and your particular Chuck E. Cheese has a record setting 25 parties on the same day. Ok, keep it cool, this isn’t your first rodeo. Find the first available open table, that’s where you are putting your awesome cake and setting a meeting point. The kids aren’t going to be sitting for long anyway. You split up the team, and have someone go order pizzas, drinks and tokens right away; because it’s going to take a while to get that food. You pass out those tokens and let the kids play, because that’s why we’re here!

Greet your loving and accommodating friends and family as they arrive. And if you were five minutes late to your own party, thank the ones who are already there and apologize for your lack of organization. Make sure to give them plenty of tokens and please ask them to go enjoy themselves! As adjacent tables open up to the one you’ve managed to snag, grab ’em. You’ll be ready for all to eat by the time the pizza is done.


When the pizza arrives send out any messengers available, including yourself, to get the word out. Rendez-vouz back at the table to feed the hungry crowd. It’s also a good time to open presents, since everyone is gathered. (But that’s not how I did it, I let them off as soon as they were finished eating; because the kids were still excited and wanted to play more. Then I had a second rounding up, as some of my guest needed to leave but wanted to see Elijah open his gifts. So that is merely a suggestion from experience, but if you’re still flying by the seat of your “big kid” pants, you just keep going with your own flow.)


Lastly, reward your child with presents. Sure some people use sticker charts and M & M’s, but not us. You got to do what works for you. And look at that face. That’s a proud big kid! He did it! Hurray! Let your guests play and eat until the food is gone and the tokens are out. Congratulations, you pulled it off! Three down and one to go! (But who’s planning?)


Smokin’ Hot Potato Skinny’s

It’s Super Bowl season, time to gather up and chow down! And who doesn’t like watching the guys toss around the ole pig skin while munching on some potato skins? No one around here anyway! (Although to be honest, I can eat potato skins all year round.) This is a great and lightened up (aka “skinnier”) version of a family favorite, with all the flavor. It’s got Greek yogurt for a little tang and smoked Gouda to bring the BBQ flavor inside. It’s a crowd pleaser for men, women and children alike… which makes it a perfect choice for this family! Happy Game Day!

8 Small Russet potatoes

3 Tbsp Olive oil, divided

1 Tbsp Course Kosher salt

1 tsp Freshly ground Black Pepper, divided

3/4 cup Whole Milk or Non-fat plain Greek Yogurt (such as Chobani)

8 oz. Smoked Gouda (or Smoked Cheddar), shredded

1 1/2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic

1 tsp Granulated Onion

1 tsp Salt

3 Strips Regular or Turkey Bacon, cooked & chopped into small pieces (optional)

2 Scallions, sliced (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°.

On a baking sheet, using a brush or your hands, coat the outside of the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and an even coverage of the coarse salt. Place the potatoes in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly for handling, and cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a sharp knife, outline a rim inside the edges of the potato skin, about 1/2 inch thick. Then using a spoon, scoop out the potato to make room for the filling. Reserve 1 cup of the warm potatoes for the filling. (Keep the rest for a couple breakfast potato pancakes?) Brush the potatoes with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of the black pepper and return to the oven for 4-5 more minutes.

In the meantime, place the cup of baked potato in a medium bowl, add the Chobani yogurt, 3/4 of the shredded gouda (reserving 2 oz. for topping), Worcestershire sauce, garlic, onion, and salt. Mix well until combined.

When skins are ready, carefully remove them from the oven. Spoon the potato, yogurt and cheese mixture into the center of each skin. Top the skins with the remaining shredded cheese, black pepper and bacon pieces. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes or so, until cheese is melted. Take the skins out of the oven, and top with the chopped scallions (and if desired more plain Chobani Greek yogurt). 😉





Ringing in the New Year & the Winner

I’d love to say that it’s a tradition of mine to ring in the new year with glitz & glam, song & noise, friends & fun…

That would be a bold faced lie.

In fact, it seems like for the past few years I was pregnant or up most of the night feeding an infant, so sleep was more valued than celebration… and I’ve slept right through most of them.

But not this year!

This year we feasted on food from around the world!


This year we blew into noise makers and lit off sparklers!


As 2016 rolled in, I hugged my loved ones and said “Happy New Year!”

…And it was a lot of fun!


(I get it, no promises on the future, but I get it!)
To commemorate the New Year on my blog, I started with a cookbook giveaway that celebrates family and food! (Seems befitting) I entered the number of comments on and it selected #22. Congratulations Dave, you are the winner of Return to Sunday Dinner! (And Dave, aka dad, thank you for your support of my blog.) I look forward to checking out the Spam Cookbook, (a delicacy of Hawaii). Please contact me via email to claim your prize! 🎉

And thanks to Ryan French for many of my New Year’s photos!



Hot Artichoke Dip

I am a sucker for hot cheesy dips. Melted flavorful cheese is hard to resist. Period. Give me a cracker, a chip, or a spoon.  I know I’m not alone. The best part of these dips is that they are good all year round. Bring ’em to a pot luck or a party; you won’t disappoint anyone. I am also fond of artichokes. They are great hearty and healthy vegetables that can stand up to a lot of flavor. The combination is perfect as an appetizer, for a midday snack or a light meal …A little reminder that food can taste really good.

As organic as possible:

1 – 12 oz jar Marinated artichoke hearts, drained

1 – 14 oz can Artichoke hearts, drained

8 oz Cream cheese

1 cup Mayonnaise

1 tsp granulated Garlic

1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground Black pepper

1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper

3 Scallions (green onion), chopped

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place half of the jar of marinated artichoke hearts into a food processor and set the rest aside. Add the can of drained artichoke hearts, cream cheese, mayonnaise, garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne and scallions into the processor and pulse (not to liquify) until all is incorporated together.

Chop the remaining marinated artichoke hearts into small bite size pieces. In a large bowl add artichoke mixture, chopped artichokes and Parmesan cheeses. Stir until combined. Check for taste, and adjust seasonings accordingly.

Spoon cheesy artichoke goodness into a medium sized baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes, until hot and bubbly (and maybe just starting to brown around the edges). Serve with tortilla chips or crackers. Savor.

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

Caroling Chili

Everyone can use a great ‘chili for a crowd’ recipe this time of year! This recipe is delicious and plentiful, perfect for holiday gatherings, football bowl game parties, inviting the kids sports teams over, etc. Aunt Leann has been making it for years and has it down to a science. So get those invitations out, you got this.

Preferably cooked in a roaster, but a large stock pot works too.

Serves 40

5 lbs Turkey Burger (such as 93/7 Turkey Store Brand)

1 – 48 oz bottle of V-8 Tomato Juice

4 – 30.5 oz cans of Brooks Chili Beans (Hot or Mild depending on your taste, 2 of each suggested)

3 packets of McCormicks chili seasoning packets

2 – 15.5 cans Great Northern Beans

2 – 15.25 oz cans Black Beans

2 – 15.5 oz cans Light Red Kidney Beans

2 – 28 oz cans Petite Diced Tomatoes

1 – 20 oz can Rotel Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies

2 Tbsp garlic powder

2 Tbsp onion powder

1/8 cup of Chili powder


Brown the 5 lbs of turkey burger in a frying pan, and cook down until all liquid evaporates, using a potato masher to break the meat into small pieces.

Pour the container of V-8 into the roaster. Add the browned turkey and all 3 packets of seasoning. Stir. Add all four cans of Brook’s Chili beans, DO NOT drain and stir to combine. Gently mix in the petite diced tomatoes and Rotel tomatoes with chillies.

Open all Great Northern, Black and Kidney beans. Pour beans into a colander and lightly rinse. Pour beans into roaster and gently combine with meat mixture. Sprinkle mixture with garlic, onion and chili powder. Stir.

Cook 3-4 hours on medium low heat with lid off, stirring periodically. Be careful not to boil.

Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, crackers and diced onion… And enjoy your party!