July 27, 2016

Simple No-Bake Summer Cheesecake Treats

We've been having a scorcher of a summer here in East Tennessee. With temperatures in the 90s, my poor air conditioner desperately needs a break. So the thought of turning on the oven to bake up some summer sweets is not appealing. The good thing is, there are plenty of great no-bake summer treats to make for your family this season.

I don't know about you, but I like to have a little something sweet after dinner. I know desserts should be a sometimes food, but I just can't help it. I always seem to want some sort of sweet treat.

These great no-bake summer desserts are perfect because they are individually sized and you can make them in whatever size containers you like. The other thing I love about this treat is that you can completely customize it, depending on what flavors you're in the mood for.

Basically, it's a crust + a filling + a topping (and each one can be your choice!). Totally, DIY, totally delicious.

To start, you'll want to make a basic no-bake cheesecake. I based mine on a great recipe found here. Combine two 8oz packages of softened cream cheese with one and a half cups of powdered sugar. I used my electric hand mixer, but if you don't have one you can probably still do this with a little (or a lot) of elbow grease.

1) Start with Your Crust

First, you want to choose your crust. Graham crackers are the most popular option for traditional cheesecake, but there's really no cookie that won't work here. I made a couple different versions of this, some with graham crackers and some with chocolate sandwich cookies.

If you're using a dry cookie like a graham cracker you will need some melted butter or coconut oil to hold the crumbs together. For sandwich cookies or anything creme filled, there's no real need.

I used my food processor to pulse the cookies into crumbs.

2) Choose Your Filling

Next comes the filling. The base filling is the cream cheese + powdered sugar mixture, but here's where your creativity can go wild. Any and all sorts of delicious combinations are possible with this recipe.

One version I suggest you try is to add in some Cookie Butter cream cheese (a Trader Joe's product). It has a hint of ginger, plus a little cinnamon that almost makes me long for cooler temperatures of fall. This flavor would go great with a gingersnap crust by the way. 

Then, I also experimented with a chocolate no-bake cheesecake by adding in a few scoops of Belgian Chocolate Pudding (another great product from Trader Joe's). I'm sorry I don't have exact measurements, because I don't like to follow actual recipes...for this I went by taste. 

For my third option, I left the filling plain but you could incorporate anything you like....peanut butter, lemon curd, butterscotch syrup, salted caramel topping, chocolate fudge....the list could go on and on. 

3) Finally, Add Your Toppings

This is probably my favorite part of any dessert: the toppings. Again, there's no limit to what you can create here. 

From fresh fruit like strawberries, peaches or blueberries to something simple like cherry pie filling, your no-bake cheesecakes are just waiting for you to dress them up. 

Here are some combinations I recommend...

Chocolate cookie crumb crust + Chocolate pudding cheesecake filling + Marshmallows

Graham cracker crumb crust + Lemon curd cheesecake filling + fresh strawberries 

Mint cookie crumb crust + Pistachio pudding cheesecake filling + chocolate shavings

Peanut butter sandwich cookie crumb crust + Peanut butter cheesecake filling + blueberry compote

I hope this simple no-bake cheesecake treat helps you (and your kitchen!) stay cool this summer.

Happy sweet eating y'all! 

July 13, 2016

Simple & Affordable Fairy Gardens to DIY

Fairy gardens have been a popular creative project for some time, but I haven't tried making one until now. There's something about the whimsy of it all, and the fact that I love tiny, miniature things that compelled me to create a fairy garden of my own. 

The best thing about making a fairy garden is that there are no rules. You can truly let your imagination run wild, and create a whimsical world that will make a great addition to your home or garden space. 

1) Choose A Fairy Garden Container 

The first step in creating your own fairy garden is to choose a planter to contain everything. This can be a traditional terra cotta pot or planter, or you might want to opt for something colorful in a glazed ceramic. I ultimately decided to use a plastic planter because I liked the color, a kind of neutral olive green.

Choose a planter based on your unique style, plus be sure to consider how large you'd like your garden to be. 

2) Select Plants for Your Fairy Garden 

Think about where your fairy garden is going to live (in the shade?, in a sunny spot?) and choose plants that will like those conditions. A good rule of thumb is three to four plants, depending on the size of your container.

Ferns are great, especially smaller varieties. Herbs such as thyme or different types of basil might also make a good plant for a fairy garden. Finally, succulents, coleus and ivy are all great selections. Your fairy garden is yours alone, so choose plants that make you smile! Check out these options, from myflowerland.com. 

3) Select Your Fairy Dwellings

Fairy houses are probably the cutest thing about fairy gardens. Most craft stores and even some garden stores have fairy houses or garden accessories that could work. I decided to use plain, raw wood birdhouses since they gave me the freedom to paint them myself. 

More project inspiration via Today Show!


4) Add Fairy Accessories to you Fairy Garden

I've always been a collector of little odds and ends. If you have a junk drawer, now is the time to raid it! You just never know what small bits and pieces you might be able to turn into a fairy garden accessory. Perhaps a broken holiday ornament can get new life in a fairy garden.

Or maybe you have small pieces from kids' toys that fit right in with your fairy garden. And don't forget to search for treasures in nature! Small stones, bits of wood or shells, leaves and pine cones, and dried flowers can all bring a certain magical quality to your fairy garden. 

You may also want to visit your local craft store and see what sorts of whimsical objects they have. Click here to see all sorts of fairy garden accessories available at Jo Ann Craft store. I hope you've been inspired to create your very own fairy garden! 

July 5, 2016

When Your Default is Fear

In the world of computers, "default" refers to a setting that is automatically reverted to when the user does nothing. It's the option that is picked for you if you don't make a choice of your own.

Humans are not computers, but we still have our various defaults. Things we revert back to, things we embrace when it feels impossible to make a different choice.

For me, the default is fear. If anything happens that doesn't go exactly as I'd hoped, fear takes over, kicking my brain into overdrive. Sending me in a dozen different directions, with no shortage of What if scenarios to imagine the absolute worst. Does this ever happen to you?

At work....Our business hasn't been doing so well and we need to tighten the budget. Your position has been eliminated. It's not personal. 

At the doctor....Something isn't quite right with your test results. We don't know what's wrong, but we need you to come back in for a second look. 

In a relationship....This isn't working. It's just too hard. We can't be together. 

When you like things to be a certain way (as I do) and you come to a situation that is outside your control, any choice other than fear feels next to impossible.

But there is another choice. Actually there is an infinite number of choices. Fear just feels like the easiest one because it's our default setting.

Like a path you've walked down over and over again for many years, it feels familiar, comfortable. Even if you don't particularly like it, it's the devil you know.

One of the scariest things that ever happened to me was losing my job. Not only did I think my job was supposed to define me as a person, it was my livelihood. So in one fell swoop, I lost what felt like my identity as well as how I paid my bills and made ends meet.

Fear wanted to be a constant companion of mine during those first dark days. But instead of hiding or trying to nurse my wounds in private, I went on vacation with my family. I shared my story here, with all of you. I surrounded myself with creative people who believe that there's always something else, something better....if we reach for it. I was really honest with myself about some things that I'd been avoiding. And I ended up feeling so free.

That was four years ago. A lot has happened since then. There have been other setbacks. Other times that things didn't go as planned, and fear reared its ugly head. Just today, I found myself in a situation where things felt out of control. And I immediately let fear be my default.

But the default choice doesn't trump all the others unless we let it. It takes work to choose something else. It takes believing there's something better to choose. It takes believing we deserve something better. And it takes knowing that things will work out, somehow, even if we can't predict the outcome.

Maybe you needed to hear this today. I definitely did.