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Just a Small-Town Girl: Oldsmar’s Centennial Cookbook Challenge   

2 May

I always have and will always be a small-town girl. Once upon a time, I dreamed of moving to NYC to work as a fashion-magazine editor, and then I saw Times Square. Amazing and beautiful, yes, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea full-time. Originally from Granger, Indiana, I left that small town for another small town (Bloomington, Indiana) and eventually another small town (Oldsmar, Florida).

There’s just something magical about living in a small town. (Is John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” playing in your head yet?) I love knowing my neighbors, I love that my community feels more like a group of friends than strangers, and I love that we all wave to each other when we pass by.

And I particularly love living in Oldsmar — close enough to Tampa, Clearwater and Orlando so you get all the big-city fun but far enough of way that you retain the small-town charm in your everyday life. I love that I can walk to the library or to the water any afternoon, and I absolutely love the rich history of this area. Ransom E. Olds, the automobile pioneer, purchased nearly 38,000 acres of land in April 1916 to establish Oldsmar, and this year marks the city’s Centennial Celebration!

As part of that celebration, Oldsmar has been hosting themed concert events every fifth Friday of the month —and it was at one such event that I found an absolute gem: the Oldsmar Centennial Cookbook, featuring nearly 120 recipes from local residents just like me. The Friends of the Oldsmar Library put together this collection of treats, and I had to have one. $15 dollar later, I snatched up my copy and tucked it under my arm for safe-keeping until I could get home.


On Sunday afternoon, I read the cookbook cover to cover, soaking in not only the recipes but a lot of wonderful history on Oldsmar and its residents. Each recipes has a notes area, filled with the lovely stories about the background of each dish, like the one Grace Kinane shared with the Stuffed Olives entry: “Longtime teacher at Oldsmar Elementary, Helen Scott, shared this after we swooned over them!” Or Bette Rae Maltinos’ submission for Brown Bread, “I have made this since my sons were very small and they could not wait to cut it and eat. I still make this for them even though they are now men.”

The cookbook is also filled with old photos documenting Oldsmar’s history like the town’s very first library and Mr. Olds and President Roosevelt in our streets among others. Who knew that Oldsmar hosted beach parties in the 1920s? Looks like quite a fun time from the photo! I wondered if they served any of these recipes there.


The cookbook inspired me to start a challenge. I’m going to cook my way through each and every entry, starting with the very first one: Joan Wallace’s Bacon-Shrimp Bites. And so I did! Jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon with a drizzle of barbecue sauce and honey make Sunday just that much sweeter. And with that first bite, I thought, “Yes, Joan. You were right. I should’ve planned for leftovers, because this was delicious!” Thank goodness for those notes.


And as I continued read through the pages, I stopped thinking of this as a cookbook all together. It was so much more than a cookbook in my eyes. It was a book, filled with amazing stories. And it reminded me what recipes actually do — they let you gather as a family and make memories over some delicious meals. And within those note sections and among the old photos, there lied our real truth … we are neighbors who share, we are families that love, and we are a community with a treasured past. And that’s why I love being a small-town girl right here in Oldsmar. And that’s life in a nutshell.

Joan Wallace’s Bacon-Shrimp Bites

Jumbo Shrimp: As many as needed

Bacon Slices: Half the amount as shrimp

I cup barbecure sauce

1 drizzle of honey per shrimp


Cut bacon in half and wrap around the shrimp. Secure with a toothpick. Place on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Broil 6 inches from heat for 5 minutes on each side or until bacon is crisp (we actually grilled these instead on foil). Drizzle with barbecue sauce and honey, and serve.

Note from Joan: I have been serving this for years. It is very quick to make and is low calorie (30 calories per shrimp). I love to have leftovers of this. Keep them in the fridge until the next day and have a few as a tasty lunch.

To purchase your own copy of the cookbook, visit the Oldsmar Public Library at 400 St. Petersburg Drive East in Oldsmar. You can also read more about it here.



Welcome to Two: Kids Say the Sweetest Things

29 Apr

So, my title is probably confusing to you. “In her last post, she was celebrating her son’s first birthday, and now he can already talk?” And you’re not that too far off, because my child is the smartest child alive, but no, he didn’t go from one to talking overnight. I took a year away from blogging because life kinda got in the way.

But today, Facebook reminded me of a post I wrote some time ago, all about those early maternity-leave days, and it made me miss my writing moments. So here I sit, ready to pick the digital pen back up and put my thoughts to screen. But where do I begin capturing all that’s happened in the last year …

I could write about the time Reece pooped in the tub … and then did it again two days later because who doesn’t love that surprise?? Or what about the time he repeated the F word in public? There was that time I took him to Publix with me at 8 a.m. and let him get a cookie just to keep him happy, much to the disappointment of the bakery lady and every other person I passed. P.S. My son looks adorable at 8:15 a.m. with sprinkles speared all over his face and eyes wide open with a sugar rush.

Let’s just say, this boy has given me some stories. But the sweetest memory in the whole world came to mind, so I’ll share that to start.

It was a warm day, and PoppaNut, Reece and I were hanging out on the back patio just taking in the fresh air. PoppaNut was preparing the grill for a delicious dinner, and of course, Reece wanted to do the same. He wheeled out his plastic Weber and started to “turn on” the burners.

“Mommy, do you like corn?”

“Yes, Reece. Mommy likes corn.”

“You want carrots, Mommy?”


IMG_4334With each fake food item Reece dug out from his grill cabinet, we’d discuss it, and pretend to gobble it up. “Oh, yummy,” we’d both squeal. And the game continued.

After some time, he was busy playing away on his own, grilling things up, serving them and cleaning it all up again.

As the sun started to set, a warm glow filled the backyard. Reece’s wild excitement had changed to a soft, sweet tone.

I said, “Reece, what are you going to make Mommy next?”

And he said, in the sweetest voice ever with such honesty, “Happy.”

And in that moment, my heart filled with overwhelming love.

And I wanted to say, “My sweet boy, I’m already happy. I’m over-the-moon, beyond-my-wildest-dreams happy. You and Daddy make me SO happy and I love you so much!”

But my throat closed up while I held back the tears … and all I could get out was a smile and a twinkle in my eye. And that’s life in a nutshell.


It’s a Great Pumpkin: Organizing a Charlie Brown Birthday Party

25 Nov

I love a theme! Once you finalize any party theme, you can just let your imagination run wild. And that’s exactly what happened as PoppaNut and I planned Reece’s very first birthday!

Plus, this party was not only a celebration of Reece turning one. It was a celebration for us as parents. WE MADE IT THROUGH THE FIRST YEAR WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER OR KILLING REECE! In fact, we are thriving as a family and getting cozy in our new status of three.

So, with our theme decided — It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — it was time to get planning.

Invitations and Signage: Our friend owns Black Tie Creative, and he’s been gracious enough to design our wedding invitations, Reece’s birth announcements and various other odds and ends. So, he was the perfect man to bring our Charlie Brown theme to life. He created the invites, birthday signs, food signs and more.

Cake: His equally talented wife designed and baked a matching cake! And we ate every last bite. Plus, we had a cheap Publix smash cake made in the shape of a pumpkin just for Reece to destroy.

Decor: The Charlie Brown decorations online looked girly to me, so I bought several orange and yellow banners and plastic tablecloths. Then, I simply used a black marker to draw Charlie Brown’s zigzag along the bottom. Boom! We also added some cozy elements to bring in more of the fall theme like hay stacks.

Entertainment: This was the first time our house was seeing so many children, so it was important to have lots of fun activities. We hired a face painter and put up a bounce house. I also put together a pumpkin-decorating station (fake pumpkins, washable markers, Snoopy stickers). We also had the “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” movie playing on the TV, and cornhole boards out for the adults.

Gift Bags: I got yellow gift bags and used a black marker to add Charlie Brown’s zigzag to them. I filled the inside with Halloween treats, noise makers, rings and stickers. Then, I printed off a Charlie Brown coloring sheet (there’s a ton online), rolled it up and secured with a decorative ribbon.

Details: Then, we added in some final details. I placed a Snoopy stuffed animal in the cake chair, and we put a basket of blankets — courtesy of Linus — nearby.

We asked everyone to wear costumes, which really added to the fun! Reece wore a Charlie Brown onesie … and he loved every minute of it. Thank you to everyone who joined in on the fun! It feels so wonderful to be surrounded with so many family and friends to celebrate! And that’s life in a nutshell.


Turning 33: Living it up in the Keys

6 Oct

I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a birthday more than my 33rd birthday, which took place last month. It’s not because I was thrilled to be turning another year older, but this birthday would mark the first time PoppaNut and I had a vacation sans baby since his birth — and we needed it! And so my amazing hubby planned a surprise trip to KEY WEST!!

Woohoo! We packed our bags, lovingly dropped off Reece at his grandparents’ home, removed the “parent” title from our vocabulary and proceeded to the Ft. Myers’ Key West Express dock to kick off the weekend.

My Mission: To reclaim my former, no-baby self. No schedules. No backup plans. No searching for reviews and recommendations. No judgment. And for the love of god, no Cheerios in my purse!

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights of our Key West vacation.

Key West Express
This is the only way to get the Keys. After boarding in Ft. Myers, you have three blissful hours to enjoy the beautiful breeze and ocean views while sipping Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s to your heart’s content. If it happens to rain, there might be a group of wild yet inviting travelers who befriend you and insist you do shots of straight vodka for the next two hours — which they may or may not have smuggled onto the boat in the first place. It will kick your trip off right, so just do it.

And We're Off!

And We’re Off!

Sloppy Joe’s
Live music, unbelievable sloppy joe’s and one rowdy crowd equals one of the best spots in Key West! Plus, this place is filled with rich history, considering it’s been located at the corner of Greene and Duval streets since 1937. Beginning at just 9 a.m. (again, no judgment), customers can enjoy their favorite beverage!

Time for Lunch and Some Live Music.

Time for Lunch and Some Live Music.

Ocean Key Resort & Spa
Step into paradise. Spacious rooms with large Jacuzzi tubs and panoramic views of both the Gulf of Mexico and Duval Street just melt all your cares away. The modern green-and-white pool area features first-come, first-serve cabanas and the most friendly staff — they delivered frozen towels, fresh drink samples and even frozen fruit to make the sun just a bit more tolerable. In fact, the entire staff made us feel right at home … if our home was a luxury waterfront mansion! I can’t wait to return.

Most Captivating Views!

Most Captivating Views!

Time for a Frozen Towel!

Time for a Frozen Towel!

Harpoon Harry’s
Authentic breakfast diner and a full liquor store in one? This urban myth is certainly true in Key West! While they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, I’m recommending breakfast. They’re known for their Bloody Harry (a spicy Bloody Mary) and the Heapin’ Harry breakfast platter: 2 eggs any style with cheese atop potatoes sittin’ on ham, smothered in sausage gravy and served with toast. Yummy!

Booze and Breakfast

Booze and Breakfast

Some Interesting Decor Around These Parts!

Some Interesting Decor Around These Parts!

Mallory Square
This quaint shopping square has anything and everything you might want to buy for those friends and family who are angrily reviewing your Facebook feed updates while they sit at work. Plus, the nightly sunset celebration includes amazing street performers and talent acts.

Time for Shopping

Time for Shopping

Smallest Bar
Don’t blink or you might just miss this one. This is LITERALLY the smallest bar in the world, with just a small yellow awning documenting its existence. It’s a great pit stop as you make your way down Duval Street and all the patrons are super friendly!

Their Not Kidding About This Being a Pretty Small Bar!

Their Not Kidding About This Being a Pretty Small Bar!

Rick’s Bar
PoppaNut and I spent a few beers’ time here, mainly people watching from the front stools. It happened to be raining this evening, and this was the perfect, down-home joint to quench our thirsts. Rick’s Bar is actually one of eight bars in a larger entertainment complex so they truly have a spot for everyone!

Perfect Spot for People Watching

Perfect Spot for People Watching

With my liver barely functioning on the ferry ride home from the Keys, I’d say “Mission Accomplished.” I think we just might make this an annual trip for my birthday. Where should we stop the next time we head down to Key West?

And that’s life in a nutshell.


Happy Birthday, America: Celebrating July 4th

7 Jul

I sure hope everyone had an amazing July 4th holiday! PoppaNut and I had one legendary barbeque at our home with tons of family and friends stopping by throughout the night. Here are just a few photos I wanted to share.

Me and PoppaNut

Me and PoppaNut

Ashley, Madison, Me and Baby Reece

Ashley, Madison, Me and Baby Reece

Flag Photos!

Flag Photos!





My Decorations

My Decorations

Representing the Statute of Liberty

Representing the Statute of Liberty

So many fun memories! And that’s life in a nutshell.


The Heart of the Home: Our Kitchen Remodel

14 Apr

They say the heart of your home resides in the kitchen, and that’s especially true when you marry a sauce-making, Mozzarella-loving Italian. This man loves to cook, and I love to find any excuse to whip up a yummy dessert.

So, when we moved into our new home last May, we both knew a kitchen renovation would be on the list … but that list kept growing and growing considered we moved into a home that had been empty for two full years. PoppaNut painted every possible surface in this home, and power-washed everything else. We overhauled the landscaping, and we were finally ready for the next project: our downstairs bar area.

This was our kitchen just before the remodel. We only replaced the appliances when we moved in.

This was our kitchen just before the remodel. We only replaced the appliances when we moved in.


So, when my father-in-law came over, who also happens to be a residential/commercial home builder (Residential Design Corp), we began talking about the bar project … which somehow naturally lead to how much I hated our kitchen. And Dad agreed, saying how super easy and inexpensive it would be to remodel this area into our dream kitchen.

Well, that’s all I needed to get started, and PoppaNut graciously set aside his bar dreams for mine, a sacrifice that still makes me tear up when I think about it. So, together, we picked out every element of this kitchen. And with a ton of full-weekend work sessions and several long late-night weekday projects (and a ton of help from Dad and our friend Brad), our dream kitchen came together. Let’s take a look.


We started by priming the cabinets.

We started by priming the cabinets.


The sticky tile had to go, so we could make way for the new floor.

The sticky tile had to go, so we could make way for the new floor.


And the new floor is in! This tile actually looks like gray wood.

And the new floor is in! This tile actually looks like gray wood.


Next, it was time to cover those nasty countertops. And we used the same flooring tile for that!

Next, it was time to cover those nasty countertops. And we used the same flooring tile for that!


I've always had my heart set on a farmhouse sink, and again ... my dream was coming true.

I’ve always had my heart set on a farmhouse sink, and again … my dream was coming true.


This sink could serve as a home pool! It's huge!

This sink could serve as a home pool! It’s huge!


Once the white subway tile backsplash was in, we moved on to the island.

Once the white subway tile backsplash was in, we moved on to the island.


We couldn't leave the nearby kitchen table untouched, so I recovered each chair in a bold blue fabric to accent the kitchen for just $20.

We couldn’t leave the nearby kitchen table untouched, so I recovered each chair in a bold blue fabric to accent the kitchen for just $20.


And this is the "after" photo. This is the kitchen this home was meant to have.

And this is the “after” photo. This is the kitchen this home was meant to have.


And that’s life in a nutshell. At the end of this kitchen renovation, I’m thrilled with this new space. It’s everything I pictured and I can’t wait to start using it for big and small occasions. But it means more to me than just a beautiful kitchen. It’s a renovation that PoppaNut put his heart and soul into just because he loves me and always wants to make my dreams come true, it’s a space where our friends and family will gather for years to come to celebrate exciting moments, it’s a warm heart to this home I’ll love forever.


Campfire-Inspired Dessert: S’mores Bars

25 Jun

If you haven’t been watching the news, you’re blissfully unaware of the tropical storm that has taken up residency right above my home. With flooded streets and down trees, it is easy to get a bit antsy once the DVR is void of any new shows. So, I fired up the oven and got to work.

This s’mores bar recipe is really easy and super delicious. And most of the items are probably already in your pantry!



1 pouch (1lb. 1.5oz.) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 cup butter, melted

3 cups milk-chocolate chips

4 ½ cups miniature marshmallows


Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, stir together cookie mix and crumbs. Stir in melted butter until soft dough forms. Press into ungreased 13×9-inch pan.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until set. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over crust. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes or until chocolate begins to melt. Spread chocolate evenly over crust.

Set oven control to broil. Sprinkle marshmallows over melted chocolate. Broil with top 5 to 6 inches from heat 20 to 30 seconds or until marshmallows are toasted. (Watch closely; marshmallows will brown quickly.) Cool 10 minutes. For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. Serve warm. Store any remaining bars tightly covered.

These are so filling that it doesn’t take much to satisfy your sweet tooth. Wishing you knew the recipe for a similar cupcake recipe? Here you go!

And that’s life in a nutshell. Don’t the let rain get you down! See it as a GREAT excuse to pull out your recipe book and create something amazing!


Easy Dessert: Scotcharoo Family Recipe

5 Jun

When I started college, I was pretty homesick. I had never really been far away from home, and Indiana University was nearly four hours away from my familiar stopping grounds. My birthday is in September, just a few short weeks after my freshman year had started, and I was in desperate need of something from home. And my sister being the most wonderful sister in the world, she must have known that, because a homemade recipe book made its way to my new address.

Inside, my sister had documented all of our family recipes inside. With a handwritten inscription, my sister brought me to tears with her words. And I have held on to that recipe book with dear life every since. It has accompanied me to my first apartment after college, to my apartment with my cousin Ashley, to my first place with PoppaNut, and now to our beautiful home. I’ve added my favorite recipes over the years, and I consult is each and every time I’m in the mood to make something new.

My favorite entries are the ones in my grandmother’s own handwriting. Her famous Texas sheet cake, which my cousins hid each Thanksgiving in Indiana in order to save the most for themselves, is documented inside, along with her peanut-butter balls, her scotcharoos and more. The only one missing is her famous strawberry jam, which I hope to learn to make someday as well.

So, with my recipe book in hand, I flipped through the familiar, recipe-stained pages for just the right thing to make. Scotcharoos it was! Now, if you haven’t heard of scotcharoos, it is basically Rice Krispy Treats with chocolate and butterscotch chips melted over the top. However, I made a few adjustments of my own.


3 Tbsp. butter

4 cups of mini marshmallows

Six cups of Rice Krispy cereal

Bag of chocolate chips

Bag of butterscotch chips


Melt butter in a medium saucepan on low heat. Then, add in marshmallows, and mix until well-blended. Add in cereal, and mix well.

Pour into a rectangle pan, and place wax paper over the top. Then, press down and carefully remove wax paper.

In a microwave-safe bowl, add in chips (I actually used chocolate chips and peanut-butter chips). Place in microwave on high on 30-minute intervals, stirring each time, until all chips and melted and blended together. Pour over the top and place in fridge to set. Serve with a tall glass of milk!

I sure hope you enjoy them. My little Cashew literally stretched out and watched me make them. I think he was hoping I might drop some so he could sample it too!

And that’s life in a nutshell … making scotcharoos not only satisfies my sweet tooth but it warms my heart thanks to the family tie.


Cupcake Dreams: Reese’s Pieces Cupcake Recipe

29 May

I love to bake, and I especially love baking when I have a long weekend to enjoy the final product. So, knowing last weekend was gonna be a long one, I asked PoppaNut to pick a flavor of his choice. He picked “Reese’s Pieces,” and I went on a hunt for a new recipe.

I found this delicious recipe that combines Reese’s Pieces with cream-cheese frosting. Need I say more? My search was complete and I ran to the grocery to pick up everything I needed.

Butter pecan cake mix (I couldn’t find this anywhere so I got Butter cake mix and added in two big spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter)
Muffin tin
Bag of Reese’s Pieces
Cream-cheese Icing
Cupcake Liners
AND my special secret ingredient … applesauce to substitute for the oil called for in the cake mix

Mix up the cake mix according to the directions, substituting oil for your cup of applesauce of course. Place the cake mix into your lined muffin tins. Place about five Reese’s Pieces right on the top and pop into the oven.

Once the cupcakes are cooled completely, put the frosting into a plastic bag. Snip the corner and easily frost each cupcake. I decorated the tops with a few more Reese’s Pieces (I’m clearly not on a diet this weekend!). Then, enjoy!

With the cupcakes complete, PoppaNut got started on the main course of hamburgers and hot dogs on our new grill! Yummy! Plus, this gave us a chance to enjoy the new rock that PoppaNut put in at the front and sides of the house. Looking good!

And that’s life in a nutshell. Let your loved one pick a favorite flavor, and then explore a few new recipes that you can create at home!


All Aboard: Cruising on the Yacht StarShip in Tampa

3 Apr

If you leave anywhere near the Bay area, you have probably heard about the Yacht StarShip cruises that leave out of Tampa and Clearwater. You have probably put it on your wish list of places to visit around the area, and month after month, you never take part.

I was the exact same way. Every time I would see a commercial or someone talking about Yacht StarShip, I burst out, “Oh my gosh, I want to do that so bad!” But, then I would forget about it until the next commercial aired. Well, I decided to make a change, and I purchased two tickets through LivingSocial. I mean, who can pass it up when it’s at such a discount on LivingSocial. I no longer had an excuse not to try it.

So, in honor of our two-year anniversary, PoppaNut and I boarded the Channelside yacht for an unforgettable evening. Yacht StarShip, America’s First 3-diamond rated Dining Yacht by AAA, ranks in the top 28% of all restaurants, and the food was amazing. Our exquisite dinner cruise offered tableside service with exceptional dishes. The calamari was so fresh and tasty, we ate it in about two second flat. With cocktails in hand, we chatted about everything under the sun, while watching the sun set in the distance. With our meal finished and dessert wrapped up to-go, we headed to the top floor to take in the spectacular views from the deck.

Wow! The views of some of the houses nearby were amazing. I couldn’t help but imagine what each person inside those houses were doing and what their lives were like. I could have sat up there for hours, but the dancing had begun inside. After some foot tapping and another few cocktails, PoppaNut and I deboarded the beautiful yacht to look at some of those amazing houses a bit closer.

And there, in the shadows of the night, stood Derek Jeter’s humble (or not so humble) abode. With the faint glimmer of a TV on inside, we knew the Yankee legend was just a few yards away. So, I’m just going to say we celebrated our two-year anniversary with Jeter. And for PoppaNut, that was a dream come true!

And that’s life in a nutshell … explore the amazing things this area has to offer. Make a new wish list, and make a point to actually partake in each one. You’ll lead a richer life because of it.



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