Yard Games for the Whole Family

Labor Day Weekend is the last hurrah of summer, so we’ve put together some great ideas to get your whole family outside for some friendly competition and lots of fun. Fire up the grill, invite some friends, and get everybody out on the lawn to get their game on.

Croquet. The best thing about playing croquet is that you can design your own course, making it as easy or difficult as you please, and perfect for players of a variety of ages and skill levels. Brush up on the rules by watching this helpful video.

Yard Yahtzee. Otherwise known as Lawn Dice Game, this outdoor game is absolutely ideal for a big group of people of all ages. You can play in teams or as individuals. Everyone will love taking a turn tossing the oversized dice and wishing for luck!

Lawn Twister. No need to drag the flimsy Twister mat outside, use a simple cardboard stencil and spray paint to create a Twister board right on the grass. (Don’t worry, it won’t damage the lawn and will only last until the next mowing.) Allow paint at least an hour to dry before playing.

Tailgate Toss. Sometimes called Corn Hole, this game is both easy and fun. A few bean bags (or corn bags, as it were) and two teams for tossing, and a little bit of luck or skill turns this simple game into hours of fun.

Bocce Ball. Despite what you might think, you don’t need an official bocce ball court made with sand or gravel. A clear, flat rectangle of grass will do just fine. All you need is a bucket of balls and a quick review of the rules, and you’re ready to play with any group and all ages.

Ladder Golf. This popular game is gaining in popularity because it is fun, mobile, and easy to play. Read up on the rules, and even make your own set for a DIY project.

Lawn Jenga. If you’ve got leftover lumber, transform it into a an outdoor Jenga tower. Pull out individual “bricks” to build the tower higher until it collapses. (This game is not recommended for small children.)

Do you have a favorite yard game? Share your ideas in the comments!

Recipe: Stuffed Bread Sandwiches

Mrs. Fields Secrets Stuffed Bread Sandwiches

Getting back into the school routine doesn’t have to mean getting stuck in a boring dinner routine. Today’s recipe is a delicious, family-friendly meal that you’ll want to make again and again, but the best part is that it can be adapted and reinvented with your favorite meats, cheeses, and veggies. It may become routine, but it will never be boring!

Stuffed Bread Sandwiches

1 loaf french bread
2 cups shredded smoked gouda cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. chicken breasts or tenders
1 medium onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup chopped tomatoes
salt
pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice loaf in half lengthwise and place on a baking sheet. Use your fingers to dig out the bread in each half to create a large crater, leaving a bit of bread around the perimeter of each side. Place the removed bread pieces into a mixing bowl and set aside. Pound the chicken with a tenderizer, then chop it into thin slices and liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a frying pan with olive oil to medium-high, then cook the chicken until it is no longer pink. Add the onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Add the worcestershire sauce and tomatoes and reduce heat to medium and stir for 3-5 minutes, or until liquid has somewhat reduced. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Sprinkle the cheese over each half of the bread. Transfer the chicken mixture and all liquid to the mixing bowl and toss it all together with the bread pieces before spooning it into the bread. Press the two halves together and bake for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove and slice into 2-inch sections and serve warm.

Back to School Buying Tips

Getting the kids back to school doesn’t have to break the bank. A little bit of homework ahead of time can end up in big savings, which we think is worth an A+. Follow these tips and move to the head of the class:

  • Take inventory before shopping. Chances are, the backpack you put in the corner last June has plenty of items that can be re-used in September. And those jeans you put away in May probably still fit. Make a list of everything you need, then do an inventory of what you already have.
  • Never buy anything at full price. August is rich with summer clearance racks and back-to-school sales. Chances are, you’ll be able to find just about everything you need on sale.
  • Always sign up for rewards programs. Extra savings and coupons will come your way to remain loyal. You don’t have to be loyal, but why miss out on extra savings to entice you?
  • Use your smartphone for smart savings. Download apps like Favado to compare in-store prices. That’s less running around and more savings.
  • Ask for a student discount. Many retailers offer student discounts, especially during back-to-school time, but they rarely advertise it. Be sure to ask at checkout if there is a discount for students or educators.
  • Save receipts for price adjustments. If something you bought last week is discounted this week, many retailers will offer you a refund of the price difference, but only if you have a receipt.
  • Always consider used. Sites like Craigslist and ebay, as well as consignment stores, re-sale stores and thrift stores have incredible prices. You’ll often find better quality items than discount stores with lower prices too.

Do you have a favorite back-to-school shopping tip? Share your ideas in the comments!

{Image via Getty.}

Campfire Cones

If a campfire is in your weekend plans, then so should this delicious dessert. A simple sugar cone, loaded with flavors and textures that melt and mull together to make an ooey gooey treat to share in the glow of your cozy fire. What could be better on a summer of fall evening with friends? Easy to make at the campground, in the backyard, and even on the grill. Here’s what you need to get started:

Campfire Cones

aluminum foil
sharpie marker
sugar cones
mini marshmallows
mini chocolate chips
salted pretzels
fresh berries
caramel
peanut butter
chopped candy bars
bananas
pineapple chunks
maraschino cherries
chopped cookies
ice cream (optional)

Directions
Let each person fill his or her cone with desired fillings. It’s a good idea to have at least 5 or 6 mini marshmallows in the mix to melt everything together. Once full, wrap the cone completely in foil and write the person’s name on the foil. Place wrapped cone in the outer perimeter of a campfire for about 3-5 minutes, or until marshmallows are completely melted. (These also work great on a hot grill. Cook for about 3 minutes!) Serve immediately as is or with a giant scoop of hard ice cream.

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Recipe: One Pot Pasta

Mrs. Fields Secrets One Pot Pasta
Today’s recipe is one that makes you scratch your head. How could anything that simple and easy taste so good? How could a delicious, made-from-scratch dinner be ready so fast? How can a simple pasta recipe possibly pack that much flavor? Once you try this recipe, you’ll include it in your regular dinner rotation so that you can contemplate this mystery over and over again.

One Pot Pasta

12 ounces dry spaghetti noodles
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion, julienned
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
2 cans (15 oz each) chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, finely chopped
fresh parmesan cheese

Directions
Place dry noodles into a large pot. Add tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper, and oregano on top. Pour the two cans of broth over it all, followed by the olive oil, then cover and place over high heat until liquid comes to a boil. Remove lid, then stir ingredients and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes over a low simmer, stirring every two minutes. Leave the lid off for the last four minutes to allow the sauce to reduce. Remove from heat and top with fresh basil and parmesan. Serve immediately. Makes 3-4 servings.

Food Safety for Outdoor Parties

Outdoor parties are one of the highlights of summer and fall. But did you know? Foodborne illnesses actually increase in warmer months when we dine much more outdoors. Here are some simple guidelines to keep you and your family safe:

  • The most important safety measure is to keep hands clean. Have a hand-washing station available with water, soap and clean towels if possible. If not, anti-bacterial towelettes or hand sanitizer will keep guests’ hands clean and free from spreading contamination to serving spoons, trays and food.
  • Marinate meats in the fridge instead of the countertop or outdoors. Food temperatures are almost impossible to regulate outside of the fridge, freezer, or a cooking device, and raw meats are especially susceptible to bacterial growth. Keep raw meats cool until cooking time.
  • Invest in a meat thermometer and use it while grilling. Hamburger and beef should be cooked to 160 degrees, chicken 165 degrees, and pork 145 degrees. Plus, you’ll avoid dry, overcooked meat! To keep hot foods safe for hours, they should maintain a temperature of 140 degrees. Wrapping them in foil and keeping them stored in an insulated container will give you the best results. (Yes, your insulated cooler will keep hot foods hot!)
  • Cold foods should be kept at about 40 degrees to prevent bacterial growth. Salads containing mayonnaise or raw egg should be kept on ice.
  • Food left out for more than two hours becomes increasingly dangerous to eat, since bacteria reproduces exponentially. If the temperature outside is above 90 degrees, that window is reduced to an hour. It can be difficult at a party to remember, but as soon as people are done eating, it’s best to cover the food and transfer it to a cooler or fridge.
  • Believe it or not, one of the best and easiest ways to prevent food borne illnesses at your outdoor party is to have plenty of plates, napkins, and utensils. A fresh plate and utensils for each course of food drastically reduces contamination and cross-contamination of food and bacteria.
  • A healthy immune system wards off most problems, but pay close attention to those who are susceptible: the very young, the very old, pregnant women and anybody whose system is compromised in any way. Be especially vigilant if you have such guests in attendance.

Do you have any food safety tips or suggestions? Share them in the comments!

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10 Smart New Uses for Balloons

Mrs. Fields Secrets Balloons 1 Mrs. Fields Secrets Balloons 2 Balloons were once relegated to birthday parties and prom backdrops, but these inexpensive and colorful items can be transformed into so much more. Check out these 10 genius ideas!

1. Create delicate, tissue paper lanterns from balloon forms.
2. Make a colorful modern vase for flowers.
3. Add dirt, water, seeds and even a tiny toy or two and create a fun, disposable terrarium.
4. Make homemade drums and rice shakers for an inexpensive band.
5. Instead of a piñata, hang a collection of filled water balloons for a fun party finale.
6. Make your own squish-able  stress balls.
7. Make your own bouncy balls from balloons.
8. Substitute a baseball for a water balloon to cool off on a hot summer day.
9. Turn a balloon into creative gift wrap for cash gifts.
10. Add bright colors to clear jars and glasses with balloons.

Recipe: Giant Cinnamon Roll Cake

Mrs. Fields Secrets Giant Cinnamon Roll Cake
We’re no strangers to the draw of Pinterest. (By the way, are you following us? Please do.) We see those incredible food photos, too, and feel the immediate urge to reproduce them ourselves. Today’s recipe is from a Pinterest crush that developed as soon as we read the caption “Giant Cinnamon Roll Cake.” It was time to turn this delectable idea into reality. The key to this recipe is patience. Let the dough rise long enough to become soft and elastic. Don’t rush. The result is a gorgeous cake that you can easily serve for dessert, breakfast, brunch, or a 3:00 snack.

Giant Cinnamon Roll Cake
adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

for the dough
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg

for the filling
4 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

for the glaze
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon half-and-half or heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions
Prepare dough by measuring 2 1/4 cups flour into a mixing bowl (reserving 1/2 cup for later), along with sugar, salt, and yeast, then stir until thoroughly mixed. Combine water, milk and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat until butter is just melted and liquid is hot to the touch, but not scalding (about 115 degrees). Pour milk mixture into the flour mixture and begin mixing with a dough hook. Add the egg to the dough and then sprinkle the reserved flour into the mixture while it’s mixing until dough is pulling away from the side of the bowl. Spray a separate bowl with nonstick spray and transfer dough into it to rise, covered, for about 30 minutes.

Next, prepare a flat surface with a sprinkling of flour and roll out dough to a large rectangle, about 12 x 15 inches. Using clean hands, spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough, then sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon and sugar. Use a pizza cutter to trim any uneven edges, then cut dough into six two-inch strips. Prepare a 9-inch cake pan with nonstick spray. Loosely roll one strip and place in the center of the pan. Next, add each additional strip to the spiral to create a giant roll. (HINT: Loosely roll each strip to transfer to the pan, then unroll it around the center for easier transport.) When all the strips have been added. Loosely cover the cake and allow to rise in a warm spot for 60-90 minutes, or until double in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove covering and place cake in the oven for 30-35 minutes. After 15 minutes, check cake and cover with aluminum foil if the top is getting brown. Once cake completes baking, remove from oven and prepare glaze. Drizzle glaze over warm cake and allow to cool an additional 20 minutes before serving.

How To Get Sand Out of Everything

Sand. It’s heavenly between your toes, but what about when you find it everywhere, from your clothes to your car to your hair? Here’s a simple primer to keep the sand where you want it and nowhere you don’t!

Skin: Sand stuck on dry skin will slide right off with a little sprinkle of baby powder and gentle rub. Keep a travel size bottle of baby powder in your beach bag.

Hair: Baby powder will also dislodge sticky sand from dry hair and scalps. Sprinkle a little at the roots, then tilt your head upside down and tussle hair at the root to release sand. For straight hair, use a fine-toothed comb. Then later, opt for a sudsy bath instead of a shower. Soak hair in the water and work hair at the roots with your fingertips. Sand is heavier than hair, so it will release and fall to the bottom of the tub.

Clothing: Tossing sandy clothes into the washing machine will only lodge them further into the fibers. Lay clothes flat in the sun to dry. When fully dried, give them a gentle tug to loosen the fibers, then shake out the sand. Once the sand has been released, you can put them through a wash cycle.

Swimsuits: The fine fibers of swimsuits are a perfect trap for sand. Turn suit inside out and allow to dry completely. Tug gently at suit and shake out trapped sand. Next, soak swimsuit in a sink full of warm water for about 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon or two of delicate laundry soap (such as Woolite) and hand wash. Rinse with warm water and wring out extra water with your hands before laying suit out to dry on a large towel.

Cars: If simple vacuuming doesn’t seem to do the trick for your car upholstery and carpeting, try brushing it first with a pet hair brush. This will release the sand from deep in the fibers and make it easier to vacuum. Repeat the cycle several times if necessary.

Your Child’s Eyes: The most important thing is to keep your child from rubbing or scratching her eyes, since the sand could scratch the cornea and cause infection. Take a fresh bottle of water (preferably at room temperature and not ice cold) and have the child tip her head back while you pour a gentle stream into the corner of the eye to flush the sand out.

There’s only one thing left to do: get out there and get sandy in order to try these techniques!

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Tips and Tools for Capturing Summer

In the blink of an eye, summer is more than halfway over and the only way to make it last forever is to preserve your memories to savor later. A smartphone in your hand is the only tool you need to get started. We’ve gathered tips and tools for you to capture all the special moments of summer and pair them with incredibly easy technology to make them last.

First, the tips:

  • We’re good at snapping photos at family reunions and on vacation, but what about all the special days in between? Take snapshots of your garden, your house in the summer, your favorite park, your regular spot at the pool. Think about all the things you love about summer and take a quick snapshot to document them.
  • Give your kids the camera for the day. You’ll be amazed at what they choose to include, and you’ll get a surprising new perspective on your life from their point of view.
  • Use the video function on your phone to capture small moments. Movement, voices and sound enhance the memories you preserve.
  • Get in front of the camera. Parents (moms especially) tend to take all the photos but are rarely seen in them. Think about it, you don’t want to be a phantom figure in your family’s history, so regularly hand the camera to someone else and smile for the birdie!

Now, the tools:

  • Magisto is a fantastic, free app that accesses your photos and produces short video collages using your own photos, video and music. You can tweak them in a variety of ways, but the app itself does an incredible job of drafting creative videos based on different dates and events in your photo stream. Videos can be easily shared with friends and family on social media.
  • Stellar is another fun, new app that allows you to create micro stories using your own photos and text. The editing tools are simple to use and you can add video as well. It’s a great way to document moments big and small.
  • Chatbooks is an easy, affordable way to transfer your documented Instagram photos into beautiful printed books for–get this–only $6. For the price of a combo meal, you can have a high-quality memento of your favorite summer events.

Now get out there and capture some summer!

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