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!

{Image source.}

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.

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!

{Image source.}

Tips for a Perfect Cheese Plate

As an appetizer at the beginning of a party or as dessert to wind things down, a cheese plate is a beautiful and creative way to feed your guests. Putting together a great cheese plate is both an art and a science, but it’s not hard to pull off once you learn a few tricks. Here’s everything you need to know to do it right:

  • Serving Sizes: Plan on roughly 1-2 ounces of cheese per guest.
  • Variety: Select cheeses that are a variety of different textures (aged, firm, soft, semi-soft, blue) and made from different milks (cow, sheep, goat).
  • How Many: No need to go overboard. Three to five cheeses are plenty for a great platter. Too many options can get overwhelming.
  • Serving Temperature: Room temperature provides the best flavor and texture of each cheese. If you make your platter ahead of time, allow 45 minutes to an hour before serving.
  • Use Labels: Mark each cheese with its name and a simple one or two word description.
  • Knives: Have one knife per cheese.
  • Ask an Expert: If you’re not a cheese connoisseur yourself, no problem! Ask the advice of your local deli manager when putting together your cheese platter. He or she will likely have a lot of great recommendations. Let them know your budget and then allow them to offer advice.
  • Always Have Honey: A drizzle of honey balances and tames the flavor of sharp cheeses that some guests might not enjoy on their own.
  • Use Plain Bread and Crackers: Avoid herb-infused or flavored breads and crackers, which can fight flavors and take away from the experience.
  • Don’t Crowd the Platter: Leave a 1-2 inch gap between items on the platter to avoid getting fingers and knuckles where they don’t belong (and possibly cut!).
  • Fruit and Nuts Are a Must: Break things up with fresh fruit like grapes, figs, apricots and dates as well as small handfuls of your favorite nuts.
  • Sweet and Savory Sides: Jams, chutneys, olives, and thinly sliced salty meats like prosciutto are also great additions to your platter.
  • Platter vs. Individual Plates: If guests are walking around, opt for a large platter from which everyone can serve themselves. If it’s a formal sit-down meal, use an individual plate for each guest.

Do you have a favorite cheese or platter tip? Share your ideas!

Image via Williams Sonoma

Oh Fudge!

Today is National Fudge Day, the day we all gather to celebrate the rich, chocolaty goodness that is known as fudge. But how will you pay homage to this perfect confection? Here are some favorite fudge recipes to inspire your day:

Instead of your morning coffee, how about morning coffee fudge?

Or swap your sandwich for Mini Mint Fudge Ice Cream Sandwiches.

Think you don’t have time for fudge? Think again. This recipe for Easy Chocolate Fudge comes together in only ten minutes!

And happy hour just got happier with fudgy Guinness Brownies.

Heat things up in the evening with a little hot fudge, because everything is better with Hot Fudge Sauce (except, perhaps, spaghetti).

Or, cool things down with some Homemade Fudge Pops, the perfect treat on a summer evening.

Whatever you do, enjoy your day enjoying fudge!

Incredible Watermelon Serving Bowls

When is a watermelon more than a delicious summer snack? When it’s also a beautiful serving bowl. Use your best knives and your sharpest creative sense to create some incredible serving bowls and centerpieces this summer.

A hollowed out watermelon half is a simple way to serve refreshing Acqua Fresca. Remember to cut a flat edge on the bottom.

You can also add a spigot to turn your watermelon into a summer keg.

Slightly more sophisticated is this sand pail idea (use coarse brown sugar for the sand) complete with fun nautical-shaped melons from cookie cutters.

Some simple carving skills will transform a melon into a sea turtle riding a wave of fresh berries and melon balls. (HINT: Use your pumpkin carving tools!)

A lunging shark makes quite an impression with triangular, teeth-shaped melon slices and a scattering of gummy fish. Those pumpkin carving skills will come in handy for this one as well.

Something’s fishy with this watermelon bowl, which is why we love it!

Using a simple template as a guide, your serving bowl can also become a graduation party decoration. It’s a little detail that will get a lot of attention!

Another beach themed watermelon. You may have to raid the kid’s toy chest to bring this one to life, but it would be worth it!

If your watermelon is a little short and stout, then it’s perfect to make this teapot filled with melon balls and blueberries. Can you imagine anything more adorable at your tea party?

Of course, if you’re prepared to go all out, you can really transform an everyday melon into a piece of art.

And this carving is almost too beautiful to imagine eating…almost.

Here’s a great video tutorial to get you started on a basic serving bowl, with or without a handle. Try it out for your next party!

101 Questions to Ask A Relative

As you get together with family and friends for Memorial Day to celebrate the legacy of loved ones lost, take a few moments to interview your living loved ones. We’ve got a list of 101 questions to get you started. Use them all or choose some as a springboard for your own questions. The past will come alive and your loved one’s legacy will have voice in the here and now. Set up a camera or audio recorder and document it, or email questions to those far away.

  1. When were you born?
  2. Where did you grow up?
  3. Do you remember your first house?
  4. Who were your childhood friends?
  5. What was your favorite toy?
  6. How did you celebrate holidays as a child?
  7. Where were your childhood vacations?
  8. Did religion play a role in your childhood?
  9. Do you remember the first day of school? Your first teacher?
  10. What was your favorite way to fill an afternoon?
  11. What was your mother like?
  12. What was your father like?
  13. What were your siblings like?
  14. Did you have any pets?
  15. Did you like were you lived?
  16. What was your favorite childhood food?
  17. Where did you shop for groceries and supplies?
  18. Did you have a favorite song or singer?
  19. What was your favorite subject in school?
  20. Did you get good grades?
  21. Did you ever cut class?
  22. What was the best thing about your childhood?
  23. What was the worst thing about your childhood?
  24. What is a favorite memory of your mom?
  25. What is a favorite memory of your dad?
  26. Did you spend much time with your grandparents? What were they like?
  27. Who taught you to drive?
  28. What was the first car you drove?
  29. What was your first job? Were you good at it?
  30. Do you remember your first paycheck?
  31. What were you most excited about as a teenager?
  32. Where did you hang out with your friends?
  33. What did you think you’d grow up to be?
  34. Who influenced you most as a teenager?
  35. When was the first time you felt independent?
  36. Who was your first kiss?
  37. Who was your first boyfriend or girlfriend?
  38. What was your high school prom like?
  39. What were summers like where you grew up?
  40. What were winters like where you grew up?
  41. Did you play any sports or belong to any clubs?
  42. Have you ever been in a fist fight?
  43. Describe a time when you felt jealous.
  44. Describe a time when you felt successful.
  45. Who was the first president you really remember?
  46. Did you ever have to worry about war?
  47. Did you go to college? Where?
  48. How did college influence or change you?
  49. Did you have a favorite professor or class?
  50. What was your first “real” job after high school or college?
  51. What did you wear to your first “real” job?
  52. Did you like your boss?
  53. What excited you most about adulthood?
  54. What worried you most about adulthood?
  55. What was a typical date like when you were young?
  56. Where have you traveled?
  57. How many times have you been engaged?
  58. How many times have you been married?
  59. How did you know that was the person you wanted to marry?
  60. Where did you get married?
  61. Who was at your wedding?
  62. What do you remember about your wedding day?
  63. Where did you go on your honeymoon?
  64. In what ways was marriage what you thought it would be?
  65. In what ways was marriage different from what you expected?
  66. How did you choose your career?
  67. When was your first child born?
  68. What kind of parent were you when your child/children were young?
  69. What did you enjoy about early parenthood?
  70. How did becoming a parent change you?
  71. How much did a gallon of milk cost?
  72. How much did a gallon of gasoline cost?
  73. What were your ambitions?
  74. If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?
  75. What is your best personality trait?
  76. What is your worst personality trait?
  77. Describe your first home where you paid the rent/mortgage.
  78. If you won $1000, what would you have done with it?
  79. Have you had any health scares?
  80. What age did you look and feel your best?
  81. How were your thirties different from your twenties?
  82. How were your fifties different from your forties?
  83. How were your seventies different from your sixties?
  84. How old do you feel?
  85. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?
  86. What do you think is better about the world today?
  87. What technological advances were most significant in your lifetime?
  88. Do you remember the first computer you saw? Used? Owned?
  89. How are you similar and different from your parents?
  90. How are you similar and different from your child(ren)?
  91. If you could go back in time to any date in your life, what would it be?
  92. If you could spend an afternoon with someone from your past, who would it be?
  93. Have you traveled to any foreign countries?
  94. Describe your perfect meal.
  95. Where do you hope to be in five years?
  96. What do you hope your legacy will be?
  97. If you could give a piece of advice to the next generation, what would it be?
  98. What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
  99. What is your greatest hope?
  100. What is your greatest fear?
  101. If you could describe your life in one word, what would it be?

{Image via curiositiesbydickens.com}

25 Great Ideas for a Date Night In

Having a great date night with your significant other doesn’t have to mean a night out on the town. Here are 25 great ideas to have a great time right at home by adding a little creativity to make things special.

  1. Grab the laptop and plan out a fantasy vacation. Money is no object, so explore where you would stay, what you would eat, tours you would take, what you would wear, and souvenirs you would bring home. It’s almost as fun as the real thing, and much more affordable!
  2. Give each other a “Chopped” challenge by putting a handful of random ingredients in a shopping bag and exchange them. One of you creates dinner with your ingredients and the other creates a dessert.
  3. Recreate your first date, but at home. Cook the same meal you first ate together, find that old movie to watch together, or set up a bowling lane in your hallway. Whatever it was, rekindle those first flames with a creative repeat.
  4. Read to each other from a favorite book or a sexy novel.
  5. No need to embarrass yourself in front of a class. Learn to dance together by finding instructional videos online and then trying them out together.
  6. You like Chinese food, but he prefers pizza. So why not do a little of both? Order your favorite take out from different places and enjoy your own food festival.
  7. Get in your pajamas and make breakfast for dinner and eat by candlelight. Try one of our favorite breakfast menus for inspiration.
  8. Learn some birding basics and go birdwatching in your backyard. You’ll discover a whole new world right outside your door.
  9. Build a fire in the fireplace and spread out a soft blanket with some pillows. Add a cheese plate and a bottle of wine and you’re set for hours of romantic relaxation.
  10. Have your own karaoke night alone or with friends. Borrow a karaoke machine or sing into a hairbrush, but whatever you do, belt out a love song for your date.
  11. Get out your favorite board game, but add some “naughty” twists to the rules. (Wink, wink.)
  12. Do you know your significant other’s lifelong dreams and wishes? Write out your bucket lists together and then post them somewhere in the house as a reminder.
  13. Pack a picnic and head to the backyard for a private, romantic, eat-with-your-hands meal. Bring a blanket big enough to sprawl on, some good music, and a book of poetry to read.
  14. Prepare a deluxe bubble bath to take together. Splurge on some fancy soaps and loofahs, light some candles, and bring a plate of chilled berries and drinks.
  15. Give the opera a try without the expensive ticket and uncomfortable seats. Watch famous opera arias online, or rent a popular opera and watch it together. (Subtitles help, so look for one that has them.)
  16. Give each other massages. All you need is a bottle of massage oil, a new age music playlist on Pandora, and some simple tips and tricks to get started.
  17. Buy an exotic food at the grocery store and learn how to cook it together. Ask your grocer for tips and ideas, and even recommendations. You may discover a favorite new food!
  18. Learn the night sky and do some stargazing together after dark. Get a map and look for the naked eye constellations, or use a telescope to explore more hard-to-find clusters.
  19. Take a long, lingering walk around your area. Hold hands, walk slow, take time to stop and smell the roses.
  20. Have a wine tasting together. Choose 3-5 bottles of a specific type of wine, ranging in price and have a tasting together.
  21. Do your best Barbara Walters and interview each other. Use these questions for inspiration or jot down your own probing questions to learn even more about each other.
  22. Have a pretend power outage. Turn off the power to the house and shut down all those handheld devices. Enjoy the quiet and the candlelight and get creative to entertain yourselves.
  23. Use your best sound system and create a concert of your favorite songs, or look up your favorite artists in concert and enjoy the best seats in the house.
  24. Get a new perspective and climb up on the roof together. (But be safe!) Enjoy the view, the quiet, and a chance to reconnect.
  25. Have a cookie bake off where each of you choose a favorite cookie recipe and put your baking skills to the test. (Search our Recipe Index for some Mrs. Fields favorites!)

{Image via Getty Images.}

Hilarious (and Harmless) April Fool’s Pranks

With April Fool’s Day right around the corner, it’s time to get in touch with your mischievous side. Here are some fantastic, hilarious and harmless pranks to play on your friends and family.

  1. Carefully rearrange the keys on the computer keyboard.
  2. Fill glazed donuts with mayonnaise.
  3. Fill an empty cola bottle with soy sauce and seltzer water.
  4. Fill juice glasses with jell-O and a straw.
  5. Put a helium balloon in the toilet and close the lid.
  6. Paint a bar of soap with clear nail polish and put it in the shower.
  7. Place googly eyes on all the items in the fridge.
  8. Make ice cream sundaes with scoops of mashed potatoes and gravy with a cherry on top.
  9. Wrap a loved one’s car in plastic wrap.
  10. Fill a work cubicle with balloons or packing peanuts.

And if you’re not ready to pull your own shenanigans, pull up a seat and check out these amazing pranks:

A bathroom mirror prank that will leave you in giggles.

Would you help this crying baby in the stroller?

A man sneezes his head off. Or does he?

Buy up your Insta-Chicks for Easter.

Can you imagine being in this coffee shop when this prank was pulled?

Do you have a favorite April Fool’s Day prank? Share your ideas in the comments section.

25 Ways to Share a Smile

Smile Cookie Cake

If you’re pining for some sunshine, why not create some yourself by sharing a warm smile? Share a Smile Day is coming up on March 1, but you can get started now with these simple ideas. If we all work together, maybe we can bring on an early spring!

  1. Pay for the person behind you in the coffee line.
  2. Buy a package of note cards and write kind messages to friends or family and drop them in the mail.
  3. Pick up a bouquet of flowers and share them put them on display.
  4. Give someone a sincere compliment, something you’ve noticed but maybe never said.
  5. Write an email to a supervisor of someone who did a great job.
  6. Pick something bright and colorful to wear, even a crazy pair of socks. You’ll feel brighter and that brightness spreads.
  7. Ask someone to tell you about the thing they are most proud of, then listen.
  8. Invite friends over for a casual brunch.
  9. Think of a task your friend dreads and secretly do it for them.
  10. Slip a note of encouragement into your kid’s lunch box.
  11. Start an email chain with your friends asking for the funniest YouTube videos.
  12. When you see someone in military uniform, go up and thank them for their service and for their family’s sacrifice.
  13. Make a playlist of songs that make you smile and share it with your music-loving friends.
  14. Track down an old friend you’ve lost touch with and catch up.
  15. Make a donation to your favorite museum or charitable cause.
  16. Contact a local women’s shelter and ask about current needs, then organize a donation bin at work.
  17. Hold the door open on the elevator.
  18. Strike up a conversation with somebody new.
  19. When parking at a meter, feed a few extra coins into any nearby that are expiring soon.
  20. Think of someone from your past who influenced you and write them a letter.
  21. Take a walk outside and breathe in fresh air and invite a friend to join you.
  22. Break out the old home movies and watch them with the family.
  23. Visit an animal shelter and spend some time holding and petting the animals.
  24. Make your favorite “special occasion” meal just for fun.
  25. When reading, look for articles that would interest your friends and family and send them.

Of course, our favorite way to share a smile is with a fresh order of cookies from our Sunshine Collection. It’s practically impossible not to smile when you get an order of these.

Do you have a favorite way to share a smile? Share your ideas in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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