Monday, March 29, 2010

Hippity Hoppity

With Easter less than a week away, here are some EGGcellent Easter recipes from our friends at Duncan Hines!

Created by the authors of the popular cupcake decorating book Hello Cupcake!™. This is a fun Easter project to make with the kids or with your baking friends. All it takes are easy-to-find ingredients, fun food dye colors and delicious frosting. Easter Egg Cupcakes aren't hard to make -- but they’re sure to impress as gifts, or to decorate your holiday table.

• 12 unfrosted Moist Deluxe Devil’s Food Cake Mix cupcakes baked in white paper liners
• 12 honey graham crackers
• 2 cans (16 ounces) Creamy Homestyle Classic Vanilla Frosting
• Green, yellow, orange, blue, purple, and pink food coloring
• 2 tablespoons each mini and regular white, pink, green, and blue decorations.

Baking Instructions:
1. Tint 2 cups of the frosting light green. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the light green frosting into a zippered plastic bag. Tint 1/2 cup each of vanilla frosting pink, light blue, light purple, orange, and yellow. Spoon 2 tablespoons each into zippered plastic bags. Press out the excess air in each of the bags, seal, and set aside.
2. Using a serrated knife, trim the graham crackers into an egg shape 3 1/2 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide. Snip a small corner (1/4 inch) from the bag with the 1 1/2 cups of green frosting and pipe a small dollop on top of each cupcake and place a graham cracker on top, pressing down to secure. The cracker will hang over the edge of the cupcake. Freeze the cupcakes for 10 to 15 minutes to set.
3. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of each tinted frosting into a separate microwavable bowl. Working with one color at a time, microwave the frosting, stirring frequently, until it is the texture of lightly whipped cream, 20 to 30 seconds. Holding a chilled cupcake by the paper liner dip the graham cracker into the melted frosting to coat, turn right side up and let stand. Continue with all of the cupcakes and graham crackers making two eggs of each color.
4. Snip very small corners (1/8 inch) from the bags with the 2 tablespoons of frosting. Pipe decorative dots, lines, and dashes on top of the frosting-coated crackers. Using the bag with the 1 1/2 cups of light green frosting, pipe dots of frosting around base of each egg always pulling the peak away from the egg (be sure to cover any exposed cupcake).
5. While the frosting is still wet add candy decors to create decorative patterns.


A scrumptious Carrot Cake Cheesecake with the added sweetness of pineapple frosting.

Carrot Cake:
• 1 box Duncan Hines Decadent Carrot Cake
• 1 cup hot tap water (for soaking carrots and raisins)
• 2 eggs
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 8 1/2 oz can crushed pineapple, packed in juice, drained well, reserve juice
• 1/2 cup coconut (optional)
• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Cheese Cake Filling:
• 2 (8oz) packages cream cheese
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
• 3 eggs

Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting:
• 2 oz cream cheese (softened)
• 1 tablespoon butter (softened)
• 2 cups powdered sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 T pineapple juice

Baking Instructions:
Carrot Cake:
1. Soak carrots and raisins in 1 cup HOT tap water, allow to stand for 5 mins. Drain and squeeze out excess water from carrots and raisins.
2. In mixing bowl add dry mix, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup oil. Add well drained carrots, raisins and pineapple. Add coconut and walnuts. Mix well by hand. Spread 2 cups of carrot cake on bottom of a greased 9-9 1/2" springform pan. Reserve remaining carrot cake.
3. In large bowl beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Beat in eggs.
4. Spread 1/2 of the cheesecake batter on top of the carrot cake. Spoon on remaining carrot cake and top with remaining cheese cake batter. Do not marble with knife.
5. Bake in a 350° preheated oven for 50-60 mins or until cake is set and cooked through.
6. Cool to room temperature. When cake is cooled frost with Pineapple Cream Cheese frosting. Or top with Duncan Hines Cream Cheese Frosting. Refrigerate for 3 hours and serve chilled.
7. Beat Cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and pineapple juice until smooth. Beat in powder sugar until smooth. Frost top of cheesecake.

For some togetherness, get the kids to help create the candy creatures that sit atop these yummy Captivating Caterpillar Cupcakes, made with Duncan Hines Classic White Cake Mix.

• 1 pkg Duncan Hines® Moist Deluxe® Classic White Cake Mix
• 3 large egg whites
• 1 1/3 cups water
• 2 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup star decors
• 1 tub Duncan Hines® Creamy Home-Style Classic Vanilla Frosting
• green food coloring
• 10 to 12 chocolate wafer cookies, crushed
• 1/2 cup candy-coated chocolate pieces
• 1/3 cup assorted jelly beans
• assorted nonpareil decors

Baking Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 ºF. Grease muffin pans or line with paper baking cups.
2. Combine cake mix, egg whites, water and oil in large bowl. Beat at low speed with electric mixer until moistened. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Fold in 1/3 cup star decors. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full.
3. Bake at 350 ºF. 18 to 23 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Remove to cooling racks. Cool completely.
4. Tint vanilla frosting with green food coloring. Frost one cupcake. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon chocolate cookie crumbs on frosting. Arrange 4 candy-coated chocolate pieces to form caterpillar body. Place jelly bean at one end to form head. Attach remaining star and nonpareil decors with dots of frosting to form eyes. Repeat with remaining cupcakes.

Hints of sweet, flaky coconut in both the Duncan Hines Classic White Cake and the Creamy Home-Style Classic Vanilla Frosting give this Coconut Cream Cake recipe a tropical flair.

• 1 pkg Duncan Hines® Moist Deluxe® Classic White Cake Mix
• 1 (3.4 oz) pkg coconut cream instant pudding and pie filling
• 4 large eggs
• 1 cup water
• 1/3 cup vegetable oil
• 1/3 cup flaked coconut

• 1 can Duncan Hines® Creamy Home-Style Classic Vanilla Frosting
• 1 1/3 cups flaked coconut

Baking Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
2. For cake, combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water and oil in large bowl. Beat at low speed with electric mixer until moistened. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in 1/3 cup coconut. Divide into pans.
3. Bake at 350°F for 32 to 37 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool following package directions.
4. Fill and frost cake. Sprinkle with remaining coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon (Play the Game!)

How to Train Your Dragon, based on the hit Dreamworks movie, lets you play as either the gangly Viking Hiccup or his friend Astrid in the vast island of Berk, including film locales like Viking Village, Wild Zone, Trianing Zone and Fight Arena.

Naturally, I chose to play as spunky Viking chick Astrid.

Playing videogames, that's where I'm a Viking! : )

This game is both gorgeous visually--Activision and Dreamworks did a great job bringing the movie feel to the game--and a lot of fun to play.

I stuck How to Train Your Dragon in the PS3 and didn't come up for air for a couple hours, as I trained my dragons (yes, that's right, I already had TWO well-trained combat dragons by the time I quit, thank you very much), explored Berk Island and battled against other dragons in the Fight Arena.

Training tutorials take you through the moves your dragons can make, from blowing fire to jumping, blocking and side-stepping the attacks of other dragons. As you and your dragon grow and train together, you can customize the look of your dragon, everything from the color of its scales to the shape of its tail. There are several different types of dragons, each with different strengths, which is the advantage of adding more than one type to your Dragon's Den.

I, for example, had a Monstrous Nightmare dragon in addition to what I like to call my "starter dragon." Don't you just love that name? Monstrous Nightmare. I am SO going to win in the Fight Arena!

But you can't ask any dragon to fight unless it is one happy, well-nourished, rested, healthy dragon.

So your task, in addition to training, is to gather up all the plants and animals your dragons need to stay healthy.

You tussle with sheep and chickens and even, in the Wild Zone, wild boars to collect food for your dragons (don't worry, there is nothing graphic about this for little ones. Jumping on an chicken, for example, causes a flurry of dust, some scrambling sounds and then, voila! You have lovely cooked chicken ready to serve).

You'll also pull carrots, turnips, flowers and little shrubs from the ground (because even dragons need veggies!), and push over big rocks and boulders to dig underneath them for (ugh!) juicy bugs.

Of course, you also have to let your dragons rest, when they are tired. Important: Never wake a sleepy dragon!

And along the way, helpful villagers will also supply you with recipes, provided you can come up with the ingredients, to help heal any wounds your dragons suffer in battle.

So, How to Train Your Dragon is really all about the proper care and feeding of your dragons.

Oh, and awesome dragon combat!

The other little Vikings and their dragons want to win Viking victory with their dragons every bit as much as you do. That's what all the training has been for, after all: so you can battle yoru way through prestigious dragon tournaments.

What's especially appealing about How to Train Your Dragon is that you can play this game with two players, at home, in endless head-to-head multi-player combat. And this is a really family-friendly game you can play right along with your kids.

(Side rant: There just aren't enough 2-player games for the PS3. It's about time they came up with another multi-player offering!)

How to Train Your Dragon is now available for the Wii and Xbox 360 (the screenshots in the post are from the Xbox 360 version), Rated E10+ (Fantasy Violence), and also for the Nintendo DS, Rated E10+ (Mild Fantasy Violence).

Viv's take: An enjoyable, quest-filled, graphics intensive game for the entire family, How to Train Your Dragon will delight players with its likeable characters, customizable dragons and head-to-head multiplayer battles.

Friday, March 26, 2010

And the winner is...

Here's the moment you've all been waiting for!

Well, most of you, anyway.

We had a whopping 354 comments on our Disney Easter Basket giveaway!

Entries closed at noon, rather than midnight, so that I can get the winner's info to the sponsor before Spring Break rains down upon my head. Thank you all for understanding (I posted the adjusted end time on the blog this morning).

So, without further ado, the big winner of the Disney Easter Basket, chosen by random integer generator, was comment #12:

"Miss" Anita said...

I listed this on the giveaway linky on this blog...

roseinthemorning [at] gmail [dot] com
entry 3 of 3

Congrats, Miss Anita! I'm emailing you now to get your shipping info.

Thanks so much to all who entered, and we have a couple more giveaways coming up for you all soon!

Last Chance to Enter!

Don't forget to get your entries in for the Disney Easter Basket giveaway! The Entry deadline has been moved up to NOON today, EST due to Spring Break chaos here at the old household.

I'll be contacting the winner later tonight so I can get that shipping info to the sponsor ASAP. Keep your fingers crossed, and get those last tweets in now!

How to Train Your Dragon (WIN the game!)

I had a chance to play the How to Train Your Dragon videogame, and you'll be reading my review in the very next post (spoiler: it's FUN!), but first I wanted to pass a great giveaway on to you:

You can WIN either a Wii game system or a Nintendo DSI along with your OWN copy of How to Train Your Dragon for the console of your choice!

In How to Train Your Dragon, players are the ultimate dragon hero, launched into an epic quest to train the world’s fiercest creatures. As gamers explore dynamic environments on and around the Island of Berk, they’ll customize their very own dragons with over 100,000 possible combinations. Along the way, gamers will collect valuable upgrades for speed, strength and fire, giving them powerful tools to battle for Viking victory.

”The How To Train Your Dragon video game allows kids to live the fantasy of creating their very own dragons and engaging in epic battles against other fire breathing foes,” said Rob Kostich, head of marketing for licensed properties, Activision Publishing, Inc. “Whether they are playing on their own or against family and friends, kids will have a blast in this high energy epic adventure.”

To enter the giveaway, just head to the official How to Train A Dragon: The Game site, and you can enter every day from now until April 7th. A new winner will be chosen each day!

Now, I'm off to watch the 10:00 AM screening of the movie in my town!

I received a complimentary copy of Activision's How to Train a Dragon: The Game and played it on PS3. I'll be reviewing it in the next post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon (the movie)

Tomorrow morning at 10 AM, special screenings of the new Dreamworks animated movie, How to Train Your Dragon will be running in select theaters. Check your local listings to see if the movie is running at 10 AM in your area.

If you are a very special snowflake, and live near one of the theaters listed to the left, you can get breakfast with your tickets!

Also, the first 20 to buy tickets for each venue listed here will receive a special How to Train Your Dragon prize pack!

Get Tickets to How to Train Your Dragon Online!
Visit the Official How to Train Your Dragon Site

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hey Look! Up There!

Pssst...notice anything new?

If you look at the top of the page, under our header, there's now a direct link to current giveaways! One-stop shoppping, folks. ; )

So now you can enter, say, our supercalifrajulicious Disney Easter Basket Giveaway without hunting for it on the sidebar. Well, okay, that one's right underneath this post, but I'm, you know, just sayin'. Easy peasy.

We'll have more links up top in upcoming days to make your life less stress-filled, like quick and easy recipes we've featured on the blog, so keep checking that top navigation bar!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wow! Disney Easter Basket Giveaway! Enter Fast, Ends Soon

How would you like to win one of these Disney videos for Easter?

Blu-ray & DVD Combo Packs for the exciting new releases of Ponyo, The Princess and the Frog, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 Special Editions?

Or What about an exclusive Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen wedding doll set, which is usually available exclusively in Disney stores?

What's that you say? You want all that and more?


Okay, how about if we put ALL of these Disney offerings--the DVD's, the dolls, and an adorable plush Ponyo--into an Easter basket and even add some assorted holiday chocolates and Easter eggs?

That's a Disney Easter Basket worth over $200.

THEN would you be satisfied? You would?



To ENTER (required for all entrants):
Just leave a comment below this post letting me know which of these items is your favorite .

Since we want to get this out for you by Easter, we are going to move fast on this one. I will need your help getting the word out.

EXTRA entries (optional):
  • Tweet about this contest, as often as three times a day until Friday. Extra entry for each Tweet you make. Please provide the link to each tweet in a comment (I need this to validate the Tweets). Don't know how to link to a tweet? Here's how. (1 entry per tweet)
  • Add a link to this contest to your Facebook page. (1 entry) You can use this URL:
  • Add a link to this contest on your MySpace page. (1 entry) You can use this URL:
  • Blog about this contest (3 extra entries!)
  • List this giveaway on another blog/Mom's forum. (3 extra entries!) You can do this multiple times for different sites. You can use this URL:
That gives you a possible 10 entries just to get started!

Contest ends Friday, March 26th at midnight EST. I'll announce the winner Saturday and get it out to the sponsors so you can hopefully have that prize before Easter Sunday!

Good luck!

This prize will be sent out directly to the winners by our sponsors, who provided complimentary copies of the movies, dolls, chocolates, Easter eggs and plush in a basket for the giveaway.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm Mad with Power and Juicy Rewards! Points, Points, Points

I now have a whopping 32 points in Juicy Rewards!

To recap, last week I told you how to earn Tropicana Juicy Rewards just by drinking your favorite O.J. in the morning and entering the codes on the cartons over at the Juicy Rewards site (this post, in case you missed it).

Back then, I already had 23 points (12 staked to me by Mom Central), and after drinking more OJ, I now have 9 more.

Here are just some of the ways I could spend those points:
1 Point

I could take the family and visit my local art museum for 50% of each admission.

I could enter a Sweepstakes!

3 Points

I could donate my points to save 100 square feet of rainforest.

I could get $10 off AND free shipping off of an EA Sports Fitness game.

6 points

I could save 20% on legendary Coleman outdoor gear for camping, hiking, backpacking and tailgating.

Hmm. I don't see how I can just sit by and do nothing when it is so easy to help support the rainforest. I'm going to donate 3 points right now!

Which still leaves me with 29 points to spend. I'm very tempted to get that $10 off on the EA Sports Active: More Workouts game. I've been working out with the Sports Active for the Wii and it's so much fun I actually don't mind exercising. But since next month is my birthday, I think I'll save that reward for April.

I think what I am going to do right now is enter this SWEEPSTAKES:
  • Trip for two to Los Angeles, including airfare and hotel for 3 days/2 nights
  • Breakfast with Bruce Jenner
  • 9 holes of golf with Bruce Jenner
  • TaylorMade golf clubs and adidas Golf apparel

PLUS! Get a Tropicana-branded video camera.

Doesn't that sound great?! You only use one point to enter each time, and you can enter up to three times a day. So, there goes 3 more points!


That was fun, I supported the environment, AND I still have 26 points to spend next month! I have lots of reward opportunities I haven't listed yet, so stay tuned.

I can't wait to share my Juicy Rewards with you!

I wrote this review while participating in the Tropicana Juicy Insiders Ambassador program by Mom Central on behalf of Tropicana. I received 12 free Juicy Rewards points and a $50 Visa gift card to use in redemption of the points and to facilitate my review.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tiana's Famous Beignets

These scrumptious treats are a New Orleans favorite!

3 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup water
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vegetable oil, for frying
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. In a medium bowl, combine 2 3/4 cups of the flour with the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Whisk everything together.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, water, egg, and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture from Step 1.

3. Use some of the remaining flour to dust your work surface. Place the dough on it and pat it into a large 1/2 -inch-thick square. Dust the top with more flour if it gets sticky. Next, slice the dough into 21/2 -inch squares.

4. Now it’s time to fry the beignets—be sure to ask an adult to help you! Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan on the stovetop until the temperature reaches 325° on a deep-fat thermometer. Check the temperature every so often while cooking. If it gets too hot, temporarily turn the heat down, or off.

5. Carefully drop 3 dough squares at a time into the hot oil. Fry them for 3 minutes, turn them over, and continue frying for 3 more minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beignets to a wire rack set atop paper towels to drain. Dust the beignets with confectioners’ sugar, and enjoy!

Makes 14 to 16
(pages 6-7 in The Princess and the Frog: Tiana’s Cookbook)

Reprinted from the book DISNEY’S THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG TIANA’S COOKBOOK RECIPES FOR KIDS. Copyright © 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Published by Disney Press, an imprint of Disney Book Group.

Frogs Are Green, Too!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I have on my green today, do you?


I'm kinda down today, actually. It happens sometimes. I'm prone to depression, and sometimes it sneaks up on me.

So I was searching about for ways to cheer myself up. I found myself reaching for some bland, dark clothing and right away I banished it to the back of the closet and grabbed a bright red shirt to go with my olive-green capris instead. Light and happy colors are good for me.

And then I needed something else light and happy, and my eye caught the advance copy of The Princess of the Frog I have yet to review.

And The Princess and The Frog came out on Blu-ray and DVD yesterday! Ack!

So I put it into the player, and I have to say the film is a tonic for my tired soul.

It's refreshing to see a heroine in a Disney animated film that wasn't born a princess. The last I remember was Belle, and she was my favorite. She loved reading and wanted adventures and had *plans*.

And of course, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog differs from traditional heroines in a lot of other ways, too.

The most obvious being her skin color. And it's about time.

Tiana is a poor black woman in New Orleans. She has to work for a living, as a cook, and she's a gifted one. And she has plans, too.

And they don't involve frogs, unless she can find a way to make them into gumbo or frog legs for her customers.

But what Tiana is most famous for are her delectable beignets.

I DO like this girl!

And when she first meets the Frog in the title? Her impulse is to smack him, not kiss him.

An independent spirit, too. Excellent.

But since her own hard-earned efforts were thwarted by events beyond her control, and she can no longer afford her own restaurant, when a talking frog suggests she kiss him to turn him back into the prince he was meant to be, it's the only logical course to take, right?


The Princess and the Frog is thoroughly enjoyable, with delightful, authentic music:

And an original storyline that reminds me, in some of its more humorous elements, of Shrek.

In addition, the movie plays homage to former Disney animated features: During “Down in New Orleans” early in the film, the carpet from Aladdin is being shaken up on a wrought-iron balcony. Mama Odie comes across the lamp from Aladdin during “Dig a Little Deeper.” A Mardi Gras parade float is modeled after King Triton from The Little Mermaid—on it are caricatured versions of directors John Musker and Ron Clements (who also directed The Little Mermaid).

And the voice talent for The Princess and the Frog is not just star-studded, but singularly appropriate: The well-known chef Emeril Lagasse voices the part of Marlon the Gator while Terrence Blanchard, who is a native New Orleans jazz legend and trumpet player, played all of alligator Louis’ trumpet parts in the film. He also voiced the role of Earl the bandleader in the riverboat band. And a veteran of former Disney animated film classics like Toy Story, Randy Newman (one of my own personal favorite songwriters) provides the voice of firefly cousin Randy, who is a caricature of the composer. Newman was actually cast to voice several characters in the film—a raccoon, a turtle—but only the firefly made the final cut.

Viv's take: Guaranteed to brighten up the darkest day, The Princess and the Frog is an original, musical, humorous, modern take on the age-old "happily ever after" storyline.

I received an advanced copy of the DVD combo pack, which includes a digital copy and multiple bonus features, to facilitate in this review.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Disney St. Patrick's Day Food and Fun!

My favorite selections from Disney FamilyFun magazine.

Crafts and Games

St. Patrick’s Day Scavenger Hunt: Follow fun all the way to a faux pot of gold.

Tip from Viv: Set this one up ahead of time for the kids, and don't spoil the surprise! They'll love finding the "gold".

Most of these recipes are kid-friendly. Bring the family into the kitchen and make them together!

Clover Cookies: For St. Patrick's Day, or any day you feel like you need a little extra luck, kids can bake up a batch of these cheerful green shamrock cookies. Give some to your friends and classmates, so they will be lucky, too!

Shamrock Cupcakes: It doesn't take the luck of the Irish to make these St. Patty's Day treats look so sweet -- just a clever baking technique.

Taste a Rainbow Cupcakes: A magical snack that can add color to the grayest March afternoon. Pot of gold not included (unless you try the recipe below!).

Tip from Viv: This one is time-consuming and takes a little patience and dexterity, so it's best for Mom or Dad to pour the batter once you've tinted all the colors.

St. Patrick’s Pot of Gold: Surprise your favorite little people on March 17th with these wee emerald pots filled with sweet, edible gold. So easy and pretty, too!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tropicana Fanatic

You may have noticed that, over on the sidebar, I have a new badge (the bright orange one) saying, "I'm a Juicy Insider." That's because Tropicana Orange Juice is the only orange juice I drink, and so I was asked to clue you all in on a new campaign (that can save you money!) called Juicy Rewards.

If you, like me, drink orange juice almost every day with your breakfast, then you want to get in on Tropicana's new Juicy Rewards program. I personally think that's a no-brainer, because to me it's the best o.j. anyway, and now you even have an added incentive to try it and see for yourself.

When you do, you will find special codes in Tropicana products. You can earn up to 12 points per purchase (that's what you get for the family-sized 128 oz jug).

The more Tropicana Orange Juice you buy, the more Juicy Rewards you'll earn. It's just that simple! Mom Central started me out with some points, but I have already almost doubled them just from drinking what I would have anyway at breakfast.

For a sneak peek, visit the Juicy Rewards site now to see what you can earn with your own Tropicana purchases.

Register RIGHT NOW and enter this code
to get 1 free point right away: MOMCE-NTRAL.

Then keep your eyes on the blog. I'll be updating soon to let you know how I am spending my own Juicy Rewards!

I wrote this review while participating in the Tropicana Juicy Insiders Ambassador program by Mom Central on behalf of Tropicana. I received 12 free Juicy Rewards points and a $50 Visa gift card to use in redemption of the points and to facilitate my review.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Mom Kendra Refreshingly Real

Kendra Wilkinson Basket, the former Girl Next Door and wife to Hank Bassett, gave birth to baby Hank IV just last December.

In less than two years, she has gone from partying playgirl to not-so-blushing bride, moved to a new city with her NFL husband when he was picked up by another team (and went on to the Superbowl), and given birth to her first child.

And in the brand-new season of her show, Kendra, premiering tonight at 10 PM on E!, we see this young woman dealing with the very real problems all new Moms face: trying to recapture "couple time" with her husband, juggling exhaustion and hormones, and, of course, losing the baby weight.

I actually find it refreshing that Kendra's life has taken this turn. She is incredibly open and, in this new role, more relatable than she ever was before.

I was able to preview tonight's episode, and I don't want to spoil any of it for you, but I think anyone who has ever given birth will understand and empathize what Kendra is going through, from trying to "seduce" her husband in a sauna suit that is supposed to help her sweat off the pounds, to worrying about losing the baby weight--a common concern for new Moms that is only amplified by her role in the celebrity spotlight and her sexy past.

Kendra clearly misses her pre-baby body. She was petite before pregancy and gained, reportedly, over 50 pounds during her pregnancy (huge on her tiny frame). Not only does she worry about being attractive to her husband, Kendra is obviously panicky about upcoming camera shoots. And her body consciousness goes even further: she has even mentioned publicly that she is considering breast reduction surgery.

In short, she is a far cry these days from the former party girl that hung out at the Playboy mansion.

And yet she is just as infectious, with her distinctive laugh and ribald humor, as she ever was.

Viv's take: In the new season of her show, Kendra, debuting tonight, we see a dimension added to what was once an arguably two-dimensional, shallow life. There's genuine love and tenderness between Kendra and and her husband, Hank--their bond is obviously strong--and it's clear she dotes on her child. Instead of just looking forward to the next party, Kendra is learning to accept herself for who she is and make a life for her new family. Recommended watching for all the new Moms especially--you WILL relate!

I received a preview copy of the premiere of Kendra's second season to facilitate this review.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ponyo: Sweet, Loveable, Magical

"There is a word to describe Ponyo. And that word is magical." --Roger Ebert

I'd heard a lot about Ponyo on the web, but missed it in
the theater. I honestly wondered whether I would like it at all.

It's really different from what I'm used to, for one thing. Though presented by Disney, it has a decidedly anime feel, thanks to the director Hayao Miyazaki (who also directed Spirited Away, the Academy Award-winning Animated Feature of 2002).

Which is really odd because I don't usually like anime.

And I LOVED Ponyo.

At first, again, I wasn't sure I would. It starts out with a strange, mystical scene with what are supposed to be little fish but look more like little girls in dresses swimming in water. Which makes a strange kind of sense, when you consider that Ponyo is based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.

You just have to accept that the little fish girls are beautiful goldfish, okay? Suspend your disbelief. Oh, and that their Dad is some kind of great mystical sea guy who keeps them in bubbles.

Plus, they can heal cuts.

Oh, and they and really shouldn't eat meat. Trust me on this.

Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas, younger brother of the famous Jonas Brothers), a five year-old boy, is just walking along the beach near his home when he finds one of the beautiful goldfish trapped in a bottle. He releases her and, sure that she is no ordinary fish (which we already know), names his new friend Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus, yep, Miley's sister). He brings her home to his Mom.

I just have to interject here: Sosuke and his mother (Tina Fey) are the best animated family ever. Yay, an actual loving Mom in an animated feature for a change! This thrills me, and the fact that she isn't perfect and even gets really irritated with Sosuke's Dad just makes her feel even more real. And I just love how cute and caring Sosuke is. He's just this great little boy. He's only an animated character, and yet you want to take him in your arms and give him this big hug when he worries about his friend Ponyo.

Okay, back to the story.

As Sosuke and Ponyo grow closer, she reveals to him that she is the daughter of a powerful wizard (Liam Neeson) and a sea goddess (Cate Blanchett), and magically transforms herself into a real human girl (!).

Interjecting again: how cool would Cate Blanchett and Liam Neeson be as parents?! Another total win for the animated families in this movie.

Well, all is not sunshine and light, folks, because by crossing from her watery world onto land, Ponyo has created a dangerous imbalance in nature. As the moon begins to draw closer to the earth(!), sea levels rise and a giant tsunami threatens to destroy Sosuke’s home.

Meanwhile, Ponyo’s father marshals all his might to find his missing daughter, as the two children embark on an adventure of a lifetime to try and save the world.

The underlying message of Ponyo is one of love, acceptance, and sacrifice, just as in the classic fairy tale. Sosuke must accept Ponyo in her true form, and she must sacrifice her own magic, if they are going to make it through this.

Psst...don't worry, there's a happily ever after this time.

This is just a great, great film. Hugely, hugely recommended!

Ponyo came out on DVD and Blu-ray March 2nd.

Here are the bonus features from the Blu-ray version:

The World of Ghibli- Allows fans to immerse themselves in the amazing worlds from each film created by legendary filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki in this multi-layered interactive experience.

Behind the Studio- Unprecedented access to all the background, inspiration and process behind the making of Ponyo and the inner workings of Studio Ghibli through a series of documentaries. They include all new interviews with Hayao Miyazaki, and composer Joe Hisaishi.

Also included in this feature are:
• Creating Ponyo
• Ponyo & Fujimoto
• The Nursery
• Behind the Microphone: The Voice of Ponyo
• Producers Perspective: Telling the Story
• Scoring Miyazaki
• The Scenery in Ghibli
• Original Japanese Trailer

Ponyo is priced at $39.99 for Blu-ray Hi-Def and $29.99 for 2-Disc DVD.

I received a review copy of Ponyo on Blu-ray Hi-Def to facilitate this review.

St. Patrick's Day Recipes

With St. Patrick's Day only a week away, here are some quick and easy recipes to whip up for the kids, courtesy of Duncan Hines.


Bring a bit-o-luck to the kitchen by creating these shamrock-covered Clover Patch Brownies.

1 pkg Duncan Hines Family Style Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix
1 pkg pre-made marzipan or fondant
green food coloring
green toothpicks

Baking Instructions:
1. Bake brownies according to instructions on box. Remove from oven and let cool. Cut brownies into squares.
2. Meanwhile, knead green food coloring into marzipan or fondant until desired shade of green is achieved.
3. Form small (1-inch) 3-leaf and 4-leaf clover shapes out of fondant or marzipan. Be realistic and make a lot more 3-leaf clovers than 4-leaf clovers.
4. Stick clover shapes on top of green toothpicks.
5. Insert little bunches of clovers onto each brownie.

Viv's take: My brownies usually end up tasting fine, but looking terrible, mostly because they stick to the pan (or each other) and fall apart when you take a bite. I used the Duncan Hines mix in this recipe on my last batch, opted for the cake-like variety, and received rave reviews. The kids couldn't eat them fast enough. Best of all, my brownies looked like they came from a bakery. Perfect little rectangles that didn't fall to pieces! The fondant clovers are optional for me in this recipe. They are cute as can be, but I'm thinking maybe some lucky charms marshmallow bits or green icing decorations would be even easier.



1 pkg Duncan Hines® Moist Deluxe® Lemon Supreme Cake Mix
1 (3.4 oz) pkg lemon instant pudding and pie filling
4 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1/4 cup Key lime juice

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup Key lime juice
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp butter or margarine, melted

Additional confectioners' sugar, lime slices and fresh strawberry slices.

Baking Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 10-inch Bundt or tube pan.
2. For cake, combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, oil, 3/4 cup water and 1/4 cup Key lime juice in large bowl. Beat at low speed with electric mixer until moistened. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes.
3. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 25 minutes. Remove cake from pan onto cooling rack. Return cake to pan. Poke holes in top of warm cake with toothpick or long-tined fork.
4. For glaze, combine 2 cups confectioner's sugar, 1/3 cup Key lime juice, 2 tablespoons water and melted butter in medium bowl. Pour slowly over top of warm cake. Cool completely. Invert onto serving plate. Dust with additional confectioner's sugar. Garnish with lime slices and strawberry slices, if desired.

Viv's take: If you love Key lime, this cake is for you. I'm a FL girl, but I think this might be just a little TOO "lemon limey" for me. I think I'd change the pudding mix to something innocuous, like vanilla, and just add extra water instead of the Key lime juice, so my kids would enjoy it more. I do like the simple glaze, lime and strawberry slices for garnish.

I received a box each of the Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Lemon Supreme Cake Mix and
Family Style Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix to try out for this post.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

So yesterday I watched both The View and Oprah to see all the Oscar coverage and get everyone's take on the best and worst fashion worn on the runway.

I agree with some of the picks they made. For example, Elizabeth Hasselbeck was absolutely spot on when she mentioned how lovely and elegant Demi Moore looked, and how happy that made her. I felt the same way. I remember when Demi was very much a Glamour Don't and now she has really come into her own. I feel a sort of proprietal pride, as a woman over 40 myself, as if I had something to do with it and could take credit for Demi's makeover. It's like she's standing up for all of us women who still feel young and vivacious but in Hollywood would only get cast as cougars or desperate housewives. So good for you, Demi! You go, girl.

That being said, my worst-dressed was not on anyone else's list: Sarah Jessica Parker. The Hollywood fashion police hesitate to say anything negative about her when it comes to fashion ever since Sex in the City, and that's a shame. I really think someone needs to step up to the plate and say that no matter how much a fashion maven she supposedly is after all those years on the show, her Chanel dress Sunday night was hideous.

Really, truly hideous. To me, fashion should be flattering to the individual first and foremost. And her dress did nothing for her petite, hourglass figure (which really is her best asset). So what if she is making a fashion statement? That statement was, "I look like I am wearing a gold-plated potato sack."

Another Chanel creation, which Elizabeth liked, was worn by Diane Kruger. I have to disagree with Elizabeth on this one.

No, I am 100% with Joy, who took one glance at it and said, "That is a ridiculous dress!" As Joy pointed out, it looks like three different dresses put together, and that ruffled section around her hips? Maybe Diane can pull it off, and still look beautiful, but is there any woman out there who really thinks, "Hey, I want my hips to look wider and puffier!"?

So, I am not running out to buy any Chanel dresses. You know, when I have a few thousand dollars lying around to spare. ;)

Yeah, so, obviously my worst-dressed was Sarah Jessica Parker and pretty much anyone who wore Chanel. But this is not a negative post, full of whiny cattiness. Really!

I was absolutely stunned by my best-dressed on Oscar night, Kate Winslet. This is because she looked like a million bucks in her simple, form-fitting, understated silver evening gown.

My husband couldn't believe she was "That woman from Titanic," because he never really thought Kate Winslet was that attractive before, and yet Sunday night on the red carpet, she just shone.

To me, that's what fashion is all about: making you look your absolute best.

I am a participant in a Mom Central campaign for ABC Daytime and will receive a tote bag or other The View branded items to facilitate my review.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The View Roundtable Round-Up

This week on The View, celebrity guests included Robert Pattinson from Twilight (I feel like I'm one of those movie announcers, you know, the "In a world where dogs have gone mad..." guys).

Pattinson seemed refreshingly mature to me, and I liked that he got tongue-tied when he talked about a love scene with his co-star, Emilie de Ravin, in their upcoming film Remember Me. Both were modest and talked about how awkward romantic scenes are to film. Fun fact: I had no idea that men wore "modesty pouches" made from, apparently, half a bra.

Pattinson also has an endearing habit of saying completely the wrong thing. Watch the video to find out more about why he thinks Betty White is sexy.

Barbara Walters also re-affirmed her stand that this is the very LAST year she will be doing any Oscars specials. In her words? "I'm sick of them!" And no wonder. In a word: stairs.

I loved the montage on The View of all the times Barbara has had to come walking down a stairway at the beginning of her Oscar shows.

She finally begged not to be shown on a staircase and what happened? They put her on an escalator. Too funny.

So on The View on Friday, the experts came in to give their own Oscar picks, which pretty much jibed with mine.

I'm thinking Hurt Locker wins best picture, I imagine Jeff Bridges will win for Crazy Hearts (though I haven't seen that one, the buzz is huge), Christopher Waltz will win for his riveting best supporting actor performance in Inglorious Basterds, and Monique gets best supporting actress for Precious (another one I need to see).

My husband, on the other hand, is completely, 100% behind Avatar for best film. Despite all the cliches in the plot, the environment was so immersive he completely fell under its spell. I have to admit that I loved the CGI environment, too. I'd get depressed whenever Jake, the main character, came back to the "real world".

And now I'm looking forward to the Oscars tonight, knowing that Monday is a full day of Hot Topics (my favorite segment) on The View, with Vanessa Williams guest-hosting, all about who won and what they wore and what they said and all the rest.

I can't wait. How about you?

I am a participant in a Mom Central campaign for ABC Daytime and will receive a tote bag or other The View branded items to facilitate my review.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Don't worry, there's lot more posts on the way! In case you wonder why it's been a slow blogging week for me, I've been working on getting the house fixed up a bit.

We've lived here now for nearly 15 years, and we put in new carpet last year, tile a couple years ago, and we're interviewing some folks now to replace the cabinets in the kitchen. So that's been a bit time-consuming.

Plus I've been sprucing up a few things up around the house myself.

For instance, we have new drapes, which let the light in and have the advantage of not being clawed up by the cats when they were kittens like the last batch. Here's a shot of the bay window with the new curtains up.

We also bought a recliner for the family room which is SO-O-O comfortable I am sitting in it right now as I post this. The Engineer and the Rhino (who is now, at not-quite-15, over 6 feet tall) tell me the recliner is STILL not big enough for them, although it was literally the longest, tallest one they had (that's okay, I'll sit in it enough for both of them). We added a swivel base so we can also turn and talk to whoever is in the kitchen.The living room is now a bit comfier thanks to the addition of wing chair I picked up for a song at a garage sale.

Here's a pic of it next to our old rocking chair.

Continuing on in the home improvement vein, yesterday I bought some green floral foam, wire cutters and loose flowers at the craft store, got down the old baskets I had for our plant shelves, and made up new flower arrangements for them.

Here's all that stuff, assembled, and the plant shelf, looking all bare and empty and sad.

Consider this the before picture, because although I had the baskets up there, the flowers were really ugly and didn't fill them up and...well, just not good.

I took a RIDICULOUSLY long time picking out all the flowers. Long stems are popular now, as are tall vases, and though I like them, and even have a couple in the family room, for the plant shelves I needed something shorter and wider to go in my baskets. I finally decided on lots of "cottage flowers," bunches of blossoms in shorts stems. I bought some greens and just a few longer stemmed items for fillers.

And then I had to arrange them. Ugh.

Don't get me wrong, I had fun, but flowers NEVER look the way I imagine they will once I get going on them. I felt like I spent a lot of money on flowers, but when I was done I maybe still needed a few more to really fill up the baskets properly.

Even so, I actually saved LOTS of money by doing it myself. One arrangement I saw, which was about 1/2 the size of one of my two baskets, was ON SALE for $60! Most were $99.

I bought all my flowers, the foam and the wire cutters for about $40.

Here's one of the finished products.

What do you think?

I think I might go get a few more poofy flowers today...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From Beer to Maternity Covers All the Bases

I'm not a beer drinker, and I haven't been pregnant in quite a while, but From Beer to Maternity, Maggie Lamond Simone's hilarious coming-of-age novel, completely resonated with me.

Filled with wisdom that anyone can relate to, From Beer to Maternity would make a great gift for any recent grad, former partyer or newly expectant Mom. Simone's comic insights on the lessons we all learn as we age had me laughing and nodding my head at the same time.

Starting out with a police officer escorting a drunken Simone away from the car she had just wrecked (she asks him to drop her at the bar where her friends are waiting!), the book takes us through her life from new grad to columnist to parent.

“People in their twenties today are not what they were in the 1960s,” Simone contends. “Today they’re still kids. Back then they were middle-aged. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.”

And she makes a lot of sense. When she mentions how, as a college graduate, she had to learn to go from telling someone, "Hey, the sink is clogged," to actually figuring out how to fix it herself, including dealing with her own personal nemesis, spiders (!), I realized how much my own kids, who barely know how to operate a microwave, could learn from this book.

From the press release:
Maggie offers serious (no, humorous) advice (well, sarcastic commentary) for older people (yes, over the age of 30) who are having trouble with growing up or what it means to age gracefully, or are worried and even confounded by the concept of adulthood in general.
Here's an excerpt from Chapter 6, O Heather, Where Art Thou?:
“The main weapon in the ‘I’m not old just because I remember eight-tracks’ arsenal is perception. ‘Old’ used to mean anyone over 30. When I hit 30, it meant over 60. Now it’s 120. I will accept I’m in the presence of someone old if her father fought in the Civil War.”
Viv's take: Honestly, genuinely hilarious and SO relatable, Maggie Lamond Simone's From Beer to Maternity hits all the right notes. Very, very enthusiastic thumbs-up!

You can purchase From Beer to Maternity through (just click the image to go to the product page). You can also follow Magge Lamond Simone on her facebook page, or visit her website.

I receive a preview copy of From Beer to Maternity to facilitate this review.
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