Monthly Archives: January 2013

Some Digital Memories…


I was messing around on facebook, trying to find myself (heh heh) and none of my searches were finding my name…so somehow it  got into the web search….and then I googled myself (Denna de Motta) and a whole bunch of things popped up that I had forgotten about!  Mostly they were digital scrapbooking projects that I did in the past for Creative Memories.  Since I just re-found them, I thought I’d share some of them here:

Legohead"Authentic Legohead" Discover Grunge Digital Scrapbook Layout

and a tutorial on the Digital 411 blog:  Making the best of a blurry photo, has some ideas for editing photos.

and Baby’s Favorite Things:

Baby's Favorite Things - Ashby Series Baby Girl Scrapbooking Two Page Layout (left side)Baby's Favorite Things - Ashby Series Baby Girl Scrapbooking Two Page Layout (right side)

Daddy’s little girl!!  My sister took these photos.

And another  idea from the Creative Memories Digital 411 blog, giving an idea for a scrapbook page layout : The Rest of the StoryD-Motta_The Rest of the Story_image - Page 004

All of these projects were created with all Creative Memories Digital content, of course.  I had a great time designing digital stuff for them 🙂

The Dirty Mystery of the Appearing Socks

The Dirty Mystery of the Appearing Socks

We have always had a sock problem around here.  Sock problems.  There’s the obvious sock problem of the dryer eating the socks and then you end up with mateless socks.  Yes, that is one of our problems….we have piles of lonely socks.  But the other is a different scenario.  The Case of the Dirty Appearing Socks.  They appear everywhere, cowering under the sofa, jammed in behind the end tables, hanging around the book shelves, strewn on the bathroom floor, frolicking under the piano bench, rolled up in balls among the dust bunnies under beds, flung onto piles of clean clothes, hidden under desks and tables, shoved into nooks and crannies, in short: everywhere that they are not supposed to be!!  I won’t name names, (as I myself am not completely free from this type of criminal record)  for the culprits of these dastardly crimes all know who they (we) are.  I was just wondering if anyone else has a similar sock problem.  ???  No one that I know has ever mentioned such a thing, and it could be a phenomenon that only happens at our house…. well, only my Mom has mentioned finding some socks hidden in….oh wait…they were ours! 😦

The other day, with a flash of Sherlock-like brilliance, I found a solution to our dirty appearing sock mystery!  The answer was very simple, and involves a clean garbage can and a piece of chalk.  Stop! Before you see the solution, you should see the before photo of our back entrance.  This was taken in the fall, note: no winter jackets & boots.denna's ideas: dirty sock managementJust back packs, jackets and lunch bags.  So I tried to make our back entrance a more useful and interesting space, and came up with this after photo:denna's ideas: dirty sock managementAdded: one chalkboard with hat pegs, one black crow, 5 large magnets for holding artwork and…look closely….denna's ideas: dirty sock managementno I don’t mean the rubber boots (ok, this was a few months ago before the winter boots came out),  but look closer!!denna's ideas: dirty sock managementTA da!  A special place for the dirty socks!!  Imagine that!  We need a whole container to hold the pairs of dirty socks that come off the feet of my kids.  Belive me, it was full in no time.denna's ideas: dirty sock managementSo far, this has been a fairly efficient solution, and out dirty sock problem has become almost less of a problem.  The problem now is that there seem to be less clean socks for the kids.

Oh, I guess I should actually go and check that Dirty Sock Holder and take it down to the laundry once in a while……that might help a bit.

“Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows” cake

“Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows” cake

“everything that’s wonderful is how I feel when we’re together…”  it’s about spending time together.  And in this case it happens that the kids and I were spending time making a cake together.  Some little person figured that we should “play home-school” on Saturday and had mapped out the whole day including gym, matematica, recess and craft class.  Why does it feel so ironic that this same little person complains every morning about having to go to school all day?

We did play school (though I explain every time that Home-schooling is really a very different thing, and that playing school one Saturday is not at all the same thing as home-schooling).  It was real old-fashioned one-room school where each child had their own “slate” to write on: what a novel idea!  Some matematica was involved (I write it that way because that’s how the little person says it) and some figuring and whatnot, but best of all was the “baking/craft” class!  I decided I’d let them play with some fondant and we could put together and decorate a cake (and then eat it up for snack time of course!).

I cut the layers for the cake, then the younger kids helped me fill it.  We were experimenting, so one side of the cake was filled with jam and the other side was filled with buttercream icing.  This said to explain the fondant squiggles on the edges of the cake plate….I wanted to know which side was filled with what when it came time to cut the cake…

First a short demonstration of how to roll the fondant out and cover the iced cake in a smooth-ish layer of fondant, then everyone set about coloring their fondant and making flowers and snails and leaves and braids.  Being the perfectionista type, of course I decided that I would be the one to put the flowers on the cake (and tweak a bit here and there)….what can I say, I can’t help myself.  So we worked together to create this colorful masterpiece….denna's ideas- sunshine lollipops and rainbow cakeColorful is definitely the right adjective!  The colors all turned out quite bright, not quite that pastel look I had in mind, but I’m fine with bright colors….and they tasted just as good to the kids!denna's ideas- sunshine lollipops and rainbow cake(I took some of the swirly “braids” and rolled them into usable flowers.)  This is actually marshmallow fondant, not the traditional almond kind and it’s for sure not playdough (no matter how much it resembles that stinky stuff!!)denna's ideas- sunshine lollipops and rainbow cakeWe had a few tools to play with.  Each of the kids worked for awhile on flowers while I was busy making stems and leaves….denna's ideas-sunshine lollipops and rainbow cakeAnd then (almost as soon as we were done decorating) time to cut and eat the cake!!denna's ideas-sunshine lollipops and rainbow cakeThe iced layers looked the best, but the jam-filled side tasted the best!!denna's ideas:sunshine lollipops and rainbow cakeI just need to work a bit on the jam filling technique….but this colorful cake sure tasted great!!!denna's ideas- sunshine lollipops and rainbow cakeA little birdie friend even flew down for a peek at the cake…denna's ideas-sunshine lollipops and rainbow cakeHmm, gotta go now, after looking at these photos that last piece of cake is definitely calling my name!

Gnocchi & Toki

Gnocchi & Toki

Say it so they rhyme: “ñokee & tokee.”  That’s what we had for supper last night.  I just had to put the recipe on here because it’s been such an easy hit for our dinnertime!  The first and only time I have tried gnocchi was 13 years ago when my mother-in-law made some for us to try and I loved them.  I’ve been thinking about them ever since, but seeing the packaged stuff on the shelves at the store just didn’t convince me to buy and try.  The other day on I found a recipe for made-from-scratch ricotta gnocchi that reviewers said was easy and delicious.  (I just laughed when one reviewer said that no real Italian would have garlic powder in their kitchen, much less use it in gnocchis!  No Italian in me so I just proceeded with the recipe).  They are usually made with potatoes but this quick recipe is made with ricotta cheese.  To my surprise it was easy to make, super yummy and everyone ate it and asked for seconds!

Last night when I made the gnocchis, I timed myself to see how fast I could do it.  Forty minutes from beginning to boil the water to setting the food on the table!  Not bad! 🙂  And I tried something new yesterday, too.  Instead of using ricotta cheese, I put cottage cheese in the food processor and blended it up until it looked just like ricotta.  No one noticed any difference!  I’ll be doing that in the future for sure.denna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supper

So I thought I would add the recipe and a few photos here so you can try it at your house!  If you like cheese, home made food and a quick supper, dig in!  The recipe is on Allrecipes here along with a simple sauce (which I haven’t tried) or you can try out my easy sauce idea.

Gnocchi ingredients:

1 (8 oz.) container of ricotta cheese  (or I use blended cottage cheese, about 1 cup and a half or so)

2 eggs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese (whatever kind you have, fresh or not)

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. pepper  (I use fresh ground, but if you don’t like to see it, use white pepper)

1 tsp. salt

1 cup flour, or as needed

(cubed mozzarella cheese to add into tomato sauce)

  • Stir together the ricotta cheese, eggs, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a large bowl until evenly combined. Mix in 1 cup of flour. Add additional flour if needed to form a soft dough.
  • Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces, and roll into 1/2-inch-thick ropes on a floured surface. Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces, and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use if not cooking right away.
  • Make a sauce.  What I use is a jar of spaghetti sauce (Newman’s Own, Sockarooni) with red peppers in it.  Add a few Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, some dried or fresh basil, fresh chopped parsely, some paprika and a few Tablespoons of butter.
  • While sauce is simmering, (or before!) bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Boil the gnocchi until they float to the surface, about 2 minutes, then drain.  I boil them in batches, as I roll and cut them.
  • To assemble the dish, stir cubed mozzarella cheese into the sauce and allow the heat of the sauce to soften, but not melt the cheese. Place gnocchi into a serving bowl, and spoon sauce overtop, or instead, simply add just-boiled gnocchi right into the sauce.

This recipe makes enough for our family of six with no leftovers.  Next time I will double it because everyone wants leftovers to take to school/work the next day!  Here’s a hint that was in the recipe reviews:  put the ricotta in a strainer to get rid of some extra moisture, if it seems too moist.  I did that the first time, but there didn’t seem to extra moisture.  With the cottage cheese, I just blended it and never strained it and it seemed fine.  I have been varying the amounts of ricotta/cottage and parmesan and even flour, and it seems to be fine.  I would suggest not to cut back on the garlic and pepper and salt, though.denna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supperHere are the little (or not so little) gnocchis after you have rolled them into ropes and cut them.  I was trying to be fancy like the store bought ones, and used the tines of a fork to make impressions on them (that’s supposed to help hold the sauce).  Last night when I made them as fast as I could, no little marks, and they were smaller than those in the photo above.denna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supperI didn’t boil very many at a time, as I wasn’t sure if they’d all stick together….then later I’d just boil the ones that were just cut, then while they boiled for 2 or 3 min. I would be cutting the next ones.denna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supperThe first time I made the sauce (pictured here) I added chicken, but last night it was just plain tomato and cheesiness, yum!  Here’s the sauce that we buy at Costco, this flavor hasn’t been a favorite until now, because of the red peppers….denna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supperdenna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supperI was just adding the gnocchis to the sauce as they cooked up.denna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supperAnd then last night, I added the cubed mozzarella instead of shredding it over top.  I think most of us really liked the cubed cheese, but I added too much (oh well, I enjoyed it!)denna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supperdenna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supperdenna's ideas: making homemade ricotta gnocchi for supper

Maybe you are wondering what the Toki in the title is.  If you have been to Guatemala, you have probably heard of the drink called “Toki” and if you lived there long ago, you probably know the jingle from the TV commercial “Toki, Toki, Toki, te quita el calor!”  For some reason this drink mix has a little North American Native pictured on it, and he used to appear in the commercial beating his little drum.  ???  🙂 Anyways, it’s something I grew up with, and we happen to still have some Rosa de Jamaica flavored Toki drink crystals (that is hibiscus flower flavor) that our Guatemalan family sent us.  The kids figured that we should drink it because Toki rhymes with gnocchi!  It was a great supper!!denna's ideas: Toki drink  mix from Guatemala

Butterfly Cake

Butterfly Cake

Looking forward to spring in the middle of winter: it’s that kind of cake.  I find myself fascinated with the monarch butterflies….and after checking at the store, I decided to try making some myself…..I needed some butterflies, not just to cheer up a dark and blizzardy winter, but I needed butterflies to come and sit delicately on the yellow and black cake that was taking shape in my kitchen.

So this is what I’ve been working on this week…with no time at all for posting on the blog! 🙂  A cake, a birthday cake for 2 ladies who are turning 50!  I found some inspiration and then went for it.  Working with fondant isn’t my favorite… but felt inspired enough to try it again.  There’s a great site that explains how to make marshmallow fondant and work with it here.  I haven’t used traditional fondant, only made my own…and apparently it’s waaaay yummier than the traditional kind!

First I started out making some butterfiles with royal icing…denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakedenna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakeAn enjoyable task…trying to copy a real monarch butterfly with royal frosting.  The worrisome part was trying to figure out how to attach them to the cake, since I don’t have any special wire.  But Henry came up with a great food-safe way to do it! 🙂 denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakeThey were fun, and did look like butterflies!!  But super fragile!  I made extras because I knew I would break some in the decorating process….which I did.  Even though it was inevitable, I still felt a little shocked to see the splattered, more like shattered, butterfly on my floor.  😦  (The kids wanted to eat it but I said NO for various reasons!)

Then on to the baking, which always takes longer than I think it will.  Especially when I’m trying out a new recipe.  Make that recipes.  The first batch of 3 layers wasn’t going to work, so I had to move on the next recipe…and it’s a keeper.  I wanted some pizzazz for inside the cake, so went with some color and citrus flavor.  Lemon, vanilla and orange hints inside the colorful cakes.  Belive me, I did a lot of taste testing!denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakeNext comes the fondant covering….which went ok without too many glitches.  I worked on the cake topper, so it would have time to firm up while I worked on the cake.  Little swirly roses and “pearls”denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakeCovering the layers in fondant takes some time and finicky work, but I think that the part that took the most “brain” work was the structure inside the cake.  I like to make cakes and just stack them up, and serve them at my house.  But when a cake needs to be transported and arrive in one piece, there needs to be some sort of internal structure.  That makes me feel like an engineer, or even an architect.  The local craft store didn’t have much to offer me, so I used lollypop sticks (new ones, with no lolly of course!) So the next layer needs to have a supporting base that sits on these internal pegs or whatever the technical terms are.denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakeOnce I had that all figured out, then comes the fun part of decorating!  At the back of the cake, kind of discreetly and hopefully with a bit of class, I added the word “fifty”.  Hope that was the right touch.  I didn’t know if they’d want a large shiny 50 on top of their cake…denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakeAnd here are the rest of the shots from my rushed, improvised photoshoot.  I hurried to finish the cake so I could photograph it in daylight, which disappears very rapidly around here at this time of year…denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cake denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cake denna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakedenna's ideas: black and yellow butterfly stacked layer cakeand a few “bonus ideas”  slice of butterfly cake, denna's ideas slice of butterfly cake, denna's ideas slice of butterfly cake, denna's ideas a small butterfly cake by denna's ideas

Pingu Penguin Party for a Toddler, or Fiesta Pingüino!

Pingu Penguin Party for a Toddler, or Fiesta Pingüino!

How many of you have been thinking about penguins this week?  January just seems like a good time to think about them and their habitats!  Penguins make very cute themes for birthday parties!!  Especially during a cold, snowy January….  Have you ever seen that cute little claymation penguin named Pingu on TV?  Maybe his catchy little tune is playing inside your brain right now (I know it is in mine!) and how fitting that would be as you glance over this next party!

A snowy day is the perfect time for little penguins to get together and celebrate a special birthday!denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyAnd two year olds especially seem to love little Pingu!  His black and white self is a fun graphic image for a penguin party!  I found some pics of him online and changed them a bit for our party.  The rest of the graphics I used were from a digital scrapbooking kit from  and I changed some of the colors just a little so they would fit with the party colors of turquoise, red, black and white (with a splash of yellow!).  We printed out some small posters, denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyone of the smaller monogramed ones was just right for taping onto a frame that was already on the wall over the Birthday Boy’s high chair.denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyThe small white double-sided plastic frames from Ikea are handy for many party decorations and make great keepsakes afterwards!denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partydenna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyThe tags for the treat bags and the placecards for the table were easily printed on regular paper and cut out, matching the posters.denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyIn case you didn’t know, I love polka dots!!  So I already had the polka-dotted tablecloths from Ikea (the kind that are easy to wipe clean, I forget what they are called) and they just happened to be the right colors.  The party palette of colors was very easy to continue in tissue paper, balloons and crepe paper streamers.  We made our own tissue paper balls for hanging on the light fixture.denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyThe centerpiece was a toy that we’ve had a for a few years, a penguin habitat that is like a wooden puzzle, you fit the pieces together to form a three-story habitat.  I saw them on sale at Toys R Us a long time ago…it looked like no one was buying them, there were so many boxes of them on for half price, and my party-mind said “cupcake holder!”  It’s been totally worth it.denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyOnline I have see a cute goldfish bowl filled with light blue jello, with a few gummy fish swimming around in it…but that seemed like way too much messy work, and I wasn’t even sure if it would work out nicely (I think Martha made it work perfectly of course), so we went for turquoise jelly beans in the fish bowl with some large gummy fish in the sides.  The fish were also used as cupcake toppers along with punched paper penguins.  These cute little penguins are easy to make using an owl shaped paper punch and I’ve posted about how to make them here.  (they are cute on tags, too).  Two of them made a quick cake topper…denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyalong with a paper banner which I printed and cut out from the Carnival Time digital kit (link above).  Those old-fashioned cherry stick candies on the cake gave it a “north pole” flavor (what are those candies called again?).  A fuzzy penguin puppet found a spot on the dessert table in the corner  (and more fabric from Ikea in the window).denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyA toddler food that I knew we should serve was…you guessed it….fishy crackers!  Surprise to me, there are also penguin-shaped cheesy crackers.  We served them in these cute ice cube trays (Ikea)…denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partydenna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyThere was one little game at this party….penguin bob!  Color some ping pong balls with a sharpie to make them look like penguins and place in a small tub with a little water…and let the kids play!  There isn’t really a game  involved, but it still was fun for a new-two-year old!denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partydenna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler party(in the video, the ping pong balls hadn’t been colored yet.  I knew someone with sharp eyes would point that out to me!)denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyA fun time was had by all the little penguins!!denna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partydenna's ideas: pingu penguin toddler partyHere is a fun video of our Birthday Boy and his Pingu Penguin birthday party!!!  (I just love it!)

Josiah’s second birthday from Dustin Siggelkow on Vimeo.

Easy Mexican Lasagna, with apologies…


Apologies to my Mexican friends, and any other Mexican I will ever meet….I’m sure this isn’t authentic Mexican food, just one of those crazy northern improvisations….but I can’t help it–I love the taste!  And it’s EASY!! 🙂  (I’m sure the lasagna that they eat in Mexico is the same as the “Italian” version we eat here anyways….)

We’ve come to love this casserole-type recipe (I don’t call things “casseroles” around my house, but I will here!) for several reasons: it’s quite fast and easy, it smells heavenly when it’s baking in the oven, it makes great leftovers and it actually tastes super!!  I found the recipe on and when I read the ingredients I thought, what’s the big whoop?  these are all the same things I use all the time, in taco salad and other stuff.  But I decided to try it anyways, and I was very pleasantly surprised.  I’ve made it over and over since finding it a few weeks ago!

The original recipe is here, but I’ve changed it a bit.  It’s really one of those dishes that you can throw together with what you have on hand and it seems to turn out great (not one of those measure-carefully recipes).denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casserole

List of ingredients:

ground beef (about one pound or more)

salsa (1 or 2 cups)

green onions (one bunch)

corn tortillas (about 4 large or 6-8 small) or tortilla chips

can of beans (chili beans-red kidney or black)

a few cups of grated cheese (mozzarella, cheddar or monterrey jack)

cilantro (optional)

black olives (optional)

cream cheese (cream cheese spread or sour cream)

sprinkle of paprika (optional)

Here’s what to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Prepare a 9×13 pan or glass casserole dish by giving it a quick spray with cooking spray (I’m not totally sure this is necessary but haven’t tried it without).  Line the dish with one layer of corn tortillas, about 3 large ones.  In these photos I was using those large tortillas that are a blend of corn and wheat flour, but I like the straight corn tortillas best, though it will take a few more of those smaller ones to cover the bottom.  Another variation is to crunch up tortilla chips and make that the bottom layer (haven’t tried that yet).  This recipe only needs one layer of each ingredient.  Next, prepare the meat.denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casserole

When we buy ground beef, I brown it all up and make most of it into taco-seasoned meat, then freeze in meal-sized portions.  So I use already browned and taco seasoned meat for this recipe.  But you can brown up about one pound to 2 pounds of beef, and add some seasoned or plain salt (if you don’t want to add taco seasoning, though I’d recommend it).  Then add some salsa, from one cup to 2 cups.  Add in the beans…try red kidney beans, it tastes great!!  I use the whole black beans if I don’t have the kidney ones, as I did in these photos.  If you have already-prepared meat, then you can just mix everything in a bowl and microwave it for a bit to warm it up.  Or you can mix everything in a pot and warm it on the stove.denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casseroleChop up some green onions and cilantro, if you like cilantro!!  And black olives, if you like them (my kids don’t, maybe someday).  And a tomato or two if you want (I haven’t tried it with fresh tomatos, I just skip that). Whatever you do, don’t skip the green onions!!!denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casseroleStir these ingredients into the meat mixture, and start spreading it onto the tortillas.  The meat layer doesn’t have to be really thick…denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casseroledenna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casserole(If you want you could now add a layer of sour cream, but I also haven’t tried that).  Then add a layer of grated cheese.  We always use mozzarella.  I think cheddar might be too rich, but use what you like best!  (In these photos I sprinkled the cilantro onto the meat instead of mixing it in).  When the cheese is covering the meat, add some dots of cream cheese….I just use the spreadable stuff, and scoop it out with the back of a teaspoon and plop it on in random dots across the casserole.  This is the ingredient that really makes the Mexican lasagna sing, in my opinion!!!  (don’t skip it!)denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casseroledenna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casseroleThen sprinkle the top with some paprika.denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casseroleI skipped a step when I was baking this batch….I forgot to top it with some ripped up tortilla bits!  If you are using the large tortillas, it only takes one or 2 small ones, ripped up into bits and sprinkled over the top.  These bits bake up crunchy and really add to the casserole.  You could also use tortillas chips.  As you can see, I forgot to add them this time, but it still was great!  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Hmm, I think I left this one in for 3 minutes too long, heh heh!denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casseroleAnd there you go!! Ready to slice and eat!  This time I made a 9×13 casserole and an extra 8×8 one to share with some friends to see what they thought…(it only took one tortilla to line the 8×8 pan)…denna's ideas: easy Mexican lasagna casseroleI was pleased with their response! 🙂  I didn’t have a photo of this dish served up on a plate with salad….I’m afraid most of my photos are taken in the kitchen with little or no natural light and many times my photos are too blurry to post….but Carrie just sent me one that she took on her phone of her serving….denna's ideas: easy mexican lasagna casserole(I think she added the large salad because she wan’t sure if she’d like the Mexican lasagna, but I guess she did, since she asked for the recipe!!)  So thank you Carrie!