Monday, July 28, 2014

Another Week, Another Giveaway!

Happy Monday Ya'll!  Let's start this week off on a high note - a GIVEAWAY!  This week delicious goodness comes to us from Barney Butter!  I happened upon Barney Butter a couple of months ago while looking for a non-greasy almond butter to eat with bananas.  I like to dip them; I digress.  Almond butter is great since so many people are allergic to peanuts and I don't like to keep them in my house.  I think it has a rich flavor and almonds are super healthy so what's not to like?  Barney Butter intrigued me, first because I love the name, and second the packaging is very cool.  I decided to dig a little deeper and discovered that Barney Butter is a company that I can really get behind.  So this week, Effortless and Exquisite is giving away a free jar of Barney Butter!

Photo courtesy of Barney Butter
Barney Butter is the creation of a California mom that was on the hunt for an alternative to peanut butter and those bland almond butters on the market.  The company was born in a home kitchen by an enterprising woman - girl power!  She started selling the popular butter in 2006 and the rest is AB & J history (almond butter and jelly, by the way).

Photo Courtesy of Barney Butter
Today Barney Butter is sold nationwide in supermarkets and online.  The success is because it is yummy.  There are several creative flavors to choose from. Barney Butter is Non-GMO Certified, Kosher, and Gluten Free with no hydrogenated oils in their jars.  It was fun to sample the products because I wouldn't think of certain flavor combinations - but they work and they're great!

Snack pack samples
Barney Butter sent me three flavors to try.  The Regular, Cocoa + Coconut, and Vanilla Bean + Espresso.  Snack packs are also available for purchase and they're great because they only have between 90-100 calories so an easy snack that is waistline friendly.

Vanilla Bean + Espresso
First I sampled the Vanilla Bean + Espresso.  There are whole chunks of espresso bean and vanilla bean in this butter.  The bitter of the espresso is balanced by the flavor of the vanilla.  It is interesting and I thought it tasted like a super rich almond butter.

Cocoa + Coconut
The Cocoa + Coconut is delicious.  It is like a better version of Nutella.  The consistency is very smooth.  The coconut flavor is very, very good and this one is my new favorite.  I could eat it by the spoonful.

Smooth Almond Butter
Finally I tried the regular Smooth Almond Butter.  I love almond butter and this just tastes better than most commercial varieties.  It isn't overly greasy like some butters with oil that is gross and sloshes in the jar.  It is very good with sliced bananas.  I'm a big fan.

To be entered in the giveaway, you must register to follow Effortless and Exquisite with your email address.  Enter your address on the top right side of the page under "Follow by Email."  It is easy and free!  The contest ends Monday, August 4th so hurry and enter.  Check out more about Barney Butter at their website here.  Visit the Barney Butter Facebook page here and follow Barney Butter on Twitter here.

Barney Butter  - Yum!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Christmas in July

I'm one of those...those women (or men) that get extremely excited about Christmas.  I love the meaning of the day, the goodwill, the celebratory vibe, the food, and the decorations.  I'm a Christmas fanatic.  I pack the weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas with concerts, Christmas pageants, hot chocolate, Hallmark Channel movies, and driving around to look at the sights.  I love browsing the mall to smell the peppermint and visit Santa, but shopping for gifts during the holiday season makes me stressed out.  It is so much easier to get a jump on the presents now, when things are quiet and you have a minute to think.  This month is the time to start the planning and I have a super easy gift that will make you the Belle of every Christmas Ball!

Super Easy, Homemade Vanilla!
I like to make vanilla extract myself.  Because I bake often, I use lots of it.  The store bought vanilla is expensive.  Plus, the commercial vanilla, the "pure" vanilla extract has sugar and water added (things that make you go hmmm).  If you make your own vanilla, the taste difference is obvious and your cost savings are substantial.  One 2 oz bottle in the store costs about $4.75 for "pure" vanilla extract.  You can make 64 ounces for about $40 or less at home.  The price savings is huge and so is the taste and quality.  FYI - the strength of real vanilla extract is measured in "bolds."  This means single bold is store bought quality, double bold is twice as strong and so on.  The longer vanilla ages, the stronger it gets.  The vanilla recipe I will share with you is double bold.  I let mine age for months and then years so my old stuff is strong, super BOLD!

Begin by purchasing some combination of vodka and bourbon.  This is not an exact science.  I like to use more vodka and a splash of bourbon for taste.  If you like bourbon, add more.  Purchase 64 ounces of alcohol.   I don't drink so I purchase whatever is on sale at the liquor store.  The quality of the liquor doesn't matter a whole bunch because the beans will flavor the liquid.  I purchased about $16 worth of vodka + bourbon.  I order the beans online.  There are literally hundreds of places to purchase bulk beans.  Google "bulk Madagascar vanilla beans" and go shopping.  There are several websites that will take your money - you can buy 1/2 pound of beans for $20-$25.  If you pay more, you are just unnecessarily paying more.

The beans should arrive sealed in plastic to preserve the moisture and quality of the bean.  The photo above makes the beans look dried out.  If they are not pliable and they are dry and brittle, send them back.  Brittle beans are old and you shouldn't pay for that quality.  Cut the beans into small chunks.  You may split them in the middle, or not, it doesn't matter.  The aging process will break down the beans and extract the yummy goodness from them regardless of how you chop them.  

Chop the beans into pieces
Pour the alcohol into a large glass jar with a lid that will properly seal.  Use glass so that the plastic won't leach into the extract.  I've been using the same jar of extract for several years that I made several years ago and I don't think that plastic would work over an extended period of time.  Put the chopped beans into the jar as well.

Alcohol + Beans in the jar
Tightly seal the jar.  Give it a shake and place it in the back corner of your pantry.  It doesn't need to be exposed to lots of light for the next few months.  The jar needs to sit for at least 30 days before the vanilla is ready to use.  After that, it can age for a long, long time.  Below is the new jar on the left and an old jar that I made two years ago on the right.  Note the color difference.  

Vanilla - Young and Old
I like to leave the chunks of beans in my vanilla.  If you are making ice cream or a recipe that calls for vanilla beans, you can scoop a spoonful of the beans from the bottom of the jar and use them also.  I think it makes my baking taste and feel more organic with whole chunks of beans that puree in the blender.  The flavor is really rich.  You can always strain the old beans out if you want, it is totally up to you.

Finally, pour the vanilla into containers to make perfect Christmas gifts for friends, teachers, book club friends, etc in December!  I purchase 1 oz jars online for 40 cents each and they come with a special lid that seals the liquid in the jar.  It is also really creative to purchase decorative jars in different shapes or sizes to give away.  Make sure you purchase a jar that will seal.  The total cost of my vanilla including 64 small jars is about $65 for 64 jars.  It makes a very thoughtful (and useful) gift that is super unique and totally affordable for $1 per jar!  I like to tie a ribbon around the jars and PRESTO an easy (on the budget AND to make) present!  Spend this holiday season enjoying the time with your friends and family with your Christmas list already checked off.  This gift idea is simple, fast, and way less stressful than looking for a parking space at the mall so Merry (early) Christmas!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

#christmasinjuly #creativity #christmas #vanilla #diy #homemade #awesome #soeasy
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

And The Winner Is...

The winner of the 'We All Scream for Julie's Ice Cream Giveaway' is Effortless and Exquisite reader Kelly.L.Erdman!  Congratulations to the winner of a yummy gift basket of goodies, including free ice cream and fun kitchen stuff!  Julie's Organic Ice Cream is my brand new favorite go to for sorbet and ice cream.  The ingredients are organic and natural without any chemicals that I can't pronounce.  Delicious is the only word I can use to describe it and I think if you check out the brand you will agree.  There is no better blackberry sorbet on the market, hands down, no questions, and don't even think about disagreeing!  Check out Julie's Organic, your stomach will say thank you!

Blackberry Deliciousness!

Thanks to Melissa and Julie at Julie's Organics.  Please visit Julie's on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunglasses for Every Face Shape

I dislike trying on sunglasses.  I'm that indecisive person that tries on every pair of sunglasses in the store and still can't decide what looks best, maybe it's a self esteem thing.  I just have issues with picking the perfect pair, maybe there are too many choices.  I also hate to spend a small fortune on a plastic accessory that is going to fall from my head onto the floor and thus risk shattering several days in wages.  So this year I turned to my friend Keely of Made in the Shade, a trendy, yet affordable sunglasses boutique.  Sunglasses cost between $10 and $35. Their current summer sale offers buy one pair get the second half price!  The store is in NC but will ship all over the US.   Keely agreed to share with Effortless and Exquisite the tricks to selecting sunglasses for every face shape.

Keely from Made in the Shade
So the hunt for sunglasses begins.  There really are too many to choose from.  Keely starts by explaining everyone has a specific face shape - and there are more than I realized.  When selecting a pair of sunglasses, check for UV protection and comfort first.  Then decide on your face shape.  

Round Shaped Faces should focus on sharp, angular lines that elongate the face.  These shapes add angles to the face to soften and de-emphasize the round shape.  Cat eyes, square, or rectangular frames look great.

Round Shaped Faces

For Heart Shaped Faces, steer clear of straight lines across the top frame of the sunglasses.  Go for cat-eye frames;  perhaps dramatic butterfly or square frames will suit you.  Aviators and Rimless glasses also look great on this face shape.  

Heart Shaped Faces
Rectangular Shaped Faces look best in oversized lenses that will add width to the face.  The bigger, the BETTER!  Square, rectangle, or wayfarer styles are great for this face shape.

Rectangular Shaped Faces
If you are a Diamond Face shape, Keely suggests sticking to gently curved lines to compliment high cheek bones.  Rimless, Oval, and Wrap-Around Frames are beautiful on your face to accent your bone structure.

Diamond Shaped Faces

It's hip to be square!  If you are have a Square Shaped Face you should focus on soft, rounded lines to contrast with the squareness of the face.  Aviators, Oval Frames, and the more round cat-eye frames look best.

Square Shaped Faces
For Oval Shaped Faces, the sky is the limit!  Most all sunglasses look great on your face shape so have fun with your style, you lucky dog.

Oval Shaped Faces
Retro sunglasses are all the rage this season and kids are no different.  Cat eyes and retro daisies are in, in, in.  There are also aviators for kids!

Too Cute for Kids
Be good to your eyes and the planet with Eco-Friendly Wayfarers.  This model is made from Bamboo and recycled plastic lenses.  They're a great option for style, function, and the earth!

Eco Friendly!
Show your colors with these super fun Patriotic Stars and Stripes Aviators...

Show your Stars and Stripes
Thanks Keely and Made in the Shade!  To order your perfect sunglasses or browse for your favorite style visit Made in the Shade on Facebook here.

Thanks Made in the Shade!
Made in the Shade Blowing Rock

#aviators  #sunglasses #blowingrock #summer #fashion #fabulous #glasses
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Meet Wes

This is a bit of a change from the normal Effortless and Exquisite fare.  Sometimes life is neither Effortless and Exquisite, no matter how hard we try to make it otherwise.  My family experienced this reality when my younger brother had cancer when he was eleven.  There is a special place in my heart for other families suffering this horrible disease with their young children.  I happened upon the story of Wes Pak.  Wes is 8.  He was diagnosed with high risk neuroblastoma in his abdomen in 2011.  Most people don't know what that word means.  Neuroblastoma is a form of childhood cancer.  Because of my experience, reading that word makes me uncomfortable and I say a quick prayer for the family.  It is a real fight to deal with neuroblastoma.
Meet Wes!

Wes' mother Krista created a Facebook Page called Wes' Fight Against Neuroblastoma to keep us posted about Wes' progress.  She writes, "On June 24, 2011 my 5 year old son was diagnosed with stage 4 High Risk Neuroblastoma. On June 24th the challenge was laid in my lap as to whether I was going to give up or play for life on God's team in the fight against faith. On June 24th, I accepted that challenge. I will NOT let go. I will NEVER stop fighting."  Twice Wes has battled this cancer, through the chemo, medicine, side effects, secondary effects of chemo and has been an incredible ordeal.  He is a strong fighter that is determined to win.  His family rallies around him and uses their experience to benefit others.  Krista has become an advocate not only for Wes, but works to educate others about childhood cancers.  

Wes' Army

Wes is not ordinary.  Despite his ongoing and extremely involved fight for his own life, Wes has committed himself to helping other children with cancer.  He has a website (here)  about his story and his mission - to spread awareness about the disease and provide a way to help other children.  Wes used his love of all things military to create Wes' Army of cancer soldiers.  Through the website, readers may send care packages, send messages of hope, or sponsor other sick children.  One pretty cool idea, from one pretty cool kid!

Check out Wes' website and his Facebook page!  If you wish to contribute to his ongoing costs of treatments,  you may find information here and here.

Gum, Yum!

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Monday, July 14, 2014

We All Scream for Julie's Ice Cream Giveaway!

I'm excited to announce another delicious giveaway.  Summer is all about ice cream and I eat it by the pound, box, or entire container.  I don't need your judgement.  The great folks at Julie's Organic Ice Cream are giving Effortless and Exquisite readers a chance to win a gift basket full of free ice cream, goodies, and fun kitchen items.   Julie's Organic is an awesome brand because it shares my name...No really, Julie's Organic is amazing ice cream.  My husband and I had a fight over the last Blackberry Sorbet Bar.  I am unashamed to say that I am territorial about ice cream and he ate too much of my last bar.  This stuff is the real thing and it is that good.

Julie's Blackberry Sorbet Bars

Julie's is great because the ingredient list is small and their products are all natural and organic.  The Blackberry Sorbet bars are the best ice cream bars I've ever eaten.  TRUST ME, I know my sugary foods.  They have 60 calories each and no fat so it's cool to eat the whole box on a bad day (I still don't need your judgement).  You probably shouldn't, but you won't get a cross look from me if you do.  This bar tastes homemade.  The blackberry flavor is so rich it's like eating frozen fruit.  SO, SO Good!  Effort went into these ingredients and the manufacturing  process to insure these bars taste this delicious.

Get in my belly!
I like Julie's because I love stories of hard work paying off.  Coming from a family business myself, I understand how much work and love goes into building a business with family members.  Julie's started in 1996 in Oregon with Julie, her husband Tom, and her children.  The goal was to produce a premium product using organic ingredients and to be a good steward to the environment and community in the process.  Who doesn't respect that?  The family goal has been realized and I'm excited to see where they are going in the future!

Ice Cream Sandwiches
I sampled the ice cream sandwiches next.  They are really good.  I tasted the vanilla flavor in the ice cream right off the bat.  The ice cream sandwiches also taste homemade.  What I mean is they don't have that industrialized, carbon copy supermarket ice cream taste.  The ice cream is very creamy and the vanilla bean is not overpowering.  Also, the chocolate cookies are pretty good for organic ingredients.  I'm a bigger fan of the blackberry, but I polished off this box nevertheless....

Ice Cream Sandwiches
So to win a gift basket full of Julie's Organic goodness, you must be a registered by email follower of Effortless and Exquisite.  It's free to enter, just enter your email address in the "Follow by Email" box on the upper right hand corner of the home page.  The contest will end on Tuesday, July 22nd so hurry and follow us so you can be in the drawing!  Check out all things Julie's Organic on their website here.  Find Julie's on Facebook here and on Twitter here.  

@JuliesOrganic #icecream #kids #summer #yummy #delicious #organic

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Peter Pan, Potty Training, and PTSD….

It’s the time of year when families all over the country pack their suitcases, stuff the car full of flotation devices, and set off on the yearly vacation.  When I was little, my parents decided to do the same thing.  I was eleven, my sister Kelli was nine, my sister Bethany was four, and my brother Robby was one when mom announced we were going to Disney World in Florida for four days!  We were excited, really excited.  No one could possibly expect what was coming.

Photo courtesy of Aol News

 We loaded our van early that June morning and set off for every child’s Promised Land.  Bethany was looking forward to Disney the most.  The drive was long and the weather was hot.  We arrived in Florida late in the evening and it was still very hot.  Little did we know that Florida was having the hottest June on record that very week.  The next morning Bethany woke us up bright and early to go to Disney World.  Moving quickly was not part of the plan in our household.  We did not travel light because we needed provisions for the day ahead.  My dad purchased a video camera before our trip.  It was the on the shoulder 1988 model and dad wanted to make sure it was protected. He carried it in a suitcase (yes a suitcase) with an egg foam mattress that he cut to fit inside.  You could drop it from the Empire State building and it would survive the fall.  Anyway, we had a two person stroller for Robby and Bethany but one of the seats was taken by the video camera.  We also packed a cooler full of food and drinks for lunch because my sister had allergies and a particular diet.  Robby had a separate bag of clothes since he was potty training and with that you need “the special bag”.  We arrived at Disney World as vacationing Bedouins from the Sahara; our stroller loaded like a camel ready for a long trek through a sand storm.  

The first day of Disney was scorching hot.  As a preadolescent being forced to hang out with her ‘uncool’ family, I was mostly worried about the heat on my hair.  We waited hours in lines for the rides and then hours for the bathroom - because someone always had to go right after we’d just left the restroom with someone else.  A ride on Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride was perfect because you rode in an air conditioned submarine.  We settled in our seats and the boat began to submerge under water.  Robby let out a shriek as though he was being kidnapped.  He was so terrified that my dad held him.  It was a mistake.  Robby didn’t settle down, he went to the bathroom on my dad in terror.  Disney World stopped the ride and made us get off.  No one in our family spoke to each other during the next ride, the Peter Pan adventure.   My parents decided to leave early and to return that night for the fireworks and cooler weather.  

Later, we arrived at the park with dry pants and a fresh attitude.  The Dumbo ride was our choice.  It began turning as the nighttime fireworks started.  Dad held Robby just as a red star exploded overhead.  I think at that point my parents regretted the timing of their potty training - because my brother struck again.  By this time, Bethany was furious that her Disney experience was being “ruined” and she wasn’t afraid to let us know it.  Kelli and I fought amongst ourselves about who would push the stroller that was starting to feel heavy like pushing a Sherman Tank.

The next day we visited Epcot Center.  The day started very well.  As the weather warmed up we sought out venues with indoor attractions.  There was a Michael Jackson movie in 3D complete with the special glasses.  We welcomed the air conditioning and were grateful for a cool spot with a comfortable chair.  Robby sat in Dad’s lap.  The movie started with Michael Jackson throwing 3D flames toward the audience.  We should’ve never selected that movie.  Robby screamed, used the bathroom on Dad, and Disney World made us leave the theater.  Bethany was now seething that Disney was crumbling and became hysterical.  When Bethany cried, it was dramatic.  She was loud and sounded like we were doing something bad to her to make her cry that way.  The passersby stared at us in judgment.  I hid behind the stroller.  Kelli was getting itchy from the heat.  My parents looked like they needed psychiatric medicine to get through the vacation.... 

We went back to the Howard Johnson and swam in the pool for the rest of the day.  We gave the remaining days of our Disney passes to another lucky family that didn’t have so many little kids (or a stroller) and wished them well.  Our family hasn’t talked much about that trip since then; my parents recovered following the marriage counseling and Bethany forgave us for the princesses she missed.   My anxiety upon hearing the song “It’s a Small World After All” is getting much better.  But I still have no desire to visit Disney World, like ever again.

#disney #disneyworld #vacation #summer #princesses #heat #florida #vacay
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