DIY Sparkling Holiday Mocktail Recipe

Interesting fact about me: I don’t drink alcohol. Period. I have many reasons why, though one of the simplest to explain is that I hate the taste. I think the last time I even tried a tiny sip of alcohol was back in 2012 (peer pressure: not wanting to disappoint a neighbor who was begging me to try some saké she had just bought and I just didn’t feel comfortable saying no). But it’s just not something that I enjoy, and as a result I have to be super-picky at parties when there are alcoholic beverages around. So I’ve started playing with my own versions of alcoholic drinks – mocktails so to speak – to see if I could come up with some fun, festive nonalcoholic drinks that are just as delish (and I would argue even more so) than their alcoholic counterparts.

What is a Mocktail?

A mocktail is a “mock” cocktail – i.e., a cocktail without the alcohol. Perfect for those who don’t or can’t drink (and kids too!) it’s a great way to celebrate special occasions without feeling “left out.”

This particular mocktail takes a cue from a Fuzzy Navel (which I’ve never had) – but instead of orange juice it uses guava juice for sugary sweetness, tempered by lemon-lime soda to add some sour depth. The kids will love this drink because the presentation of it will make them feel oh-so-grownup…and the mocktail I staged for all these photos was promptly snapped up by my 12-year-old son the moment I was done (whose mouth was watering the whole time as he watched!).

Recipe for Nonalcoholic Sparkling Mocktail Holiday Drink

How to make the sparkling mocktail:

1. Pour colored sprinkles onto a plate wider than the rim of your glass.

2. Wet a paper towel generously, and wipe around the rim of the glass to moisten. Make sure you wipe up any water drips before the next step.

3. Turn the glass upside-down onto the plate, coating the rim with sprinkles. Turn right-side-up again and shake gently to get rid of any sprinkles that aren’t attached to the rim.

4. Use a measuring cup to mix the Sprite and guava juice in the right ratio. It may fizz a lot – and you may need to taste test to make sure you like the mix! More guava = sweeter, more Sprite = tangy-er.

5. Place a stirrer stick on top of the glass as a festive topper. (The kids will also like dunking it in the glass and licking the sweet juice off it!)

Celebrate your special occasion in sparkling, nonalcoholic style!



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DIY Holiday Chocolate Bark: 4 Recipes to Gift Last-Minute

 So it’s only two days before Christmas and time is running out.  You want to give something thoughtful and handmade…but just can’t deal with cookies or fudge.  How about Holiday Chocolate Bark?  It’s super-easy (just melt chocolate chips and add mix-ins!), takes about 20 minutes to set in the fridge, and is totally customizable to your (or the recipient’s!) tastes.  diychocobark_caramelHere are 4 delicious and easy recipes I whipped up in a flash, all built upon a single basic recipe.

Basic Recipe:diychocolatebar_basicrecipe

1. Cover a baking sheet with foil or wax paper (a spray of cooking spray will help hold the paper or foil down).

2. Add 1/2 T canola oil to a 12 oz bag of chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.  This is your Base.

3. Microwave on high about 1 minute; stir.  Microwave for 30-second increments a few more times, stirring in-between, until the chocolate chips are completely melted.  (Be careful not to over-heat!  Your chocolate will seize up – and the remedy for this is to add more oil and gently heat in 10-second increments until you can get the chocolate liquidy again.)

4.  Working quickly, stir in the Flavoring (if the recipe calls for it), then stir in the Mix-Ins.

5. Pour out onto the baking sheet and use a spatula to spread out.  Sprinkle with Topping if the recipe calls for it.

6. Place the sheet in the fridge about 20 minutes until firm.

7. Break into small pieces with your hands.  Enjoy!

So here’s how to customize: just choose your recipe and follow the how-to above.  Easy as…pie bark!

{ Coconut Pineapple Macadamia Nut Bark }

A creamy taste of the tropics.  White chocolate has a pretty distinct taste, so to cover it up and make it taste more “tropical” I added some coconut flavoring.diychocobark_coconut_ingredients

Base: 12 oz bag of white chocolate chips + 1/2 T canola oil (I needed a little more since my white chocolate seized)

Flavoring: 1 tsp coconut flavoring (optional)

Mix-ins: 1 cup chopped dried pineapple rings, 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Topping: 1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut


{ Double Peppermint Bark }diychocobark_peppermintTEXT

The perfect holiday recipe.  Use the same brand of chocolate for the Base and the Top Layer for maximal adhesion between the two (I’ve used two different brands before, and had the Top Layer separate from the Base when I cracked it into pieces).diychocobark_peppermint_ingredients

Base: 12 oz bag of milk chocolate chips + 1/2 T canola oil

Flavoring: 1 tsp peppermint flavoring

*Top Layer: 12 oz bag of white chocolate chips + 1/2 T canola oil

Mix-ins: crushed candy canes

Topping: crushed candy canes

*For this recipe, spread out the bottom flavored base layer first onto the pan, and cool in the fridge.  When hard, then melt the top layer chips, add the mix-ins, and spread on top of the Base layer.  Sprinkle with the topping, then place in the fridge again to harden completely.


{ Salted Caramel Cashew Bark }

diychocobark_caramelTEXTThis is the at-home DIY version of my FAVORITE Godiva chocolate bark…which is a whopping $12 a bar at the store.


Base: 12 oz bag of milk chocolate chips + 1/2 T canola oil

Mix-ins: 12 chopped soft caramels (Werther’s makes a soft version of their famous caramels which works really well in this recipe…and Lil Tot ate one just before I took the above photo), 1/2 cup chopped raw cashew nuts

Topping: 1.5 tsp chunky Maldon sea salt


{ Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond Bark }diychocobark_cherryTEXT

A grown-up version of chocolate-covered cherries, packed with antioxidants.diychocobark_cherry_ingredients

Base: 12 oz bag of dark chocolate chips + 1/2 T canola oil

Mix-ins: 1 cup whole dried sweetened cherries, 1/2 cup chopped slivered blanched almonds

Topping: fine salt sprinkles (optional)


diychocobark_doneFor gift-giving, drop broken bark bits into colored cellophane bags, or package in a beautiful gift box like this above from a gift box kit by Martha Stewart (available at Michael’s in the Scrapbooking section).  And don’t forget to enjoy some chocolate bark yourself!!diychocobark_peppermint

Happy Holidays to one and all~


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Happy Birthday, Lil Tot! 4 years of DIY Boy-Themed Birthday Cakes

It was my son (AKA LIl Tot)’s 6th birthday on Friday.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been 6 years since he was born and he is now a robust kindergartner.  I never imagined myself having a child in kindergarten!  This year just seems like a huge milestone, marking the end of his babyhood and beginning of the next stage of his life.

Each year I do my best to create a cake based on his favorite toy-of-the-moment.  I just used a boxed cake mix, but the decorations are an opportunity to flex my creative skills.  And he just loves Beyblade, so this year was a Beyblade cake, decorated with real Beyblades, sprinkles, and a Lego audience.

Last year I made a Mario Kart cake with details I created in rolled fondant; some molded over marshmallows, and the Mario Kart toys attached to the top of candy dispensers.

His 4th birthday cake was Lightning McQueen out of a specially-shaped cake mold; the first time I ever worked to tint icing black.  Which makes, incidentally, very nasty stuff.

And for his 3rd birthday I made a cake train diorama, with decorated cakes made with another specially-shaped train cake pan, wheels from Junior Mints, and trees made from cake baked into cake cones.  Ice cream cakes!

(For his 1st and 2nd birthdays, I just bought his cake.)

I wonder what next year will be?

Have you even made a themed cake for a little boy?  How did it turn out?  Do tell!!

Happy Birthday, Lil Tot!


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DIY Meatloaf Cupcakes and Hamburger Cookies for April Fool’s Day

After I posted the April Fool’s fakeout dinner ideas in my last DIY Links of the Week, I just had to try them out with my son.  [Full disclosure: I had class in the evening on April 1, so I had to make my April Fool’s Day Dinner on April 2. But no worries!  It tasted just the same.;-)]

Normally I don’t make meatloaf – I think I’ve made it maybe twice in my life, ever. My son prefers the Japanese-style hamburgs (think: meatloaf-style thick hamburger patties with a demi glace sauce) to regular ol’ American meatloaf. So I used this recipe I found for my meatloaf, and altered the cooking method a bit to make little cupcakes:

DIY April Fool’s Day Meatloaf “Cupcakes”


*your favorite meatloaf recipe

*instant mashed potatoes (or your favorite mashed potatoes recipe)

*2-3 T milk


*cherry tomatoes

How To:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray nonstick cooking spray in the cavities of a muffin tin.

2. Mix up the meatloaf ingredients, and separate into 12 smaller balls.  Pat each ball of meatloaf into each muffin cavity, pressing down to squish out any air bubbles.  Fill up about 3/4 of the way to the top, so they don’t overflow.

3. Bake in oven for 20 minutes.  Remove and squeeze a spiral of ketchup over the top of each meatloaf muffin, and replace in oven.

4. Bake another 10 minutes.

5. While they are baking, whip up a batch of instant mashed potatoes following the recipe, and cut your cherry tomatoes in half.  (Add about 2 -3 T of milk and continue whipping the potatoes after they’re done to make them extra white and fluffy.)

6. Once meatloaf muffins are done, lift out of the muffin tin and spread a layer of mashed potatoes on top to look like icing.  Press a halved cherry tomato in the center to look like a cherry.

The meatloaf cupcakes cooked up juicy and sweet because of all the ketchup (which also served as a nice layer in-between the meatloaf and the mashed potato “icing” on top). Lil Tot thought they were cute and tasty…though he admitted he would prefer the meatloaf (meatloaves??) with demi-glace sauce on them next time. Ahwell.

The Hamburger Cookies were a bigger hit. I again altered the recipe I found online a bit to suit my needs – I found simpler made these tastier.

DIY April Fool’s Day “Hamburger” Cookies


*Keebler “Grasshopper” chocolate-covered mint cookies

*Nabisco “Nilla” vanilla wafer cookies

*small amount of honey

*white sesame seeds

*yellow Starburst chews

How To:

1. Find a pair of Nilla cookies that are whole and unbroken.(easier said than done!) Pour about a teaspoon of honey onto a spoon, and dip your fingertip in it.  Smear a tiny bit of honey on the underside of one cookie.

2. Place a Grasshopper chocolate cookie on top (bottom-to-bottom).

3. Unwrap a Starburst chew and place it on the wrapper in the microwave.  Microwave for 10 seconds – the chew will become malleable.

4. Stretch the chew flat with your fingers, and cut in half with a sharp knife.  Allow to cool before trying to pull apart the halves.

5. Press one half down onto the chocolate cookie and let the corners hang off – like a slice of cheese on a hamburger.

6. Dip your fingertip in honey, and spread a tiny bit on the top of the remaining Nilla cookie.  Sprinkle a couple sesame seeds on top, and press this cookie on to the Starburst chew.

Voila! Tiny hamburgers!

My son liked them so much he has now asked me to make them for dessert every day since. The vanilla cookies were quite nice with the chocolate mint and honey (though yes, the Starburst in the middle is a little weird).

Happy DIY’ing!


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DIY Low-Sugar Berry Cherry Pie

I had purchased a bag of Bing cherries a little while ago, and they languished in my fridge for awhile. I guess I kind of forgot about them.

So when I pulled them out I realized that I had to use them up fast since they were turning a little brown here and there.

I made this Berry Cherry Pie to use them up.

I love that it doesn’t use canned pie filling (I like some cherry pie filling but not all – many are super-sweet and too syrupy, and make my throat hurt).  Since this version uses fresh cherries, it has an interesting, subtle taste.  And it doesn’t need a lot of sugar either – which is why I’m sharing with all of you!  (As you may have noticed – the recipes I’ve begun to share here are basically adapted recipes of sweet and decadent things…just made lower in fat and sugar and better for you.  I love my sweets – but I love them even more when they have more “good” than “bad”!)

Here is the recipe, which I found on (now and adapted.

DIY Low-Sugar Berry Cherry Pie Recipe

(serves 8)

*1 store-bought frozen pie crust

*4 c berries (I used cherries and frozen blueberries that I thawed in the microwave)
*1/2 c sugar (or you can use powdered fructose, but decrease to 1/3 c OR to taste)
*1/4 c water (I used the juice that drained off the blueberries when I thawed them)
*2 T cornstarch
*1 T lemon juice
*1 T vanilla
*1 dash salt

*1/2 tsp cinnamon
*1/2 c brown sugar
*1/2 c flour
*1/2 c oats
*1/4 c butter, melted

1. Bake the pie crust according to directions for a “one-crust filled pie” (usually 400 degrees for 10 minutes). DO NOT PIERCE PIE CRUST WITH A FORK PRIOR TO BAKING – if bubbles form, push them back down.

2. Meanwhile, cook all the ingredients to the Filling EXCEPT the berries together in a saucepan on medium heat, whisking, until well-blended (about 5-7 min).

3. Stir in the berries.

4. Fill baked pie crust with Filling.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5. Stir all the ingredients for the Topping together EXCEPT for the butter.

6. Add the butter to the Topping and combine.

7. Sprinkle the Topping over the pie so there are no gaps.

8. Place some tinfoil around the edges of the pie crust to prevent browning and bake for about 45 minutes until Topping is golden and crunchy, and filling congealed.

Hope you try this some time when you have a lot of berries, fresh or frozen (strawberries? blueberries? blackberries?) to use up!


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