Author: Cara Jacocks

10 Tips to Survive Virtual Learning

10 Tips to Survive Virtual Learning

10 Tips to Survive Virtual Learning I’m going to cut to the chase here.  We had two virtual learners this semester and I was amazed at what their teachers were doing to connect with and teach our children.  Simply put, not only are our kiddos’…

“Must-have” Items for the Special Needs Mom (and their kids!)

“Must-have” Items for the Special Needs Mom (and their kids!)

We recently took a little beach trip where we planned to vacay “quarantine style” – avoiding large gatherings and public spaces such as grocery stores, restaurants, and the usual tourist traps (and we were mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, etc.).  We were very successful in our endeavor…

4 Easy Ice Cream Recipes – Happy National Ice Cream Month!  And a Bonus recipe at the end…

4 Easy Ice Cream Recipes – Happy National Ice Cream Month! And a Bonus recipe at the end…

      Did you know that July is National Ice Cream Month?  Well I did – and I’m so glad there’s an entire month dedicated to one of my favorite treats.  As a native Texan, I take pride in consuming my fair share of our beloved Blue Bell ice cream AND making my own homemade version – a tried and true family tradition!  So, in honor of National Ice Cream Month and true to my roots, I’m sharing my top 4 favorite homemade ice cream recipes!  I’m not going to bore you with this long lead-up like a lot of food bloggers do, but I do want to add a little context that you need to consider if you make any of these recipes:

  1.  I’ve made all of the recipes (below) myself, at home, with this ice cream freezer.  It makes about 2 quarts.  If you want to make more in one of the more traditional ice cream makers (with rock salt and ice), you can likely double these recipes….but I personally have not tried that.
  2. Two of these recipes are from the old Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker recipe book (no longer downloadable online, unfortunately).  But I have tweaked them slightly.
  3. The remaining two recipes are family recipes accessible only here and in my dad’s brain.

Simple Vanilla Ice cream

  • 1 & 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup + 2 TBSP granulated sugar (combined)
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the milk and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla with a large spoon.
  3. Turn the machine on; pour the mixture into freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for at least 2 hours (timing depends on how cold your freezer is – I leave mine in overnight). Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories 255 (68% from fat) • carb. 19g • pro. 2g • fat 20g • sat. fat 12g • chol. 73mg • sod. 32mg • calc. 64mg • fiber 0g

Extra Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

*This recipe is “extra” because it involves several steps.  It’s not overly complicated but it’s definitely more time consuming than the other recipes in this blog post.  Also, the recipe book says you can substitute fresh peaches for strawberries if desired – I have NOT tried this but it sounds really good!

  • 3 cups fresh ripe strawberries, stemmed and sliced
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemon halves squeezed)
  • 1½ cups sugar, divided
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 2¾ cups heavy cream
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  1. In a small bowl, combine the strawberries with the lemon juice and ½ cup of the sugar.
  2. Stir gently and allow the strawberries to macerate in the juices for 2 hours.  I left mine in a covered glass bowl in the fridge while they macerated.
  3. Strain the berries, reserving juices (set aside).
  4. Mash or purée half the berries (set aside).
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the milk and remaining granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in the heavy cream, reserved strawberry juice, mashed strawberries, and vanilla with a large spoon.
  7. Turn the machine on; pour the mixture into freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  8. Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the reserved sliced strawberries and let mix in completely. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for at least 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories 275 (58% from fat) • carb. 28g • pro. 2g • fat 18g • sat. fat 11g • chol. 67mg • sod. 29mg • calc. 64mg • fiber 1g

Texas-Style Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

*Okay, a similar recipe has probably been made in other states but you know how we Texans like to claim everything!  Ha!  Also, this is a delicious recipe but it does not have the same level of “vanilla bean” taste as the above vanilla recipe.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 qt whole milk
  1. Mix everything in a container by spoon (make sure it’s mixed well or the Eagle Brand milk and sugar will settle at the bottom).
  2. Turn the machine on; pour the mixture into freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes.  The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for at least 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

Since this is homemade I don’t have nutritional information readily available and honestly…I don’t want to know lol!  Feel free to calculate yourself though :).

Texas-Style Homemade Butterfinger Ice Cream

*This is very similar to the above Texas-Style vanilla recipe, with some little tweaks.  You could probably substitute Butterfinger for your favorite candy bar (Heath definitely comes to mind) but I have NOT done this.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 qt whole milk
  • 1/4 cup crushed mini butterfinger candy bars
  1. Mix everything EXCEPT the crushed butterfinger in a container by spoon (make sure it’s mixed well or the Eagle Brand milk and sugar will settle at the bottom).
  2. Turn the machine on; pour the mixture into freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the crushed butterfinger and let mix in completely. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for at least 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

No nutritional information for this one as well, with Butterfinger…I especially don’t want to know!

One last note – I had a lot of fun making these recipes!  And my boys had even more fun tasting them.  My middle kiddo L O V E D the strawberry version, the hubs says Simple Vanilla is his favorite, and my oldest and youngest voted for the “brown” ice cream (e.g. the Butterfinger variety).  Me?  What can I say…I’m an old-fashioned Texas girl down to even my preferred ice cream flavor – when given the choice, homemade Texas Style Vanilla is always my go-to.  Especially if my dad makes it.

**Update:  I tried a chocolate ice cream recipe recently that was a HUGE hit!  Like “tip the cup and drink whatever is left” hit!  It’s not as easy as the simple vanilla and homemade vanilla recipes above (there’s a couple of extra steps), but definitely not “extra” like the fresh strawberry recipe.  Again, this one comes straight out of the old Cuisinart ice cream recipe booklet!

Simple Chocolate Ice Cream

(Makes about fourteen ½-cup servings)

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (recipe says “Dutch process preferred” but I used Hershey’s cocoa powder)
  • 2⁄3 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 3¼ cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Place the cocoa and sugars in a medium bowl and stir to combine.
  2. Add the whole milk and use a hand mixer on low speed or whisk to combine until the cocoa and sugars are dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla.
  4. Turn machine on; pour mixture into freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 25 to 35 minutes (*30 minutes was perfect IMO).
  5. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours.
  6. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories 286 (66% from fat) • carb. 23g • pro. 3g • fat 22g • sat. fat 14g • chol. 79mg • sod. 37mg • calc. 81mg • fiber 2g

 

 

Kids’ 4th of July Crafts and….FREE PRINTABLES

Kids’ 4th of July Crafts and….FREE PRINTABLES

In a former life, I used to love crafts.  One of my FAVORITE things to do as a kid was visit either of my grandmothers and raid their sewing rooms.  Both my dad’s mom (Nana) and my mom’s mom (Memaw) had sewing/craft rooms filled with…

Father’s Day Photo Sesh

Father’s Day Photo Sesh

And a fun family activity… So my kiddos are getting bigger, and subsequently, a lot faster.  And I don’t see them slowing down anytime soon.  So last fall I purchased my first DSLR because my trusty iPhone camera just didn’t have the shutter speed capability…

The Drive-by Birthday Party – A trend I hope sticks around!

The Drive-by Birthday Party – A trend I hope sticks around!

The Neils have always been on board with big blowout birthday parties!  Our boys love a good celebration, as do we, so for the past seven years we’ve obliged!  Little Gym, Go-Kart tracks, Dream Park, bounce houses, hot dog carts (thank you Austin’s Underdawg’s)…you name it, we’ve incorporated it into at least one of our kids’ birthday bashes.  And then…..2020…..and the emergence of social-distancing and the “drive-by” birthday party.  When I initially heard about this trend, I brushed it off and suggested we hold off and celebrate our oldest son’s birthday (late May) when the lifting of more CDC recommendations allowed for larger gatherings.  But as his big day approached, it just felt odd to not celebrate him as we normally would.  You see, Everett was born and shortly thereafter diagnosed with Down syndrome, so his actual birthday wasn’t exactly the celebration it should have been (something I still grieve to this day).  Perhaps every blowout birthday party he’s had since then, allows me to cope with that.  But I’m not a psychologist, and quite frankly, I’m very much an introvert….so at the last minute, I decided to let go of the guilt, embrace the “it is what it is” mindset, and organize a quarantine-style, socially-distanced, drive-by birthday party.  And I learned a few things:  1) – This is a really chill way to celebrate your kiddo that everyone seems to enjoy and can participate in, as little or as much as they want to!  2) – It’s relatively cheap and super easy.  So here are some quick tips and links I can offer, as a now “drive-by b-day party” veteran.

Tip #1:  It’s all about signage

I think it all started when I was followed by Bash Birthday Signs on Instagram and fell in love with their adorable birthday yard signs!  I perused their Insta account and saw several photos of cute signs for boys including a legos sign, a blue patterned sign, a camo sign and other cool birthday colors.  Since Everett is still nonverbal, I downloaded several pictures and asked him to pick which one he wanted and without hesitation – he pointed his crooked little pointer finger on the camo yard sign.  Camo it is bruh.  All three boys loved it and my middle kiddo is now begging for the lego sign for his birthday at the end of this month.  We live on a corner lot, so this got me thinking…why not more signs?  Why not a “honk it’s my birthday” sign?  Why not a drive-by birthday party?  It was very much a slippery slope which tells you a lot about how cute those dang signs are!  So I went all out…with a last minute FB invitation to family….and more signs.

As the date approached I decided to work a little Canva magic and create a partially homemade “honk it’s my birthday” sign using some cutouts I designed, Melissa & Doug roll paper, some sponge paint brushes, and my kids’ washable crayola paint!  It took me about 2 hours and, honestly, that was the largest chunk of time I devoted to this birthday party (I usually spend days crafting for the perfectly themed party….not this time, nope).  You could probably make a similar sign in a shorter amount of time with similar materials, but I was a little persnickety about this signage because this would be a very visible sign strung up on our corner fence.  And I knew I wanted it for Insta pics (#priorities).  I think it turned out really cute and if you want some Canva tips, I’m not a pro (but I do have a pro account…lol!), I’ll be glad to share.  Perhaps a tutorial is in order for my next IGTV post!  Lastly, I also bought some birthday swag and a long, colorful pennant from Amazon.  It took maybe 15 minutes to piece together the swag and tape it up on our front porch, and less time than that to unroll the pennant and string it up across the street side of our house.

Tip #2:  It’s also all about easy birthday treats!

My boy Ev, loves him some pizza and cupcakes.  So we treated him to a family pizza party in the front yard.  And cupcakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes for dessert.  We ordered a few dozen bundtinis and passed them out to drive-by attendees if they wanted some – we plated them by family/car with kitchen tongs and washed our hands after every exchange. We sang happy birthday to him as a little family of 5 after his drive-by birthday party, where he blew out the candles on another bundtini and we ate homemade ice cream (I have two great recipes that take about 10 minutes to make….and then 25 minutes to freeze…perhaps another tutorial?).

Tip #3: It’s all about the drive-by

I was surprised at how much fun everyone seemed to have at our little drive-by bash!  It really was a win-win for everyone, as the boys have great-grandparents who are very involved in their lives, and wanted to see Ev on his big day but keep safe by maintaining their distance.  And they really turned it up on the car signage!  My grandparents from Louisiana even threw Mardi Gras beads (LOL)!  I did mention in the FB invite that anyone who blinged out their car and/or blasted child-friendly rap music (or another creative form of celebration) would get a mentions in my Insta stories, but I decided to reward their authentic party-loving little souls right here on my blog.  Loads of pics that you can get inspiration from (to your left) as future attendees of parade-style birthday celebrations!  Big shout out to everyone who showed up and showed out!  Even Ev’s gramma and aunt who made a FaceTime cameo in front of the camo sign.

And definitely worth mentioning – some attendees fell into the “at risk” category such as great-grandparents and the birthday boy himself (T21 comes with a host of health stuff, including being more susceptible to viruses and infections, and fighting harder to recover), so we created a lot of options for guests including the option of attending virtually, a quick drive-by and card toss (my aunt did this), cupcakes or no cupcakes, etc.  If you are throwing a parade-style party, please consult the CDC and adhere to their safety precautions.  Be smart.  Be safe.  Be informed.  And if you opt for this kind of a celebration, be prepared to kick back, have fun, and enjoy your kid – some virtues I think get lost in the big blowout gatherings of yesteryear.

 

#WDSD18 #LetsChangeThe Conversation

#WDSD18 #LetsChangeThe Conversation

Last year for #WDSD17 I was given 17 minutes to explain how we need to socially construct a new narrative about Down syndrome — a narrative that more closely reflects the reality of #LifeWithDS.  Seventeen minutes is a long time these days…I get it.  So I’ve condensed…

How to Go Gluten-Free on the Go!

How to Go Gluten-Free on the Go!

Mom Hack Monday – Gluten Free on the Go! It’s Down syndrome awareness month!  And what better way to celebrate, than to reignite the “Mom Hack Mondays” blog series!  This week I’m featuring one of my favorite busy moms, Tiffany!  Tiffany has three beautiful kiddos…

Ode to a Rockin’ Dad

Ode to a Rockin’ Dad

A special contribution to the DSDN’s blog series…

When the newest blog topic was proposed a few weeks ago by the DSDN’s blog series coordinator, I was stumped!  The topic “What surprised you the most?” (about Down syndrome) was intriguing, but the immediate answer that popped into my little brain was….well, EVERYTHING!  Which is the truth.  I saw none of it coming from Everett’s diagnosis, immediate reactions from healthcare providers, friends, family and acquaintances, my reaction to it, how it changed me to the core in an instant, how it deepened my faith….I could go on and on.  And quite frankly, that’s exactly what I do on this blog, a lot!  But I guess if I had to pick the one thing that really stands out, out of all of the surprises related to Everett’s diagnosis, I’d have to address my favorite Rockin’ dad.  So, in honor of this month’s blog topic, I’d like to offer a little tribute to my true partner in crime, the man, the myth, the legend, Everett’s dad, Liam’s dad, the hubs, etc….Vic.

Continue reading Ode to a Rockin’ Dad

Backstage at TEDxACU:  Confessions of a TEDx Speaker, Part 2

Backstage at TEDxACU: Confessions of a TEDx Speaker, Part 2

After the airing of CBS’s feature story “What kind of society do you want to live in?:  Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing” — many of my friends and loved ones messaged me, appalled by a mindset that seems to permeate the cultural…