Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas

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I am not super in to the holiday aspect of Valentine’s Day, sure Nick and I will go to dinner if we have the time and a babysitter, but we try to do it a week before or after Valentine’s Day. We also don’t really do gifts. Maybe something small if we see something that we think would be perfect, but other than that it’s just a normal day with a more special meal at home.

BAKING

The first gift idea is something homemade, I love this Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe, it isn’t fast and should be done the night before, but it is decadent and perfect for Valentine’s Day.

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A few other of my favorite recipes are these Intense Chocolate Brownies or Conversation Heart Brownies. These are bit easier and you can make them the day of! You can share this with all of your loved ones and even have your kids help make the treats!

BOOKS

I always get B a little gift or two, this year I got him a Dr. Suess board book. He loves books and I love ones that expand his knowledge, but we still aren’t at the age where he doesn’t understand that you can’t rip out all the pages of a book.


CRAFT BEER OR WINE

IMG_2805There are a lot of stores near us that sells individual bottles of beer or half bottles of wine and champagne. I personally love champagne, but I hardly drink it because I am usually drinking it and everyone else is drinking beer and I can’t drink an entire bottle. Or Nick wants beer but I don’t want to buy a six pack because it will sit in our fridge for awhile.  Pairing a nice meal with a wine or beer you love is a great idea, and being able to get a single serving is a plus.

HOMEMADE

If you have no time or the funds to do anything, a homemade card is always a winner. Showing someone you love them is always appreciated, no matter what day it is!

What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day gift?

Pin It Party #3

 

 

 

I know technically it is the fourth Pin It Party, but I didn’t participate in the very first one, so this is my third. Thanks to Lindsay for hosting this wonderful round-up, I hope you find a post you love while you are here! You can check my first and second posts if you have the time.

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So what is a Pin It Party? I share five of my favorite pin worthy posts with you, and link up on Lindsay’s blog. Once you write a post make sure you pin 5 blogs posts to support your fellow bloggers! Click on the photos to get to the post.

1. Toddler Time Workout

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A quick and sweaty workout at home!

2. Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Koulourakia

IMG_3803.JPGMy favorite Greek Christmas cookie

3. Stocking Stuffer Guide for the Host

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I know the holidays are over, but these are fun gifts to keep in your back pocket when you need to give a gift to someone who loves to cook, bake, host or all of the above. All of these items are under $20 so it won’t break the bank either!

4. My Favorite Books of 2013

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I made reading more of a priority in 2013 and I picked 5 books that I read that I absolutely loved.

5. Cold Weather Necessities

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I have extremely dry skin, couple that with this dry winter air and the coldness of the polar vortex? I have been employing every strategy possible to keep my skin from cracking and bleeding.

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Koulourakia

I was so excited to finally participate in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! This is the third year of this event, but the first year I have been able to participate. First I need to mention that Lindsay and Julie were amazing, they always responded fast to any questions, and they sent emails along the way to make sure everyone was on track. The idea is that you make 3 dozen cookies and send 1 dozen to 3 different bloggers, and you receive 1 dozen cookies from 3 other bloggers. If you want to participate next year sign up here to get on the mailing list! Side note: that is what I did after I realized I missed the 2012 deadline because I didn’t want to miss it again!

Second, when you registered you donated $4 to Cookies for Kid’s Cancer with those fees, extra contributions, and the contributions from the brand sponsors who generously matched the donations the Food Blogger Cookie Swap raised over $13,000. What a wonderful thing! The amazing sponsors are: Oxo, Dixie Crystals, Gold Medal Flour, and Grandma Molasses.

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Now onto the cookies!

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This is a traditional Greek cookie, Nick’s mom gave me the recipe, and she got the recipe from his Nouna (Godmother). I will warn you, they are addictive, and this recipe makes an obnoxious amount of cookies.
They are great for dipping in your coffee or just eating as a dessert. I have to pat myself on the back this year, even Nick’s mom said they taste just like hers. And that is quite the compliment.

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Packed in cute little Gingerbread House themed boxes!

Before I get to the recipe, I want you to know this really does make a lot of cookies, roughly 7-8 dozen depending on how big you make your cookies. This is great for a large cookie swap, to bring to work, or to put into gift packages. If you are making for a smaller group, I highly suggest halving the recipe.

Ingredients:

8 Eggs + 2 more
1 lb Sweet Butter, softened
2 cups Sugar
3 Tb Crisco
1/2 cup Mazzola (corn) Oil
3 tsp Vanilla
5 tsp Baking Powder
1 Tb Orange Zest (I zested one large orange)
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
8 – 10 cups of Flour

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat the 8 eggs, butter, sugar, crisco and mazzola oil until well mixed.
3. Add vanilla, baking powder, orange zest*, nutmeg and cinnamon until just mixed.
4. Add 8 – 10 cups of flour*.
5. This is the most tedious step, the braid. Roll into snake and twist twice*.
6. Crack 1-2 eggs and brush the tops of all the cookies*.
7. Decorate with fun and festive sprinkles.
8. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. The cookies should be light brown on the bottom and gold on the top.

Notes:
1. I used one large orange to zest, and that was the perfect amount, last year I only did a half an orange and you couldn’t really taste any of the orange notes.
2. I usually only use 8 cups of flour, use your best judgment. Add the flour one cup at a time until each cup is just mixed.
3. My mother-in-law is a pro at the braids, they all look the exact same. As you can tell, mine are not. Honestly, it is tiring and I am still new at this. It comes with practice, don’t worry if they aren’t all perfect.
4. I forgot the egg wash this time, which is why the sprinkles are lacking, whoops.

I sent these cookies to Lynsey, Jill, and Megan!

I received gingerbread madelines from Jen, Red Velvet Cookies from Alison, and Chocolate Pinwheel Icebox cookies from Catherine. They were all so different, and all so good, I liked that I was able to try so many different flavors. I put them out at my cookie swap and they were all gone before people started leaving! Thank you ladies for sending me such wonderful cookies! Make sure you check out their blog posts for the recipes!

Have you ever had any type of Greek cookies?

Swanson 30-Day Healthier Holiday Giveaway

It’s kinda crazy to think that one of my first ever reviews was for Swanson Health Products almost 2 years ago!

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Here we are just in time for the holidays with another review and of course a giveaway! I am so honored to be a part of this group, each day for 30 days, well now there are 20 days left, a blogger will be hosting a giveaway and you could win $100 to spend at Swanson Health Products for the Swanson 30-Day Healthier Holiday Giveaway!

Swanson was wonderful and also gave me a $100 to spend. Here are a few of my favorites!

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It’s not holiday time in my house without baking. I am participating in the Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I am hosting my own cookie swap, and of course I bake for my family, friends and neighbors. This means I need A LOT of flour. I am very loyal to two brands, one is King Arthur and the other is Bob’s Red Mill. I love that Swanson carries a variety of Bob’s Red Mill products, including some gluten-free items!

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I got hooked on this stuff when I received it in a Foodie Pen Pals box last year. I drizzle my veggies with olive oil and sprinkle this on top, it is so delicious, and I cannot find it anywhere else!

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The first time I tried Coconut Oil was the first time I ordered from Swanson, and I haven’t used any other brand since. Nick loves to use this when we make popcorn on the stove top!

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A fun treat for the B man and also my sister, ha. I love that Annie’s Organics are available online at Swanson.

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My favorite flavor or kind bar, Swanson actually has quite the variety of bars!

There are a few other items but some of those are going in stockings so you will have to wait until Christmas to see them, but if you would like to enter the giveaway to win $100, enter the widget below! This is only open for 24 hours so make sure you enter now!


What item would you buy first at Swanson?

Elf4Health and Other Fun Stuff!

My blogging is never 100% on point around the holidays, frankly it is the easiest thing for me to step back from and just take a break from in order to not feel (super) overwhelmed and stressed.

Just to give you an update on what’s going on/what’s coming up, I thought I would throw together a fun picture post!

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I am participating in the Elf4Health again this year!

Here are the list of everyday “activities”. Yesterday was meatless monday. Usually this isn’t a big deal, I had my usual oats and peanut butter for breakfast and eggs with avocado and tomato for lunch, but because of the holiday Nick and I are in the mode of “use everything in the fridge” so I made a steak & cheese sub with peppers and onions for Nick and was planning on making a veggie sub for myself but there was too much steak, and I didn’t want to throw it out. It’s the thought that counts right?

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Today, I unsubscribed from a lot of emails, I get a lot of duplicates between my blog email and my personal email. Tomorrow is a new workout, I think I will try a Pinterest one, Thanksgiving is to make a phone call and Friday is to track water intake, both are things I like to do and will hopefully be easy! Saturday is Treat YO SELF, Nick and I are going to a dinner dance at church, so definitely treats ;) and Sunday is 100 burpees…that last one looks fun ha!

Another fun item on the horizon is the Swanson 30 Day Giveaway. 30 Bloggers are working with Swanson Vitamins and each day one blogger will have a giveaway on their website, giving away $100 to Swanson, the only catch is that each giveaway is only valid for 24 hours. It started yesterday, so make sure to check the list here to see which blog is hosting the giveaway each day. Mine will be up on December 4! I can’t wait to show you what I got with my $100, it will surely come in handy for holiday cooking and baking!

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Speaking of holiday baking…I finally put my cookies in the mail (yesterday) for The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. I am so excited to be able to participate this year!

Come back on December 11 and I will share with you the family recipe Nick’s mom passed down to me that I made and sent to my recipients!

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Now with all this baking, I am glad that Achieve is holding a competition to get our butts in the gym. Basically we get points for every class, vacation workout, check-in, smoothie, etc… A lot of these things are ones I already do but this is a great way to stay on top of things during the holiday season!

I am going to take a break until after the holiday, but tell me what exciting things do you have going on?

Year of Baking: Sweet Potato Bread

I know it’s been awhile since I posted a baking post. It’s not that I haven’t been baking, I have, but I have had a serious amount of failures, and I didn’t want to post multiple failures, I will eventually post them all in one post.

Nick and I went to CT for the holiday weekend, and my good friend Cait invited us to her family’s pool club for dinner on the 4th. The only request, I bring a salad and some sort of carby-goddness. Check and check.

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We had a little matchy thing going on!

For the salad, I made a real greek salad.

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Farm fresh tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion. Tossed with olive oil (straight from Greece) and a bit of salt, I usually add Feta, but I didn’t have any good stuff, so I used Mozz instead. Still very delicious.

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Cait’s mom made this amazing coleslaw, seriously, I need that recipe Mama C!

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I also had a grilled Salmon burger from Whole Foods and beans. Cait’s dad grilled Chicken and Turkey burgers for everyone as well! Check out her post for more info on our fun day!

But, my carbs is what inspired this post.

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Unfortunately, this is the only picture I have. We were too stuffed after dinner to eat the bread, so I gave it to Cait to take home. She ended up taking it to Kaitlin’s house with her and they left me twitter messages!

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Plus, many people left comments on Cait’s post asking for the recipe, so without further ado:

Ingredients
1.5 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts (pecans would be a great substitute)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
4 tablespoons of milk
1 cup of mashed sweet potato

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 325 F
2. Grease the bottom of a loaf pan
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a mixing bowl
4. In your mixer combine eggs, applesauce, milk and mashed sweet potatoes
5. Add the dry ingredients and mix until the ingredients are all together, don’t over mix
6. Pour the batter into the pan
7. Bake for 90 minutes
8. Cool in the pan on a baking rack for 20 minutes
9. Remove from pan and cool for another 30 minutes
10. If not serving immediately, I wrap and put in the fridge, and take it out the morning of the event.

It will stay good in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Notes

I actually used a mix of mashed sweet potato and butternut squash, since I made this the night before we went to CT and I had some steamed squash that would’ve just gone in the garbage.

I also used almond milk, since that’s what I had on hand.

You could also add raisins or chocolate chips if you wanted to add some other flavors.

Let me know if you make this so I can add your links to the post!

Year of Baking: Bake It In A Cake’s Halloween Brownies with Reese’s Pieces.

As I am sure you have noticed, I moved the Year of Baking to Tuesday. I have a big post planned for tomorrow that follows more the WIAW ideas, and both of these together would be TOO much.

This week I made Bake It In A Cake’s Halloween Brownies with Reese’s Pieces.

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I had a bag of Reese’s Pieces kicking around and I didn’t want to chow down on them so I looked up to see if any my cookbooks had a recipe where I could use them. Originally, I was just going to replace chocolate chips in a recipe, but I ended up finding this recipe that had reese’s pieces as part of the ingredient list. The brownies also had a peanut butter icing, but honestly I just wasn’t in the mood so I didn’t make it.

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Ingredients

Brownies
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken or chopped
1.5 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Reese’s Pieces

Frosting
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk, if needed

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 mini muffing tins with paper liners
2. Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 90 seconds, stopping halfway through to scrape the sides and mix
3. Do not heat for longer than 90 seconds or the chocolate can burn
4. Using a wooden spin mix in the sugar, it will be thick & grainy, the sugar should be mixed in evenly
5. Stir in the eggs one at a time until the mixture is smooth
6. Add the salt and vanilla and stir for another 20 seconds
7. Mix in the flour until just combined
8. Stir in Reese’s Pieces
9. Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, spoon the brownie batter into the tins so the cups are about three-quarters full
10. Bake for 20 minutes or until the brownies have set (check with toothpick)
11. Cool the brownies for 10 minutes in the pan before transferring to a wire rack

Frosting
1. Whip the butter and peanut butter together for 30 seconds
2. Add the powdered sugar, 1/2 a cup at a time, until fluffy
3. If the frosting is too thick add the milk until the frosting is fluffy
4. Pipe or spread on cupcake and decorate with leftover Reese’s Pieces.

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Notes

I halved the recipe, because I certainly don’t need 36 mini brownie bites, and I decided to use a mini pan (for 12) and fill as many regular size cupcake tins.

Next time I would butter the tin instead of using paper because the brownies stuff to the liners and half the brownie didn’t come out of the liner.

I definitely prefer the Valentine’s Day brownie bite to this one. It wasn’t chewy on the outside, but these ones didn’t have a buttery taste, so I know to cut down the butter for the next time. I love peanut butter, but I would love a peanut butter swirl in the brownie instead of the Reese’s Pieces.

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Do you bake with candies? What’s your favorite recipe?

2013 & January Joiners

I want to preface this post with something important. I wrote a post last year about “January Joiners” and my feelings haven’t changed, but since I have become more immersed in the Healthy Living community, I am sincerely SHOCKED, by the amount of professionals & fitness minded individuals in the field who are making rude Facebook and Twitter comments about these people. As a community we should be enveloping these people who are trying to change their lives, even if you only help one person become healthier, doesn’t that matter?

The good thing about my blogiversary being January 2 is that I only have to do one recap post, luck for all of us!

I didn’t even do a recap post of 2011, I mean it goes without saying that B was without a doubt the best part of the year. I did however make a what I want to do moving forward posts, but first, if you want a laugh, check out my very first post.

For my goals of 2012 post:

Blogging

Well, I definitely think I became a better blogger, I was constant about posting at least 3 times a week, I however failed at the baking posts…I guess that is going to top this years list, don’t worry, I already have a plan.

Family & Friends

Well, I will always be striving to be a better mom & wife. I made a few solid real life mom friends, and many online mom friends. I have also tried extremely hard to let go of dead relationships, and maybe this year I will finally explain why that is so difficult for me. Patience, definitely still needs work.

Baking

I continued baking, but didn’t document a large majority of it. On this years agenda.

Fitness

I talked about trying Crossfit and with the exception of HLS, I did not, still not in the budget, and I am not sure my heart is 100% in to it. I also never found any fitness classes that fit into our schedule and budget. Gripe: so many gyms do not let you take on a class by class basis, you need to go to a specialized studio like Zumba or Pure Barre, and those are also pricy, dang. I would at least like to try Zumba and Barre this year, there are a few studios nearby.

Life

I failed. We did not travel somewhere new, B did not go in the pool :(, but I did enjoy myself at all the big events. Even if I had some issues with my self-esteem.


So what’s in store for 2013?

The only solid goals I have for the year are to lose 20 pounds and to shave 20 minutes off my half. They both take work and I am willing to work hard for both of them.

Chocolate Melting Cake & Cupcakes

For B’s first birthday I had grand plans to make a huge cake and B’s smash cake.

However, it was too big of a plan. I just didn’t have time to do everything I had planned. So we bought a cake for the adults and I made B’s smash cake and cupcakes.

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ordered cake

For the cake I ordered I got a white cake with vanilla frosting, so I went with a chocolate cake for B’s cake.

I started with a devils food cake.

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1 cup buttermilk

Whisk together 3/4 cup of boiling water and 3/4 cup of cocoa powder. Cover and set aside.

Mix together 6 ounces of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

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Add 3 eggs one at a time and cream together until light and fluffy.

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Sift together 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Add this mixture alternating with 1 cup buttermilk to the other mixture.

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Add cocoa and water mixture until smooth.

I made the cake batter first and set it aside. I should have made the ganache first. Oh well, still turned out delicious.

To make the ganache place 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil while stirring.

Put 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Remove the cream from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is melted.

Let the chocolate sit at room temperature for 1 hour or 20-30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Once all the ingredients were ready I poured half the batter into a 9 inch cake round and the rest into cupcake molds.

Fill each device 3/4 of the way. For the cupcakes I add one tablespoon of ganache on top of the batter, then I poured the rest of the ganache into the cake pan.

Cook the cake and cupcakes at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

I decorated the cupcakes with vanilla frosting and B’s cake with whipped cream.

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he liked it ;)

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the cupcakes, yum!

Cake Pops

I have been wanting to make cake pops for a really long time. I decided to give it a try this week, unfortunately it was a fail…so far.

I used box cake mix, because I honestly wasn’t sure if it would work and secondly, I couldn’t find one recipe that used non-box mix.

I however never make box mix with oil and eggs. I use 10 oz of sprite and a pudding cup. It makes the cake light and fluffy, and back when I was doing WW, it was 3 points per slice.

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I lined my pan with foil, made the batter, and put the cake in the oven. When the cake was done, I immediately pulled the foil part out of the pan and put it on a cookie rack to help the cooling process.

Why I always start these projects at 9 pm is beyond me.

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Once the cake was cooled I broke it into pieces and put in 3/4 of a jar of frosting. Again, if this was successful, the next time I would make my own frosting.

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Here is where I believe things started to go down hill. I mixed the cake and frosting by hand, I don’t think it was evenly distributed. I couldn’t find our melon baller or cookie scoop and ended up making all the balls by hand. They ended up all being different sizes.

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I put the trays in the fridge overnight.
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The next part was the dipping process. I set out my chocolate and sprinkles and had all the sticks ready
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I melt the chocolate in a double boiler and didn’t really have time to take pictures. I dipped all the stick in the chocolate and then stuck them into the balls. I read that this helps the cake fall apart.

I couldn’t get the entire cake portion covered in chocolate. I didn’t have enough chocolate it seems, and the sprinkles didn’t look great.

Nick said they were good, albeit sweet, but tasted good.

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pretty right? not so much.

Yesterday I found my melon baller. So we are giving this one more shot. Here’s hoping this one goes much smoother.