Is it a cookie or a candy? - Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

Need a crowd pleasing sweet to take to a party or potluck or just want some melt-in-your-mouth luxury for coffeetime? This shortbread recipe offers everything a dessert lover wants - tender rich shortbread crust and chewy caramel covered in chocolate. The best part is that with this easy-to-follow recipe, you don't need to be a pastry chef to make these bars.

Because the shortbread and the caramel need to cool between steps, this recipe will take about 3-5 hours so give yourself plenty of time. It may take a while but this shortbread is so worth the wait.

You will need:
  • 8x8 or 9x9 pan
  • Cooking spray
  • foil
  • Food processor or pastry cutter
  • Heavy bottom saucepan
  • 4 Tbl butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 Tbl butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbl corn syrup
  • 14 oz can of condensed milk
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line your pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.

2. To Make the Shortbread: Combine the flour and sugar and then, using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture begins to hold together. You can also place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse until the mixture begins to hold together. Press the shortbread dough into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown.

3. To Make the Caramel: While the shortbread is baking, combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and condensed milk in a saucepan. On medium heat stir until the sugar is melted and the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 6 - 8 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Caramel will burn easily so watch your heat and stir, stir, stir (I know, lots of stirring - but so worth it.). When the Caramel becomes thick remove it from the heat immediately. Be very careful, the caramel is hot! Even though it is tempting, don't lick the spoon or put your finger in the pot for a taste.

4. Pour the caramel over the finished shortbread and cool in the fridge until completely cool and the caramel is firm, approximately 2 hours.

5. Place the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and heat on high for 1- 2 minutes. Every 30 seconds stir the chips until melted. Let the melted chocolate cool to room temperature so that it is cool enough not to melt into the caramel but still spreadable. Spread the chocolate over the caramel and allow to cool until the chocolate if firm.

6. Cut your Chocolate Caramel Shortbread with a sharp knife and serve. If you have any left over (which is very rare), store in an airtight container.

  • Since this recipe requires so much stirring it is a good idea to have a stirring buddy that will trade places with you when your stirring arm gets tired.
  • Try white chocolate chips or mint chocolate chips in place of the semi-sweet.
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Shoestring Travel - Are We There Yet? Inexpensive ways to beat boredom on the road.

Are we there yet? Such a familiar phrase. As children we said it to our parents and as parents we hear it from our children. Living 30 some miles away from town, I'm often tempted to say it myself. For many families, summer is the time for car trip vacations. I recently saw a segment on a morning news show about toys to buy your kids to keep boredom at bay during long drives. The toys were bright, electronic and expensive. With gas going up again and a price of a hotel room and road food it's hard to imagine spending hundreds of dollars on toys that they may or may not play with.
Here's some time tested games and ideas for your next car trip that cost very little or, better yet, nothing at all:
These are games that my mother played with us when we traveled and are still a hit with kids:
I Packed My Grandmother's Trunk
This is a memory game base on the alphabet.
  • First person says, "I packed my grandmother's trunk with...(and then names something that starts with 'a' - apples, apes, apricots, anvils, etc.)
  • The next person says, "I packed my grandmother's trunk with... (whatever the first person said and then names something that starts with 'b')
  • The game continues on with each person naming the items that were said before them and then naming an item that starts with the next letter in the alphabet.
  • The goal is to be able to pack grandma's trunk with something from every letter in the alphabet by the end of the trip.
  • This is a real memory stretcher and the more that you play the better you get.

This game teaches counting by fives and is a great pre-multiplication skill builder.
Starting with one, each person counts the next number in order, until you get to the number 5 or a multiple of 5. For each multiple of 5 you say, "buzz".
So, it sounds like this - one, two, three, four, buzz, six, seven, eight, nine, buzz, ect.
Continue counting until someone misses. Then start over. The goal is to get to 100 with no mistakes.
To challenge older kids count by other numbers, 3's are fun and 9's are especially tricky.

Sing Rounds
Singing really does help pass the time. Start with an easy one like Row, Row, Row Your Boat then try some trickier rounds. Here's one of my favorites:
(second part starts after first part sings,"old gum tree")
Kookabura sits on the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh Kookabura, laugh Kookabura
Gay your life must by.

Kookabura sits on the old gum tree,
Eating all the gum drops he can see.
Stop Kookabura, stop Kookabura
Save some gum for me!

Read a Favorite Book Together
When we were traveling from Arizona to Idaho one summer we read aloud all of Charlotte's Web. There's nothing like sharing one of your favorite books with your kids and a continuing story gives everone something to anticipate.

For more fun car trip games and activities check out 101 car travel games and ideas for kids. Laurel Smith has an amazing list of things to do on car trips. A few of my favorites on her list are Make a Trip Journal, Have Bubble Gum Blowing Contest, Counting Cows (I love this game!), and Aluminum Art.

So, what does your family do to beat the Are-we-there-yet blues?
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Summer Coffee Time - Cool Iced Coffee

I am a lover of hot coffee. Even when we lived in Phoenix and it was over 100 degrees, I would still crave a cup of rich dark hot coffee for afternoon Coffee-Time. When people would question my preference of hot over iced I would always say that hot coffee had a cooling effect. It's probably completely unscientific and people rarely believed me, but I thought that it worked.
Recently, though, I have come to appreciate a tall cool glass of iced coffee on a hot day. When you add a little sweet flavoring it is an inexpensive Coffee-Time treat. Here is my favorite way to make iced coffee. What's yours?

Woodsedge Iced Coffee-Time Coffee
  • One pot of strong dark coffee, cooled (strong is the key word here if you are a real coffee lover)
  • Half and Half
  • Torani syrup, flavor of your choice
  • Frozen coffee cubes (freeze double strength coffee in ice cube trays. Remove and store in freezer bags until ready to use.)
  • Tall chilled glasses

  1. Place 3 or 4 frozen coffee cubes in each glass
  2. Fill each glass about 2/3rds full of the cooled strong coffee
  3. Add half and half and your favorite Torani flavor to taste
  4. Give a quick stir
  5. If you want a sweeter treat, top with a dollop of whipped cream or cool whip

The key to this iced coffee treat is the frozen coffee cubes. They will chill your coffee without diluting it. If you want to cut down on calories, you can use a lower fat choice of dairy and a sugar free Torani. But really, it's Coffee-Time and Coffee-Time is meant for a little indulgence to help make you smile through the rest of your day.
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Shoestring Parenting - School's Out! Now What Do We Do?

School is officially out in my neighborhood. Is it in yours? Even though my kids are older and are quite independent in the summer with jobs and friends, I still find myself looking out for creative fun ways for families to spend time together and for kids to fill those empty summer hours.
Of course the down time after all those hectic school days is wonderful and necessary but it is still a good idea to have some plans to keep the boredoms away.
Here are a few great summer activities that will motivate creativity, sportsmanship, family and friend time.

For Families
  • Go Bowling: Bowling centers all over the country are offering a Kids Bowl Free summer program. When you register for the program at your participating bowling center you will be emailed coupons weekly that allow your children to bowl free for 2 games a day. That is a great deal! They also offer reasonably priced family passes for up to 4 adults so that you all can bowl together. Go to the website for a list of bowling centers near you and for more information on how to register.
  • Go To the Movies: Regal Entertainment Group is offering a Free Family Film Festival; nine weeks of family friendly movies for kids and parents to see together for free. The movies are shown on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting June 16. You can buy the tickets at the box office of participating theaters on a first come first served basis. Some of the movies that will be showing are: The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, Horton Hears a Who, Nims Island, Inkheart and Evan Almighty. For a list of all the movies and to find a participating theater in your area go to

For the Kids:
Drama Camp: Many community theaters offer summer drama camps and classes. Most are quite affordable and a few, like the one in my neighborhood, are free. Another local community theater in my area, The Pend Oreille Players Association, is offering a very affordable drama camp in August. If you are in North Idaho/Eastern Washington check out their website, and click on the newsletter for more information. Even if your kids aren't into acting, drama camp is a great place to grow creativity, build confidence and learn relational skills that they will use in school and all through their lives. Plus, it's Great Fun!

  • Sports Camps: Your local Parks and Recreation is the place to look for affordable sports activities. I also googled sports camps in Spokane Washington (or your city) and found a variety of camps available form different organizations. Professional teams often offer sports camps in the summer, so check out the website of your local professional team. Be sure that you check the ability level required for each camp. Some camps are geared toward kids with advanced skills while others are open to beginners. It's very important that you find a program that is a good fit for your child so that they have fun and don't get discouraged. Sports camps are a great way to get them involved in a new sport that they may want to play for years to come.
  • Visit Your Local Library: The library is one of my favorite summer places. It's cool, calm, full of great reads and information, movies and music. Best of all- it's free. Almost all libraries have summer story time and reading programs. They offer fun ways to encourage reading, get to know other kids and parents, make crafts, write stories and learn to love the library.
  • Go to VBS: The summer schedule is crammed with churches putting on Vacation Bible Schools. Most VBS's usually last a week and, if you're smart at scheduling, you can fit one or two VBS weeks a month into your summer list of things to do. A typical VBS day consists of energetic music, crafts, stories, games and snacks. Most churches will advertise their Vacation Bible Schools in the paper so keep your eyes open for this fun opportunity. Remember that most programs always need help so, if you can volunteer, give them a hand.
  • At the Y.M.C.A.: I grew up going to Day Camp at the Y. Fun memories! Swimming, crafts, field trips, new skills and lots of friends. To find a YMCA program near you go to

Do you have some free or reasonably priced summer activities to suggest? Share in the comments.
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Shoestring Gardening - Home Recipes for a Beautiful Flower Garden

It's time, it's time, it's finally time!!! After months of grey days and cold weather, the sun is finally shining and the weather is warm enough to plant flowers. Our Woodsedge bulbs and perennials have already made their appearance, first the tulips and daffodils and now the purple columbine. I love our perennial garden because we always forget what we have planted in it so it's a fun surprise to see what's coming up. We also plant lots of annuals. The sunflowers and marigolds my great gardening husband starts in the greenhouse, but we still enjoy browsing through the gardening centers looking for the best deals on other annuals to fill the flower boxes and empty garden spaces that are crying out for color.
This year we are saving money on buying fertilizer and plant food at the store by making our own. Our homegrown gardening resource is Jerry Baker, author of Flower Power! Amazing tips, tricks, and tonics for a beautiful, bloomin' garden all year long. Jerry is billed as America's Master Gardener and he is a the go-to-guy for natural, organic, affordable gardening tips.
Here are a few of his gardening tips and tonics from the book Flower Power! that I think we should try in our Shoestring Garden:
Soil Prep: before you plant prep your soil with 1 inch of peat moss or compost and 1 inch sand. Then saturate the soil with this Soil Prep Mix (pg. 83)
  • 1 can beer
  • 1 can regular cola
  • 1/2 cup liquid dish soap
  • 1/2 cup of chewing tobacco juice (since I'm not a chewer, it's a mystery to me where I will get this ingredient)
Apply with 20 gallon hose end sprayer.

Timely Tonic: Use this to feed your flowers twice a month (pg. 20)
  • 1 Cup beer
  • 1 oz fish fertilizer
  • 1 0z liquid soap
  • 1 oz ammonia
  • 1 oz whiskey
  • 1 Tbl clear corn syrup
  • 1 Tbl gelatin
  • 4 tsp instant tea
Dissolve all in 2 gallons of warm water

Late Summer Rejuvenating Tonic: apply liberally to annuals in August to get at least one more full flowering (pg. 43)
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 1 Tbl corn syrup
  • 1 Tbl shampoo
  • 1 tsp of 15-30-15 fertilizer per gallon of water
Mosquito trouble? Plant Marigolds to keep mosquitoes and other bugs away. (pg 40)

Feeding Formula for planting perennials -I had to read this recipe twice to see if he was pulling my leg. Apparently it works great (pg. 92) :
In a five gallon pail, mix:
  • 2 lbs dry oatmeal
  • 2 lbs crushed dry dog food
  • 1 handful of human hair
  • 1/2 cup sugar
Work a handful of the mixture into the soil before planting.
Black spots on roses? Try this tonic:
  • 1 Tbl baking soda
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbl liquid dish soap
Combine in a gallon of water and spray every 7 - 10 days.

I'm also a big fan of Horce Glump's creative organic gardening tips check out Horace Glump on Gardening.

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Shoestring Savings - Everyday Time Savers

Oh my goodness how time can get away from me. My goal is to post twice a week on Shoestrings End and here I only posted once last week and this week is almost gone. My excuses are: that I've had a wonderful time visiting with my parents who have braved chilly North Idaho in exchange for hot hot Phoenix and my son is getting ready to travel to another country and my brain is too crowded right now.
Since having enough time to get everything done seems to be an issue with me lately, I thought that I would post on a few Shoestring time saving strategies for everyday life; time savers that I have done, that I should have done, and that I will be doing.

Plan ahead: I have such a hard time getting things together when we have to go somewhere. When the kids were little I always put their school clothes out, prepared their lunches and made sure that everything was in the backpacks ready to go the night before. It always made our school mornings so much more pleasant. I need to adopt that strategy for myself. So, I will plan my wardrobe ahead of time. That way I will not be standing in front of my closet 10 minutes before it's time to leave yelling that I have nothing to wear. I will also anticipate my needs for the day and put my purse, cell phone, keys, water bottle, etc. on the table ready for me to grab as I run out the door.

Multi-task: If I think about it, I really can organize two or even three things (three things are really my limit) to get done at once. For instance, while the coffee beans are roasting I can start a load of laundry and wash a few dishes. While I'm coloring my hair, I can clean the bathroom and fold laundry or give myself a pedicure. While I'm talking to my good friend on the phone I can run a dust rag over things and straighten the living room. The secret to multi-tasking, for me any way, is to keep the tasks somewhat related. If I'm doing a household something I pair it with other household tasks. If I'm working on something professionally oriented then I pair it with professional tasks that will move me ahead on my to do list.

Cook double recipes: It makes sense that if I'm already making something, I may as well make twice as much and save the rest in the freezer or fridge for another meal or lunch the next day. That saves future cooking time.

Store cookie dough in the freezer: We like cookies at my house but I find baking an entire batch of cookie dough to be very time consuming and I don't always have the time to devote to it. Making the dough, though, is very quick. So, we make the dough and then just bake one sheet of cookies. The rest of the dough we roll into a log and wrap in wax paper and a freezer bag. That way, the next time we want cookies, all we have to do is preheat the oven and slice and bake. I'd always rather have fresh from the oven cookies at coffee time.

Learn while I drive: I spend so much time in the car. It's easy to relax, listen to music and let my mind unwind and often that is exactly what I should be doing. But car time is also a great time to learn something new - Listen to a book, memorize scripture or music or lines for a play, play a language CD and learn a new language. My husband checked out a learn Swedish CD from the library and we listened to it in the car. We didn't really learn much but we had a great time trying and laughing at our terrible Scandinavian accents.

Make lists: I am by nature a list maker. Lists help me to keep organized and keep my brain from being too cluttered with helpless oh-my-gosh-what-do-I-do-next thoughts. When I make my list I prioritize and mark what tasks can be combined. At the end of the day I congratulate myself for completed list items and just move the unfinished tasks to the next day's list. The key to list sanity is to not hold on too tightly but to let go of things that just wont get done and, most importantly, to be flexible. Life is full of changes that invade the list. Be ready to put the list aside and play in the sunshine if that's what the day requires.

A few ways that I save a little time here and there. What are your time savers?

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Mother's Day Present Good Reminder to Keep Emergency Water

My happy Mother's Day was really very happy. I spent much of the day with my mom and received flowers and gifts from my children and husband. One of my favorite gifts of the day was completely unplanned - I got to take a shower before the water pipe under the house broke. We were sitting in bed drinking coffee and BANG, an explosion-like sound shook our bedroom wall. We rushed outside and didn't see anything wrong. We wondered if it had been a fluky earthquake (We don't have many earthquakes in North Idaho). Then my husband noticed that the water pressure was down. Rushing back outside we could then hear the sound of rushing water under the house. My wonderfully talented DIY husband was able to turn off the water and repair the pipe but we were without water for a good part of the day, which made me question our emergency water supply. The answer to the question was that, if this was a real emergency, we didn't have enough water stored.

In an emergency you can survive quite a while without food, though stocking your pantry shelves with emergency supplies is still important, but you can only survive a few days without water.
Here is some simple information for storing emergency water:
  • How Much Do You Need? For personal use, a minimum supply of 3 gallons of water per person for 3 days. Other sources that I have found suggest storing a minimum of 6 gallons per person, enough to last one week. Each person will drink about 1/2 a gallon per day and use the other 1/2 gallon for brushing teeth, washing hands, etc. You will also need to store water that you can use to flush toilets and do dishes and rinse out laundry. Don't skimp on that water. I know from experience that it is really a blessing to be able to flush your toilets.
  • What Containers to Use to Store Water? For personal use water use any food grade plastic or glass container. A food grade container is any container that has held soda, juice, bottled water, punch, etc. You can also buy food grade water containers from sporting good stores. I use milk jugs for water that I wont be cooking with or drinking (toilet flushing water).
  • How Do You Clean the Container? Always clean and sanitize your containers before filling them with water, even if the containers are new.
  1. First wash the container out with hot soapy water. Use a bottle brush to scrub the inside and be sure and clean the outside of the container and the cap. Rinse well.
  2. Next sanitize the container with 1/2 tsp of bleach per quart of water, so if you have a gallon jug use 2 tsp of bleach. Fill the jug with water, add the bleach and shake. Rinse again with clean water.
  3. Once the container is well cleaned and sanitized fill with drinking water from a clean source of drinking water. To be on the safe side, it is recommended that you ad about 1/8 of a tsp of chlorine bleach to your water to kill any bacteria that may have been missed in the sanitation process.
  4. For your non drinking water be sure and clean and sanitize the container as well. It will store better and you never know what you might be using that water for.
  • How To Store Emergency Water: Be sure and store your water in a cool dry place, heat and direct sunlight will weaken plastic containers, and store away from gasoline and chemicals. Mark each container with the words "drinking water" and the date. You also need a strong shelf to hold a large supply of water. Once again, I know this from experience, wimpy plastic shelves sag and break. We have also stored some emergency water in the freezer. That way if your power goes out your frozen water helps to keep your food cold. Just be sure and leave a little room at the top to allow for expansion. Rotate your stored water after a year. Use it in the garden, your plants will thank you.
Here are a some sites that have good information on Emergency Water Storage:
Mississippi State University Extension Service Aid
National Terror Alert

Thankfully, for many of us, emergencies are few and far between. But doing a few things to prepare ourselves and our families for just-in-case is easy and inexpensive and worth the piece of mind.
I'm thirsty, I need a drink of water.

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