breyers-and-blue-bunny

Taste Test Tuesday — Vanilla Ice Cream

Oh, this taste test was so fun! But I might have gotten a *little carried away with this one. We had ELEVEN competitors in this taste test…yes, that’s ELEVEN different brands of vanilla ice cream that our judges had to taste. {Life is hard sometimes!}

And here’s what we found: Not all vanilla ice cream is created equal. vanilla-ice-cream-taste-test

For this taste test I looked for titles like: vanilla, Homemade Vanilla, Old Fashioned Vanilla, All Natural Vanilla, Natural Vanilla, etc. (No french vanilla in this taste test. No frozen yogurt. No gelato.) And I also wanted high-end brands and generic to be fully represented, as well as everything in between.

The idea was: if you were serving vanilla ice cream as dessert to some important guests, which vanilla ice cream would you serve?

I purchased a special MINI ice cream scoop for this event…I figured 11 tiny scoops of ice cream would equal about 1 regular scoop or so…not enough to give all the judges a stomach ache! There would be no casualties after tasting ALL this ice cream!

mini-ice-cream-scoop

See all those silver cups in the photo above? Those were all labeled with a number 1-11, the ice cream was given a corresponding number, and those were delivered to the judges. We also supplied water and the judging form.

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Let me introduce you to all the contenders (with approximate retail prices for each):

1) Kroger Brand Generic Artisan Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. $3.49 for 1.5 qt. (48 oz)

2) Turkey Hill Homemade Vanilla. $5.49 for 1.5 qt. (48 oz.)

3) Graeter’s Vanilla. $5.49 for One pint (16 oz.)

4) Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla. $4.49 for one pint (16 oz.)

5) Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. $6.99 for half gallon.

6) Blue Bunny All Natural Vanilla. $6.49 for 1.75 qt.

7) Baskin Robbins Vanilla. $4.99 for 1 qt.

8) Haagen-Dazs Vanilla. $4.79 for 14 oz.

9) Breyers Natural Vanilla. $5.99 for 1.5 qt.

10) Dreyers Vanilla. $5.99 for 1.5 qt.

11) Tillamook Old Fashioned Vanilla. $5.99 for 1.75 qt.

One thing I’ve found while conducting all these taste tests is that not all the judges always agree. In fact, there was some debate over which ice cream was TRULY the best. But in the end, the majority ruled and the winner was declared. So here are the top 3 choices (who’s got the drumroll?):

CROWNING THE WINNERS:

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Tillamook makes a delicious cheese (one of my favorites!) but I had never tasted their ICE CREAM before, so I was quite surprised that it took first place. [Note: The only place I was able to find Tillamook was at Bashas.] Baskin Robbins has always been a favorite since I was a kid, but I NEVER choose vanilla when I go there (have you tasted their World Class Chocolate and Gold Medal Ribbon?! Wow). And Dreyers is a well-reconized brand, so that was expected, however one judge reported that it tastes like “store-bought syrup.” Other judges reported that it was “creamy and had a great ‘real’ flavor.”

THE LEAST FAVORITES:

The lowest rated ice cream brands were:

lowest-rated

Turkey Hill got zero votes. Zero. The judges found it was “too bland,” “tasteless,” and “boring.” Another surprise was Blue Bell rated one of the lowest! One judge said “Yuck!” But I’ve always thought Blue Bell was one of the best around. They do also carry a Vanilla Bean flavor…so maybe that one is much better than their homemade vanilla? (Can someone report on this?) The Generic brand was rated on the low end as well, but to be fair, one judge loved it for it’s creamy consistency.

DEDICATED – BONUS REPORT

After our taste test, I decided I’d better try some of my highly rated brands again. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “that girl is dedicated to her craft.” And it’s true. In the interest of reporting accurate and true results to you, dear reader, I opted to taste a few again and try them against each other. I did this bracket style: the winner of the first competed against the winner of the second, and so on. And I kept coming up with the SAME WINNERS time after time. So I thought I’d better give to you the Editor’s Top Picks:

editors-additional-picks

My winner each time was Haagen-Dazs. And before this taste test I DID NOT think I even cared for that brand. They must have changed something, or perhaps my taste buds are getting more refined with age?! I also really enjoyed Graeter’s (Linda’s top pick) and Ben and Jerry’s. But let’s be honest here: who chooses VANILLA Ben & Jerry’s when they have all those other tempting and interesting flavors? Not me. I’ve never even tasted their vanilla plain before.

EDITOR’S LOW PICKS:

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To give you the complete picture: other low picks from me and a few other judges were Breyer’s (I know, I thought that was a favorite! But when pitted against these other competitors, it tasted artificial and “off.”) and Blue Bunny (also artificial). I shed a little tear over this one because Blue Bunny has one of my current favorite flavors: Bunny Tracks!! Have you had it? Oh, so delicious.

Please share YOUR favorite Vanilla Ice Cream…or go out and try our winner(s) and let me know what you think.

So there’s the report on Vanilla Ice Cream. It was a pleasure to bring this report to you (really!) and I am open to suggestions for future taste tests. Just comment below.

Stay in touch to hear about our next taste test upcoming: ROOT BEER! It was meant to be: what could be better to create with the REMAINING vanilla ice cream than root beer floats? See you next time.

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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Dose of Sunshine Monday — Easter Hope

Happy Monday! I’ve been singing this phrase in my head lately, so I thought I’d better put it into a printable format. (Does that ever happen to you?)

Here is my chalkboard rendition for Easter Hope:

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{To see my other Easter printables in spring colors, click here.}

I hope your Easter is filled with hope, peace and joy.

To download this printable, please like my page here:

Then download the print here (the download will not have my website on it):

3-13 i know that my redeemer lives 5×7

3-13 i know that my redeemer lives 2×3

I am linking up to my first Sundae Scoop Link party here:

I Heart Nap Time
May your days be filled with sunshine,
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frames-and-both-vinyl-jars

Easter Trio & a Spring Thank You Gift

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I’ve been working on TWO holidays at once: Easter and April Fool’s Day planning. I don’t usually do much for April Fool’s Day, but this year we are having an outdoor party on that very day, and so I MUST have a little fun! (Don’t you agree?) I’ll be sharing my April Fool’s pranks in a later post, but for now here are some Easter prints I’ve been designing and re-designing.

The first one is really a reminder to me to get moving on all these projects and party plans! Ha! I need to post this one on my phone for a while as a wallpaper!

Which one would you choose to display?

I love the “Hello, Spring” in a frame. Now that I look at this picture, I think I might need some white “Spring” frames! Any suggestions on where to find some cute ones?

frames-and-both-vinyl-jars

You might notice my little spring jars that I decorated up with some Easter vinyl. I cut these vinyl Easter creatures (bunny and blue robin) with my Cricut die-cutting machine and adhered them to the jars. Then I filled them with chocolate treats, printed a 2×3 of the Hello, Spring printable and used it for a tag on the jar.

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I’m using this one as a special thanks to a friend who has helped me out so much! Hope she likes it.

Have a wonderful 2 days of holiday celebrating!

P.S. If I get enough requests, I will make these Easter printables available to you on this post!

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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watkins-vanilla

Taste Test Tuesday — Mexican Vanilla vs. Watkins Vanilla

Attention, anyone who loves to bake!! What kind of vanilla do you like to use in your baking? I have been using Mexican vanilla for years, and I love it! However, one day my husband brought me home a bottle of Watkins vanilla and I knew it would turn into a taste test challenge for sure.

I first asked all my friends who liked to bake what kind of vanilla they liked to use. My great Aunt used to own her own bakery and pastry shop, and she likes Trader Joe’s vanilla. So I had to add Trader Joe’s vanilla to the challenge as well. Unfortunately, when I went to Trader Joe’s to get “their vanilla,” there were 2 kinds to choose from. So what did I do? I bought them BOTH.

So let me introduce you to the contenders:

vanilla-caramels-taste-test

A) Watkins Vanilla

B) Trader Joe’s Bourbon Vanilla

C) Trader Joe’s Alcohol Free Vanilla

D) Mexican Vanilla (yes, that’s the biggest bottle of them all! What can I say, I love to bake and I use it all the time!)

E) McCormick’s Vanilla (used only in the caramels)

In order to be completely fair to all the vanilla contenders, I made 3 types of vanilla items to taste: vanilla caramels, vanilla mini cakes, and vanilla pudding sauce. We had the most volunteer judges in the history of our taste tests….maybe because this sounded like a DELICIOUS opportunity?!

This was a blind taste test and each item was given a letter. The judges were instructed to rank each vanilla into first, second, third, and fourth place.

vanilla-form-and-plates

I held two separate taste testing sessions, in order to get all the judges in! And as the sessions progressed, I soon realized that the judges were voting for DIFFERENT vanillas for the caramels, pudding sauce and mini cakes! In fact, ALL the judges had different votes except for one judge who voted for the same vanilla in first place each time.

It was apparent to me that there was not going to be a CLEAR winner in this taste test. So I had to pull in a professional analyst: my husband. He quickly drew up a spreadsheet to tally the points for each contender. Here’s how the judges voted:

For the Caramels

In first place, was Watkins Vanilla, with 11 of the 15 votes

In second place, was Mexican Vanilla, with 8 of the 15 votes

For the Pudding Sauce

In first place, Watkins Vanilla

In second place, Mexican Vanilla

For the Mini Vanilla Cakes

In first place, Mexican Vanilla

In second place, Trader Joe’s Alcohol Free

 

**I was surprised by the votes. I expected my favorite (Mexican Vanilla) to take first place. But overwhelmingly, Watkins Vanilla placed first by a wide margin in 2 out of the 3 tests. The interesting thing was, the judges agreed that this taste test was DIFFICULT, because there really wasn’t a bad one of the bunch. In fact, most judges agreed that each item was delicious, however, a couple judges had a slight NEGATIVE reaction to either the Bourbon Vanilla or the Mexican Vanilla.

After much analyzing and deliberation, we have declared the winner to be WATKINS VANILLA!

watkins-vanilla

I am sure I will continue using Mexican Vanilla, but to switch things up a bit I am now adding Watkins to my vanilla repertoire. I should also mention that we used the Double Strength Watkins Vanilla, which contains more vanilla bean and less alcohol.

(NOTE: Many people have asked me where you can get Watkins vanilla, and so I am including a link HERE to a Watkins representative for your reference. Please note that I do not receive compensation for any vanilla purchases. However, I have been told by Jennifer that if you CALL her rather than place an order online, she may be able to SAVE you on shipping costs. :) I love to save money for my readers!)

So, what do you think? Do YOU agree with our results? Do you have a vanilla that you swear by? Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you, judges! Stay tuned for our next Taste Test Tuesday: VANILLA ICE CREAM. (Do we have a vanilla theme going on here?) I’m looking forward to it!

 

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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rainbow-fruit-salad

Dose of Sunshine (and Rainbows) Monday — Rainbow Dinner Party

I hope you all had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day. We had a birthday dinner celebration for my Mom’s birthday! And it turned out bright and cheerful. So for this Dose of Sunshine, I decided to share the Rainbow Dinner Party we had. I hope it brightens your day!

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fruit-salad-table-2-picts rainbow-skittles

I was challenged to decorate for this dinner party with only dishes I already had! (Shop for dishes much? I guess my husband thinks I have too many! What? Is that even possible?) So I started out with some rainbow skittles in mini glasses and added a bit o’luck tags…can you see the gold (rolo) at the end of the rainbow? I used the “Little Bit o’ Luck” printables from here.

The gold chargers I already had, as well as the white plates (they are the buffet plates from Crate and Barrel). Other items I already had: the silverware, goblets, vases. I did supplement with some shamrock papers for the runner (from JoAnn’s), and flowers (daffodils and carnations from Safeway). I colored the water in each flower vase in a different color of the rainbow.

I love the way the individual fruit salads turned out! Strawberries, Clementines, Pineapple, Green Grapes, and Blueberries make for a happy rainbow fruit salad. (And delicious! I made a vanilla pudding sauce to go with the fruit salad, but I found that the fruit was so sweet on it’s own that we didn’t even use the pudding sauce).

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For dessert, I made Texas Sheet Cake Cupcakes (a favorite around here)! And I found these sour rainbow candies at WalMart, so we of course had to make a rainbow on our cupcakes. I used a little stabilized whipped cream (from Trader Joe’s) as the clouds, cut the rainbow sheets in half and put them into the cream. My nephews loved this part! I even let them make their own rainbows on the cupcakes.

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We had some cupcakes to deliver to a friend who also has the same birthday, and so we wrapped them up in this cute cupcake box, tied with a green bow, and added a “Little Bit o’ Luck” tag to the top. I decorated only 2 of her cupcakes with the rainbows…since they are a little sour. Those chocolate cupcakes are so delicious on their own, but those rainbows are just adorable. So which one wins…adorable or delicious? I will let her decide! {Note: my nephews LOVED the sour rainbows…it might be a kid taste?}

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We decorated with LOTS of flowers…a dinner party is made even more amazing with flowers! The ones on the left were a gift to my mom from a good friend (thanks, Erin, she loves them!) And I printed out the Luck printable in the frame from here.

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It was a colorful and fun dinner. And I used *mostly* everything I already had on hand.  I love that!

Have a happy Monday!

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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all-three-sparkle-books

Shamrock Search for kids — free printable!

Two of my adorable nephews are coming over this weekend for some St. Patrick’s Day celebrations! It’s also my Mom’s birthday so we are really going to have some fun! I put together these “Looking for Luck” books to help us on our nature walk (it is such a beautiful weekend)!

Looking-for-luck-activity-books

I had fun with my new glitter tape to add a little sparkle. Inside, I have designed a nature scavenger hunt, some games and activities, and a coloring page.

I thought it would be funny to bind them with Lucky Charms and Irish Spring packaging…or is that just plain weird? It’s bound to get a few chuckles.

I used my “Zutter Bind-It-All” to punch and bind the books. But if you don’t have a way to bind, just staple the pages together. (see picture above). You can use a little green ribbon to add some flair…but who am I kidding? These are for KIDS, they won’t care if they are bound with Lucky Charms or have a ribbon on them! So anything goes here, really.

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Here’s a quick view of the inside activity pages:

 

Nine_Square_Grid-activity-book

I think my nephews are going to have a little fun with this. Let’s just see how long it can entertain them!

To download the pages, please like my page here:

Then download the pages here:

2-13 looking for luck page 1 thru 4

2-13 looking for luck page 5 thru 8

all-three-sparkle-books

And, if you decide to try these out with your own kids, grandkids, neighbor kids, or nieces/nephews, please let me know how they like them! :)

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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precious-string-cheese-winner

Taste Test Tuesday — String Cheese

I like to have string cheese on hand for when I need a quick snack, so I thought string cheese would be a good taste test Tuesday subject. While it may not be as exciting as, say Salted Caramel Chocolate bars or Vanilla Caramels, I think some “healthier” options are also great for reviewing!

The contenders are only 2, but they are the “Big 2” when it comes to string cheese. Here they are:

string-cheese-vs

Precious Stringsters, the brand you can find at Costco VERSUS Frigo Cheeseheads, the brand that claims to be “America’s Favorite.”

This was a very quick taste test, and easy, since there were only 2 contenders on the docket. And the judges actually liked both brands….they said “these are both good,” and “I would eat either one if I had them on hand.”

All good comments, and better than what I had to say about a less well-known string cheese I tried a couple months ago. It was a clear package with black writing on each individually wrapped string cheese serving. I searched to find this particular brand to report back to you, dear reader, but I could not find it! (If I do track it down, I will update this post). This particular string cheese was practically inedible. Nobody would eat it, except the dogs. [If you know the one I’m talking about, please comment and let me know!]

Back to the 2 contenders. After all was said and done, one edged out ahead of the other…

THE RESULTS

The judges declared that the winner was creamier and more pleasant (less chalky). And the winner is (drumroll please):

precious-string-cheese-winner

PRECIOUS Stringsters String Cheese #1!

So it seems that “America’s Favorite” was actually NOT the favorite this time.  While the Cheeseheads string cheese had a chalkier taste, some judges declared that it had a cheesier flavor! Even though they liked the cheesy taste of the cheeseheads, the judges said that the chalky-ness up front could not beat out the creamy taste of the Precious Stringsters!

[A special thanks to all our judges.]

What is your favorite snack? Favorite string cheese? Go give these two a try and see what you think.

Stay tuned for our next Taste Test Tuesday! All you Bakers out there, take note: the next taste test is VANILLA! What is your favorite vanilla to use in your baking? I can’t wait to reveal the results of this exciting taste test!

 

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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Dose of Sunshine Monday: I believe in Luck

This is perfect for St. Patrick’s Day coming up! And one of my Dad’s favorites. So this is dedicated to my Dad.

Here’s an idea: take this printable and turn it into a sticker to wear on St. Patrick’s Day. Then you will be “pinch-proof!” Wishing you a little extra “luck” on St. Patrick’s Day!

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And here’s the printables! Please like my page first, then print.

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3-13 believer of luck 5×7

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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nail-polish

A Little Bit o’ Luck FIVE ways

little-luck-logos

I had fun designing this printable for St. Patrick’s Day! It is such a versatile little gem that I’ve featured it in FIVE ways. With just a few different cutting techniques or punches, you can make it look completely different. I am sure there are plenty more ways to use this printable…so use your imagination and have fun! Little-luck-5-ways-sm

Let’s take a closer look at these ideas. I first put together these colorful cards. I can just imagine my nephews helping me to paint a water-color rainbow for this card…they would love it! I simply folded a card out of white cardstock, painted the rainbow, added a “snowflake” stamp to the upper left corner, and cut out a pot-o-gold with black sparkly paper. It was super easy to put together and I love that it turned out so bright. I used the word  bubble “Luck Logo” and just cut it out with scissors.

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The other card was made with a green cardstock base, a green square cut to fit, and a “plank” of tan paper embossed with a wood embossing folder. I cut the Luck Logo with an EK Success punch and used a green stamp pad to color the edges a bit. I cut out a shamrock that I drew free-hand and glued on some green glitter. Who wouldn’t love to get one of these colorful cards offering a “Little Bit o’ Luck?”

SECOND, is the adorable cupcake flag! I cut these with an EK Success punch and attached them to a lollipop stick.

cupcake-toppers

Can you imagine a row of these all lined up on your dessert table? I added a little glitter glue to the shamrock cupcake topper on the right…I think it adds just a little more pizzazz. So cute!

THIRD, a simple napkin ring made from paper. Having a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, brunch or dinner? Add some extra luck to the table settings. I cut the “Luck logo” into a rectangle and added a little excitement to the edges with a scallop cut. It’s actually the same punch as the cupcake topper on the left, but just a part of it. (can you tell by looking at the picture above?)

napkin-ring

FOURTH, this adorable glassine bag, embellished with some green! My creative and crafty Aunt Marilyn donated these little bags to my crafting stash and, boy, have I been having a ball decorating them up! (Thanks, Marilyn, I love them!)

glassine-bag

I added a bit of green glitter tape (love this stuff!) and green washi tape. {A quick shout-out to my dear friend Shellie, who graciously gave me the green washi tape when I saw it in her bag! She had “extra” and kindly gave me 2 rolls!! Shellie, you are awesome!} To the top I added the bubble Luck logo. You could use this at your table setting as a gift bag…I filled mine with butterscotch candies. I think it would be just as cute with rolos or skittles!

FIFTH, a small gift, represented here by green glitter nail polish.

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This green glitter nail polish would be welcome by any gal wanting to avoid any pinching on that 17th day of March! I am going to give this to my amazing Mother (shhh…don’t tell) whose birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day! I secretly hope she will share it with me!

To add a little dimension and shine to the shamrock, try using Diamond Glaze…be sure to let it completely dry before you try to attach it to your gift. (ahem, not that this happened to me….!)

I hope you enjoy spreading a little bit o’luck with these printables this year! Enjoy!

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To download the printables, please like my page here:

Then download the printable here:  Little Luck Logo

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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Food to Make you happy — Easy Yakisoba

We are celebrating around here for making our goal of 100 likes to our new Facebook page! Thank you, friends and dear readers! And what could be a better way to celebrate than with VEGETABLES!?! I’m serious! If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE my vegetables and I drink (yes, drink) them every morning. I will be sharing my delicious breakfast drink soon!

But I have been getting SO many requests for my Yakisoba recipe that I decided to post it today. I have to keep my favorite people happy!

Easy-Yakisoba-small

Truth is, this recipe makes me so happy…and I think you will agree when you try it out. It’s easy…it’s delicious…it’s filled with color. That is celebration right on a plate, friends! (Can we please officially change the title of this recipe to “Celebration on a Plate”?)

Let’s get started with the Yakisoba.

First, assemble your favorite veggies. I like to use all the colors of the rainbow (except maybe blue, I can’t even think of a blue vegetable!) My favorites for this dish are:

Onion, Carrots, Zucchini, Summer Squash, Red pepper, Broccoli, Red Cabbage, Garlic

Slice your onion (I use yellow onion). In a large pan (or stir fry pan), warm 2 T. of olive oil on medium high. Once oil is hot, add onion. Let this cook for 5-7 minutes or until the onion is soft and browned.

While the onion is cooking, cut your other veggies. Cut them in similar sizes for even cooking. When onions are browned, add carrots and zucchini. Cook for 4-5 minutes. I like to let the zucchini and squash cook without stirring for a few minutes. This allows them to get browned on one side. Oh! My mouth is watering just thinking about it! Turn them over to brown on the other side.

yakisoba-veggies

Once zucchini is browned, add peppers and broccoli. Allow those to cook for a bit, then add the cabbage.

While that is cooking together, get your meat ready. I used chicken for this recipe, but you can also use beef or pork, or keep it vegetarian! I cut my chicken (3 chicken tenders) into bite-sized pieces. Then warmed a small amount of olive oil in a separate skillet. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally. Add a couple cloves of garlic (minced) with the cooking chicken, if you like. (I like!)

When chicken is done…it only takes a few minutes! Add to the vegetables. Then, add your noodles, water, and seasoning mix from the package. I usually include 2 packages of noodles, both seasoning packets, and 1 cup of water. Here are the noodles I like to use:

yakisoba-noodles

[Note: If I don’t have these on hand when I crave Yakisoba, I have also used angel hair pasta or spaghetti…and I make sauce using a bit of soy sauce, cornstarch, and water!] You have to coax these particular noodles to separate, but please be careful and don’t break them. It just doesn’t taste the same with broken noodles!

Now, dish up and enjoy! (here’s another secret: I sometimes add a bit of low-sodium soy sauce to mine)

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How’s that for a celebration!?

May your days be filled with sunshine,
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