Blog Posts by Charlene Prince Birkeland, Senior Editor

  • Dispatches from the test kitchen: Cranberry Obsession Snow Cake a la Sunset Magazine

    (Alt. title: What happens when I see a photo of a gorgeous dessert on a magazine cover.)

    No sooner had the December issue of Sunset magazine landed in our mailbox when I declared, "I must bake that cake on the cover."

    Cranberry Obsession Snow Cake.

    At the time, I had no occasion for such a glam dish. When CityMama asked who could bring dessert to a little Silicon Valley tweet up, I quickly volunteered. I spent most of Sunday in the kitchen, the boys (all three) sauntering in and out of the room, desperate for a taste of a key ingredient: white chocolate.

    The photo of cake on the Sunset cover makes it appear that it would be quite difficult to make. On the contrary, it's easy to make. It just requires patience along with a couple pounds of butter and a dozen egg whites. (My arteries pumped furiously as I read the ingredients list.)

    Woah mama! Look at that butter!Woah mama! Look at that butter!
    The recipe is broken up into three parts. First, the cake. Seven egg whites, eight ounces of unsalted butter, flour, sugar, salt

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  • Tom Cruise says he'd love it if Suri becomes an actress

    photo credit: Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Imagesphoto credit: Arnaldo Magnani/Getty ImagesWhere do we begin?

    Tom Cruise recently told Usmagazine.com that he'd love it if Suri became an actress. (She's even spent enough time on film sets to know when to be quiet when dad is shooting a scene. Ugh.)

    No word on what mom, Katie Holmes, thinks about it.

    Obviously, it's none of our business. However, we can opine, right?

    I expect to see this little gal in the limelight for a very long time. It seems inevitable. But wouldn't it be cool if she just was a regular kid and her parents told her to steer clear of Hollywood life?

    Discuss.

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  • Adorable printable holiday gift tags

    Photo Credit: theblackapple.typepad.comPhoto Credit: theblackapple.typepad.comMy kids spend the weekend painting red and green holiday art on brown grocery bags. We're using them as wrapping paper for our Christmas gifts (in the spirit of eco-friendly holidays).

    I hadn't come up with an idea for gift tags. Maybe rubber stamps?

    But now I'm set because I found these super cute printable tags designed by Inside a Black Apple. You can print them on label paper, regular paper or heavier card stock. Love them!

    [via Craftzine]

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  • Bargains on children's clothes at Mervyns

    Photo Credit: Getty ImagesPhoto Credit: Getty ImagesI love a good bargain on children's clothes. (Okay, I love a good bargain on clothes.) But somehow I haven't made it yet to Mervyns, even though I know that this California and Southwest-based department store chain is going out of business. There are bargains to be found.

    Lia over at Freitas Family Follies sent me a note about her recent trip to Mervyns to pick up some clothes for her daughter. She spent US$35 on a pair of shoes, two pairs of pants and four shirts. Lia also mentioned the store is selling kid's jeans for US$5 a pair, which is awesome. I have always found children's clothes from Mervyns to be really durable, especially items from the Carter's brand.

    Now, I must warn you that you may have to hunt around for your bargains because one, it's holiday time and two, the stores are in clearance mode (read: possibly...okay, probably...unorganized).

    But I say it's worth it if you can stock up on inexpensive kid's clothes.

    What's your bargain store for kid's clothes (besides

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  • Shutterbug: Tips to capture the best pictures of your kids

    Photo Credit: Tracey Clark/shuttersisters.comPhoto Credit: Tracey Clark/shuttersisters.com
    My favorite camera in the world broke a few weeks ago and I'm now learning how to deal with my new one, which has more bells and whistles than I'm used to (I still love it). But I'm in a mad rush to learn how to use it because I am the official photographer for all holiday gatherings for my family. And there will be many, many moments that need to be captured.

    It's one thing to know how to use all the features on your camera. It's quite another to know how to compose a good photo. Tracey Clark, one of the founders of the community photo blog Shutter Sisters, recently posted a series called Great Greetings, which offers tips on how to take photos for holiday cards. But many of her tips can easily be applied to snapping photos of your family over the holidays.

    Two of my favorite tips from Tracey:

    • Look for the light. Tracey writes, "I love soft, somewhat flat light for my family portraits so I don't shoot in direct, shadowy sun. I look for open shade or shoot in early morning or
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  • Top baby names of 2008 have a classy, traditional vibe

    Photo Credit: Getty ImagesPhoto Credit: Getty ImagesCelebrities may be giving their newborns funky, original names but what about the rest of us?

    According toBabyCenter, parents aretossing out the unique (and sometimes wacky) names in favor of old-fashioned classics.

    BabyCenter released their list of Top 100 Baby Names, which was pulled together based on more than 400,000 names submitted in 2008 by BabyCenter parents.

    Okay, so what are the leading names? For girls: Emma, Sophia and Madison are the top three. For boys, the top three picks are Aiden, Jayden and Ethan. Other classic names making a resurgence are Nathaniel and Sophie.

    But where do celebrity baby names rank? Sunday, the name of Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban's daughter, is ranked 8,781 on the list. And what about Vivienne and Knox, the names of newborns in the Jolie-Pitt clan? They appear as 1,133 and 1,372, respectively.

    I love the older, traditional names that have stories behind them versus a name that is so unique that you know the parents worked really hard to create

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  • Kid's art project: Easy DIY holiday wrapping paper

    Photo Credit: lilsugar.comPhoto Credit: lilsugar.comAs soon as my kids started finger painting, I did away with buying wrapping paper for the gifts. Why bother when my boys, who happen to love painting and drawing, could make the wrapping paper?

    Lil Sugar just posted a very awesome slide show called "Wrap It Up: Handprint Holiday Paper." You can see step-by-step instructions on how to help your kids create really cute gift paper and tags with just a few art supplies.

    Why we love it: Not only does creating DIY holiday wrapping paper promotes family time, it helps cut back on costs. Plus? The recipient of the gift can't help but smile when they see that your kids made the wrapping paper. Instant cheer all around.

  • Kid proofing your holiday decorations

    Photo Credit: Getty ImagesPhoto Credit: Getty ImagesLet's set one fact straight right off the bat: Poinsettias are not toxic. You still don't want your kid eating those red leaves, but if they happen to take a nibble, they're more likely to get a serious tummy ache or perhaps a rash from touching the leaves.

    Okay, now that we've taken care of the poinsettia issue, let's talk about holiday decorating when you have little kids.

    You want your house to look gorgeous, colorful and fun. And yes, you can! But with young children in the house, you need to keep a few things in mind:

    • Keep this phone number handy: 1-800-222-1222. It's the number for U.S. Poison Control Centers. And don't hesitate to use it if you have any questions about toxicity of a plant or substance.
    • First and foremost, treat holiday decorating as you would treat child-proofing your home. If you have a crawling baby or toddler, don't put out any items that could be considered choking hazards. If an ornament or trinket can fit through the an empty toilet paper roll, it's
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  • Bringing your little kids to a holiday party? 5 tips to make sure they stay out of trouble

    Photo Credit: Getty ImagesPhoto Credit: Getty ImagesYou get the invite in the mail to a holiday party and it says, "Bring the kids!"

    Now, if you are close to the host, you'll probably already know that they have everything covered to keep the kids in check so all the parents in attendance can enjoy the party. For real.

    But we've all been to a party or two that says the kids are invited and yet...there's nothing for the little ones to do but hang on mom and dad.

    So let's fix that, shall we? Here are five tips to help you make sure your kids are having fun, staying out of trouble, and letting mom and/or dad enjoy the holiday festivities:

    • When you confirm your attendance, verify the "kids are welcome" policy. A simple, "Are you sure we can bring the kids?" question will hopefully cause your host to say, "Of course! We'll have some games for the children and we will set up a movie." Even better? "We'll have a babysitter on hand to help the parents out."
    • Bring a bag of activities and little snacks for your kid(s). Don't ever
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  • Exclusive from Elle: What terrifies Beyoncé? Childbirth


    It's hard to imagine Beyoncé Knowles afraid of anything. She gives off this strong, serious, take-no-prisoners vibe, all while looking flawlessly gorgeous and approachable. But can we hate her? Not a chance. Not even when she has some questionable fashion moments.

    Butin the January issue of Elle, the R&B singer and actress reveals one big fear: childbirth. Says Mrs. Jay-Z, "...I saw my nephew being born. That traumatized me."

    If I had witnessed a baby's birth prior to having my own kids, I think I would have been pretty freaked out as well. It's not pretty. Until you get that baby in your arms, of course.

    Maybe Beyoncé needs to channel her alter ego, Sasha Fierce, to get past her labor and delivery angst because good grief, we know her baby with Jay-Z would be downright adorable. And imagine how Beyoncé would rock maternity clothes.

    And when it comes to her marriage, Beyoncé admits she and Jay-Z have a "power struggle." But she digs it because it shows strength in character.

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