Five easy snack ideas with California Walnuts


Walnuts, how do we love thee? Let me count the ways! When California Walnuts challenged me to come up with ideas for snacks or dishes using walnuts and other pantry items, it was hardly a challenge at all. Walnuts are a staple in our house. Alfie loves walnuts and eats them every single day.  We love having walnuts in our salad or on cereal. We eat walnuts with cheese, olives, and crackers. Walnuts make a great crunchy batter for fish or pork. Finally, they are wonderful in baked goods!  Here are four dishes that I was able to make using ingredients already in our kitchen -- no last minute grocery run needed:

1) Instead of munching on potato chips, grab some walnuts! Just a handful of walnuts will fill you up, and they're chock full of nutrients including omega-3 fats, folate, antioxidants and more. They're a true superfood! If you don't like raw walnuts, you can toast them with a pinch of salt, or make candied walnuts.

2) One of the easiest and most delicious ways to enjoy walnuts is to toss them into a salad. Walnuts go well with fruit and cheese (two other pantry staples!), so in the salad below we topped mixed greens with a combination of walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, and cranberries. You can a drizzle of olive oil and lemon, but this salad is already so flavorful that you won't need much.
salad with walnuts


3) When we aren't in the mood for salad, we just skip the greens and enjoy walnuts, fruit, and cheese!


4) If you're in a baking mood, you can't beat walnut chocolate chip cookies! This recipe from Country Cupboard Cookies is divine. The walnuts give these cookies a wonderfully nutty taste and keep the cookies from being overly sweet. Instead of using walnut pieces as the recipe specifies, I prefer to grind the walnuts to a fine crumble. That way the walnut taste is evenly distributed across the cookie.


5) Another walnutty treat we love is cranberry orange walnut muffins. These are great for a quick, hearty breakfast.They're not overly sweet, almost like a scone, so you can enjoy them with jam or honey. They have a wonderfully fluffy, moist texture thanks my secret ingredient - yogurt - but they're nice and hearty thanks to secret ingredient number 2: walnuts! You can find the recipe on my blog. Enjoy!
walnut cranberry orange muffins


For more walnut recipes, go to walnuts.org. You 'll also find preparation tips, snack ideas, storage info, and more.



Disclosure: I received sample products from California Walnuts  The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Summer fun means Label Daddy


Label Daddy

Save 25% on Label Daddy labels! Label Daddy is the number one solution for labeling your belongings! Their exclusive laminated coating gives labels an extra layer of protection and is a must for camp! Remember to label all clothing, sports equipment, electronics, and other personal belongings your kids bring to school, camp, sports leagues, day care, vacation, and other places. Label Daddy labels keep them from getting lost or mixed up with others. These labels are great for adults too! -- Put them on your sunglass/eyeglass case, phone, camera, sports equipment, tablet, e-reader, hats, clothing, and more.


These labels are super durable peel-and-stick washable labels -- they're washer/dryer safe, microwave safe, dishwasher safe and UV resistant! Label Daddy labels are also fun and attractive. You design your own labels! Pick from tons of colors, sizes and logos, including MLB, NBA, and NHL team logos, other sport and fun logos, and more. These labels are made in the USA and shipped directly to you worldwide.

Save 25% on your entire Label Daddy order - this is the best discount available anywhere. Use code USFAMILY25 at checkout. www.usfamily25.labeldaddy.com

Label Daddy



Disclosure: I am receiving a code for free labels in order to facilitate my review.  The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Meet the Easter Bunny at the Great Mall of the Bay Area!


Easter is almost here! Avoid the Easter Sunday rush and get your photos taken with the Easter Bunny before April 18. The Easter Bunny has taken up residence at the Great Mall of the Bay Area, and he's waiting to make friends with children of all ages -- including teens like my kids. It has been a while since the kids have posed for photos with the Easter Bunny, so when the opportunity arose to take some photos with the Easter Bunny, I jumped at the chance. 

You'd think my teens would be whining and groaning about it, but they more than game to see the Easter Bunny. To be honest, it's not like we need much of an excuse to visit the Great Mall of the Bay Area.  Even though it's a bit of a drive from our home, we love going to the Great Mall because there are so many outlet stores with great prices, and they're all in one place, so I can get all my clothes shopping done in one visit. My teen boys actually ask me if they can go to the Great Mall to buy clothes! Their favorite brands like Vans and PacSun and UNIQLO and Adidas and Nike and Forever 21 are all here, as well as their favorite Filipino fast food restaurant, Jollibee. 
  
Easter Bunny at the Great Mall of the Bay Area

 You'll find the Easter Bunny in the center court at Area 2 of the Great Mall of the Bay Area. His little spring hut is brightly decorated and the perfect setting for your family's Easter photos.

Easter Bunny at the Great Mall of the Bay Area

You can choose from several print packages which range from $25 to $35, with add-ons like photo magnets, photo keychains, and photo CD.  You can also select an all-digital package which consists of all your photos on a CD for $29.99. Each package comes with coupons for a free photo book on Shutterfly, and it's given to you in a cute shopping bag printed with images from the animated movie Sing!.

Because we live in a digital world, I selected the photo CD package. I think it's the best deal of all because you get multiple poses (we got 7!) and all the rights to the digital images, so you can send them via email, post them on social media,  or print them in any size you want.

The cd includes a printout of the thumbnails of your images, which is very important, because this printout contains the id number of each pose. When I got home and loaded the cd onto my laptop, I discovered that I had been given a blank cd! This was annoying, as you can imagine, but thanks to responsive customer service and those all-important id numbers, I was able to contact someone and they were able to retrieve my images! I was so relieved and happy. I can't give enough praise to the Great Mall customer service team as well as the Noerr Programs Photography team for how they handled the whole thing.


Despite that momentary glitch, all's well that ends well. How could I not be happy with these happy smiles?!  It has been a while since my kids visited the Easter Bunny, so it was quite the reunion. They were a bit too large to sit on his lap, but there was plenty of room on Easter Bunny's garden bench.
Easter Bunny photos
Easter Bunny photos
Easter Bunny photos


The kids had so much fun hamming it up with the Easter Bunny. My favorite photo is this one, where they're all giving each other Bunny Ears!
Easter Bunny photos



Disclosure: This is a compensated post.  The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Enjoy gourmet treats every month with Sweets GiftBox


Sweets GiftBox


Whenever I'm at the checkout line at a gourmet store, I'm always tempted by the gourmet bites for sale -- squares of caramel, a beautifully frosted cookie, a small chocolate sampler, a bag of nuts -- but I never know which ones to get. Buying them all to take home and try seems like too many calories and too much money. A more practical -- and fun -- solution is a subscription to Sweets Giftbox, a service that sends you 4-5 curated gourmet treats every month. They find the best treats around and send them to you so you can have a delicious time discovering new favorites!

Sweets Giftbox sent me their latest box to try, and I'm so glad this happened in February, because each monthly box has a different theme, and February's theme was -- you guessed it -- chocolate and caramel.
Sweets GiftBox

The box contained:

A Mayana Fix Bar, which like a gourmet Twix bar: vanilla bean shortbread cookie topped with fleur de sal caramel and covered with dark chocolate. I'm already a fan of the ordinary Twix bar, so the Fix Bar was absolute heaven. I'm craving another one already. It's going to be my new fix!
Sweets GiftBox



A pack of fleur de sal caramels from Sweet Jules Gifts. They are sooooo good. All I can say is that I'm glad that 3Po and Jammy have braces and that The Pea is recovering from dental surgery, so none of them can eat caramels right now and I can eat them all by myself.
Sweets GiftBox


A caramel milk chocolate bar from Ethel M. Chocolates. We've visited the Ethel M. museum and factory in Las Vegas so I know how scrumptious their chocolates are, and I can't wait to enjoy this.
Sweets GiftBox


Funky Chunky chocolate caramel pretzels. The salty crunchiness of the pretzels goes so well with the chewy sweetness of the caramel and the creaminess of the chocolate. Shhhh, I ate these all by myself. I couldn't stop!
Sweets GiftBox


The kids attacked and demolished the Lucky Guy brownie before I had a chance to photograph it separately, so I wasn't able to show you how fudgy and rich the inside of this brownie was. It was absolutely divine!
Sweets GiftBox


Other than Ethel M, I have never heard of these brand before, so if it weren't for Sweets GiftBox, I would never have discovered them (seriously, I'm already making plans to buy more of that Mayana Fix Bar).  Other months will have different themes and different products -- think of gourmet chocolates, cookies, candies, popcorn, nuts, etc... You won't know what's in the box beforehand (that would spoil the surprise!) but based on the quality of the treats in the box I received, I think I trust their taste.

You can sign up for a monthly subscription for $25 per month (1 box per month), or you can sign up for just a single box for $30. Shipping is included in the price. That's an average of $5 per treat, which might sound pricey, but I looked up the Mayana Fix Bar online (I told you I was serious), and it costs $8. So you're getting a curated box of goodies at a great price. It's a wonderful present for a friend or a wonderful way to treat yourself to new flavors and yummy discoveries every month. Use the code below to save on your first Sweets GiftBox and taste it for yourself!

Sweets GiftBox

Save on your first Sweets GiftBox

Use the code SWEETSTUFF and receive 50% off a new subscription or 40% off a one-time purchase

Disclosure: I received a sample box to facilitate my review. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Test driving the Mazda CX-9



We've owned a minivan for 12 years now, and it has served us well. But now that our kids are older, we're finding that we need less vehicle space -- no more car seats, strollers, and diaper bags. The van is getting older and as we start to think about replacing it, we find that our eyes are beginning to wander towards SUVs and crossovers. These vehicles still have the space that we need, but they're a bit more sleek and stylish!

Sleek and stylish is certainly the vibe given off by the Mazda CX-9, an SUV crossover designed for families who need performance in a vehicle as much as they practicality. We test drove the Mazda CX-9 during our holiday road trip to Hollywood and Disneyland, and I have to say, it certainly made the 6 hour (8 with traffic!) journey between Northern and Southern California a lot easier to bear!



LUXURY EXTERIOR

Before you even step inside the CX-9, you know instantly that this is a luxury vehicle. The shape is sleek and aerodynamic, and the body has chrome trim throughout. Even the most basic trim level comes with 18-inch wheels, and 20-inch wheels come standard with the Grand Touring level and up. Our vehicle came in a handsome slate grey which really adds to the air of sophistication.


LUXURY INTERIOR

The interior is just as beautiful. Some of the plastic interiors (like the dashboard trim) almost look like rosewood and leather, The leather seats are nice and wide. They're so comfortable, it honestly feels like you're relaxing in a recliner. The CX-9 does a great job of drowning out the outside noise, so you get a smooth, quiet ride. The only thing that keeps me from giving the CX-9 a perfect score for comfort is that the roof is quite low. I'm 5'8" and my husband is 5'11" (which is decently tall but not towering), and we both felt like the ceiling was touching our heads.


I have to give extra points for the pull-up window shades, which is soooo convenient when you have young kids. These shades are perfect for when your kids nap in the car.


INTERIOR SPACE

The CX-9 comes with 3rd row seating, and I was surprised at how roomy the 3rd row was. In many vehicles with 3rd row seating, my 13 year-old twins have to sit with their knees practically to their chest. But in the 3rd row of the CX-9, they were able to sit comfortably for a couple of hours without suffering from stiff legs. That being said, I wouldn't sit a tall adult (5' 2" and up) there for more than an hour at a time.


The split seat capability (60/40 in the 2nd row, 50/50 in the 3rd row) can really improve the space issue, because if you only need one seat in the third row, you can adjust the seat in front of it to give the 2nd row seat a little less legroom, which gives the 3rd row seat a bit more legroom. There's plenty of legroom in the 2nd row, so if you have two smaller adults, you can seat one in the 2nd row and one in the 3rd row directly behind, and share the legroom!


CARGO

With the 3rd row of seats down, there is a good amount of cargo space. I've read reviews of this car not having enough cargo space, but that really wasn't the case for us.


With the half of the 3rd row up and half down, there was enough luggage space for our family of five on a five-day trip.


I love how the rear has so many little storage compartments. Removable panels reveal little spaces to store emergency packs, extra clothes (a must if you have little kids), even your purse or camera. It's the perfect hiding place because no one can see what you're storing inside!



PERFORMANCE

Driving up mountains and passing cars on the highway was a breeze thanks to the 2.5L engine. You barely need to touch the gas pedal and this car immediately begins to zoom zoom zoom! It's definitely a lot of fun to drive (and the responsiveness definitely makes me feel safer in situations where you might need to speed up quickly).  You'd think this vehicle would be a real gas guzzler, but since it only have 4 cylinders, not 6, the fuel efficiency can be as good as 22 city/28 highway.


TECH 

The CX-9 has all the latest tech: color LCD screen with navigation, compass, and trip info, bluetooth connectivity (and lots of charging ports throughout the vehicle), display projection on the windshield, stereo sound, all the bells and whistles. But I have to admit that the touchscreen infotainment system and I did not get along at all. The controls were not intuitive, and even after a week of daily use. Also, I found the projected display (the LCD screen is projected onto the windshield) distracting. Unfortunately, the projection always defaults to "on"! I had to devise my own workaround (lower the viewing angle) to get it to disappear without my having to fiddle with the controls every single time I started the car.


Where Mazda does get the technology right is in their safety features. The backup camera, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert really helped us during our road trip. We felt extremely safe in this car, even when driving in torrential rain at night.


OPTIONS AND PRICE

The CX-9 is offered at 4 levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and Signature. If you can afford it, I would definitely go for the Touring trim level or higher, because you get quite a few luxury features as standard, like leather seats, power front seats, power hatchback and the cool safety features. You can get the CX-9 at its highest level (Signature), fully loaded, for under $45,000, which is a great value compared to other competitors in the 7-seater SUV field. Add in the decent (for its class) fuel economy, and the CX-9 should definitely be part of your short list when shopping for a new vehicle.


CONCLUSION

We had a great time with the Mazda CX-9 on our road trip. It's a comfortable, good looking vehicle with the right amount of space and power for our family's needs.  Check out the Mazda CX-9 at your local Mazda dealer and take it for a test drive!


Disclosure:. DriveShop lent me the use of the Mazda CM-9 for review purposes. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Meet Gabriela, American Girl of the Year 2017 (and a giveaway for you!)


Can you believe that American Girl has been releasing a Girl of the Year (GOTY) doll since 2001? 2017 will mark the release of their 15th doll, and I'm so excited that 2017's Girl of the Year, Gabriela McBride, is a person of color! Out of the last 14 dolls, 3 have been girls of color (Marisol is Hispanic, Jess is half Asian, Kanani is Hawaiian American). Gabriela is the 4th girl of color and the first African American. I could not be happier that American Girl recognizes that America is a diverse country and has released a beautiful doll who exemplifies that diversity!  I know that many girls have been waiting and hoping for a Girl of the Year that they can relate to on the inside and the outside.


From American Girl:

American Girl is excited to celebrate the New Year with the debut of its 2017 Girl of the Year - Gabriela McBride! Available January 1, 2017, Gabriela is a true talent who uses her passion for the arts—specifically spoken word poetry—to overcome personal obstacles and create positive change for her community. Gabriela launches with a beautiful 18-inch doll, plus several performance-inspired outfits, accessories, and toys. We're also happy to share that, unlike past Girl of the Year characters, Gabriela will be available throughout 2017 and beyond.

Yes, you read that correctly: Gabriela will be available throughout 2017 and beyond! American Girl has never done this before -- all other GOTY dolls were sold only for 1 year. But girls don't ever have to worry about missing out on Gabriela! They can save up for Gabriela without a time limit. What's more, whatever the next Girl of the Year looks like, they will always be able to get a Girl of the Year that looks like them.

American Girl sent me a Gabriela doll and book to review, and I have to say, Gabriela is just gorgeous! Here are some photos I took of her:
Gabriela has warm brown skin tones, warm brown eyes, and dark brown hair. Her hair is truly her crowning glory. Her hair cascades in a avalanche of natural curls, down past her shoulders. It looks good piled on top of her head as well. The doll comes with a cute double strand pink headband.  Check out these selfies that Gabriela took!
Gabriela wears denim jeggings, a purple sweater, and a teal tank top.
Probably the only thing that disappointed me about Gabriela is that the skin tone of her cloth body does NOT match the skin tone of her arms and face. At all. When she wears the tank top by itself, the color mismatch is clearly visible. It's not so obvious when she wears shirts with a neckline that is not as open.
Gabriela's shoes are adorable. They are high-top sneakers! The purple and teal colors match her tank top and sweater.  

Gabriela is a multifaceted person that kids will really be able to relate to. She's a poet and a dancer. She has a speech impediment (stuttering). She is passionate about the arts and passionate about her local community arts center. She wants to make a difference in her local community. She is a great role model and I hope lots of girls read her story.

Outfits and Accessories

Gabriela outfits include PJs ($24), a rehearsal outfit (pictured below, $28) , tap shoes ($16), and a glitter performance outfit ($32). Her accessories kit (pictured below, $28) is a dance bag with everything she needs for rehearsal: the bag, water bottle, bandages, hair accessories, and food.


The photo below shows Gabriela wearing her Sparkling Sequins Outfit ($32). She's using her Performance Case ($48) to set up her next amazing music and poetry performance. I think the Performance Case is a great deal because it comes with so many items: a wheeled rolling case, a laptop with retractable cord, headphones, microphone, drum pad, drumsticks, and stickers to decorate the case.

Gabriela's Creative Dance Studio ($58)  has so much potential for open ended play! The backdrop is reversible so it can be the inside of a dance studio or the outside of a building. The set also includes a metal dance barre, water bottle, and towel. 

I plan to head over to the American Girl Store to take more photos of Gabriela, her playsets, her accessories, and her outfits, so stay tuned!


Win a Gabriela doll and book


One lucky Bonggamom Finds reader will win a Gabriela doll and book! Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below by 11:59PM on February 3, 2017. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway



Disclosure:  I received a product sample to facilitate my review, but have not been paid to review the product or give my opinions. Product information (in italics) is provided by American Girl. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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