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MPs friend W from book group always makes the most delicious, buttery desserts. Her sugar cookie recipe really is the best. It’s our go-to, traditional holiday cookie. The dough is so easy to work with and the cookie itself is perfect with a drizzle of semi-sweet chocolate, a sprinkling of sugar, or decorated with Royal icing.

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Best Ever Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup butter, softened (we like Kate’s Homemade)
2/3 cup of sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 cups sifted flour

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar. Next, beat in the egg. Add vanilla, salt and flour and mix until all ingredients are well blended. Gather the dough into a compact ball and cover it in plastic wrap. Chill the dough 3-4 hours.

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After taking the dough out of the refrigerator, allow it to get to room temperature (about 30 minutes). While you’re waiting, preheat the oven to 350º. Then generously flour a kitchen counter or large cutting board. When it’s soft enough to work with, roll out the dough. Have the kids dip the cookie cutters in flour before cutting shapes (this helps prevent the dough from sticking to the cookie cutter).

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Once the cookies are cut, place them on a cookie sheet. Bake about 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Place the cookies on a cooling rack 10 minutes before decorating.

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While we’re on the subject of good things, our friends at Organic India are offering a 3 boxes of their stress-relieving teas to one lucky Cute Potato winner! The kids like the caffeine-free Tulsi Ginger for bed time, and MP is especially fond of the warming Masala Chai. To enter, simply comment below. Contest ends Friday, Dec. 19 at midnight EST. We’ll pick a winner at random and announce next week.

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Good luck and happy holidays to all!

MP has to admit, now that CP#1 and CP#2 are seven- and eight-years old, it’s more challenging to find them gifts for under the tree. These days, MP is leaning towards items that are equal parts useful and fun. The kind of gifts that last well beyond trends or sudden whims. Enter L.L.Bean’s latest 2014 Gift Guide. MP was surprised to find herself dog-earring more than a few pages of the catalog. Yes, there are the expected turtlenecks, flannels, and shearling slippers, but look a little closer and you’ll find some incredible gifts for the 7-up set.

Trailblazer, Jr. headlamp
CP#2 loves to read in bed. Seriously, if you asked him, he’d tell you reading the Captain Underpants series was his favorite activity right behind drawing comics. While Trailblazer headlamps are great for camping, MP believes they’re equally useful for kids who read themselves to sleep at night.

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Adventure Duffle
We own a few Adventure Duffles in large sizes, but the idea of gifting a super cool, buffalo plaid version for our many road trips is enticing. Plus, MP can add monograms, too.

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Kids’ Mad Bomber Hat
MP has a thing for Mad Bomber Hats (as evidenced in our first Christmas card with CP#1, pictured below). Kids just look so darn cute in them. Plus they’re really, really warm.

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Sonic Snow Tube 
Our new backyard has an amazing sledding hill. And since we plan to live here until the kids are grown, a Sonic Snow Tube seems like a great investment.

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Kids’ Graphic Camp Bag, 40º
CP#1 adores peace signs and sleepovers. What better gift than this fun, printed sleeping bag that’s also warm enough for summertime camping trips.

284929 Camp Sleeping Bag, Kids' Graphic 40° chalkboard peace

As a treat for the holidays, our friends at L.L.Bean have generously offered two Trailblazer, Jr. headlamps to two lucky readers! To enter, all you need to do is comment below. We’ll pick the winners at random. Contest ends Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. Good luck!

Congrats to Dani Gardner and Kelly D. — you’ve both won a Trailblazer, Jr. Headlamp from L.L.Bean. Happy holidays to all who entered!

MP will admit, there are so many gift guides online, it’s enough to overwhelm even the most enthusiastic holiday shopper. However, it’s hard not to give the talented artisans we have in Maine a shout out. There is something about giving a handmade gift from home that makes the holidays extra special. Here are a few favorites:

This nightlight from The Orange Chair Studio in Rockland would be a cute addition to a girl’s room — no matter what her age.

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Sandy Vittum of Holiday House Design creates super cool wall art for a kid’s room or playroom.

wall-artOur Green Home’s sturdy wooden caddy is just right for carrying and organizing art supplies.

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MP loves these adorable brushed flannel infinity scarves from Maine Girl Creations. She’d love one in an adult size!

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Lilleputt Studio makes so many beautiful things, but currently MP is swooning over this organic baby blanket:

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BAOBAB Organics in Waldoboro makes some of the cutest baby clothes. These organic cotton and hemp overalls are so fun and festive.

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And speaking of great Etsy Maine discoveries, it wasn’t long ago that MP came across Yarn & Cloth Clothier. Shop owner Melissa Sailer is so talented, MP shared her name with our friends at Daytrip Jr. in Kennebunkport. The result? Jessica Jenkins of Daytrip Jr. asked Melissa to create a custom line! Jessica writes:

“We drool over the details of Melissa’s work, and were honored when she agreed to work on a custom line for our store. When our custom dress arrived we were incredibly impressed with her craftsmanship and eye.

She also made us this adorable all over pattern anchor bib. She takes such care in sewing and finishing all of her garments that it’s sure to last through many-a-mealtime. Alongside this knit lobster rattle, we think this Yarn & Cloth Clothiers bib makes the perfect Maine-themed baby gift!”

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To celebrate this fun collaboration, Daytrip Jr. is giving away the knit lobster and anchor bib you see here! All you need to do is tell us some of your favorite Maine made items below. We’ll pick a winner at random. Contest ends Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014 at midnight EST. Good luck, and happy holiday shopping!

Congrats to Nikki Heselton, who is the winner! Thanks to all for your great comments!

We’re preparing to host our first Thanksgiving, and MP has been busy baking anything she can freeze ahead, mainly pies, cranberry sauce, and biscuits. And while stuffing can’t be prepared ahead of schedule, MP figured cornbread would freeze well. She turned to a new cookbook in our house, “Eating in Maine,” by Rockland food bloggers, Jillian and Malcolm Bedell.

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The book features a simple cornbread recipe for stuffing that can easily be made with kids:

1-1/2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon) of unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, plus one yolk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk (we like Kate’s brand)

Preheat the oven to 375º. Butter a 9″x 3″x 5″ metal loaf pan or a 9 x 1.5″ metal cake pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Next, whisk together the melted butter, egg, and buttermilk in a small bowl. Then stir the wet ingredients into the cornmeal mixture, and let it stand for 30 minutes. Pour the finished mixture into the prepared metal pan and bake for 40 minutes. Allow the cornbread to cool before slicing.

This cornbread is quick, easy, and if you make it ahead of time, you’ll be super organized on Thanksgiving (at least that’s what MP Is hoping)!

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Want to try this recipe and other seasonal recipes like it? Malcolm Bedell has generously offered a copy of “Eating in Maine” to one lucky Cute Potato reader. All you need to do is check out his Kickstarter campaign for a mobile sandwich truck in Rockland, and comment on what you see below. Contest ends Saturday, November 15 at midnight EST. Good luck!

Today marks the first post in a new Cute Potato series that highlights creative, adventurous parents. MP recently had the opportunity to speak with Dylan Drake—mother, designer and organizational guru behind the Camper Clan—about her family’s decision to journey 6,200 miles across America by electric bike to break the Guinness World Record (4,176 miles)!

During husband Tomas Corjito’s daily rides, Dylan follows behind in their van with daughter Eva, age 4, and son Coco, age 2. Her day requires some serious planning: dealing with weather, mapping out routes, finding economical places to stay, and above all, entertaining the kids!

While traveling across country is a challenge, the family has prior road trip experience. In June 2013, they set off on a yearlong journey across the Americas from Tomas’ native Argentina to Dylan’s home state of Montana. The incredible experience fueled Dylan and Tomas’ desire to take on a bigger challenge, and share it with the world.

Their World Record adventure started in Missoula, Montana—the family’s hometown—in August 2014. If all goes as planned, the trip will end in Key West Florida in January 2015. Dylan and Tomas hope the trip will help promote sustainable transportation and encourage travel with young children.

MP chatted with Dylan after the family’s short visit to Maine about the ups and downs of life on the road.

MP: Before we start, I have to ask, what was your impression of Maine?
DD: I’ve never been to Maine, but I’ve always wanted to visit. We spent Halloween in Old Orchard Beach.

Coco on the beach in Old Orchard.

Coco on the beach in Old Orchard.

MP: What drew you to Old Orchard Beach?
DD: Tomas and I checked hotel costs in the Portland area, but we found the best rate in Old Orchard. We also wanted to be near the coast to see the Atlantic Ocean! We stayed at The Grand Beach Inn.

Tomas and Eva having fun on the beach.

Tomas and Eva having fun on the beach.

MP: What did you do with the kids while you were there?
DD: The Grand Beach Inn staff was incredibly friendly, and they recommended we take Eva and Coco to the Community Halloween party at the fire department. The party was great—there was a magic show, a bouncy house, and so much candy!

Coco and Eva before the Old Orchard Beach Halloween party.

Coco and Eva before the Old Orchard Beach Halloween party.

MP: I have to know, where did you eat?
DD: We tried Hoss & Mary’s fried lobster rolls, which were delicious. Eating a whole bunch of lobster on a sandwich – I never knew it was so great!

Tomas prepares to take a break after a long day of cycling.

Tomas prepares to take a break after a long day of cycling.

Dylan prepares to try her first lobster roll.

Dylan gets ready to try her first lobster roll.

MP: Your plan was to travel to Bar Harbor, but snowy weather got in your way.
DD: Yes, we had to re-route our trip to Boston instead.

MP: What made you decide to experience this adventure with your kids?
DD: In the past, Tomas had a corporate job and traveled a lot. He would see Eva and Coco for an hour at night, when the kids were tired and grumpy. We decided to change the way we did things, because what we really wanted was to spend time together as a family. Tomas and I also have a lot of travel-related dreams, and a love for electric bicycles and cycling in general. So we decided on a trip that incorporates our three favorite things (family, travel, and biking) with the hope of breaking the world record.

MP: How does the trip compare to your travels across the Americas?
DD: Our last trip was slower. We could really take our time. During this excursion, we are moving every day, so Tomas can get ahead of the weather and cover miles. It’s not as enjoyable in that sense because with kids you need to take time to stop and explore. However, we’re experiencing places we’ve never seen in the United States. As much as we want to travel the world, there is so much to see right here in our country.

MP: Preparing for any trip with kids can be a challenge. How did you plan what to bring on this trip?
DD: Our 2013 trip helped us get ready for this adventure. Honestly, the more you bring, the harder it’s going to be. You really don’t need that much stuff. The kids play with anything. Really, they rather play with sticks and pinecones than with their toys. And everyone only needs 3-4 changes of clothes, as long as there is access to washer/dryer, which can be found at most campgrounds and motels.

MP: What’s your typical day like on the road?
DD: Right now we’re staying in motels and hotels, which we really don’t like. We prefer campgrounds for their open space, play areas and campfires, but most are closed this time of year. When we’re in a hotel, it’s boring for the kids. We try to get out as early as possible. Tomas starts out first. He bikes 70-80 miles a day carrying six very heavy back-up batteries on the kids’ seat. The kids and I find a park with a playground and we meet Tomas there for a picnic lunch. He eats, plays with Eva and Coco, and then takes off to our planned end of the day meeting place.

Tomas carries 6 heavy back up batteries on the child's seat of his bike.

Tomas carries 6 heavy back up batteries on the child’s seat of his bike.

MP: How do you manage family meals on the road?
DD: We have a hot plate that we bring with us. We try to eat out as little as possible. If we go out, it’s usually around lunchtime because of bad weather. Every now and then we end up at McDonald’s, which is not my preference. We try to keep our meals healthy. Thankfully, most grocery stores have nice soups and salads. For dinner, we try to do one-pot meals – pasta, rice, and lots of fruits and vegetables. We have a refrigerator in the van, which also helps.

MP: What is your best tip for traveling with young children?
DD: Take it slow. I’ve learned this tip from experience. One activity a day is best. You also want to leave room for changing plans and exploring. Sometimes, the activity you think is going to be fun for them, they may not like — maybe they want to sit and play in the sand instead. Don’t get frustrated. Let the kids lead the exploration. They’re learning to be independent, after all.

MP: What are some of your favorite things to do with Eva and Coco while traveling?
DD: We focus our sights on playgrounds, exploring, meeting other kids, talking with local people, and not going to the touristy spots. Honestly, if it were just my husband and I we would be going on big hikes and going to museums, but with kids you have to change your focus a bit.

MP: Family travel is so expensive. What are your tips for traveling frugally on the road?
DD: The van is a bit of a gas-guzzler, but it’s more fuel-efficient than an RV. Lodging is expensive. During summer road trips, we prefer staying at campgrounds for this reason. Most campgrounds have pools, playgrounds, and rec rooms, plus with a small van, you can stay for $20 a night and do your own cooking. A national park pass really helps, too.

We’ve been traveling a year and a half now, so we are on a really tight budget. We go to thrift stores when we need clothes. We’ve found brand names and things that are barely worn. In all cases, we try not to buy things brand new – Craigslist is great for that.

MP: What are some of your daily challenges?
DD: The kids fighting with each other is the hardest. Truly, on the road, you deal with all the same issues you deal with at home: disciplining, sharing, and learning how to cooperate. We’re in public a lot, so it’s hard sometimes. People don’t always understand when your kid is having a temper tantrum out in the open.

Work is another challenge. At night, after the kids go to bed, we’re blogging or doing photos until midnight or later. It’s a lot of work. We don’t have much downtime or friends and family to help. Traveling like this can be a lot of work, but we’re enjoy every minute of it.

MP: So when do you rest?
DD: Every now and then I’ll put the TV on for the kids. Or when we’re at the playground, and Coco and Eva are playing with other kids, it’s like I’m not even there! Local libraries have been a great resource for us, too—they’re warm and the activities are free!

MP: When you hit bad weather, like Sunday’s snow, do you have a Plan B ready?
DD: We always check the weather the day before we leave. We check the route, and get an early start if weather is coming later in the day. Tomas will ride in the rain, though.

MP: What do use as a source for your routes?
DD: There’s a great non-profit group called Adventure Cycling that mapped out the entire US for routes that connect roads with bike paths. Google Maps also helps – it shows how big the shoulders on the road are, so we can find a safe biking route.

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MP: What do you look forward to most about returning home to Missoula?
DD: I’m looking forward to not having to pack every day! I can’t wait for the kids to have their own rooms, and for Tomas and I to have our own space as a couple again. There are definitely good things about having a stable life: spending time with friends, gardening, having better meals, and being a part of a community!

MP: What’s next for your family?
DD: Tomas and I would like to start a business of some kind. We’re also planning to do a documentary of our trip. We are both amateur photographers, so we are applying the things we learned with still photography to filming. Tomas and I are taking as much footage as possible during our journey. We hope we can put together an informative and inspiring documentary with the help of our partner, a seasoned director, in post-production.

Many thanks to Dylan for sharing her family’s story!  To learn more about the Camper Clan and their travels, visit www.camperclan.com or see their daily photos on Instagram.

Know a super cool mom or dad who is doing something really inspiring? Email us here.

In June, MP interviewed LEGO Master Model Builder, Ian Coffey. We discussed his visit to Portland and how he landed his incredibly fun job at LEGOLAND® Discovery Center in Boston.

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After chatting with Ian, our team was curious to check out LEGOLAND® Discovery Center for ourselves. We decided on the weekend before Halloween, so we could experience the new location’s Brick-or-Treat activities, which included a LEGO® pumpkin hunt and building some Halloween-themed creations.

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LEGOLAND® Discovery Center is located in a new, outdoor shopping center called Assembly Row in Somerville. Assembly Row is still under construction, but there are several shops and restaurants open if you choose to stay after your visit.

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We arrived at 10 a.m., when the center opens, to beat the crowds (note: you can also order tickets online to save time). And hurrah! We found a free parking garage conveniently located near the entrance to the attraction. The kids left the car with a few mini-figures from home, so they could trade with the staff throughout the morning.

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After checking in, we took an elevator to the second floor. The kids were given a golden brick that read, “Brick or Treat” as a welcome souvenir. Then we were all invited to create a virtual mini figure of our own on a big screen. Once our project was complete, we boarded the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride, where we targeted trolls and skeletons to rescue the LEGO kingdom.

The ride was fun, but all of us were really looking forward to checking out Miniland®, which features some of Boston’s best-known buildings and places to visit. MP especially loved the Miniland® version of Gilette Stadium, complete with crowd noise and a big screen.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhile MP lingered to take photos, the rest of the team went to explore the main play area. CP#2 went right for the Earthquake Tables, where kids can build a tower from DUPLO® Bricks and then test their structure’s ability to stay standing. CP#1, who can’t sit still, found her way to the LEGO® City Play Zone, where she discovered giant, foam LEGO bricks and lots of cool climbing structures.

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DP noticed a 4D movie (3D plus wind, snow, and other cool effects) called “LEGO® Racers” was playing, so we all filed in to take a break from the action and watch the short film. Later we would return to see the “Clutch Powers” movie, too.

The highlight of the visit for all of us was building our own pumpkins, witches and crazy robots in the LEGO® Model Builder Academy. This room offers buckets of colorful bricks, plus shelves of cool creations made by Ian and friends. Free from the distractions of home, MP and DP had so much fun building with the kids.

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhile the boys kept building, CP#1 and MP hopped on Merlin’s Apprentice Ride, where riders pedal fast to keep their carts flying in the air. While we were soaring above the play area, MP finally spotted a mini pumpkin in the rafters.

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There are two locations for little ones, which includes a LEGO® Friends house and a LEGO® DUPLO® Farm. Truth be told, these attractions need a little more in the offering, but CP#1 did love the karaoke that’s tucked in a corner of the LEGO® Friends house. CP#2 and DP eventually joined us, and they had a great time singing karaoke, too.

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Like many families, we found our way to the store at the end of our visit, where the kids built their own mini-figures. They begged us for all variety of things, but DP and MP stood firm! We left with promises of an Indian lunch in Somerville, followed by a visit to the Boston Museum of Science. What a full day!

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If you have a LEGO® fan at home, a visit to LEGOLAND® Discovery Center in Boston is worth the trip, especially on a rainy day. Of course, you could always host your own LEGO® building party at home, which is what we plan to do in the future.

To learn more about LEGOLAND® Discovery Center in Boston, visit here.

MP received a great book a few months ago, called Eating in Maine by Malcom and Jillian Bedell. The book features seasonal recipes, reviews and food-inspired road trips from the Bedell’s popular blog, From Away.

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Our family tested a number of recipes from Eating in Maine including a crowd-pleasing coffee s’mores pie and a decadent bacon jam, which is great on everything from cheeseburgers to baked Brie. These are recipes we will turn to again—each was straightforward, simple to make, and turned out exactly as pictured.

One of our favorite family recipes for Halloween are the fun and super easy Bacon & Egg candies. On a Friday night, we invited Grandma and Grandpa Potato over for a pancake dinner and afterwards, we made these candies together.

What you’ll need:

White chocolate (we used a 10 oz. bag of Trader Joe’s white chocolate baking chips)
1 lb. bag of M&M candies
1 lb. bag pretzel sticks

To start, line two standard baking sheets with parchment paper. Fill a small saucepan half full of water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Next, place a heat-safe, metal bowl on top of the saucepan to act as a double boiler. Turn the heat down to simmer on your stove, and stir the chips until they melt.

While the chips are melting, have the kids prepare a bowl of pretzel sticks broken in half. Another family member (we volunteered Grandpa Nicky Potato) can gather the yellow M&M’s in another bowl.

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When the chocolate is melted, use a teaspoon to place a drop of chocolate on the prepared baking sheet. The kids can carefully place a yellow M&M at the center of each, and then put two halves of a pretzel stick next to it.

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When you’re finished, place the baking sheets in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens (approx. 10-15 minutes). Et voila, you have bacon & eggs!

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As Malcolm says in Eating in Maine, “Innat cunnin’?”

Our family had so much fun making these candies. They are cute, but they’re also delicious. MP, who is not typically a white chocolate fan, loved the sweet and salty mix of flavors. We can’t wait to bring them to a friend’s pumpkin carving party next week.

Interested in getting a copy of Eating in Maine for yourself? Find the book here for 20% off the cover price! And check out the Bedell’s super cool, new Kickstarter Campaign for a mobile sandwich truck in Rockland.

Happy Halloween, all!

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