Lunches for Kids: Homemade Energy Bars

By Bree Hester / 04.09.14


Making interesting lunches that my kids will eat is always a challenge. Add in the healthy factor that I am after, and it can be next to impossible. Lunch is a very important meal; they have used a lot of brain power and need nourishment to finish the day out strong.

When I am packing lunch, I am thinking about how much nutrition can get in a lunchbox and will they even eat it? Most of the time, they will. My kids are really hungry by the time they head to the cafeteria. If the lunch that I send is fun, and not the same thing day after day, chances are good that an empty lunchbox will be making its way back home.

1. Pack lunch (as much as you can anyway) the night before. If I am rushing out the door and I haven’t packed lunch, I will probably throw the first three things that I see in a bag and call it lunch. It will be uninspired and probably not that healthy. When I pack lunch the night before, it is one less thing that I have to do in the morning.

2. Lunch doesn’t have to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Last night’s dinner can be lunch today. Make a little extra at dinner time and repurpose it for the lunchbox. An extra chicken breast can be added to a bun, or tossed into a salad.

3. Rethink lunch foods. My kids love crudités in their lunch boxes. When I am prepping dinner, I slice some extra peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and add some dip and olives. Hummus and pita. French toast sticks and some yogurt for dipping. Cheese and crackers.


4. Nowadays, there are so many cute ways to pack a lunch. Bento boxes, containers, dishes, and thermos’ make adding variety so much easier. When you are not worrying about leaking containers, you are more prone to send soup to school. It makes lunch easy to pack, easy to clean, and fun to eat. I cleared out a cabinet in my kitchen just for lunches, it makes packing so much easier. PPress_EnergyBars_3

5. I try to send homemade snacks whenever I can. I try to avoid packages. It is better for the kids and better for the environment. I usually make one treat for the week. Maybe a batch of oatmeal cookies, pudding, granola or energy bars. After I bake them, I wrap them up and have them ready to go. Same with pudding; I have cute little containers and I portion it out and pull from the fridge as needed.  Just don’t forget to send a spoon. These energy bars are so simple, and only take minutes to put together. This combination is my favorite, but you can add and take away ingredients as needed. Just keep the proportions the same. To make more of a granola bar add a cup of rice cereal to the mix.


Homemade Energy Bars

1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tablespoons chia seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup peanut butter 1 teaspoon vanilla


1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup dried blueberries
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pecans
1/4 cup almonds

These energy bars are so simple, and only take minutes to put together. This combination is my favorite, but you can add and take away ingredients as needed. Just keep the proportions the same. To make more of a granola bar add a cup of rice cereal to the mix. PPress_EnergyBars_5

1. Line a 9-inch square pan with two pieces of parchment paper, one each direction.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together oats, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut, chia seeds, cinnamon and salt. Toss to combine.

3. Add brown rice syrup and peanut butter to microwaveable bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, or until the peanut butter begins to melt. Whisk until smooth. Add vanilla.

4. Pour over the oat mixture and stir until completely combined.

5. Press into the prepared pan. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before cutting lifting the paper out of the pan. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut into small bars. 6. Wrap the bars in plastic wrap or parchment. They keep in an airtight container for one week and in the freezer for one month.



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5 High Impact Afternoon Painting Projects

By Kim Vargo / 04.07.14

It’s no secret that you can dramatically change the look and feel of an entire room with a can (or two) of paint, a roller and your bare walls. But what about a quick painting project that’ll conquer your craving for change without needing to cover your sofa in a drop cloth? Throw on your DIY tee; here’s a round up of painting projects that’ll give your home a high impact punch with minimal effort – dare I say, projects you can complete in an afternoon? Let’s welcome spring with a fresh dose of color, the simplified way.


ONE: Refine your gallery wall.

I’m what they would call a bona fide frame hoarder. I have many, and I don’t discriminate, whether they’re store bought, thrifted or saved from the dumpster. Much like many others right now, I love a good gallery wall, and to do so, I also love that I can pick through my many frames to get the look I like – and a can of quality spray is all I need to keep my art looking polished. Below, I mixed and matched salvaged frames for my old home’s studio, using white spray paint on a few of them to keep the overall look collected yet cohesive. (Bonus: Makeover an ornate thrifted mirror with a spray coat of a vibrant color. Hang in your entryway where you can’t miss it, and smile!)


TWO: Add color to the inside of your closet.

We’ve been told by friends and readers that they admire our fearless approach to color. “I wouldn’t have the guts,” we hear. Then may I suggest a splash of color where you’d least expect it – and in a place that won’t smack you in the face? We painted our coat closet interior a fun minty green (Clark + Kensington’s Bow Island), and our houseguests have been enjoying a good laugh with every swing of the door. Us, too.


THREE: Highlight a piece of furniture.

We took a sad thrifted end table and gave it a whole new look by simply painting only the edge (below). The thin strip of saturated color was all it needed to make it a knock out piece for the living room! Other accents to paint? Try painting just the legs, just the top or using a small paintbrush to highlight intricate details in a more ornate piece of furniture.


FOUR: Change the finish on a less-than-stellar light fixture.

Next time you pass up that gaudy gold chandelier at your favorite store, think again. A couple quick coats of spray paint will transform any fixture and create a cheery focal point for any room! (Tip: If you’re ever unsure on a paint color or finish, I suggest living with your new find for a few days until the inspiration strikes.)


Photo: Pretty Handy Girl

FIVE: Try a new color on your front door.

This one is certainly tried and true, but for good reason! Starting in the morning, apply a quality adhesion promotor and follow that up with your first coat of an exterior-grade paint color (I encourage you to go outside your comfort zone). By lunchtime, you’ll be ready for coat two, and by the evening, the paint will be dry enough to close your door for the night. Looking to really make a statement – inside and out? Wrap your new color around to your door’s interior, too!


Photos: Hiya Papaya

Transforming the items in and around your home with paint are limitless, this we know. (If you’re the gutsy kind, how about your ceiling?) Feeling intimidated by the change? As my husband Scott would say, “if you don’t like it, you can always paint it back. It’s just paint!” Have fun, explore and go for it!

How have you used paint to breathe new life into your home lately?


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Wedding Thank You Notes 101

By Kristin Appenbrink / 04.02.14


It’s finally spring, and you know what that means—it’s wedding season. If you’re part of a happy couple tying the knot this year, you have a lot of planning and organizing on your plate. And once the big day and the honeymoon are over, there’s one last task to wrap up the wedding celebration: sending out the thank you notes.

Even if you don’t regularly send thank you notes (I’m hoping that’s only a small percentage of you!), post-wedding is one of the times in your life to really step up your game. So, let’s go over the basics to make the daunting task easier.


The Cards

First things first, order them early, preferably when you order your invitations. That way you’ll have them on hand for any gifts that come in early or for vendors who go above and beyond for you as you’re planning your wedding. The cards themselves can match your invitations, but they don’t have to. Feel free to go with something completely different, if you want to use them post-wedding as well. I love the idea of using a photo card for your thank yous with a photo from your wedding, but if it causes delays sending them out, it’s best to go with a non-photo option or use an engagement photo instead.

What to Write

Wedding thank you notes follow the same formula as traditional thank yous. In addition to your thanks, point out an aspect of the gift you particularly love, what you will use it for, or where you will place the gift in your home. For a gift that isn’t your style that you plan to return, focus on the thoughtfulness of the gift. No need to gush about something that you aren’t in love with, complimenting someone’s generosity works just as well.


When it comes to monetary gifts, share with your guest how you intend to use it. If you plan to use the funds you received toward a down payment on a house or to take an international trip on your first anniversary, your guests will love knowing that they helped contribute. Whether or not you mention the amount is up to you, but it’s just as easy to say “Thank you for your generous gift. It will help us put a down payment on our first home this year.”

Who to Send to

A wedding gift isn’t the only gesture that warrants a thank you note after your big day. In the weeks leading up to your wedding, make note of anyone one who has helped out or gone above and beyond for you. Whether these are vendors, family friends who aren’t attending, or co-workers, it’s important to acknowledge your appreciation of their help and support.

Now, for the tough question: Do you send a note to a guest who didn’t get you a gift? The answer is yes. It’s important to thank your guests for being there to celebrate with you. More often than not, your thank you note will prompt them to send a belated gift, since they technically have a full year to send it.


Timing & Other Details

You’re given a bit of an etiquette free pass after your wedding, so you can send out your notes gradually. Aim to have them written and mailed by three months after the wedding. That might seem daunting depending on the size of your guest list, but try tackling them a little bit at a time. And unlike in days past, both newlyweds should write and sign the notes.

And go ahead and mail them as you get them written. There’s no need for everyone to receive your thank you at the same time. If you have gifts that arrive before the wedding, go ahead and write the note but leave it unsealed. Once you’re back from your honeymoon, you can quickly check those notes, add any details from the wedding, and pop them in the mail.



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Master the Quick Healthy Lunch: Farro Salad

By Erin Phraner / 03.31.14

We’re welcoming food editor Erin Phraner, founder of Food & Femininity, to the Pinhole Press inspiration blog. Connect with Erin here

We all know that packing a lunch is the wise, grownup thing to do—it’s healthier and more affordable than that meat-stack sandwich from the deli (and really, who has time to wait in line for one of those designer chopped salads). But it’s tricky right?

It takes a bit of foresight to master a week of homemade healthy lunches. First, there’s the grocery shopping. Even if you’re proactive and snag all the supplies over the weekend, it’s hard to prepare for the food fatigue you may feel midweek. My tactic is to stick with mix-and-match meals you can cook ahead and enjoy over multiple days in different ways.


The best portable lunch bases, in my humble opinion: Easy-to-prepare pantry staples, like hearty grains. The tasty dose of complex carbohydrates provides a fabulous energy boost and—bonus!—it’ll keep you fuller longer.

Browse the grocery aisle for you favorite whole grains (think barley, quinoa, brown rice) or try this simple recipe for customizable farro salad. I love farro because it’s loaded with more protein and fiber than other grains, plus it’s surprisingly lower in calories. Another virtue: Farro rarely gets mushy! After a few days in the fridge, it still maintains its firm, seed-like shape (making it perfect for a leftover-centric meal such as this).

Simmer a big batch of farro whenever you have free time, then divide it into individual portions—it only takes 20 minutes. Plain cooked farro will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can even freeze it for up to 3 months (just defrost in the microwave as needed). I like to use sandwich-size resealable plastic bags for easy rationing. When you’re ready to pack it up, toss the baggie with your choice of ingredients and you’re good to go.

This farro salad stays fresh and crunchy with English cucumbers, chickpeas (for extra protein), parmesan cheese and a tangy sherry vinaigrette. Feeling inspired? Get creative! Mix in a few extra spring veggies or your choice of nuts, cheese, beans, etc. The important task is that you keep things simple for yourself. Do that and you might just master this whole DIY lunch thing once-and-for-all!



MAKES: 6 servings


6 cups water or lower-sodium chicken broth
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
3 cups farro (about 1 pound bag)


2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 cloves garlic 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 medium English cucumber, chopped
1 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Make the farro: Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, rinse the farro under cold running water.

2. Stir rinsed farro into boiling water and cook, without stirring, until tender, about 20 minutes; drain. Transfer half of the farro to resealable plastic bags and refrigerate for another use. Transfer the remaining farro to a large bowl.


3. Make the salad: Put the sherry and garlic in a small bowl; set aside 10 minutes to infuse. Remove the garlic; set aside. Slowly whisk the olive oil into the vinegar until combined. Finely grate the reserved garlic into the dressing, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.


4. Add the chickpeas, cucumber, parsley and dressing to the bowl with the farro. Toss to combine. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.



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5 Tips for Reviving Your Bookcase

By Kim Vargo / 03.28.14

We’re welcoming home decor expert Kim Vargo of Yellow Brick Home to the Pinhole Press inspiration blog. Connect with Kim here

Styling your bookcase can feel a bit intimidating; really, I know. (I’ve been there before, paralyzed with fear, too!) With all the stunning imagery of impeccably styled shelves around the web, you might wonder how fellow home lovers keep things feeling so effortless, right? I truly don’t believe there are steadfast rules when it comes to a beautifully styled bookcase, but if you’re looking at your own overstuffed and chaotic shelves and feeling ready to breathe new life into your display, here are a few easy tips I’ve learned along the way to keep things feeling fun, fresh and most importantly, more like you.

ONE: Pare it down. Keep the worn paperbacks separate and display only the books and magazines that inspire you. If you can’t stand the idea of parting with your beloved reads, stow those less-than-pretty books in baskets, bins or vintage crates. I’ll be the first to admit that Scott and I have a handful of old favorites that we can’t bear to part with (mostly for nostalgic reasons), but in general, we’re the read-and-pass-along kind. To us, after we’ve enjoyed a book once, that book should be passed along and loved by another. Consider donating your one-time only reads, or better yet, tell your friend to enjoy and have her do the same for someone else.

Photo: Better Homes and Garden

TWO: Be mindful of scale and weight. Once you’ve got a good handle on what stays vs. what goes, start adding your bulkiest items to your bookshelf first. We have a healthy record collection that we display on our bookshelf, and we keep these heaviest items down low. To avoid a top-heavy bookcase, larger items (such as baskets, bins or in our case, records) should be displayed on the lowest level. Below, you can see how we did this with our recent bookcase makeover.

THREE: Play with the arrangement. To avoid the overly stuffy library look, think outside the box. Stack your books vertically as well as horizontally, arrange them by type (think: magazines vs. the Harry Potter series), color or genre. Does your bookcase have shelves that can move up and down? If so, move outside of your comfort zone and use this to your advantage! A tall, vertical stack of glossies can be topped with a small bauble with a little shelf maneuvering, and at the same time, don’t be afraid to allow some shelves to breathe with just a single item.

Photo:  Mandi Johnson via A Beautiful Mess

FOUR: Make it personal. Ah, in my opinion, the best part. With your books arranged how you’d like, begin layering in those personal touches – framed family photos, artwork and a collection of meaningful items (what a great way to show off finds from antique fairs, your travels or just something that simply makes you smile!) Have fun with this part. Show off your quirky side and add that touch of whimsy with gilded gold bookends, your prized bowling trophy or your child’s finger paintings. Below, we’ve added an 11×14 Pinhole Press frame, a favorite memory taken in a gelato shop during a quick trip to Paris. We’ve layered small vases holding sweet notes from friends and favorite instant photos.


FIVE: Hey, up there! Don’t forget about the space above your bookcase! Adding a large piece of framed art or even a collection of framed family photographs will add eye-pleasing height to the room. Think of it as cheating the height of your ceilings.

Photo: Ikea

Sometimes a few easy tweaks can really make all the difference. With the impending changing seasons (here in Chicago, spring can’t come fast enough!), a rejuvenated mindset may be all you need to get your home feeling more put together. Go ahead and give these tips a try; you’ve got this. What else have you done in your own home to keep your shelving displays looking their best? What is your most treasured item on display?



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