Handcrafted Jewelry Review and Giveaway: Jewels by ALB Creations


Happy Holidays MinnesotaFromScratch Readers! Throughout the month of December I am going to feature handmade items, designed by creative people throughout the country. There will also be some giveaways intertwined, so get excited!

When I am gifted something handcrafted, it is always something I cherish near and dear to my heart. Handmade items are unique and something that also holds heart and love of the creator as well. That’s why I thought it might be nice to shine the spot light onto average people from around the country that share a passion for creativity!

The first business I’d like to highlight this month is from right here in Minnesota: Jewels by ALB Creations!

I recently met Ashley through an online network and she is  she owner and mastermind  behind  Jewels by ALB Creations. She creates BEAUTIFUL and unique pieces of jewelry. Ashley has been creating stunning pieces for nearly twenty years. She uses high quality materials, such as glass beads, genuine stones and Swarovski crystals. She is inspired by her surroundings and let’s her imagination flow when designing. Her price point is incredibly affordable as well.

Look at this gorgeous necklace, who wouldn’t love to receive this?!


or these:


“Hoops with a Twist” made with Black Agate, Glass Beads & Swarovski Crystals

What I like about her pieces is that not only can you wear them out to formal events, but they are also fitting to jazz up something very casual as well. You would not believe how many compliments I have received when I have been out, wearing that necklace!

Here are a couple other of my favorite pieces from her collection:


“Red Carpet Earrings” made with Swarovski crystals and sell for just $10

"Message Bracelet" Materials: Glass Beads, Genuine Turquoise, Genuine Amethyst, Silver, Message Beads

“Message Bracelet”
Materials: Glass Beads, Genuine Turquoise, Genuine Amethyst, Silver, Message Beads

Visit the Jewels by ALB Creations Etsy shop and let me know which piece is your favorite!

Ashley is not only offering a *SPECIAL PROMO* to readers, but also a GIVEAWAY! For one week, she will offer, “Buy one, get one 50% off” and she will even give you the more expensive piece for 50% off! What a steal! On top of that, she is going to be giving away one lucky reader a piece of jewelry from her collection!


************a Rafflecopter giveaway************

Giveaway ends 12/14/14 at 11:59 CT

Good luck!

Halloween Crafts for Kids: Monsters and Spiders

Yesterday was a cold and rainy day here in Minnesota and I like nothing more than hunkering down with my daughter and crafting and cooking on days like that. My daughter loves decorating for holidays and she woke up yesterday and began creating little spiders with wooden beads and pipe cleaners. That set the tone for our crafty morning and we took a peek on Pinterest to get ideas of other Halloween decorations that we could make with materials we already had around the house. One thing we found were cute TP roll monsters. Here are the spiders and monsters we made:

MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com Halloween Crafts 3

One of my Instagrammers wanted a tutorial so here is a brief summary of how to make them!

Materials for monsters:

  • TP rolls or paper towel rolls cut in half
  • Paint and paint brushes/foam brushes
  • Eye balls (we bought ours at the $1 store)
  • Glue
  • Construction paper
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Scissors

First paint the TP rolls whatever colors you’d like:

MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com Halloween Crafts

Then add the eye balls in whatever creative way you’d like. My daughter added eye balls around the entire TP roll on one monster, which made me think we could decorate both sides with a face and have them double-sided! If you don’t have the googley-eye balls, then they could be drawn on as well or cut out of paper — just be creative!

MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com Halloween Crafts 2

Then we just cut mouths out of construction paper and glued them on.  For the arms, I used a scissors to cut little slits to slide the pipe cleaners through – this is a job for the adult. Be careful not to poke yourself!  And then bend the arms in whatever spooky way you’d like. To get the spiral look, just wrap the pipe cleaner around a pen or pencil.

MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com Halloween Crafts 4

To make the spiders, all you need are wooden beads and pipe cleaners. My daughter received a kit from her God Mother that came with a bunch of wooden beads and pipe cleaners with creative suggestions of things to to make. I believe the kit is available at Target. All you need to do is poke four pipe cleaners through the larger wooden bead and bend the pipe cleaners to look like legs. Grab a permanent marker and draw on a spider face and that’s it!

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Have fun!

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar Transformation in Photos

Monarch MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com

When we bought our home six years ago, the previous homeowner had milkweed plants growing near the back door. At the time, I had no idea that milkweed was a huge part of Monarch caterpillars’ diet, but I was sure happy when I saw my first little caterpillar on the plant! I had never seen one in nature before, it was so much fun to watch.

This year, we had 3 caterpillars munching away at our milkweed plants and one in particular stayed the entire transformation from larva stage until pupa stage. Here is the transformation in photos I took:

This is when we first found our little buddy. My daughter spotted it somehow with her hawk-like eyesight. I cannot express how tiny this little bugger was; Less than 1mm!

Monarch Caterpillar - MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com

This was about 3-5 days later. The size has increased by 5 or 6 times the size when we first found it.

Monarch Caterpillar - day 5 - MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com

And this was the last time we saw the caterpillar… about 14 days after first noticing him. All grown up and ready for the next stage:

Monarch Butterfly - day 9 - MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com

Unfortunately we don’t know where he  made his chrysalis, but it would be so neat to see that stage as well. Next year we might try building something that will hopefully appeal to the caterpillars to stick around.

Monarchs feed almost exclusively on Milkweed plants and as adult butterflies, they get a lot of their nutrients from the milkweed flowers. Consider planting some in your garden if you haven’t already!

Each year, millions of Monarchs make their way down to Mexico because it’s too cold in Minnesota for them to survive. We celebrate the kick off of this 1500 mile migration at Lake Nokomis at the Minneapolis Monarch Festival which takes place at the beginning of September. It’s a great opportunity to learn tons of interesting facts about Monarch Butterflies and learn why they are so essential to our environment, plus there are great vendors with delicious food and amazing entertainers as well. I love the awareness this spreads throughout the community. Do you have a similar event in your neck of the woods?

A few facts about Monarch Butterflies:

  • Their number one most important job is pollinating and they are great at it!
  • They eat destructive bugs from other plants.
  • Once their life is over, they play an important role by being a beneficial food source to others, such as bats, birds, lizards, monkeys and snakes.
  • They are beautiful and bring joy to those that see them. :)
  • Average lifespan is 6-8 months.
  • Male Monarchs have a black spot on the bottom quarter of each wing, which females don’t so they are easy to distinguish between.
  • The prevalence of Monarchs in our environment give scientists great insight on our ecosystem and how it is changing.

So consider what plants you have in your yard and think about making a butterfly-friendly area.

Monarch Sculpture - MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com

What is your favorite type of butterfly?

MN Renaissance Festival – Fairy Fest Weekend 2014

Last year I wrote about the Minnesota Renaissance Festival’s Fairy House competition. It’s a contest in which adults and children are encouraged to submit their fairy house masterpieces in hopes to win prizes. Over the weekend, Renaissance visitors are able to vote on their favorite house. We had such a great time last year that we had to go back for Fairy Fest again this year. Here are a few of the houses I was really impressed with (click on the image to make the photo even larger):





Our favorite:


And of course, a trip to the Renaissance would not be complete with out seeing Twig the Fairy…


We’re already looking forward to going back next year!

Cherry Salsa!

cherry salsa chicken

This week my CSA delivered me pounds of cherries.  Normally I would just pass by cherries in the produce section, but they are hard to avoid when they show up at the house!  Knowing I didn’t want to waste them, I looked into creative ways to use them up.  This is basically a pico de gallo recipe, but instead you replace the tomatoes with the cherries – SO GOOD!

Why cherries?  I’m always curious what the health benefits are in the food I eat, so I looked into it…  The cherry (pH 3.32-4.52) is very good at cleansing the digestive system, the darker the cherry the better.  They contain magnesium, iron and silicon.  Since they eliminate excess body acids they are also helpful with rheumatic disorders.  They are also beneficial for the liver, blood and gallbladder and can even help relieve urinary infections.  Who knew?

So far I have enjoyed this salsa over a chicken breast and with my morning lettuce wraps.  Delicious!  Here goes.

I found the recipe on Martha Stewart’s site…  Thanks, Martha!


2 cups roughly chopped Cherries
½ small Red Onion, finely chopped
¼ C. fresh Cilantro, chopped
1 Jalapeno (seeds removed), minced
1 T. fresh lime juice
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix everything together and enjoy!


Scrambled Egg Lettuce Wraps

Scrambled Egg Lettuce Wraps


Garlic Scape & Basil Pesto Recipe!

garlic scape pesto

The weekly CSA pick up included garlic scapes this week…. say what?! Curious, I cut a bite to try and it tasted surprisingly spicy! I added some to eggs and didn’t even notice them…. hmmm… what to do with these new foreign ingredients?

A quick search on the web led me to experiment with a pesto recipe. It turned our great so I had to throw it on the blog to share with you.

There’s a nice, soft kick of spice at the end of this recipe that’s fantastically fresh tasting. I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I do.


  • ¼ c. toasted pine nuts
  • ¼ c. fresh basil
  • ½ C chopped garlic scapes
  • ½ lemon squeezed and zested
  • Salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • ½ c olive oil
  • ¼ C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Toast the pine nuts in a small, dry pan until they begin to change color (about 4 minutes). Pay attention, you don’t want to run to the store for more! Let cool.

In a food processor, combine pine nuts, garlic scapes, basil, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt and pepper (1/2 tsp. each or so). Pulse until mixed well.

Slowly pour in the olive oil while the processor is running. Pour into a bowl and mix in the Parmesan

Voila! Pesto chango!

I enjoyed my batch over zucchini noodles, but this would be GREAT on crackers, bread, or even just by the spoonful! Love it!

Thanks for reading,


How to Grill Cactus Leaves (Nopales)


My cousin recently moved in with us to finish up his last year of college. Along with his sense of humor and gentle spirit, he also brought a new menu item to our table last night – grilled nopales, also known as cactus leaves or pads.

I have eaten cactus salad several times in the past, but had never thought of grilling it. After a little research on the internet, I learned that not only is cactus a versatile ingredient in the kitchen, it is also very beneficial to your health! The Mayoclinic.org says, “Prickly pear cactus is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Some preliminary evidence shows that prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.  It is high in fiber, antioxidants and carotenoids.”

As you’d assume, we do not grow cacti here in Minnesota and it isn’t something you find at every grocery store. However, I’m fortunate enough to have a fantastic Mexican market nearby my home which has all sorts of great authentic ingredients, including cactus pads.

They were incredibly easy to prepare and were a great side for our grilled meal. If you ever spot cactus in your store, buy a pound and give them a try. The market near us sells their leaves already cleaned up and ready to cook for about $2.50 a pound, but according to my cousin, not all places sell them so user-friendly. If you purchase paddles and there are still thorns and spines on them, use a sharp knife to scrape off all of the prickly parts cut around the edges of the pad.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 pound of nopales (6-8 pads usually)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Optional: salt, pepper, garlic powder or other seasonings of your choice


Once the nopales are cleaned up, rinse them off and pat them dry. Brush olive oil over both sides of the pad and season them with salt, pepper and garlic powder (as much as you prefer). Grill on medium heat for 2-3 minutes and flip over and grill the other side for another 2-3 minutes. That’s it!

After we made these last night, I posted a picture on Instagram and several people chimed in and shared their ways of preparing cactus leaves. Here are a couple interesting ways I look forward to trying:

@art_by_ejm said: To prepare it, I make shallow crisscross incisions from one edge to the other so it looks like diamond shapes all over it. On both sides. This makes liquid come out, but it cooks off anyway. Then I spinkle salt lightly on each side and put it on a very hot comal (iron skillet ?) and i let it sizzle on each side just enough to change color and get limp. Then I put the whole thing (or half, if it’s enormous), in the middle of a blue corn tortilla, fold it in half, and take a big bite :D Or I cut some pencas de nopal into little squares, boil them, drain, mix with diced tomato, white onion, cilantro, salt and lime juice. Mix it (now cactus salad), put it on a tostada (non-GMO :D) and eat it!! It’s so good like that too.

@sarahhonk said:  I actually love cutting them up raw in a small dice and adding then to a pico de gallo or a simple tomato onion and olive oil salad with basil and salt. Eat them with a tortilla or a big chunk of whole wheat sourdough. The mild sour spice flavor with them is awesome! The goo can be weird, but I try and use it to my advantage raw. I also love slicing it and cooking it with my veggie fajitas. Cumin powder onion garlic and green chili powder works wonders in complimenting their sour spice.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam Recipe – No Powdered or Liquid Pectin Added


Since the rhubarb was growing like crazy in the garden, I decided it must be time to start canning. Strawberry-Rhubarb jam has been my favorite jam since I was a kid and oddly, I haven’t made it since the first year I started canning.

I didn’t have a go-to recipe to use and when searching the web, I found that pretty much all of the recipes I came across either had a TON of sugar added (like 8 or more cups, isn’t that nuts?!) or used liquid/powdered pectin. One even used strawberry jello instead of real strawberries <gag>. So, I experimented and the results were great.


  • 4 cups of chopped rhubarb
  • 5 cups of quartered strawberries
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup of filtered water
  • 3 cups of organic sugar (or 2 cups of raw honey)


Once you have all of your ingredients ready, toss the strawberries into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and use a potato masher to smash up the berries. Then toss in all of the remaining ingredients.


Heat to a boil and cook over medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes. You must stir often to avoid burning the sauce.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam recipe - No added liquid or powdered pectin - all organic

That’s it!

Transfer to hot sterile jars, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch head space, and seal. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. If the jam is going to be eaten right away, don’t bother with processing and just refrigerate.

For more inspiration on how to use up your rhubarb, here is the rhubarb and apple jam recipe I created last spring!

Win a Handmade Fairy Door, Made by Yours Truly {Giveaway}

As my Christmas gift from my mother this year, she enrolled me into pottery class. It has been a very enjoyable creative outlet that I intend to continue for many years. THANK YOU, MOTHER. I’ve only made a few things on the wheel so far, including bowls, a mug, and a plate. The wheel is much more difficult than it looks I must admit. But I’ve made several items with slab clay and since my daughter is into fairies, I have made more fairy related items than I had ever foreseen making but it has become a very fun hobby.

Over on my Instagram account, I post several times a week and the few fairy related items that I have posted have been big hits. Therefore, I have decided to set up a giveaway over on IG. It’s very easy to enter and the winner will win the fairy door of their choice.

Win a Fairy Door handmade by MinnesotaFromScratch.wordpress.com on Instagram

The contest will end on Monday, May 26th and all entries must be through the Instagram contest rules located on my photo… direct link here.

Good luck to all!



Where Have I Been? Let Me Explain…


If you are not one of my followers on Instagram, then you probably feel like I have gone missing. I’ve gotten comments and messages from loyal readers wondering where the heck I’ve been. Thank you for your concern but all is well! The truth is, our family went through a series of colds a couple months ago, then work got REALLY busy and then we took a family vacation to Hawaii! However, I have been posting every couple of days on Instagram  (if you aren’t following me there yet, then I encourage you to since I post there much more often than on the blog). Now that we are back in town and back in the swing of things, I’ll get  back to posting on a more regular basis. I have several awesome reviews and giveaways lined up that I am super excited to share with you!

Now let me get you caught up…

Several months ago we decided to book flights to Hawaii for our family. My three year old had never been on a plane before so I had no idea what to expect from her and let’s just say, she’s not known for her patience.  I was excited to get away some where warm and tropical, as I had not been any where out of MN or WI since the year I got married. However, trumping my excitement for the trip, was my sheer fear of taking my daughter on a three flight, 18-hour travel journey.

In preparation for the day of travel we were soon going to endure, my husband and I made sure to have enough stuff to keep our daughter’s mind busy through the flights. We shopped for maze/puzzle/coloring and activity books. The grandmother’s brought over travel goodie bags of activities and my husband and I made sure we charged up the dvd player and tablet for movie watching. I talked to my daughter for months about flying and how we were going to be “sitting all day” and made sure to prepare her as well as I could. We had three bags full of activities and snacks for the flights. Well, let me report that the trip there and back was completely seamless and my daughter did great! It was actually unbelievable how well she did, you have no idea how thankful I am. I definitely over-thought this experience and even over prepared, but hey, better safe than sorry. She didn’t even watch one whole movie on the way there and she slept the entire way home. WAHOO!!!! Absolutely unbelievable.

Anyway, back to the actual juicy part of the story – HAWAII! We planned our trip to the Big Island, which we’d never been to, and had no idea what to expect. Planning a trip some where like that actually felt daunting. There is so much unknown and so many options that it felt a bit overwhelming. So let me put you at ease and just say, GO TO HAWAII… IT’S AMAZING AND WONDERFUL. We can’t wait to go back. For us, the biggest cost was air fare. I watched ticket prices for nearly a year and a half before they dipped down low enough for us to jump on them. Once you find your flights, you will need to book a car. A car rental is pretty much a must on the Big Island. My husband found a discount car rental website that saved $300 on our rental fees. Lodging accommodations are surprisingly MUCH LESS than I anticipated as well. Before we took our trip, I made a two page long list of ideas of activities we could do, but once we got there, that list went out the window. There is so much beauty on the island and so much to see that you don’t need to jump from one touristy activity to the next, just get in the car and drive; explore.

We stayed near Hilo on the east side of the island most of our trip, which is known as the rainy side. It is green and lush with the most beautiful trees, flowers and vines I’ve ever seen. It’s a jungle and the noises of the native frogs and birds are so soothing to sleep to. Much of the island is made up from volcanic rock so many of the beaches are black sand. We also traveled over to the west side of the island, the more touristy side, which gets much less rainfall each year and has some of the world’s most gorgeous beaches. The popular white sand beaches are on the west side, the Kona side. The contrast between the two sides of the island are great and I would recommend visiting both so you can experience the difference yourself. Both sides offer wonderful things! We spent our days visiting different state parks (free admission btw) and trying out different beaches. The sea turtles are very friendly there. At four different beaches, we had sea turtles swim up to us and we were able to swim with them – who knew?! We saw dolphins, wild pigs and lizards too. Our family fell completely in love with Hawaii and cannot wait to plan our next trip back.

I went to Hawaii with the mindset that it was a super over-priced, over-hyped, tourist attraction – and from what I hear, some of the other Hawaiian islands are like that – but not this one. Gas prices were just a little over $4 a gallon and the food at the grocery store was very comparable to what I pay at home – even for the organic food. Once you get on the island, you wouldn’t have to really pay for any activities because there is so much to do and see for free. It was completely amazing. If you are one of those people that say, “I’ve always wanted to go there” then I urge you to GO. But get in touch with me so I can give you advice on which parks to visit and where to stay!

Here are some of our pictures from the trip:


Akaka Waterfall – 442′ fall


Lava Tree State Park


Lava rock


Stunning black sand beaches all over


Sunset from our condo in Kona (west side)

Sunset from our condo in Kona (west side)

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Green Anole – little cutie that kept us company during our stay. My daughter named him Hide, since he was always hiding. ;)

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The one big ticket activity we did splurge on was a submarine tour. This is one of the two ship wrecks they took us to. Do you see the shark on the right side of the ship?!

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If you have ever wondered what it is like to drive through volcanic ash and a rain cloud at 6,000 ft above sea level, let me tell you: ABSOLUTELY HORRIFYING! We are on Saddle Road here – it cuts through the island between two volcanoes.

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White sand beach in Kona, Hawaii


Thanks for reading,


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