Fruit Centerpiece Ideas

Here is a terrific variation of my Pineapple Palm Tree Centerpiece Idea!

Monkey Pineapple Palm Tree Centerpiece

Pineapple Palm Tree Centerpiece with Monkeys

Here is the link to my original post:  Vickie’s Pineapple Palm Tree Centerpiece Ideas

I’m always looking for creative new ideas to “Make Life Special”!  This Monkey Pineapple Palm Tree would be a great centerpiece for a luau or even a kid’s party!  You can watch my YouTube Video and see just how easy a Pineapple Palm Tree is to make:  Pineapple Palm Tree Centerpiece Ideas .

Here are some tips to remember when making the Pineapple Palm Tree:

  • Don’t try to do this ahead of time.  Once a pineapple is cut, it will become mushy when you refrigerate it.  This is easy to make so just plan on making it about an hour or two ahead of the party and let it sit out at room temperature.
  • Build the Pineapple Palm Tree Centerpiece on a tray that can catch all of the juice that will drain out of the pineapples.
  • Look for pineapples on sale – there are some great prices on pineapples this time of year and this is an inexpensive entertaining idea.
  • Fresh pineapples can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 days.
  • Pineapple is low in calories, has no fat and is an excellent source of Vitamin C.
  • Any extra pineapple you have after making the fruit centerpiece can be cut into bite-sized pieces and used on your fruit tray.
  • If you have a “green thumb” you may want to grow your own pineapple plant.  It’s easy to do and makes a great houseplant!  You just twist the leafy crown off of the pineapple, let it dry for about a week and then plant it in a pot. You will have several leafy crown left over when you make the Pineapple Palm Tree so this would be a great use for them. after they are growing, they would make great hostess gifts!

Easy Balsamic Fig Salad

Balsamic Fig Salad

Balsamic Fig Salad

Here is a simple, healthy salad that everyone will love!

Fresh, easy and pretty enough for company, this Balsamic Fig Salad  can be tossed together in no time.  I like to assemble the greens on individual glass plates and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.  This pretty salad takes advantage of fresh strawberries and can be easily varied to include other fresh fruits such as diced apples or fresh blueberries for a color explosion on your plate.

I topped the greens and strawberries with the Chocolate Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette from Dove Chocolate Discoveries.  This dressing can be ordered online and shipped right to your door.  I think the chocolate and fig combination is a delightful flavor combination.   You could also top it with bottled Poppy Seed Dressing or another bottled balsamic dressing.  If you want to expand the recipe, add a cheese such as crumbled feta, Gorgonzola, Blue Cheese or crumbled goat cheese.

Balsamic Fig Salad
Prep time
Total time
Recipe type: Salad
  • 1 bag spring mix salad greens
  • fresh strawberries, sliced (or blueberries or diced apples)
  • Chocolate Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette from Dove Chocolate Discoveries OR other bottled Balsamic Dressing OR bottled Poppy Seed Dressing
  1. Arrange the salad greens on a salad plate. Top with sliced fresh strawberries. Drizzle with salad dressing.

Rinse the the lettuce greens in a colander and dry on paper towels before assembling.  You can get creative and vary the fruit, add crumbled cheese or even add toasted nuts to the mix. Just remember that you can assemble this recipe ahead of time and avoid any last minute rush at mealtime.

Balsamic Fig Salad

Sometimes the simple things are the best….and this is a super simple recipe that will round out any meal.



Mexican Ceviche

Mexican Ceviche

Mexican Ceviche

Mexican Ceviche is out of this world!  It is usually served as an appetizer with tortilla chips but I think it would also be lovely served as a main dish salad on lettuce leaves.  I just returned from a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and while I was there, I had the opportunity to take a Mexican Cooking Class.  This is a popular method of “cooking” fish and shellfish in Mexico by marinating it in either lemon or lime juice.  Mexican Ceviche is a very popular appetizer served everywhere in Mexico and it is gaining popularity here as well.  I have to admit that I did not think I would like Ceviche because I have tried Sushi many times and I just don’t like it.  However, Ceviche is totally different both in taste and texture.  It is quick to make, only has a few ingredients and makes a perfect addition to your next party!  Here is how we made it:

Mexican Ceviche
Prep time
Total time
Here is a quick and easy appetizer straight from Cabo San Lucas!
Recipe type: appetizer
Cuisine: Mexican
  • 4 fresh shrimp, cleaned, shelled and de-veined, and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh tomato
  • ⅛ cup chopped fresh cucumber (peeled)
  • ⅛ cup chopped red onion
  • ⅛ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped jalapeno pepper
  1. Clean, shell and de-vein 4 large shrimp. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Add ¼ cup chopped tomatoes, ⅛ cup peeled and chopped fresh cucumber, ⅛ cup chopped fresh cilantro, ⅛ cup chopped red onion and 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped jalapeno pepper (to taste).
  3. Marinate no longer than 30 minutes.

Villa del Arco Chef in Cabo

Villa del Arco Chef in Cabo

Here is the chef at Villa del Arco preparing for the Mexican Cooking Class.

Vickie and Jodi Weber…..ready for the cooking class

Vickie and Jodi at Cabo Cooking Class 2

Clean, peel and de-vein 4 fresh shrimp.

Cabo Cooking Class 4


Chop the shrimp and place in a bowl.  Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Cabo Cooking Class 8



Add chopped tomato, chopped peeled cucumber, chopped red onion and chopped fresh cilantro.

Cabo Cooking Class 12

Add chopped jalapeno to taste…

Cabo Cooking Class 13

Mexican Ceviche!

Mexican Ceviche!

Mexican Ceviche!

I would love to serve this as a first course for a dinner party — in martini glasses!

Here is a sampling of some of the other great appetizers we enjoyed on our trip:

Food at Wine Tasting 1 Food at wine Tasting 2


Remember, let’s share great food with our family and friends!  Enjoy! 





Summer Recipes …And The Livin’ Is Easy!


 Summer recipes that are quick and easy help us enjoy sharing great food with our family and friends!

Summer is in full swing and everyone is looking for easy summer recipes!  I can’t wait to share the new recipes I’ve been cooking for the blog and YouTube channel!  The bouquet above is from my flower garden and if you remember last summer, I shared the success secret for garnishing your food creations with fresh flowers…. “Edible Flowers for Garnishing”  Be sure to check out those tips!

Here is a preview of upcoming summer recipes that I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks:

  • Easy 7-Up Biscuits
  • Bananas Foster….It’s a real WOW!
  • Vickie’s Almost Famous Bloomin’ Onion
  • Baby Shower Ideas
  • Crock Pot Overnight Oatmeal
  • Easy Skillet Green Beans
  • Flower Petal Ice Cubes
  • Summertime Lemonade……Plus more!!!!

Many of you have probably been wondering why I have not been posting recipes lately.  Well, when my youngest daughter, Kacy, left home to do an internship in Cancun , I decided that I needed to:

1) Get a job and

2) Be around teenagers

I checked the job board and there was a teaching position open in my immediate area.  I applied for the position…and they hired me. I thought I would be able to blog and teach….but my first year back in the teaching arena proved to be a FULL TIME job!  I loved every minute of it and I can’t wait for school to start again in the fall and now I think it will be possible for me to keep up with my classroom work, blogging and my YouTube channel.  I must say, I have missed my Make Life Special work.

So…on with Make Life Special!  Let’s continue our journey …let’s enjoy some easy summer recipes and  share great food with our family and friends!

Summer Bouquet 2





Potluck Survival Guide Review

Potluck Survival Guide: Care & Feeding of the Athletic Supporter

By: Cherie Kimmons

Potluck Survival Guide 

Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  18+



I don’t have a child in sports, yet.  With my son’s love of kicking and throwing balls, I am sure that is just around the corner.  I am, however, a priest’s wife.  I have lovingly endured 3 years of seminary and a few years assisting him in his ministry.  I have endured and/or loved many potlucks.  If every potluck organizer had this book at their disposal, I might have loved a few more than I endured!

This book would be a fabulous gift for any parent, grandparent or involved community member.  Potluck Survival Guide is just that…. A guide.  Kimmons walks you through how to set a menu, how to keep things kid-friendly, how to feed athletes (pre-game and post-game), how to set up a buffet, and how to calculate how much food you will need.  As if that weren’t enough, there are enough recipes in here to give a lot of variety to your potluck dishes.  I usually bring a smashed garlic potato dish to a potluck.  As much as I love that dish, I am so excited by this cookbook that I am giving it a rest for the foreseeable future!

Potluck Survival Guide would not be worth much if the recipes didn’t hold up to the test.  I am thrilled to say that the recipes are top-notch.  I recently had company stay at our home.  It was a few friends from seminary.  I knew we would stay up late talking and I wanted a nice hearty dish on the table for breakfast.  I also didn’t want to wake up ridiculously early to cook.  Kimmons’ Overnight Breakfast Casserole was just what I was looking for.  I prepped it the night before (it took 10 minutes) and baked it upon waking.  45 minutes later breakfast was served.  My friends and my husband were raving about this dish!

Sausage and Egg Casserole Beauty

Where to Buy

For $23.70  you can purchase this delightful book at Amazon.


For More Information

You can visit Cherie Kimmons’ Website .


Reviewed by: Nicole


Note:  Cherie Kimmons graciously supplied me with a copy of Potluck Survival Guide: Care& Feeding of the Athletic Supporter for review.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.

Throwing a 4th of July BBQ

4th of July

4th of July

Throwing a 4th of July BBQ is easy with these great tips from my friend Sara Stringer with sarasblogging.  

Thank you Sara for this guest post.  You have given us a lot of terrific success secrets for our 4th of July BBQ!

It’s summer and you know what that means: chilling in the backyard on the weekends, having the whole neighborhood over for barbecue, grilling and picnic fare. Understandably you want these get-togethers to be perfect. Here are some tips to help you get as close to perfection as possible.

Stray from the Norm

Obviously you’re probably going to want to do burgers, hot dogs, maybe some chicken.  But what about varying the menu a little bit?

Shish Kabobs are usually a big crowd pleaser—and easy to make vegetarian for the vegetarians and vegans in your midst.

Make your own fruit salad. Anybody can dump a few cans of fruit cocktail into a bowl. Instead, why not try the following recipe:

You’ll need:

A bunch of your favorite fruit: grapes, strawberries, apples, whatever.

Lemon juice – one lemon’s worth

Lemon zest—one lemon’s worth

1/3 cups of very light corn syrup

What You Do:

Cut up the fruit into manageable sized bites. Make sure that the skins, rinds and peels are removed. Toss the fruit chunks into a big bowl. Aim to have at least six cups worth of cut up fruit.

In a smaller bowl combine your lemon zest, lemon juice and corn syrup and mix thoroughly.

Pour the glaze over the fruit and toss until everything is coated equally.

The great thing about this recipe is that it is easy to adjust depending on the size of your party or gathering. Less for fewer people, more for more. You can also adjust it according to taste to make it more “lemony” or less.

Simple is Best

Decorating for an outdoor event presents a unique set of challenges. It’s easy to go overboard, trying to make things festive. The truth is that, with backyard barbecues and neighborhood block parties, less is very often more.

Tables: instead of paper, go for vinyl (or easily wipe-offable) table cloths—but don’t buy them pre-made! It’s super easy to make your own. Simply take a trip to your local fabric shop and see what they have in stock (it’s helpful to have some coupons for JoAnn’s in your pocket before you get to the store). You can buy a few yards of fabric and cut them and hem them up to fit the tables you’ve got on hand. Then, after the party simply wipe them off, fold them up and store them until the next get together.

Centerpieces: Find some large (widely mouthed) glass vases. Fill them up a third of the way with sand. Place tall fat candles (white looks the most elegant) in the sand.  The weight of the sand will help the candle stay “anchored” and will keep the vases from toppling over. The vases, in turn will keep tablecloths from blowing away. The flame from the candles will be safe within the vase but the smoke drifting out will help keep bugs away from peoples’ food.

Clean Up

At the end of the summer, go through all of your supplies. The great thing about what we’ve talked about here is that everything is affordable. If you have to toss it out due to wear and tear, you won’t mind very much and you can easily (and cheaply) replace it all next year.

The one exception is the grill. Look at your grill when grilling season is over. If it looks like it’s getting worn down, you can use the following fall and winter season to scour the internet looking for sales or an online Black Friday deal to help you replace it before the next season starts.  Waiting until next summer only guarantees an expensive purchase.

What are some of the things you’ve done to make your backyard barbecues as perfect as possible?

July 4th

Happy 4th of July!

Potato Smashers for Easy Potato Recipes

Looking for some easy potato recipes?

Potato Smashers are like Potato Skins, covered with crisp bacon and sharp cheddar cheese…but on a grander scale!  You can make these in about 15 minutes and your family and friends will rave!

Print the recipe here:

Potato Smashers
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Side Dish
Serves: 4
  • 8 small new red potatoes, about 2 inches in diameter
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 tablespoons Zesty Italian Salad Dressing
  • ½ to 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  1. Place potatoes and water in 2 quart microwavable bowl. Microwave, uncovered, om HIGH for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Let stand a couple of minutes to cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in large skillet 8 minutes or so..until crisp, turning frequently. Drain on paper towels, leaving the grease in the skillet.
  3. Drain the potatoes, press each potato with the bottom of a small bowl or saucer to flatten to ½ inch thickness.
  4. Heat Italian dressing in the skillet with the bacon grease. Add potatoes; cook 4 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.
  5. Meanwhile, crumble bacon. Turn the potatoes over; sprinkle with the cheese and bacon.
  6. Cover skillet with lid and cook an additional 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Potato Smashers Ingredients 

Place potatoes and water in 2 quart microwavable dish.  Microwave, uncovered on HIGH for 10 minutes…

Microwave Potatoes

Cook the bacon…and save the grease!  You are going to brown the cooked potatoes in that grease in a few minutes!

Cook Bacon


Drain the potatoes and “smash” each one with the bottom of a small bowl or saucer..

Smash Potatoes


Heat the dressing in a large skillet with the bacon grease..add the potatoes. 

Add Italian Dressing to Potato Smashers


Use kitchen scissors to crumble the crisp bacon.

Crumble Bacon with Kitchen Scissors


Cook the potatoes 4  minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown.  Turn the potatoes over.

Flip Potato Smashers


Top with bacon and cheese.

Top Potato Smashers with Bacon and cheddar Cheese



Potato Smashers

This is one of my favorite potato recipes!

Video: Potato Smashers

Potato Smashers are loaded with bacon and cheddar cheese.

Hickory Farms Features Vickies Baked Potato Bar Ideas

Baked Potato Bar

Looking for some baked potato bar ideas?

I recently posted  baked potato bar ideas and how to bake the perfect baked potato.  You can check out my post here:  Perfect Baked Potatoes and a Baked Potato Bar.  This is an easy way to entertain because your guests help themselves.  The baked potato bar is great any time of year.  It would be perfect at a BBQ on the patio or for a Super Bowl Party as suggested by Hickory Farms.  It is fun to combine different options on the baked potato bar – depending on the season.  Add piping hot chili as a topper in the cold winter months.  Add fresh chopped tomatoes or green onions when the garden is busting with fresh vegetables.  Hickory Farms suggested adding chopped summer sausage as a topper and I like that idea too.   There are really countless options..just use your imagination for creative flavor combinations. 

My recipe for the perfect baked potato is also easy.  You can bake as many potatoes as your oven will hold!  I love to add the sea salt or kosher salt to the outside of the potato skin before baking because it adds a nice salty flavor and some crunch to the potato.   And, potatoes are loaded with nutrition!   


Hickory Farms just featured our Make Life Special Baked Potato Bar ideas in their “Winning Super Bowl Party Foods” post.  In addition to the toppings I suggested, they added their chopped summer sausage — what a great idea!

Check out the Hickory Farms post on Super Bowl Party Foods for some great entertaining ideas:

Hickory Farms Winning Super Bowl Party Foods

Thank you Hickory Farms for the great shout out!

Remember, “Let’s Make Life Special by sharing great food with our family and friends!  Enjoy!”



Stuffed and Studded Pork Loin

Stuffed and Studded Pork Loin


Stuffed and Studded Pork Loin is easy enough to make for a family dinner but impressive enough for entertaining.  I usually make a 2 pound stuffed pork loin but the photos are of a 4 pound stuffed pork loin so the recipe is easy to adjust for the number of servings you need.  Also, be sure to get a pork loin roast — not a pork tenderloin.  

If you are wondering about a wine to pair with this , Velvet Palate suggests a Tempranillo.  The 94 point sophisticated red wine is available at:  Velvet Palate  

Stuffed and Studded Pork Loin
  • 2 lb Pork Loin
  • 1½ cups fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 6 cloves of fresh garlic
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Feta Cheese
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
  2. Slice the pork loin down the middle but do not cut through the other side. Lay open.
  3. Brush the inside of the pork loin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Lay the fresh baby spinach leaves down the inside of the loin. Sprinkle with sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese and a little more salt and pepper.
  5. Chop 2 of the cloves of garlic and sprinkle on top of the stuffing.
  6. Fold the top over the stuffing and using twine, tie the loin together.
  7. Place in a Pyrex dish ( if roasting a 2 lb loin) OR on a roasting pan ( if roasting a 4 lb loin). Brush with additional olive oil and lightly sprinkle the outside of the loin with additional salt and pepper.
  8. Cut the remaining 4 cloves of garlic into halves. With a sharp knife, make small "pockets" or slits alternately down the outside of the pork loin. Insert the garlic clove halves into the slits.
  9. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. ( I like to bring the pork loin to 160 degrees and check with an instant read thermometer).
  10. Remove from oven and "tent" with foil for about 10 minutes before slicing.


Stuffed and Studded Pork Loin Ingredients


Here’s how to slice the pork loin open…

Fillet the Pork Loin


Pork Loin


Now just brush with some good olive oil and layer the stuffing ingredients on one side of the loin…

Brush pork loin with olive oil


Stuffing the pork loin


Now fold over the top of the loin and tie it with twine…

Tie the pork loin


Slice the rest of the garlic cloves in half.  Make “pockets” or slits alternately down the outside of the pork loin .  Insert the garlic clove halves into the slits.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes per pound.  Remove from the oven and “tent” with foil for 10 minutes or so before slicing.

Tent the pork loin

Easy Entertaining Tips From Joan Lunden


Looking for some easy entertaining tips?  Here are Joan Lunden’s tips for success:

Here is the segment from my interview with Joan Lunden about entertaining in your home with ease .  Joan shared lots of great ideas!

Joan:  I love to entertain in my home.

Vickie:  I do too.

Joan:  And everything is at our house.  Everyone’s birthday, every holiday …you name it… it happens at our house.  And part of that is because I love to do it. Also, all of my aunts and my mother-in-law…everybody…they all come in the door and they say, “ I don’t know how you do this!  You WORK!….You’ve got little kids….and  how do you do this!”   “ How do you put together 5 tables for 36 people …they are all decorated! “   I can do this because I anticipate it.  I go out after a holiday when things are on sale … you know…just some Saturday when I don’t have to go to three soccer games.  Ha Ha! I look for those times and I go out and I buy little things .

I’ve got this incredibly organized pantry and I can pull out me little baskets .  If you told me I had to do a party tonight,  and you gave me a theme, I could do it!  But the only reason why I can do it and be so undaunted about it and have it be fun and not streeful is because I anticipate it and I make sure to go out and get all of these little things and I have all of them there and they are all labeled.

And also, if there is a holiday coming up, I’ll prepare my tables at least days in advance. …Sometimes a week or so in advance.  By doing it that way, I can do it when I’m not stressed out… I don’t get that last minute stress.  And, if I’m missing something, it gives me time.

If I have a dinner party on Friday night, I’ll start thinking about it on the weekend before.  And, as I come up to the day of the party, I go into my pantry and I pick out what I need.  If I’m making bread pudding for example, I get all of the ingredients out and see what I don’t have.  Do I want to make a Green Bean Casserole or do I want to make a Broccoli Puff?  Do I want to do Butternut Squash Soup ?  let me make sure I have all of the ingredients… and I’ll put them in little piles.  Again, that give me the chance to go out and get what I need ahead of time and not get caught short at the last minute.

So, I think that planning ahead  is the most important advice that I can give to people.  And, try to continue to make this whole thing fun.

Vickie:  I think you have touched on another important thing.  You know, people will come to my home when we have dinner parties or family events and marvel at my serving pieces or table settings.  But, you know, you don’t have to spend a lot of money.  I have special serving pieces, casserole dishes, etc, that I feature at different times of the year…but I did not spend a lot of money.  If you plan ahead, and you shop  after the holiday is over for next year…it’s not that expensive  to be able to entertain in style if you plan ahead.  That’s really the whole point.

Joan:  You walk into any big box store and you’ll see right after the holidays all the sales of all the Halloween stuff…then all of the Thanksgiving stuff…..and, you know, it’s a good idea to buy it then.  When you come home, go the next step – get a couple of organizer boxes and put it all there.  If its just here, there, and everywhere….its still hard to do.  But when you organize it, it realy does make entertaining  a breeze.  And, you’ll spend a lot more money going out to dinner, I think, than if you put together a dinner in your home.  You’ll never have the same atmosphere as when you get everybody together in your home.  And, if you have kids like me….I think it’s really important to get kids involved in the cooking process.


Part Three – Joan talks about her kids and living an organized life with a busy schedule.

Also, be sure to check out Loan Lunden’s website for lots of healthy living tips and recipes!


Make Life Special
2 Cypress Rd Litchfield, IL 62056 US
Phone: 217-556-8297 Website: