Cranberry Ice Box Dessert

cranberry ice box dessert finished

We were invited to a dinner with some of TheRoomDad’s coworkers, and TheRoomDad offered to bring dessert. That is code for, “My wife will make something.” My first thought was to bring Banana Peanut Ice Cream Sundaes. The sundaes are always a crowd pleaser, and it is easy to assemble the dessert on site. Then, I remembered another group dessert recipe that my mom served when we were all visiting her awhile back.

I abandoned the ice cream sundae idea and decided to make a Cranberry Ice Box Dessert. It is made ahead of time and sits in the refrigerator overnight before serving. It works well for a crowd, and the flavor is a little different from the desserts I might typically have at a dinner party (no chocolate). The dinner guests loved it, and I had requests for the recipe, so here it is.

cranberry ice box dessert slice


  • 2 c. chopped fresh cranberries
  • 1 large banana, diced
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. crushed vanilla wafers
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (or chopped pecans– or a combination)
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream, whipped


  • Mix together cranberries, banana, and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

cranberry ice box dessert cranberry banana mix

  • Place 1/2 to 2/3 of the crushed wafers in the bottom of an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan.

cranberry ice box dessert vanilla wafer bottom layer

  • Cream butter and confectioners’ sugar together and beat well.
  • Spread the butter mixture over the crumbs. This step is tricky! The crumbs move as you try to spread the frosting-like mixture. I drop little dabs around the pan and then use a spatula and my fingers to gently spread as evenly as possible. the crumbs will mix into the butter mixture a little.

cranberry ice box dessert spreading butter mixture

  • Top the cookie crumb and butter spread with  the cranberry and bananas mixture. Sprinkle the nuts over the fruit layer.

cranberry ice box dessert fruit and nuts layers

  • Spread the whipped cream over the fruit and nuts. Cover the whipped cream with the remaining cookie crumbs (and maybe a few more chopped nuts).

cranberry ice box dessert whipped cream layer

  • Chill in the refrigerator overnight or at least 8 hours.


  • It is hard to find fresh cranberries at the grocery store if it is not Thanksgiving. I bought a 10 oz. bag of frozen cranberries from the frozen fruit section at my grocery store. I chopped the cranberries in my Cuisinart after letting them thaw most of the way.

cranberry ice box dessert chopped cranberries

  • If you want to use a 9″ x 12″ dish, up the ingredient amounts a little. I needed the larger size for our group last night. I used the entire 10 oz. bag of cranberries, 2 medium bananas, 1 whole box Nilla wafers, a few extra tablespoons butter and ~1/3 c. more powdered sugar, 2/3 c. chopped nuts, and 2 c. whipping cream.

cranberry ice box dessert close up

The Great Author Letter Project Returns


author letters

What started as an “early finisher” activity for students five years ago has turned into one of my signature projects in the fourth grade. Each year, my students prepare a letter to a favorite book author as one of our first writing assignments. They start by hunting down contact information for the author (research skills!). Then, they brainstorm reasons they like a particular author and his/her book(s). We review business letter format, and the students draft a letter to the author. After editing, the students prepare their final draft, and we mail the first wave of letters.

From that first letter drop, we might receive a reply within a few weeks or wait close to nine months to get a reply. After we walk through the process of creating an author letter, students continue to write letters when they have free time. We send and receive letters all year.

wendy mass author letter reply

I wrote a post a few years ago about this project but since we received our first author reply this afternoon, I got excited and thought I needed to blog about the project again. It is one of the best ways I have found to motivate reading with my students! It is easy to write a book author, but if you want a higher reply success rate, I have some suggestions.

  • Newer authors have websites with an e-mail address and are more likely to send a personal reply.  We e-mailed Jody Feldman, Jonathan Auxier, Tracy Barrett, Erica Kirov, and a few others. In most cases, we received replies within three days.  The replies were unique and specifically responded to the letter written by the students.  Some authors even gave new book suggestions, which built excitement among the students to pick up an unfamiliar book.
  • Other authors provide a snail mail address on their website. These replies take longer– sometimes up to three months, so be patient. Kate Klise has written us back for the past four year and each letter contains different content.
  • Mega authors like J.K. Rowling and Sharon Creech are overloaded with letters and are less likely to reply to fanmail personally.  They will send a generic reply if you include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your letter.
  • If you can’t find contact information on the author website, locate a mailing address for the author’s publishing company.  Mail a letter to the author c/o the publisher.  Publishers will forward all mail to the author.  We mailed a letter to John Christopher via his publisher.  We did not realize that the author had passed away, and his daughter actually replied to our letter several months later!

To download free student materials for this activity from my TpT store, CLICK HERE.

tom angleberger letter

Leftover Chicken

Italian chicken soup

Yes, we have returned to the school schedule along with many families across the country. It is the time of year when I go from minimal attempts at making my family dinner to hardly ever. I would be OK with cereal and peanut butter every night; TheRoomDad is not. It is perplexing to him the lack of interest I have for preparing food during the school year. Preparing meals is such a time suck, and I am not up for it after a day of teaching.

There is a quick meal that I will cook when I have the ingredients. My kids love the recipe I have for Italian Chicken Soup. It is a lot like chicken noodle soup but with a twist. Any time we have a leftover cooked chicken breast, there is a good chance I am making Italian Chicken Soup for an easy weeknight dinner.


  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 T. dried basil
  • 2 t. fennel seeds
  • 1/4 t. dried crushed red pepper
  • 6 c. canned chicken broth
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced (optional)
  • ~9-oz. pasta (egg noodles, mini penne, mini bow ties, macaroni…)
  • 1 1/2 c. cooked chicken, diced


  • Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add red bell pepper, onion, carrot, garlic basil, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper. Saute until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Add broth.
  • Cover pot and simmer 10 minutes.
  • Add zucchini (if using), cover, and simmer about 5 minutes.
  • Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Add pasta and boil until pasta is tender.
  • Add chicken and cook until heated through about 1 more minute.
  • Season soup to taste with salt and pepper, ladle into bowls, and serve.


  • You can replace the zucchini with yellow squash (and probably celery, but I have not tried it). Red bell pepper can be replaced with green bell pepper.
  • The original recipe called for cheese ravioli, but my family likes non-stuffed pasta better.
  • The recipes makes 4-5 servings, so we usually don’t have many leftovers.

Italian chicken soup close

Back to School Book List

spy school

You would think after all of my first days of school that I would not get that sinking feeling in my stomach when it is time to begin the school year again; I should be a first day of school expert. But I get the dark, scary feeling. Every year. My back-to-school-blues started about a week ago when we arrived home from our mini family vacation, and the box with the uniform shirts I had ordered for Mr. Star Wars was on the front porch.

Because so many of us experience the same emotions on the first day of school, there are a lot of good chapter books about starting school. And, it does not matter if you are returning to the same school or starting a new school altogether. We all get nervous. Reading about a character who has the same worries you do helps make the transition to the new classroom a little easier. Is there somebody at your house worried about your first day of school? Try a few of these titles to help ease the anxiety.

fourteenth goldfish

  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  • The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern
  • Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M. M. Blume (at the end)
  • Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume
  • Superfudge by Judy Blume (beware the Santa Claus reveal)
  • The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (April character)
  • Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
  • A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
  • The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
  • Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone Jenny Nimmo
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • The 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett (Sherlock Files series)
  • Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (the grandfather)
  • Maggie Malone and the Mostly Magical Boots by Jenna McCarthy and Carolyn Evans
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Tarantula Shoes by Tom Birdseye
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  • Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (Jessica character)
  • Knightly Academy by Violet Haberdasher


Teacher Emergency Kit Giveaway Winner

BTS teacher kit giveaway winner 2015

Thanks to everyone who participated in the giveaway for two Back to School Teacher Emergency Kits.

Congratulations to the winner, Laura S! Laura, please look for an e-mail from me, so I can get your kits in the mail to you promptly.

For those who did not win, it is easy to make your own Teacher Emergency Kits. Find a small zippered bag (like a cosmetics bag), a little box with compartments (like a bead box from Michael’s Crafts), or a simple gift bag and fill with items that would be helpful to have in your desk or bag that would not be readily available at school.

  • travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  • aspirin
  • mints
  • dental floss
  • cough drops
  • Sharpie pen
  • safety pins
  • travel comb
  • chapstick
  • quarters (for the soda machine)
  • hair ties or clips
  • Band-aids
  • Tide to go stick
  • travel sized hand lotion
  • Smart phone charger