Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
I am sitting down at my desk with a cup of strong English tea, listening to my brood cheerily eat breakfast and make animal noises at each other. It feels good :) To be resting, that is. Yesterday was a great but very long day. I had put off the sugar cookies and the gingerbread house, and there was no avoiding them any longer. In our house, Santa (the combination of me and my darling husband… I’m round, he’s jolly) require sugar cookies on Christmas Eve. And I had promised the kids a gingerbread house since we had acquired (via White Elephant gift exchange) a very heavy mold for making all the parts. Yesterday was THE DAY. The official cookie day of 2010. And boy did we make the most of it! My kids we wonderfully accommodating… they played and listened to Christmas carols, and only became a bother when they started dancing to the music in the kitchen, so I had to shoo them out for safety concerns with the oven opening so frequently. It was divine intervention because, while they are definitely good kids, they are not always helpful in the traditional sense.
And I feel very good about the results of our labor! Baking cookies makes me feel festive, and it’s the best time each year that we get to share our gifts with our neighbors and take something nice to family gatherings. And a gingerbread house for the kids to enjoy… Truly a multipurpose project, and one worth investing some energy.
I made sugar cookie wreaths, Christmas trees, snowflakes and hearts. Recipe here. That assortment kept the colored icing to a minimum and used our sprinkle assortment to its best potential. Combined with the other cookies I’ve been baking and freezing, we’ve got some nice looking cookie trays in the making.
The wreaths were so easy… I wish I had made more. I used a biscuit cutter for the outer circle and a chopped off medicine cup to cut out the center. Then a piped circle of gingerbread “glue” icing and a dunk into the tub of holiday green sprinkles. Then a little piped bow in red, just for fun :) I’m not nuts about overly sprinkled cookies (I don’t want to taste the sprinkles), but they look nice and the entire rest of my family has been eyeing them up even in the dark hours of the morning. Success!
The snowflakes were simply iced in white, so I used some luster dust from our local bake supply store to jazz them up a teeny tiny bit. I don’t like glitter on cards, but it really helped these cookies find their holiday cheer :)
The hearts were sort of blah, but something has to be the least favorite, right?
The gingerbread house was not my favorite part. Pressing the classic gingerbread dough into the mold was arduous, at best, and I was skeptical that the finished pieces would fit together well enough for it to hold together. Fortunately, I was wrong. I made some royal icing to architectural grade adhesive strength (an easily-squeezable airy mix of whipped egg whites, cream of tartar and powdered sugar), and it was goopy yet solid enough and set up fast so assembling the house was quick and painless. Later in the day the kids decorated it (with a little help)…
I had plenty of leftover gingerbread dough, so I baked some gingerbread seniors. These were not boys and girls, but a rather more geriatric population including some balding Santas and Mrs. Clauses. I think they turned out cute, if not as nice as last year’s group. My royal icing was the tiniest bit too runny, so the lines were not as distinct as I prefer, but it was easier on the hands.
And that’s it! Done!! Hooray!!! Ready for plating and giving or toting. And I still have today to finish up a couple last-minute homemade gifts and take it easy before the festivities begin tomorrow. I’m feeling calm and not stressed, and grateful for a year of abundant blessings that I couldn’t even have imagined. How beautiful to have been redeemed by a Child, and to have the opportunity to be a channel of that love for others. I know every person has the same opportunity there, but it really is a gift. And it’s the season for giving… Merry Christmas Eve Eve :)
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
There are lots of subtle varieties of this popular bar cookie out there, but this version is a taste of childhood for me. I think it’s the butterscotch/coconut combo. They may not be the beauty queen of the cookie tray, but they’re the ones you’ll want to take home to meet your family.
Magic Cookie Bars (also called 7 Layer Cookies)
- 1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 1.5 cup chocolate chips
- 1.5 cups butterscotch chips
- 1.5 cups sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour melted butter evenly into a 9x13 pan (or just melt it in the pan in the oven). Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs over the butter. Then layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and coconut evenly into pan. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over top evenly to coat everything. Sprinkle with walnut pieces, if desired, and press down with a fork (it can get sticky). Then bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is just beginning to brown. Cool completely, cut into small bars and store at room temp. They also freeze very well in an airtight container (for those of you with the self-control required not to get into them before the appropriate time!).
Monday, December 20, 2010
My mother-in-law gave me this recipe… it’s truly a favorite of my peanut-butter loving husband. I don’t believe I had ever tried it, though my mind on progesterone is not what it used to be (evidence: I recently went to the grocery store expressly for powdered sugar, and came home with several bags of groceries but no powdered sugar… yikes!).
When my MIL makes them, she leaves a bit of the peanut butter ball showing, and they are then called “buckeyes” after the state tree of Ohio. I do not love Ohio (being from Ann Arbor), so I didn’t mind terribly that I possess the inability to partially dip balls of peanut butter in melted chocolate. Turns out I wasn’t so good at coating them entirely, either, so I decided to distract from the imperfections by drizzling a tiny bit of melted vanilla almond bark on top (in retrospect, I should have let them come to room temp before drizzling because it didn’t adhere as well as I would have liked). I think they look rather fancy! I hope they last long enough to make it on some cookie platters for next weekend :)
Peanut Butter Balls (also called Buckeyes)
- 2 cups creamy peanut butter
- 2 sticks butter, softened
- 1 to 1.5 lb powdered sugar
- Milk chocolate (for coating)
Mix the PB and butter until thoroughly blended and creamy. Cup by cup, add in enough powdered sugar until the mixture is workable. Roll it into 1” balls (if it’s too sticky, add more powdered sugar), place on a tray and freeze. Using a heat-proof bowl over boiling water, melt the milk chocolate. Dip each ball into the chocolate to cover completely (I used a tooth pick), then drop onto sheet and freeze until completely solid. If the chocolate is too thick when dipping, you can add a tbsp at a time of shortening to thin it. Thaw before serving, but store frozen (if your husband doesn’t eat them all first).
I had leftover chocolate for dipping, so I dipped some pretzel rings to help use it up in a tasty way. There’s still more (I got bored of dipping), so I’ll have to find some other use for it. Cheesecake, anyone?
Saturday, December 18, 2010
We’re headed off to dinner with some friends tonight, and I was asked to bring the dessert. This sounded like a great deal to me… good food and good company and all I had to do was provide a dessert. So I knew it had to be good!
I am on an almond flavor kick, and I had originally thought that I might make an almond cheesecake. But then I remembered a very important, very hard-to-forget point – there would only be 4 adults (maybe 6) and 7 kids (maybe 10). A cheesecake just wouldn’t be fair.
Enter the cake mix sandwich cookie concept introduced to me (again) by my friend Natalie.
Thoroughly mix 1 stick of butter and 1 egg with 1 box of cake mix in the flavor of your choice (I used chocolate). Roll the dough into 1” balls and flatten on a greased cookie sheet (I used a small dough scoop and the greased bottom of a drinking glass, because I’m lazy). Bake at 350 degrees F for about 7 minutes, until cooked through but not crunchy. Cool completely.
Meanwhile, back at the mixer, whip up some buttercream frosting. Any recipe will do! I made a basic vanilla buttercream and added some almond extract to it as suggested by Natalie (which also conveniently met my pregnancy-induced almond flavor craving). I then put it into a zippered freezer bag and squeezed out dollops onto the backsides of half the cooled cookies, then topped each with another cookie. They looked soooo good! But I kept my hands off since they are for the party (so no “Karen’s-eaten-half-the cookie photos today… no one’s sadder than me about that!). But I did help myself to a few fingerfulls of leftover buttercream. Mmmmmm… buttercream…
Friday, December 17, 2010
Every year we go to our small town’s annual Christmas parade. Every year the candy output seems to increase… my kids get as excited as at Halloween, and we come home with bucket-loads of snowy candy. Some of it is edible, but most of the hard candy has been shattered by being first frozen, then tossed from a haywagon-turned-float. Including hundreds of tiny candy canes. What to do? Bake these cookies! Or make mint hot chocolate, depending on your mood and energy level :)
Candy Cane Crisps
- 1 c butter, softened
- 1 1/4 c powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/3 c flour
- 1 c rolled oats
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup finely crushed candy canes
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Roll into 3/4” balls, roll in granulated sugar to coat and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Make a criss-cross pattern with a fork and bake for 18-20 minutes, until bottom is ever-so-slightly browned. They will get crispier as they cool.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
I was just musing over what to have “Santa” fill the stockings with this year. And then I was wondering what should be stuffed into my own stocking, aside from chocolate. Which made me consider the smallish crafty/sewing items that make my creative life more fun, projects go faster and difficult tasks easier. So here’s my list… and, while these items already live in my “studio” (a generous description of my basement hold-out), I thought some of you might like to see a few of the products I value and love that would also happen to fit nicely into a Christmas stocking. Here’s hoping you do :)
For the Craft Room:
This handy tool won’t fully replace your regular flexible tape measure, but it sure makes taking body circumference measurement easier! I love this thing, and for well under $10, it’s great little gadget. It’s marketed for weight loss/BMI tracking, but it can’t be beat for getting accurate measurements (even in wiggly children) for garment construction and pattern sizing.
This thing makes cutting out pattern pieces so much easier than with scissors. Just lay fabric on a cutting mat, top with paper pattern piece, and zip around tight corners with ease and speed. Makes your cuts beautiful and accurate.
Fiskars has been making spring-loaded scissors for a while now, and they have the competition beat when it comes to smart design and convenience. Easy thumb operation of the locking mechanism (other brands have this feature at the back of the handle… so unless your palm can unlock it… doubtful if you’re human… it’s not a one-handed operation). Ergonomic design reduces hand fatigue, and it will last a long time if you don’t drop it. I do drop mine (a character flaw, I know) and I’m on my third set. But so worth it… lifetime warranty!
I don’t have this particular model (mine was from a sewing kit at an estate sale), but the function is the same. It’s a classic tool for measuring hems, seam allowances and other smallish things like button size. I use it a lot, and I’d recommend it to everyone.
Not for everyone’s fashion sensibilities, but perfect if you're planning a whole day of sewing or knitting (ah… everyday!). A round blade hides inside and is only accessible to thread-sized strands, not fingers. Easy to trim hanging threads without hauling out the scissors.
Handy, portable bobbin storage. From the product page:
Holds metal or plastic bobbins of all different sizes! Shaped like half of a bagel and hollowed out, it is made of flexible rubbery plastic that expands to receive the bobbin and promptly snugs up around it. Threads wont tangle or unwind. BobbinSaver holds over 20 bobbins securely. BobbinSaver is a simple elegant gadget to store any kind of bobbin.
There are so many more items I love, but most of them are bigger and probably more expensive. These are some of my favorites and they get regular use. These are the items I’d certainly replace immediately if they ever meet an untimely demise.
Best wishes for a stocking stuffed with crafty goodies… even if you have to fill it yourself!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
My friend Natalie generously shared this delectable recipe with me last year, and I love them so much I know I’ll be making them every year. These cookies are like little bites of brownie heaven. Even more than just tasting wonderful, these cookies are just so pretty! Look at them! Gorgeous chocolaty crackles peeking out from the sugary exterior... They’d be lovely for any cookie tray you might assemble for your Christmas partying needs. I’ll be making another batch closer to Christmas, and I intend to make them bigger next time since that’s the only possible improvement I can imagine for them. Thanks, Natalie!
Natalie’s Chocolate Crinkles
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate, melted
- 1/2 c vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 1/2 c flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 c confectioners sugar
Stir together sugar, chocolate and oil. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir flour mixture into chocolate mixture. Chill several hours or overnight. Roll into balls and completely coat in confectioners sugar. Drop onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Yum!! These little beauties are as close as I can come to the cookies given to us every childhood Christmas by our former neighbor. All the chewy goodness of a sugar cookie but with the cool smoothness of mint chocolate. Bake some, you won’t regret it!
Chocolate Mint Sugar Cookie Drops
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups mint chocolate chips (I used a mix of dark chocolate and mint chocolate)
- 1/4 cup white sugar for coating
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a medium bowl, mix together 1 cup sugar and vegetable oil. Stir in the egg and vanilla until smooth. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually stir into the sugar mixture. Mix in mint chocolate chips. Roll the dough into walnut sized balls. Roll each ball in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to coat. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto the cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
Monday, December 13, 2010
I had no idea I was going to be so ambitious about Christmas cards this year, but when the inclination strikes, sometimes I find myself halfway into a project before I consider exactly how long it might take me to accomplish my mental picture of success. That is exactly where I find myself right now… plugging my way through the less-than-crafty end of our Christmas card mailing (the note writing part, that is).
I finished the crafty part several days ago… machine-stitching tiny fabric buntings on white card stock, then stamping glad tidings to complete the look. I really love how these turned out, and the total cost of making about 100 of them was less than $20. Not too shabby, eh? Well, then there’s the whole postage thing which tacks on another $44, but that was a given with any sort of card. Buntings make me happy, and the fabrics I used here were scraps and a couple inexpensive fat quarters I picked up for cheap at my local fabric store.
I went with vibrant teal and red, as well as some scraps of metallic silver quilting fabric I have used for making labels. The cards were pre-scored 5x7s from the local craft store, and all I did was mark a light pencil line where I planned to stitch using a round plate to make a nice “draped” look. I cut the fabric into small triangles, mainly by eyeballing it, and found that 7 fit along the line best and just guesstimated my way with each card as I stitched along. The slight differences in shape of each triangle I find just charming, and I’m sure my recipients will to :)
Since I’ve already addressed the envelopes, all that’s left to do now is write notes to my family and friends and send them on their way! I’m hoping while I finish that up this week I can also perfect a sewing pattern for a dress I’m *hoping* to make for my girls, then snap a nice family photo to include. I’m not holding my breath about either the dresses or the picture, but you never know :) Miracles do happen!
Best wishes for your Christmas preparations as well… may it be a joy, not a chore!
*I'm adding this little crafty post to the Me Making Do blog... go check it out!
Friday, December 10, 2010
Yesterday was my unofficial start to the holiday baking season. We have a couple events this weekend, so I figured a small assortment of confections would be the perfect accompaniment and work for both parties (hooray for planning ahead!).
This particular recipe is a nice alternative to the traditional yet decidedly more laborious rolled, cut and iced gingerbread cookies that proliferate around this time each year. I love those too, but today was not ideal for being both flour-covered and on my feet near a hot stove all day. I hope to make a gingerbread house with the kids in the next week or two (we acquired a neat gingerbread house molding plate via white elephant gift exchange, and we’re dying to try it out!), so I’m letting myself off the hook for serious baking right now.
Gingerbread Drop Cookies
- 1 cup shortening
- 1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 2 eggs
- 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating
In a large mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Beat until well combined. Beat in molasses and eggs until combined. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon.
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons into granulated sugar in a deep, round-bottom bowl. Swirl bowl to coat dough with sugar. Place onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 degree F oven about 8 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Store in airtight container or freeze for up to one month (I froze my extra for closer to Christmas).
Enjoy! More of my favorite cookie recipes to come…
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Well, it’s been a relatively slow couple weeks for blogging, but I assure you I’ve quite busy with projects. Etsy work, minor household repairs, Christmas decorating, buying and making gifts and crafting a couple things just for me. I’ve been enjoying myself, learning some new things, reading amazing things by some amazing crafters and looking forward to Christmas celebrations with my family and friends. Being 6 months pregnant has, so far, not really affected my energy for these preparations. I’m very grateful for that, and I’m trying to make it continue by not over-working myself. I’m trying to keep this Advent truly mindful of the season and cut out as much stress as possible. If that means a few more store-bought things and a few less nights of staying up too late and regretting it the next day, that is just fine with me.
That said, most days have been very productive, and I’ve gotten to interact with a lot of people lately via Etsy. Lots of thoughtful men purchasing gifts for their women. The positive feedback from recent sales has also been very uplifting. Here are a few of my favorites feedback comments from the past couple days:
“I've loved the store forever but held off on making a purchase until now. I wish I hadn't waited so long! The flower pins are even better in person, very delicate and detailed.”
“Wow, the work on these is amazing, such delicate details, they lay perfectly and fluff up beautifully after they come through the mail. Can't wait to put these in a few stockings for the holidays this year ... they're excellent stocking stuffers."
“This is truly one of my favorite Etsy shops! High-quality and BEAUTIFUL products, professional and friendly service and fast shipping too!”Given the seasonal rush of sales, I’ve been busy making new varieties of reclaimed wool flower pins to stock TheJuneBride Etsy shop for the tail end of the holiday rush. Etsy suggests colors to be featured each month (here’s where you’d find that info), and December’s selections include gold, silver, berry hues and teal/turquoise colors. I decided to stock heavy in those shades and, interestingly, it seems to be working… those items are selling more! How neat!
Admittedly, there has been a lot of online shopping going on here too. Some of it was out of desperation for well-fitting maternity clothes, and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of some wardrobe basics with breathing (and growing) room. And then there’s Amazon, the ubiquitous gift center for people of all ages who care for things more digital. I also got a great hard-copy pattern for little kid “kung-fu” pants from shortees via trade (I love trading on Etsy!!). I haven’t made any yet, but there’s a new baby boy at my husband’s office and I’d love to try some teeny tiny ones as a gift (to go with this cute onesie I traded from CuddleCanvas). They should work up quick, so I should really get to it (and then blog about it!). I also traded for this sweet fused-glass Christmas tree pendant from WillowWoods. My Grandma was the lucky recipient of that item, and I love the fact that it could be used as an adorable ornament if it doesn’t suit her style fancy.
Oh, and I’m forgetting one of my favorite Etsy purchases yet… some amazing handmade soap from SoapySweetTreats. It’s basic in terms of shape, packaging and (best of all) the price. Really wonderful HUGE bars of great-smelling soap at an exceptional price (with free Priority shipping). I purchased it for shaving in the shower (and for satisfying some of my pregnancy-related smell cravings) and I will definitely buy from this shop again (if I ever run out of the amount I bought… 6 bars with assorted scents). The soap here was just as wonderful in use as the (perhaps more photogenic) soaps at the very popular Etsy shop DennisAnderson, but cost less than half as much per ounce ($0.59 vs $1.26). This little comparison really emphasizes the value of successful marketing in one’s pricing ability, but I’m so happy that I found a fantastic “no-frills” shop. It was like getting soap at a farmer’s market, but with better selection and no barn animal smells.
I’ve also personally made a few Christmas gifts, but since I haven’t given them yet, I can’t show you now or I’d spoil the surprise!! But believe me, they turned out better than anticipated and I couldn’t be happier about it. More are on the agenda, though I also plan to abandon that ship if it starts causing me anxiety. Most are for my kids anyway, and they won’t notice :)
I’ve long been inspired by JulieGarland, and the earrings and necklace set I made a few days ago were directly inspired by this gorgeous design of hers. My gold-filled set cost about $12 to make, and I love it. I just love the sparkles… I’m ready to party!
And (“Will this random post ever end?” you’re thinking), since I was flying solo (with 3.5 kids) for a few days while my husband was on a business trip, some of my lonely evening hours were spent researching garment pattern design software. I ultimately decided that Cochinelle was the right fit for my needs and budget, and I’m hoping that this 2-person company can process and ship my order in time for me to play around with it before Christmas. The reviews are excellent, but so far the speed is a little depressing. I’ll keep you posted!
When my husband got back, we decorated the house… lights are up outside, the wreath is welcoming, the six stockings are hung by the chimney with care and the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree has ended with a pre-lit one that will hopefully last for many many years to come (I’ve never had a real tree, so I don’t know what I’m missing, in case you were wondering). We have yet to put ornaments on the tree, but it’s up and glittering in our front window. Less festive, I’ve also replaced my oven light (Did you know that happiness is being able to see the food you’re cooking? It is). And ordered new belts and filters for my vacuum cleaner. A working vacuum cleaner is even more sublime than an oven light. New belts make the thing run like new, and the annual replacement brings me joy as I contemplate the crumb situation that will ail us until the children move out. Oh yes, pure joy.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing lately. I’m sure I’ll post again with some Christmas baking and other projects, but I’m not too optimistic about being as faithful to the blog as I have been earlier this season. Ah well, seasons of life :)
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
I'm so happy to report that TheJuneBride Etsy shop November charity promotion netted $232.00!!! That was $1.00 from each items sold (including wholesale items), plus a couple more dollars from buyers who chose slower shipping in order to donate more. How wonderful! It's the season of giving and I'm so pleased to say that I was able to round that amount up to $400.00 (just for fun) and it was donated to Food Gatherers.
I chose to give to Food Gatherers right now because they really make a difference for local families in need, they are a four star Charity Navigator-ranked charity (meaning the funds donated are really used for people in need), donations made when I did will be matched 50% by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan (Emergency Food & Shelter Matching Grant), AND, thanks to Michigan tax laws, a 50% tax credit will be given for donations up to $400.00 to non-profit food banks (which means I could give more!).
Food Gatherers is a local charity that has made a major impact in feeding families who find themselves in a position of shortage. According to their website:
Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community by: reducing food waste through the rescue and distribution of perishable and non perishable food; coordinating with other hunger relief providers; educating the public about hunger; and developing new food resources.
This Sunday was the last day of "Rockin' for the Hungry”, an annual food drive hosted by my favorite radio station, Ann Arbor's 107one, and that was also a big success for this worthwhile charity. Last I checked, they had collected 170 tons of non-perishable food items, and I'm sure that number has gone up as they make the final tally. And that doesn’t account for monetary donations made during the drive!
Ann Arbor’s 107one had this tidbit on their website:
Every day, thousands of people in Washtenaw County rely on Food Gatherers, the area's largest food rescue and collection organization. Each year they distribute more than 4.6 MILLION POUNDS OF FOOD to over 150 LOCAL NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS that see to it our neighbors in need, mostly families and children, won't go hungry.
I’m so pleased… the $400 I was able to donate was matched 50% by the CFSM, which makes $600. Food Gatherers says that every $5 can provide 14 meals to people in need, so $600 can provide 1680 meals!! And after the tax credit, it will have cost only $200 to provide that much nutrition to that many people. Amazing!
Monday, December 6, 2010
Ruri commented: "My favorite thanksgiving dish is my dad's made-from-scratch (I'm talking roasting and pureeing a real pumpkin) pumpkin pie!" She chose two festive azaleas which will hopefully be reaching her in short order :)