Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Homemade Pancake Syrup

My husband uses, what seems like, half a bottle of syrup every time he eats waffles or pancakes.  It drives me nuts because no more than I buy a bottle it seems like it's empty and back on the grocery list.  When I started once a month shopping the first of November I decided to buy one last bottle of store bought then follow the recipe for homemade pancake syrup I found here.  I love the Blissful and Domestic blog and I'm so happy she posted this recipe.

I've never thought about making pancake syrup before, I didn't know there were even recipes out there for it, and I have to admit I was skeptical.  I thought if it tasted that good and was super easy to make then why wasn't everyone making it and why hadn't I seen it on some episode on the Food Network.  Well I have no answers for why no one on Food Network is making it and none for  why the whole world hasn't gone homemade with their syrup, but I am now a homemade syrup maker.

This recipe really does taste like store bought syrup.  I think it might be a little thinner in consistency but I made waffles for my mother-in-law and husband and neither of them seemed to notice it being thinner.  They both commented on how delicious it tasted and that is a win for me. 

I love knowing I don't have to forgo eating my homemade waffles when the syrup runs out.  I love knowing I have all the ingredients to make more on a moments notice.  This is why I love things homemade from scratch. 

For convenience I used the old bottle of syrup we used up to store my homemade syrup in the fridge.  I used a small funnel so I wouldn't waste any dripping down the sides and now I only wish I had made a double batch!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Pioneer Woman's Cobbler

I'm back with another Pioneer Woman recipe review, or rave, however you want to look at it.  She has a recipe for Blackberry cobbler in her 1st cookbook.  I have made it many times using blueberries, both frozen and fresh with amazingly good results.  A couple weekends ago we had my Dad, his wife, and my sister over for an early Christmas dinner and I decided to make a peach version.  My husband has been begging me to make a peach for months, don't really have a good reason as to why it's taken me so long but oh well, better late than never.

I had frozen peaches I got off my mom's peach tree over the summer and thawed them in the fridge overnight.  I cut the pieces I thought were a little too big and did everything else exactly as the recipe says.

This has become my go-to dessert.  For Thanksgiving I was asked to bring a dessert and rolls to my Aunts house and being the procrastinator I am I waited until the morning of to make my dessert, cherry bars.  I of course screwed up the recipe because I was in a hurry and ended up burning the top (they were actually still pretty tasty and everyone at my mom's loved them despite their burned tops).  I decided I couldn't go empty handed and whipped up a blueberry version of this cobbler in no time.  As long as you keep some frozen fruit (blueberries, peaches, raspberries, or blackberries) in your freezer the other ingredients you will more than likely find in your pantry.

This is the only cobbler recipe I've ever made so I don't know how others taste or even what they look like but this recipe is literally just mixing up the ingredients in a bowl, dropping you fruit in, sprinkling sugar on top, and baking it.  Can't get a whole lot easier in my opinion.  Not to mention it's delish!  For the peach I used a 9x13 baking dish and it was rather thin so I would recommend a deep dish pie plate (which is what I normally use) or an 8x11 baking dish.  If you have neither of these sizes a 9x13 will work just don't leave it in the oven the full hour since it is quite a bit thinner than the one in the recipe.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Boy or Girl?

I have something I need to get off my chest.  So if you aren't at all interested in reading my little rant please feel free to scroll on down and skip over this post.

I am pregnant with my second little one.  My son is 3 and we have decided not to find out the gender of this one, or rather I decided not to find out since my husband is still trying to convince me otherwise.  Like most people we found out my son was a boy at our ultrasound and were more than thrilled.  However I've always wanted to be surprised and as my husband tells me this is probably our last baby, this is my last chance to have the surprise factor I've always wanted.  Our families would much rather us find out since the suspense is killing them.  I find the suspense a little fun, which is strange because I hate suspense in any other aspect of life or movies.

The  frustrating part is that almost everyone is telling us this baby "needs" to be a girl, or they want this one to be a girl, or are hoping this ones a girl.  I can honestly say, a girl would be nice since we have a boy but I have always thought Grant would be too cute with a little brother tagging along behind him.  I can picture it and it melts my heart.  I understand their wanting to buy girl things but this is something I have no control over.  Whatever this baby is, boy or girl, is already decided and it's whatever the Lord sees fit for us to have. 

People have been calling the baby a she, and by the girl name we have picked out.  I have also been given bags of infant girl clothes "in case it's a girl".  I have even been told by one laughing family member that even if we have a boy "we will dress him up like a girl" because we need to have a girl.  Am I the only one that sees issues with all this girl talk.

I am a very stubborn person, I am opinionated, but I also try to hold my tongue since my mom taught me if you have nothing nice to say then keep your mouth shut, but I'm about at the end of my rope.  Part of me wants to go to my next doctor's appointment and find out the gender just to shut everyone up, but how is that fair to me.  I have even had dreams about having a boy and in the dream saying to my husband "people are going to be disappointed".  That's horrible!  I can't imagine being disappointed with either a boy or a girl and to have dreams that family members will be because all they have said for months is how much they want us to have a girl is unbelievably frustrating and a little heartbreaking.

Of course this is also similar to what everyone did to us about having another baby in general.  When Grant hit a year old, everyone started asking us when we were going to have another baby, that Grant "needed a sibling", and we needed to have another one.  We were in no way ready for another baby financially or emotionally but no one seemed to take that into consideration.  When Grant turned 2 it got even worse.  With family members we didn't see often it was the main topic of conversation our entire visit.  Unbeknownst to me 2 years is the magic age your child turns when you are supposed to automatically have your second baby, because beyond that and your kids are "too far apart" in age.

Where do people get this stuff?

To me having a baby or another baby is a very personal and private issue between yourself and your husband.  No one else's opinions should be taken into consideration and no one else should be giving their two cents unless directly asked for it. 

The same goes for whether or not you're finding out the gender of your baby, and boy or girl should not matter in the least, and if it does to you then keep it to yourself and secretly cross your fingers but don't open your mouth about it.  Healthy is all anyone should be hoping for, as there is a 50/50 chance of either gender and there are reasons we are given what we are given, we just don't know them yet.

My rant is done now, just needed to put it out there so I can stop stewing about it and maybe let it go and laugh it off.

Ok probably won't laugh it off but at least maybe stop letting it bother me so much.  The next months will fly by and soon enough we will know one way or the other, and others can be excited or not but I will be thrilled just to have another little one and Grant to have a sibling.

DIY Elf on the Shelf Goodbye Letter

I had been trying to prepare and remind Grant that his elf is going to be going "bye-bye" on Christmas Eve.  I have explained that Santa comes and leaves his gifts and takes his special elf back to the North Pole until next year.  He was excited hearing his elf would come back next Christmas season but not too fond of him leaving in the first place.

I put together a goodbye letter from Eli our Elf for Santa to leave for Grant.  He hasn't been one for listening to letters so far but then again he's only 3 and has an attention span of zero most days.  I put the letter with the empty milk and cookies mug and napkin.

I went back and forth on whether to make the letter from the elf or from Santa and opted to make ours from Santa this year since I knew I wouldn't have to create a letterhead or images for it like I would for one from the elf.

I used this Santa letterhead I downloaded and saved to my computer.  Here is the letter I typed up:

Dear Grant,

Your elf, Eli, has been reporting back to me at the North Pole each night since I left him in a special package under your tree. He has been telling me how good you have been. I hope you have had fun finding him each morning, I know he has had fun watching you and finding new places to hide.

Now that it is Christmas, Eli must come back to the North Pole and help me prepare for next year. Remember, your elf will come back to your house next year to watch over you once again, so do not be sad he has to leave now.

Be good and keep listening to your Mama and Daddy.

Merry Christmas, Grant.


It is now 2 days past Christmas and I'm still having to explain at least once a day why Eli the Elf had to leave us.  He wasn't as upset as I thought he might be, there were no tears just a sad face that almost made me want to get his little elf out of my computer case and forget the whole thing.  I think Grant actually did listen to the letter from Santa which I was surprised by since every other letter or note I've written he kind of ignores due to the excitement going on around him.  Of course I think his sadness of Eli leaving was alleviated a little by the gifts Santa left.

I'm excited for the elf to come back next year and maybe we can do the no touching rule and have him be a little more active and maybe even a little naughty from time to time.

Santa Milk & Cookies Mug

There are a few Christmas posts I had planned to post before the big day but of course that didn't happen so I'm posting them all at once before the New Year.  I have wanted a special Santa cookie plate and mug for Grant to set out Christmas Eve since he was born, but of course he really wasn't old enough until this year.  I bought the white mug at Walmart because for whatever reason the Dollar Tree was out of plain white ones, it cost $1.25  I did find the white plate at the Dollar Tree.  I knew I wanted to decorate them really simple with my Cricut and vinyl I already had in my stash.

I loved how the mug turned out and was super excited to finish the plate but after babysitting, cleaning, finishing up last minute gifts, wrapping gifts, packing, etc I had no energy left to get my beloved cricut out and finish the plate.  So instead the cookies were set out on a Christmas napkin and of course Grant couldn't have cared less as long as they were out and ready for Santa.
I figure I can finish the cookie plate and pack it with all the Christmas decorations, and have it ready for next year.

Christmas Morning Mini Monkey Bread

  I'm sad Christmas is over but very much looking forward to the new year.  This year I finally got to make a special Christmas morning breakfast.  Every other year we have ended up eating whatever we can find in the cabinets.  I decided I wanted something simple and quick and of course yummy, so Monkey Bread it was.  I made a mini version, recipe here.

I've never made or ate the regular version most people make in a Bundt pan but I don't own one and had no desire to buy one and try to find room in my already full cabinets.  That's why I decided to do the mini version in cupcake tins instead.
It was delicious, and even the reheated leftovers were scrumptious.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New Christmas Tradition: The Christmas Eve Surprise Box

My sister told me about something she saw online called a Christmas Eve Surprise box where you put a Christmas movie, hot chocolate, and pajamas inside for the kids to open Christmas Eve.  I immediately fell in love with the idea and said "I have to do that".  We spend Christmas with my husband's family and I'm always trying to find ways to make it "ours".  We have almost no time of just Grant, Derrick, and I as a family on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day which is sad to me.  I'm excited to spend time with Derrick's family but wish they lived closer so we could have a regular Christmas morning and day of it just being the 3 of us. 

I thought the Christmas Eve box would be great.  As a child we used to always open one gift on Christmas Eve, which was always pajamas, and I have tried to carry this tradition on with Grant.  When I looked online to see what other's were putting in their boxes so I could start making my list I mainly found this:
Christmas movie, Christmas book, pjs, hot chocolate, mugs, Christmas socks, and snacks for the movie. 

I love all those ideas and want to use them but I also want to put in a package of cookie mix for him to help me make to leave out for Santa, as well as reindeer food to put outside for the reindeer, and a Christmas pillowcase for him to sleep with. I want the items to be things we do before bedtime on Christmas Eve other than just watching the new movie. 

I found Home Alone on sale at Target on Black Friday for $4 and snatched it up as well as a pair of reindeer socks in their dollar section to go inside.  I also bought Grinch Christmas fabric a little over a month ago for the pj pants.  Grant loves the Grinch and actually picked the fabric out himself.  I think it's been long enough that he's actually forgotten I have it, which is what I wanted.  I didn't want this tradition to be a financial burden like some things can become this time of year so I searched all the sales and dollar stores for all the goodies to include.

For snacks I put in a bag of popcorn and movie size boxes of Derrick and I's favorite candy sweet tarts and junior mints, and bought a Grant's favorite snacks, goldfish crackers, which I realized after wrapping the box I forgot to put them inside, along with the Twas the Night Before Christmas book.

Here's everything I did remember to put inside:

I'm super excited about starting this tradition and hope Grant likes it too.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Pillowcase

When I read about a new tradition, the Christmas Eve Surprise box, I knew I wanted to do it for Grant and knew I wanted a Christmas pillowcase to put inside.  I bought 3 yards of Christmas fabric from Joann's after Christmas a couple years ago with intentions of making stockings for Derrick's side of the family to start a new tradition with them.  However, that never happened so I've had this fabric and have been going back and forth on what to do with it.  A pillowcase seemed like the perfect project for it.  Plus, bonus, I don't have to go buy any new Christmas fabric and I get at least a yard out of my fabric stash (that seems to grow and grow no matter what I do).

I used the tutorial here.  It was super simple to make one and let me forewarn you, these are addicting to make.  Once you make one you will inevitably try to think of every other person in your life who may "need" a new pillowcase.  I may even make Grant some for Valentine's Day and Easter.

I thought about including the magic pillowcase poem I've seen around other blogs but Grant doesn't care much for notes and poems I attach to things so maybe I'll save that for next year.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cookie Dough Christmas Gift

This Christmas was supposed to be the first Christmas we seriously cut back and focused on our only son instead of the 20 some parents, siblings, co-workers, friends, cousins, nieces, nephews, bosses, etc.  The list goes on and on.  I have been completely content with this decision since June (yes I was thinking about Christmas back in June, it's a sickness for which there is no cure), however my husband has struggled. 

I love him dearly and he is a person who would do anything for you.  When it comes to Christmas he just can't not gift, especially if he knows that person is gifting to him.  Well it's down to the wire in terms of Christmas shopping and our budget is maxed but he was feeling we should do something for my sister and our future brother-in-law as they have watched Grant for us when needed and helped us move, twice, and of course because we love them.  This would have been fine except for the timing and the money aspect, because I didn't plan for it therefore our budget was spent.  I started trying to think of something small, something with some meaning, and something that they would appreciate.  I couldn't think of any homemade crafty gift nor did I want to add another project to my already full list.  I thought of the stuff I bake, then had to nix that idea because they are currently living with my mom saving money to buy their first house before they get married this summer, and my mom bakes LOADS during the holidays.  So it would be kind of pointless to send  more baked goods that would inevitably go stale due to the sheer amount of cookies and such filling my mom's counters.

I happened to come across this post about neighbor gifts of raw cookie dough in a cute container with an adorable tag and thought, BINGO that's perfect. My sister's favorite are chocolate chip cookies.  Since she was little her afternoon snack every day was Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and juice, and she loves homemade ones but between going to school full time and working 5 days a week she has zero time to bake.  Not to mention I don't think she truly enjoys baking the way my mom and I do.  My thinking was to find some cute containers, add a tag, and fill them with dough of each of their favorite cookies.  This way they could have homemade anytime they got the hankering and it would require almost zero work on either of their parts.  Easier and better than buying the Pillsbury refrigerated dough from Wally-world.

I thought I would be able to find some really cute Christmas themed containers but no such luck.  So instead I bought these:

I found them in the same section as the mason jars and canning equipment.  I immediately thought they would be a perfect substitute and of good quality for reusing later, and BONUS, I could make them festive using my good ol' Cricut and some vinyl I already had on hand.

Problem solved.  They were $2.27 for a package of 3, so a little more than $0.75 each, not bad if you ask me.

I created a couple tags in picmonkey (I am seriously falling in love with this website), with a cute saying and directions for baking them.  I saved them as images, copied them into a Microsoft works word document then printed it on white cardstock.

Finished product:

Cookie dough containers would also be a great gift for any mother with young children, as I know from experience baking cookies from scratch can be daunting when your little one desperately wants to "help" with every step and you have a to-do list a mile long.  It would be great to have some dough already in the freezer that only requires you to drop it on the cookie sheet.  Quick and easy cleanup for mom, delicious cookies for the kids.

I love the idea of giving these to many of our family members next year instead of baked cookies or a store bought gift.   Baking ingredients go on sale pretty inexpensively this time of year.  I bought Nestle chocolate chips for all of $0.55 a bag a couple weeks ago and my local Aldi grocery store has them year round for $1.29 a bag.  So for us and the amount of people we would like to gift to, this would be a seriously cost effective gift.  Not to mention I'm big on gifts that don't just take up cabinet/closet space, but are useful.

Here's a better view of the tags I created:

Felt Batman/Spiderman Dress Up & 2 Matching Peg Dolls

Grant is still having fun wearing his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume and it made me think I should make him a couple more to change things up every now and then.  He is just starting to recognize super heroes.  He runs around at times saying "Mama, I a superhero". 

He can always point out Spiderman so I knew he would be on my list to make, and I also chose Batman because I thought it would be simple and quick to sew.  I made them both out of felt and made them the same way I made the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costumes.  The actual sewing of the pieces took less than a naptime (which for my son is all of an hour if I'm lucky).  So you could whip these up after your little  one goes to bed if you're wanting to add to their dress up collection.

I made the masks using the patterns from this site.  I made 2 identical ones and sewed them together for durability.  For the Spiderman mask I hand embroidered the web details.  You could easily use black puff paint if you wanted to make it a little easier and less time consuming.  I also hand appliqued the Batman emblem using a blanket stitch, and embroidered the black webbing details on the front of the Spiderman costume.  Again, puff paint would make this easier and faster, I just have a thing for hand embroidering stuff.

After making the batman costume I realized I probably should have made it a dark grey instead of all black but this was more simple and Grant won't know the difference yet anyway.  There is no cape on the batman costume, at least not yet.  I didn't realize my black felt wasn't wide enough for the costume so it will be attached at a later date. 

I had some leftover wood peg dolls after making the Ninja Turtles earlier this year and decided to make a Spiderman and Batman doll to go with the costumes.  Grant, my niece, and the 2 year old I babysit still play with the Ninja Turtle peg people so I know they will be played with often.

I can't wait to see Grant running around as Batman and Spiderman on Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

I've been making homemade chocolate covered cherries for a good 4 years now.  I used to buy my mom the Cordial brand cherries every year for Christmas until I happened to come across a recipe in the Better Homes and Garden cookbook.  I decided to try it out thinking my mom would just appreciate the fact that I tried. 

Well she did, she loved them.  Said they were way better than the store bought so, 4 years later it is now my Christmas tradition to make these not only for my Mom but also now for my father-in-law as well.  I found out after I made them for my mom how much he loves them too.

The recipe is super simple but a little time consuming.  The time consuming part is why I really dread making them every year.  Guess it's a good thing I love the people I give them to.

I changed the recipe a little.  I've made them so many times now I realized quickly the original recipe didn't work as easily for me, so this is the recipe I use:

1 jar maraschino cherries
2c powdered sugar- sifted
3T butter-softened
3T light corn syrup

Drain the cherries and let them air dry for several hours on 2 layers of paper towels.  I let mine air dry at least overnight and sometimes a full day or so.  In a bowl mix butter and corn syrup until combined.  Add the powdered sugar and mix.  Once its mixed some, knead it in the bowl to get all the powdered sugar completely combined.
To make it easy on yourself, refrigerate the kneaded mixture for a couple hours, this will make working with it a lot easier.  Remove from fridge and take about 1/2 a tablespoon full of mixture and wrap it around each cherry.  Make sure the cherries are completely covered or they will come apart when you dip them in the chocolate.  If the mixture starts to get too sticky to work with refrigerate the mixture for another hour or so just make sure you keep the cherries already covered in the fridge until you cover them in chocolate.  Once all the cherries are covered melt your chocolate and dip each cherry making sure they are completely covered in the chocolate, then place them on a piece of parchment paper until the chocolate has hardened.

For the chocolate I use semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I melt 1-12oz bag in the microwave with 1T veggie oil following the melting instructions on the bag.

Mine don't turn out as pretty or as uniformed as the ones you can buy in the grocery store but I guarantee your loved ones will like them a whole lot more, regardless of their appearance.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Reindeer Food

I'm starting a new tradition this year, the Christmas Eve Surprise Box and reindeer food is one of the items going inside the box.

You can find tutorials or how-to's all over the internet.  I did mine a little different in that I didn't use any glitter (cuz I didn't have any) and made my own tag using picmonkey.
I used sugar I colored myself with food coloring and regular oats I had in my cabinet.

To color my sugar I put a couple spoonful's into 2 separate baggies and the oats in another baggie.

I used red and green gel food coloring but you can use regular if that's all you have.

It really only takes one drop from each of the food colorings in the baggie with the sugar.
Seal the baggies and move the sugar around with your fingers until the food coloring is distributed evenly.
Pour the sugars into the baggie with the oats and attach your tag.

I made this one in picmonkey using a poem I found online.  I saved it as a picture image, copied it into a Microsoft works word document and printed it onto white cardstock.
If you're wanting to use the same tag you can save this one as an image.
I know Grant is going to have fun sprinkling this all over the driveway for the reindeer on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Salt Dough Ornaments

I have really fond memories of elementary school around Christmas time.  I remember lots of homemade ornaments whether it was glittery pinecones, crayon colored angels, pipe cleaner candy canes, or salt dough ornaments.  I loved every minute of it and I've often done crafts or activities with Grant I used to do in school.  I love homemade ornaments and every year when we decorate my mom's tree we still pull out some of those ornaments we made in first grade and it brings back so many memories. 

When we decorated our own tree this year, I was so excited to see our ornaments since we haven't gotten them out in about 2 years because of the time we were living with my mom.  I pulled out Grant's first "school" homemade ornament (actually it was from daycare but it reminded me of some of the ones we did in school).  It was made of foam, glitter, his picture, and had his name on it and I want my tree full of little ornaments like these so 20 years from now I can pull them out and reminisce about these years that will fly by. 

This year I really wanted to do salt dough ornaments with him.  I thought he was finally old enough to help with the majority of the process and could use cookie cutters and paint to decorate them easy enough.  Here's the recipe I used:

1cup salt
1cup flour
1cup water (add just enough to make the dough stick together and not be overly sticky)
-mix the flour and salt.  Slowly add in the water until it's the right consistency.  Knead the dough then roll it out and use cookie cutters to cut your shapes.  bake at 300 degrees for an hour or more depending on the size and thickness of your ornaments.

We used a star, heart, reindeer, and circle cookie cutter for the majority of the ornaments.  Then I decided to make one onesie shaped ornament to decorate for the new baby.  Since I didn't buy any pregnancy or "baby on the way" ornament I thought this would work great. 

I'm actually pretty pleased with how the onesie turned out.  It's far from perfect and I couldn't figure out exactly what I wanted it to say so I decided to keep it simple and just put, baby #2, on the front with the year.

I had Grant use washable Crayola paint.  I read online to only use acrylic paint because others would eventually chip off., but I had visions of acrylic paint all over his clothes, pants, and my dining room chairs and decided it wasn't worth it.  Once they were done I thought I probably should have only given him one color of paint per ornament instead of small amounts of 4 different colors because of him mixing all the colors together rather than using them one at a time.

I had him hang one Rudolph on the tree and took the others and hung them from a shelf in our dining room.  I also had him do a handprint and used acrylic paint on it.  I've been wanting a painted salt dough handprint of his since he was born and as sad as it is, it's taken me 3 year to do it. 

I kept it simple and decided not to go full Christmas theme with it since I don't think I will put it away after the holidays.  I enjoy looking at his cute little hand hanging on my wall and he loves showing it to anyone who comes into our home.

After having made all these Grant is still asking me when we can make more.  I think he really had fun and I can't wait to do this again next year.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cookie Dough Evening

Every year for the last 10 (and even before that with my mom) I have taken an entire day during he Christmas season and baked.  Mostly cookies but also quick breads, cupcakes, and candy.  I usually give these out to friends, family, and coworkers.  I always looked forward to my "baking day", that is until I had Grant.  Suddenly the idea of spending hours in my kitchen, more hours than before since I was interrupted by the needs of a child, no longer seemed like a fun tradition.  I pushed through for a couple years, making sure my husband didn't make plans for a specific Saturday, so I could at least have backup when needed. 

This year was a different story.  Now being pregnant and having a 3 year old, I had no desire, not one in my entire body, to spend a day baking from sun up to sun down.  Not to mention the fact that I didn't have a whole lot of people to give them out to since my mom also bakes and gives them to part of the people we know and I no longer have co-workers.  I decided I needed a new plan.  I still love baking and the idea of a Christmas season with no cookies and candy was unacceptable in my mind.

My solution for making this year easier and quicker for me was making and freezing the dough ahead of time.  I decided the best option for me was to take an evening or a couple and mix up all the cookie batters I planned on using, roll them into logs, and freeze them to bring out and bake whenever I wanted.  Genius right? 

So last night after Grant went to sleep I decided to get my butt in gear and at least make 1 batch of dough.  Turns out once I started I figured why stop?  I ended up making 3 batches of cookie dough, which is all the cookies I plan on making.  Since we are having my dad over for an early Christmas dinner, I went ahead and baked a handful of each kind before freezing the dough.

I usually stick to the same recipes I've made for years, I am after all a creature of routine and habit.  This year I wanted to try a different chocolate chip cookie recipe.  My mom's is more of a cakey cookie and I was in search of something a little crunchier.  I came across this Pioneer Woman recipe and decided to give it a whirl, after all she's never steered me wrong before.

Seeing this just makes me want to sit and eat cookie dough straight from the bowl.
The only thing I omitted from Ree's recipe was the flax seed.  I don't keep it in my pantry therefore I don't use it.
Golden brown to perfection!  When I first read the recipe and saw it called for instant coffee granules I was a little scared, I admit.  I love coffee but didn't think I wanted that flavor in my chocolate chip cookies.  However I decided to trust my friend Ree (oh how I wish she was actually my friend and would have me over for dinner, yum!) and add them to the batter.  I tasted the batter, because you can't have cookie batter without tasting it right? and I could taste the coffee.  I immediately thought, "crap! this is not what I wanted, what am I gonna do with all this cookie dough now?"  But I soldiered through and baked a few to at least let my husband and family try them, after all I figured I could pawn them off on someone if I didn't like the flavor.  When they baked up I tried one with the last hope that the flavor of coffee wasn't prevalent, and guess what?  No coffee flavor!
I was so excited.  It was just as Ree said, the coffee granules just give the cookies a little richer chocolate flavor and my oh my they are delish.  Crunchy and chocolatey and just what I was searching for in a new chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I had my husband try them just to be sure my taste buds weren't the only ones not tasting coffee. I didn't tell him why I wanted him to try them just that I tried a new recipe and wanted his opinion.  His comment was, "they taste like a chocolate chip cookie to me".  Translation, no coffee flavor!
When I found Pioneer Woman's chocolate chip cookie recipe I also came across this Brown Sugar Oatmeal cookie recipe.  Now, I'm not a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, but my mom and future brother-in-law love them.  My mom has complained in years past that she can't find a good recipe for them.  These looked divine, and I love me some brown sugar in anything so I figured I probably couldn't go wrong.

They come out looking almost, in my opinion, overcooked.  Trust me when I say they are not.  This is just the goodness of all that brown sugar.  It makes it crunchy, and gives it a really nice flavor that I think is lacking in a lot of oatmeal cookie recipes.  I plan on adding some raisins to the dough I already made and froze when I go to bake a large batch of them.
The last cookie I made was one I've been making for the last 4-5 years.  At some point I had a bag of Nestle chocolate chips, not sure why since no other cookie or candy I make calls for them.  On that bag there was this recipe:
White Chip Chocolate Cookies
2 1/4c flour
2/3c cocoa
1t baking soda
1/4t salt
1c butter
3/4c granulated sugar
2/3c packed brown sugar
1t vanilla
2 large eggs
2c white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350.  Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, mix.  In a separate bowl beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla until creamy.  Add eggs 1 at a time beating well after each addition.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Stir in chips.  Drop by tablespoonful on baking sheet.  Bake 9-11 minutes.
A gave them a try on a whim way back then and have been making them ever since.  They are one of the few cookies that only I make so I get to take them to my mom and sister and give them away.  Pretty much every other cookie I bake, my mom bakes as well so I couldn't ever take her mine, cuz she already had so many of her own.
Try your darndest after you mix it up not to taste the chocolatey goodness that is this batter.  I know it's hard, but try.
These are 1 of my all time favorite cookies.  I love, love, love, white chocolate chips.  My only piece of advice is to watch while baking these because it's hard to tell if they are fully baked and you can burn them without realizing because they are already dark in color.  I have burned the bottoms of a few of my white chocolate chip cookies thinking they weren't done all the way and then it was too late.  It's a sad day when I have to throw out these favorites of mine.
Now for the freezing.  Some people freeze their cookie dough in already formed balls so all you have to do is take them from the freezer, place them on the baking pan, and bake.  I love this method however I only have a fridge freezer in our little apartment and spending hours freezing batch after batch of dough on 1 small cookie sheet doesn't sound like fun to me, or a the way I want to spend an entire day.
So instead here's how I do mine.  I take a long piece of plastic wrap and lay it out on the counter.  Spoon my dough on top of that.

 Roll it up in the plastic wrap and twist the ends.

 Place your roll on a piece of foil.
Roll the dough in the foil and twist the ends.
Write the kind of dough it is on the outside.  I do this with a regular ol' pen and it works just fine.
Now pop it in your freezer for when you get a hankering, yes I said hankering, for cookies.
When you are in the mood for some cookies just put it in the fridge for a couple hours or leave it on the counter to thaw, just don't leave it all day or overnight, there are raw eggs in there after all, and bake as you normally would.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

DIY Elf on the Shelf: The simplicity and joys

Our little elf has brought quite a bit of joy to my little guy.  Who would have thought kids would so look forward to finding a little toy ornament throughout the house.  Every morning when Grant wakes up he immediately starts looking for his elf.  Somehow he misunderstood Santa's letter and thinks that every time he goes to sleep for a nap or at bedtime his elf flies around, rather than just at night when everyone's asleep.  I tried to explain this a few times until I finally decided it wasn't a big deal for me to find places for the elf to sit twice a day. 

My intent was for this elf to leave little messages for Grant and the occasional few pieces of candy.  However I find that Grant really isn't interested in the notes so I gave up on them.  My husband was so sweet and bought a Christmas hot chocolate set (my son loves sharing hot chocolate with me and asks at least every day, sometimes twice a day) and set it under the tree with a note from Eli the elf.  Grant was so elated when he woke up and saw something under the tree, his first words were, "Mama I open it?".  He has just started drinking his hot chocolate out of mugs instead of his sippy cup so he immediately "needed" hot chocolate in his new snowman mug.  He talked about this for days afterward and told everyone he could about his elf bringing him a new hot chocolate mug.

The next day Eli the elf left him 3 Smarties candies and the only problem I encountered with this was after he finished the 3 he wanted more and wouldn't hardly accept my telling him there were no more, and he would have to be extra good and maybe Eli would bring them again another day.

It has amazed me over the last couple weeks how excited Grant gets over his Elf and the simplicity of it all.  I'm definitely not an over achieving mama when it comes to our elf, and we don't follow the same rules as other houses.  Grant gets his elf down from wherever he finds it every day and would be thoroughly upset if we told him he couldn't have him.  He takes him to bed with him every night and won't go to sleep without him.  Where he found the elf that day is the first thing he tells his dad in the morning and after his nap.  It's cute watching his face as he looks around and then finds where Eli is sitting, and it's a challenge at times finding different places for Eli to sit in our small apartment but I know how thrilled Grant will be when he wakes up and that makes it all worth it.

I'm so glad we started this tradition this year and I'm hoping maybe next year we will be able to follow the no touching rule, especially with a new baby crawling around, and maybe our elf will be a little more active since Grant will be 4 and understand things better.

You can go here to find the Elf Arrival letter I used.

Here to see the book I made to go with Grant's Elf.

And here to see it all put together.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Black Bean Enchilada Soup

My husband has decided he doesn't like chicken unless it's cooked on the grill, which I don't do, so I created a new recipe I adapted from my chicken enchilada soup recipe.

1can rotel
2 cans cream of chicken
1can enchilada sauce
1 bag frozen corn
3t cilantro
1 onion chopped
1 can diced tomato
1 can black beans
4c chicken broth (I ended up using 1 can, 3 chicken bouillon cubes and 3c of water)
1T olive oil

sauté onion in  olive oil until soft.  Add Rotel, diced tomato, and corn.  Heat through.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the soup pot and heat through.

The original recipe didn't have diced tomato, black beans, or frozen corn.  I added them to give the soup a little more since I omitted the meat.  However you could easily add some chopped or shredded chicken to the soup and it's delicious either way.  I like having a lot of different soup recipes during the winter, not only for the fact they warm you up during cold days/nights, but also because they leave lots of leftovers for the following days meals.  I always feel like I'm getting more for my money with soups and stews than a regular meat/potato/veggie meal.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Family Ornament: Reindeer Thumbprints

I wanted to make a family ornament this year and start a new tradition.  My husband hates, I mean really hates, having his picture taken so I knew I couldn't do anything with photos.  I saw reindeer thumbprint ornaments on pinterest forever ago and had immediately thought of making my Mom an ornament with the grandkid's thumbprints and the year.

When I started making hers I thought, why not make one for our tree.  I think my husband was relieved his part took all of 2 seconds and only consisted of dipping his thumb in paint.  I put our last name on the back and the year in permanent marker.  I used brown acrylic paint for the thumbprints then added the details with acrylic paint as well.  My intent was to add a green ribbon bow to the top but I can't for the life of me find my green ribbon.  I know it will turn up eventually and I wanted to get the ornament on our tree so I left the ribbon off for now.

I think a family ornament was fitting this year since it will be the last Christmas we are a family of 3.  I can't wait to come up with a new family ornament next year for the 4 of us!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Grandparent Gift Idea-Dessert of the Month Club

I saw this idea for Dessert of the Month Club on Crafting Chicks when I did a random google search and thought it was such a cute Idea I would post about it.  The idea was actually from a guest blogger at 30 Handmade Days and she used this gift idea for teachers.  My little guy is still too young for school but when I read the post I immediately thought of grandparent gifts. 

We lived with my mom and stepdad for a year and a half after moving here from out of state and my mom has said many times over that she misses the sweets and treats I used to make.  Everything from cookies, cupcakes, granola bars, to muffins.  She loved getting to enjoy the treats without actually having to make them herself or clean up the mess after they were made.

I thought of the Dessert of the Month as a great Grandparent gift because I have a hard time with gift ideas sometimes.  It seems like most Grandparents have everything and I always end up figuring out a gift that involves pictures, which they always love but I like the idea of an alternative.  It's homemade, which is my favorite kind of gift, and lasts way past the holidays, which is always fun.  Kind of makes it Christmas all year:)

I think this gift would work for anyone on your list whether it's a teacher, friend, neighbor, Grandparent, sister, etc.  Think, if you have a brother/sister in college how much they would appreciate a dessert every month.  It's kind of difficult to bake in a dorm room or to even find the time to make treats when you're studying all the time.  If not for Christmas what about Mother's Day, Father's day or someone's birthday?  And one of the best parts about it is you can go as extravagant, like crème brulee, or simple, like chocolate chip cookies, as you want with the desserts.  It's also a great last minute gift idea because you could probably raid your pantry for ingredients to come up with a dessert on the fly and attach a cute card with ribbon and there you go, no need to spend hours at the crowded stores searching for the "perfect" gift.

If you're looking for more inspiration I also found another blog here, she included a little book which told what dessert she was bringing each month.  This way the recipient always knows what to expect.  I don't know that I could do this because I like to bake whatever strikes my fancy in the moment and I usually bake according to what fruits and things are on sale during the weeks leading up to my baking days.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pioneer Woman's Potato Soup

I have a small obsession with Pioneer Woman recipes and when my husband asked me to make him potato soup I immediately turned to her for one I knew would taste great.  The last time I made potato soup it didn't turn out well.  It called for sour cream and It's like the ingredients didn't mix together the way they should have so I didn't want to even attempt it with that recipe.  I used Pioneer Woman's and other than the fact that I blended my soup before adding the milk/flour mixture, and I used dried parsley instead of fresh, I followed the directions and ingredient list completely.

I think the next time I make it I will leave it chunky and omit the blending all together.  Everyone has their own view of the perfect potato soup and I think mine would have to be a chunkier version.  But the taste of this soup was right on the money.  I look forward to leftover night this week to have this again.

And maybe for lunch the day after that.....

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

I love quick breads.  Mainly because I'm super impatient when it comes to waiting for bread to rise and all that.  I prefer to mix up a batter, pour it in a pan, bake, and eat all in under an hour.

I found this recipe here, I love Taste of Home and have tried tons of their recipes, most of which have turned out great.  When I found this one I wrote it down for future use and it's taken me over a month to actually bake it.   Of course now, after having made it and ate it, I'm wondering why on earth I haven't been making this every week since I found the recipe.

Grant loves helping in the kitchen.  I often have to remind myself to be patient and let him help with something no matter how small of a job it is.  I get in a hurry wanting to get things done and catch myself saying no then regretting it later when I think about how that must make him feel if I were to always say no, never letting him help me.  Heck, he might be the next Cake Boss for all I know, lol.

The recipe was really easy to follow and I have to say the only thing I would change is the amount of cinnamon sugar mixture I put on top.  There was quite a bit to sprinkle on top and some of it didn't melt into the batter and was still sitting on top after the bread was finished.  I ended up dumping it off.  The bread was still delicious regardless.

I doubled the glaze part of the recipe because I love me some glaze.  I could eat it with a spoon.  I don't think you can ever have enough.  Maybe next time I'll triple it.

Grant loved it too and asked for seconds.  We ate this as a dessert because I baked it in the evening but it's going to be perfect for breakfast in the mornings. 
I will definitely be making this over and over again.  I think it would even be great to give this bread away as gifts for the holidays in mini or half loaf pans.
Yes it is that good, you need to try it....Like right now...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sweet Potato Bread with Struesel Topping

I saw this recipe for Sweet Potato bread on Blissful and Domestic and knew with sweet potatoes being so cheap the last couple weeks (39cents a pound, SCORE!), I would have to make some.  We always buy a bunch of sweet potatoes with great intentions of using every last one and always end up with some starting to go bad.  That's when I usually puree it up and freeze it for sweet potato pancakes or muffins.

When I came across the quick bread recipe I was immediately excited at the idea of having another quick bread in my recipe box.  I don't do homemade bread that requires yeast very often because I'm a very impatient person and never let it rise long enough, which inevitably results in a not so light and fluffy loaf of bread.  I love banana bread, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, etc so I figured why wouldn't I like sweet potato bread.  Not to mention I love the idea of a veggie being in a food I don't have to bribe Grant to eat. 

The only thing I did different to the above recipe was add a streusel topping.  I love streusel toppings and add them to almost every quick bread I make.  It just gives it that added bit of yumminess!
Here's the recipe I used:
1/4c packed brown sugar
1/4c stick butter
1/4c chopped pecans
1t cinnamon
*mix all together with a fork or your fingers and put on top of your bread batter after you put the batter into the loaf pan.

The bread came out super moist and flavorful.  The only problem I had was I had to leave it in the oven for about an extra 20 minutes (due to my stupid oven and it's random temperature changes) so the sides and bottom were a little tough.  I just don't eat that part.  The rest of it was delish, and I plan on buying some more sweet potatoes to make sure I have some frozen puree for future bread making.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DIY Elf on Shelf Update

Every time I read a blog post about someone who has made something for their kids I always wonder how it went over.  Usually when we post things it's right when the new item is presented and of course kids love new things so most of the time it goes well but what about a week or so later? Do the kids still play with that doll you lovingly made? Or wear the shirt you stayed up all night sewing?

When I thought of starting the Elf on the Shelf tradition I had visions of Grant racing down the stairs to find his elf and trying to be on his best behavior because the elf would be watching.  I envisioned reading him the book I spent so much time creating and him being amazed by the magic of it all. 

Fast forward and we are over a week in and I will say Grant still has fun coming downstairs to find his elf, Eli.  He immediately starts looking around and tells Derrick all about where he found him that day.  One thing I could not get him to understand was the reasons for not touching Eli.  He could not grasp the idea that the elf had Christmas magic and if you touched him he would lose it.  This being said the first day when he woke up to find Eli on top of the armoire he immediately said, "I need him".  When I explained once again that we could not touch him he proceeded to cry and just kept repeating, "but I need him, I need my elf".  Of course I couldn't tell him no because after all this is supposed to be something fun for him, so every day when he wakes up and finds him he is allowed to carry him around and play with him.

I have also had to explain numerous times why his elf is not alive.  The first day he woke up and found Eli he was super excited to get him down and after his crying episode I could tell he was a little disappointed when he touched him and the elf was still a doll.  He immediately said, "why he not alive, mama?"  I have had to explain quite a few times why the elf is only alive when he's asleep and why he doesn't get to see him come alive.

Grant is only 3 and I think the typical Elf on the Shelf idea would work better for ages 4 and up.  I think Grant would have been able to understand more if he was a little older.  Maybe next year we will attempt to do the elf on the shelf we don't touch due to his Christmas magic.  As for this year, Grant will just have fun finding him every morning and playing with him until Santa comes to get him Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 9, 2013

DIY Elf on the Shelf Arrival Letter

I thought I'd share the arrival letter I made to go with Grant's Elf on the Shelf I put together.  I realize anyone who wanted to start this tradition this year probably already has everything put together but there's nothing wrong with getting ideas for next year if your little ones still need a year or so before they get their elf. 
When I was searching the internet for all the little things to go with the elf I bought online, the thing that took me the longest was figuring out the wording for the book and arrival letter.  I thought I would save someone else the trouble and give some ideas by sharing mine.

First I downloaded and saved the Santa letterhead to make it look more official (as if a 3 year old would know the difference anyway right?), you can find it here.

Here is what Grant's letter said:

Dear Grant,

I am leaving you a very special early gift this year. Inside this box is one of my elves. I am leaving him to watch over you and report back to me whether you have been naughty or nice. I want you to give this elf a very special name and after you give him a name he will receive his Christmas magic. This magic will make him come alive at night when you are sleeping. He will fly to the North Pole while you sleep and tell me all about your day and your behavior. In the morning he will fly back to your house and find a new place to sit and watch over you. I know you are a good boy and know how to listen to your Mommy and Daddy, so I expect to get good reports back.

There are a couple things I want to let you know about this elf.

-You can not touch him. If you touch him he will lose his Christmas magic and will not be able to fly back to the North Pole.

- He can not talk to you. You can talk to him but he can not talk to you because his job is to listen and watch and report back to Santa.

My special elf will be staying with you until Christmas Eve. I will pick him up when I leave your gifts under your tree and he will return to you again next year before Christmas. Please take good care of him and be on your best behavior.

Then I used a fancy font to sign Santa's name and put "P.S. please read the book I have sent with your elf to learn more about him"

Grant was so excited about opening the box with the elf I don't even know how much of the letter he heard but I thought it was a cute addition and a nice little keepsake. 


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bit of Whimsy MerMae Doll

I was super excited when Bit of Whimsy had a 40% off sale over black Friday weekend.  My husband decided he wanted to gift to the nieces and nephews this year so I had to come up with a gift for Sophie. 

She loves The Little Mermaid and I thought this doll would be perfect for her.  Not to mention I always love an excuse to buy a new doll pattern.  I've gotten so much use out of the Jean and Beth patterns I bought I consider it an investment.  I can almost always raid my fabric stash without purchasing a single new piece when I make a doll, which I love because I get rid of some fabric that's taking up space in my closets.

When I saw the pattern I immediately thought of a blue paisley fabric I used for pj pants last Christmas and a onesie dress last year.  For whatever reason the paisley made me think of a mermaid.

I am so in love with this doll!  Is she too cute or what?  I love her pink and blue hair.  I wouldn't normally use non-hair colors on a doll but considering this one's a mermaid I thought it was perfect.
I have to say I was a little intimidated when I read this doll pattern wasn't for beginners like the other patterns on the website.  Not that I'm a beginner but I just wondered how much more difficult it would be to put together.  I have to say I was happily surprised it wasn't that bad.  I think there are just more steps to this doll than to the other 2 I've made.  I've used my other patterns so much, it was nice to start on something new and a little different.  Kinda makes me want to buy another different pattern and make another one haha.  I'll have to refrain though, I think my husband would flip if I added another "project" to my to-do list.
I'm happy she is done and can't wait to give her to Sophie.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

DIY Elf on the Shelf Book

Since I didn't buy the store made version of Elf on the Shelf I made my own book to go along with the elf I purchased online.  I made a really simple version and printed it on white cardstock, used images I copied and pasted from the internet, and bound it by tying ribbon through the hole punches.

I used some of the wording I found from other blogs online and made up the rest myself so I thought I would share what my story actually said, just in case you're trying to come up with a story for your little Elf.
Page 1:

You have been chosen to receive your very own special elf. This elf is a scout elf. He will have special Christmas magic and is being sent to help Santa watch over you so he will know if you have been naughty or nice.

Page 2:
First you must give this little elf a name. He deserves a very special name because he will be your elf every Christmas season. He may look like a regular doll but the Christmas magic he will have will bring him to life.

Page 3:
Once you give him a name he will receive his Christmas magic. This is very special magic. Every night when you are sleeping he will fly back to the North Pole to tell Santa how you have behaved, good or bad, and about all of your adventures.
Page 4:
Then each morning he will fly back to your house and find a new place to sit and watch all the fun. This is how Santa keeps track of which girls and boys need to be on the naughty or nice list.
Page 5:
There are some rules that need to be followed with your special elf. First, and this is very important, an elf can not be touched. Christmas magic is very fragile and if an elf is touched he will lose his Christmas magic and won’t be able to fly back to the North Pole.
Page 6:
Second, an elf can not move or speak while anyone in the house is awake. You can talk to him and he will hear everything you say but he can not speak to you. His job is to watch and listen so he can report back to Santa.
Page 7:
This special elf will be yours each and every Christmas. He will come to stay with you after Thanksgiving, flying back each night to report to Santa until Christmas Eve. On that special night, while you are sleeping, Santa will come to your house to leave your gifts and bring your elf back to the North Pole until next year.
Page 8:
Only very special girls and boys receive a scout elf so take care of him and have fun finding him every morning when he returns from the North Pole.
I used Microsoft Works Word document to create Grant's book.  I put the pages on landscape and made them into 2 columns with a line to separate them to use less paper and make a smaller book.  After I printed the pages out I just cut on the center line, put the pages in order, punched 2 holes in the side, and tied ribbon through them.
See, no need to pay $29.99 for that store version when you can do it yourself.



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