Category: christmas

Mele Kalikimaka!

“…is Hawaii’s way, to say Merry Christmas to you…”

In case you didn’t know, “Mele Kalikimaka” is one of my favorite Christmas songs sung by one of my favorite singers: Bing Crosby. It’s also featured in one of my favorite Christmas movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I have my grandpa’s original record of Bing’s Merry Christmas! album which it was on, and I also have my late Uncle Pat‘s White Christmas 40th Anniversary VHS box set (from 1994) which includes the script and other reprints of film memorabilia.

I’m clearly into it.

Christmas tree 2013!

Well, anyway, it’s here. Finally! Christmas is here. After months of preparation & anticipation. And I hope it lives up to all of that for you. For me, it’s a vintage Christmas. Vintage ornaments on the tree (and some new ones), vintage-looking colored lights.

Some of the vintage ornaments are my grandparents’, some are my great-grandparents’, and some other belonged to my parents. Like these Shiny Brite ones that were my grandpa & grandma’s…

Vintage Shiny Brite silent night ornament.

Vintage Shiny Brite Christmas greetings ornament.

And a few awesome hand-painted striped glass ones like this…

Vintage blue striped ornament.

And still others are new! Or fairly new. Like this acoustic guitar I bought Jay in 2005 at Restoration Hardware, or the Jack Daniels crystal one Jay’s parents got him from Lenox.

Acoustic guitar ornament, Restoration Hardware 2005.

Jack Daniels ornament!

There’s also this one, that Jay bought at the 9/11 museum.

9/11 Fidelis Ad Mortem police ornament.

And you know I have baking/cooking-related ones on there too. I’ve got a few “baking fairies” with spatulas/pastry bags/etc, a wooden spoon & whisk, a cookie cutter & Santa cookie from Yoyo, a bunch of different glass cupcakes and a personalized chef. This is a very delicate glass cupcake imported from Poland that I got at Sur La Table:

Glass cupcake ornament from Poland.

Each & every ornament has such a special meaning. Isn’t it lovely to look at your tree & have each ornament spark a memory?

And of course no tree would be complete without toys underneath it. My tree has some special vintage toys…

Vintage toys on display under the tree. These are toys that belonged to a grandparent & uncle; some are from the 1920's, some from the 1940's.

These toy trucks & trains are vintage. The Buddy L trucks & Ives trains belonged to my grandfather, and date back to the 1920′s/early 1930′s. The white car in the front belonged to my uncle so it’s probably from the 1940′s/early 1950′s.

And this Christmas is full of new traditions, too. Like this:

Cut the bottom off your (real) tree, then write or burn the date on it. Save them from year to year! Use them as coasters, ornaments, whatever. Just seal them with some acrylic spray sealant so the sap doesn't make them too sticky.

That right there is the bottom of our tree! The nice dude at the place we bought it cut the bottom inch off before he wrapped the tree and gave it to me, but you can do it yourself; either before you put it in the stand when you get it home, or after you take it down. Just slice the bottom off (if you’re doing it after Christmas, use a dry piece, not one that was sitting in water). Sand it a little on both sides, clean it, then write the date on it. I used a wood-burning tool, but I know not everyone has one of those. A Sharpie or rubber stamp works too. I’d also seal it with some kind of acrylic sealer spray (or polyurethane sealer, only if you’ve burned the date in) so the sap doesn’t become annoying.

And now I’ll have a collection of them from every year we have a real tree- which is hopefully many years. You can hang yours on the tree with a little screw in hook & some ribbon, or use it as a coaster, or just put it on a shelf like I did.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!

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Gingerbread cake with marshmallow snow & paper trees.

For some reason, as I was writing the title of this post, I thought of the lyrics from Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. Odd.

Anyway, gingerbread is one of my favorite holiday treats. I love the cookies, I love it in a spicier form like pfeffernusse and I love gingerbread cake. I don’t make it nearly enough, though, even around the holidays. I have a favorite gingerbread cookie recipe & a favorite Guinness ginger cake recipe, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy trying others. So I thought that this year, I’d make a plain gingerbread cake- no Guinness, no chocolate- and top it with some fluffy white snow.

And trees. Gotta have trees.

Gingerbread cake with a marshmallow "snow" and paper cupcake liner trees. And elves!

For the trees, I got the how-to from The Cake Blog. Pretty self-explanatory, but still. It’s a fun & easy way to make cupcake or cake toppers.

It’s so retro-looking, isn’t it?

Cupcake liner Christmas trees!

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Figgy pudding bars made with Duchy Originals oaten biscuits!

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

Christmas is officially on it’s way. The big tree in Rockefeller Center has been lit for 2 weeks now, everyone has been shopping up a storm, and of course baking! Rightly so… it’s literally 8 days away! If you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking of Christmas-y treats. Which brings me to today’s post. If you’re a longtime reader, you’ll remember both my figgy pudding cupcakes & also that last holiday season I made a recipe featuring Duchy Originals lemon shortbread cookies.

(If you’re a new reader- well, suffice it to say, one time I made figgy pudding cupcakes & another time I made a lemon cranberry cobbler recipe featuring Duchy Originals lemon shortbread cookies. Haha.)

Duchy Originals oaten biscuits... transformed into figgy pudding bars!

Anyway… the lovely folks at Duchy Originals wanted me to create a new recipe, this time for their Oaten biscuits. The oaten variety was the first one that was made for Duchy:

The Oaten Biscuit was the original Duchy Original – it was their first product back in 1992. Duchy Originals grow the wheat and oats themselves on farms in the UK. To get the perfect recipe and flavor, they teamed up with Walkers Shortbread who have been making shortbread in the Scottish Highlands for over 100 years.

Of course I said yes! I absolutely love the Duchy company & also the Walkers Shortbread company. In case you weren’t aware, Duchy was started by Prince Charles (yes-that Prince Charles!) in 1992 in order to promote organic food and farming and to help protect and sustain the local countryside and wildlife. it is one of the U.K.’s leading organic and sustainable food companies, producing a range of over 250 products from biscuits to preserves and gifts to garden seeds. A donation from the sale of Duchy Originals products is given to The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation. More than $1 million is raised annually in this way for distribution to charitable causes all over the world. Duchy Originals from Waitrose shortbreads and cookies are baked by the world famous Walkers Shortbread in the Scottish Highlands.

And I thought it appropriate that being that they’re an English brand, and it’s Christmas, I make a “figgy pudding” reference.

Easy figgy pudding cookie bars! Made with Duchy Originals oaten biscuits & fig butter. You can use store-bought fig butter if you need to.

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DIY magic: mason jar snow globes.

Oh, December. How I love you. Make no mistake- Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday. Hands down. However, it’s only acceptable for me to play White Christmas over & over again in December. I don’t mind watching it in February or July, but I find other people take issue. Or perhaps they just take issue with me singing all of the songs (particularly this one & this one) out loud at the top of my lungs? Anyway. I wait until at least after turkey day to break out the Bing! Also, December is the Mount Everest of baking/creating: the best crafts, recipes, and decorations are happening  right around now!

Like these…

DIY mason jar snowglobes. Easiest winter project ever!

This tutorial is something you’ve probably seen all over the internet.

No, not probably. Definitely.  I’ve seen this concept more times in the past two weeks than I’ve seen my fiancee, it seems. I’m just repeating it here to show you how stupidly easy it is. And how fun it is. And chances are, you’ve already got the materials- or most of them- laying around the house. It’s a knockoff of a product that Anthropologie made (they made salt shaker ones too), hence the lack of water.

DIY mason jar snowglobes.

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Sprinkles! A “rainbowlicious” book review & giveaway!

Back in 2011, Quirk Books sent me a delicious cookbook (this one) to review & do a giveaway for. I loved the book & every recipe in it! The frosted maple pecan cookies are some of Jay’s favorite cookies ever. So when they asked me to do a review for a new book, Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts, I totally had to say yes!

And I had to ask if I could give one of YOU a copy as well!

Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts! Makes a great Christmas gift.

I love cookbooks. I love books in general, really- especially cookbooks, how-to books or DIY/craft books. I’m in the middle of redoing things around the ol’ homestead, so I don’t have easy access to them right now. Which is another reason why I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a new one.

But the main reason? It’s December! It’s time to start thinking about Christmas baking & Christmas presents. Cookbooks like this make not only amazing gifts, but provide some inspiration when we get a little stuck for holiday treats.

A review of: Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts.

Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts: Here’s a guide to baking and decorating delicious desserts with a colorful twist: sprinkles! Of course you can scatter them over cakes and pies–but you can also swirl them into waffles, “embroider” them on cookies, and freeze them in pretty popsicles. Jackie Alpers shares dozens of creative, colorful, super-fun recipes, plus quick-and-easy projects (ideal for little kids), holiday treats, party-perfect sprinkles crafts (great for gifting!). She also offers simple tutorials for tinting sparkling sugars, concocting homemade pop rocks, and even crafting your own sprinkles from scratch. Sprinkles! is an awesome rainbow explosion of a cookbook you won’t want to miss.”

The first thing that you need to know is that the photography in the book (& on the front & back covers) is beautiful. Beautiful colors & beautiful layouts. It’s enough to make a food blogger a little jealous.

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And to all a good night!

Welp, today is Christmas Eve.

That came super quick, didn’t it? Or maybe it’s just me.

Regardless, it’s here now. And on Christmas Eve I have a few family traditions: making the last of my Christmas Day treats (usually more fudge), pre-cooking whatever has to be done for Christmas Day (if anything), wrapping up any last minute gifts, and a eating a dinner made up of a variety of appetizers while drinking cocktails & watching A Christmas Carol; more specifically, the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim (the best version, in my humble opinion). Sometimes there’s a big, gigantic tin of assorted flavor popcorn thrown in there as well. That’s been the tradition in my house for as long as I can remember. When Jay came into the family, we had to work around his schedule as well as everyone else’s, which wasn’t really an issue until he became a cop. Then that kind of really threw a monkey wrench into things. And I don’t say that negatively; I say it meaning sometimes the Christmas Eve traditions end up being on Christmas Day, while the Christmas Day dinner ends up on Christmas Eve. Or sometimes, the big family Christmas dinner is pushed forward to the 26th or 27th. But that’s totally fine with me. I’m adaptable. I like having multiple celebrations, anyway… it’s fun to spread out the awesomeness for a few days!

(Pardon these photos… the lighting was poor & I was kind of rushing. I hope you get the gist of it, and can enjoy them anyway)

I had to make cupcakes for Christmas, that’s obvious. So I baked up those delicious Stollen-inspired cupcakes, courtesy of the Food Network magazine.

A Stollen is a fruit cake containing dried fruit and covered with sugar, powdered sugar or icing sugar. The cake is usually made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts and spices. Stollen is a traditional German cake, usually eaten during the Christmas season, when called Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen.

Stollen is a bread-like fruitcake made with yeast, water and flour, and usually with zest added to the dough. Candied orange peel and candied citrus peel (Zitronat),[1] raisins and almonds, and different spices such as cardamom and cinnamon are added. Other ingredients, such as milk, sugar, butter, salt, rum, eggs,[2] vanilla,[3] other dried fruits and nuts and marzipan may also be added to the Stollen dough. Except for the fruit added, the dough is quite low in sugar. The finished cake is sprinkled with icing sugar. The traditional weight of a Stollen is around 4.4 pounds (2 kg), but smaller sizes are now available.

The Dresden Stollen (originally Striezel), a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit, was first mentioned in an official document in 1474,[4] and the most famous Stollen is still the Dresdner Stollen,[5] sold, amongst other places, at the local Christmas market, Striezelmarkt. Dresden Stollen is produced in the city of Dresden and distinguished by a special seal depicting King Augustus II the Strong. This “official” Stollen is produced by only 150 Dresden bakers.

-Wikipedia

So of course, these cupcakes aren’t genuine Stollen. They’re just inspired by it, and because I have this weird thing where my cupcakes have to have frosting, I added a vanilla whipped cream-ish frosting. I swear, making these cupcakes with no frosting almost killed me. I absolutely HAD to frost them! However, if you aren’t as opposed to frosting-less cupcakes, you can leave it at the confectioner’s sugar, or make a simple icing with heavy cream, rum & confectioner’s sugar to drizzle on top.

Also, that tablecloth in the photos was handmade by my mother when she was 10 years old. It’s red felt, with a little white fringed edge, and cut out green felt trees decorated with glitter, beads, sequins, & paillettes. That tablecloth plus my grandmother’s “spaghetti ware” Santas, the retro-y Meri Meri Merry & Bright Christmas cupcake kit I had & the stollen-inspired cupcakes (stollen always seems like an old fashioned dessert/bread to me), really made it feel like a vintage Christmas.

STOLLEN-INSPIRED CUPCAKES (adapted from the Food Network magazine, Dec. 2012)

Makes about 1 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of a mix of citron, dried currants, dried cranberries & raisins, or whatever you like (optional)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup marzipan, room temperature & softened slightly
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted (for topping)
  • confectioner’s sugar (for dusting)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the softened butter with the marzipan and sugar until fluffy. Then beat in the 2 eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla & almond extract.
  3. Slowly beat in the flour mixture and 1/3 cup milk in alternating batches. Divide among 12 prepared muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full, and bake 20-25 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and set aside for five minutes. Brush with melted butter while still warm, but not hot, and dust with confectioner’s sugar. When 100% cooled, then frost.

WHIPPED CREAM FROSTING (adapted from The Food Pusher)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
  • 2 tablespoon cold water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream (regular or heavy, I used heavy)
  • pinch salt
  • 5 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

  1. Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl to soften.
  2. Scald 2 tablespoon of the cream; pour over gelatin, stirring till dissolved.
  3. Refrigerate until consistency of unbeaten egg white. (This takes about 10-15 minutes.) Then, with a whisk, beat until smooth.In a stand mixer with a whip attachment, or with a hand beater, whip remaining cream, salt and sugar; whip in the smoothed gelatin mixture, stopping to scrape the bowl twice.
  4. This recipe stands up well, even in warm weather. Keep leftover frosting and any product topped with it in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

I’ll avoid any overly sappy holiday messages… all I will say is that this Christmas we all have so much to be thankful for. After the Newtown, CT shooting I’m sure we all had a little wakeup call about that. I know all the parents that I know certainly did, and me too. I may not be a parent- but life is short, and you should appreciate what you have while you have it. You just never know what may come tomorrow. So be thankful for your family & friends & pets, tell them you love them every chance you get & don’t let fear get the best of you. I had to remind myself that after being in NYC during the 9/11 attacks- when it was time to get back on that train, it was kind of hard to do. Fear of what could happen should never take away from your life, or interfere with you living. And I know there are some parents who might feel a form of survivor’s guilt; why did their child live? How did they get to be so lucky when others were so terribly devastatingly ruined by this? I don’t know why or how, but I do know that you should just be thankful & not let that guilt or those questions take one minute of time away from you enjoying your family as much as possible. I don’t have the answers. And I don’t really have anything to say that can solve this, provide comfort, or take pain away from anyone. I do know that sweets make people happy. And when I make people happy, it gives me solace that my one little tiny act of baking a cake or pressing “publish”  can maybe help make someone smile in an otherwise shitty situation. So in that vein, I’m continuing to light up my little section of the web with deliciousness (& hopefully a few laughs). Food can sometimes give the comfort words themselves can’t.

I’ll leave it at that and I’ll just get right to the point…

Merry Christmas to all… and to all a good night.

Naughty, naughty.

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No idea how this got started, really. But every year since we started “dating” (can it still be called that after 9 years?), my mother or myself or both of us in tandem have bought Jay a little bag or a little tin of coal and put it in his Christmas stocking. It was just an ongoing joke about him being naughty that we both found hilarious, and over the past 8 Christmases, the poor guy ended up with a drawer full of coal because he didn’t want to just toss it. I hated to give up the joke, because it really was funny to see him get halfway through the stocking & pull out ANOTHER container of coal… but I felt bad. That’s a lot of coal. And it really does just end up in the trash.

But it was pretty funny. My poor Jay. Picture it: he’s opening gifts, all happy and excited, and he gets halfway through his stocking and BAM! There it is. Another. Freakin’. Piece. Hilarious. Once I even stuffed the stocking with other random crap like weighed-down tissue paper instead of gifts, leaving just the coal at the bottom! Ohhh, Christmas coal. Providing laughter… and tears… for centuries.

The practice of giving coal to naughty children dates back to one of (at least) five possible origins:

Sicily

One of the many origin stories begins in Italy where they believe in La Befana (a witch who delivers presents) instead of Santa Claus. When Jesus was born, La Befana saw a bright star in the sky and gathered some toys and other presents to give to the baby Jesus, but she couldn’t find the stable. Every year she goes around looking for Jesus and leaves toys for good children, and coal for bad ones. These days, Italians use a candy, called Carbone Dolce, to turn the legend into a joke. The dark, rock-like candy looks exactly like lumps of coal.

Holland

Some people say that the lumps of coal story started in Holland in the 16th century. Before Christmas, children would put their clogs by the fireplace before stockings were used. When a child was bad they got a lump of coal, but if they were good they got a small toy, cookies or candy.

England

In the 19th century, most of Europe was powered by coal, and most household furnaces were coal burning. A pan of hot coals would often be kept under the bed to generate heat in the middle of the night. In England, while the children of rich families got candy and toys in their stockings, those who were poor (believed to have been made poor by God, as punishment for their family’s bad deeds) would get coal, if they were lucky.

The Nobleman

A proud but poor nobleman had three daughters ready to marry. The problem was, he had no dowry to give them. Saint Nicholas secretly gave the family enough money so their daughters could start their lives out with their new husbands. He did this by placing the money in some stockings that were drying by the fireplace. When word spread about this miracle, everyone started hanging their stockings by the fire in hopes that the secret benefactor would visit them. He did visit those houses, but for those who Saint Nicholas knew to be bad, he left them with a lump of coal instead of gold.

Krampusnacht

Krampus is a beast-like creature from the folklore of Alpine countries thought to punish bad children during the Christmas season, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards nice ones with gifts. Krampus is said to capture particularly naughty children in his sack and carry them away to his lair. The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated in parts of Europe on December 6. In Alpine countries, Saint Nicholas has a devilish companion named Krampus. On the preceding evening, Krampus Night or Krampusnacht, the hairy devil appears on the streets. Sometimes accompanying St. Nicholas and sometimes on his own, Krampus visits homes and businesses.The Saint usually appears in the Eastern Rite vestments of a bishop, and he carries a ceremonial staff. Unlike North American versions of Santa Claus, in these celebrations Saint Nicholas concerns himself only with the good children, while Krampus is responsible for the bad. Nicholas dispenses gifts, while Krampus supplies coal and the ruten bundles. 

-eHow.com

So it’s been around a long time, and a lot of people have been getting a lump or two of coal in their stockings in the last couple of hundred years. But this year, I think Jay will be far more pleased to find a big ol’ jar of it in his stocking. Because this year it’s not real coal, just chocolate cookies that look like coal.

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What a great offbeat- and a little bit edgy- Christmas cookie idea. You know I have a tendency to lean towards a dark side. And this time of year, there really isn’t a lot of room for that, unless you do the Nightmare Before Christmas angle which is a bit overdone (I love the movie, but seriously…). These cookies, however, have a bit of a sinister twist to ‘em. Especially given the history of the coal, but also because they’re black. You don’t see a lot of black around Christmastime, do you?

What I did was I baked up some dark chocolate cookies, shaped ‘em all rough and then put them in a jar I decorated with a label I designed and topped with a black-painted lid. Super easy. I just took one of my mason jars, glued the two-piece lid together, and painted it black. But you could also use an old, cleaned-out spaghetti sauce jar and paint the lid, or buy a mason jar with a one-piece lid at a craft store. I just made a 2″ x 2″ round label & printed it out, then used Elmer’s glue to attach it to the jar since Elmer’s is water soluble & will come right off. You could also print it out on a self-stick jar label if you’ve got ‘em (Attention fellow geeks: the font I used in the label is called ‘Stamp Act’). You can also download a printable label from eighteen25.blogspot.com if you’re not as savvy with Photoshop as I am.

Another gifting idea for these? Use a little cheesecloth/muslin/burlap bag instead of a jar. There’s a little how-to at chicaandjo.com that can help you out with that. But, you know I love anything in a jar. Especially cookies.

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And… this little coal concept also takes the edge off taking photos of misshapen dark chocolate cookies. You know, they either look like poop or, well, lumps of coal! Might as well capitalize on it, right? Thanks so much to Make Bake Celebrate for the idea, and to The Salty Spoon for the (adapted) recipe. Also these cookies are gluten-free, so they’re perfect for anyone you may know with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.

It’s such a cute idea it makes you wonder why you never thought of it yourself. Unless you have.

LUMP OF COAL COOKIES (adapted from The Salty Spoon who adapted it from Bon Appétit, June 2008)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder- preferably dark (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black food coloring (probably less if you’re using Americolor)
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment or a Silpat. If you have more than one cookie sheet, prep another as well. This recipe makes more than a single sheet’s-worth of cookies and will necessitate baking in two batches. If you don’t have two cookies sheets, don’t worry about it – just let the sheet cool down a bit between batches.
  2. Measure 1 cup of the chocolate chips into a glass bowl. Microwave for 1 minute, stir, then zap for another minute while watching closely. When things start to look really shiny, pull it out and stir again until the chips are completely melted. Stir in the black food coloring. Set aside.
  3. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks with an electric (or stand) mixer. Leaving the mixer running on medium, sprinkle in the sugar in three or four additions so you work it in gradually. Crank it up a notch and keep beating until it looks thick and creamy.
  4. In another medium bowl, stir together the remaining sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Crank the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients in a few batches until fully incorporated.
  5. Stir in the (now slightly cooled) melted chocolate and the remaining chocolate chips. If the dough seems stiff at this point, proceed to the next step. If not, set it aside for 10 minutes or so – it will continue to gain body as it sets up.
  6. Plop them by the teaspoonful on a prepared cookie sheet, 2″ apart. Bake 10 minutes, until they are puffy and the tops have cracked.
  7. Once you pull them from the oven, let them cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Then, take each cookie and smoosh them into a “coal shape” (basically a rough, uneven, lumpy ball). They might still be hot inside, so put them back on the rack for another 5-10 minutes once they’re shaped.

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DON’T OVER BAKE THESE. If you over bake them, they’ll be too hard once you form them into “coal” and your children will break their tiny little teeth.

I used my hand mixer to make these, from the egg whites all the way through to the final dough, but I will say that most of you should opt for using a stand mixer. The dough gets very stiff when it “sets up.” That means it might be too much for the average hand mixer. My hand mixer- also known as “He Who Must Not Be Named”- happens to be a beast: a KitchenAid digital 9-speed Architect model. But if you’ve got a not-so-powerful one, you might want to just go right for the big guns. I’ve ruined many a hand mixer overestimating it’s power. Learn from me.

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And there you have it. They taste just like brownies, look like lumps of coal, but they’re cookies. Figure that one out, Santa!

Cheery lil’ cherry Christmas muffins.

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It never fails; every holiday season, I try to come up with different pretty little muffins and things that can go from breakfast to lunch to “snack time.” Whether it’s breads or loaf cakes or muffins or rolls, I like to have things on hand that can be grabbed at any time of day, whenever anyone pops in or decides they want one with a cup of coffee or tea… or a glass of milk. Because this is the time of year when people are always coming by, stopping in, etc. and you’ve gotta have something on hand to give these wandering wassailers, whether they’re coming morning, noon or night.

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Cupcakes don’t always go with breakfast. And they’ve also got a shorter table-life than muffins. Muffins last forever, it seems. And in the new issue of the Food Network magazine, there’s a buttload of inspiration in the form of a booklet with 50 muffin recipes! So I guess I’m not alone in my idea that muffins make great snacks for last-minute guests, eh?

A lot of the recipes sounded amazing, but the ones I really liked I had bigger plans for. So I gathered up some things I had in my cupboards- dried Bing cherries & white chocolate chips, namely- and threw ‘em into my favorite muffin recipe base. If I had had some pistachios, I’d have thrown them in there too. Pistachio goes well with both cherry & white chocolate. Oh- and cranberries would work just fine instead of cherries- both fresh and dried. The tartness of both cherries & cranberries work because of the sweetness of the white chocolate.

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WHITE CHOCOLATE CHERRY MUFFINS

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons set aside
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter — melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs – beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup unsalted shelled pistachios (optional, I didn’t have any)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. and grease up 12 muffin cups or put liners in them (I prefer liners because it’s less messy that way).
  2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, stir together milk, eggs, cooled butter, and vanilla until blended. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; add milk mixture and stir just to combine. Stir in cherries, then white chocolate chips. DON’T OVERMIX THE BATTER.
  3. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling them almost to the top; top each muffin with a sprinkling of sugar from reserved 2 tablespoons. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center of one muffin comes out clean.
  4. Remove muffin tin to wire rack; cool 5 minutes and remove from tins to finish cooling. Serve with whatever you like, whenever you like.

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The cool thing about the white chocolate chips in this case is that they don’t melt like semisweet or milk chocolate chips would. They stay whole, as do the cherries, so you taste each of them separately & get the texture too. That’s why the addition of unsalted shelled pistachios would be great! Not only would it make the muffins Christmas colors, but the texture of the three separate things would be awesome. Chewy cherries, thick white chocolate and crunchy-ish pistachios.

And they go great with milk & pretty paper straws, too.

Table runner custom-made for me by Yoyo of topstitch.org/topstitch.artfire.com

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A homemade life.

“That’s the thing with handmade items. They still have the person’s mark on them, and when you hold them, you feel less alone.”

-Aimee Bender

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A couple of years ago I read a book by Molly Wizenberg (the blogger behind Orangette), called ‘A Homemade Life.’ It was part of a book club selection- and no, this wasn’t just your average, boring, every day book club- do I look or sound remotely boring to you? It was an awesome one I had with three high school friends (that I’m hoping we can start up again soon- HELLO LADIES ARE YOU LISTENING) where we chose books involving food/recipes and cooked from them, then blogged about it. But anyway, I loved the book. Why? Well, it was just a good book for one thing. Secondly, it turned me on to Molly’s blog, which I had been previously unaware of (I know, I know) and it turns out Molly is cool in tons of different ways. She named her new baby girl after June Carter Cash! Automatic points. But besides all that, I liked the title of the book.

A homemade life. That sounds good to me. I have a homemade life. Homemade pumpkin spice lattes, homemade sodas, homemade jams, homemade breads, homemade pickles…. basically, whether it’s made with a needle & thread or a pot & wooden spoon, I’m down.

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And see, here’s the deal: I also like homemade Christmas gifts. I like homemade gifts in general, actually; one of my absolute favorite gifts of all time is a Victorian dollhouse cabinet my uncle Pat made for me. He made it 100% from scratch; four floors, five rooms, doors between rooms that open & close, five fireplaces, staircases complete with newel posts & bannisters, clear plexi-glass door on the front with a glass knob, all the furniture included. It’s beautiful and it remains a treasured piece to this day. I miss my uncle dearly, but when I look at that dollhouse I think of how amazing he was & I feel like he’s still here. And the same goes for a lot of objects around here. The holidays can be a bittersweet time- I miss so many people who aren’t here with us anymore, and I’m reminded of them so strongly this time of year. Which is both good & bad, happy & sad.

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Anyway I am definitely not one of those people that turns her nose up at a hand-knit scarf or a pair of crocheted slippers. I love when Yoyo sends me a package of homemade aprons, table runners, etc. I really do adore handmade gifts. I love when people give me things they made for me, and I think most people whom I’ve given homemade items to are thankful in return (perhaps some more than others). That isn’t to say I don’t like store bought gifts. I do. I love them. My KitchenAid mixer (“Lola”), laptop, iPhone & handmixer count among the best gifts I ever received. But a beautiful homemade gift can speak volumes. Time is money, and talent isn’t to be overlooked. If someone thinks highly enough of you to spend their time creating something just for you… then you’re a very lucky person indeed. Last year I gave a variety of homemade jams, jellies & pickles as additional Christmas gifts: candy apple jelly, Amaretto cranberry sauce/Chinese apple-cranberry sauce, vanilla-brandy chestnut jam & gingerbread spice jelly, and some regular ol’ pickles just to name a few. I also gave some individually-sized homemade chocolate chip panettone. To be honest; I did in fact throw in store-bought presents as well, however, so it wasn’t a completely handmade/homemade Christmas.

Why am I writing all this? I’m not really sure. All I know is, I was making some apple-cranberry-ginger preserves (for gift giving!) and it all occurred to me. What with Christmas rapidly coming, and the gift-giving time of year upon us. So I felt the need to get it out, “onto paper” as they say. Or in this case… my blog.

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A LITTLE GINGERY APPLE-CRANBERRY PRESERVES

Makes about 3-4 half-pints

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups peeled & diced apples (I used McIntosh, but any apple on the softer side will do)
  • 2 cups fresh whole cranberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (depending on your taste)

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars and place your lids in hot water. Set aside, keeping your jars hot.
  2. Add apples, cranberries & water in a large saucepan. Heat them over medium heat, stirring occasionally,  until they’re just warm, then add sugar. Stir until sugar is completely mixed in, then bring to a boil. Cook this way (still stirring every now & then) until cranberries begin to pop.
  3. Add lemon juice, ginger, and allspice. Lower the heat to a simmer, and continue to peek at it and give it a good stir every so often, until the cranberries have softened & broken down & the mixture is a pinkish red.
  4. Continue cooking until mixture is on the thick side. Do not let it get too thick- as it cools, it thickens more. Ladle into hot jars & wipe rims clean. Place lids & bands, and process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. Let cool, check seal, and proceed to give as gifts!

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This is a really easy recipe that comes together quickly and doesn’t require a lot of hubbub. No extra pectin, no special materials. It gels easily and you’re done before you know it. That’s why it’s so great for giving as gifts! It’s a terrific entry way into canning, too (just read this post before you start).

However- regardless of how “easy” a gift may be: I hope people who receive homemade gifts appreciate the effort and thought that go into them. It’s not like going into Williams-Sonoma & buying a jar of expensive preserves or a box of peppermint bark & wrapping ‘em up; these people are spending valuable time over a stove, stirring a pot. Chopping fruit or vegetables. Lovingly seasoning it to perfection and cooking it (or baking it) into a personalized gift just for you. If you don’t appreciate it, then I hate to say it, but you’re probably really shallow.

And shallow people don’t get jars of delightfully gingery apple-cranberry preserves. At least not from me.

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Here are some great places to get ideas on buying or creating homemade gifts:

And if you create homemade jams or pickles to give as gifts, Well Preserved‘s Pimp That Preserve contest entries from the last two years can give you some excellent ideas on how to decorate those jars to really make an impression, as well as the Facebook album with all the 2011 entries (you don’t need Facebook to view it). It just so happens that I’m a 2011 Pimp That Preserve winner *cough*these are the winning jars*cough* so I might know a thing or two about this.

What do you think? Do you like homemade gifts? Do you prefer to give them or receive them or both?

The Friday Fifteen: Christmas edition.

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Can you believe it’s already December 7th? I can’t. I’ve been saying that with every single edition of The Friday Fifteen, but it’s true. I couldn’t believe it when it was October, or November, either. I can’t even comprehend the fact that 2012 is almost over. This year flew by so fast… which is a good thing, because I’m ready for a new year. But at the same time it’s so crazy how it just seems like yesterday I was writing up Christmas posts for last year, saying I couldn’t believe 2011 was ending. Time really does fly.

But, all that said, it’s time for a new list of things I’m loving this time of year. Also known as…

  1. It’s snowing at Cupcake Rehab! Every year, starting the weekend after Thanksgiving & continuing until Valentine’s Day (sometimes a little later), it snows on the blog. I think it’s so cute. I know some people actually wait for it every year, like it’s Santa Claus, haha. *cough*Yoyo*cough* But anyway, it’s my favorite kind of snow because it doesn’t have to be shoveled & it doesn’t wreck my shoes. You have to go to the main blog page to see it, sadly, but it’s worth it I promise!
  2. The textdrivebys.com Etsy Holiday Gift Guide! You know I’m a contributor over there at textdrivebys.com, so of course my ideas for holidays gifts are included. But there are a ton more ideas coming!
  3. The idea that 7-layer magic cookie bars are in the near future. I love me some magic bars. And Christmas cookies of all varieties, really.
  4. Excited for snowy night movie marathons: Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and Elf. ‘Nuff said.
  5. Custom painted KitchenAid stand mixers. At 2 grand a pop, they’re not a gift to sneeze at. Would you buy one? I have to say… I would! Haha. That “noir leopard” model is SCREAMING my name.
  6. Twinkling white Christmas lights. Not blinking, not flashing, not chasing… twinkling. So pretty to mix a set of them in with a regular white set on your tree.
  7. Jay bought me this adorable Meri Meri® Merry and Bright Christmas cupcake set from Sur La Table and I can’t wait to use it for my Christmas Eve/Christmas Day cupcake baking.
  8. Speaking of Jay, whenever he goes away to play shows with his band, he always brings me back a bunch of goodies. One of the goodies he brought back from the last trip was Canus goat’s milk organic lip balm. It smells like spearmint gum and is so smooth. I love it. It’s become my new favorite lip balm (and I have a lot of lip balm). If you know a lip balm addict, you should think about getting them one of these as a stocking stuffer.
  9. Tiny Things Are Cute is one of my absolute favorite spots on the interwebs to not just kill time & squeal about adorable (tiny) things, but also to get cupcake topper ideas. Tiny Christmas pixies? Little Snowman hats? Colorful racecars? Plastic crayons? You name it, they’ve got it.. and for pretty cheap, too.
  10. JINGLE BELL CAKE POPS. I love ‘em! Bakerella never disappoints.
  11. Can someone buy me this awesome bag from Hickoree’s? Please? And then fill it with other awesome stuff from Hickoree’s?
  12. Dunkin’ Donuts Peppermint Mocha K-cups. Ya’ll know how much I love my Keurig.
  13. My new DARK hair! The blonde was awesome, yes, but it was killing me. Too much upkeep. And I had it for almost a year.. it was time. So yes… I’m dark brown again. No more blonde mohawk! I’m back to my roots. Literally. Time to update my ‘About’ picture, eh?
  14. If you’re looking for any ideas for Christmas, check out my Christmas category. I’ve got cookies, cupcakes, conserves, tons of stuff!
  15. My prep bowls (see picture below)! I have a few sets, but these pastel ones are so freakin’ cute & cheery, they make me smile. In the darkest, snowiest, coldest days of winter, when the sun seems to hide… if it ever came out at all… it’s nice to have these to make your day brighter.