Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Few of Our Favorite Christmas Cookies

Our Christmas baking is just about done.  We only have Santa's favorite cookie left to bake. (Santa really likes the peanut butter cookies with Hershey Kisses on top.)

One of my favorites will always be Spritz Cookies. 


This is a SUPER easy cookie.  We bought the chocolate covered Oreos from the grocery store and drizzled a little red frosting over the top.  I also love to use the white fudge covered cookies.  They look very pretty with green frosting drizzled over them.  These are kind of my "filler cookie" to fill up the plate without a lot of extra work.

These are a favorite of my kids'.

Oh, those peanut butter cup bars... yum.


You can't go wrong with classic M&M cookies.


This is a family favorite as well.  They are well named, "Little Drops of Heaven."



These were really fun and easy.  I love how cute they turned out. 


We've eaten our fair share this season.  New Year's will bring a little less baking and a little more healthy cooking.  If you are looking for any of the recipes for these cookies, you can type the cookie name into the search box on my blog.  It will take you to the blog post with the recipes.

Happy Baking!

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Silhouette Nativity

I attempted my first real Silhouette project today. I have tried a few tags and cards, but just for practice. Today I tried vinyl. I found an old wooden tray at Goodwill last Summer. It was cream with a beautiful ivy sticker on the front. I sanded the tray, painted it white, and then moved on to the fun part.

 

I'll admit, the first time I tried placing the vinyl down, it turned into a big sticky, tangled mess. After a few practice sessions, I think I have the hang of it! I can't wait to try more projects.

 
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Linking up to Tip Junkie.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How to Make Gingerbread Graham Cracker Houses



We finally made it to Christmas Break!  I'm one happy teacher!!!  There is nothing better than being able to focus all of my attention on my family, especially at Christmas time. Next week we'll invite a few family members over for our annual "Gingerbread House Day" and my house will be filled with sugared up kids and lots of fun!


Before I tell you about the day itself, I need to share a little history. Fifteen years ago, when I was doing my student teaching, my cooperating teacher coordinated a gingerbread day for the first graders. They each brought in a candy item to share with the group. She made the house bases in advance and the kids had a ball decorating the houses with all the candy they had collected. It was the perfect fun and festive day for the kids, without being too Christmas-like for public schools. When I finished my student teaching, my cooperating teacher gave me a packet filled with everything I'd need to coordinate my own Gingerbread Day when I had my own classroom.





image from funroom.com



So, at my new school, I became the Gingerbread Queen. Not only did I coordinate Gingerbread Day for my class, I was the coordinator for our entire primary staff. It was such a terrific day! Every class from kindergarten through third grade participated on the same day and we had a walk through tour at the end of the day. Each year the houses became harder and harder to build. By third grade, the teachers had the kids "purchasing" their candy items after writing a detailed plan for building.

Fast forward a few years, and now I'm back teaching at that original school. It's still a first grade tradition at this school, so we don't get to do Gingerbread Day in kindergarten. But, I still get to be the Gingerbread Queen. You see, when my son was 2 (7 years ago) I started hosting a gingerbread party for my kids' friends and cousins.


 



I ask every family to bring a candy item to share. My favorite candies for gingerbread house decorating are Lifesavers, Neccos, small candy canes, red hots, red and green M&M's, Twizzlers Pull Apart licorice, gumdrops, and  pretzel twists. (Pretzel twists make great fences.)


 

I usually cover the entire table with craft paper.  Michael's sells rolls of craft paper.  It makes cleanup  a lot easier.

 

When the kids were little, I prepared the house bases ahead of time. Now we just build and create! Sometimes the candy houses turn into candy fortresses.


Here's how I build the bases when young kids (first grade and under) are decorating with us.  The only reason I do the base for the kids is that it is very frustrating when you are 4 years old and your house falls apart every time you try to add candy.  Royal icing needs time to dry and harden.  Patience is hard when you're 4. Building the house bases is really easy.  I start with foil covered cardboard.  They make simple platforms for the kids to create their "yard". I cut the graham crackers with a bread knife and assemble the house base with royal icing.  I always use the royal icing to "glue" the house base to the platform. This is what an assembled house base looks like when it is ready for the party to start..  I make one for each child and a few extras in case we have an accident. 


I let the kids add the two pieces for the roof and all of the decorations.  Royal icing is best for assembling houses and decorating.  I usually make several batches of Royal icing and put it into individual quart sized freezer bags.  When it's time for decorating, I just snip off s small corner of the bag.

The recipe for Royal Icing is included in the package of Wilton Meringue Powder.  I buy my meringue powder at Michael's.  If you can't find meringue powder, I'm sure you can google a recipe for a similar icing that calls for egg whites.  I've always used the meringue powder recipe because raw eggs freak me out. (Unless, of course, I'm eating cookie dough.)

3 Tbsp Wilton Meringue Powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
5 or 6 Tbsp warm water

Beat all ingredients, with heavy duty mixer, until icing forms peaks. (7-10 minutes)





 Here's a finished house.  (Many of these photos were taken by my friend Diane's hubby.  Diane's blog is Perfectly Imperfect Life.)

Here are a few examples from our gingerbread party last year.  You can see how I build bases for the younger kids and just let the older kids build their own fortress.


This one was Rudolph's barn.


This is a gingerbread manger.


If you've never done this before, this is the year to give it a try.  My kids always look forward to this day.  I'll admit, I've toned it down over the years.  The first few years we invited about 30 kids and their parents, served lunch, and hosted all-out party.  Now, we just have family.  There are 10 kids and one crazy mom who just loves being the Gingerbread Queen.

Happy Decorating!


Check out these parties I like to link up to.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Homemade Gifts and Home and Family Friday

What do you do when you have many, many gifts to give? Homemade is the only way to go.


Embroidered dish towels.


Jam, made last summer, tied with a gingham ribbon.


Scone mix with a recipe card.

Enjoy!

We're ready for Home and Family Friday... my headache got the best of me last week, which is why there was no party.  Thanks for understanding and coming back this week. I'm trying Linky Tools for the first time.  I hope it works well for you! 

We'd love to see anything you have done around your home or with your family. I'd love it if you'd become a follower and grab my button. 

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Collecting

I'm a baker. Always have been. Stressful day at work, time to bake cookies.


I didn't purposefully set out to collect cookie cutters, but I have a huge collection. I don't display many plastic cookie cutters because, well, they are really ugly. I have several vintage cookie cutters. Wow, I just called the cookie cutters from my childhood VINTAGE.


I love my copper cookie cutters.



And this little guy...

He has a story and he'll always be my favorite.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm Melting....

I saw these cookies in Blogland recently and knew I had to make them. Sadly, I have no idea which blog the idea came from.



I made plain round sugar cookies. If you don't bake often, I'm sure those slice and bake cookies would be fine too. There is nothing better than homemade sugar cookies. If you need a great recipe, click here for my favorite sugar cookies.

The thing I loved best about these melting snowmen is that they are supposed to look melty and messy. Messy is perfect for my kids.


After adding some sloppy frosting, it was time for marshmallows. We put some marshmallows on a plate and microwaved them for about 50 seconds. When they were all puffy and smooshy, we sprayed a little Pam Cooking Spray on our fingers and plunked the marshmallows onto the cookies. The Halloween sprinkles came in handy and became eyes, buttons, and a nose.


Super cute and super easy! It's so nice to make cookies that I'm not stressing about decorating perfectly. Quick, easy, cute, and kid friendly... can't ask for much more than that!

Check out these parties I like to link up to.



Happy baking!
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Traditions

There are some things that just MAKE Christmas.


Setting up Papa Dave's train around the tree.


Oh, the special ornaments.


The angel who always finds her way back home.


And the perfect cookies.
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cocoa Bokeh

I absolutely LOVE the big, fuzzy, out of focus Christmas tree lights as a background for any photo. It almost sounds like I know what I'm doing, when I say that I'm playing around with aperture and bokeh. Honestly, I don't even know if I'm pronouncing bokeh correctly. All I know is that it looks really pretty when you follow the directions on real photographers' websites.



Here is a link that tells you the secret ingredients for photos like these.
Cheryl also listed a few links in this post.
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Handmade (not really) Redwork Dish Towels

I've been busy making gifts!  I love the way these towels turned out.  Looking at how beautiful these are, you'd think I was really talented at embroidery work.  Well, not so much.  It's all about the machine! I hardly did anything.


This is my beloved sewing machine. My first sewing machine was my aunt's old machine from the 60's. I replaced it with a very basic sewing machine from Sears, about 15 years ago. Four years ago, when my Sears basic machine died, I bought this one from Costco. It has some basic embroidery features. Nothing fancy, but it does a little. I have the redwork embroidery card, so making dish towels is one of my favorite embroidery projects.


It's not a whole lot of work, once you figure out how the machine works. Push a few buttons and watch the machine do its thing.



I usually buy packs of flour sack towels from Target. Last summer, I found these basic towels for .49 each at IKEA. The red stripe down the side make them perfect for the redwork design. I have a whole stack of these ready to go. I can't wait to show you everything else going into the gift bags!

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