At the first hint of chill in the air, my thoughts turn to Christmas. My mind and heart begin to fill with visions of sugar plums indeed. My weekly menu turns decidedly toward comfort food and I begin rummaging in my brain for homemade Christmas gift ideas for my loved ones. I begin hauling out first the autumn decorations and later the Christmas, decking my halls and every other available surface. I take delight in the season, the magic, wonder and glory of it all. This blog was born from that delight. Here you will find dinner ideas, crafts, decor, stories, memories, and music. Some ideas will be entirely mine, but I will also include anything cute I come across that I think you might like to see, credit given to the creator or source. Please leave me your ideas in the comments and any other feedback you'd like to give.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Season Is Upon Us!

Now that things are really heating up I can't seem to find time to blog! Never fear, I still have a few treasures for you. Today I want to share a few pictures of a gingerbread garland I made. This is one of my very favorite crafts to do for the holidays. The beads for the garland are made from the recipe I posted here. For the round(ish) beads,

roll the dough into 1 inch tall egg shapes. Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes. I have found that turning the oven off and leaving them in there for a while longer helps them to harden nicely. (Don't burn them, let your oven cool a bit if they continue to darken.) They will have flattened out into rounded discs. Once they are hard and cool, take two discs and stick the flattened sides together with a little bit of icing. Let it harden. Then you can decorate them however you like. I have found it is easiest to then simply drill a hole through the bead for stringing it on the fishing line. For the oblong beads,

roll out an 8 inch snake of dough, wrap it tightly in tin foil, bake at 350, also for 8 minutes. When the dough has cooled a bit but is still soft, cut it into 1 1/2 inch lengths. At this point I find it helps to put them back in a very slow (185 degree) oven until they harden. Decorate and drill as you did the round beads. For the stars,

roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness, cut out star shapes, bake as you did the other beads. Drill. String the beads along with nuts, cranberries, dried orange slices, and whatever else you think might look great.

This garland has a warm spicy scent, especially when displayed with a string of lights that warms it up just a bit. The lights will also create a glow through the dried oranges.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sugar Cookies and Cocoa...

...does it get any better than that? In our family, sugar cookie creating has always been a big event in the weeks leading up to Christmas. An evening is set aside to mix, roll, cut, and decorate Christmas cookie masterpieces. The third Christmas after we were married, my husband and I spent an evening doing just that. We had only one small child, to young to want to be involved in the decorating, so we were able to spend lots of time making our cookies spectacular. After we had made and decorated dozens of cookies, we left them on the table to harden while we went to do a little shopping. When we returned we discovered that the dog had eaten or knocked to the floor almost every one of them! We had never had a problem with the dog eating food off tables or counters so we never even saw it coming! Live and learn. Now it's the five kids we have to worry about! That same Christmas a friend brought us the best sugar cookies I had ever had. They were soft, perfectly sweet, and pretty light. I asked her for the recipe and she refused to give it to me! After that I was on a quest to find the perfect sugar cookie recipe. Luckily, several years later I became friends with someone willing to share their recipe. A big shout out to my friend Michelle in NC for giving me this fantastic recipe!

Michelle's Sugar Cookies
(This recipe makes a million. If you're making to share that's great. If you want plenty for your family and a few friends, halve the recipe.)

1 C shortening
1 C butter
4 C sugar
Cream together, add 4 eggs
Sift: 12 C flour
1 tsp salt
12 tsp baking powder
Add: 2 C milk
2 tsp. vanilla

Use lots of flour to roll out 1/8" thick. Bake at 375 degrees for about 5 1/2 minutes. (You can roll them a little thicker and bake a minute longer. They should be set but not browning.)

(Frosts half of the cookie recipe)
3 C powdered sugar
1/3 C butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 T milk

Beat until smooth

What good is a fresh batch of sugar cookies without some yummy hot cocoa?

Hot Mint Malt
(From my friend Carrie in NC)
6 York Peppermint Patties
5 C milk
1/2 C chocolate malted milk powder
1 tsp vanilla
whipped cream

Combine everything but the whipped cream in a crockpot. Heat on low for 2 hours. Beat with a rotary beater until frothy. Pour into cups; top with whipped cream and garnish with festive sprinkles or chocolate shavings. Be creative! Makes 6 servings. ( If you can't find the malted milk powder, use any hot chocolate mix.)

This is great to throw together before a caroling party so you can come home to hot minty cocoa.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Peanuts Holiday Specials

I just read an article online about these wonderful holiday classics. The Peanuts Holiday Specials are so much a party of the holiday season for me that I thought it was not only appropriate but necessary to include a post about them here. Read the article first because Ms. Stevens puts it better than I could ever hope to.
I remember my parents planning holiday cookie baking around a primetime holiday special airing. We got very little television, so whatever special might be airing on one of our two channels was a major event. We didn't have cable, we didn't even have a VCR for most of my youth, so catching one of these events was incredibly memorable. As parents, my husband and I added the Peanuts Holiday Specials to our collection very early on, when our first child was still a baby. We've had mixed feelings over the years about how often they should be viewed. Should it be a once a season event like it was for us? Will that make it more special in their memories? Or do we watch it repeatedly throughout the season, making it a an integral part of that month? So far this season we have watched It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown about three times. We are into November and have not yet watched the Thanksgiving Special. I guess it doesn't really matter. Either way, these movies will hold a place in the hearts of our children just as they have in the hearts of children for nearly 45 years now. I love their simplicity, their honesty, their humor. Share them with your children, cringe when they call each other stupid, eat a sugar cookie, and love them for what they are- nostalgic classics.
(Purchase these most anywhere movies are sold.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cute Stuff From Pottery Barn

Am I the only one who thinks these plates are super cute and quirky? And this mega advent calendar is so fun. I'm planning on trying to copy it and make it myself this year. It is of very basic construction and I'm sure could be completed for much less than $70. Buy them here and here.