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.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Moms Chocolates- Photos

As promised I'm posting pictures from candy making day. This post features Mom's Chocolates. As I mentioned when I posted the recipe, this can be a little time consuming. I decided to experiment this year. I spread the chocolate coating in a pan, popped it into the freezer for a couple minutes to harden quickly, pulled it out and pressed in the flavored filling, spread more coating on top, popped it into the freezer for another couple minutes, and then cut them. It worked pretty well actually and was MUCH quicker than dipping.

The mixture is very dry and stiff. It takes some time to knead it to a point where it is smooth and creamy.

It works best if you knead it in small sections, then just flavor each individually.

Shape small bits of the mixture.

Dip, set on wax paper to dry.

Or layer in a pan and cut.

This makes A LOT. I still have a lump of filling to coat. I'll probably do it in a pan again. Happy candy making!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cinnamon Rolls

I tried a new cinnamon roll recipe a couple days ago. My old recipe seemed to turn out rather dry cinnamon rolls more often than I liked. It seemed the stars had to be aligned just right for the rolls to be soft and moist. So I decided it was time to find a new recipe. Just about at that time I happened to be perusing the fabulous recipes at Prudence Pennywise. Lo and behold, there was a recipe for gooey cinnamon rolls. So I tried it out and my family loved them. In fact, both the kids and my husband asked me if they were completely homemade (whatever that means!) because they have more of a Pillsbury consistency. So if you're into that, give these a try. I won't copy the recipe, I'm just going to send you right on over to Prudence Pennywise because you should really check out her blog. It's fantastic.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Two More Book Suggestions

Wednesday I hosted a book club in my home. We had decided that for December we would get together for a cookie exchange and to share our favorite children's Christmas book. We had a lovely time and I added a couple books to my Must Purchase Immediately list.

The first is one I had already put on my list for this year.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski. This is the tale of how love and the miracle of Christ's birth (was that redundant?) transform the life of a lonely and bitter woodcarver as he completes a commissioned nativity set. This is a beautiful and touching story that shows how the love of Christ changes lives, why His birth was essential to us all. Look for it at bookstores or order it here.

The second is one I just found out about. Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost with illustrations by Susan Jeffers.
I've always loved this poem by Robert Frost and Susan Jeffers has illustrated it beautifully, throwing in a Christmas twist by making the narrator a Santa looking fellow. Look for it at bookstores or order it here.

Now, go grab a Christmas book and some hot cocoa and settle in for a good read!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crinkle Cookies

About a month or so ago, we had lunch at a little restaurant here in town called Blue Sky Cafe. The kids meals came with their choice of a cookie. We were on our way out when we remembered the cookies so I picked one for them. I chose a delightful looking Chocolate Crinkle cookie. It was exquisite. (Yes, I also ate it.) I told Lincoln I wanted to go back to the restaurant and ask for the recipe. To my surprise and delight, in my next issue of Cooking Light magazine, they had a recipe for Chocolate Crinkle cookies. I made them exactly according to the recipe and they were fantastic. The one from the restaurant was thicker, so next time I'm going to experiment with larger cookies and baking time, but here is the basic recipe for you. You can decide if you want to play with it or not.

Chocolate Crinkles

Lightly coat your hands with flour to make rolling the dough into balls easier. The dough freezes well. Freeze the dough after step 1, thaw in the refrigerator, then proceed with step 2.

4.5 oz all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
1 1/4 C powdered sugar, divided
1/4 C unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 1/4 teaspoons canola oil
1 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 C packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons light-colored corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg whites

1) Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups. Level with a knife. Combine flour, 3/4 C powdered sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine oil and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat; cook until chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Pour chocolate mixture into a large bowl; cool 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla. Add egg whites, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring gently just until combined. Cover; chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

2) preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3) Roll dough into one inch balls. Dredge in remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar; place balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or until tops are cracked and almost set. Cool cookies on pan 2 minutes or until set; remove from pan. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Yield: 2 dozen

Happy baking!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hanging Nativity

If you're like me, you run out of empty spaces to set Christmas decorations. Luckily, you can get this simple hanging Nativity. I love it. Buy it here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Great Source

Are you one of those cool folks who is into digital scrapbooking? I'm not. I TOTALLY wish that I was, but I've always been a little intimidated by it. But see that button over to the right there? That will take you to a great online sight, Simply Scrapping. You'll be able to get design ideas, watch a tutorial (great for newbies like me), and order prints. This is a great idea for your ever so cute Christmas newsletter. Get on it quick! Time is slipping away!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mom's Chocolates

These candies are as much a part of Christmas for me as candy canes (or gingerbread, for that matter!) My mother has made these for years to give away as gifts and to keep in a candy dish on the cardboard mantle. The centers are a powdered sugar and condensed milk mixture flavored however you like. Mom would do green wintergreen flavor, pink cherry flavor, white peppermint flavor, and orange colored flavored like lemon. I'm kidding, they were orange flavored, of course. Sometimes she would have two colored the same and would simply shape them differently. I've not been very good about making these regularly, but I'm trying to be better, for tradition's sake. If you do these in candy molds they can be rather time consuming, you see. But perhaps I will simply shape them into balls and and dip them this year. I'll post pictures after I make them, assuming I remember to TAKE pictures.

Mom's Cream Chocolates

1 Can condensed milk
3 lbs powdered sugar
2 T corn syrup
8 T (1 stick) melted butter

Mix together, knead until smooth and creamy. (This takes a while, it's pretty dense.) Divide into sections, color and flavor as desired, to taste. Shape, put on a cookie sheet, cover with wax paper, freeze for a few minutes. Dip in chocolate. Place on wax paper to dry. (Or put in candy molds. The best way to do this is to buy a new paintbrush and paint the chocolate into the empty molds. Put it in the freezer to harden. Once hardened remove from freezer and press candy mixture into mold and cover with more chocolate. Freeze it to harden again, then pop them out of the molds. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to give away or serve.)

Happy candy making!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Christmas Tag...

My friend Stephanie at Diapers and Divinity just did this Christmas tag and I thought it would be fitting to do it here on my Christmas blog. So here goes:

Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Hot chocolate for sure. With peppermint patties melted in it. And whipped cream on top. And a candy cane for a swizzle stick.

Does Santa wrap presents or set them under the tree?

Santa sets the gifts unwrapped under the tree.

Colored lights on tree or white?

Our tree has colored lights- I'm attached to that tradition from my youth. We have had 2 Christmas trees in the past, one family tree with colored lights and one formal tree with white lights and my fancy decorations.

When do you put your decorations up?

Day after Thanksgiving. Now that I live in the frosty north again the outdoor decorations go up right after Halloween while it's still warm, (if i remember to do it). We don't turn the lights on 'til after Thanksgiving though (unless the kids are outside playing and plug them in).

What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

Ham. When I was a kid I always asked for ham for my birthday dinner. LOVE the ham.

Favorite Holiday memory as a child:

We would do The Twelve Days Of Christmas each year for someone elderly or alone at the holidays. Sneaking up and leaving a gift at their door was exciting and it filled me with the Christmas spirit. Secretly serving is wonderful for that.

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

Some years we do the PJs on Christmas Eve thing, but we're not consistent.

How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

It's definitely an eclectic family tree. Homemade decorations, purchased ornaments, colored lights, ornaments from my childhood, school project ornaments, it's all there. I think it's very cozy and homey.

Snow! Love it or Dread it?

Honestly, I love it. Ask me about frigid below zero too cold to snow weather. Not a fan.

Can you ice skate?

Yes. I'm not great at it, but I spent a lot of time as a child ice skating on the frozen pond on the neighbor's farm. I also remember skating up and down the brook behind our house. That was bumpy and you had to watch for rocks jutting above the surface of the ice, but it was fun and convenient.

Do you remember your favorite gift?

Hmmmmm. My brother Bryan got me a white teddy bear one year. It really meant so much to me. I still have it.

What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?

Being with family. My absolute favorite part of Christmas is Christmas Eve when we read the scriptural account of Christ's birth and sing Christmas hymns together.

What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

Oh boy, do I really have to pick just one? Mom's chocolate pie. That's Christmas in a pastry crust.

What is your favorite tradition?

Christmas Eve. (see above) We also eat crackers and cheese and drink wassail on Christmas Eve. I love the wonder of the Christmas story, the magic and anticipation of Christmas morning.

Which do you prefer, Giving or Receiving?

I love giving, it's definitely the most rewarding. But I will admit that I get so touched when someone gives me a thoughtful gift. You know, something you know they put a lot of love and thought into.

What is your favorite Christmas Song?

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I think. I love Christmas music.

Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?

Yum. Especially if they are a little stale so they are hard but chewy. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Ever recycled a Christmas present?

I think so. I think we recycled something Lincoln got from a coworker one year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'm Back

I've just returned from a fairly lengthy Thanksgiving vacation. I was able to travel to my parents' home in NY for 10 days. It was lovely to be with family, eating good food and playing games. Of course, now here we are plunged right into the Christmas season. I promise to get on the ball and have some savory nuggets here for you!
Enjoy the holiday and make each moment count!