A {Partially} Handmade Christmas: Part I

Everyone on our Christmas list this year is receiving something handmade.
Not all of their gift, but at least part of it was made with love by yours truly {or one or both of the girls}.
The following three recipes were made and given to the assorted teachers, pastors, neighbors and male family members {because I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have adequate appreciation for a headband} in our lives.

Homemade Chocolate Cherry Granola
{This is a recipe I make all the time for us and have adapted from several different ones I've found online. That's the beauty of granola; you can use whatever dried fruits or nuts you want/like/have on hand!}

  • 2 cups Quick Oats
  • 3T & 1t Canola Oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1t pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Toss oats with cinnamon and salt. Stir oil, honey, brown sugar and vanilla together in a bowl. Combine oats and wet mixture. Pour onto the baking sheet and spread out with a spatula. Bake 10 minutes. Lift and flip granola, add nuts and bake another 5 minutes. Let cool and add cherries and chocolate {I usually add the chocolate immediately because I like it to melt a little. Your choice. There is no granola police that I'm aware of.}

Fill mason jars, add a cute tag and viola! Merry Christmas! :)

  • 3 packets of unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup of cold water
  • 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • the seeds of one vanilla bean, 1 tbsp. of vanilla extract, or 1 tbsp. of vanilla paste
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • nonstick spray

First, pour the gelatin into a mixing bowl with 1/2 cup of the cold water. Let that hang out while you get the other stuff ready. In a small saucepan, stir together the other half cup of water, the sugar, the corn syrup, and the salt. Put the lid on, turn the heat up to medium-high, and let it bubble away for about four minutes. Then take the lid off, stick a candy thermometer on the side of the pan, and let it cook another 7-8 minutes until the mixture hits 240 degrees.

Now turn on your mixer that has a whisk attachment and slowly pour the sugar mixture into the gelatin and water. Do this on LOW speed. That sugar is hot. Once it's all incorporated, turn the mixer on high, add the vanilla, and beat for a looooong time, like 15 minutes. The mixture is white and fluffy and gooey and beautiful.

Next, mix the powdered sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl and sprinkle some of it into a 13x9 pan lined with foil and lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Got that? Pan, foil, cooking spray, sugar/cornstarch. Now pour the white fluffy goodness into that prepared pan and sprinkle the top with more sugar and cornstarch. Let it sit uncovered for several hours and even overnight. When the marshmallows have set, put a cutting board on top of the pan, and flip out the marshmallows. You might have to peel off the foil a bit, but that's no big deal. Now take a big sharp knife and cut the marshmallows into strips and then into squares. Cut them as big or as little as you'd like. Toss each piece in the rest of the sugar/cornstarch mixture to keep the marshmallows from sticking together.

I also made a peppermint version by pulverizing a handful of Brach's peppermint candies {in the coffee grinder} and adding it to the cornstarch/powdered sugar mixture. I also added one half tablespoon of peppermint extract and a few drops of red food coloring after pouring the sugar mixture into my KitchenAid. They turned out a pretty pink color and are deliciously minty! :)

Don't be intimidated by the number of steps in this recipe. They were super easy to make and turned out perfectly! Plus, my girls were thoroughly impressed! :)

I filled mason jars with a Spiced Chocolate Chai mix {Nestle hot cocoa mix and Big Train Spiced Chai mix both purchased at Smart & Final. Yum! Thanks for sharing, Steph!} and topped them off with several of these marshmallows.

  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 Tbsp. coarse sea salt
  • Oil or cooking spray
Active time: 30 minutes***
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring sugar, evaporated milk, and heavy cream to a boil over medium heat. Add corn syrup and continue cooking until mixture reaches 230°.

Add butter and vanilla; continue cooking, stirring constantly, until caramel reaches 240°. Remove from heat, stir in salt, and carefully pour into a lightly oiled 9" x 13" baking dish (parchment paper in the bottom of the pan is helpful).

Let cool at least 1 hour. Invert onto a cutting board covered with waxed or parchment paper and cut into 1-inch pieces with a sharp, lightly oiled knife. Caramels can be wrapped in waxed or parchment paper or cellophane. (To serve candy-store style, wrap individual pieces in parchment paper and secure the ends with a simple twist. This is terribly time consuming, but pretty impressive looking, I must say!) Store airtight at cool room temperature (around 65°) or in the refrigerator; will keep up to 3 weeks.

***Warning: These are dangerously good and I ate an embarrassing amount considering I don't even like caramel. The hint of salt makes them divine! However, the person that wrote this recipe claiming that they take 30 minutes to make is a liar! It took me no less than one.full.hour of standing at the stove {watching, stirring and adjusting the temp to get it to 230! I stopped counting the minutes after that, but it was another good chunk of time before it reached the final temp of 240! Let's just say if you have an infant or busy toddler, you're gonna want to wait another several years before you attempt these! Oy.} Also, it tends to boil & bubble up violently while cooking. I learned this the hard way during my first attempt at making them. FYI, when it overflows all over your stove and then scorches all over the top of your range, it creates an impressive amount of black smoke and will probably require you to open all your windows. And your kids may or may not start screaming that their eyes are burning & threaten to be sick from the smell. Whatever. I didn't hear them complaining when they were devouring them the next day! :)
What are your go to Christmas gift recipes? Do share!


Christmas Cards {or lack thereof}

I intended on doing Christmas cards this year.
I do them every year.
Then the thought of picking out {and probably buying} matching outfits, finding someone to take our picture when we were all clean and home and dressed and available at the same time, braving Costco {yet again!} to pick them up and spending a small fortune on stamps sort of got me out of the mood real quick!

Then I remembered our World Vision Christmas catalog sitting on the coffee table and the decision seemed like an easy one.
I went to their website and bought some chicks and ducks with that money instead.
Funny how a certain amount of money seems like an outrageous expense for something that will be enjoyed for a week and then thrown in the trash, but that exact same amount of money spent on a few egg layers suddenly feels like pocket change.

**Disclaimer: This was a decision that we made for our family and certainly is not an indictment against those who choose to send Christmas cards. I love getting cards from all of you {and if you sent one, it's hanging in our dining room as I type this}. It's probably equal parts laziness and conviction that led to my decision and don't be surprised if you get a card from us next year. If you get a chance and feel so led, I highly recommend that you visit World Vision's site. It's certainly a most worthy {and amazing!} organization!

Merry Christmas!


Things I Love {Christmas Decorations}

Since I've been a total slacker in the WIWW department, I decided to link up with her Christmas tree party instead this week. :)
So here is our tree in all its {fake!} glory....
The pictures are sort of horrible because of all the back light from the windows...but our neighbor always tells me she likes seeing our tree lit up in those windows at night.
I saw a picture in Country Living of a tree in this metal "bucket" and literally squealed, put the laptop down and ran to the garage! I bought one earlier this year at an estate auction for super cheap and have been waiting for just the right thing to use it for. {Jake tried to confiscate it for the horses because he had just bought one at the feed store for three times what I paid, but I wouldn't let him have it because I knew I would need it one day. Yes, need!}
As a side note, I didn't see that picture until after our tree was up and decorated. As a result, I had to take it all apart and basically un-decorate the entire thing to get it into the bucket {fake trees are a wee bit heavy!}. It was quite a site to behold and one that my husband is profoundly grateful to have missed. It was totally worth it though, don't you think? ;)

And while we're on the subject of Christmas decorations....
I made this wreath last week to hand in our dining room and love it so, so much!
Any guesses as to what it's made out of? Hint: it cost me about $3 in supplies to make!


Things I Love {My Sister}

In case you don't know me in real life, I'd like to share a few things with you:
I have a mentally and physically retarded sister.
Her name is Christie.
Wednesday is her 29th birthday.
I have the worst time trying to come up with gifts for her!
What in the world do you buy someone who can't read and doesn't care a lick about TV or movies? She doesn't carry a purse or wear jewelry. She doesn't drive, use a cell phone or own an ipod.
Because she is a bit wobbly on her feet and her foot is very narrow, she can only wear one kind of shoe {a majorly unattractive white leather tennis shoe I might add. ::shudder:: I mean seriously. Is it too much to ask that they make that shoe in brown?! Believe me, my mom and I have searched high and low and it does not exist.}.
And because of her scoliosis, she can't wear most tops. In fact, the only pull over type t-shirt that will fit her properly {isn't too tight around her back and has a small enough neck hole that it won't fall off of her shoulder} is Gap's "My Favorite T". I am not exaggerating when I tell you she owns every color and pattern they have ever made in both long and short sleeve. Don't get me wrong, they're perfectly fine shirts. However, they're terribly plain. Especially when you wear one every.single.day.
I'm not telling you all of this in order to focus on the things she can't do or have. It's simply to make a point: coming up with decent gift ideas for her is a bit of a struggle.

There are two things in this world that she does really love.
The first thing is Mickey Mouse. However, her room currently resembles the Mickey Mouse section of the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney. If it has Mickey Mouse on it, she owns it already. And her room can only hold so much. Oy.
Secondly, the girl likes to eat. Specifically, Cheetos, In-N-Out Burger {you do not want to drive past one with her in the car unless you plan on stopping. Consider yourself warned.}, hot dogs, and Dibs. And if you don't think there have been years when I gave her a bag of cheetos and a Hot Dog on a Stick gift card, you'd be wrong. She's always very appreciative, but it's not a terribly inspiring gift.
So to make a long story short {or not}, this is what we gave her this year for her birthday...

...two of those previously plain Gap T-shirts with a bit of added loveliness.

They can't compete with Cheetos, but they got a big smile! I call that a success.

P.S. Another day I'll share some of my most favorite Christie & Lauren stories. Let's just say Lauren takes her self-appointed role as Christie's keeper very seriously. It makes for some mighty funny moments. It also makes me laugh to myself when I imagine what Christie must be thinking as Lauren micro-manages her every move. :)

Blog Archive