Be an Angel This Christmas

Seven ways to give, that give again, this Christmas:

1. Got a rocker or T-shirt lover, or both on your list? Give them one of these shirts, and you can help send horse-loving disabled children and adults on the therapeutic ride of their life.

2. Acquire a beautiful selection of cookie treats to share, and spend some much-needed time with friends by throwing a cookie swap to raise money for kids with cancer. Register here, and the Glad company will donate $.10 per cookie swapped. That’s a sweet deal!

3. It’s just too sweet to let it go. If you’re not in to baking your own, or you’re pressed for time, or you just want to wax angelic in your gift giving, send some of these cookies to someone far away. Their taste buds, and those brave kids who are fighting cancer will thank you.

4. Music lover? Visit this site to find brand new music by emerging artists. Each time you download a song for that mix you’re making, a portion of your purchase will go to the charity of the artist’s choice.
Making a music mix for that special someone sounds uber-intriguing now, doesn’t it?

5. Someone on your list has everything. They’re super hard to shop for until you remember one thing:

They have a huge heart.

Help children, adults, and families around the world and in the U.S. with your donation. World Vision offers beautiful jewelry, bags, and T-shirts and other gifts from their catalog, but if it’s straight cash you want to go to the cause in your loved one’s name, you can choose to help in a variety of ways:

– the gift of clean water
– the gift of education
– the gift of a life-sustaining animal (chickens, goats, or dairy cows)
– The gift of clothing
– The gift of job training or small business loans for women
– The gift of hope for sexually exploited girls
– The gift of a home – buy a share of a new house for women and children in need.

Visit the World Vision gift catalog to choose a gift to donate in your loved one’s name. Receive a beautiful card to send via snail mail or email – so even if you’re behind schedule in your shopping, it will be there on time.

6. Buy one of these totally avant gard T-shirts designed by an orphan in Africa, and feed a child in need for a whole month. Who wouldn’t feel good about that??

7. Give the gift of literacy to kids in the Seattle area when you buy a gift from the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. All proceeds go to 826Seattle – a “nonprofit writing center for the young people of Earth”. The catalog is filled with geeky, funky, unusual, and . . . well, totally spacey items.

Limoncello

I know what you’re thinking.
Well, I probably know two things you are thinking:
1. That I am obsessed with vodka.
2. That I misspelled lemoncello.

You might be at least a little bit right about both.

I am not usually obsessed with vodka, but this year, for Christmas, I am. I never knew the potential of “bootlegging” for gifts. Okay, so I’m not bootlegging, but I am sort of brewing things, aren’t I? Just not illegally.

And, no, I didn’t misspell lemoncello, but I thought I did – and I thought it was very convenient, because I had to use limes in my version.

What do you do when you are all set to make limoncello and then realize you are actually not all set because you are missing almost a quarter of the lemons you need?

First you do a panic dance that includes running around in tiny circles and flapping your arms.

Then you get a grip.

And add some limes.

You make lemon-lime-cello.

And instead of tasting like super spiked lemonade, it tastes like super-spiked 7-up (minus the bubbles).

Traditional limoncello is lemon liqueur. It can be sipped, mixed, or cut with some bubbly water. Mine is the same, but with a zip of lime in the recipe.

It pretty much made me want to dig out the glass cowboy boot mug from my childhood and fix myself a grown up Shirley Temple.
Pass me the club soda please (because the lemon-lime is going to come from the limoncello).
And a little OJ and grenadine.
And a maraschino cherry. . . . preferably on a little plastic sword.

Oh, wait! I was making this for gifts, wasn’t I?

Recipe:

Limoncello (takes 3 days to one week to make, total time)

Ingredients:

9 lemons and 2 limes (or just 11 lemons if you want true Limoncello)
1 bottle (1 liter) 160-proof vodka (This is what the original recipe from Martha Stewart calls for, but I actually just used the vodka we already had on hand – which was 80-proof. . . . It’s okay if it’s not that strong!).
3 cups sugar
3 cups boiling water

Directions:

Peel strips of zest from lemons and limes using a vegetable peeler; reserve remainder of lemons and limes for another use. Combine zest and vodka in an airtight container, and let stand at room temperature at least 2 days or up to 1 week.

Stir together sugar and water until sugar has dissolved; let cool completely. Stir sugar mixture into vodka mixture; refrigerate in an
airtight container overnight.

Pour liquid through a large sieve (discard zest), then pour through a funnel into airtight bottles. Limoncello can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Source: Martha Stewart, or you can find it in her Holiday Handbook 2011.

Cranberry Liqueur

There are (were) two bags of fresh cranberries mocking me from the top shelf of my fridge.

They know I’ve never cooked with fresh cranberries.

They know the only reason I bought TWO bags was because I needed half a cup for cocktails and I couldn’t resist the “buy one get one free” deal.

They know all these things and every time I open the refrigerator I hear them snicker at me.

That was the case until yesterday anyway.

I showed those cranberries who’s boss.

First I took them for a ride in the food processor. Tossed ‘em around a bit and beat them up a little.

Then I threw them in a pot of boiling water and sugar and grated orange rind.

Then I drowned them in vodka and banished them to solitary confinement in the cool dark recesses of my kitchen cupboard.

Take THAT you silly, pompous, fresh cranberries!

I’ll see you on Christmas Eve in a glass of Prosecco.

Or on December 31st as I hand you off to the party hostess and wave. . . . Happy New Year cranberries.

Cranberry Liqueur (make ahead 3 weeks! Yeah, I know, I’m not leaving you with much time here – but get crackin’ and you can party with the cranberries on New Years too!)

Ingredients:
1 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups fresh cranberries
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed Orange Juice (I actually used tangerines)
1 tablespoon freshly grated Orange rind
2 cups good Vodka

Directions:
Combine water and sugar in heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until all the sugar is dissolved; two to three minutes.
Add cranberries, orange juice, and orange rind.
Remove mixture from heat and cool slightly.
Add mixture to food processor and pulse a few times – just enough to break some of the berries open.
Cool completely.
Pour into a glass or plastic container and seal tightly. Store in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks.
After three weeks, pour mixture through a fine sieve to strain. You may want to also strain a couple more times through cheese-cloth, depending on how much pulp you like in your liqueur.
Save the berries for another use (Frozen ice cubes? Dancing in my cocktail? Ice cream sundae? Jello shots? No, not really. . . maybe?)
Pour strained liqueur into glass bottles with an airtight seal.


Source: The Creative Culinary

A Personalized Gratitude Journal

If you have been sticking around since October (thank you!), you are familiar with my inner child. She’s out and about again and it’s all for Christmas.
I love giving gifts, and – I feel like maybe I should “shhhhhh” about this – but I love getting them too.

This doesn’t mean I need anything fancy. In fact, most of my favorites are ones that were homemade. It warms my heart to know someone took the time to make something for me – even if it’s just a little note or drawing. They thought about me, and that makes me smile inside and out.
That’s where the inspiration for my latest little project with my little guy came in. He and I are both self-proclaimed artists, so while there was a little squabble back and forth between us, it all turned out just right. The concept was mine, the execution was his.

This journal is intended to be a gratitude journal – one in which each day you enter one, or two, or three things for which you are thankful. Little things or big things, it doesn’t matter. One day every page, from front to back, will hold a record of positive events and happenings that might have otherwise been overlooked. It serves as an unassuming reminder of the love and blessings we receive on daily basis.
This particular mini-masterpiece turned out looking a bit Dali-ish. Maybe I do have a budding master-of-the-arts on my hands!
I bought a simple little $3.00 journal from Michael’s, he picked out paint from our paint bin, and we scoured magazines for pictures that spoke to us about our special loved one.
Once we completed those tasks we were on our way.

Here’s how you can DIY:

Personalized Journal for a Loved One

Materials:

Blank Journal – preferably with a hard cover
Acrylic paint
Brushes and a cup of water for rinsing, and a paper towel for drying
Magazines for clippings and scissors
Decoupage or mod-podge and a separate brush

Directions:
Paint the front and back cover of the journal. This should not be a picture, just a background.

Let the paint dry fully while you clip and cut pictures from magazines that remind you of your “giftee”. Before you continue with your clippings, paint the inside edges of the front and back covers if necessary, and let them dry.

When the paint is dry, take your clippings and test out different arrangements without any decoupage or mod-podge. When you have the arrangement you like best, lightly brush the backs of your clippings (or the area on your journal where it will be placed) and gently press it on. Remember to start with your bottom layer of cut-outs first if you are layering. Once you have glued all your clippings in this fashion, let the decoupage dry.
Once that layer is dry, brush a thin layer of decoupage/mod-podge over the top of everything – even the paint. Smooth out bumps with the side of your paintbrush handle if necessary. Let that layer dry, and repeat. Let it dry, and your project is complete!

And then, before you wrap it, write a secret note inside for them to find later.

When you’re shopping. . . .

Today is Cyber Monday. If you’re going to park yourself at the computer to do some shopping and snag some great Christmas deals, there are a few things you should remember:

1. a bowl of jellybeans by your side. . . um, is that just me?
2. your list – and check it twice.
3. a drink to re-hydrate – jellybeans can take it out of you.
4. a pen – to check people off as you buy them the perfect gift.
5. and last but not least, see below:

If you haven’t seen it already, check here to see how you can donate to the Children’s Shelter of Cebu as you shop online – without spending any extra money.
Thanks for taking a peek.
Happy shopping!

Snickerdoodle Cupcake Cookies

These are Snickerdoodle cookies on steroids. Need I say more?

My love for snickerdoodles combined with the intrigue of the name drew me to this recipe. Cupcake cookie? What the heck is that?
I’ll tell you what it is. It’s probably the richest snickerdoodle you will ever eat, baked into the form of a cup and filled (yes, filled) with a delectable spiced buttercream frosting that is reminiscent of egg-nog, and it will probably make you roll your eyes back in pure pleasure with the first bite. This is the kind of cookie (cupcake?) you might want to save until you can be alone with it – so you can enjoy it fully and appreciate each cinnamon-sugar-y, frosting-y bite without interruption.

Once again, pecans have stalked me. I tagged this recipe at least a month ago, and didn’t even realize they were here. But they were. I’ve never made snickerdoodles with pecans before but enjoyed them in this version.
My mind wandered a little bit when I was chopping, so the toasted nuts were finely minced rather than chopped, but I have to say I think this was a good mistake. I don’t know that I would have liked the cookies as well with larger chunks.

These are truly a giftable indulgence. Just a single cupcake cookie wrapped up in a shallow coffee mug and finished off with a pretty ribbon, a little handmade card, and some cellophane wrap would make a beautiful token for someone you appreciate. The recipe makes 24 – peeeeerfect. One for the teacher, 23 for you. . . .

Doesn’t this little guy look lonely?? I should probably eat him. . . .

Recipe:

Snickerdoodle Cupcake Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup toffee pieces
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Spiced Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)
Crushed toffee pieces

Directions:
In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high-speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1 1/2 cups sugar, the baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping the side of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla until combined. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in remaining flour, the 1 cup toffee pieces, and pecans. Cover and chill dough about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line muffin tin with paper baking cups. Set aside. IN a small bowl, stir together the 1/4 up sugar, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg. Set aside.

Using a rounded 2-tablespoon scoop, shape dough into balls. Roll balls in the sugar mixture to coat. Press each ball lightly into a prepared muffin cup, making the tops even.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until tops are light brown and edges are just firm (centers will dip slightly). Cool in muffin cups on wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans, cool completely.

Spoon Spiced Buttercream Frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe frosting into a tall swirl on each cupcake. If desired, sprinkle with crushed toffee pieces. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Spiced Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:
2/3 cup softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or a dash of ground nutmeg
5 cups powdered sugar
additional milk

Directions:
In a large mixing bowl beat 2/3 cup softened butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually beat in 2 cups powdered sugar. Beat in 1/4 cup milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gradually beat in 5 cups powdered sugar and enough additional milk (2-4 tablespoons) to make frosting piping consistency.

Source: Just slightly adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Foodgifts 2011.

Advent Calendar


I love the look of chalk on blackboard. It reminds me of gourmet bistros and cafes – and we know how I feel about silver and gold decor to celebrate the holidays. . . it’s just classy. So here we have it. A classy bistro Advent calendar. It’s just what you were wishing you had, right? I think that thought crosses all our minds this time of year. “I wish I had a classy bistro Advent calendar”. Well, today I can help you make that wish come true. . . .
Truly, every year, close to this time, (but usually much closer to the day after Thanksgiving) I am wishing I had an Advent calendar. I’m not wishing for just any Advent calendar though; I’m wishing for a re-usable one that means something special to our family. I’d like one that I can customize to fit the personality of our family that particular year, and one that re-directs our thoughts and actions to the true meaning of Christmas and how we can honor and love others during this season.
I have made advent calendars in the past, but they were tedious projects and, honestly, didn’t hold up very well. I felt like I spent too much time and money, and they were difficult to use in the end.
So this is what I came up with this year. It’s quite possible to roll it up and save it for next year, but it’s also easy and cheap enough that you can toss it and do it again next year.

Of course your calendar can say whatever you want it to say, but in case you need a starting point, here is what our cards contain:
1. Read a book about the story of Christmas.
2. Call someone you miss and tell them!
3. Smile and say hello to as many people as you can today.
4. Put a package together for Any Soldier.
5. Sneak a special treat onto your neighbor’s porch today.
6. Send a card (snail-mail style) to someone special.
7. Get ice cream after school today!
8. Intentionally drop a “lucky penny” as a gift for a stranger to find later.
9. Play Uno tonight.
10. Hug someone you love today. . . lots of times!
11. Play a board game as a family tonight.
12. Decorate a card and write, “You are SPECIAL!” on it. Leave it in your library book and turn it in, so the next person will find it.
13. Give a treat to someone who won’t expect it.
14. Donate a toy to charity.
15. Go for a night-time walk, bike ride, or drive to see the Christmas lights.
16. Make hot apple cider and sit around listening to Christmas music and looking at old photos.
17. Go to the local yogurt shop for a treat.
18. Leave a note in someone’s pocket that says what you love about them.
19. Count up spare change and go to Food For the Poor to make an online donation.
20. Turn off the TV, and the lights. Make hot chocolate and read Christmas stories by candle-light.
21. Play the “Good Manners” gift game (there will be a post on this later – stay tuned!)
22. Do a chore for a family member.
23. Wrap Christmas presents and make reindeer food (more on this later)!
24. Tonight: Put out reindeer food, cookies for Santa, and snuggle up in bed with a book about the first Christmas.

That old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” is so, so true. The whole design of this calendar evolved out of efforts to simplify and keep it as affordable as possible. To save money, I re-purposed a frame we already had in the house. For the daily cards I used folded strips of cut paper instead of individual cards in envelopes. To save time, I used poster board that you can find at the grocery or drug store, and I drew my numbers with marker and a stencil instead of making a trip to the craft store for expensive labels or stickers. Even using a pencil to fill out the cards stemmed from pure coincidence. When I went to fill them out, I was searching for something that wouldn’t leak ink through to the front of the card and settled on pencil. I realized after the fact that this was indeed a lucky move – now if I want to change the cards up next year, all I have to do is erase!
Beginning to end, once I had my supplies together, I think this took a total of about 90 minutes to make and cost less than $10. That’s not too shabby. That’s a one night project while you watch the X Factor. Here’s how to get it done:

Materials:
1 Picture frame (Go ahead – use one you already have in your house. I did! I just put the paper over the glass/picture that was already in it. Slide the paper right between the frame and the glass.)
1 sheet black poster board cut to fit your frame (Bonus! Poster board can often be found at grocery stores and drug stores – no special trip to the craft store.)
2 sheets white card stock cut in 24 2″x6″ strips (or any white paper cut into strips)
Chalk in your chosen colors (I used light green, blue-green, and white)
Fine tip markers that match your chalk (I used light green, blue-green, and gold)
chalk fixative or hair spray – Aquanet is best
scissors
ruler
pencil
poster putty

How to:
Measure your poster board to fit your frame. Trim accordingly. Test it out to make sure the fit is right.
With the poster board out of the frame, draw your title, layering colors if you like.
Spray with fixative or hairspray (so the chalk won’t smear if it’s touched), let dry.
Cut your strips of white paper. I used 2″x6″, but you really need to size it to match your frame. You’ll need to measure your frame, then figure out the best arrangement for the cards and choose your dimensions accordingly. You’ll want to leave about a half-inch or more between the cards.
Fold the cards in thirds.
On the center portion on the front of each card, use a stencil (or use a dime and a nickel) to trace two different sized and colored circles. (I used two shades of green).
When you’ve finished with the circles, number the cards 1-24 in your complimentary color felt-tip marker (This is where I used gold).
Lay your poster board out on a table or the floor. Take your stenciled, labeled, and folded cards and arrange them on the poster to your satisfaction. Use poster putty on the back of each card to hold them in place.
Use chalk to draw “frames” around each card in alternating colors.
Carefully remove cards, spray poster board again to set “frames”.
Fill out your cards, fold them, and mount them again on the poster board.
Attach your poster board to your frame simply by laying it over the existing picture/glass and sliding it under the edge of the frame. If any edges are loose, use poster putty to fix it to the picture surface.
Hang it up, and start counting down!

P.S. If this is your first time here, check out this post to see another way you can give to charity this Christmas, without leaving your house and without spending any extra money! You might even want to put it on your Advent calendar. . . .

Your Christmas Shopping Can Benefit the Children’s Shelter of Cebu

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this plan! Have you ever heard of Ebates.com? It’s a shopping website where you register, and then when you shop through their website at all the stores where you would normally shop (with all their regular deals and current discounts), you get cash back! Seriously.
I did it last year and received two $20 checks by the time all my Christmas shopping was done. You might be thinking, “Yeah, but the store selection is probably no good. . . . “. Oh no, my friend, the selection (and cash back!) Is fantastic. Let me give you a sampling:
Cooking.com 5% back, The Body Shop 10% back, Piperlime 10% back, Snapfish 20% back, J.Crew 8% back, Best Buy up to 3.6% back, Lands End 6% back, Lego 3% back, Restaurant.com 15% back, Harry and David 5% back, Drugstore.com 6% –
And some that I don’t have the percentages for, but I know they are there: Wal-Mart, Target, JCPenney, Overstock.com, Kohls, Nordstrom, Barnes&Noble, Walgreens, Toys R Us, Bed Bath and Beyond, QVC, Bloomingdales, Dell, One Step Ahead, Apple, LL Bean, and HUNDREDS MORE!
So I know this sounds like a shameless plug, and it sort of is – but not how you think. THE BEST PART ( I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve!) is that I have registered Home is Where The Cookies Are with Ebates, so that when you click on the Ebates button on the right sidebar of my home page, and become an Ebates customer (making a $25+ purchase within 90 days of registering), Home Is Where The Cookies Are will receive a $5 compensation for the referral, and this is going to be donated, 100%, to The Children’s Shelter of Cebu.

I first learned about this shelter when I came across Pinch of Yum and learned why Lindsey blogs – to be able to contribute to the shelter where her three adopted siblings stayed before they came to the US. Since 1979 The Children’s Shelter of Cebu has provided a home for children in the Philippines who have been orphaned, abandoned, and surrendered. Lindsay told me a little bit more about the kids and the shelter:

“The people at the shelter [rescue] them from a life on the streets, where their parents [have] died or abandoned them. At the shelter, they [are] able to have three square meals, a place to sleep, learn English, go to school, and have people love and care about them. It’s a small organization, but obviously one that’s near and dear to my heart!!”


Friends, it would be SO EASY to donate to them this Christmas! We don’t have to spend any money! We can actually save money shopping through Ebates, and the registration compensation Ebates gives to Home is Where the Cookies Are will go to the shelter. From now until December 25, all proceeds from my link will go to The Children’s Shelter of Cebu – let’s see what we can do! Click on the Ebates button in the right sidebar, and get started! And don’t forget to tell your friends!!
Thank you for your support!
How many more exclamation points can I use to tell you how excited I am?!!!!!

P.S. Just a quick clarification: The money that will go to The Children’s Shelter of Cebu is the money that Home is Where the Cookies Are is credited for referring new, purchasing customers to the Ebates site. The customers, (YOU), will receive all the cash back that you accumulate while shopping.