Hot Chocolate on a Stick

As I have mentioned before, I do not celebrate Christmas. However, winter is my favorite season and during this time of giving/receiving I feel it appropriate to make a small gesture toward my friends, family, and coworkers to thank them for their friendship and generosity and to provide a little treat to brighten the long winter days. Whether for a Christmas gift, a winter wedding favor, or just a small, cozy gesture for someone you love, I think you will agree that these gifts hit the spot. Enter: Hot Chocolate on a Stick.

I followed this recipe and made the portions in ice cube trays, adding an extra large “craft stick” as a handle for stirring. You can find craft sticks of a variety of kinds at Hobby Lobby. After allowing the chocolates to cool overnight, I wrapped them in cellophane, tied them with ribbon, and curled the ribbon. I placed the hot chocolates into tall resealable plastic bags. My favorite part was designing the packaging. I included helpful “instruction sheets” inside the bags. The packages are accented with patterned paper I bought at Hobby Lobby and cut into 3″ x 6″ strips then folded and stapled over the bag. I used patterned paper on some and red textured paper on others. The final touch is a gift tag wishing the recipient warm greetings from Tyler and me.

I did plenty of “quality control” and can assure everyone these are quite delicious ; ). The project was a bit time consuming, but easy enough for anyone to try. Even if you don’t plan to give these as gifts, they make it easy and convenient for you to enjoy individual portions of *real* hot chocolate any time you want. Don’t get confused, people, we are talking about hot chocolate, not hot cocoa, and there is a world of difference. Stay warm!

Rory’s First Snowfall

Rory and I have been having the most amazing time. Depending on what part of the country you hail from, Wichita either got a lot or a very little snow this week. We had a couple inches to play in, and when it comes to snow, I will take what I can get. Rory loved everything about the snow: the taste, the feel, the way she can slide in it or burrow in it or toss it into the air with her nose. She thinks of snow as an all-you-can eat snow buffet and stops every couple of seconds to take a bite of her new favorite treat.

We have played outside in the snow more times than I can count and we even ventured out for a 2.5 mile hike yesterday. There was no one else around – just me and my snow-loving dog. The snow really brings out the Great Pyrenees side to Rory and for once her coat doesn’t look as white! The forecast for the next week shows us remaining cold and possibly seeing a few more flakes. I hope the fun lasts ; ).

Book Bandit

One of my favorite things about visiting Austin is stocking up on classics at Half Price Books. Tyler carted my finds to the counter and before I realized it I had a stack of twenty books. The best part was seeing the total ring up – $60! It’s probably for the best that we don’t have one of these stores nearby, as I would shortly run out of space on the bookshelves for more books, and space on the walls for more bookshelves. These should keep me busy for a while ; ).

DIY Sparkly Snowflake Shirt

Glitter extravaganza

If you have some time, you can make a glitter snowflake shirt just as awesome as the one I am modeling to the left. I love snowflakes, I love making stuff, and I love glitter. I had a party to attend this week and the hostess encouraged us to buy “ugly” Christmas sweaters to make the party festive. That’s fine, but I don’t do holidays and I don’t want to buy something ugly – it goes against my personal philosophy. So, I reinterpreted her holiday suggestion and made this beauty instead. It is SO glittery.

Instructions to Make your Own (because you definitely should):

1. Buy a shirt, or grab an old one that can’t stand spending the rest of its life without glitter.

2. Cut out snowflakes. I cut 3 different snowflakes that I used as templates.

3. Pin snowflakes to shirt and trace carefully with marker. I repeated this process many times to get my desired effect. If you are short on time, you might just do one large snowflake or maybe 3 little ones on a sleeve. My design was time intensive.

4. Trace your marker outlines with glue. Make sure this glue is designed for gluing glitter to fabric and is washable. Can you use Elmer’s? NO, you cannot!

My friend Michelle and I model our shirts - she made hers, too, but her snowman is made from felt, not glitter.

5. Apply copious amounts of glitter. I used Martha Stewart’s stuff- it’s a very fine grain and looks great. I also had a ton left over from the wedding. This should be a fun, easy project- so use what you have.

6. Lay flat to dry overnight.

7. Shake glitter off and prepare yourself for spending months finding glitter around your house in unlikely places. I’m convinced it gets in the heating/cooling system and takes a magical journey to the far reaches of your home.

Note: Most of us have done some sort of t-shirt decoration project along the way but as a reminder- you WILL want to have some sort of paper or cardboard layer between the front and back of your shirt so the marker and/or glue does not bleed through.

Obviously you could trace any shape you wanted to – it does not have to be snowflakes. I thought it would be cute to do silhouettes of something else seasonal/adorable like reindeer kissing or a snowboarder jumping or even a monochromatic scene of evergreens-simple designs are easiest to trace.  I think you’ll agree snowflakes work pretty well, too. : )

Toffee Triumph!

Following a failed attempt earlier in the week, I produced a massive batch of extreme deliciousness. Toffee, like most candy recipes, is deceptively simple. Here is my recipe and my suggestions (learned the hard way) for guaranteeing a shortcut to winter weight gain.

Anne’s No-Fail Super Delicious Toffee

Ingredients:

2 cups granulated sugar

1 lb. butter (4 sticks)

1/2 tsp salt

3 Tbsp. water

——

1 tsp vanilla

——

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

assorted crushed and/or toasted nuts for topping

Instructions:

Preparations: Grease a baking sheet, baking pan, or large amount of parchment paper. Your desired thickness of toffee determines the vessel you pour it into– I wanted thin toffee, so I used my largest baking sheet- 17×22 or something like that.

1. Combine sugar, butter, salt, and water in a saucepan and heat on medium.

***Tip 1.) Use a pot that holds approximately twice the volume of your mixture. I think the first time I had too much exposed surface area (ie the bottom of the pot was too large) that helped it burn faster.

***Tip 2.) Use a metal spoon for stirring.

***Tip 3.) DEFINITELY use a candy thermometer

***Tip 4.) DO NOT add vanilla yet. I am not sure how crucial this is to the process- but the first time, I added it WITH the ingredients and there was epic disaster.

2.) Heat to boiling.

3.) Continue boiling until mixture reaches between 300-310 degrees F. Consult your thermometer.

***Tip 5.)  No matter what the recipe says (if you are using a different one), STIR CONSTANTLY. Scrape the sides often, scrape the bottom even more. Stir, stir stir. Do not stop. This is not a time for multi-tasking.

***Tip 6.) Do not use excessive heat. Use just enough to keep your thermometer steadily rising. At all costs you want to avoid burning the mixture. If you burn it, it’s trash. You won’t be able to eat it. Sadness ensues.

***Tip 7.) This part of the process takes 15-20 minutes. If you are done in 5, you did it wrong.

4.) Once mixture reaches your target temp, it will be a nice, bubbly, thick golden-brown liquid. Pour into your prepared pan/sheet.

5.) Allow mixture to solidify for a minute or two.

***Tip 8.) Other candymakers suggested that you blot the excess oil off the top of your toffee at this point. It will help the chocolate adhere. I did not do this, and most of my chocolate fell off. I don’t really like chocolate, so I was fine with this outcome, but you may not be.

6.) Sprinkle your chocolate chips evenly over the top of the toffee layer. Once again, depending on your desired thickness of the chocolate you may with to use more or fewer chocolate chips.

7.) Allow chocolate to melt – wait 4-5 minutes and use a spatula to spread the layer out evenly, covering the entire surface.

8.) Top with nuts, if desired. I used chopped almonds on 1/3, toasted hazelnuts on 1/3, and left 1/3 plain.

***Tip 9.) Gently press the nuts into the chocolate, to make sure they get “glued” on. Otherwise as soon as you break your candy, all the nuts will fall off.

9.) Cool! Yes, it is awesome that you just made coffee, but what I mean is that you need to wait for everything to cool. Mine was ready to eat after 30 minutes in the refrigerator, but you may wish to wait longer in order for it to really firm up. You can also cool it at room temp- it will just take a little longer.

10.) Enjoy. This is the part we are all good at. Breaking the pieces by hand worked best for me.

***Tip 10.) To clean your sticky pot, simply refill it with water and bring to a boil. Most of the candy residue should melt right off. Easy and delicious!

P.S. Is anyone else shocked at how much butter is in a batch of toffee? That is the main ingredient!! I had no idea… Now all those extra pounds I gained after the wedding are starting to make sense- I ate at least a whole batch on my own in the couple of days following the event.

No. 17 Pretzel Failure

I made pretzel bites this week, hoping to take them to a party. Making the dough was easy. Cutting the dough into bite-size pieces was easy and fun. Boiling them in the baking soda and sugar mixture was also relatively easy, although time-consuming. Brushing them with an egg wash, topping them with salt, and baking them went well. They came out of the oven golden-brown, with a nice firm crust and a soft airy center. They tasted like crap. I don’t use that word often, but it is appropriate in this situation.

Maybe I’m not a pretzel person. I checked and rechecked my recipe – knowing that the “gross” taste came from the baking soda. I’m mystified. I followed the directions- boiled 90 seconds exactly on each side in the soda water bath. I cross-checked, vigorously consulting a variety of other recipes, to find out if the ratio of baking soda to water recommended in this recipe was common- it was.  It is also gross. The pretzels tasted… strong. The doughy center was fine- although with bites this small there is no point to scooping out the edible center. The only thing I can think of is that the ratio of “strong” crust to good center is too high with bites this small and results in your mouth being overwhelmed by a malicious baking soda army. Like I said before, maybe I’m not a pretzel person, at least not in the classic cover in salt and dip in mustard vein. I like the ones they sell at Auntie Anne’s. Does that make me a low-class pretzel consumer? I guess I’ll never know – because it is unlikely I will ever attempt this move in the kitchen again. It really was that bad of an experience.

The photo is actually of day-old pretzel bites – they looked better fresh out of the oven. I only took a picture because I wanted to have visual proof that I attempted Item 17 on my List of 25 Things to do Before 25. I included a link to the recipe above because I wanted you to know which one to avoid.

First Gifts for Lily

Every girl deserves a little something pretty. I had a lot of fun crafting this cute little headband for baby Lily. I plan to do many, many more – it only took me about 30 minutes, playing around with my bag of scraps and watching a tv show. I used stretch lace lingerie trim for the headband itself and layered hand-stitched pieces of felt, felted sweater (upcycle!), chiffon, and netting to form the flower. There’s something so romantic to me about the combination of textures and the soft colors.