{Handmade} Holiday

Merry & BrightI hope everyone has been having as much fun prepping for Christmas as we have! It’s no secret that I LOVE the holidays, and all that comes with them. The family, the TV specials, the food, and our annual forced popcorn-stringing marathon that The Husband simply adores…

Not. But, we like the end result ;)

This year, I was a little dismayed when I pulled out my rag-tag/hand-me-down/college-dollar-store-purchase Christmas decor. Yes, we have a few nice things I’ve picked up since we’ve been married, and lots of gorgeous ornaments for the tree that my mom has bought me every year since childhood, but nothing super put-together… and nothing like my Pinterest Holiday inspiration boards.

Home for the Holidays

So, I took matters into my own hands, and did a few experiments. And somehow, week-old bush clippings salvaged from the compost pile, leftover burlap, a giant Frosted Mini-Wheats box, an old newspaper and clearance-rack ribbon transformed the house into a little winter wonderland…

Here’s How:

Rustic Boxwood Garland & Mini Window Wreaths

Supplies:

  • A bucket of boxwood clippings
  • Green floral wire
  • Ribbon for hanging, bows for decoration

Garland!

Garland Directions:

  • Choose 3-4 sprigs of boxwood, varying lengths
  • Wrap the ends tightly 3-4 times with the floral wire
  • Gather another bunch of boxwood, and lay along the wire, overlapping the last bunch. Wrap tightly. Repeat until garland reaches desired length.

Wreath Directions:

  • Use the same method as above, but begin your garland with a longer piece, then choose slightly shorter clippings for your bunches.
  • Once you reach desired length, form into a circle, cut wire, and attach your first, longer clipping to end.
  • Use ribbon to hang several of varying sizes in the window.

Vintage Newsprint Christmas Tree

Newsprint TreeSupplies:

  • Empty cereal box
  • Packing tape
  • A pencil or pen
  • Newspaper
  • Glue stick or rubber cement
  • Ribbon or other topper

Directions:

  • Deconstruct and flatten the cereal box
  • Cut into a rough circle, and cut a slit to the center
  • Roll into a cone shape, tape, and trim bottom so it stands level
  • Cut the black and white text sections of the newspaper into strips, roughly 1″ wide (I alternated making the text horizontal and vertical on the strips – variations in size and direction of the text adds to the vintage look)
  • Roll strips around pencil to give them a slight curl, and cut to about 2-3″ in length
  • Start on the bottom, and glue strips around the base. Allow them to hang over the edge of the cone slightly, and overlap each piece. Work your way up the tree, one layer at the time, overlapping each.
  • Top with a bow, or other decorative piece.

Perfect Christmas Bow

Watch this slightly annoying video, and you’re set!

Bows!

I used strips of burlap for the garland on my mantle and bay window, and ribbon for my newspaper tree and hutch in the kitchen – get creative – it’s so easy!

Classic Popcorn & Cranberry Garland

The directions on this one are pretty obvious, but I do have a few tips:

Pop!

  • Pop your popcorn the day before and let it go stale – it’s easier to string that way!
  • Use plain kernels, and pop in a paper lunch bag in the microwave. Just put about 1/4 cup in the bag, roll top twice, and pop. No grease, no weird butter-flavoring color (a great, healthy, snack, too ;)
  • Mix up your patterns!
  • Use a thimble if your fingers get ouchy.
  • Make your husband help while watching Christmas specials. Require he completes at least two full strands, and doesn’t use a 10-1 cranberry-to-popcorn ratio because the berries are easier string.

ChristmasA&RHave fun!

Salted Caramel {Brownie Bites}

Every once in a while, you stumble upon something unexpected,  but totally life-changing. Often, its a new best friend, a profound novel, a moving song…

For me, it was salted caramel. And more specifically, these perfect bite-sized treats.

Everyone you share these with will thank you. And, they’ll think you’re super-fancy, ’cause everyone knows stuff like sushi, brie, that Asian hot sauce stuff, red wine, hummus and salted caramel makes you fancy. Proven fact.

Perfect for your next Holiday party, cookie swap, gift-wrapping marathon, or to eat delicately while watching Home Alone for the 1,000th time…

Dark Chocolate Caramel Brownie Bites with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Based on this recipe

Makes 4 dozen bites

Ingredients:

Brownies:

  • 2 boxes of brownie mix (I recommend the Ghiradelli dark chocolate mix – it’s my secret weapon…)
  • A piece of soft caramel for each brownie bite (I used a local confectioners homemade caramels, and cut each into fourths for a piece of caramel about the size of a dime, and 1/4″ thick. You can use any soft caramels, and adjust to taste)

Frosting:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 12-20 caramels
, depending on size
  • 2 T. heavy cream
  • 
2 c. powdered sugar
  • kosher sea salt

Directions:

Brownies:

  • Preheat oven to 325. Mix brownie batter as directed.
  • Lightly grease mini-cupcake pan, and fill cups 1/3 full with batter. Place a caramel in each, and fill the rest of the way with batter. Be sure to cover caramel.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, let cool, and gently remove from pan.

Frosting:

  • First, melt the caramel with the heavy cream. You can pop it in the microwave for 30 second increments, until the caramel is smooth. Allow it to cool in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  • Whip the butter for about 30 seconds on med-high speed, until fluffy. Add in about one cup of powdered sugar, and mix until combined. Once the caramel is cool to the touch, turn the mixer on medium speed and then drizzle the caramel into the frosting, reserving just a little to top the brownies. Beat until fluffy.
  • Add the other cup of powdered sugar and the salt, a 1/4 to a 1/2 t. at a time, mixing and then tasting after each addition to make sure you don’t add too much. A little goes a long way!
  • Use a pastry bag, or a baggie with the tip cut off, to pipe a little of the frosting in a swirl on top of each cooled brownie. Top with a hint of a drizzle of the reserved caramel, chocolate shavings, and another little dash of sea salt.
  • Enjoy!

{Biscoff} Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

There is just something about Thanksgiving.

The family, the history, the stories, the shopping, the parade, the naps…

<;– My mom's amazing dry-erase art from my family's visit last weekend! If you couldn't tell, that's me,the husband and a plate of cookies…

Oh yeah, and the FOOD!

This year, go beyond the pumpkin pie and turkey… not too far (let’s face it, grandpa won’t dig tofu or quinoa), but far enough to make people think you’re fancy.

It’s nice when people think you’re fancy. Particularly when it takes very little actual effort. Kind of like these cookies.

Most people have tasted those lovely, sweet, slightly spicy little cookies that are handed out on Delta flights – Biscoff. What you may not know is that you not only can find the cookies at your local grocery store, but you can also find Biscoff spread.

This creamy concoction tastes like pulverized cookies mixed with peanut butter – Totally dreamy, and full of possibilities. Put it on your oatmeal, toast, yogurt, apple slices or pancakes. OR, you could make these fluffy perfect-for-Thanksgiving little cookies.

From cookie, to spread, and back to cookie again. You’re just completing the circle of life.

Biscoff Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

From this recipe – yet another great Pinterest find!

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/3 cup Biscoff Spread (or Trader Joe’s Cookie Spread)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • Optional Add-ins: Chocolate chips, pecans, dried cranberries…

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and salt. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and sugars. Beat until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin and Biscoff spread and mix until combined. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, beating only until blended. Stir in the oats.

5. Form the cookie dough into rounded tablespoons and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are golden and just firm around the edges. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then remove with a spatula onto a cooling rack.

Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

{Decadent} S’More Trifle

If you have to feed a crowd, this is your dessert. If you need to make something easy, this is your dessert. If you want to make people smile when you walk in the room lugging this bowl with you, this is your dessert. If you love the feeling of marshmallow fluff between your fingers, this is your dessert.

Actually, you really don’t have any excuses. Just save yourself the trouble, and make this now. Trust me… your smiling friends will thank you.

How can you not drool over this picture?:

Gooey S’More Trifle

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages of brownie mix (I use Ghiradelli – it’s the BEST)
  • 1 packet of instant chocolate pudding
  • 1 large tub of light whipped topping, thawed (see – this dessert is practically a health food!)
  • 1/2 box of graham crackers, crushed
  • 2 large containers of marshmallow fluff
  • 2 Hershey’s candy bars
  • 1 cup of mini marshmallows

Directions:

  • Bake brownies as directed. Let cool, set aside.
  • Make pudding using 1/2 milk required, let set. Once firm, mix entire tub of whipped topping, set aside.
  • Break cooled brownies into chunks, use as the first trifle layer in the bottom of the bowl. Follow with a layer of marshmallow fluff, then crushed graham crackers, then pudding mixture,. Repeat until bowl is full. (Hint: It might be easier to spread fluff if you scoop it into a piping bag, or baggie with hole cut at the tip. Remember – it doesn’t have to be pretty!)
  • Top bowl with broken-up candy bars, and mini-marshmallows.
  • Get a really big spoon, and enjoy!

This could also be perfect for the “kid’s table” at Thanksgiving…. come on, admit it. Everyone knows we’ll never “graduate”. But, with awesome kid food like this, who wants to ? ;)

Spicy-Sweet Roasted {Pumpkin Seeds}

To be honest, I’ve never had much success with roasting pumpkin seeds…

Unless, of course, by “roasting” you mean creating a clump of gunk charred beyond all recognition, or some soggy things that get stuck in your teeth and are a little slimy. If that’s the case, I usually nail it.

BUT, this time, my seeds were a resounding success. They tasted awesome, had the perfect *crunch*, a delightful honey-smokiness, and a pretty caramelized color…

Almost as beautiful as the Husband’s “Avenger” pumpkin.

So, grab up those discount-pumpkins, scoop ’em out, and enjoy these awesome little treats! Perfect for get-togethers, on salads, or a before-dinner snack…

Spicy-Sweet Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 pinch cumin
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 1 pinch chili powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove seeds from pumpkin. Discard membranes and spread seeds on baking sheet. Bake for about 10-15 minutes – this will make them nice and crisp!
  • Remove from oven. Toss seeds with olive oil, honey and spices to taste – don’t be afraid to be liberal with them. The more flavor the better…
  • Return to oven and roast coated seeds until golden, about another 10-15 minutes. Watch very closely to prevent burning, and stir several times during cooking. Let cool, and enjoy! Keep in an airtight container, and much on ’em for over a week.

P.S. The Husband makes a pretty cute Gondolier, no?

…now if I could only get him to STOP singing “‘O Sole Meio”…

A farewell to {summer}

Goodbyes are hard.

But, I would certainly call this summer a successful one. It didn’t hurt that we kicked the season off with the trip of a lifetime, but even the little activities: moments with family and friends, dinners at home, weekend getaways, ice cream, movies and date nights made the last few months special.

Something that helped keep our fun on track, was my handy summer bucket list. I always have grand plans for these warm months – so full or promise in late May… and then, I promptly forget what those plans were and proceed to eat ice cream and watch movies on my couch. So, this year we made it happen!

Here’s the list:

  1. Kayak on the Blanchard
  2. Enjoy fine dining at the Lima Ave. Rootbeer stand
  3. See a drive-in Movie
  4. Go to a winery
  5. Visit Lakeside
  6. See a concert

Now, none of these things were earth-shattering, but each made the day seem more special. So, between trips to see grandparents, parties with friends, birthdays, work, and holidays, we:

(<—Rootbeer Stand)

  • Took an amazing trip down the river – serene, calm, and inexpensive!
  • Ate the best Spanish dog, sweet potato fries and root beer floats you could imagine. Seriously.
  • Saw the Dark Night Rises while eating snacks snug and cozy in the front seat of the car. Felt so 1960’s… loved it!
  • Took a trip to Mon Ami winery and enjoyed the amazing sea food buffet.
  • Took a restful, peaceful, book-filled trip to one of our favorite places on the planet
  • The. Zac. Brown. Band.

Bliss!

Especially the sweet potato fries and floats at the Rootbeer stand… I die.

(Elizabeth and I at the Winery)

The last two items were things I had been longing to do, but didn’t see how they could fit into our packed summer! Until, the Husband surprised me on the Birthday with both :) He’s a keeper, I tell ya. These adventures were a little more special than the others on the list, so here’s a little recap:

Lakeside is a very special place. Located along Lake Erie, it was part of the original Chautauqua movement in the U.S. in the late 1800’s. Now, this little town is still dedicated to nurturing the mind, body and spirits of all of those that visit with concerts, lectures, sermons, athletics, swimming, boating and more.

The quiet streets are lined with colorful cottages with fun names, little shops, ice cream parlors, unique restaurants, and bicycles waiting for their owners. On the waterfront, the largest homes and historic Lakeside Hotel look out over the blue water, and the white boathouse and dock form a grand entrance to a brisk walk or the perfect picture of the sunset. You can also play putt putt, shuffleboard, tennis, basketball, jog or take a long walk with periodic stops on numerous benches that overlook the crystal water… Totally serene, a trip there is truly a spiritual experience.

In short, it’s perfection.

Even though it was the end of the season, and many of their activities and summer attractions were closed, the peace and quiet (and pizza and giant cinnamon rolls) was just what the doctor ordered.

We ate, we walked, we slept in, we watched movies on the laptop, we read books, we talked about dreams, and we recharged our batteries…

If you ever make the trip, Sloopy’s pizza and the donuts from The Patio are a must :)

Our final farewell to summer was something I waited on…almost patiently…for a long time. I may have dropped some hints that I NEEDED to attend the Zac Brown Band concert… but in my defense, I dropped it when the Husband stopped responding to my text messages and emails. And, I was totally surprised when he handed them to me for my birthday!

We tailgated with giant cookies (hey – a new bakery opened up in town…I had to try them out ;)  and thousands of other people in cowboy boots and flannel.

We were the only ones with cookies.

The concert was great, and we danced and sang along (nothin’ like “A little bit of chicken fried” to get your toes tappin’!)…

…and kissed our sun kissed-summer nights goodbye.

For real. Those bleachers got pretty darn cold.

:)

I hope your season was just as filled with wonderful things as ours was. Onward and upward – Can’t wait for what’s next!

Oh… and we also watched all of the Rocky Movies in the past three months.

All six of them.

We’re pretty proud.

Autumn {skillet} Dinner

Well, I’m older.

{<-Flowers, dinner, presents, drinks}

But, I guess 26 isn’t so bad…

Each year, my special day seems to kick off the fall season in my mind. Instead of dreaming of lazy summer evenings, ice cream, and days at the pool, I think of going for a run in the crisp sunshine, hearty comfort food…and presents. (And, who am I kidding, I think about ice cream every season.) :)

My awesome Husband and my fun family made my day great. The Husband and I had a date night complete with sushi, my favorite local pecan tart with vanilla gelato, tickets to see the Zac Brown Band and a weekend getaway. And then, we caught up with my parents and siblings for lunch at Local Roots and…. drum-roll.Jeni’s SPLENDID Ice cream!

{Sunday lunch with the Family!}

This restaurant was perfect – patio, zucchini fries, black bean burgers, calzones… everything was delicious, and we had a blast laughing, telling stories and just being together. Of course, the anticipation of the best ice cream on the planet also made things a little more exciting…

Jeni’s trio with salted caramel, brown butter almond brittle and black coffee… euphoria.

{All the best things: Jeni’s, little sisters, husbands, sunshine…}

Well, after this delightful waltz into the season, I was ready for some authentic fall flavors at home… and after that ice cream (and multiple other birthday-related treats that will remain unnamed), I was also ready for some vegetables. Lots of them. Plus, who doesn’t love dinner that can be made in one pan?

Win-win-win.

Perfect for a quick weeknight dinner, and great for leftovers, this salty-sweet dish will make you want to jump in crunchy leaves, wear a scarf, drink a pumpkin spice latte and sit by a campfire all at the same time.

Autumn {skillet} Dinner

Serves 4, Based on this recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 4 tsp olive oil (I used 1/2 garlic-infused olive oil, if you don’t have that on hand, just add a clove while cooking the chicken)
  • 1-2 Chicken or Turkey sausages, chopped
  • 1 1/2 c Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
  • 1 med sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 med onion, chopped
  • 2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme, oregano, sage (and/or whatever else you have in your garden!)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 c reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c dried cranberries
  • 1/4 c real maple syrup

Directions:

1. SEASON chicken lightly with salt. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in large nonstick frying pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate.

2. RETURN pan to heat and add remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Toss in sausage, and cook until starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in apples, garlic, fresh herbs, and cinnamon. Cook 3 minutes. Pour in 1/2 cup of the broth, bring to a boil, and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add reserved chicken and remaining 1/2 cup broth. Drizzle with maple syrup, add dried cranberries, and season with the salt and black pepper as needed. Cook until hot, about 2 minutes.

Enjoy!

{The fresh herbs, colorful ingredients and super-simple steps make this dinner a winner}

I can’t forget a Happy Birthday shout-out to my Father-in-law! We reallly enjoyed that classic DQ ice cream cake… mmmm. Happy 60th!

And, lest I neglect to mention it, FreshlyMinted has turned 1!