Salt Dough {Gift Tags}

Family Christmas 2012My family likes to joke that we have a lot of very important Christmas “traditions”.

Like, where we cut down our tree (Timbuk Farms), that we have to ride the dusty old school bus at the tree farm (even if our tree type is within walking distance), where we eat afterwards (Brew’s Cafe), that we play Holly & the Ivy sung by Roger Whittaker while we decorate, that we always drink UDF egg nog (it’s the best…really), and that somehow Joe is always swindled out of either picking the tree, or putting the star on top.

I think he has a complex.
Tree HuntThough many of them are silly, those goofy traditions are what my Holiday memories are made of… and I love them all. And, my family laughing, joking, poking fun and reminiscing is the BEST part of any gathering… it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

{Side Note: This year, Joe’s girlfriend Melissa was able to join us, too! It made me think of the Husband’s first time getting the family tree with us (almost nine years ago!). Another thing that made this year special was the fact that we got to walk through the historic home where we had our wedding reception more than three years ago – The Robbins Hunter Museum in Granville, OH. They just renovated, and it’s stunning! More great memories relived…}Family tree dinnerAnother highlight? We actually agreed it was Joe’s turn to put on the star.

He was so happy, he took a bow.

And, that fire. Perfection.

Family tree at homeThese family get-togethers always make me want to buy everyone the PERFECT gifts – ENORMOUS presents that they will remember forever, and tear-up over, and hug me, and tell me I’m their favorite relative…

But, that’s not realistic: I haven’t won the lottery, my parents would be mad if I got Bekah a pony, and Joe hasn’t been able to decide what he wants really for Christmas since 1992. About the same year he claims was the last time he put the star on the tree.

So instead, I decided to make the pretty-cool gifts I DID get them look really sweet. How? With a little velvet ribbon, a little brown paper, lace, pom-poms, twine and these lovely salt dough tags…

Salt Dough tagsHere’s how to do it yourself!

Stamped Salt Dough Gift Tags

(Even if you were a pro at this in Sunday school 20 years ago, you might need a refresher. Also, don’t be tempted to eat the dough. It still tastes as awful as it did back then. Inspiration.)

Dough Ingredients:

  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1cup water

Other Tools:

  • Rubber stamps – letters, flowers, plants, whatever you’d like
  • Basic ink pad of the color of your choice
  • Small, round biscuit cutter or other cookie-cutter shapes
  • Drinking straw
  • Ribbon or twine

Tags how-toDirections:

  • Mix all ingredients in a mixer until a smooth dough forms
  • Roll out the dough to 1/4″ thick on parchment paper
  • Stamp, with or without ink
  • Cut out shapes (easier after stamping the dough)
  • Use a drinking straw to punch the hole at the top for hanging
  • Place on baking sheet, bake at *250 for three hours

Presents!We chose to use a mix of recipient’s initials, our monogram, simple words like “Joy!”, and vintage-looking prints of animals, flowers, crowns and keys. They turned out great, and added a ton of flair to our gifts. Not quite a pony, but I’m sure your friends and family will adore them – they can use them as ornaments next year!.

I think we found another tradition.

Merry Christmas – Enjoy!

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{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!

Sea {Salty} Cookies, Eat Cookies

Oh, sea salt.

I love you on my roasted veggies, but mostly I love you on my chocolate… because The Husband doesn’t like you so I get to eat it all.

True story.

These cookies are not my invention, but I wish they were. I picked them from a sea of photos on Pinterest for a cookie exchange because they looked impressive, easy, chocolatey and involved salt and Kahlua. Perfection, am I right?

Not too sweet, I could really taste the rich coffee flavor of these little guys (and the bite of the salt on your tongue is a fantastic complement!). Go on, give ’em a try!Salted Mudslide Cookies

Recipe created by: How Sweet It Is

Ingredients

  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled for 10-15 minutes
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur + 1 teaspoon (Godiva, Kahlua, etc)
  • 1 cup chocolate chunks
  • sea salt for topping

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Mix the flour, cocoa, coffee powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
  • In another bowl, mix the melted butter and sugars until they are combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and stir until mixed. Stream in coffee liqueur and mix.
  • Gradually add flour and mix until a dough forms – it will look crumbly at first, but it will come together. I even used my hands to help at one point. If you find you absolutely need more liquid add in a teaspoon of coffee liqueur, but it should come together. Fold in the chocolate chunks.
  • Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes. Try not to eat it. I suggest distracting yourself with a cheesy Christmas special on TV.
  • Remove dough from the fridge and roll into golfball sized balls. Set on a non-stick baking sheet with 2 inches between each. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until the edges are set and the middles are still soft (depends on your cookie size). The centers should be puffy. Do not over-bake. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool completely just enough so you don’t burn yourself, then dig in!

These are great for Christmas… and for freezing and eating on long drives to Grandma’s house. You might even want to save one for her.

Enjoy!

On a side note:

  • My hairdryer decided to get festive and burst into a shower of sparks over the weekend… I keep forgetting to buy a new one until I’m dripping in my towel at 7:30a.m. before work.
  • I am in a brace for a tendon injury in my right foot and I have to wear tennis shoes everywhere for three weeks. Work. Shopping. I want to sob quietly every time I look at my stupid shoes with a cute outfit. And, I can’t run.
  • It’s only Four days until Christmas, so the above doesn’t really matter.
  • The Husband made his second “Annual Dinner” last night (Yes folks, this was the second dinner he has made in our 2.5 years of marriage. It’s about quality, not quantity, people).  It. Was. Fabulous. Recipes to come!

{Top Secret} Family Recipe

Random life lesson #642: Sister-in-laws know best.

In my naivety, I attempted a classic family cookie recipe for the Ugly Sweater party over the weekend (don’t worry…photo below). I knew it was simple. I knew how to google. I thought I was set.

Wrong.

Jessica, one of my dear sister-in-laws, makes totally killer mint chocolate chip mini cookies for just a few events throughout the year. I inhale them with abandon.

{This is Church camp, circa 2007. The cookies in question… in that unassuming box on the table. Not for long!}

They are like thin mints on steroids. Fudgy-fresh. Best eaten chilled.

Well, long story short,  my googled recipe didn’t turn out as good as Jessica’s. They were fine out of the oven (a little fluffy, perhaps) but, once they were cold, they just didn’t have the magic… In fact, my coworker Elizabeth said they were like rocks. (In my defense, they had been open on the counter at the office for two days…). Thanks for the reality-check, Elizabeth. :)

Soooo, I crawled humbly back to Jessica for the real recipe, which she generously gave me.

Folks, this is a closely-guarded FreshlyMinted family secret…. feel privileged. Very privileged.

And thank Jessica next time you see her for saving this post. Even though when she emailed the recipe to me she started her note with:

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but here it is…

We love each other… we really do ;)

Top-Secret Mint Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix (How cool is that?)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 bag pre-chopped Andes mints (If you can’t find these, you can chop them yourself. Or, you can use seasonal mint chocolate chips…. heath bar, M&Ms…possibilities are endless!)
Directions:
  • Combine cake mix, oil, and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in mints.
  • Drop by rounded teaspoon on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes.
  • Note:There is an art to baking these cookies to perfection. You underbake – they won’t hold their shape; you overbake – they are too crunchy; you find that very sweet spot in the middle – you’ve baked a soft version of the Thin Mint that tastes like heaven in your mouth.

Enjoy!

(And beware…there are a lot of imposter “Cake Box Cookies” out there. Listen to my Sister-in law,  and spare yourself the humiliation of breaking your co-workers teeth.)

Right, Carla?

Some more of our holiday fun for your enjoyment…

{Ugly Christmas Sweaters, The Nutcracker, Cookie Swap}

{Swanky Office Shindig…. yes, we did end the evening at Waffle House}

{The Little House}

It’s almost here… Merry Christmas!

Now my other SIL, Ashley, knows she is next on my hostile-takeover-recipe list… her famous rolls, maybe? No one is safe… Haha!

{festivities}

It’s only just begun…

It’s okay. Go ahead and sing the Carpenters’ song in your head.

I won’t judge.

We’ve been busy getting into the holiday spirit: Our tree, my parent’s tree and our annual “Thank God it’s Christmas” party with friends! I LOVE the Holidays (read: pretty much crazy/obsessed/drive-The-Husband-nuts-with-non-stop-christmas-music). So, I am totally in hog heaven right now.

{Best Christmas Tree impression}

We went to Kaleidoscope Farms to cut down our tree – our third “married” Christmas tree! They have a lovely little shop, a donkey, a reindeer, and absolutely beautiful trees…

{Hot Cider – Yum!}

It’s a tradition to go out to a fun dinner before we set the tree up. This year, we went to Alexandria’s (remember this concert?) for cocktails and appetizers, and then headed over to Revolver (Yum) for dinner and dessert.

It was divine.

After that, we trimmed the tree, drank “egg” nog (really soy nog… surprisingly tasty!) and listened to music… perfection.

The next day, we ran errands, strung lights outside, cooked, cleaned and headed over to Andy and Sara’s house for the Annual Thank God It’s Christmas party with our friends!

{Brussels sprouts with maple, cranberry and sliced almonds and roasted squash & harvest grains were my contributions. So much good food!}

Everyone brought delicious food and fun drinks, and we laughed, talked and ate until late that night. We also worked with Halley on her Christmas card project – she is sending cards to soldiers overseas and in VA hospitals. This is her second year of the tradition – such a worthy cause. It’s a great feeling to give back during the holidays. Learn more on Halley’s blog.

{Bottom right: Zane (14), Dad, Me, The Husband, Joe (21), Bekah (9)}

The Christmas-themed marathon didn’t stop there: on Sunday we headed over to my parents to get their tree with my siblings! Mom, Dad, Bekah, Zane, Joe, The Husband and I packed ourselves into the car for our annual trek to Timbuk Tree Farm.

We ALWAYS ride the bus, and we ALWAYS go to Granville for dinner and ice cream afterwards. We started these traditions with my great-grandparents years and years ago.

We ate at Brew’s Cafe (portobella mushroom sandwich with sweet potato fries) and then went to Whit’s Custard (PB Whister) for dessert. Everything was. to. die. for.

We trimmed the tree when we got home (it was MY year to put the star on top!) and drank egg nog… only UDF brand will do in that household (it is sinfully delicious).

{Whew! Yes, that did take as long as it looks. But I got the job done. Eventually. Let’s just say that there were some picky bystanders.}

It was a wonderful kickoff to the Christmas season, and we’ve got so much more to look forward to! Potluck at the office, Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, The Husband’s huge office party,  The Nutcracker, a cookie exchange, Office Christmas lunch downtown, family celebrations and lots of traveling… can’t wait!

What do you have in store in the weeks leading up to Christmas?