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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Viora Beth: {my mama}

Not many people know that my mama’s full name is Viora Beth.

A family name, she has gone by “Beth” since babyhood.  But having that second, secret name, has always made her a little more special in my eyes…

{1965}

Mama will celebrate her birthday today, and I have to say that there is almost no one that I look up to more… As I grow up, it becomes increasingly obvious that I have a lot of growing up to do, and, I’d like to be a lot more like her.

Lessons from Mom:

  • Serene hospitality.

I love to have people over to my house. I love to plan, cook, and make my home a cozy space to enjoy conversation, solidify new friendships and catch up with the old. The hours leading up to these peaceful celebrations, however, tend to be anything but. I snap at the Husband, sweat profusely, the grill is inevitably out of propane and I ALWAYS worry that somehow everyone will magically turn into ultra- awkward, picky, critical versions of themselves and just want to leave….

Note: This has never, ever happened.

My mom, on the other hand, throws elegant get-togethers with an air of effortlessness I aspire to. Dad invites last-minute guests? No problem. Ate something yummy at a gourmet restaurant on vacation? It inspires a homemade menu fit for royalty. People show up early, food burns, little brother is doing his best armpit-rendition of silent night? She takes it in stride. Her guests feel loved and special because she takes the time to add the perfect touches (roast duck a l’orange and a bouquet of fresh-cut garden roses, anyone?), but delightfully at ease in the laid back atmosphere.

I want to be like that.

  • Doing it ’till its done.

When mom starts a project, it gets finished. She makes curtains, covers chairs, makes you finish your goat 4-H book, re-builds the garden, makes slideshows for weddings and graduations, refinishes furniture, paints, straightens, writes, crafts, educates and makes thing beautiful, all with a passion that awes me.

Is it 2:00a.m.? Maybe. Is it done with excellence? Always.

I want to be like that.

  •  Growing. Always growing.

I’ve said before that I have trouble envisioning the next 18 months, let alone where I will be in five years. Somewhere in my head, I’m convinced I have all the friends and skills I ever will posses right at the moment. It’s not true – I’ve got years to grow! Mom understands that.

{Joshua Tree National Park}

Inspiring books; skinny jeans; innovative homeschool methods; farro, langostinos, almond butter and salted caramel ice cream; revelations about the nature of God, her children and her husband; vacations; relationships…

She is always changing, always learning, always seeking wisdom.

I want to be like that.

{Beautiful, Peaceful, Home}

I am so proud of where I come from, and the people that surround me (like Bekah, Grandma Bailey and Joe!). But, some of the moments I feel the proudest, are when I realize I’m standing by the stove with my hand on my hip stirring a pot, or bending over a blossoming garden not even noticing the hot sun, or drilling holes and stapling fabric and investing ways to make my life and the lives of those around me more beautiful… just like her.

In short, Viora Beth cares for her home and her family in a way only Proverbs 31 can describe:

Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value…

She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family…

She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks…

She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy…

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come…

She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue…

Your child rises up, and calls you blessed.

{Happy Birthday, lovely Mama}

A milestone…

Well, my goofy redheaded “little” brother has officially graduated from college…

…oh, my.

I’m old.

My only consolation is that I still get asked for my ID at the movie theater, and somewhere in my head I fully believe that I am about to enter the 8th grade.

Hanson, gel pens and Bonne Bell lip gloss are still all the rage, right?

Anyhow, Joe’s graduation celebration was wonderful. The ceremony was honestly the most well-run and lovely program I’ve ever attended. It felt wonderful to see my little bro walk across the stage, and to watch him hug, grin and chat with family and friends.

This shindig also gave me a reason to:

  1. Buy a new dress
  2. Go to the nearby outlet mall
  3. Stay in a hotel
  4. Eat at Cheesecake Factory
  5. See the Avengers

Sooooo, as you can see, it was good time.

In other news, The Trip is pretty much all I have on my mind at this point.

Two Weeks.

Am I ready? Of COURSE I’m ready:

His & Hers passport covers? Check. Zebra neck pillow for the airplane? Check. Grandma walking sandals for my still-on-the-mend runner’s feet? Check. Mini bottles of every type of hygiene product known to man? Check. Re-reading my 6th grade “Famous Men of Rome” text book. Half-way check.

Totally prepared. Totally freaking out.

Talk to me in a week and a half and I’ll let you know if I’ve actually started packing or have stocked up on my to-go nut butter supply yet. Then you’ll know It’s getting serious ;)

For now, the next big thing is Chicago with Bekah & my lovely mama for the weekend!

{Can’t wait to be here again (2011). That’s American Girl bliss, folks.}

:) Exciting things ahead!

Easter {Fun}day

I, like many of you, am still recovering from/basking in a weekend of fabulous Easter celebrations. Full of all things wonderful: family, friends, dark chocolate, church, presents, breakfast dates and mashed potatoes, we couldn’t have asked for a more full, refreshing time (or tummies! ;)

(Title~ pun intended)

We started the weekend early with my family’s traditional Passover Seder meal on Thursday evening. Though we are Christians, the symbolism of this night is very special. We do a Messianic version of the readings, and I love reflecting on the history and meaning behind the words. The same ritual has been performed by the Jewish people for thousands of years, and Jesus said the same words at the last supper… amazing to ponder.

{Berry pies, turkey and matzo ball soup… My mother works wonders!}

Good Friday dawned with an intense kickboxing class with my good friend, Steph (and getting Bekah dressed for the a “Cross Walk” event uptown – Isn’t she cute!?) The class. Was. Amazing. And, it totally worked up my appetite for a scrumptious grilled feast that evening. The Husband and the other guys played golf all morning while we hit up Great Harvest (yay for those warm, wonderful samples!), World Market (their little milk frothers make great gifts – I LOVE mine, $2.99!) and the grocery store to get the goodies for dinner. “The Gang” is ALWAYS a blast, and we totally enjoyed their company.

{Sirloin burgers= boys. Homemade ELR black bean burgers = girls. Soooo good!}

On Saturday morning, I had the chance to go to one of my favorite restaurants of all time – Northstar Cafe – with one of my favorite people – Samantha! She and her husband were in town for the holiday, and we managed to carve out some time to catch up (over to-die-for ricotta pancakes, eggs and coffee). Isn’t Sam gorgeous?!

{Wonderful organic, whole foods, wonderful company. Our lives are so fun and crazy right now… We had no idea we’d be ‘here’ when we took Chemistry together 8 years ago!}

The rest of our Saturday was jam-packed with a family Easter-present/candy hunt, and a trip to visit my great-grandma and cousins for yet another great meal, golf in the backyard, baby goat petting, egg hunt and sunny porch sitting. We rounded out the evening back at Samantha’s parents house (her mom, dad and siblings are close friends of my family) for a glass of wine, brie en croute and s’mores… whew!

{Dietsch’s dark chocolate salted caramel, chick cookies, hugs, and hidden surprises…}

Sunday morning was a fun rush of (more) food, the donning of crisp dresses and colorful shirts and a rich celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The Husband and I we are fortunate enough to have met at church, so both of our families are a part of the same congregation, along with a ton of long-time friends. After church, we headed over to the Husband’s parents’ house to hang out with his siblings, and eat another great meal!

{Fresh strawberry scones, mini-quiche, fruit and bacon for breakfast, and brisket and fixin’s for dinner… along with my sister-in-law’s jaw-dropping cinnamon roll cake *cue angels singing*}

…now see why I’m recovering?

I hope you all had a sweet, fun weekend with your families and friends and favorite dishes :) Did you have any fun eats? Please share!

It’s getting {real}…

We had a fun-filled visit to the old homestead over the weekend… It was about time – We hadn’t been back since Christmas!

Our days were filled with wedding festivities (hooray for Mary Beth & Luke!), a spinning class, mildly successful shopping, hang out time with friends, laughs with family, and THIS dinner.

Yes, that is a homemade grilled pizza buffet. Yes, my mom outdid me with my own recipe. Yes, it was heavenly.

My favorite appetizers, great wine, homemade dough, amazing toppings (including Pear & Gorgonzola) and a cozy fire… sigh. No place like home.

There was also BBQ and funfetti cake at the Husband’s parents’ (partially eaten in the basement due to a slight weather emergency) but that was inhaled with such vigor that there is no photographic evidence. The hail and tornado sirens might have been a little distracting as well…

The other fun development over the weekend was “THE TRIP” coming together! Gordon & Selena, our “Friends up North”, were in town and helped us finalize a few more of our plans. I told you we booked our cruise, but now we’ve purchased our plane tickets and have a few more little details to share… It’s getting real!

We leave May 24 and will return June 10. In between we will be here:

Florence, Italy {source}

and here: Venice, Italy {source}

and here: Pisa, Italy {source}

and here: Orvieto, Terni, Italy {source}

and here: Rome, Italy {source}

and here: Messina, Sicily, Italy {source}

and here: Kusadasi, Ephesus, Turkey {source}

and here: Athens, Greece {source}

and here: Chania, Crete, Greece {source}

I can hardly contain myself. I can hardly concentrate on anything else. I can hardly fall asleep. AND we have two months to go…

Oh, well. I need that time to panic over packing and booking hotel rooms and tours anyhow ;)

Any fun weekend adventures or tips planned in your neck of the woods? Do any of you experienced travelers have any advice for us? We need it!

{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!

Uncle Glenn’s {Cheesy} Potato Soup

Sometimes, it is better just NOT to know what is in your favorite dishes.

But, there’s a problem with that. If you never get the recipe, you’ll never be able to enjoy that cake, pick apart those little creamy-bacony-puff appetizer things, scoop up mom’s gooey dip, or…. savor Uncle Glenn’s Potato Soup.

So, continue if you dare. A staple at our family gatherings, this cheesy, rich goodness is so worth it… especially if you need to whip up something for a crowd after a day of sledding. Or intense game playing/movie watching/shopping/present wrapping…

{My Uncle Glenn, my sister, my dad and Lulu the puppy – Too. Cute.}

Uncle Glenn’s Cheesy Potato Soup

Serves 6 (double for a crowd!)

Ingredients

  • 1 Two lb. bag of cubed frozen hash browns (you can use fresh potatoes too, but hey – we’ve got a bunch of hungry cousins on our hands. Can’t dawdle).
  • 1 Jar Cheese spread (Yep. That’s Cheez Wiz. Don’t hate.)
  • 1 Qt. Heavy Whipping Cream, room temperature (You’ve already done the Cheez Wiz…why stop now?!)
  • 3 Chicken boullion cubes
  • 1 1/2 Cups Chopped Carrots and Celery (See – vegetables! This is practically a health food… Food chopper/processor is the easiest).

Directions:

  • Place potatoes and bullion cubes in a stock pot. Add water just to cover, cook on medium-high heat.
  • When potatoes are soft (poke with a fork), add cheese, carrots and celery. Stir until cheese is completely melted.
  • Slowly add heavy whipping cream, continue stirring.
  • Reduce heat to low, stir frequently.
  • Simmer for about 15 minutes until warm through, and well combined.
  • (Note: To thicken, add instant potato flakes!)

This rich, creamy, fast soup is best paired with crackers, bread, bacon bits, and enough green leafy things to make you feel better about yourself… or (Uncle’s recommendation) deer salami. That part is totally optional.

Be brave. You’ll be the hero of family tales for years to come.

Enjoy!

Do you have any indulgent, quirky, fun, family-gathering favorites that you are looking forward to this season?