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  • The Elf on the Shelf | Part 2

    Yesterday I shared about the story of The Elf on the Shelf, and announced that Merry Stockings would be carrying the newly released Elf on the Shelf Bucilla craft kits. Today, I want to show you some of the cute little things you can do with this charming, and evidently mischevious little elf.

    elf

     

    elf 2

     

    elf 3

     

    elf 7

    elf 5

     

    elf 6

     

    That should get the creative wheels turning!

    Photo courtesy:  Shower, Sink, Drawer, M & M's

  • The Elf on the Shelf

    Elf-LogoGreat things can happen over a cup of tea. I'm really more of a coffee girl myself, but I will give tea its due because there's just too much proof to discount its overwhelmingly mysterious way of inspiring really great stories.

    This is exactly where The Elf on the Shelf was born. Have you heard of this latest phenomenon storming the world with all its charm and savvy? Well, here's how it all got started.

    Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell were sipping their tea and talking about Christmas memories, and more specifically a game they played with a little toy elf. Every year around Thanksgiving, the elf would appear on a corner shelf, hidden so as not to be obvious. The tradition stated that each night after everyone had gone off to bed, the elf would fly back to the North Pole to report on what had happened and who had been naughty or nice. Then, before everyone in the house woke up in the morning, the elf would fly back and occupy a different place in the house. The game ends on Christmas morning when the elf flies back to the North Pole and stays until the next year.

    As they sat there, mother and daughter, reminiscing over all the fun times and wonderful memories made from practicing this Christmas tradition, Chanda had a brainstorm. She suggested to her mother that they co-author a book so that other families could share in the fun too. And, the story was born.

    Sounds kinda sweet, a perpetual game of hide and seek between a little toy elf and each member of the family! Merry Stockings wanted in on the fun, so we've decided to carry the 2014 newly released Elf on the Shelf Christmas craft products, made by Bucilla. This new line includes two felt Christmas stocking kits, an ornament kit featuring 4 pieces, an advent calendar kit and a felt wreath. And, they'll all be available for order beginning in May!

    Start your own Elf on the Shelf tradition and get started today on these coordinating craft products by Bucilla.

     

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Gingerbread House and Fudge

    gingerbread houseIs there anything more fun for kids of any age than constructing a gingerbread house around the holidays?! I don't know how many people actually eat their creation, but even if you are staying away from the sugar these creative little things are so much fun to make and look adorable. They are really conversation starters, too!

    This particular gingerbread house is one of the easiest for the kids, and if you don't want to buy the gingerbread house kits from the store, graham crackers will even work for this A-frame. Copy the candy used in the photo, or get creative and come up with some of your own ideas. I'm sort of partial to snowcaps for the roof, those round chocolate candies that have the white sprinkles on them.

    While the "kids" are making the gingerbread house, they may need your assistance to get started, but once the decoration is in full swing they may want you to back off, lol. And, the perfect thing to do if you really want to stay nearby is to make some fudge.

    fudgeThere are as many fudge recipes are there are grandmothers I think...everyone seems to have their favorite. I happen to love the peanut butter/chocolate combo (who doesn't?), so this recipe is one of my all-time favorites. Package small pieces of this up as pictured for gifts OR put small pieces in a festive candy dish when guests are coming over.

    Pretty old fashioned, aren't they both? I am always surprised how a childhood gingerbread house has the uncanny ability to light up the eyes of even the aristocrat! It just speaks fun and whimsy. And, fudge? No explanation required there. Both are a labor of love and such a welcome part of the Christmas holiday.

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Visions of Sugar Plums

    The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
    While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads...

    sugarplums

    Most of us could probably quote the poem "Twas the Nite Before Christmas", but if we were to do that and one of our most curious children were to pipe up out of bed and interrupt, asking,  "Mommy, what's a sugar plum?", what would you say?

    While it would have been common in the "olden days" to offer a piece of fruit as a sweet, a sugar plum really has nothing to do with fruit. In fact, sugar plums were one of the most difficult and tedious confections to make, requiring special equipment and real expertise. Just a single batch of sugar plums could literally take days. So, if they aren't actually plums, what are they?

    A sugar plum could best be compared to what we call Jordan almonds, an almond with a hard candy coating over it. Also, think peanut M & M's.  Sounds simple enough these days, but not just anyone could have made these candies, and as such, they were usually only found among royalty or the very wealthy. These were, indeed, quite special treats.

    So when our modern day children lie in bed the night before Christmas, filled with excitement and wonder and can hardly contain it all in their little bodies, what they might be imagining is "sugar plums"....their favorite and rarely enjoyed sweet....or perhaps it's more of a metaphor for the overwhelming sweetness of Christmas mornings past, filled with love and family and all of their favorite things. And, of course, presents. Or maybe it's merely Peanut M & M's. :)

    So if you're up for the task, go ahead and make some sugar plums.  Many of the recipes will include dried fruit for the center, and that will be equally wonderful and sweet. Alton Brown has a great one that you can find here. As you make these treats, you can have a sweet little history lesson also. :)

    Photo courtesy

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Taking Pictures

    silly picturesIt has been aptly said that it isn't what's under the Christmas tree that counts, it's who's around it.  Today we are continuing with our old fashioned  Christmas theme, and focusing this week on the old fashioned priority of spending more time together during the holidays. This old world tradition is still with is in many ways, but usually we've cluttered it all up with so much activity that stress is at an all time high by the time we gather.

    Let's take a break from all the hustle and bustle, and gather 'round the tree for some photo sessions. And, not just your ordinary photo sessions mind you. Instead of the typical serious or posed and formal looking shots, this is a great opportunity to have some fun and just get goofy.  Save the shining faces and perfect dimpled grins for some other time, and jump on board with photos that will make you, your family and anyone who sees them giggle. Yes, giggle!

    silly pictures 2Nothing like combining an old fashioned tradition with technology too. With digital cameras, now you don't have to spend so much money developing pictures you aren't sure anyone will want or, in this case, giggle over. Now you can take dozens and dozens of shots, view them all on your computer and decide which ones you want to print. Getting serious or goofy and even being extreme makes it all the more fun.

    Make the most of the pictures that come from this kind of fun, and create your Christmas card for either this or next year. I don't know about you but I love getting those kind of cards in the mail. They really do make me smile and giggle and feel good all day.

     

    Photo courtesy

     

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas ~ Popcorn Garland

    I've started a series this month all about creating an old fashioned Christmas. This week we've already covered lovely glass vintage bulbs, and, just yesterday, we used the unsuspecting pine cone and walnut to contribute to our theme. Our featured old fashioned item today, everyone must admit, is a popular and well loved practice ~ that of stringing popcorn for the tree. I've got a little twist for you, tho. Of course I do. :)

    popcorn garland

    As you can see from the picture, by including cranberries to your stringed popcorn there is color and texture differences! But that is not the twist, heehee.  This is a great activity for the family while you're all sitting together on the couch watching Christmas specials. And, if you leave off the butter (recommended), there will be less temptation to eat the popcorn instead of string it!

    popcorn treeNow, this really is lovely to hang on the tree, especially as an old fashioned Christmas accent. It sends the message that Christmas really is a family affair, and includes everyone in the family. Little and big, these very long strings of natural garland are going to produce bright eyes and big smiles and very proud little ones for having added their own touch.

    Garland for the BirdsAs great as these are for the tree inside, how about we take some outside too and feed our feathered friends? It's a great idea! For the birds you could add in sunflower seeds to your string. Use a heavier string, and these will work so well. The weather is colder and the earth is barren of food. What a wonderful Christmas gift idea for nature.

    Next week I'll continue with our old fashioned Christmas theme and will bring you some idea for spending more time together. Until then, Merry Old Fashioned Christmas!

     

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Cocoa Brownies with Raspberry Sauce

    This is going to be the last post in the series I've been doing over the last couple of weeks about lots of great ideas for a Vegetarian Christmas Meal.  We've covered appetizers and soups and salads and of course, the main course. All vegetarian. All interesting. All delicious. Yesterday we brought you a yummy Kahlua Chocolate Fondue, and to wrap everything up I've got one more dessert idea. Not only is it a ubiquitous dessert, this recipe includes a special, secret ingredient that makes it healthy and gluten free.

    black bean browniesChristmas cookies are pretty much a given if you're hosting a group of people for Christmas. So are certain kinds of pies. And, usually you'll have a favorite family dessert recipe that, let's be honest, Christmas would just not be Christmas without it. But, today I bring you brownies. Not your ordinary brownie if there is such a thing. These are simply amazing, both in taste and in concept. You will probably not want to tell your guests what the secret ingredient is in this recipe until after they've tried it and start raving. Then, and only then, can you tell them that these are Cocoa Black Bean Brownies!

    Stay with me. I know black beans are not really considered a dessert ingredient, but I promise you that you'll be simply amazed at how tasty they are.

    You can get the recipe and directions here. I serve these with a dollop of whip cream on top too. Mmmm. Is it Christmas yet?

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Curry & Maple Sweet Potato Soup

    curry_maple_sweet_potato_soupAre you a soup person? We tend, like most, to gravitate toward soup in the cooler months, but I know people who love soup year round. Even in hot weather, ending the day with a warm bowl of soup seems just right. We always make big batches so that we not only have enough for lunch the next day, but also have enough to put up several single serving jars in the freezer.

    In our series this month into a vegetarian-style Christmas dinner, we've learned about Roasted Red Beet Hummus, Holiday Jalapeno Poppers, and Pear & Gorgonzola Puff Pastry Squares. Last time we started on the soup/salad category with a yummy Potato Leek Soup, and since soup is such a great course to include in your Christmas meal I offer you today another very warm and savory soup ~ Curry & Maple Sweet Potato Soup.

    We have grown to love sweet potatoes in our house. Finding out they have so much nutritional value has moved this starch out of the only-for-Thanksgiving category, and into the every week category. Sometimes it's as simple as cutting the sweet potato into round discs, sprinkling with cinnamon and baking, and other times we get into a soup like today's recipe. I think it will make a fabulous addition to our very vegetarian Christmas meal. In fact, this recipe will also put a smile on the faces of your vegan friends and family too.

    Combining the natural sweet and rich flavor of a sweet potato with warm spices like curry, nutmeg and cloves make such a delightful combination, too. Your whole house will be a place you'll never want to leave, and I bet your guests will feel the same way. There is something about these warm spices that instantly conjures up a warm and cozy feeling.

    You can find the recipe for this simple soup here.

    Stay warm!

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Potato Leek Soup!

    We've been doing a series of posts that highlight some outstanding recipes that could make your next Christmas a vegetarian one! A few years back we would have never imagined ourselves searching for vegetarian fare, but we've come a long way.

    First, we covered some appetizers, and if you missed those, you can find them here. Mmmmm.

    Roasted Red Beet Humus,

    Holiday Jalapeno Poppers,

     Pear & Gorgonzola Puff Pastry Squares.

    potatoes and leeks

    Today we're featuring the first of our soups, especially designed to be completely vegetarian.  The base for most soups is vegetables, and most salads are, well, vegetables, but you'd be surprised how many wanted to include chicken broth or bacon! I did manage to find some pretty delectable soups and salads for your consideration. So, without further ado, let me introduce to you Potato Leek Soup.

    These two ingredients, potatoes and leeks, are some of the best-loved pair of ingredients when it comes to soup. They compliment each other so well that even a novice cook can prepare a creamy, comforting bowl of soup. The ingredients do all the heavy lifting. The recipe I'm sharing today is so thick that it's really almost a chowder. So so good.

    potato_leek_soup_finishSide note: If you have never worked with leeks before, you are in for a treat. Not just the mild onion flavor to satisfy your savory-hungry palate, but also the very act of slicing these beauties is so fun. They make a "swish swish swish" sound, and it makes me smile every time. It makes the work of chopping almost cathartic and also makes the fact that they are a little fussy to clean not so tedious.

    You can find this lovely Potato Leek Soup recipe right here. Soup's on.

     

    Photo courtesies: Potatoes and Leeks, Soup

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Appetizer #3

    I have been a long time fan of savory appetizers ~ you know, garlic and brie, bruschetta, and holiday poppers to name a few. There is nothing like a deep and satisfying savory taste to prepare your palate for the scrumptious main meal. But, what if we could introduce a bit of sweet along with the savory? I think it might be simply delightful.

    ecolove_peargorgonzolabitesContinuing with our very vegetarian Christmas meal ideas, I've got something really special for you today. Let's take a bit of Gorgonzola (savory) and a bit of pear (sweet), and put those on top of a puff pastry square (delicious). And, then what if we topped it all with walnuts that have been glazed in a riesling carmel drizzle (savory and sweet)? Is your mouth watering? Do you think that would go over with your guests?

    Not only does it taste light and sweet and savory all at once, the puff pastry is just such an elegant base. When you add the crunch of the glazed walnuts, the pronounced depth of flavor in this appetizer is quite striking. You can get the exact recipe and all the instructions right here.

    While this recipe doesn't qualify as vegan, it definitely will please both your vegetarian and omnivore guests alike. You may want to make a double or triple batch of this one, I have a feeling it's going to disappear right before your eyes.

    TIP: Some puff pastry has trans fat in it, but the Trader Joe's brand is pure! No need to add the bad stuff in when you've got such a winning mix of other ingredients, right? Hooray for Trader Joe's!

    Photo and recipe courtesy

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