Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Six Week Raisin Bran Muffins

With so many wonderful sweets around Christmastime, I decided to give our friends something a little different. My mom has been making this recipe for Six Week Raisin Bran Muffins for as long as I can remember. What’s so great about it is that you make a huge batch of the batter and then store it in the fridge for up to six weeks. With each passing day, the flavors intensify, making the muffins even better a couple of weeks later than when you first mixed up the batter. On any given day, whether you want four fresh muffins or a dozen, they just take fifteen to twenty minutes of baking time and you’re done. They’re a simple breakfast or snack item that can bake while you’re in the shower or getting the kids dressed.

After whipping up a batch and a half of batter, I portioned it into large yogurt containers and quart-sized jars to take to our friends. Any airtight container will do. A little scrapbook paper dressed up the yogurt containers nicely.

When giving this muffin mix as a gift, I include a tag with baking directions and a “use by” date (six weeks from when I made it). I've found it to be a nice hostess gift as well as a practical gift for new moms or families who have suffered a loss or are dealing with illness.

Six Week Raisin Bran Muffins

1 (15 oz.) box raisin bran cereal (the kind with "crunch"/granola is good too)
1 quart buttermilk
1 cup canola oil (vegetable would work too or part coconut oil, part canola)
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
5 cups flour (can be a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat, if desired)
5 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt

Crush cereal in bag then pour into a large bowl. Add buttermilk and mix. Let soak for 5-10 minutes to soften cereal. Mix in oil and eggs, followed by sugar, then dry ingredients. Mix well. Bake immediately or store batter in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 400*F for 15-20 minutes, until browned and toothpick comes out clean.

Blue Ribbon Fudge

This super simple fudge recipe won me a blue ribbon at our county fair last September. It is rich but not too rich, has just the right amount of sweetness, and has a great smooth texture. It makes a wonderful gift anytime and can be made in minutes, making it perfect if you need something at the last minute.

All you need are four ingredients:

A bag of chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli 60% Cacao or Hershey's Special Dark), a can of sweetened condensed milk, a pinch of salt, and a splash of vanilla.

Combine the chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, and pinch of salt in a pot. Place over medium heat, stirring to combine, until the chocolate is melted. Once the mixture is smooth, remove from heat and stir in a splash of vanilla. Pour the fudge into an 8"x 8" pan lined with waxed paper or foil.

Place the pan in the refrigerator or in a cool place until it's set, usually about half and hour will do it. Take the fudge out of the pan, place on a cutting board, and cut to the desired size and shape. Then, simply try not to eat the whole pan!

In the future, I would like to pour this fudge into cookie cutters and give it as a gift that way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sugar Scrubs

Every Christmas, I enjoy making and giving handmade gifts. Something new I've tried this year is two kinds of sugar scrubs. They are easy to make and have helped keep my hands soft this winter.

I came upon a recipe for a citrus hand scrub on Pinterest and whipped up a batch of it almost immediately. After scrubbing my hands with a couple of teaspoons of the mixture and rinsing them in warm water, they were smooth and moisturized. I have kept a jar next to the kitchen sink and love using it after doing dishes and cooking.

A few days ago, I saw the idea of using crushed candy canes in a scrub. I loved the idea and figured that it would be a great way to use some candy canes I had that were several years old.

Peppermint Sugar Scrub

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup finely crushed candy canes or peppermint candies
1/2 cup olive oil
peppermint essential oil or peppermint extract
red food coloring (optional)

Mix together sugar, salt, candy canes, and olive oil in a bowl. Add peppermint oil or extract until you think it's peppermint-y enough (I used about 25 drops of essential oil). Add a few drops of red food coloring if desired (the olive oil gives the mixture a yellow color, so a small amount food coloring makes it look a little nicer without coloring your hands). Store the scrub in a jar with a tight-fitting lid or an airtight container.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Going Crazy and a Little Christmas Organization Trick

This Christmas season has been a good one around here but we have been so busy that our letter of the week and blogging have definitely suffered. First, after slowly getting worse and worse, my laptop battery decided to completely die, meaning that it has to be plugged in constantly in order to stay on. That was annoying but fine for a couple of weeks until my power cable died too. So, it looks like I will be spending the rest of my birthday money and some Christmas money to get at least a new power cord and probably a battery as well.

Last week I was scheduled to work two days, but ended up working every day. Many teachers have been sick, which keeps those of us who substitute teach very busy. I'm always thankful for the work even if it does keep me from doing all the projects I had planned. We also had three Christmas parties to attend last week, each of which was delightful in its own way.

In the evenings and this weekend, I have been working on some last-minute gifts and decorations, some of which I will share with you this week.

In an attempt to keep the clutter down in the house and specifically in our guest/craft/office room, I decided that once I got the tree decorated, I would take the Christmas boxes back out to our shop. The only problem was that there were a few items that I wanted to have close at hand. I then had a realization that may only be exciting to me, but I couldn't believe I had never thought of it before. It dawned on me that I could put some small things in the Christmas tins that had had held our ornaments and place them under the tree. They look nice under the tree and keep small gift and decorative items easily accessible.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Our Holiday Fair Booth

Since it has been consuming so much of my time recently, I figured I would share some pictures of the booth my sister and I shared at the Holiday Fair. We had two tables that were in an L shape. The larger table faced out and was right next to the door, which was great. The other table was against the wall, which was awkward, but we managed. We tried to move the table away from the wall, but the lattice behind it was falling over and having both tables in the front would have blocked access to the booth next to us, so we just had to go with it as is.

Our main table featured flower pins,

ear warmers,

hair clips,

and headbands.

On the table against the wall, we had chalkboard frames, countdown to Christmas frames, and sticky note holders.

Then came mitten and tree chalkboards, mini chalkboards (made from the trunk of a Christmas tree that my dad chopped up for me last year),

and some beautiful hats and scarves that my sister crocheted.

The lattice against the wall was handy to display headbands,



and the two things that Kirk made: a Christmas tree dinner bell

and a candle holder.

We didn't sell nearly as much as we had hoped, but it was nice to have some time together as sisters. From what I've heard, most people didn't do as well as they had in the past, so we were relieved to know it wasn't just us. Fortunately, I made things that I was also going to give as gifts, so what didn't sell means fewer things to make in the next few weeks.

By the way, if you see something you want, let me know. There's a good chance it's still available!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

I grew up in Belgium, where December 6, St. Nicholas Day, is a big deal. My sister and I attended Belgian public schools, so we always had special activities on this day. Traditionally, children received many of their gifts from St. Nicholas and then a few more from Father Christmas on Christmas Day. Although Christmas was still when we got most of our gifts, our parents always made sure that we had some presents waiting for us when we woke up on December 6.

It's fun to be able to carry on this tradition with Trip. Last night before he went to bed, he chose a pair of boots to put next to the door. He didn't really understand why we were doing this, but he sure was happy to find them full of goodies this morning. He got clementines, gummy bears, and a Thomas bath toy.

Once Trip discovered his treats and we got Thomas out of the packaging (which is not an easy task these days!), he wanted to watch a Thomas DVD while he ate breakfast. Of course Thomas joined him at the table and he was kind enough to offer his new friend bites of his food.

The other surprise this morning was that we got our tree in the house and lit last night after Trip went to bed. He has been admiring it ever since he got up.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Paint Chip Christmas Tree Bunting

I have seen several things made out of paint samples, so when I had the chance to visit a home improvement store a few weeks ago, I chose some in different shades of greens.

I discovered that I could get three Christmas trees (a large, a medium, and a small) out of each sample without having any printing on them .

Once they were all cut out, I arranged them in a pattern and added a few embellishments such as brads, words made on my label maker, rhinestones, star tags, and paper snowflakes.

At first, I just taped them on some twine, but found that they became very uneven,

so I started measuring and placing them three inches apart.

The finished product fit perfectly on the table my sister and I had at our local holiday fair. It added a nice little pop of color.

Now, it hangs in our dining room.