Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Handcrafted gifts-- Part 1

I was reading Martha Stewart Living and in the December issue, she had some recipes for homemade bath stuff, like a salt scrub and those fizzy things you drop in the tub, all using essential oils to make them smell yummy. So that was the jumping off point, which of course got my wheels turning... and then some idiot decided it was a good idea to let me loose in Michael's with a credit card (oh wait, that was me!)....

Anyway, a very smelly kitchen and too much money later, you've got the baskets you see below. The other stuff I added? Molded soaps, obviously. They were pretty easy. Michael's sells huge bars of shea butter soap. You just add scent and coloring. I used a couple drops of food coloring. A couple drops was plenty and I tested on my own skin, it's so diluted it won't dye you funky colors.

I also made scented lotion. The inspiration for that was me. Basically, I love all those smelly lotions, but my skin gets so dry in winter that that fru fru smelly stuff isn't strong enough to quench it. So instead, I bought some heavy duty lotion (palmer's shea butter formula, in this case), and smellied it up myself. Just make sure you pick one that doesn't already have a strong scent of it's own or they'll just end up competing with each other.

I even printed up fancy labels for everything. I apparently did such a good job that BF's sister was insistent that these came from a store. The labels, I should note, were made possible by the fact that BF has tons of fun desktop publishing software thanks to his job. I used Adobe Illustrator but I'm sure there are several that would work.

Also, Michael's had a seriously kick ass sale on baskets before the holidays. I think the ones in the picture were knocked down to $2.50 each.

A couple ingredient notes: The essential oils can sometimes be found in Michael's near the soap making supplies, but the variety is limited. A store like Whole Foods has a better selection in their cosmetics aisle.
The bath fizzies call for citric acid, which is sorta necessary, since it's what makes them fizz. It's a little hard to find. You can order it online, but if you're a last minute type like me, you'll have to find a store that sells it. Stores that sell wine supplies will have it, since it's used as a preservative in wine, but there isn't one of those on every corner (but what a world it would be if there was!). Some pharmacies sell it because it's considered a health supplement. I didn't have any luck at CVS, but I have a friend who works at a small, independently-owned pharmacy. They didn't have it in stock, but I asked him about it on Friday night and was able to pick it up from the store on Monday!

Anyway, Here's a couple pics of the baskets. I made two different scents so it wouldn't look like I was giving BF's two sisters the same gift with absolutely no thought put into it...

P.S.- I'm absolutely clueless about posting photos on here. I have no idea why they look the way they do...

Monday, December 29, 2008

A note about the christmas baking

Many of the things I baked for Christmas this year, it was the first time I made them. So since I haven't gotten around to downloading the pics of my homemade gifts yet, I'll pass along what I've learned about the things I made.

First, the white chocolate peppermint cookies. While the crushed up candy canes look really cute and festive, I think next time I'd rather leave them out. They sort of made the cookies too minty. Plus they were a bit sticky.
As for the truffles, they definitely need to be stored cold. And it's best not even to put them out until just before you're about to serve them. When they come up to temp, they start to get a little messy and they absorb all the cocoa powder from the outside.
The peanut butter cookies weren't as good as I had hoped. They didn't really stay chewy. I think I'll experiment with different recipes for next year. My mother made cookies this year that were peanut butter cookies with a hershey's kiss in the center and those stayed really chewy. I'm thinking of trying those with chocolate chips instead of the kiss.
The Muddy Buddies were good. I accidentally forgot the vanilla extract when I made them and honestly, I couldn't tell the difference. I don't think anyone else could either.
The Snickerdoodles: Really good... stayed chewy... but a note about storage: I put them all in a ziploc bag.... I wouldn't recommend that. A few of em were all crumbled by the end of the weekend. Definitely make sure you have a tupperware container available for them.
The marshmallow's were a huge hit. They taste amazing in Archer Farms Dark Chocolate Cocoa (from Target). And to be totally honest, I'm convinced that marshmallows are the easiest way to impress people with your confectionery skills. While a bit time consuming and messy, they really aren't hard to make at all... and you have no idea how many times I got the reaction "Oh my god! I didn't even know you could make marshmallows at home!"

Ah yes... and the White Trash.... it was a hit as usual... and it was decided by members of my family that it will from this day forward be known as Palin Munch.

That is all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

my solution

So I got home from work last night and decided it was not worth stressing myself out over finishing BF's present. I know he'll be totally understanding and there was just too much else to get done. So I came up with a cute solution. The thing that's not done is actually part of a set. The other part is already finished. So I took a picture of unfinished item with the digital camera. I then imported the picture into Word and made a cute little card type thing to include with the first half of the present and wrapped that up. It's not quite as nice as having it all finished on time, but it's a close second and I know he'll understand.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lesson Learned

This Christmas, I decided to give quite a few handcrafted gifts (I'll post more about them once they've been gifted-- don't want to spoil any surprises). Anyway, a few, but not all are knitted gifts. And I've been totally hauling ass to get everything done but it's still looking like I'm going to run out of time, not to mention that I'm completely sleep deprived at this point. Don't get me wrong, most everything will be finished on time, with one exception. One gift I'm making for BF will most likely not be finished in time to be wrapped and under the tree Christmas morning. It looks like it will at least be close enough to show it to him with the promise that I'll finish it by the end of the weekend. But still, it's not the same. No pretty presentation. No wow factor when it's still on the needles and has strings dangling.
So here's the lesson I've learned: When making handcrafted gifts for someone you live with, plan waaaaaaaaay more than a month in advance.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I want to be Martha Stewart when I grow up. Well, except for that whole talking funny thing. Honestly, I have no idea where she picked that up. No Jersey girl I've ever met talks like that.
So anyway, I finished my holiday baking over the weekend. Here's what was on the agenda:

1) Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies (these are the chewy peanut butter cookie recipe from the Mrs. Fields cookbook, with chocolate chips added. They are the BF's current favorites.)
2)Split Seconds-- this recipe is older than I am. I got it from my mom but it may have come from my grandmother. Basically, it's a cookie dough similar to shortbread, but a little sweeter. You roll it into logs, then dent the top of the logs. Fill them with jelly and bake. While they're still warm, you cut the logs up into cookie-size pieces. My favorite jelly for this is seedless raspberry but strawberry and apricot tend to work well too. Since I don't have it memorized, I'll try to post this recipe when I get home tonight.
3) White Trash-- This one I do have memorized. It's a holiday favorite with my family and friends. Here it is:
4 1/2 cups corn chex
4 1/2 cups rice chex (it's supposed to be 3 each of corn, rice and wheat but I think the wheat chex taste gross. It's up to you)
3 cups cheerios
2 handfuls pretzel sticks
1 12 oz. bag of M&Ms
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 lbs. white chocolate (I know the instinct is to use best quality chocolate. But honestly, I find nestle melts better than some of the fancier stuff.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (stick it in a heat safe bowl set on top of a pot with about an inch of boiling water). Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl or pot big enough to mix them around in. Drizzle them with the canola oil. Once the chocolate is melted, drizzle it over the dry mixture. Mix until the mixture is evenly coated with the chocolate. Spread it out on parchment paper. Once it dries completely, break it into chunks.

4) Chocolate Raspberry Truffles-- I got this recipe from the Martha Stewart Web site
I used Chambord to get the hint of raspberry but since you don't really cook this thoroughly, I wouldn't recommend it if you're giving them to kids.
5) snickerdoodles- this recipe came out of the Martha Stewart Cookie Book. YUM!
6) chocolate peppermint cookies. These are basically like thin mints, but covered in white chocolate instead and then sprinkled with crushed candy canes. It was the cookie of the month at the back of the December issue of Martha Stewart Living. Pretty tasty, but mine came out looking a bit more um... rustic than Martha's.
7) Muddy Buddies- This recipe came off the chex cereal box. Basically, I didn't want a ton of baking materials leftover after the holidays and this used up a lot of what I had. Besides, chocolate... peanut butter... crunchy... how can you go wrong?
8) Peppermint marshmallows-- so, for me, nothing says Christmas cheer like peppermint hot chocolate. So That was the inspiration for these... who doesn't put marshmallows into their hot chocolate, so why not just infuse the peppermint right into the marshmallows? The basis for the recipe came from this recipe Alton Brown did on Good Eats. The only thing I changed is that instead of vanilla extract I used peppermint. Marshmallows are really not as hard as everyone thinks, honest. The only special equipment I needed that I didn't already have was the kind of thermometer you'd use for frying or making candy. And actually all I did for that was dip into what I had bought for BF's stocking. He likes to fry chicken so I just gave our kitchen an early Christmas present.
OK, that's it for now! Some of these cookies are going to turn into gift baskets, so maybe next time I'll post some pics of the yumminess! Happy Holidays!