Friday, December 21, 2012

Easy Peppermint Bark Recipe

A gal in my Sunday afternoon Bible study brought peppermint bark to class last week.  I am a HUGE fan of peppermint, and immediately began thinking about how I could make something similar, minus the partially hydrogenated oils and traces of peanuts/tree nuts.  After studying some simple recipes online, I came up with mine.  Here is what you will need for a small, "beginner's" batch:

4 ounces finely chopped hard peppermint candy
8 ounces white chocolate morsels
1 drop peppermint extract

2 ziptop bags
hammer or rolling pin + hard surface
double boiler
silicone spatula
small cookie sheet lined with parchment paper

Step 1: Gather 4 ounces of hard peppermint candy, preferably ones that contain real peppermint oil.

Step 2:  Place peppermint candy inside one ziptop bag; close, then place inside another ziptop bag, and close.  Use a hard surface and hammer or rolling pin for breaking the candy into very small pieces. 

Step 3:  Measure out 8 ounces of white chocolate morsels.  Most bags nowadays weigh less than 16 ounces, which is why I chose an even half pound to start with.  The remaining morsels can be used in cookies, or for snacking!

Step 4:  Prepare double boiler by boiling water in bottom pot.  I used a tempered glass bowl set in the top of my glass saucepan.  Add the white chocolate morsels.  As they melt, stir with a silicone spatula until smooth.

Step 5:  Add one drop of peppermint extract, then the chopped peppermint candy.  Stir until well combined.

Step 6: Pour  mixture onto small cookie sheet that is lined with parchment paper.  Spread thinly, but not so much that you can see the parchment paper through the mixture.

Step 7:  Place cookie sheet in freezer, until mixture sets.  Remove bark from freezer, break into pieces, and place in lidded container.  Store in refrigerator.

Step 8:  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses

No one in our little family of three has ever built a gingerbread house!  This means we had a new-to-us activity for the holiday season of 2012.  I quickly discovered that most gingerbread kits at the store have peanut/tree nut warnings, and contain ingredients we would prefer not to consume.  I felt overwhelmed when I thought about baking homemade gingerbread cookie dough for the houses AND our annual gingerbread men on Christmas Eve.   Besides, we weren't planning to eat the houses; just create and decorate them.  Therefore, I needed to come up with something a bit more "disposable".

An outdated box of graham crackers called to me from our pantry stash in the front hall closet.  I looked up a few how-to videos online for graham cracker houses, and soon we were on our way to creating our little "gingerbread" village. 

The websites I read recommended "gluing" the base crackers with icing to foil.  This helped to keep the structure steady.  Did you know that graham crackers can be cut using a serrated knife? We found this to be helpful when creating angles.

Placing the icing in a ziptop bag with a corner cut off makes the construction of walls and application of candy super easy.  We used Bottle Caps and Sixlets, leftover from Halloween!

My husband created some fancy scalloping with the icing on the roof of his house. 
Both "boys" enjoyed this impromptu holiday activity, while I had fun taking photos of their progress. 
Here is the recipe for Shiny Cookie Icing.  *note:  It does NOT taste good, so don't plan on eating it, just use it for "glue"!
In a bowl, combine:
2 cups confectioner's sugar
4 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 teaspoons milk (we used plain rice milk)
Stir until smooth, then pour into a ziptop bag.  Cut one corner off the bag, and use to pipe icing.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

My Latest Craft Store Shopping Deals!!!

I am experiencing scrapbook paper and bakeware euphoria this weekend!

Michaels just released several new stacks under the DCWV and Recollections labels.  On Thursday, I drove to our nearest Michaels (about 20 minutes away), hoping to purchase several new stacks, using gift cards I received for my birthday.  Unfortunately, the only new paper in stock was the DCWV Edumacation stack (upper left corner of photo).  It contains super cute papers for scrapbooking my son's school pages.  I eagerly bought it, using a 50% coupon I had printed from the Michaels website.  A gal working at the store told me they get a truck on Fridays, and to call back in the afternoon to find out if the other stacks arrived.  I did call the store on Saturday, and was told that the DCWV new Lodge stack (top right corner of photo) had arrived, but not the one with a shelf label of "Wooden Whimsy".  I decided to drive out to the store anyway, and am very glad I did! Armed with more printed 50% coupons, I was able to purchase the new Lodge stack, AND the stack with the same skew number as "Wooden Whimsy".  It is actually called Today Tomorrow Forever, by Recollections (bottom left corner of photo).  Both stacks will come in handy for scrapbooking our cabin stay pages. 

Our next stop was JoAnn's, using a combination of store sales and coupons.  I bought another new DCWV stack called Gilded Orchard (bottom right corner of photo).  The papers will go perfectly with our apple picking photos from last Fall.  The stack was 40% off, and I was able to use a 15% coupon on top of that! I also purchased two sets of silicone fluted pans (think mini bundt), using 40% coupons for each of them, plus the addition 15% off. 

I plan to use the pans in November, when I host a decorated table, and bake individual cakes for our church's annual ladies event of Advent by Candlelight.  

I will enjoy using these items, especially since I know I saved money while purchasing them!

Friday, June 8, 2012

$3 organic chicken coupon! Valid only in Georgia

 This coupon is good for $3 off your purchase of Springer Mountain Farms fresh tray pack or whole chicken.  It is valid only in the state of Georgia, and redeemable at Publix.   When I printed a coupon, the expiration date appeared as July 6, 2012.   When I tried to print another, a message appeared, stating "You have already printed this barcode".  A few days later, I again visited the above provided link, and I was able to print another coupon! Enjoy your savings, and healthy, organic chicken!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Today is my birthday!

Today is my birthday!!!  When the calendar indicates the annual anniversary of your entrance into the world, do you experience a sense of excitement, or dread? Will you make special plans to celebrate the day, or carry on "business as usual"?

I think that being a parent helps to make the holidays and birthdays fun and exciting.  Many lessons, such as math, reading, time management, and thoughtfulness, can be learned through meal planning, activity selections, and gift giving. 

In our home, the birthday person selects the meals for the day.  Today, we will enjoy some of my favorites: pumpkin pancakes for breakfast, a salad with pasta for lunch, and dinner at our local Chinese restaurant.  I saw these adorable butterfly cupcakes a few years ago, and helped my son to prepare a variation of them for a Cub Scout meeting.  I decided that I would like these for my birthday dessert today, so preparing them will be a "craft" activity for the afternoon.

My son receives a weekly allowance.  He can spend 50% of it, but the other 50% is distributed in this manner: 10% tithe, 20% short term savings, and 20% long term savings.  The short term savings are for gift giving, and the long term savings are for the vehicle he hopes to purchase in the future.  In April, my son saw a new Webkinz hummingbird at the store.  He purchased it for me, knowing that I love hummingbirds, and he enjoys playing Webkinz games online.  His thoughtfulness regarding my birthday spilled into last night, when he searched online for a personalized birthday message, then surprised me with it being on the computer screen.

This year, my birthday will be simple, yet special, because it will include some of my favorite foods, activities, and the two most important guys in my life!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hamentaschen Cookies

Chag Sameach! Happy Purim! Today, many people around the world are reading from the Book of Esther.  The story is about a brave woman who risked her life by telling the king that a certain man planned to annihilate her people.  The tradition on Purim is to read the entire Book of Esther, and boo, hiss, and make a lot of noise when the "bad guy's" name is mentioned.  Another way of drowning out the evil man's name as it is read is to swing a gragger, which is a ratchet-style noisemaker.  My son and I created a quick impromptu gragger today using a small plastic lidded bowl filled with jingle bells.  The villian in the story wore a tri-cornered hat, so the custom on this holiday is to make triangular-shaped sugar cookies called hamentaschen.  They are filled with fruit preserves, such as prune, apricot, or raspberry.  This year, I changed things up a bit and made a chocolate sugar cookie dough.  We filled the centers with red and black raspberry preserves.  

Hamentaschen are very easy to make.  Simply whip up a batch of your favorite sugar cookie dough, roll it out, and cut circles from it.  We used a drinking glass to create the circles.  Place the dough circles on a greased cookie sheet.  Fill the centers of each dough circle with a small dollop of your favorite fruit preserves.  Flip up the dough sides to create three flaps, and pinch them where they meet each other.  Bake at 350F for approximately 15 minutes, about the same time it would take to bake decorated sugar cookies.  Cool on a wire rack, then enjoy!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pancake Week

It has been brought to my attention that today is Shrove or Fat Tuesday, during Pancake Week! My research indicates the tradition of consuming pancakes during this time period originated many years ago.  The reason that many folks around the world continue to carry on this practice during the days leading up to the Lenten season is due to the ingredients they may soon be choosing to give up, which include butter, eggs, and milk.  Since my pancakes are vegan, every week in my house can be Pancake Week! I have also figured out a way to make Kosher for Passover pancakes, so it looks like no matter the holiday, we won't be giving up our favorite staple food. 

In honor of Pancake Week, and with respect to those observing the Lenten season, I have included a photo of my homemade vegan pumpkin pancakes, with a side of dairy whipped cream.   

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Simple Smoothie

"I'm hungry!"

As a mom of a growing boy, I hear this statement often throughout the day.  Of course I do feed him, with nutritious, prepared-with-love food.  I think perhaps he does more hops, Martial Arts moves, and running in place than calories he consumes.  If you and your family are tired of the same run-of-the-mill snacks each day, try this one the next time your kids call out those infamous words.  With just four ingredients, it is super simple to make.  Not only is it naturally sweet and packed with vitamins and potassium, it will also hydrate those who perhaps aren't dedicated to consuming enough fluids each day.  My son gives this recipe Two Thumbs Up, which means it's goooooood.

Nathan's Smoothie (created just for him, by his loving mom)- serves 1

In a small blender/food processor, combine:

1/2 ripe banana
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
1/4 cup apple juice
1/4 cup milk (we use rice or coconut)

Pour into a 9 ounce glass or plastic cup.  It is enjoyed best with a straw.  This is also a wonderful beverage to serve to someone who is feeling under the weather, as it is tasty, nutritious, and hydrating.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lunch Notes

We read in magazines and parenting books about the importance of being thoughtful and loving towards our children by tucking sweet messages into their lunchboxes.  There are even tips on how to be creative, ranging in use from a napkin, to a colorful, cutesie notepad.  Then, of course, there is the ink shade, and suggestions about what words to form.

Our spouse/significant other can also use a little daily boost.  Like our children, they enjoy being reminded and reassured that they are loved, appreciated, and thought of. 

When my husband and I were courting, we "hid" notes and cards in each other's homes, knowing that later, when we were each alone, the printed evidence of affection would bring a smile and warm our hearts.

I have continued something similar today.  Gone are the days of purchased, mushy cards and hand-colored messages.  Instead, I now use recycled paper, salvaged from the advertising packets that arrive in the mail.  They are the perfect size for folding in half, which allow the original author to write on one portion and anticipate a reply on the other.  Each evening, I write my husband a note and place it with his lunch and snack foods for him to take to work.  In the morning, he enters the kitchen and looks on the counter for his note.  Later, I look on that same counter to see what he wrote back.  Some days, we have a few things to say to each other...reminders about plans for the evening, assurance that prayers are being said for a safe drive to work/taking care of errands, and thanks for tasks we complete that benefit the other (my husband LOVES that I prepare his food for him to take to work, and thanks me often).  Other times, we don't have much to say (especially my husband, whose brain is not fully awake until after a cup or two of coffee tea), except "I love you", and "I hope you have a good/productive day".  The length and content of the note is not what matters; just the fact that we each took a moment to stop and think of the other. 

Maybe you are in a relationship where you are gushing with ideas of what to write to your significant other.  Or, perhaps things are not exactly as you would like them to be, and the thought of taking the initiative to be caring seems like a task that might go unappreciated, and possibly not reciprocated.  It has been my experience, especially during those "slow" times, that writing even the simplest of messages can in time encourage a reconnection. 

Start simple, or go all out with fancy paper and cards.  Just do it.  Leave someone a note to discover.  The very act of it will cheer you, and perhaps brighten someone else's day, too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

'Twas the Day After New Year's

I sincerely meant to post this yesterday, but some tweaking of my words went on into the night, well past the date of January 2.  I hope you enjoy reading my rhyme about the wonderful day I had, which included my two loves...pancakes and paper!

'Twas the Day After New Year's by Lisa Wagner

‘Twas the day after New Year’s,
When craft stores have sales,
On new items and clearance,
To entice the females.

The flyers are filled
With coupons galore,
To save on one item,
And also several more.
The scissors start clipping
To pinch every dollar,
While visions of paper stacks
Rise as high as my collar.

After blueberry pancakes
With syrup and cream,
I prepare to go shopping
As if in a dream.

My husband and son
Stay safely in our dwelling,
As I pack up snacks
So I won’t be kvelling.

I grab some CDs
For my listening pleasure
And inspiration
 For finding lots of treasure.

The sky was quite clear
Yet the wind was very strong,
I drove cautiously
So that nothing could go wrong.

My first stop was bliss;
What I wanted was in stock.
Yet some time flew by,
As evidenced by the clock.

The paper in bins
Near the registers up front
Distracted and teased
Which led to a hunt.

For colors and monograms
In plenty they were,
Also textures and patterns
Became such a blur,
Of notecards! And memos
For to-do lists aplenty!
Rubber stamps and stickers
To close letters with sincerity.

I gathered my selections
And my arms did ache,
Yet I liked all that I chose;
There was no mistake!

The savings were amazing!
The coupons came in handy,
When the cashier let me use two
I knew it was a dandy.
So off to the next store
I gleefully drove
With a car full of paper-
And another coupon trove.

I entered the building
And knew where to go
The scrapbook aisle beckoned;
It seemed all aglow.

As I searched for new stacks
And was looking around,
I became disappointed
For none could be found.

This store had the racks
For the advertised stock,
Yet the shelves contained nothing;
The sale was a crock!

I settled for small stacks
As they were on sale,
With numerous colors,
From bright ones to pale;
In neutrals and corals,
Citrus shades and blue,
An assorted palate
With many a hue;
To coordinate with prints
I already own
Will make layering a breeze,
Without money blown.

I chose the five stacks
That compliment my supply
Of twelve-by-twelve papers
Plus the two I did buy.
I again saved some money
With coupons galore
As I do with each purchase
Made in a craft store.

I carried my bag
Filled with a beautiful stash,
And walked to my car,
Where I praised my saved cash.
I began to think,
As I made my way home,
“Craft stores sure are great,
And they are fun to roam!”
May the New Year of 2012 be filled with delicious pancakes and beautiful paper!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thank You

"Thank you." 

How often do we say, type, or write those two simple words?

As a young girl, my mother taught me the importance of writing a thank you note immediately after receiving a gift.  I remember her specific guidance: "Never say, 'Thank you for your generous gift'".  She explained that generalizations are not personal, nor do they convey sincere appreciation.  Mom instructed me to be specific about what I am thankful for, which will indicate to the sender that I am well aware of exactly what he/she gave to me. 

I recently read an article with a topic along this same vein.  The author shared the importance of being grateful for what we have, and the positive impact we can have on others when we sincerely thank them for the ways they have blessed our lives.  He went on to say that he set a goal of writing one thank-you note per day for a year. 

As of this first day of January, 2012, I too have set a goal to handwrite one thank-you note per day.  I am off to a good start, as the message I wrote today came was for a sweet gentleman who works at our local grocery store.  For the past 7.5 years, he has remembered our names, taken the time to talk with me as I shop in the produce section, and exchanged birthday and holiday gifts.  He is like family to me now, and today I thanked him for being a big reason why this community is now my home. 

365 names may seem daunting (actually, 366, since 2012 is a Leap Year), but I think we will be surprised to realize that we have interacted with at least that many people throughout our lives so far.  The size of the gift or the amount of impact we are thankful for doesn't matter; we just need to say, "Thank You".