Saturday, December 17, 2011

Can You Handle the Cute? Black Olive Penguins

Kitschy, cute food is not usually my gig. But when I saw these guys over at  Foodie With Family I couldn't resist the adorableness.  Considering that we had a holiday potluck party to go to and considering that I have  4 year old who LOVES olives, why should I say no?  These were a huge hit all around. Little penguin army taking over the buffet table.

In this recipe at least, size matters.  I never realized that olives are classified according to how big they are.  But, after scoping out the grocery shelves, I realized they are canned and sold in at least four different sizes.  I used 2 cans of the largest size and one can of the smallest to create these guys. This made about 35 little penguin soldiers.

  • 2 cans  colossal or jumbo pitted black olives, drained
  • 1 can pitted black olives, drained
  • about 4 ounces of cream cheese
  • 35ish thin slices of the fat end of a peeled carrot
  • A couple green onions, long green part only.

  • Cut a small triangle out of each carrot slice.
  • Shove a triangle piece into each of the small olives.  You can use a skewer to poke the pointy end of the triangle through the wide end of the olive until it pokes out the narrow pitted part.  This can be tricky.  You can also squeeze the small olive until the wide end is oval shaped and pop the wide part of the triangle carrot in, leaving the pointy part sticking out.  I tried both ways.
  • Using  a sharp knife, cut a lengthwise slice, part way through each jumbo olive. Lop of the rounded end of the olive so your penguin will stand nice and straight on his little carrot feet.
  • Put softened cream cheese into a ziploc bag and snip the end off.  Use this to pipe cream cheese into each jumbo olive. 
  • Use a toothpick to attach "head" onto cream cheese filled "body".  Poke all the way through and into carrot feet.
  • Optional:  Tie a strip of onion around each penguin as a little scarf in case they need to keep warm. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Cookie Tuesday - For World Peace

I've been meaning to get this recipe to you. It was supposed be Christmas Cookie Monday Part 2.  I apologize in advance for holding onto something so amazing, so life changing.  This thing that you definitely must have as part of your holiday celebration.  After all - the name of these cookies alone "World Peace Cookies" promises a panacea to any stress or hurry you may be feeling. Each transcendent bite will dissolve ill will, anger or bitterness. The chocolate-sugar-butter medley sure to smooth away  your troubles

Ok - clearly that paragraph was over the top.   It is just cookies we're talking here.  You'll have to excuse my giddiness.   The children noise that live here are outside enjoying a sunny December afternoon, the coffee is french roasted, hot and strains of the Messiah are echoing around me.  Pure ridiculousness in the joy of this moment has taken over.

Dorie Greenspan included this recipe in her most recent baking book.   The ingredients are so simple, so easy  that you most likely have everything in your pantry.  Nothing fancy going on here.  But the combination is perfectly balanced. It has all the flavor of the darkest, richest brownie but with the light airness of a sandie or shortbread.  As if that wasn't enough, these cookies are highlighted by dabs of bittersweet chocolate tucked in  for a delicious finish. These are delicious on their own, made even better with a chaser of ice cold milk.

World Peace Cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup  (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (scant)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces  bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits, or a generous 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips.
  • Whisk the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
  • Beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.
  •  Pour in the flour mixture, drape a kitchen towel over the  mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Stop and check — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
  • Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)
  • Preheat oven to 325.  
  • Line baking sheets with silpat or parchment paper.Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about one inch between them.
  • Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sounds of the Season - For Free

Sometime the most fun holiday traditions are the ones that don't cost a dime.  Several years ago, we came across the "The Cinnamon Bear" and listening to it has become something we all look forward to. 

"The Cinnamon Bear" is an old-timey radio show that was first broadcast back in 1937  in Portland, Oregon.  It first aired in 15 minute segments, with one episode airing every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The show follows the adventures of Jimmy and Judy Barton who take a trip with Paddy Cinnamon to the world of Maybeland. It's a whimsical story that offers a  glimpse into simpler times.

I love the mental stimulus that listening to an audio story provides for kids.  They really have to engage their brain to be able to follow a storyline and use their minds eye to picture the action taking place in a story.  Much better food for the brain then another round of cartoons.

This radio show is now in the public domain and freely distributable.  I suppose when it was originally broadcast, families huddled around the radio to catch every episode.  Now we can download it to an Mp3 player and listen whenever and wherever we like.  I realize that I am posting this late in the season, but please don't let that stop you from listening.  The segments are short - just 15 minutes, so listen to two a day until you get caught up.  Once you start listening, it's hard to stop! 

I hope you enjoy!
Click here to listen

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kid Project - Bleach-Dyed T-Shirts

Our home has begun to hum with secrets as the kids have been working on making their presents for each other.  There is much whispering, hiding and sneaking about.

Kid 2 finished up his project yesterday and is so thrilled with how it turned out.  The wait to show off his handiwork is slowing killing him - or at least he's pretty sure it is.  We got some solid colored T-shirts, came up with a design that suited each family member and then printed it onto the shirt using plain old bleach. This was an OVERWHELMING success with the boy. Not only did he get to dream up a picture to suit each family member, but then he got to watch the chemical reaction between bleach and color.  To an 8 year old boy, it doesn't get much better that.  This is a project we did over a couple of days.

Supplies needed:
           Solid t-shirts                                 Regular bleach
            Scissors                                       Rags and towels
           Newspaper                                   Sticky-backed craft foam
  • If you use a brand new shirt, be sure to wash and dry it before doing this project.  New fabric has sizing on it that will prevent the bleach from soaking in.
  • Decide on a logo for each shirt you want to make.  Neither my son or I are great freehand artists.  Once he decided on a picture, we used Google Images to look up silhouettes of what we wanted.  Then we printed them out.  After printing them out, we cut them out and traced them onto sticky-backed craft foam.  The craft foam was our idea to use to block the bleach. It worked fairly well. Last of all, we cut the shape out of the sticky craft foam
  • Cover work surface with newspaper.  Lay shirt flat on surface.  Peel backing off foam and stick to shirt, making sure to press down around the edges for a good seal.
  •  Fold towels flat and lay them in the shirt.  This prevents bleach from soaking through to the back of the shirt.  Pour some bleach into a bowl and then dab it on the shirt, being sure to press up against the edges of the design.  Set shirt aside for bleach to absorb the color.  We let the shirts sit for at least an hour and reapplied bleach several times during that hour. I wish we would have let them go longer for a truly white effect..
When shirt is as bleached as you would like, or when your kid is jumping up and down with anticipation and cannot wait ONE MORE SECOND, peel off foam to reveal the logo underneath.  Rinse shirt in cold water to stop the bleaching process.  Run through the dryer to set the color for good.  And - that's it! A fun, easy, inexpensive project.  Here are the rest of our designs.

Music notes for piano playing big sister.  This design was a little tricky because parts of it were so thin.  The bleach kind of soaked in under the edges.  The process definitely works better with a chunkier design.

Next up was what he termed a "super-hero" look for the 4 year old brother.  For whatever reason, he was pretty sure a super hero should have a lightening bolt  with "some lines around it to show how powerful the lighting is.  This is the result.

Next up - a shirt for baby brother.  Since Baby is excited about anything with a star and it is one of the few words that he can say very clearly, he got a star shirt.

Last of all and probably the hands down favorite, was what he came up with for Dad.  Those of you who know the Dad - know that Dad has an ongoing war with squirrels.  This started years ago when squirrels chewed a hole into our attic and has been much exacerbated since we moved to a house surrounded by lovely pecan trees.  Every year, it is a great battle to see who will get the most pecans - Dad or the squirrels?  Dad has come up with all sorts of tricks to make our property most hostile to squirrels.  Therefore, this shirt is highly fitting! The boy could not stop laughing over this one.

Overall, I'd call this project a huge success.  We scored plain t-shirts at Walmart for $2.50 a piece, the sticky foam cost $3.00(also at Wal-mart) and the bleach we had on hand. Total cost was about $13.00 for 4 shirts.  The mess factor was minimal and gathering supplies was easy.  The boy is completely thrilled with the results and cannot wait to show off his creativity. Let us know if you try this one!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Real, 100% Grown-up Christmas Tree.

Every year, I tell myself "This is it!  This is the year. This is the year I will finally  have a real, 100% grown-up Christmas tree."  I'm sure you've seen them.  In fact, you are probably sitting by one right now.  A real, 100% grown up Christmas tree is a thing of beauty.  To start with, there is generally a theme or at the very least, a color scheme.  The ornaments and garland and ribbons and doo-dads and tree skirt all match  - or else they work well together. Then there's this thing called balance. You know, where the ornaments are evenly distributed around the tree?  No wads of 5 items on one branch with a giant bare spot underneath. No droopy ribbon or tangled beads. Oh and best of all, a real, 100% grownup Christmas tree is something you decorate one time.  Once.  That's it.  And then you are done for the year.  There is no need to take most of the things off for the sheer "joy" of putting them all back on at least 3 times a day.

Have you guessed by now that our tree is the complete opposite of all these things?  First of all, it's crooked and the star is wobbly. There's no hope for it.   It just is.  Secondly, I can promise you there is no theme and certainly no matching.  Last year, I splurged and bought a box of red "shattterproof" balls and some red ribbon just to bring a semblance of order.  The motliness (not sure if that's a word) all started years ago when my husband and I celebreated our first Christmas together.  We thought it would be such a romantic idea to pick out a new ornament every year - something that symbolized the year past.   All this was well and good until Baby #1 came along.  She obviously needed her first ornament, so we started collecting one for her each year as well.  A few more calenders later, our family has grown and so has the ornament collection.  Each one is dearly treasured, but there certainly is no rhyme or reason to any of it.
There's the rooster ornament.  We couldn't help picking this up after our first year in South Carolina.  Our first home here was a teeny-tiny trailer back in the boonies.  Our neighbors had chickens.  Free-range chickens.  How sweet you say?  Without fail, these chickens ranged right under our bedroom window every morning about 4:30am when they thought it was time to start the day.  Raucous crowing made the most obnoxious alarm clock either one of us had ever heard.

There's our snowman one - the first year we had a baby.  Seems like just the other day I stood and watched a craft fair vendor personalize this for me, but that baby is about to turn 11 years old.  Sigh.

The Sesame Street Collection.  Every two year old who has ever lived in this family, has been obsessed with Cookie Monster and Elmo.  We've got proof right here. 

I said earlier that these ornaments are treasured.  Believe me, they are.  To my kids, one of the best parts of early December is getting reacquainted with their beloved mementos which have been packed away for the past year. Somehow it really doesn't matter what color they are or what their theme is, because they all symbolize a memory to my kids.  The kids are in charge of  hanging the ornaments on the tree.  Some, all in one spot.  The next day, or even 10 minutes later, they take them back off to oooh and ahh some more and hang them all again.  This time a  little different.  The ribbon gets tangled or dragged to one side.  There are bare spots.  But the lights of this motley tree are reflecting in the eyes of  very happy  children who think this is the most beautiful tree ever.   I used to be picky.  I'd hang the ornaments all myself.  Evenly.  The ribbon swooped in exactly the right spots, there were no bare spots.  The kids were NOT allowed to touch or even breathe too close to my tree.  It was a stressful thing.  Somewhere, I decided it wasn't worth it anymore.  So what if the tree is motley?  My children love it,  I'm not stressed and tree makes us all smile.  Someday, I'll get that real 100% Christmas tree.  Until then, motley will suit me just fine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Cookie Monday

It's Monday, in case you hadn't noticed.  I thought maybe you could use a Christmas cookie about now.   Actually, by the time I get this posted it may be Tuesday, but you get the point - the time has come for cookies.  Today seemed like a day for Cranberry-White-Chocolate-Orange-Cookies. This a recipe I tried on whim after seeing it in a cooking magazine years ago. Did you read the name of these things? There's alot of flavors tumbling around here, but it really works.  The tang of cranberry and orange play so well against the white chocolate.  There's even a dose of oatmeal in there so you can pretend this is a really healthy snack.

Of course I can never leave well enough alone, so this recipe has been tweaked, adjusted here and there to suit.  I  swapped in brown sugar where there was white, added a pop of cinnamon just to warm up the flavors, changed to golden raisins and tossed in some walnuts for crunch.  Do what you will - this is a sturdy recipe that handles variations quite well.

Cranberry White Chocolate Orange Cookies (aka Long Name Cookies)

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups old fashioned or quick oatmeal (whatever you have on hand is fine.  I've used either one)
  • 1 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 package (10 to 12 ounces) white baking chips
  • 1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts


  • In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and baking soda; add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins, cranberries and orange peel. Stir in baking chips and walnuts.
  • Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 in. apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Yield: 6 dozen.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Glitter Letters

One of the hardest things about Christmas for me as a parent, is striking a balance between the joy of watching my children's faces on Christmas morning and overindulging them.  There is nothing better then their excitement and surprise over presents under the tree, but it sure doesn't take many years of excess before wonder turns into demand.  We've tried different things to combat the greed that tries to sneak in. One idea that has stuck and turned into a much anticipated tradition, is letting the siblings make presents for each other. The fun of creating a treasure, wrapping it and then trying their hardest to keep it a secret until Christmas morning is a highlight of the season.  Of course, this has the potential to turn into a huge complicated ordeal  - anything but simple.  To keep that from happening, this is what we do.

Each kid (with some direction from mom) chooses a single project that they will make -  the same thing for each of their siblings.  I shop and gather craft supplies. Then, each kid gets a "create day."  On this day, he and I spend the afternoon making their project.  All other kids are banned from the craft area - NO PEEKING!!! - while we work.  Some projects may take more then one afternoon.  Then we have a wrapping day, where each kid gets a turn with the wrapping paper, scissors and tape. Finally presents are stashed under the tree and  the waiting begins.  When someone takes the time, thought and effort to make something just for you, it conveys love in a way no plastic widget ever can.

Glitter Letters Initials:
 Ahem - I can see you.  Those of you who are twitching at the word "glitter".  Just hear me out. I know you've vowed to yourself never to let that evil substance into your home. Just this once, it won't hurt - really.  The glitter is so firmly glued in place that it can't move. I promise - it won't fall off the letter, get drug around and end up as errant flakes floating in your coffee cup.  However, if you knock over the container, all bets are off.  You'll be picking glitter out of your sock drawer for years to come.  Don't ask how I know this.

This is a great project for a pre-schooler or kindergartener.  Most kids that age are really excited about learning their letters and I haven't met one yet who doesn't welcome that chance to splatter paint about.  A project that incorporates both is it's lots of fun. Four year old David, made this project for his siblings last year.

 Supplies Needed:
  • Large wooden or cardboard letters  - these can be found very inexpensively at any craft store.  
  • Acrylic paint
  • White glue
  • Glitter
  • Wide paint brushes (the cheapo foam ones are fine for this project)
  • Newspaper or something to use as a drop cloth

  1. First of all, let your preschooler make a list of the first letter of sibling names in your family.  Help him choose a color for each one.  It makes the most impact if you choose the same color paint and glitter.
  2. Cover your workspace with some kind of drop cloth.  Let your child paint the letter.  Cover it completely with paint - no white spots.  Set aside to dry.
  3. When paint is dry, pour white glue into a paper cup.  Have your child paint the letter again  - this time with the glue. Then the fun - sprinkle glitter onto the glue.  Make sure you have a nice thick coat.  Shake off the excess glitter.  Let the glue dry
  4. If desired you can turn the letter around and attach a picture hanger to the back with hot glue.  Then the letter can be hung from the wall or propped on a shelf.  These letters are a fun way to add a bit of personalization to a kids room.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hot Chocolate Mix

Nothing says the holidays like a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  Preferably with a stripey candy cane for stirring. Sounds pretty basic.  But what if you take time to celebrate the first cup of the season?  Make it an occasion.  Break out the fancy mugs, scrounge up some whipped cream, cuddle up with the ones you love and savor the warmth. Turn on a holiday special or just sit by the fire. Perfect opportunity to make some memories. We stopped this week in the middle of the day and took a break for no good reason, just to enjoy our first batch of hot chocolate. What a fun way to celebrate the beginning of December.

My mother in law has blessed us over the years with many batches of homemade hot chocolate mix.  I took this stash for granted, until one year when we ran out and I had to purchase the packaged kind in envelopes.  Considering that our family has grown to a size where we can blow through an entire box in one sitting, our hot chocolate habit was pricey.  Plus, the flavor and creaminess we've gotten used to, makes the packaged stuff taste blah in comparison.  I've tweaked the original recipe to suit our family's  taste MORE CHOCOLATE  and the result is a lush, rich blend of deliciousness. This recipe makes a giant batch so it will either last you through the winter, or you will have plenty to share.  A tin full of this makes a lovely Christmas present for someone special.

Hot Chocolate Mix
  • One 20 quart box of powdered milk
  • One 22 oz container of powdered coffee creamer
  • 3 lbs of powdered sugar
  • 2lbs of powdered chocolate drink mix (I use Nestle)
  • 5 cups cocoa powder  

* Measurements for powdered milk, creamer and Nestle are approximate.  Your grocery store may not carry those exact sizes.  A little variation in either direction, will not change the overall flavor of this recipe very much.
Pour ingredients into a very large bowl. Mix with a wisk until everything is combined and mixture is all the same color.  You can divide this recipe and mix one half at a time, which makes for easier stirring.  Store in airtight container.  

To prepare hot chocolate, add a heaping 1/3 cup of powdered mixture to 8 ounces of boiling water.  Stir until well combined.  Add a splash of milk if desired.

  •  Use a flavored powdered coffee creamer instead of plain.  Cinnamon or mint are both good.
  • Use a "dutched" cocoa powder for darker, smoother flavor.  Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder is an American example of dutched cocoa powder.
  • Add a spoonful of instant coffee crystals to a cup of hot chocolate for a mocha flavor
  • Invite some friends around and set up a hot chocolate bar.  Mini chocolate chips, crushed candy canes, red hot candies, cinnamon sticks, marshmallows or sprinkles are all fun mix-in ideas.