Thursday, December 29, 2011

More Reindeer...

My mom and I certainly think alike! For Christmas eve dinner, my mom decorated her dining room table with a Reindeer theme! And at each seat, she had some of these for us to wear, along with this take-home sweet surprise:

Reindeer Peeps
Bob's Mini Candy Canes (Bob's are the BEST!)
Plastic treat bags
Clear Tape
Mini Silver disks (optional)

My mom wanted to give them more pronounced antlers, since their given ones look like ears (and reindeer have both). So she placed the two candy canes on the mini silver disks and used tape to secure them. You can see the tape in these photos due to the flash, but in person, it was hard to see. Then simply place the reindeer Peep on top and place in the bag. Tie with a festive ribbon, and pass out to family and friends!

My mom didn't want the candy canes to get gooey, so she left them in the wrappers. However, if you are going to give to guests right away, I would take the candy canes out of the wrappers and stick them into the back of the Peep, no tape necessary! Too cute!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cinnamon Ice Cream

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! Ours was a busy two days, but we made it through and had a wonderful time with our families.
Last week, before Christmas, my mom and I always bake Christmas cookies. We have about 6 standard recipes, which I have listed below and provided links to recipes similar to the ones we use. Then, every year, we throw in 1-2 "new" cookies... sometimes they are ones we have made years ago, some we try to make for the first time. Regardless, we have a large smorgasbord of sweets for our Christmas celebrations.

The regulars:
Traditional Swedish Spritz
Cinnamon Swirls
Reindeer Chow
Sugar Cookies
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Peanut Butter Kisses

The newbies:
Peppermint bark
Gingerbread cookies

It has been quite warm in Florida for this Christmas, so I also had a recipe to make cinnamon ice cream in the Kitchenaid attachment I had yet to use since we got it as a wedding gift. I wanted to make the gingerbread to go with the cinnamon ice cream, reminiscent of a retired Ben & Jerry's flavor called Festivus.

Here is the recipe I used (can't remember the source!) for the Cinnamon Ice Cream:

**Special Note: The ice cream attachment must be frozen for 15 hours prior to making the recipe.

1 cup white sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half & half
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together sugar and half-and-half. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and set aside. When the sugar mixture begins to bubble, remove from heat, and carefully pour half of the mixture while whisking into the eggs. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan, continuing to simmer over medium-low heat, and whisk in the heavy cream. Stir constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla and cinnamon, and set aside to cool.

Once mixture has cooled, pour into the frozen ice cream maker , and using the directions on the attachment, stir the mixture for 20-30 minutes until it reaches your desired thickness. Place ice cream in sealed container and freeze 2-3 hours before serving. Serve with freshly baked gingerbread cookies for maximum enjoyment!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Our Christmas Card - 2011

Merry Christmas 
From our family to yours!!

PS- We will be discussing the surprise "project" in the new year. :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Last Minute Christmas Fun

Maybe a little glimpse into the world of Santa's reindeer will be all the help you need getting the kids ready for bed Christmas Eve.

Be sure to check out the Reindeer Cam, where you can see some of Santa's best eating, sleeping, and getting ready for their journey. And if you go to the site before 10am or 5pm, you can even catch Santa feeding them! So cute for all believers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Annual Christmas Walk

For a few years now, we have been taking an annual walk from a friend's house to downtown St. Petersburg to see all the Christmas lights and cards. Our city actually has one of the largest waterfront park system in the country, third only to Seattle and Chicago, and they do a great job of decorating it for Christmas.

One unique thing they have every year (since I was a child, maybe even before I was born) are larger than life painted greeting cards. There is a contest every year through The St. Petersburg Times newspaper where anyone can submit an idea or drawing for a holiday card. Then after about 12-15 are chosen, they are drawn and painted by local school children and adult artists, and displayed along the waterfront with lighting.


The cards often have Florida related themes, and some are even reflective of world events from the year. They are always my favorite decorations in the park.

In the main section of the park system, Straub Park, they have a place where kids can come and visit with Santa every night.

They also have an ice skating rink, and a mailbox where children can send letters to Santa.  The rest of the park is filled with beautiful displays of lights.

And a manger that is older than I am. When I was younger, they used to swap out the fiberglass animals for real ones in the week before Christmas, and it became a petting zoo around the baby Jesus.

More lights:

And along our walk, depend on the weather, we either get Starbucks if it is really cold, or like last night, gelato at a local shop if the temperatures are balmy.

We missed Santa on the way back, but decided to still hop in his sleigh and wish for health and happiness through the season! If you are in the area this week, be sure to stop by the parks downtown and check out all the lights and activities!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Update to Holiday Decor

Just a quick update to our mantel decor. This past weekend, my husband's grandmother was giving all of her Christmas decor and ornaments to her grandkids, since it is to laboring to put it up every year. Among the boxes, I found four Danish-looking wood reindeer in all different sizes that would compliment my reindeer fireplace and mantle. Check them out:

Aren't they cute? I just love them, and their size is perfect. Here you can see them with the whole setup:

And since we finally got the lights and wreaths up on the outside, here is a glowing shot of the house:

Wrapping up my shopping and wrapping this weekend. Are you ready for Christmas?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pretty Presents

As I finished wrapping most of our gifts (a few last minute additions are being shipped) last night, I kept thinking about how simple but pretty my gifts looked under our tree this year.

I love getting a deal on cute wrapping paper, and have been known to buy those little rolls from the Target dollar section, or  buy rolls of large wrapping paper after Christmas at 50% or 75% off. However, most of the time, the paper is thin, and not as cute the following year as you originally thought when you bought it at discount. This year, I was so pleased with my wrapping paper find, that I just had to share!

I ended up getting the brown paper with gold stars and red gingham at... the dollar store!! At $1 a roll, I think I bought 4 of each for all of the gifts!  And I love how the brown paper is thick and creases nicely. I also buy my Scotch tape in 2-packs from the dollar store.

The green fabric bows are made from giant spools of ribbon that I bought at Michaels on Black Friday. Seriously, I stock up every year on Black Friday at Michaels.... they have great sales, and this year, they had a coupon for an additional 30% off your entire purchase if you went before 9am. I bought four giant spools of ribbon, and total I paid $6. The gift tags I found at Target for $2 for a pack of 60, and the colors go perfect with the muted tones of the paper and ribbon.

So basically, for ALL my wrapping paper, bows, tags, and tape, I spent less than $20. And the best part is, I can use the left over wrapping paper for different events throughout the year! Can anyone beat that?!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Homemade Gifts To Warm The Heart

Every year, I hand make some gifts for a few girlfriends that I have known for many, may years. I wish every year I could buy them awesome, individual gifts, but it is just easier to make them something with some of my time and love.

As you may remember, last year I made these sequin earrings and in 2009, I made this rosemary sea salt. This year, I decided to try a recipe that I have eyed for a few years from Martha Stewart: Peppermint Marshmallows, paired with some Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

Here's what I started with for the hot chocolate:

- 3 boxes of Swiss Miss Classic Milk Chocolate Hot Chocolate (it is the best, so why try to make your own?!)
- Glass jars - I bought 3 Four packs (12 total) of the Rajtan from Ikea for $12. I love that they have screw tops too!
- Raffia to tie on the gift tags (already owned)
- Gift Tags (business card sized) I made on Microsoft Publisher

 Here are the gift tags up close:

I used 3 packets of Swiss Miss per jar, although I could have probably fit 4 packets... I just ran out of mix!

And here are the jars after a little embellishment:

Next came time to make the marshmallows, which I had never done before. A word of warning.... read all the comments under Martha's recipe, because I ended up needing some of these tips. I didn't take any in-the-making pictures because I was too worried about making them right, but they came out just as they said they would, so I was happy. So I cut them up and got them ready for packaging.

But here is the finished product, placed in little bags made by, who else? Martha Stewart.

Quite a sweet gift... I just love them! What is left to check off on your holiday to-do list?

Friday, December 9, 2011

More Holiday Decor

Once my Christmas decor is up around the house, I feel like a new, happier person. Of course, the Christmas tunes that blast through our house and the balsam scented candles I light every night may have something to do with it. Like I mentioned in this post, I am trying to keep decor simple this year, so I only put out about half of the stuff I own, just my favorites made an appearance. Here they are, in no particular order (don't want Baby Jesus to be jealous of the reindeer!):

This is an over-sized wood nativity I inherited from my mother. I love its scale, as each figure is about 9"-12" tall, and they are very rustic. The angel's wings and star are actually oxidized metal.

The other nativity we love is also wood, but a bit more primitive. I love that both sets are handmade. Good nativities are hard to find!

I love to keep the mantle decor simple and red. It seems to pop with all the red, and our stockings hung with care.

The red and clear pillar holders I bought years ago at HomeGoods for under $10 each. I bought them in 3 sizes, just to change up the monotony, and got inexpensive red pillar candles to go inside. I love the subtle glow they emit when the candles are lit.

The reindeer came in to play a few years ago when I found these cute iron reindeer pillar holders at a local boutique called Marion's, which I love! If you are in St. Petersburg, you must go here for unique and fun gifts! They have fabulous stuff you can't find anywhere else! The red berry garland I bought at Joanns with a coupon.

A few years ago, since we got married in January, we had a Christmas bridal shower in which all my guests bought us ornaments and Christmas themed gifts. Since one of my registry sites was Pottery Barn, I included the three sizes of the twig reindeer in bronze to match my pillar holders. They no longer sell these, but you can find some in silver here and here.

And also on our registry, we had our Pottery Barn velvet tree skirt, seen nestled under our tree, and the natural lit star tree topper. The skirt is very plain and traditional, but it is not trendy, and I don't get tired of it. And after all the gifts are wrapped this weekend, you won't see it anyway! The star topper is rustic and if I could, I would leave the tree naked with just lights and the star. So beautiful on its own!

So those are my little Christmas decor pieces for this year. This weekend I plan to decorate the outside with wreaths and lights, and finish my holiday shopping. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Easy Table Decor

I had a really hard time this year decorating my dining room table for Christmas. I have done really cute things in the past. The truth of it is, I was a little tired of my decorations, and I am trying to keep things simple, since our house is on the market.

Rather than spending a fortune on new decorations that I didn't love, I decided to use gold and silver ornaments and garland from the dollar store to add a shimmery touch to the table. I bought about 8 sets of 7-12 ornaments in silver and gold, including some with glitter to give a little sparkle.

First, I draped one length of garland around the chandelier. Before:

After, with a little more shimmer:

Then, I used some ornament hooks to add ornaments to hang from the bottom of the garland.

Next, I pulled out several vintage brass and silver pieces for the table centerpiece to hold the rest of the ornaments, but decided on my antique Candlewick glassware, since I love how the round ornaments mimic the glass beading on the edges of the Candlewick.

I first set the table using a red herringbone Ralph Lauren table cloth from HomeGoods (I think it was $10 when I bought it two years ago), and a gold-ish geometric table runner that I believe is Thomas O'Brien for Target, purchased many many years ago. I like that it is a little muted, and I actually use this runner throughout the year. 

I pulled out the Candlewick cake stand, 4 footed fluted bowl, and small bowl to use for the ornaments. I just kind of piled the larger ones on the cake stand, the medium and small ones in the two bowls, and tried to keep an even mix of silver and gold ornaments.

I also added red taper candles to my Candlewick candlesticks, just to complete the table. 

Here's how it all looks together:

I love how it is simple but festive, and I love using my Candlewick this time of the year, since my grandmother always used the set for our entire family for Christmas dinner. After they stopped hosting Christmas, all three of the granddaughters got to split up the set, so I now have place settings, glasses, and serving ware for 8+. What a lucky girl I am!

What are some of your favorite decorations?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Zucchini Bread

This zucchini bread, as seen yesterday, was a recipe that my college roommate's mom used to make for us, and although I don't like zucchini on a regular basis, I am in love with this bread. It also makes a great recipe to give in mini loaf pans to neighbors and friends for the holidays. Here's the recipe:


3 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini (usually 2 medium sized zucchinis)
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking poweder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grate the two medium sized zucchini. I used the larger side of my grater this time to make things easier, but if you are hesitant about the flavor, use a smaller grater.

Here is about 2 cups of grated zucchini. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, zucchini, oil, and vanilla. After mixed well, add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Pour mixture into two regular loaf pans, or 5-6 mini loaf pans. Since I only have one loaf pan, I used a small cake pan for the second half of the mixture. Be sure to grease the pans well.  

Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees. Use a toothpick to check the doneness, and remove from oven when toothpick comes out clean.

Here is the golden round bread loaf. My husband ate a piece out of the loaf pan before I could take a picture of that.

I took this plate of yummy treats over to a dinner party. I actually love how the zucchini bread looks in pie shaped slices on the plate. I may just make it in the round pans from now on! The other treats are the No Bake Chocolate Oat Bars from yesterday;s post. 

If you are really feeling fancy, you could top the zucchini bread with a cream cheese frosting, or serve it warm with a side of vanilla bean ice cream. I prefer it for breakfast warmed in the microwave with a little butter. Enjoy!