Friday, December 19

STYLING | Hot Chocolate Bar


I'm so happy with how our Hot Chocolate Bar turned out this year! (Check out our previous Hot Cocoa Bar)!  I added a couple of new elements that I'm loving and I think you'll love them too!

I was inspired to add some fancy flavored syrups this year after a friend/customer recently ordered the Hot Chocolate Bar Collection from me for a wedding she was putting together this past weekend. She requested some custom labels…which included some fun flavored syrups...and the obsessing for me began.


We stuck to using the same, fabulous homemade Hot Cocoa Mix recipe we've been using for a couple of years now and the 48oz. Anchor Hocking Jar holds the entire batch perfectly - with room for the cute mini wooden scoop.

I stuck with the toppings I knew my girls loved: Mini Chocolate Chips, Mini Marshmallows, White Chocolate Chips, Dark Chocolate Vermicelli Sprinkles and "Crushed" Peppermint this year instead of the whole peppermints I've used in the past.  (just crush up some starlite mints using a rolling pin). I also opted to have Peppermint Stir Sticks on hand to be used as stirrers - besides, they are a fun way to add a pop of peppermint to your mug of hot cocoa!




So let's talk about what's NEW: Flavored Syrups!
These are the same types of syrups added to your fancy Starbucks coffees!
These are SO simple to make and inexpensive to purchase.

There are SO many flavor options out there but I stuck with two to keep things simple:
French Vanilla syrup - store-bought from Target for $3.99 on the coffee aisle
Peppermint syrup - homemade using 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar + 1 tsp. Peppermint extract - so easy! You could even use a candycane or peppermint hard candy in place of the Peppermint extract but I didn't want my syrup to be red - you can choose to do that if you want to!!


I LOVE that you can add a few pumps of the syrup to change up the flavor of your hot cocoa!! (I think I've had to add about 5 pumps to mine but my mugs are pretty big). 

The syrup dispensers are actually SOAP dispensers I picked up from Kirkland's a few month's back. They work GREAT!!  I did see some at Target this week that look almost EXACTLY like the ones shown here - a little more narrow but the same bronze finish on the dispensers. Fun, right?


The other NEW elements I added this year is a bottle of Caramel Drizzle + a small tub of Sea Salt.
You know where I'm going with this!! I LOVE the salty + sweet combo so I had to take advantage of the opportunity to include it as an option for the Hot Chocolate Bar. 

So with the new syrups along with the caramel and sea salt, I've come up with THREE FLAVOR FAVORITES!!


Salted Caramel Hot Cocoa
Mix up a mug of Hot Chocolate. Add 3-5 pumps of French Vanilla Syrup.
Top with marshmallows. Cover with whipped cream. 
Drizzle on some caramel and add a tiny sprinkling of sea salt to finish. YUM!!

Peppermint Hot Cocoa
Mix up a mug of Hot Chocolate. Add 3-5 pumps of Peppermint Syrup.
Stir with a Peppermint Stir Stick if you like.
Top with marshmallows. Cover with whipped cream.
Sprinkle on crushed peppermint. TASTY!

Double Chocolate Marshmallow Hot Cocoa
Mix up a mug of Hot Chocolate.
Add a spoonful (or two) of mini chocolate chips. Stir.
Top with marshmallows. Cover with whipped cream.
Sprinkle mini chocolate chips and mini marshmallows on top.
Finish with dark chocolate vermicelli sprinkles! DELISH!


This year is the first year I've included the infamous Pepperidge Farm Pirouette Cookies as part of our Hot Cocoa Bar. The Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Hazelnut is my favorite but there's also a French Vanilla Pirouette option if you prefer! They don't take up a lot of space and fit in a jar nicely. My girls are loving them.

I've mentioned in the past that I prefer the mini dehydrated marshmallows over the normal, soft mini marshmallows but I decided to make a place for both options on the bar this year.









We are REALLY enjoying it - as always!
It's such a fun thing to put together and because I didn't style it "Christmasy" we can keep it up for New Year's and continue to use it throughout the entire winter season!

One thing I will definitely be adding next year is a to-go cup option - with a lid.
I'm missing the mini Kraft Ripple to-go cups from last year and want to have the 16oz. Kraft Ripple Coffee Cup sizes available to be able to send people off with a nice, warm cup of Hot Cocoa!

I hope you love how it turned out!
The printables are coming to the shop THIS WEEKEND so stay tuned!

The Collection will include 5 different Chalkboard Posters and TONS of labels - including 3 different styles - round, square or rectangular.

My email subscribers will be notified FIRST as to when the printables are available.
AND…there will be a special coupon code included in the email - so be sure to sign up NOW if you are haven't already done so!!

Hoping you all are enjoying your holiday season!
It was the last day of school for the kids today so it's officially Christmas break!
I'm looking forward to it!!

KEEPiNG iT REAL
Those soap dispensers were actually being used in the master bathroom.
So…when I snagged them for the Hot Cocoa Bar, I rinsed and re-rinsed and soaked those bottles and pumps really, really good.

Would you believe the first couple of squirts of the syrup STILL had a hint of soap and bubbles in them?! So be warned! If you recycle some soap dispensers from around your own house…test them out to make sure all of the soap is REALLY out of them before offering any to your family and friends! Ha!!

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Thursday, December 18

BAKING | Streuseldoodles :: Cookie Recipe


So, this past Sunday, I hosted our annual family Cookie Baking party.
I spent the afternoon with my mom, daughters, aunt, and cousins covered in flour and all of us up to our eyeballs in sugar, butter and frosting. I had my happy Holiday Baking Playlist going in the background while we baked…and baked…and baked the afternoon away.

This year, my oldest daughter, Clara, and I decided to get a little crazy and come up with a signature holiday cookie. Since she LOVES Snickerdoodles and is a professional at whipping them out with perfection, we decided to start with our favorite Snickerdoodle recipe as our cookie base. To make them a little more special and "signature worthy" we added a streusel topping for some extra crunch and fun holiday flair! *wink*

We call these STREUSELDOODLES!!
Clara came up with the clever catchy name too - she's nothing short of brilliant!

I thought you might like the recipe so here it is…
just in case you are looking for something a little fun and different to make for your neighbors, mail carriers, teachers, office staff, etc.

STRUESELDOODLES
Makes 4-5 dozen

Struesel Topping
1 TBSP. Sugar
2/3 cups pecans, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 TBSP. unsalted butter, melted

Mix sugar, pecans and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon in bowl.
Stir in melted butter. Set aside.

Cookies
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 TBSP. sugar + 2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350º.
Beat sugar and butter together in large bowl until light and fluffy.
Add vanilla and eggs - mix until well blended.
Stir in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt, mixing well.

In small bowl, combine 2 TBSP. of sugar + 2 tsp. cinnamon, stirring until completely blended.

Shape cookie dough into 1" balls.
Roll in cinnamon/sugar mixture and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Using your thumb, press down in the center of each cookie ball to create a well.
Spoon in about 1 tsp. of the Streusel topping and press down lightly.
Bake at 350º for 10 - 14 minutes - or until a light golden brown finish.
Remove immediately from oven and cool on wire racks.

TIP:
These cookies are meant to be eaten when they are soft so I recommend baking and gifting them the same day for best results!!  OR…you can try adding a couple of slices of bread to the airtight container or ziploc bag you are storing them in so as to maintain moisture.


And here we all are!!
I love the flour on Clara's sleeve with all of us crazies in the background!
We had a total of 8 bakers in the kitchen this year and I just
LOVE the selfie group shot Clara got of all of us.

Thanks for the photo AND the Strueseldoodle cookie idea Clara!!
And thanks to all of my family for actually showing up every year!! *wink*

And would you look at all of the cookies we made!!


KEEPiNG iT REAL
Clara and I had much grander plans for these cookies originally.
Not only were we going to add the streusel to the top…
we were also going to make a cinnamon cream cheese frosting and create sandwich cookies out of these. The top cookies would've had the streusel and then we were going to add a small drizzle of white royal icing for presentation. (and packaging)
BUT…after sampling the cookies with just the streusel we knixed the frosting idea altogether.
It would've been too much. The simplicity of the snickerdoodle + streusel topping was perfect all on its own. Simple is always better. Right?

Also…it HAS to be mentioned that our first batch of Snickerdoodles we attempted to make the night before were a #cookiefail - Clara We put double the amount of butter so we had Snickerdoodle pancakes - not cookies. Ha!!

THEN Kalie and Clara we had a #royalicingfail on baking day for the sugar cookies too. Despite having to dump 3 pounds of icing down the sink, we all found ourselves laughing about my one sentence response to the disaster: "It cannot be saved!" (said with a British accent) - I just may end up having the statement printed onto t-shirts in hashtag format for our party next year: #ItCannotBeSaved

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Wednesday, December 10

FAMILY | Happy Birthday Holly

Here's one of the things I did today…
A very special balloon release for my cousin Holly.
Turn up your volume and push play…

My whole family participated in releasing balloons together today.
Although we are all in different parts of the country…
it felt good to be able to do something to celebrate and remember together.

KEEPiNG iT REAL
How is it your heart can feel so empty and so full at the same time…
when it comes to things like this.

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Tuesday, December 9

INSPIRE | Hand out the Smiles

original quote by Jessica Kirkland


This morning I attended a field trip with Ella to the same Santa's Christmas Tree Forest we go to every year to pick out our Christmas tree. We did a hayride, a bounce pillow, a petting farm and a picnic lunch while we were there and thank goodness the sun was out! The high today is only 63 and that is FREEZING for this Florida girl!!

I'm back in my warm studio for just a few minutes before racing off to pick up Ema from school.
I'm desperately trying to wrap up a new version of the Hot Cocoa Bar I shared with you a few years ago - been trying to find time to put it together for over 2 weeks now. My girls and I LOVE having it up and it's quickly become one of our favorite parts of our holiday/winter decor and season!!

Wish me luck in getting it finished because that means I'll have photographs to share as well as links to the printables to be able to create your own! *wink*

If you love the original quote I'm sharing today you can find more every day of the week over on my Instagram feed. I'd love for you to follow along!!

In the meantime...keep handing out the smiles this holiday season people! *wink*

KEEPiNG iT REAL
Still need to get the Christmas decor and tree ornaments out of the attic.

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Monday, December 8

LIFE | Festive over Frazzled



Truth be told… I've been sitting on the computer most of today trying to finalize gift ideas for my two older girls.
I've been feeling overwhelmed a little by the list of things to do - which I'm surprised by because I was just thinking a couple of days ago "I don't seem to be as frantic or caught up in all of the hustle and bustle this year. My work load is much lighter than usual and I'm not overcommitted on the calendar either."

And yet here I sit this morning…feeling a little "Bah Humbugish".
It could totally be the rain and dreary weather outside I suppose.

I mean we DO have BEAUTIFUL lights up outside this year. Yay!!!
J climbed up on the roof and hung some on the house, without too much griping this time on his part and a lot more apprehension about his safety on my part. On top of the pretty lights on the house, I've got some new lighted grapevine yard decor I spontaneously scored from one of my neighbors at our community garage sale a few weeks ago - two cone trees, a reindeer and a snowman. They are similar to these but not exactly...Grapevine Snowman - Grapevine Trees - Grapevine Deer 
They look great, were super easy to put up and are perfect for the French Farmhouse (rustic + elegant) vibe I'm going for.

Ema even helped me wrap the trunk of the tree in our front yard and string lights up some of the branches too.

Our neighbors keep making comments like "You're really going all out this year…aren't you?" Ha!!
That's soooo not true. They haven't seen our Christmas tree - lights only right now!!

Whatever the reason I'm feeling Bah Humbuggish today…the Instagram post I shared is just what I needed!! I'm definitely going to choose Festive over Frazzled…
How about you?

So first up...I think I'll push play on that Holiday Baking Playlist I shared with you a couple of days ago. It's upbeat and happy and that's what we'll be listening to during our Holiday Cookie Baking Party on Sunday.  Every time I put on my Favorite Christmas Song...I'm immediately rejuvenated.
It seriously puts me in a good mood every time!!  You should try it!!

KEEPiNG iT REAL
Ema and I haven't put lights on the outside tree together since her and I attempted it a couple of years ago. Two holidays ago, it happened to be a really cold, dreary day when we decided to take on the task when a light drizzle began in the middle of our project. Next thing I know her and I kept getting shocked because the lights were plugged in. Eeeks!!!

We laughed about it this year while stringing the lights together again. And would you believe…just as we were finishing…it started sprinkling!! What are the odds of that? (we weren't electrocuted this time though). Phew!!

And yes….we've got lights on our Christmas tree but the decorations are still in the attic.
We may get to that tonight? I'm not sure. I might decide to put our Hot Cocoa Bar together instead and snuggle up with my family in front of the fire and watch my favorite Christmas Movie...Elf.

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Thursday, December 4

TRADITIONS | Holiday Cookie Baking :: Shutterfly



I host a Holiday Cookie Baking party at my house every December with family.
We come together for an afternoon of baking so that at the end of the afternoon we all have a nice assortment of holiday cookies for either eating or gifting/sharing with others.


The idea was actually inspired by my grandmother's cookie press. 
I have fond memories of gathering in her kitchen during the holiday season to bake up her favorite "Holly Wreath" cookies; a five ingredient recipe from back-in-the-day when "cookie" was spelled "cooky". (see below)


In our hopes to remember and honor that tradition my mom, my aunt and I decided to gather together as a family every year and use grandma's cookie press together. (instead of fighting over it when we were baking on separate days… Ha!)

This year, I used these super cute "Jolly Dots" Shutterfly cards to send out to get everyone excited!!
I just LOVE how they turned out with the bright cheerful colors and polka dots!! I got the jolly dots address labels to match too - which made sending them out a cinch!! 

When I was looking for the links to share with you I noticed the invitations are now 40% off and the address labels are 50% off through midnight tonight - December 4th!! Awesome!!! 


So…
my family and I gather…
and we laugh…
and we bake…
and we make memories…every year.

And with every year that we come together…
I continue to learn something new for the next year that will help things go more smoothly and keep things fun and stress-free. I thought you might like to know how I do it…just in case you want to do one of your own.

1. PROVIDE A LUNCH
The first couple of years we just got together and baked and ate cookies and cookie dough all afternoon…which was totally fun. BUT…it was too much sugar and not enough sustenance.
So now…I'm providing an easy lunch for everyone to help themselves to whenever they feel like eating. Last year I did a big pot of White Chicken Chili. This year I'm doing a from-scratch homemade pot of chicken vegetable soup with homemade biscuits. (I've got the biscuits in the freezer from a few weeks ago and will just pop those in the oven).  I'll make the soup the day before so it only needs to be reheated in a crockpot. The idea is to make sure it's easy to eat, easy to clean-up and that it doesn't take up much kitchen counter space - leaving more room for baking cookies.


1. DESIGNATE A START AND STOP TIME
Without a designated ending time, the first year we got together our "afternoon of baking" quietly transitioned into a late evening…leaving us all completely exhausted - and hungry for real food. (see "Provide a Lunch" above). By setting a time, we're a little more cognizant of staying on task and we can actually let our own families know when we'll be done. (and when the cookies will be available for eating). Ha!!  Remember to give yourself time for clean-up too! 

2. COOKIE INGREDIENTS
Everyone should bring the ingredients they need to be able to bake the specific cookie recipe they are looking to share. I also make sure to have plenty of the staples on hand, (flour, sugar, vanilla, salt, butter, eggs, etc.), just in case someone forgets something or we decide to make more of something.

3. HOSTESS SUPPLIES
As the hostess, I make sure to have pot holders, cookie sheets, spatulas, scrapers, measuring spoons, measuring cups, cooling racks, rolling pins, hand-mixers, a stand mixer and scoops. You might also want to have on hand wax paper and parchment paper. (I add a little something to my supply every year - like this year I bought another set of measuring spoons and I'll be buying some more pot holders and cookie sheets). I also provide extra baking staples - see "Cookie Ingredients" above and my family is lucky since I always have a well-stocked pantry filled with all sorts of sprinkles and sparkles.

4. GUEST SUPPLIES
Each person that is participating in the baking should bring the ingredients for their own cookies, (see "Cookie Quantity" below), as well as some type of packaging to transport all of their cookies home.

Some people will just use a paper plates and slide them into ziploc bags. Others will use basic plastic storage containers they already have in their kitchen. I usually try to have pretty packages or plates to go ahead and package up my cookies for gift giving so that my family doesn't eat them all. I picked up these darling rectangle plates from the Oh Joy! collection at Target this year.

5. COOKIE QUANTITY
Each baker should be baking a dozen cookies for each person in attendance…PLUS the amount of cookies the baker wants to take home or keep. (Ex. If I want to make sure I have 4 dozen of my own cookies and there are 5 total bakers participating then I need to plan on baking 9 dozen cookies total.)

6. BAKE HOSTESS COOKIES AHEAD OF TIME
I'm trying something new this year because we are going to have more bakers in the kitchen. Since I only have one oven and a tiny side oven, I'm going to make my cookies ahead of time to free up the oven. I'm thinking that will allow me to enjoy more time with my family and help them with the recipes they are making.

7. CHRISTMAS MUSIC
You know music is HUGE for me so you might have already guessed I always make sure to have some playing in the background while we are baking! Now I call it "Christmas" music because that's what I celebrate but you can call it "Holiday" music if you prefer.  Whatever you call it…make sure you've got your favorites playing. (I'm even polling my guests this year to see what their favorites are so I can add them to my Spotify "Christmas Baking" playlist.

Hope these helpful tips will encourage you to host your own Cookie Baking party!!

All in all the day ends up covering a whole list of things I love doing during the holidays:
Spending time with family.
Baking.
Packaging up homemade goodies for friends and neighbors.
Making memories.
Singing along to my favorite Christmas music.
and last but not least…treating my girls and J with homemade holiday cookies.

And you can bet I'll be taking some selfies to capture all of those memories we'll be making this year!!  I'm actually getting much better at it now that I've been practicing. *wink*

KEEPiNG iT REAL
The Thanksgiving decor is down but not quite out of the house yet…
and the Christmas tree lights are on the tree…as of last night.
That's the extent of our holiday cheer so far.
Hoping to get my Hot Cocoa bar up, the tree decorated and lights up outside before our afternoon of  Cookie Baking.

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Wednesday, December 3

HOLIDAY | Sugar and Spice Art Print :: The Cake Blog


I'm so excited to share with you this month's "Sugar and Spice" 8x10 Kitchen Art Print I designed.
It comes in several background options and you can download it for FREE over on The Cake Blog!!



I've seen people frame the art prints OR even just attach them to the glass of a frame using cute washi tape. The washi tape option would make it super simple to swap out the prints with the new one every month!!

I hope you'll print this out and display it in your kitchen while you are baking away this holiday season!! You could even print out an extra or two for hostess gifts.

DOWNLOAD THE FREE 8x10 ART PRINTS NOW

KEEPiNG iT REAL
I NEED a new camera and a new computer - just sayin'!
My camera is 10+ years old and the computer is going on 6+ years.
This mama blogger needs an upgrade!!
Santa…are you listening?
I've been a super good girl this year. *wink*

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i WAS PUBLiSHED iN CASA CHiC MAGAZiNE

i WAS PUBLiSHED iN ARTFUL BLOGGiNG MAGAZiNE

MEMBER OF MARTHA STEWART'S DREAMERS iNTO DOERS

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