Christmas Baking Part 2

Image Credit - Joy of Baking

I started making peppermint bark a few Christmases ago, and since then, it has become an annual fan favourite. I’ve already made two batches this year! Again, this is a super easy recipe, but because it’s made with two kinds of chocolate and tastes so yummy, it seems like it’s complex so people will be really impressed that you made it. If you want to earn a few brownie points with your fam, friends, clients, etc, just whip up a batch of this and you’re golden. Here’s how it’s done (recipe adapted from Joy of Baking).

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces (170 grams) semi sweet chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil (flavourless oil)
  • 6 ounces white chocolate
  • Candy canes

Directions

  1. Crush some candy canes using either a Magic Bullet, Pampered Chef Chop-It thingy, food processor or by placing them in a Ziploc bag and pounding the crap out of them with a rolling pin.
  2. Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch (20 cm) square baking pan with aluminum foil and smooth out as many wrinkles as you can. But really, don’t get hung up on this because it doesn’t affect how it tastes. Also, I don’t use an 8 inch pan either and it still turns out great!
  3. Melt the semi sweet cholocate with 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil in a double boiler or heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Here’s where I mix things up a bit. Take some of your crushed candy canes and add them to the melted chocolate then immediately pour this mixture into the prepared pan and tilt the pan so the chocolate evenly coats the bottom of the pan. Place in the fridge for about an hour to allow the chocolate to set.
  4. Next, do the same melting thing with the white chocolate and remaining teaspoon of vegetable oil. Immediately pour the melted white chocolate over the dark chocolate and again, tilt the pan to create an even layer. Sprinkle some more crushed candy canes on top of the white chocolate layer. Place back in the refrigerator for about an hour or until the chocolate is set.
  5. Remove the peppermint bark from the pan by lifting the edges of the alumimum foil. Peel back the foil and break the bark into small, irregular-sized pieces. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. But let’s be honest, there’s no way it’s going to last that long.

Enjoy! 🙂 

PS: This recipe goes really nicely with A Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack.


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Watch For Light Advent Project – Part 1

Since December 1st, I’ve been participating in the Watch for Light Advent Project, and as promised, here are some of the images that have caught my eye during the first week of advent. I really like this project because it helps me be intentional in observing the light and beauty in my surroundings.

December 1st - A Winter's Eve Sunset

December 2nd - God's Spotlight

December 3rd - A Different Perspective

December 4th - I Get To Live Here

December 5th - Lights

December 6th - A Little 'Just Because' Gift From My Dad

December 7th - Friends

Christmas Baking Part 1

Admittedly, my domestic skills leave something to be desired…especially when it comes to navigating my way through a kitchen. I love the idea of cooking and baking, but that is generally as far as it goes – a really good idea. But that all changes at Christmas. At Christmas, my inner domestic goddess emerges from its dark abyss to enjoy her 15 minutes in the spotlight. From turning the house into a festive abode to concocting delicious holiday treats, Christmas is when my domestic muscles get a bit of a workout before they go back into hibernation until the next Christmas. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting some of my favourite recipes that I’ve discovered (and likely perfected ;)) over the years.

Rolo Pretzel Taste Sensations

This is a super easy recipe that I first discovered from my boyfriend’s mom several years ago. Literally, it takes about 10 minutes from start-to-finish to make these little sweet and salty treats.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • Mini Pretzels – For aesthetic purposes, mini square pretzels are ideal (think a larger version of a Shreddie), however these are next to impossible to find. Seriously, I visited 7 different grocery stores in search of square pretzels only to come up empty handed. All is not lost though as the traditional mini twisty pretzels offer the exact same taste!
  • Rolos – I purchased a pack of 4 from Superstore for about $4
  • Toppings – I used a variety of toppings including Peanut MnMs, pecans and sprinkles
  • Parchment paper
  • Pan
  • An oven

Here’s How To Make ‘Em:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cover your pan with parchment paper
  3. Place as many pretzels as you have Rolos on the pan.
  4. Place a Rolo on top of each pretzel. 
  5. Pop them in the oven and bake for about 4-5 minutes. The idea is to get the Rolo nice and soft so you put other goodies on top. (Note: When you take the pan out of the oven, the Rolos will not appear melted because they keep their shape. But don’t be fooled, you don’t need any longer than 5 minutes to get them nice and soft.)
  6. Remove from oven and immediately add your toppings. I put half a pecan on some to make a Turtle-like creation, for others I smushed a Peanut MnM on top of the Rolo and for the remaining, I sandwiched the Rolo between another pretzel and dusted some red and green sprinkles on top.
  7. Let cool for about 30 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden again.

IDEA: Pop a pile of these tasty treats into a festive mug, wrap in some lovely cellophane and top with a bow for a quick and easy gift! 🙂

Advent Project

Did you know that the word ‘Advent’ means “coming”? That Christ has come (the First Advent) and is coming again (the Second Advent). This year’s Advent season began on Sunday, November 27th (which makes this post slightly behind) and ends on December 24th. The purpose of this season is to celebrate the birth of Christ and reflect on the hope, light and deliverance His arrival brought.

In the spirit of Advent, I’ve decided to participate in a photography Advent project that I recently found online – the Watch For Light Project. And I wanted to extend the invitation for others to join.

Overall, the intent of the project is to focus our attention on God’s creation. To intentionally observe our surroundings with the purpose of identifying the hope and light of Christ. To renew our sense of wonderment for our Creator. To prepare our hearts to celebrate His birth.

If you’d like to take part in this project, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Smartphone (iPhone preferred but I’m bias)
  • Instagram app and account (it’s free!)
  • Twitter and/or Facebook account
  • Open heart and eyes… and a little inspiration
How It Works
  • In your daily activities, try to look for images, occurrences or people that remind you of the hope and light of Christ. Something that makes you ponder or reflect on the beauty and awe of God’s creation. When you find it, pull out your trusty smartphone and snap a photo
  • Add a title or description to the photo that briefly describes why you took it
  • Post this photo to Instagram as well as Twitter and/or Facebook
  • If posting on Twitter, add the hashtag #adventpicaday so all participants can follow along

Another Option

For those of who you aren’t smartphone users but like the idea and would still like to take part. Simply take a daily photo using a digital camera (or film camera for those old-schoolers out there) and when you upload it to your computer, add the date and a descriptive tag. At the end of the season, you could even create an Advent scrapbook to reflect on for many Christmases to come.

If you’re going to take part, I’d love to hear about it. I’ll also try to periodically post some of my Advent photos to this blog. 

Christmas Tunes (Part 3)

I have been on a roll lately finding great new Christmas tunes! And the best thing about this latest collection is that they’re all available to download for FREE on Noisetrade. If you haven’t heard of this little gem of a website, you must check it out. It’s a great place to discover new tunes from super talented indie artists that may otherwise go undiscovered.

A Neighborly Christmas by Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – This 11-song collection of Christmas tunes by Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors features mostly covers of classics including a fittingly melancholy version of Blue Christmas, a rendition of Merry Christmas Baby that offers a bit of grit and gruff and a folksy arrangement of Go Tell It On The Mountain as well as an original song, Merry Christmas Tonight. If you like folk and bluesy country music, they you’ll likely enjoy this Christmas album.

Christmas Collection 2011 by Sleeping At Last – Indie, rock band, Sleeping At Last has released a whole whack of music over the past decade including their recent holiday album, Christmas Collection 2011. The band’s soft, melodic sound can be likened to that of Sufjan Stevens and with this latest effort, they offer up a collection of Christmas songs that are both beautiful and soothing. Album standouts: Cradle In Bethlehem and Merry Little Christmas.

Emmanuel by Sleeperstar – It’s just a single, but the U2-esque sound of this band’s version of O Come O Come Emmanuel (with a little Joy to the World mixed in for good measure) is worth the time it takes to click on this link, enter your info, open the email with the download link, click the download link and then one final click of the download button.

Another great thing about Noisetrade is that if you like what you hear from a band or artist, you can go back and leave a tip. Happy listening!

DIY Scrabble Ornaments

Image Credit: Mandi Ehman

I love word games. So when I came across this cute do-it-yourself project while browsing StumbleUpon that combines two of my loves – Christmas and Scrabble – it was just too darling to pass up and I knew that I’d be making it at some point this season. So I bookmarked it for later until I came up with inspiration for which words I would spell.

Well a few weeks ago, I found out that I drew my boyfriend’s mom’s name in the annual Christmas gift exchange. I had no idea what to get her. Not because she’s difficult to please (just want to make that clear), but because I wanted to get her something a bit unique. She’s a proud grandma of 6 adorable kiddos (soon-to-be 7) and cherishes every moment she gets with them…which got me thinking of possible gifts that could celebrate or honour her grandchildren. That’s when I remembered the DIY Scrabble ornament craft. So I decided to make her a personalized ornament for each of her 7 grandchildren.

The sample on the website calls for red ribbon as the ornament hanger, but I wasn’t sold on this. It seemed a bit flimsy and could be prone to coming undone, so I came up with a variation using copper wire. If you’d like to make your own set of Scrabble Christmas ornaments, here’s a tutorial to guide your way.

What You’ll Need

  • Wooden Scrabble trays and letters (I bought a new Scrabble game at Walmart for $16)
  • Pencil
  • Miter or hand saw
  • Carpenter glue (the kind that dries clear)
  • Paintbrush
  • 5/8″ screw eyes (these can be found at a hardware store)
  • Copper wire (I got mine from my dad 🙂 )
  • Wire snips (or something that cuts wire)
  • Pliers

Directions

  1. Decide on the words or names that you’ll be making. Lay the corresponding letter tiles out on your wooden trays, pairing the words to maximize the space on the trays. Line the letters up to the outside edges and mark the tray on the inside edge of each word with a pencil.
  2. Remove the letters and cut the trays with a miter saw (not gonna lie, I got my dad to do this part). If you’re super anal meticulous, you could sand the sawed edge to smooth it out a bit.
  3. Use a paintbrush to smooth a thin layer of carpenter glue on the inside of the tray and then firmly press the letters onto the tray, squeezing them together on the sides as well.
  4. Let them dry for at least an hour before making the wire hanger.
  5. Once dry, mark with a pencil on either side of the tray where you’re going to put the screw eye. I recommend the thicker part of the tray to avoid splitting the wood. Carefully turn the screw eyes into the wood tray until they won’t rotate any further (note: it’s not necessary for the entire screw to be inserted into the tray, just as long as it’s secure).
  6. With the screws in place, thread one end of the copper wire into one of the screw eyes, bending up the end so it stays in place. Thread the other end of the copper wire through the other screw eye to create an upside down ‘U’ shape and snip at the desired length. I did approximately 6-8 inch wires for each ornament.
  7. Using the pliers, twist the short end of the copper wire around the long part to secure it in place.
  8. Hang on a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.

Here’s how mine turned out

Christmas Tunes (Part 2)

New Christmas Music!

Singer-songwriter, Andrew Ripp released a brand new Christmas EP on November 22nd called Light Of Mine that features 6 songs – a few classics and a few originals. Of the 6 songs, I’ve only heard his rendition of Joy to the World, but it is awesome and was enough to sell me on the rest of the album, which I promptly downloaded.

Check out his version of Joy to the World – it’s a bluesy, soulful take on a Christmas standard.

Download the Album

Canada – Light Of Mine by Andrew Ripp

US – Light Of Mine by Andrew Ripp

Christmas Tunes (Part 1)

One of my favourite things about Christmas is the music. Each year I usually make a few new mixes which include some of my favourites from previous years (O Holy Night and White Christmas are annual staples) and add in some new tunes, whether they’re new to me or recently released. While I’m still perfecting my first mix of this season, I’ve come across some great new Christmas music that I must share. After all, you can’t Christmas craft, decorate or bake without a merry soundtrack.

She & Him – She & Him have been a duo for quite some time, although for whatever reason I’ve never listened to their music, even though one half of the duo is the absolutely adorable and totally talented Zooey Deschanel. I digress. Their first Christmas collaboration, A Very She & Him Christmas, is a lovely assortment of holiday classics that offer a dash of nostalgia in their retro, swooning style. It’s sweet and simple, and is the kind of album that can be played on repeat in the background while you trim the tree, deck the halls and egg the nog. Album standouts: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas and The Christmas Song.

Folk Angel – I recently stumbled across this band on Twitter (which is a great place to discover new music). It’s a group of four guys who take their collective love for Jesus, music and Christmas to create beautifully arranged, traditional Christmas songs. Fans of Mumford & Sons, Shane & Shane, Seabird, Future of Forestry and Christmas music in general will likely enjoy their music. Since becoming a band back in 2009, they’ve recorded two Christmas EPs and recently released their first full-length effort – Comfort & Joy – a collection of 11 Christmas songs that feature collaborations with several of their musical friends, including Shane & Shane. Their first album, Christmas Songs Vol 1, is available as a free download on Noisetrade – I highly recommend it. Favourite songs include (across all 3 albums): Come Thou Long Expected Jesus/Joy to the World, Deck the Halls and O Holy Night.

Jars of Clay – These guys have been a stalwart on the Christian music scene for years and with a successful Christmas album already in their repertoire (Christmas Songs), they released another collection of holiday tunes this year – a three-song EP titled More Christmas Songs (original). I especially like their rendition of Someday at Christmas.

And a few singles that I’m loving…(some old and some new)

Raise the Tree by Trent Dabbs

Silent Night by Katie Herzig

What Child Is This by Parachute

O Come Let Us Adore Him by Shane & Shane

O Come O Come Emmanuel by Seabird

Santa Claus is Back in Town by Jonny Lang

Enjoy! I’d love to hear what you think of these tunes or hear some of your favourites.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (App Style)

If you love A Charlie Brown Christmas (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?!) and you own an iPad, then you are going to love the new A Charlie Brown Christmas app!

Featuring beautiful pop-up graphics, a digital piano that lets users play the signature song ‘Linus & Lucy’, the ability to make snowflakes flutter from the sky and finger painting capabilities, one would think that this app is for kids only. But I beg to differ. A Charlie Brown Christmas is a classic and for only $6.99, this charming app lets everyone form the young to the young at heart enjoy the sweet nostalgia and rich tradition of a timeless story. This app makes me want to go out and get an iPad…or add it to my Christmas list 🙂

Check out a video and screen shots of this app in action.

Download the App

Canada

US

Christmas Crafting…Part 1

This past weekend I completed my first Christmas craft since I was young entrepreneur in elementary school making Christmas coasters and napkin holders that I sold at local craft fairs (read: guilted family members into buying). I made a set of yarn Christmas trees that I posted a link to last week.

In theory, this should have been a relatively easy craft. After all, it was just wrapping yarn around a foam cone. How difficult could it be? Well if you have the right yarn, it is pretty simple, but I took the instructions to find ‘thick yarn’ a bit too literal. The first version of my yarn Christmas tree looked a little bloated…kind of like a cone-shaped Michelin Man. Being the perfectionist that I am, I dropped the craft and headed out for new yarn. Two stores and one hour later, I came back with skinnier yarn in prettier colours. I also found some pretty cute birdies to top my trees off. Here’s how they turned out.

I went with a cream, bronze and gold theme – to complement my Christmas colours. If you’re still thinking of trying out this craft, here are a few tips:

  • Purchase your yarn, foam cones and decorating accessories from Walmart, Zellers or Target (way cheaper than a craft store like Michaels)
  • Go for medium thickness yarn (not the jumbo thick kind)
  • Pins with a pearl head work best
  • For a little extra glitz, try using sparkly yarn
Happy crafting!
Idea: With all that left over yarn you’ll have after this project and if you’re not a knitter (like myself), try making yarn ornaments with foam balls…like the ones below. This might be my next project.