Monthly Archives: December 2011

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“Dorthy’s Cookies”… a.k.a Chocolate Crinkles

Although winter in Minnesota is usually quite harsh—piles of snow deeper than I am tall, and temperatures that would make even an Eskimo cringe— this particular winter has been anything but normal. Its the end of December and it is nearly 40 degrees outside…at 10 pm! I’m not complaining…no sir-ree…in fact, I wish every winter was as mild!
Not everyone agrees with me, though.  Most people that live in Minnesota look forward to the snow and the cold, and all the “joys” that winter brings. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis and snowboards… all useless. But, with the absence of snow, it seems there is also an absence of Christmas Spirit.

Christmas is only a few days past, and already businesses have taken down their lights, trees are no longer shining, and parents are wishing the holidays would fly by so they could send their kids back to school.
I suppose I also associate snow with Christmas. A part of me wished for a white Christmas (although, a very small part). And that same part of me was (maybe) disappointed when it didn’t turn out that way.  Christmas just isn’t Christmas unless it’s white outside.  It’s also not Christmas without Dorthy’s Cookies.

Dorthy's Cookies

You see, Dorthy was a little, old lady—one of my grandma’s friends.  She had one of the kindest hearts, an amazing love for her family, and an incredible talent for baking.  Dorthy was always baking something for someone, and she was famous for her chocolate cookies.  My mom told me she called them macaroons (which they weren’t), but I don’t remember that.  For as long as I can remember, my family always just called them “Dorthy’s cookies”, and they were a hot commodity.  She would pass them around at church and often give pails of them out as gifts.  I remember one of the last times I saw Dorthy, she was attending my cousin’s wedding.  She wasn’t in good health but she had a smile on her face and lots to say (Dorthy also had the gift of gab).  Earlier in the morning the little kids at church had celebrated their First Communion and she told me she had baked 12 pails of cookies so each kid could have one.  That’s just how Dorthy was.  She loved everyone and showed that love with cookies—fudgy, chocolate cookies, rolled in powdered sugar…to be specific!

Every year, Dorthy’s cookies made an appearance on my family’s cookie tray.  And every year, they were scarfed down as soon as they were set out.  That is, until Dorthy passed away.  Once she was gone, so were the cookies.  My family had the recipe, and apparently my aunts tried to make them…but they never turned out the same.  Then, one year I asked mom for the recipe.  It was scribbled down on a dirty little note card.  The directions were very vague and the ingredients were smudged.  No wonder they never turned out!  I tried finding them online, but had no luck.  Then, one day, around Christmastime 2009, I was using “stumbleupon”…and as I clicked the button, Dorthy must have been smiling down on me.  There were her cookies!  They were called Chocolate Crinkle cookies and apparently were actually Betty’s cookies (Betty Crocker).

I was so excited.  I called mom and told her I’d be making Dorthy’s cookies for Christmas. That night I mixed the batter together and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  The next day I baked them…and they were perfect!  Christmas was complete!

It’s funny how a cookie can mean so much to a family, but it’s true.  They really do.  And this year was no different.  In fact, a couple weeks ago, as I was mixing up the dough (a double batch) my sister stopped over.  When she saw the dough being mixed, her eyes got huge!  She begged me to bake a pan early, so she could have a couple.  One pan turned to two pans, and then my brother stopped over…and they were gone as soon as I took them out of the oven.

These cookies are definitely something special…

Aside from putting the cookies on the cookie plate this year, I also included a package of them in the gift baskets I made for my family.  I even got my niece involved, and she helped roll them in the sugar.

We celebrate together on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas day I recieved a text message from my brother that said:  “I ate all of the cookies you made by myself.  Please make me more.”  …and that makes me smile.  I’m sure Dorthy would be happy too!

Find Dorthy’s recipe HERE.

all wrapped up and ready to be enjoyed!

Fleur De Sel Soft Caramels

I wanted to give Piyush something special for Christmas this year.  We decided not to exchange gifts because we had just returned from India—where we bought so many incredible things!  We also splurged on a pool table for our family room earlier in the month, so there really wasn’t anything either one of us needed, or wanted.

Piyush does so much for me though, so I decided to surprise him with something I know he loves…homemade soft caramels!  We sometimes buy them from Knudsen’s Caramels in Redwing, MN…but seriously?!  $12 a pound is a lot of money to spend on caramels.  They’re delicious and definitely worth it, but it’s a splurge.

I’ve never made caramels before but I figured it couldn’t be that hard, and it’d definitely be a lot more cost effective.  I did a little research online and found a recipe I thought would work.  Long story short, I overcooked them (I blame my candy thermometer!) and they turned out to be hard candies instead.  Failure!

Luckily, my sister stopped by with my niece and her sister-in-law, Rachel.  My sister told me that Rachel makes the best caramels…and graciously she offered to teach me to make them too! I made a few changes to her original recipe…less sugar, less corn syrup and the addition of salt.  I think the salt adds another dimension to the caramel and really takes it up a notch!  And…they tasted a LOT like Knudsen’s caramels!  Mine were a little lighter in color, but I’m pretty sure that could be fixed easily.  I used white sugar.  Their ingredients list includes brown sugar.  Next time I’ll have to make the swap and see what happens.

Fleur de sel caramels

I think any recipe would work to make caramels, the real secret is the timing.  Knowing when to take them off the stove is important and if your candy thermometer is off—you’ll end up with caramels that are either too soft or too hard.  What I found worked the best was throwing a bit of the boiling caramel in a cup of cold water.  I could then reach in and grab the piece without burning myself, and see if I could roll it into a ball.  If you test it this way, I guarantee you’ll have no problems and you’ll be eating delicious caramels in no time!

These caramels were a definite success!  Piyush loved them so much, he convinced me to make an additional batch for our family to enjoy on Christmas Eve.  They only take around an hour to come together…but they take another hour or so to wrap them all!

all wrapped up and ready to be enjoyed!

It was worth it.  I wrapped up a few half pound packages to throw into the gift baskets I made my family and still had tons left! I’d guess one batch makes about 6 lbs (I didn’t actually measure this time). I put the leftover caramels into a pretty bowl and set them out with all the other goodies I made.

some of our Christmas Eve goodies

The caramels were definitely the biggest hit—well, maybe tied with the “Dorthy Cookies”—but that’s another post.

I was excited that my family loved them so much.  My cousins and grandpa even went home with handfuls stuffed in their pockets! By the time everyone had cleared out there were only 4 caramels left in the bowl!

I have a feeling these will be requested at every family function!

I really enjoyed this Christmas.  I didn’t take many photos, but we had an amazing dinner, lots of good conversation, pool tournaments, and even a little Christmas caroling—courtesy of my sister.  I’m really tempted to put the video of her jamming out on Piyush’s guitar here on my blog, but instead I’ll leave you with a few photos instead.

Grandpa yo-yoing ...the younger kids didn't even know what a yo yo was!!!

Penny made a bed out of the tablecloths once all the tables were packed away

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Winter Jammin’… Strawberry Lavander Jam

Making jam and jellies is something I really enjoy.  I’m not really sure why, but when I’m making jam or jellies I feel so relaxed and all the sudden I have all the patience in the world (which says a lot, usually I have the patience of a 3 year old).  I do most of my canning and preserving in the late spring through early fall, probably similar to most people.  But the other day I was thinking…why not winter?  Sure, I guess the logical and most obvious answer would be:  no fresh produce, but that wasn’t a good enough reason for me.  I mean, I froze tons of berries at their peak of freshness and if they’re good enough for smoothies and pies why wouldn’t they be good enough for jam?

Oh, let me tell you…they were!

Christmas is coming up and I thought a variety of homemade jams, jellies and preserves would make awesome gifts.  Give my family the gift of summer…in the middle of the winter, you know?  That beats unwrapping an Ipad anyday!!!

I  took approximately 4lbs of strawberries out of the freezer (this will yield around 5 cups of fruit/juice when thawed).  Then I got this brilliant idea…what if I added lavender to the jam?  I’m always looking for an opportunity to add lavender to everything and anything I possibly can.  Some would say I’m obsessive (I’m lookin’ at you, husband!).

Love--- in a jar

I googled a few recipes and found that I’m apparently not the only one who decided strawberries and lavender would make a perfect pair, as it’s been done many, many times.  Some of the recipes were more confusing—or time consuming— than I wanted, so I simply ground up 2 tablespoons of lavender buds (you can find these at co-ops and most specialty grocery stores.  I also grow my own.) and rubbed it into the sugar—making lavender sugar!  Then I followed the directions on the box of pectin I bought.  So easy! I don’t always use pectin when I make homemade jams, but this time I wanted to be certain it’d set up well in time for Christmas.

Soon enough, I had 12 beautiful jars of homemade jam!  The lavender flavor was a little overwhelming, so next time (and there will be a next time!) I think I’ll probably cut back the amount of buds to about 1 tbsp.  The aroma of the jam is incredible!  Strawberries and lavender were meant for one another!

And just in case you were wondering, no one would ever be able to tell I used frozen berries.  It definitely tastes like summer in a jar!

I can’t wait to tackle some of those frozen blueberries next…

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Easy, Inexpensive Holiday Wreath

I like pretty things.

I like pretty things even more if they’re inexpensive!  I mean, really?  Who doesn’t love a deal?  With the holidays upon us, I wanted a wreath for our front door.  I didn’t want just a plain evergreen wreath though, I wanted something with some pizazz!

I found a bunch of ideas online…and planned on making a marshmallow holiday wreath.  I went to both Hobby Lobby and Michaels but had no luck finding a wreath form.  Sure, I did find one at Michaels…but they wanted like 11 bucks for a piece of styrofoam.  Call me cheap.  I don’t care.  I’m not spending 11 bucks for a piece of styrofoam.  No way. If I did that, by the time the wreath was done it would end up costing me a fortune…and it would probably just be cheaper to buy a pre-made one in the first place (can you believe the prices of holiday wreaths? INSANE!).  So, feeling a little defeated, I decided to check Goodwill.  I mean, what can’t you find at Goodwill?!

As soon as I walked in the door I promptly headed towards all the fake, plastic flowers.  Hiding behind a bunch of dusty daisies and a straw garland I found a perfect styrofoam wreath form.  It was covered with junk, LOTS of junk…but I saw potential.  I also spotted a giant bag of “holiday” pine cones with some leaves and small flowers added in for good measure.  Since everything holiday was 50% off, I scored the wreath and the pine cones for 5 bucks. Awesome!

I took my finds home and got to work.  I tore all the junk off the wreath and trashed it, it wasn’t worth saving.  Then, I grabbed the hot glue gun and got to gluing!   I covered the whole wreath as good as I could with the pine cones and then stuck a few random twigs and leaves (notice the bay leaves?!)  in just to add a little depth—or something like that!  Once everything was how I liked it, I sprayed it very, very quickly with some white spray paint…to mimic snow!  Which is sort of ironic, actually.  It’s the end of December in Minnesota, and this is what it looks like out our back window:

Snowless December

We have no snow!!! I kind of think we deserve a nice, mild winter though for having to put up with the hellish one last year!

Beginning of November last year

Anyway, back to the wreath, when the spray paint was still wet and sticky I sprinkled it with some epsom salts so that you’d really get the “snow effect”.  Once it was dried, I used some ribbon that we had leftover from decorating our Christmas tree and tied a bow to hang the it on the door.  I added a Christmas ornament that said “Peace.”  I’ve had the ornament since I was in college…so it didn’t cost me a dime at the present.

I thought it needed a little something else though, so I ran to Hobby Lobby quick.  They didn’t have much to choose from…at all!  So I ended up purchasing a little, red, beaded cardinal and some piece of fake evergreen with red glitter on it.  Total cost?  $1.50.

I hung it on the door using a 3M hanger dealy that I already had lounging around my “junk” drawer.

All in all I spent $6.50 out of pocket.  That’s like 1/2 the cost of a new styrofoam wreath!!!  Crazy!  Plus I feel even better about it because I used something that was someone else’s trash—I’m upcycling, baby!  Apparently, upcycling—turning trash into treasure—is all the rage right now.  So not only do I have a new, totally awesome holiday wreath…I’m also incredibly trendy!  That’s right. Trendy!

(I’ve linked this up @ Addicted to Decorating)

Indian Dinner in an Hour!

Today I woke up craving Indian food.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had a really amazing, homemade Indian dinner.  Too long, actually.  As good as the Indian restaurant can be, it never really hits the spot entirely.  Last time we were there, all I wanted was lamb curry; and that’s what we ordered.  But what we got was overcooked lamb in a so-so gravy.  Not at all amazing.   Piyush and I left with full tummies but we were both a little lot disappointed.  Sometimes I just don’t want to cook though…and most of the time I regret it. Continue reading

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Random Photos

I haven’t posted in awhile (obviously!), I’ve been lazy.  I was going to write that I’ve been busy, but then I thought, “Who am I kidding?!”  I haven’t posted because I’ve decided to watch too much television and bake too many cookies.  Sure, I’ve done a few substantial things…I’ve taken both cats to the vet, got eyelash extensions (sadly, the girl that did them this time didn’t use enough glue…and now they look funky), and I’ve hosted an “Ugly Sweater Party”.  But, aside from those things,  I haven’t really done much…and it feels so good!

I wish I would have taken more photos, but unfortunately my camera was in the cabinet and…well…out of sight, out of mind.  So I’ve decided to create a post full of randomness!

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The wedding cake I made for Brooke ---how it looked when it was completely finished.

You can read all about the cake HERE.

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Okay, I had to show you one more...

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Minty World Peace Cookies. They would rock your world!

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Who doesn't love Lavender Macarons?!

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Pumpkin Trifle for Thanksgiving. Notice the mutilated gingerbread men on the top? They were delicious!

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Merry Christmas!

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My rosebush is confused! It's the end of December, not the middle of April! Weird!

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Bobbing for apples in Summer's sink. I still have to blog about our crazy applefest!

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Early October in my garden

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Meet Harry!

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 Until next time…