Gifts in a Jar

Nothing says Christmas quite like homemade gifts in a mason jar, right? I’d love to blame my love for jars on Pinterest but I think my obsession predates Pinterest by at least a decade. I wanted to do something different this year for my coworkers instead of the jar cookies I made the last two years. But, I just couldn’t make up my mind on what to make. I ended up making three different things and letting people choose.

Roasted Garlic Butter

I found this idea over at whipperberry and it is fantastic stuff! This was the least expensive of the three gifts. It did take the most time but it was still super simple and had the house smelling awesome. The only thing I would note is that at first I tried to smash the butter and garlic together on my cutting board and that turned into a big mess. I scraped it off and tossed it into my mixer which worked MUCH better.

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Vanilla Chai Tea

There are recipes all over Pinterest for this stuff that are all very similar. I used this one specifically. This was the most expensive of the three gifts, especially if you don’t already have the spices on hand. Also, I had to throw out my first batch because I had a Pinterest fail moment and didn’t use instant tea. Oops! But, at that point, I was invested (and had an adorable helper!) so I decided to try again. I’m not a big tea drinker but everyone seems to like this stuff and it smells amazing. One coworker joked that she wasn’t even going to drink it, just leave it at her desk with the lid off and use it as potpourri. Lol.

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Exfoliating Sugar Hand Scrub

I don’t remember where I got this idea in the first place or I would include the link. But the stuff is so simple it’s almost embarrassing: mix Dawn hand renewal dish soap a little at a time into sugar until you have a thick paste. That’s it. The hand renewal soap keeps the soap from being drying vs using regular dish soap. It seems like a girly gift on the surface. But, the dish soap cuts grease and the sugar really scrubs. It is perfect for cleaning up after working in the yard or other messy tasks. This is certainly the simplest of the three gifts, and may actually be even cheaper than the garlic butter (I didn’t calculate exact costs). You can literally whip this up in about 90 seconds and it looks, smells, and feels great. Just don’t post it on the Internet like I am how little effort it actually required and your coworkers, neighbors, kids school teachers, etc. will be none the wiser!

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That’s it. A can of chipboard tags from Target, some twine, and I’ve got 23 coworker gifts in about 2 hours and for under $50 (not including the cost of the spices in the tea, those set me back about $30 but now my pantry is fully stocked.)

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Let me know if you give these a try. And leave a comment with your favorite quick and easy homemade gifts. Bonus points if they are in a jar! 🎅

Baby Bullet Review and Notes on Homemade Baby Food

Two posts in one week?!  I know, something has gotten in to me!

When Em was about two months old someone gave me a Baby Bullet for Christmas.  If you’re not familiar with Baby Bullet, it’s a line of products for making home-made baby food.  I was given the whole set; it looked pretty much like this only with the steamer also:

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When I received this gift I was pissed!  That’s probably not what you expected me to say but it’s true.  I remember getting in the car and starting a major rant/vent session on my husband that went something like this:

“Seriously? I’m expected to make my own baby food now?! Doesn’t she know I’m going back to work in like 2 weeks, doesn’t she realize I’ll have better things to do than mess with trying to make my own freakin’ baby food?!  This is just going to take up space in my kitchen and sit there making me feel guilty every time I see it.  I’m not opening it, I’m getting rid of it!  What makes her think I’m such a hippie that I’d even want home-made baby food anyway?  What’s wrong with the stuff in the jars?”

Yeah, I know it sounds dramatic.  But, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed about going back to work and it just hit a nerve.  I stuck it in the pantry and decided to think about it later.  Fast forward a few months to when it was time to start Em on solids.  The super matchy “kit” nature of the products appealed to my OCD and all the appliances were so damn happy and smiling, how bad could it be?  I figured I’d try it if for no other reason than to prove that it wasn’t worth the hassle.

But, I was wrong.  It was easy to use and I actually really enjoyed it.  One of my favorite things about the products is that it comes with a “cookbook” and instructions that really takes the guess-work out of it all.  It tells you which foods to try first, gives suggested feeding schedules for different ages, tells you which foods to avoid until the child is older, tells how many servings of baby food each fruit or vegetable will make, etc.  Making the transition from all bottles to table food was confusing to me, especially with my first, but this book makes it easy and it’s very concise.  It’s more like a pamphlet than a book but it’s great!

As far as a review of the products:  I like the steamer and blender but I’m not overly impressed with their quality.  They are kind of small, designed to only make 4-6 servings of baby food at a time.  In some ways this is nice because the appliances don’t take up as much space.  But, if you like to make large quantities at once, you’re probably better off with full size appliances.  One thing I do love the steamer for:  hard-boiled eggs!  It has a little egg tray that allows you to steam 6 eggs at a time and it works beautifully.  Eggs come out perfectly and easy to peel every time with just one push of a button, it’s awesome!

It’s time for C to start getting some real food so I put my baby bullet stuff back to work last night.  Making baby food is an extremely simple process:  peel, chop, steam, puree, freeze.  I made apples, bananas, avocado, sweet potatoes, and squash.

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I like to use little silicone ice-cube trays to freeze the baby food instead of what came with the Baby Bullet system because the smaller cubes are more appropriate serving size at this age.  And, I mostly just like to make more at one time than what will fit in what came with the BB.

Total Project Time:  An hour and half.

Total Project Cost:  It’s better to think of this project in dollars saved rather than dollars spent.  My produce cost me about $4.00 (I won’t include the cost of the Baby Bullet since mine was a gift and you could easily make this stuff with non-smiling appliances you most likely already own.)  I made the equivalent of about 28 jars of baby food which typically cost about $0.50 each.  So, I saved $10.  That’s not a tremendous savings for over an hour of work.  But, there is the added benefit of knowing exactly what is in my baby’s food and knowing that it’s something I made with love.  …maybe I’m turning into a hippie after all… 🙂

Aside

Life as a working mom is…

I ran across this post on Yahoo today and a few of them made me chuckle.

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https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/what-life-as-a-working-mom-is-really-like-103216950834.html

I’m sure some are relatable for all moms, regardless of their employment situation. I’m trying to get in the habit of posting at least once a week. So, I thought I’d share the article and add a few of my own. From just this week:

Life as a working mom is…

… praying the cold front doesn’t mean ice, snow, and school closures because you hate trying to figure out which parent is going to miss work to stay home.

… spending your lunch break running home to get formula to take to daycare because you missed seeing that they were out on the baby’s daily report.

… being grateful you have an extra coat in the car because you realize as you are walking in to work that the one you have on has a giant spot of spit up on it (and you have an outdoor site visit with clients later that morning!)

… driving to get takeout for dinner so that the baby can sleep just a little longer in the car seat after a day of bad napping. (But let’s be honest, I didn’t want to cook anyway!)

… getting a kick out of all the kids at daycare wanting to take a turn playing with my work ID badge.

… enjoying an impromptu lunch date with my hubby.

… being grateful for a job I enjoy that helps feed, clothe, and house our family as well as afford some fun stuff and luxuries along the way.

Remember that time…

Remember that time I started a blog and then just disappeared and didn’t post anything for nearly a year?  Yeah, I remember that too…  Pregnancy has a way of doing that to you.  I don’t even think I told the blogosphere I was expecting… But last fall my typical crafting time became sip-gingerale-and-go-to-bed-early time.  I wasn’t doing anything that I thought would be especially interesting and therefore didn’t write about it.  The next thing I knew, a month became two, became 9, became I have a newborn, became I haven’t written in a year.  So, oops!

But, Caleb is sleeping through the night and life is starting to resemble it’s former self.  And last weekend I finished a project for the first time in months.  I thought I’d share:

While doing baking research for Emily’s birthday cake, I stumbled upon an awesome tip:  to make your cakes bake more evenly and flat, wrap a wet towel around them while cooking.  This works like a charm. I didn’t have a dome to cut off my cakes. They were flat enough to stack straight out of the oven, pretty cool!  Unfortunately, trying to safety pin two dishtowels around my cake pans was a bit of a pain.  I had an idea to make little adjustable cake-pan scarves.

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I bought an inexpensive dish towel and some large wooden buttons to make my scarves out of. Make sure you choose oven-safe buttons! It’s a pretty simple sewing project after that.

I cut the dish towel twice the width of my finished scarf, and sewed it into a long tube. I chose a width in between the sizes of my two pans so I could use them for either. But, you could easily make custom scarves for each of your cake pans. I stitched along the long edge top and bottom (kind of like quilting it) to keep the scarf flat. Then I added two buttons, one at the right length to go around my 8″ cake pans and one for my 6″ pans. The button hole was by far the most challenging aspect of the project since I had never done one before.

I was quite pleased with the finished result. Here they are, showing one around each size pan.

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I’m really excited to have these for my holiday baking!  And they’d make a cute diy gift for any bakers in your family.

 

Total Project Time:  about 2.5 hours (but, I’m really not much a seamstress and I spent at least half of that time trying to figure out the button holer on my sewing machine…)

Total Project Cost:  $5

Jar Cookies

I want to share with you another one of my new favorite Christmas gift ideas.  I made these last Christmas for friends and co-workers and they were so well liked, I made them again this year.  I think they would also make a perfect Valentine’s Day treat or hostess gift.

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Last year I made this recipe in the original form using 1 quart mason jars (pictured) for several friends.  To keep costs down, I used 1 pint jars (a half batch) for my co-workers since I was making a bunch of them.  Back during the summer, I decided I would make these again this year.  To cut costs on my jars, I started saving our Prego spaghetti sauce jars.  Below is a table with the ingredients for each size jar.

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To make the jars, just layer the dry ingredients in the jar in the order listed and shown in the picture.

A few notes:

*  The original recipe for the large mason jars didn’t fill the jar as full as I liked.  I want the ingredients nice and tight so that if the jar gets tipped, the layers stay in place.  Two things I found helpful were to tap the jar lightly on the counter after adding the flour so that it settles a little and you can fill that extra space with other ingredients (instead of allowing it to settle on its own later).  Also, just use a little extra of the chocolate chips, cranberries, and walnuts if you need to.

**  I’m not sure if “heaping” is quite the right word for the measurements on the spaghetti sauce recipe.  Just make sure you’re generous with the amounts, don’t level off your scoops, otherwise you’ll come up a little short and not have a nice full jar.

One more thing, tamp down the brown sugar around the edges with the back of a spoon before adding the next layer.  This will give a clean line between ingredients.

Once you have all the dry ingredients in the jar, attach a note with the following instructions:

“Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, beat together X tablespoons softened butter, X egg, and X tsp. vanilla until fluffy.  Add entire jar of ingredients and mix well (cookie batter will be stiff).  Drop cookies onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges begin to brown.  Makes X cookies.  Store in a cool dry place up to 3 months.”

Refer to the table for the ‘X’ quantities appropriate for what size jar you are making.  I also usually include a list of the dry ingredients on the tag if I am giving them to people I don’t know well, in case anyone has allergies or anything.

The original recipe said you can store them up to three months.  But, I happen to know one co-worker who didn’t make last year’s cookies until about a week before he got the next year’s!  Not that I’m recommending that…  But, the fact that you can store these for a few months and use them later (after the initial tide of Christmas goodies rolls out) is one of my favorite things about them!

I had one co-worker tell me he had a great time making the cookies with his kids (10 yrs. old) and another tell me he had fun making them with his mom (75 yrs. old).  Now that’s what I call a versatile gift!  I hope you enjoy!

Total Project Cost:  less than $5/jar depending on how much you spend on the jars and what size you make

Total Project Time:  not long, less than an hour for 6

Old Fashioned Caramel Balls

Hello everyone. Sorry for my long hiatus on writing, things have been pretty hectic around here the last couple months. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas!  I hope you did too!  But, I haven’t done much crafting so, I haven’t felt like I had much to say. I still don’t really, but, I thought I’d better come up with something so that you didn’t think I’d disappeared from the blogosphere permanently.

Over Thanksgiving, me, my mom, and my aunt made a family favorite: caramel balls! These are little caramel candy/cookie type treats that have been in our family for ages. They are somewhat labor intensive and the ingredients can be expensive. So, we don’t make them every year. They are an extra special treat whenever we do make them. I should have shared the recipe earlier so you could enjoy them for the holidays also.  But, they are just as delicious any time of year.  So, here you go!

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Confession: This isn’t actually a picture of the caramel balls we made; I stole this from kraftrecipes.com where they have a recipe for caramel balls using honey nut cereal. But, my caramel balls look very similar upon completion.

Old Fashioned Caramel Balls:

Ingredients:

36 caramel squares

3 tablespoons canned milk or cream

1 cup rice krispy cereal

1 cup corn flakes cereal

1 cup coconut

1 cup finely chopped nuts (we like pecans)

softened butter

Directions:

1. Unwrap the caramel squares. Melt the caramel squares with the canned milk in the microwave or a double boiler, stirring frequently until smooth.

2. Combine all other ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Pour melted caramel over cereal mixture and stir together using a buttered spoon.

4. Using buttered hands, roll the mixture into approximately 1″ diameter balls.

5. Place balls on parchment paper and allow to cool completely. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes about 18 or more depending on how large you make them.

A few tips:

1. Make extras! These things are addictive and go fast. To split between the three of us, we made 12 batches! That may be a bit excessive. But, they keep well in the freezer. If you’re going to spend the money, and make the mess, go all out!

2. When you first pour the caramel into the dry ingredients and get it mixed up, it will be a hot sticky mess. Buttering your hands before trying to roll the balls is critical. There seems to be a sweet spot between letting the caramel cool enough that the mixture will stay together a little better but still be warm enough that it’s workable.

3. We have some people in our family that don’t like coconut so we always make a few batches without it. Just substitute 1/3 to 1/2 a cup extra of the two cereals.

So, that’s it. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. And, let me know how it goes if you decide to try the caramel balls!

 

The Cat in the Party Hat

Emily’s second birthday was last weekend and we threw a Cat in the Hat themed party to celebrate.  Here are some of the highlights:

Every great party starts with a great invitation, right?  Or maybe that’s just my excuse for letting my love of stationary and paper goods go a little overboard…  I was inspired by the invitations here and here and decided I’d give it a try.  They ended up being a big hit!  I’ll include a second blog post later with more pictures and tips on how to create your own personal book to use as an invitation or pretty much anything else.

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Our party was from 2:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon so I didn’t think it was necessary to serve a full meal.  But, I firmly believe that ALL parties should have some food.  I kept it simple with croissant sandwiches and a veggie tray (both prepared with items mostly from Sam’s).  For your next party, please please, pretty please make your own veggie tray.  They look so much nicer, don’t take very long to prepare, and you can get almost double the veggies for what you’d spend on a medium sized one in those crappy plastic trays.  I also had fresh strawberries to serve with the cake.  For drinks we had red punch and bottled water and juice boxes.

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I collected lots of good decoration ideas from Google and Pintrest.  Unfortunately, life got hectic leading up to the party and several of my plans didn’t come to fruition.  So, the decorations were pretty minimal: red tablecloths, color coordinated serving ware, and a few balloons.  But, since we were at a park, I felt like we didn’t really need much.  Fortunately my mom brought two Cat In the Hat costumes and everyone had a good time putting them on and goofing off.

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Lastly, the cake!  I decided to try my hand at making a topsy-turvy cake.  After making two practice cakes ahead of time, the final cake came together really nicely.  At some point I may write a separate post about making it.  The finished cake was fun and channeled the whimsy of Dr. Seuss and even tasted great.

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So, that’s it.  We had a fantastic afternoon at the park with friends and family!  It was such a perfect time to relax and reflect on so many blessings we’ve received in the past year.  And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?!

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