Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A little here and a little there, a little bit everywhere

Each holiday season, there are plenty of "little" gifts you need to secure.  "Little" is a misnomer.  More often than not, these "little" gifts are for folks who help the world go 'round.  Teachers, mail deliverers, music instructors, care providers, co-workers, neighbors.....the list goes on and on.

I have a lot of friends who are teachers.  I listen to them.  (Heck, I admire the fool out of them.  They have chosen a career I know I am not meant to do.)  One thing they have drilled into me:  teachers do not expect gifts.  They do not expect families to spend money on them.  If a family feels compelled to present them with a gift, it doesn't need to be expensive.

RULE #1:  Small gift cards are GREAT!

A $5 gift card can be great!  Coffee drinker? Local coffee shop or Starbucks - whatever is closer to the school.  Target?  A teacher can ALWAYS find something at Target.  Local grocery store?  Everyone need to make a quick grocery run every now and then on the way home from work.  Select a store near the school (preferably on the quicker route away from school).  While it may seem boring to grab a $5 gift card to a generic store, we all run in and out of these stores and that is $5 they don't have to spend out of their pocket!

RULE #2:  No coffee cups full of candy!

Apparently teachers get LOTS of coffee cups full of candy.  They don't need anymore.

RULE #3:  Homemade food is nice, but can be creepy.

This one was hard for me to wrap my head around UNTIL a teacher explained it to me.  It is great that people want to share food with them.  There are people who have issues with eating food prepared by people they don't know well.  I can respect that.  Keep it in mind when you are preparing food as a gift.

Additional gift options for teachers and others:
Levenger offers a variety of games during the holiday season.  Many are moderately priced, such as:  Story Cubes, Literary Charades, Ever After Memory Game, Orijinz, Tell Tale, Spot It, Name Chase, or Zip It.  (There are more great educational games to consider for the offsprings and others on the gift list too.)  My absolutely FAVORITE little gifts/teacher gift/stocking stuffer are book bungees.

Penzey's has some great spice boxes for small gifts:  Kind Heart, Mini Gift Box, Grill and Broil Mini Gift Box, and Baking Mini Gift Box.

If you want some food treats to include, there are a wide variety of holiday options available at:  Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Earthfare, and many local grocers.  I have found nice bowls and containers at Tuesday Morning and TJ Maxx (not coffee mugs!).

Have fun.  Be creative.  Most of all, enjoy the act of giving!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Food is love, so gifts of food are fabulous!

We can't always provide someone with a gift of homemade food.  Logistical (distance), safety (it is a bit weird to receive homemade food from someone you don't know that well), dietary (allergies and medical limitations), and preference (some folks really like prepared foods - I've been trying for years to understand it without much success) all play a role.  There are some cool options available though!

All of these food options are family/local businesses.  They just aren't necessarily located around the corner from your house!  Purchasing from them still supports the small business backbone of our economy during these tough times.  Best of all:  their products are FABULOUS!

Many years ago, my spouse had a business trip to Racine, WI.  A colleague (originally from the area) enabled introduced him to Danish kringle from O&H Danish Bakery.  When their kringle became available for online ordering and delivery, we haven't had a holiday season (or his birthday or Father's day) without a delivery.  He hoards it.  Literally.  It disappears to the spare frig in the garage to stay out of view of potential guests.  The offspring scores servings now that he has proven he will eat the entire allotment and not waste any.  The great thing about ordering from O&H is that you can schedule your delivery when you order (i.e. order now and have them arrive at the appointed location on the days of your choosing during the holiday season).  You don't have to worry about logging in multiple times to take care of your list.  I have scheduled for kringle to arrive at holiday locations the same day we drive in.  Additionally, we have yet to send kringles as gifts where the recipients weren't hooked afterwards.  Favorite flavors of the spouse and offspring (in no particular order):  cherry, pumpkin caramel, raspberry, pecan, turtle, maple walnut, cranberry.

Sunnyland Farms pecans (and treats) are awesome!  There is always a debate as to whether orange frost or sugar and spice is the ultimate favorite.  Either way, the recipient is a winner.  (Full disclosure: I'm in Camp Orange Frost.)  There are lots of other great goodies to choose from too.  October is pecan season so gifts from Sunnyland Farms will be fresh when they arrive for the holidays.  IMPORTANT:  when you order, make sure you are on the list to receive the catalog next year.  You'll understand why when you receive it.  One of my favorite fall activities is reading the Sunnyland Farms catalog.

I have mentioned Gearhart's chocolates before in the blog.  A gift from Gearhart's is the ultimate in indulgence.  Treat yourself (the spouse and I do EVERY year) or someone else.  The standard assortments are great, but for $1 more you can create custom assortments also.

Gifts that keep giving:
For the foodie or wanna be foodie:  Bon Appetit
For the foodie who wants more information/detail:  Cooks Illustrated
For folks dealing with allergy/medical issues:  Living Without

Needle news:
Birthday gift for my mother-in-law.  She requested a felted handbag.
Pattern: Little Slip of a Thing
Yarn:  Ella Rae 100% worsted weight wool; one skein each purple and gray

True sign a nip is in the air.  Freshing up the socks.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


It has been a busy month or so.  Can you tell?  When the day winds down, I focus on spending time with the family, cooking, and - obviously - knitting.

We have celebrated the offspring's birthday!  Rule at our house:  birthday celebrant sets the menu for the family meal.  Oh, how I love my child!  The menu: homemade macaroni and cheese with bacon; cooked apples; baked sweet potatoes; lima beans; and ice cream cake.

I've never made an ice cream cake.  As usual, I developed a plan and dove it.  First, I baked a homemade brownie layer (cake style vs fudgy) in an 8" layer cake pan.  I removed the brownie from the pan.  After it was completely cool, I wrapped it and placed it in the freezer.

Next, I began making the ice cream layers.  The offspring chose (from bottom to top): mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, and cherry chocolate.  I softened the ice cream and used the 8" layer pans to form the separate ice cream layers.

After at least overnight in the freezer, I began to assemble the cake.  I placed the frozen brownie layer on the serving dish.  One-by-one, I removed the ice cream layers from the pan by dipping each in a sink of warm water for about 10 seconds and turned it out on ice cream cake.  I placed the assembled cake in the freezer overnight.

The next day, I prepared a double batch of Super Stabilized Whipped Cream and decorated the cake the day of the dinner.

After decorating, the cake was in the freezer for approximately 6 hrs before serving.  All components were frozen.  It was a little difficult to insert the candles in the whipped cream.  The next time, I will most likely utilize the Stabilized Whipped Cream for frosting.

It was enjoyed by all.  We will definitely have another sometime.

I could have done without the mint chocolate chip and the cherry chocolate together.  Of course, it wasn't my celebration.

Our birthday gift to the offspring was a trip to Universal Florida and a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We had great fun.

The offspring had a few items on a punch list for the trip:

We drank butterbeer.  (Both frozen and liquid - frozen won out as the favorite for our family.)

Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans were consumed.  (Plus more brought back for sharing.)

Pumpkin juice was consumed.

And most importantly - a wand was procured from Olivander's.

Several knitted items have been completed during the blog absence.  I'll gather all the pictures and include them later.

I also have some wonderful holiday gift suggestions.  I'll include those next time.