Listening to: "Serial," of course! If you haven't gotten into this podcast yet, put aside some time for it this winter. You can listen to it from the very beginning here. Make sure you start with episode one! (Oh yes, and plenty of Christmas carols :)
Watching: Last week we finished watching season two of "Orphan Black" -- wowowow. This show is amazing. My brother watched it with Kristie and I. He broke his foot two weeks ago and stayed with us for awhile after having surgery while he recovered. His ER nurse couldn't recommend it highly enough, and the three of us gobbled it up while he was stuck on the couch. It's on Amazon Prime.
Grateful for: The heat in our house. It went out for a few hours last week (on what was pretty much the coldest day we've had so far) and while our landlord was busy fixing the breaker, we were reminded how lucky we are to have a warm home. Also feeling thankful for: stress-relieving shower bombs that smell like grapefruit, the awesome success one of my favorite organizations had on Valley Gives Day (they beat their goal of raising $5,000!), slow mornings, the fact that my wife was born.
Frustrated by: How early it's been getting dark lately. I've always struggled a bit with Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it isn't that bad yet this year, thankfully. But trying to take good pictures for this blog after I get home from work is a pain in the butt!
Reminding myself: To exercise regularly.
Looking forward to: Christmas at my parents' house. Baking a double batch of French macarons for my work party next week. When all the students leave for winter break so I can come to work in a sweatshirt ;) The lull between Christmas and New Year's Eve. (Looking way forward to) reading Ernest Hemingway at a café in Paris.
Planning: What I'm going to work on instead of Christmas presents once the holiday is over. I think I'm going to try a lot more sewing! Basically everything on this list. (I know, ambitious much?)
Christmas just isn't the same without sugar cookies, is it? Every year I make gluten-free sugar cookies with this mix, and I swear it tastes even better than the real thing.
This year I wanted to try and create a canvas so I could decorate the cookies with my edible markers. Once the cookies had cooled, I outlined circles by piping buttercream frosting, and then filled the circles with royal icing. Once that had cooled and hardened (I left the cookies in the fridge overnight), they were ready to be decorated!
I had thought this would be a good project for kids, but royal icing is delicate. If I pressed even a little too hard with the marker, it would crack through the icing. But that made for a few "practice cookies" that just had to be eaten right away ;)
Don't you think Santa would like to see a few of these waiting by the tree?
PS - You can write on French macarons too!
*Glutino provided the cookie mix used in this post. Affiliate links may be used.
Who's ready for the holidays?! (Just kidding. Is anybody really ever ready, especially two weeks out?) I'm making good progress on a few more handmade gifts, but we're putting Christmas aside this weekend to celebrate Kristie's 34th birthday. I feel bad for December babies -- their birthdays can get so overshadowed by the holidays, so I'm going to try and make hers really special this year. What are your plans for the weekend? Anything you've been looking forward to for awhile?
Best links of the week...
Would you ever take a nap at work?
5 '90s chick flicks you can watch right now on Netflix
My current iPhone wallpaper
Three things that might help you sleep better
RIP Clip Art
This Instagram account has me totally charmed
A bunch of free Christmas patterns
9 ways to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Insanely cool "thread paintings"
This looks like a great carryon bag
Could there be a better way to respond to stress?
17 bad-ass women you probably didn't hear about this year
This made me giggle
What kids wanted for Christmas in the early 1900s
I think I'm gonna print these gift tags
Not a fan of "Grease," but loving this song
Cast your vote for the Feminist Celebrity of the Year
You know those little cardboard ornaments you see in stores like Michaels? Those are my kryptonite. I always buy them, with little or no plan about how they'll make it to the tree.
Same story with this little mitten. After pondering for awhile and thinking maybe I'd do a photo transfer like this tutorial, I decided to take a simpler route and dip-dye it.
All you need is a cardboard ornament and liquid dye. I chose this wine color because it reminded me of Pantone's Color of the Year.
I dipped the mitten into the dye, submerging it halfway for one minute, then up a little higher for another minute, then up a little higher for another minute. This gave it a little bit of an ombré effect. All that was left was to hang it up on the tree after it dried!
The first year I worked at my current job, I knitted everyone in my department their own pair of mittens for Christmas. That was just crazy -- my fingers still ache at the memory of trying to finish them all in time. Last year, I made everyone a jar of homemade chocolate peanut butter. Messy and time-consuming, but delicious and a big hit! This Christmas I'm looking forward to putting together something just a *tiny* bit simpler.
Anyway, because this is something that plagues me every year, I wanted to share a round-up of easy handmade gift ideas your coworkers! Peruse these posts and get ready to make your debut as office elf.
1. Beeswax Candles // Reading My Tea Leaves
2. Gourmet Popcorn Gift // The Country Chic Cottage
3. Cookie Butter // A Beautiful Mess (Keep allergies and food restrictions in mind!)
4. Scrabble Coasters // Gourmet Gab
5. Emergency Chocolate // 30 Minute Craft (This would be so perfect for my office, we often have "chocolate emergencies" ;)
6. Vanilla Extract // Tasty Yummies
7. Homemade Marshmallows // Better Homes & Gardens
8. Cement Planters // Remodelaholic
My brother Max is an amazing bluegrass musician. He's been musically oriented his whole life, and that even extends to mealtimes. I can remember one night, not too long ago, when my brother, sister, and I were all home for dinner and together we brought out a few wine glasses filled with water, turned off the lights, and played the wine glasses (like this). It was eerie and so cool.
For Christmas this year, I knew I wanted to make him a set of wine glasses with the musical scale etched into them.
If you want to make a set too, you will need:
Start by filling your wine glass with a little bit of water. "Play" it while the tuner app is running, and add or remove water (try using a turkey baster) until you hit the perfect note. Kristie is way better at playing wine glasses than I, so she helped with this part!
Mark the water level using your dry erase marker. Pour out the water, and use the Dremel rotary tool (with the engraving attachment) to engrave a line next to the mark. Add the note identified by the app. Wipe it off with a damp paper towel and go over the engraving again if necessary.
Do this again and again until you have several notes (we engraved A, G, F, E, D, and C#).
This was my first time engraving glass, and the Dremel rotary tool made it really easy. It was even comfortable to hold. Do I wish my handwriting were a tiny bit better? Always, ha! But I think my brother's really going to like this gift. He'll be this good in no time.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
Kristie and I broke out the Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving after we got back from my parents' house. I don't know about you guys, but it's a struggle for me every year to wait that long! Not gonna lie, I may be listening to Christmas carols at work right now...
I love our tree ornaments. They're mostly vintage, handmade, or bought during our travels. It's so much fun to put them up one at a time and remember where they came from. For ages, our Christmas tree skirt was this red fleece thing we had bought at (naturally) the Christmas Tree Shops. I'm so excited to finally have replaced it with this one!
This DIY is pretty basic and not too hard to make, although sewing the little crosses on took longer than I thought it would. If you don't have a sewing machine or don't want to take the time, try using Stitch Witchery or a hot glue gun to attach them!
If you want to make your own, you will need:
Start by folding your black felt in half, and then in half again so it's basically a smaller square. Cut out the folded corner (this will be the center of the skirt) in an arch, and cut a matching arch on the opposite side -- just like in my crappy drawing!
Unfold your black felt, which should now look like a donut. Cut a straight line from the edge to the center of the donut. Attach your Velcro -- this will be the seam of the skirt.
Trace and cut out 25 Swiss crosses (a bold, equilateral cross). Mine are 4" by 4". Pin them in place on the skirt, and sew (or attach them with Stitch Witchery!).
That's it! A new, modern Christmas tree skirt with clean lines and simple colors.
I love that little owl ornament. We got him at a local craft fair last year.
And one in black and white, just because...
PS - DIY felted French macaron ornaments! Affiliate links may be used in this post.
My brother was traveling in Canada last month, and returned home with a new French friend. Ludi and her dog stayed with us for 10 days. Not only was it awesome to make a new friend (we miss her!), it was a great chance for Kristie and I to practice our French and for Ludi to practice her English.
We had a funny moment though when Ludi was trying to tell us a joke, but we didn't realize it...
I'm not gonna lie and say I didn't fist-pump like crazy when these beauts came out of the oven. Zer-o cracks! Zer-o cracks! I chanted to Samson. Celebrating my newfound (yet hardwon) French macaron skills is not getting old.
I made these particular ones when my pals came from Boston for Bag Day -- 50% because I knew they'd be delicious (they are) and 50% because the crushed candy cane around the cookie's perimeter adds a special Pinterest-worthy pretty factor. (Please read the whole recipe before you get started! These tricky little cookies are finicky and time-consuming, and planning ahead helps so much.)
1. Do this first! I highly recommend aging your egg whites for at least 24 hours before baking. Leave them in a small bowl covered with a dish towel in a place in your kitchen where they won't be thrown away by accident. Don't weigh them until after the aging period.
2. Prepare. Weigh all your ingredients and have them set out, ready to go. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. (The Atly class offers an indispensable piping guide you can slide under your parchment paper to keep all your cookies uniform!) Prepare a piping bag or Ziploc bag open in a tall drinking glass with scissors nearby. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
3. Get started. Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar together. Do this twice. Reserve the larger almond pieces that won't pass through the sifter. If you have more than a tablespoon left over, try sifting them through one more time.
4. Using the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until they become foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to whisk on medium-low until stiff, shiny peaks form. Slowly add the sugar.
5. Switch to medium-high on your mixer and continue whipping until stiff, dull peaks form. Check your egg whites periodically until you have a stiff meringue. Add a few drops of green gel food coloring and a few drops of peppermint oil.
6. Turn off your mixer and remove the whisk. Add 1/3 of your dry ingredients and fold in with a spatula. Combine the rest of the dry mixture this way, folding until incorporated. Continue folding until the batter falls off the spatula in a ribbon-like drizzle, disappearing pretty quickly back into the rest of the batter.
7. Transfer the batter into the prepared piping bag. Snip off the end and pipe 1" rounds onto your prepared sheets. Once all of the piping is complete, bang the trays on a table or counter a few times to release any trapped air bubbles. Let the trays sit out until the tops of the cookies feel dry to the gentlest of touches (about 30 minutes for me).
8. Bake the trays one at a time for 10 minutes, rotating once halfway through. Transfer the parchment paper or baking mat to a wire rack and allow them to cool completely.
Chocolate Ganache: Try making this ahead of time. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to three months.
1. In a medium-sized saucepan over low heat, heat the milk and butter together until the butter is totally melted.
2. Stir in the chocolate chips a little bit at a time until they're completely incorporated. Store this heavenly mixture in the fridge for an hour or two, then let sit out to soften for 30 minutes to an hour before piping.
3. Transfer ganache into a piping bag, and snip off the tip. Pipe ganache inside a cookie, sandwiching it with one of a similar size and shape. Turn the cookie on its side and roll it carefully in the crushed candy canes to coat.
4. Refrigerate the finished product for at least a few hours, and let sit out for 10 minutes before serving.
I'm already brainstorming my next French macaron combo and I think you guys are really gonna like it! So what do you say? Are you going to give French macarons a try?
PS - A few more French macaron tips.
*Affiliate links may be used in this post.