Friday, July 30, 2010

Fun packaging idea

I am always on the lookout for unique ways to present my gifts, and thought this was fun! I have given cookies in a gingerbread bowl before, and am delighted to have another gingerbread idea in my repertoire; I'm thinking if one were ambitious, one could also make little mini gingerbread houses to present gift cards, jewelry, etc in....

The ultimate edible gift wrap!

Our gingerbread gift boxes are simply made of square cookies glued together with Royal Icing. It’s hard to make these very big, so the boxes are best for small gifts – and are a wonderful decorative and edible gift on their own. Or, use them to serve treats on the coffee table at Christmas.

Materials and Tools

Step 1

Enlarge the templates on a photocopier, but we recommend making these boxes no larger than 6” square. Otherwise, they’ll be too fragile.

Step 2

Cut the gingerbread squares using the templates. Bake cookies.

Step 3

"Glue" together and hide edges using Royal Icing 

Here is the gingerbread bowl :

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Darling idea to make a special occasion even more fun

Every year, Mr. Christmas Heart and I look forward to watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.

We both vividly remember anxiously waiting for it to come on TV when we were kids; we have a copy of it on DVD now, but there is still something magical about catching it when it airs for the first time on TV.

I always make hot chocolate, and we drink it out of special mugs, just for this occasion.

This year, I'll be adorning my mugs with these!

Aren't they darling? Her website as other cute ideas; she adapted this herself, and hers would work better I think, because the others seem to me like they'd get soggy too quickly to stay on the edge?

 Some websites that offer the cookie cutters...looks like they're sold out for now, so check the sites later!

And of course I have to add this in; after almost 40 years, I STILL get goosebumps watching it!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Giveaway at Christmas Tree Lane!!

 My dear and VERY inspirational Birthday Triplet Terri is sponsoring a darling giveaway on her Christmas blog


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cookies again

I do enjoy baking and decorating Christmas cookies very much; I have fond memories of getting together with  friends and cousins who are also Christmas-crazed, and just having a blast.

We're all a little crazy anyway and one of my cousins brought some wine, and we may or may not have gotten a little tipsy on top of our usual silliness and it was just hysterically good fun.

We did this for several years, but eventually everyone moved away from me, so I no longer bake every year. It just depends on my mood year by year.

I thought I'd share some tips I find helpful, and an idea I like to use for packaging them up.

From: Living - Martha Stewart

Decorating cookies can be as simple as using icing dots to make a gingerbread man's face and buttons, or as challenging as flooding and flocking with bright royal icing and tinted sugar. Follow the techniques below for beautifully iced cookies.

Pastry bag with coupler
#2 tip for piping
#3 tip for flooding small cookies
#5 tip for flooding large cookies


1. Royal Icing can be made several days ahead of time and stored in pastry bags -- at room temperature if made with meringue powder or in the refrigerator if made with egg whites.

2. The icing can be thickened or thinned by varying the amount of egg whites and sugar. A thinner icing (with more egg whites) is best for flooding, since it spreads more smoothly; a thicker icing (with more sugar) is best for piping.

3. If the colors start to separate, gently massage the bag to remix the icing.

4. To fill a pastry bag: Place the bag tip side down in a glass about 3 inches shorter than it; fold the top of the bag down over the edge of the glass to form a cuff. Using a large rubber spatula, scrape the icing into the bag, filing it to one-half to two-thirds full. Unfold cuff, and close bag with a twist tie.

5. To prevent the tip from clogging, either place a damp paper towel in the bottom of the drinking glass, or insert a toothpick in the tip, and remove it just before piping.


This process coats the entire surface of a cookie with royal icing.

1. Outline half a cookie with piping (thicker) icing, using a #2 tip. Rotate cookie 180 degrees, and outline the other half. Let the icing set, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. With the flooding (thinner) icing, using a #5 tip, draw zigzags over the cookie's surface.

3. Using a small offset spatula, spread the flooding icing evenly within the piping outline. Let the cookie dry overnight at room temperature.

4. When the flooding is dry, use the #2 tip to pipe your chosen design.


This process creates an effect like flocked velvet: Sparkly sanding sugar adds color and texture to the cookies.

1. While the icing is still soft, hold the cookie over a baking sheet, and sprinkle it liberally with sanding sugar -- a large-grain decorating sugar. Let the cookie sit for 30 minutes before shaking off excess sugar. Allow it to dry for several more hours before gently removing stray crystals with a soft pastry brush.

First Published: December/January 1997/1998


A nice icing "how-to"

Flooding technique


I did this one year, although I didn't use the initial cut out...I just used a cookie that fit the recipient. I used a basic gingerbread recipe and they smelled so good!

A pretty way to present your cookies, it's my favorite presentation:

Close ups of a few:

Here are some tips on how to make the cookie cans especially nice!

Merry Christmas-In-July-Eve!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Christmas Music

My husband is a very talented musician, and we are both passionate about music regardless of the season, so needless to say, music is a BIG part of our holiday season.

July is a GREAT month to start checking your local library, to see if they have any Christmas music you can check out.

We have built up a pretty substantial collection this way over the years. Our library, which I must admit is fabulous, has a wonderful selection of Christmas CDs that we can check out for a dollar.

(While you're there, don't forget to check out the Christmas books!)

Although I decorate very early, we don't start listening to Christmas music til the day after Thanksgiving, which is also the day we exchange our new Christmas CDs to each other.

My husband always has to work on Black Friday; every year when he comes home, we get in our Christmas PJs first thing, crack a bottle of bubbly, turn off all the lights, and listen to "We Three Kings" by Patti Smith (A Very Special Christmas 3) It is hauntingly beautiful, and never fails to give us both goosebumps after all these years.

We then exchange and listen to the new music we have for the year.

This way of kicking our Christmas music season off is my husband's favorite of all our little traditions, and we both look forward to it every year!

Here are a few of our favorite CDs:

Mellow piano solos:

December (George Winston)

The Vigil (David Nevue)

Emmanuel (David Nevue)


Diana Krall Christmas Songs

A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio

Oscar Peterson Christmas

A Dave Brubeck Christmas

Flamenco/Classical Guitar:

Poets & Angels, Ottmar Liebert

What Child is This, Esteban

Great party music:

A Very Special Chrsitmas (1st one is till my favorite of the entire series)
Boogie-Woogie Christmas, Brian Setzer Orchestra (I don't think we could get through Christmas without this one!)

What are your favorite Christmas albums? Do you have a lot of music? Do you listen to it all through the year?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Favorite Cookie recipe

I have a few Dirty Little Christmas Secrets, and one of them is that I actually don't care much for Christmas Cookies! I know, I know....

I love to decorate them, but  most of them are SO bland! Especially sugar cookies, and what I think of as the Scandinavian/German/ Eastern European types...just flour and a sweet taste, with maybe some vanilla or cinnamon or anise flavor. Blah to me, though I know everyone else adores them! In truth, I don't have much of a sweet tooth; I am more about salt and grease!  :o)

 These are not traditional Christmas-type cookies at all, but they are the most requested of all the cookies I make around the holidays. They are SO good.

I remember when one branch of my family decided that we'd no longer exchange gifts at our get together, I got calls from three different in-laws, anxiously asking if I'd still be making my Chex Mix, deviled eggs and "those cookies" ! LOL!

If you like coffee and chocolate, I know you'll enjoy these. The flavor is best the day after making them, so it's a good recipe to make a day ahead.

I am not a fan of frozen cookies, so I am not sure if these are suited for that.

Mocha Truffle Cookies
Source: Better Homes and Gardens

Makes 30 cookies
Prep: 25 minutes
Bake: 10 minutes


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
tablespoon instant coffee crystals
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 beaten eggs
teaspoons vanilla
cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
cup semisweet chocolate pieces


In a large saucepan melt butter and the 1/2 cup chocolate pieces over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in coffee crystals; cool 5 minutes. Stir in sugars, eggs, and vanilla.

In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Stir into coffee mixture. Stir in the 1 cup chocolate pieces.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto lightly greased cookie sheets.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven 10 minutes. Let cool 1 minute before removing from sheet. Makes 30 cookies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

As part of my plan for extending the joy all throughout the season, I'll be doing a little something for Mr. Christmas Heart this year on St. Nicholas Day.

I love the idea of making up little traditions for a small gift, but he’s very difficult to buy for, and any “little gift” ideas I may get are things I need to stuff his stocking with; it’s a BIG stocking, and I don’t want to deplete my stash too much before Christmas Day. I hate a limp, half-empty stocking!

I want to have a little something for him, though; he’s a musician, and I think I’ll go with that theme.

I’ll get guitar picks, nail-clippers, maybe some guitar strings; things that I always put in his stocking anyway, and can STILL add in. I normally put 10 clippers and picks in the toe; this year, he'll just get half of them a little early.

Oh, and maybe some Throat Coat tea, and a note telling him how very much I love to hear him play carols every night. He plays every single night for me, and I just adore it....

This year Hallmark has a guitar ornament that I could give him on St Nick day, too.

A lottery scratcher and some snacks would fill it all out nicely!

I need to find a little boot to stuff!!!! Anyone know where I can get one?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Room of One's Own

Mr. Christmas Heart and I are in the process of planning our home in Arkansas, and I am going to have a Christmas room.

I have very definite ideas for what I want to do with it, but I was wondering if I am missing anything!

First of all, it's really more of a Christmas dreaming room. I want it to be the place I go to plot and plan and dream up all the magic!! In my mind I think of it as a sort of Christmas Command Center.

I envision my Christmas room with deep red walls. There will be several bookcases painted glossy hunter green, for all my Holiday books and magazines, and a huge comfy chair to sink into as I dream.

I'll need lots of storage. I'd probably prefer this to be a regular closet, so I can keep the area closed off, but the inside would be mostly shelving. This won't be for storage of my Christmas decorations; I have too many for that! (We will store those in the basement.)

This will be the place I store the items I buy throughout the year, (a literal gift closet!) as well as all the "atmosphere" Christmas music, Christmas scented candles, dishes, Holiday puzzles, etc. Oh, and Christmas cards! I usually buy a few boxes each year when they go on deep discount, and it'll be SO nice to have them stacked neatly in one spot for a change!

I'm really looking forward to being able to see everything with a glance, as opposed to the way I have to dig all through my current closet, which of course is where all our clothes and shoes and other odds and ends are taking up valuable space!

I want a state-of-the-art wrapping center also, and a place to make my Christmas crafts at. Ideally, this would be an island of some sort in the middle of the room, with two interchangeable surfaces on hinges, so I could keep two projects going at once. I'd like a few of those paper roll racks on one side of the island, too; that side could have drawers or shelving holding the rest of the wrapping supplies, whereas the other side could hold the craft supplies. I have also always thought one of those great big bright red Craftsman rolling tool chests would make a darn good place to store Christmas supplies; I can especially see those narrow drawers being used for my rubber stamps and papers, tags, tissue paer, etc.

I have a Christmas village with lots of pieces that I do not care for any more. I can't bring myself to get rid of, since my best friend is the one who started the collection for me, and I do love it for sentimental reasons! I was thinking I could put these pieces on top of the bookcases, and all around the room as decoration, and ambient lighting....

I'm toying with the idea of a mantle; at the very least, I'll probably have a floating shelf on one of the walls. It'd be the place I'd burn the candles on. I was thinking if I got a full mantle, I could put the sound equipment in the place where the firebox would normally go....

And I'll always have cinnamon pot pourri around, and cinnamon candles burning as I read and craft and dream up all the magic!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

St. Lucia Day

So I have been focusing a lot this month on ways I can jazz up the holidays, and scatter little mini-celebrations throughout the entire season ; my breakfast post yesterday reminded me of St. Lucia's Day.

Those of you who know me know there is nothing I would love more than to go swanning around the house all day with candles on my head, but here are some rather more practical ideas I thought of to make December 13th special!

How about making that the day you serve breakfast for supper? It could be a special fancy breakfast, or just your regular breakfast meal, but this is a simple way to make a new tradition! Breakfast-for-supper on December 13th every year....mark your calendars!

Or you could focus on the candle aspect of it, and focus the days activities around candles...maybe try a new scented candle, maybe use only candles for light that evening, give everyone a little scented votive (that you picked up dirt cheap during the holiday sales last year!) or just anything candle related.

Hey, why not serve your breakfast-for-supper by candlelight???

Or focus on the charity aspect of it, and make this the day you and you kids visit the Old Folks home, or just make it a special day with the grandparents...or if the grandparents are not local, maybe you call them, prepare their gifts, write a letter to them (be cool to mail the letter timed to arrive on the 13th...a sweet yearly tradition for them,too!), just do something that focuses on the grandparents or any old folks in your life! (your elderly aunts and uncles, the elderly lady next door, the old grump up the could do anonymous good deeds...donate 5 or 10 bucks online to the Alzheimer's Association or other elder charity etc, etc.)

Dress everyone up in white with red accessories that day???

So, recap:   Everyone dresses in red and white that day, you make breakfast for dinner, eat it by candlelight, and after dinner you either call the grandparents, visit the grandparents or the old folks home, or make/shop for/wrap their present, and/or do a good deed for an elderly person.

Or you could just swan around the house with candles on your head.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A favorite Christmas Breakfast entree

Croissant French Toast

* 4 croissants - cut in half lengthwise
* 2/3 cup low fat milk
* 3 large eggs - lightly beaten
* 1/3 cup orange juice
* 2 Tablespoons butter
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1 bottle Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante, well chilled
* Your favorite dark chocolate

Crack open bottle of Asti, pour yourself a glass

Melt butter in on a skillet or in a large frying pan at medium-high heat.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except croissants. Beat until well combined.

Pour yourself another glass of Asti, if necessary; mixing is hard work

Drag croissants through the mixture and flip until completely coated. Cook about 3 minutes on each side  or until golden brown.

Serve with butter, maple syrup, and the rest of the Asti.

Grated dark chocolate over the top (of the French toast, I mean) is awesome; you can also stuff them with a TB of Nestle's Semi Sweet morsels before dredging.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

So, having done a little research and internet surfing, I have come to the conclusion that there are roughly four different types of Christmas In July participants...

You have your cookers, your crafters, your sit-around and watch Christmas DVD-ers, and your organizers/preppers.

Well, I don't craft, I don't cook at all, let alone in the heat of the summer, I hate TV in general and cheesy movies in particular, and I am awful at staying organized and sticking to any sort of routine, which is probably a big part of the reason why CIJ seldom held any real appeal to me.

BUT, I am a daydreamer from WAY back, a Past Mistress at the Art, really, and if there is one thing I love, it's sitting around daydreaming about lovely things, having all kinds of fun planning things out, while not actually doing anything at all besides sitting on my ass.

And drinking cold beverages.

And buying things.

All of which lends itself rather nicely to CIJ.

So I'll be posting daydreams and "wouldn't this be cool" things, and maybe even work in some practical stuff, too.

Christmas In July

As much as I have always loved Christmas, I had never been one to celebrate or even think about Christmas in July.

I despise the heat, so my Grouch-O-Meter starts runnin' pretty damn high come summer; getting all worked up about anything other than ice-cold watermelon is difficult for me this time of year, so the idea of doing something as elaborate as cooking a full Christmas dinner and/or hosting a big Christmas in July extravaganza is just beyond my comprehension. I don't even like to listen to Christmas music before November.

That being said, 
last year, the whole Christmas-in-July thing sort of snuck up and bit me on my Holly Jolly ass.

And having thought about it for awhile, I feel very comfortable in putting the blame squarely on the explosion of the Blogosphere in general, and my Terri Triplet in particular.

I found her Christmas blog
  last year, and through that, found the Christmas-in-July blog parties that everyone was having, and I just really, really enjoyed it. It fell on a Saturday last year, which helped.......and my DH was gone, which also helped, because I had QVC on all weekend, which really added to the atmosphere, and I mean I just really, really got a kick out of it all. I got to sit on my ass all day long, having a blast without actually having to do anything at all, other than sit on my ass.

And drink cold beverages.

And buy stuff.

It doesn't get any better than that, for me, and in fact sums up what I love about the Internet in general. But I digress.

Anyway, it kind of turned me in to a Christmas-in-July fangirl and I got all torqued up and excited about it, started this Christmas blog, and swore a vow to Heaven that I'd be all into it this year.

And then I sort of forgot all about it, which seems to pretty much sum up life in my 40s, but again I digress. Heck, I can't even remember what actually even reminded me about Christmas in July (known hereafter as CIJ) this year, and it's only been a few days since I remembered...I'll go ahead and blame it on Terri again, though, because I see she has a CIJ post up on her blog. 

I am also off on a medical leave, with plenty of time to kill, so it's a Perfect Storm, really, and I am gonna roll with it.