Tag Archives: Holiday Baking

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Make This a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

For many of us, the holidays bring frenzy and stress. Budgets and available time and resources are stretched. We schedule so many activities that we become tired and unable to enjoy all of them. We spend extraordinary amounts of our time in crowded stores, parking lots and post offices. Why? Because we internalize societal messages that tell us we have to give our families a “perfect” holiday, which means taking advantage of every possible option and gift, often at the expense of true family meaning and fun.

How can we take back our holiday seasons?

Set a family intention for the holiday season

Intentions are extremely powerful. It will help you and your family if you determine and express exactly what you do want this holiday season. What is important to the family? Time spent together at home or out at parties? A family vacation? Treasured traditions (and which ones)? A shower of gifts? Discuss your intentions as a family and perhaps arrive at some new ones.

Question or limit consumerism

This act will help many families derail stress. Decide on a gift limit, say one or two per person. Offer to forgo traditional gifting with extended family members or office mates. Instead, try something fun like a “Secret Santa” activity, in which participants choose names from a hat and gift that one person a gift, instead of every person in the group. Other things you can do include supporting local small businesses and artisans, and choosing gifts that will get a great deal of use because they inspire creative play or exploration, or even gifts of time and activities.

Be a holiday tourist

Limiting consumerism doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy commercial holiday fun. Lots of towns and cities employ beautiful shop windows and other holiday and light displays. Find one near you and see how much more you and your family enjoy them when you’re not rushing by with a lengthy shopping list.

Visit your favorite holiday traditions, or create new (and inexpensive) ones

Holiday time can be extremely meaningful and memorable. Often, family memories are deepened when they attach to repeated fun rituals. These can include enjoying a holiday play, pageant, ice show or staging of a ballet such as the Nutcracker each year; attending a holiday tea; addressing cards together; making your own gift wrap; decorating your home; putting out cookies for Santa; enjoying holiday movies or books; playing old-fashioned games by firelight; playing in the snow; taking a holiday walk; or one of our frugal favorites, enjoying local holiday light and decoration displays. (These are often published in local papers.)

Gather for crafting and food

Holidays offer plenty of gathering time. Why not gather around fun, homemade activities? Make food together that is unique to the season, such as egg nog, apple butter, latkes or holiday cookies. Host a cookie exchange, to which guests each bring 4 dozen cookies and an empty container. Put all the cookies on a table and have guests walk around the table, taking one of each until the cookies are gone. (Serve guests a hearty or potluck meal before the cookie exchange, if you’d like.) Or make a gingerbread house or simple crafts like doily snowflakes. (Instructions below.)

Get outdoors

Often we get so carried away with some aspects of the holidays that we miss others. Holiday time can be a lovely time to enjoy nature. Often there are less other people on the walking trails and in the parks. Live in a snowy place? Make a Snowman Kit and keep it handy: Collect and store together coal pieces, rocks, or buttons for eyes, and woolens such as a knit cap, scarf, and mittens. Have carrots handy in the fridge. When the snow hits, take your kit outside and create your snowman, adding branches, twigs, evergreen boughs, and other items.

Celebrate the winter solstice

The winter solstice provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season. Take a walk or have a family game night on the year’s longest night. Celebrate the sun’s return by making or eating sun- colored foods, such as oranges and frosted yellow cupcakes. Place gold-covered toys or chocolate
coins in bags and surprise children with them at night or during the morning after the solstice. Take a walk together at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.

Say no to some activities

As you’re saying yes to some of these new, fun activities, you might find yourself needing to say no to others. Do you really have to attend every office, school and neighborhood party or event? Decide which activities truly give you pleasure and try to guiltlessly skip the ones that don’t. The same goes for holiday cooking, decorating and other activities. If something isn’t pleasurable, no matter how much it fits into your idea of a “perfect” holiday, opt to do something you enjoy instead.

Give to someone less fortunate

There are many opportunities to serve and give over the holidays. Help at a local food kitchen, or participate in a toy or book drive. Or consider gifting in a recipient’s name to a worthy non-profit or other organization. These gifts may have much greater meaning than additional trinkets or things for families that have plenty.

 

Paper or Doily Snowflakes
These snowflakes grace our windows each winter.

You’ll need:
• Doilies, or paper in circle or square shapes
• Scissors
• Ribbon, optional

Fold a doily or paper circle in half, then in half again, and then
in half again, resulting in eight wedge- shaped layers, or fold a
square piece of paper in half to form a triangle shape, then in
half again. Then fold both halves of the triangle in toward the
middle, so that there is one pointy top, with the pieces overlapping,
and two pointy ends sticking down. Trim the bottom to
cut the pointy ends off.

Cut out small shapes along the folds or ends, such as triangles,
half circles, or swirling edges.

Unfold the paper and enjoy your snowflake. You may wish to
string many snowflakes together on a piece of ribbon to create
a garland decoration.

Craft adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Leprechaun Mischief, Lucky Clovers and Green Food

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, provides an especially fun opportunity to invite mischief and whimsy into your family and home, in the guise of leprechauns who might pay a visit.

This site about St. Patrick’s Day symbolism tells us that the wee leprechauns are actually a bit ornery and need to be lured away from their habitats to reveal the hidden pots of gold. This site reveals some St. Patrick’s Day history, and tells us that the holiday was a minor one until relatively recently. I’ve also observed that increasing numbers of people like to celebrate holidays in memorable and fun ways with their families. Here are a few ideas:

Create miniature letters, either for the leprechauns, or that the leprechauns might leave behind for your little ones after a visit.

Want to try to catch a leprechaun? Make a homemade leprechaun catcher. This one is made with PVC pipes and the proper lures and traps. Simple ones can be made with propped-up strawberry or other fruit containers or laundry baskets and a thimble or cup full of gold glitter to lure the leprechauns.

Leprechaun tend to leave traces. Here’s how to make leprechaun footprints to surprise your family.

Looking for an outdoor adventure for St. Patrick’s Day? Go on a four leaf clover hunt.

Or find nice flat rocks and paint them for luck.

Of course it wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without wonderful green food!

These yogurt pretzel shamrocks are pretty and easy to make.

This is a very pretty and scrumptious looking green velvet St. Patrick’s Day cake.

Have fun with these whimsical Pot-o-Gold cupcakes.

These Leprechaun hat s’mores look very yummy.

.. As do these St. Patty’s Day brownies.

This fun Jell-o Rainbow is a super memorable treat.

Miniature leprechaun burgers are another hit with wee folk.

Share the leprechaun love! This cute printable helps you leprechaun your neighbors.

I hope you enjoy St. Patrick’s Day!

Also from Slow Family:

Miniature and Whimsical Food for Leprechauns, Fairies and Elves

Photos: Wizards and Fairies, Steve Spangler, Crafting Chicks, Butterflies, Suz Lipman, Sun Scholars, Love From the Oven, Grin and Bake It, Hostess with the Mostess, Real Mom Kitchen, Saucy Dragonfly, Mark Flickett, Martha Stewart’s Dreamers into Doers

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Homemade Cookies

Cookies might be the ultimate green and well-received gift — They’re delightful, yummy and fun. They come from the heart. They’re economical. Making and exchanging them can be a fun holiday tradition. And you can always make a few extra for yourself.

Every holiday season I have the pleasure of attending a cookie exchange! Lucky me (and my family.) Each year the women who volunteer to help with my local Girl Scout group have an exchange in which attendees bring 4 dozen cookies and an empty container. The cookies all go out on a table, and we line up (Girl Scout volunteers are orderly) and go around the table, socializing and taking a cookie from each plate until they are all distributed. (A photo from a past exchange is above.)

There are several cookies that have become part of our holiday baking traditions. I usually manage to make a couple of types each year. They happen to be easy to make. Here are the favorites.

Spritz Cookies

I grew up making these every holiday season. My mom especially enjoyed making Spritz cookies and Halloween cupcakes. A certain whiff from an electric beater — she had a great, big Hamilton Beach one that sat permanently on the counter — takes me right back to childhood winters and falls.

Spritz cookies are made by pressing the soft dough through a cookie press and through various plates with interchangeable shapes. I love the efficiency and fun of pressing out lots of little cookies. Once pressed onto a cookie sheet, you can decorate them with the sprinkles of your choice. I think one of the keys to good Spritz cookies is: Be sure your recipe includes almond flavoring (or add 1/2 tsp. per 4-5 cups of dry ingredients, or half as much as your vanilla flavoring). The other is: Have fun decorating. This can be a very festive and delicious cookie. If you do color the cookies (which I recommend!) you might want to try professional paste frosting colors, which, with a little patience, produce a nice deep color. (You can get a box of 8 small color jars from ChefMaster, available at specialty baking stores, for around $7).

It also takes a little practice to learn to press the right amount of dough out per cookie. (Most presses have adjustable settings.) The good news is you can just scoop dough that didn’t work out back into the press and try again.

This site, from Wilton, offers the classic Spritz recipe, plus links for buying a cookie press. I recommend the reasonably priced Cookie Max.

Butterballs

You may know them as Mexican Wedding Balls, or Russian Tea Cookies. Butterballs are mine (and a lot of people’s) favorite cookie — They’re tasty, melt-in-your-mouth buttery, sugar-coated, and just all-around great, any time of year. I find the ones in The Silver Palate Cookbook to be the best of the best, perhaps because they’re largely sweetened with honey, which provides a great taste and crunch.

Here is the Butterball Cookie recipe, from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Sugarplums

One more from the Silver Palate team — This one is in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook: Sugarplums. Mythical, festive, evocative Sugarplums. (As seen in The Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas.) They are certainly as much fun to pop into one’s mouth as they are to contemplate. The original Sugarplum recipe calls for corn syrup and cognac. I substituted agave syrup, a mild and more natural sweetener for half the corn syrup, and all of the cognac (using a little under 1/3 c. for the cognac portion.) And I did away with the cherry on top, the better to enjoy the pure, undiluted Sugarplum experience.

Enjoy!

For gifting, wrap in cellophane or fabric and tie with ribbons, or place in jars or decorated bags. Or bring to gatherings on plates.

My criteria for a green holiday gift? One that :

Promotes nature play or care of the earth
Uses all or mostly natural ingredients
Fosters observation and/or open-ended active and creative play
Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping
Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

Got any suggestions? Send them my way!

Other Green Holiday Gifts:
Root Viewer Garden Kit

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Happy Pi Day! Celebrate with Pie

I first learned about Pi Day when my daughter was in Middle School. I wondered where this day had been my whole life. Best celebrated at 1:59 p.m. on March 14 to match the first few digits of the number Pi (and the extent of most people’s memorization, 3.14159), with a pie, of course — savory or dessert version.

Math moment: What is Pi anyway? Ahem — Pi is the number expressing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It’s used in engineering, science and statistics and begins with 3.14 and goes on into infinity. It’s also captured a lot of people’s imaginations. The record for Longest Pi Recitation belongs to belongs to Japan’s Hiroyuki Goto, who memorized 42,195 digits. How is that even possible?? A teen holds the North American record.

It seems Pi Day as we know it didn’t catch on until about 20 years ago, when it was begun at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Now it is celebrated around the world.

I’ve gathered a few pies to help you celebrate. It seems like a more fun way to mark the day than memorizing digits. But, to each his or her own!

From the Gourmand Mom comes everything from Pumpkin Coconut Pie to Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie.

This is my own recipe for Classic Apple Pie. You could add a Pi symbol in crust (or cut out a Pi symbol)  to the top of this, or any, pie.

Seeking something savory? This Shitake, Leek and Chicken Sausage Pie comes from Pie Maven.

When I think of Pie Mavens, I think of my friend Leah Brooks and her stunning and sometimes unexpected fruit pies, like apple with thyme or double lemon blueberry, or her chocolate cream, pumpkin, lattice-topped cherry, or perfect pecan pies!

This one from Serious Eats may take the, uh, cake. It is made in the shape of the pi sign!

Enjoy your Pi Day!

Photos: Orlando News Center, Serious Eats

Image: allisonweiss.tumblr.com

Three Great Christmas Cookies

Heading somewhere for the holidays and in need of a dessert or hostess gift? Or simply haven’t gotten your fill of your holiday baking? These three relatively simple, festive and classic holiday cookie recipes should help you in either case.

Spritz Cookies

I grew up making Spritz cookies every holiday season. A certain whiff from an electric beater takes me right back to childhood winters.

Spritz cookies are made by pressing the soft dough through a cookie press and through various plates with interchangeable shapes. I love the efficiency and fun of pressing out lots of little cookies. Once pressed onto a cookie sheet, you can decorate them with the sprinkles of your choice. I think one of the keys to good Spritz cookies is: Be sure your recipe includes almond flavoring (or add 1/2 tsp. per 4-5 cups of dry ingredients, or half as much as your vanilla flavoring). The other is: Have fun decorating. This can be a very festive and delicious cookie. If you do color the cookies (which I recommend!) you might want to try professional paste frosting colors, which, with a little patience, produce a nice deep color. (You can get a box of 8 small color jars from ChefMaster, available at specialty baking stores, for around $7).

It also takes a little practice to learn to press the right amount of dough out per cookie. (Most presses have adjustable settings.) The good news is you can just scoop dough that didn’t work out back into the press and try again.

This site, from Wilton, offers the classic Spritz recipe, plus links for buying a cookie press. I recommend the reasonably priced Cookie Max.

Butterballs

You may know them as Mexican Wedding Balls, or Russian Tea Cookies. Butterballs are mine (and a lot of people’s) favorite cookie — They’re tasty, melt-in-your-mouth buttery, sugar-coated, and just all-around great, any time of year. I find the ones in The Silver Palate Cookbook to be the best of the best, perhaps because they’re largely sweetened with honey, which provides a great taste and crunch.

Here is a copy of the recipe, from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Sugarplums


One more from the Silver Palate team — This one is in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook: Sugarplums. Mythical, festive, evocative Sugarplums. (Blame it on The Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas.) They are certainly as much fun to pop into one’s mouth as they are to contemplate. The original recipe calls for corn syrup and cognac. I substituted agave syrup, a mild and more natural sweetener for half the corn syrup, and all of the cognac (using a little under 1/3 c. for the cognac portion.) And I did away with the cherry on top, the better to enjoy the pure, undiluted Sugarplum experience.

Here’s hoping you have a warm and yummy holiday!


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part One

It’s the rare person whose imagination isn’t captured by the delight in creating a gingerbread house. There’s the architecture aspect, as the house’s pieces are baked and fitted — and icing-caulked — together in a variety of ways. There’s the decorating, which can be done with all manner of bright candies and objects and patterns that can recall familiar items — or not! And there’s the very satisfying, whimsical, one-of-a-kind structure that results.

Here are some tips and ideas from around the web for creating gingerbread and other candied houses.

From Wilton, comes this extremely informative and creative guide to decorating with icing and candies that covers everything from creating icicles to fireplaces to shutters to stained-glass windows.

Celebrating Christmas offers recipes, ideas, and enough blueprints for homes and landscaping (from ponds to flower-lined paths) to satisfy your inner general contractor.

Gingerbread House Heaven is another site with lots of ideas and beautiful pictures for inspiration. Think you can’t light a gingerbread house with real lights, for instance? Think again. This site shares how, in addition to offering instructions for melted-candy windows that will make the light glow realistically through. Roofing textures and various recipes for edible clay are among the many other things covered.

If you’re still seeking good gingerbread recipes and building how-tos, Simply Recipes has plenty.

Rather skip the headaches of building and just move in? Here are lots of turn-key house ideas, like using milk cartons or other bases, as a way of getting right to the decorating fun.

With small children, especially, the easiest and most pleasing thing to do is cover a short milk carton with frosting and let them stick on candies and other foods to decorate. The milk carton (or a village of them) can sit atop a piece of foil-covered cardboard that can also be frosted. And, of course, you can buy a pre-assembled gingerbread house and get right to the decorating.

Some decorating ideas include:

Gumdrops, cut in half – edging or decorations
Jelly beans – edging or decorations
M&Ms – ornaments or decorations
Fruit loops – decorations
Nilla wafers, crushed or whole – walkways
Ritz crackers – walkways, shingles or siding
Gummi bears – decorations
Chocolate soldiers – decorations
Chocolate kisses – bells or decorations
Chocolate nonpareils – shingles or decorations
Candy canes – gates or decorations
Licorice, small pieces – edging or bricks
Necco wafers, whole or broken – shingles, walkways, decorations
Pretzel sticks – fences and logs
Shredded wheat cereal – thatched roofs
Graham crackers, halved, and candy canes – sleds
Graham crackers – shingles
Upside down ice-cream cones, frosted and dipped in green sprinkles – trees
Brown sugar – dirt
Confectioners sugar – snow

And, for the modern home, orange-half barbecues and ice-cream cone satellite dishes!

Here’s hoping you enjoy a fun and creative holiday!

Photos: Public Domain, Wilton, Susan Sachs Lipman

Stay tuned for Part Two: Gingerbread Workshops

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