Surviving the Holidays: Edible Gifts

Last week in the Surviving the Holidays series, I posted about making a budget for gifts.

Well, buying gifts for others can add up quickly. You have family, sometimes including family outside of the immediate family, coworkers, friends, neighbors and more! It’s crazy how long the list gets! You find that decent gifts cost about $10-$20 each, so yeah…talk about tightening the wallet!

However, there is a great way to spread the holiday cheer without spending that much on the gifts: edible gifts! It may take some effort in the kitchen, but really, it isn’t too bad and the savings will be worth it!

There are many ways to go about this.

Homemade Spice Mixes

You can buy some basic spices in bulk at Sam’s Club for cheap and make your own mixes, place them in cute jars or tins and give as gifts. A cheap idea for packaging? Wedding favor tins, like these. (Use 40% off coupons at places like Michael’s to get them even cheaper!) Just customize the labels with the spice mix name.

You can also make your own vanilla extract very easily, and that makes for a very impressive gift as well. I purchased bottles from this site when I made them for gifts last year, because the price was great and shipping wasn’t too crazy expensive, either.

Jam/Jelly gifts

If you have a canning kit, this is really simple. Just go to Sam’s for cheap produce in bulk or a local farmer’s market. There are some great recipes here. Just make sure that you follow a recipe that is meant for canning, because those recipes are specifically made for canning and those that aren’t could grow toxic bacteria, which, I’m sure no one wants to eat as a gift!

If you want to make something really interesting, be sure to make some jalapeno jelly. It really is tasty on crackers!

Baked Goods

This is the most common edible gift, but who doesn’t like homemade cookies and treats? I made these last year for coworkers, along with a mix of other goodies and they were well received. Some ideas?

Royal Icing Decorated Sugar Cookies
Fortune Cookies (dye them red or green and add in fun holiday messages!)
Cuccidati (Italian cookies that kick Fig Newton’s booty!)
Biscotti (cranberries/pistachio/white chocolate seem to be a fun/tasty Christmas colored ingredient combo in my family!)

Candy gifts

Candy gifts vary in how complicated they can be to make. Whenever I plan on doing candy, I typically buy some large chocolate bars at Sam’s Club, which are available around the holiday season. Some ideas?

Oreo Truffles
Cupcake Pops

Peppermint Bark
Chocolate Covered Pretzels with M&M’s
Vanilla Bean Caramels
Marshmallows

Baking Mixes

If you don’t have much time to bake, this is a great solution. Just buy some mason jars and make layered baked goods mixes so those you gift these to can bake at their convenience!

Cowboy Cookies (wouldn’t this be cute with Christmas M&M’s?)
More cookie ideas

So, as you can see, the possibilities are endless here. And of course, edible gifts won’t be considered junk, so they will most likely be appreciated and gobbled up! :)

Surviving the Holidays: Budgeting

Once a week, I will be writing up some tips to help make the upcoming holiday season as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.  With Christmas being less than 2 months away, it’s good to get a head start and think ahead.

This used to be me. Every year, I usually would just buy gifts for family/friends with really no budget. After Christmas rolled around, I’d stare at my credit card bill in disgust. How did I go overboard?

One of two things would happen. I’d either buy a gift,  but end up keeping it because I want it so badly or I’d stupidly make impulse buys for gifts without doing my research. It was tough, but after years of being in the hole after Christmas, and now being married, I thought a budget would be the best way to go.

It wasn’t difficult at all. The hubs and I sat down one evening and went person by person with a set budget range for them. As far as shopping goes, we’re buying our own family gifts since we know our family members best, but knowing how much we will be spending collectively in advance is going to help us so much.

After making our budget, I looked online to see if there was a better way to do it, but it looks like we got the gist of it.

Sounds simple, right?

Are you planning on making a gift budget for this holiday season?

Planning for Thanksgiving

About two months ago, the hubs and I talked about how the holidays were going to work. We both value time with our families during the holidays and hated the idea of choosing one or the other, because of distance. We came to a resolution…to host Thanksgiving. My family is from the New Orleans area, which is a good hour away from Baton Rouge, where we currently live. His family lives in the Baton Rouge area. So, Thanksgiving with our families is easy for this year!

Now, the house isn’t exactly company ready, so we have some tasks to do to get ready.

Here’s our house from Halloween.
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Since then, the decorations have come down, except for the wreath and a sign that says “Happy Harvest”. Our ongoing project has been painting the house from brick red  to the goldish color it currently is. Our task and goal is to finish repainting the white trim and painting the doors and shutters a dark grey/almost black color.

Our house is also pretty cluttered from doing random fix-it projects around the house. We plan on cleaning it out and making it look like more of a home than a construction zone. :)

I’m secretly hoping the hubs embraces the idea of decorating the house for Christmas a week BEFORE Thanksgiving so my family can see the house completely festive. I know it’s a little early, but the last time my family saw the house was a little over a year ago when they evacuated here for Hurricane Gustav. Not the brightest of times, I promise you.

Are you taking on any house projects before you host your holiday party?

 

 

Happy Halloween!

As you may know, it’s October 31st. Man, time flies!

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The house is decorated for the occasion.

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The treat bags are ready to hand out.

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The butter is softening to become a key ingredient for cute little pumpkins, ghosts and coffin sugar cookies before the night is over.

Happy Halloween everyone! May your evening be filled with chocolate, fun costumes and if you’re like me and the hubs, college football! :)

My First Operation Baking Gals

This past month, I decided to participate in Operation Baking Gals for the first time. Baking is one of my favorite hobbies, and now that I’m on a diet, I’m trying to find opportunities to bake that don’t require me to have a pan of brownies housed on my counter for a few days. Too tempting!

I knew I was going to bake three items: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies, Halloween M&M Biscotti and The Chewy, which will all be featured on the blog.

I first went to the Dollar Tree and bought three packs of disposable containers, along with packing supplies. I also got the flat rate APO/FPO shipping box for free at the post office to do this. If you were doing this to send to someone NOT in the military, go ahead and just get a flat rate box. You’ll be glad you did…my box of goodies ended up being 7 lbs.!! Flat rate rocks!

First, I followed the directions on the OBG website, which said to line the containers with paper towels and place a few pieces of apple peel in the fold nearest where the baked goods will be placed. Then, I loaded up the containers with baked goodies, put another paper towel with apple peel and taped the container shut, just in case!

Then, I put in one layer of baked goods in the box and squished in grocery plastic bags around them to make the boxes as immobile as possible. The trick here is to make everything in the box stay absolutely still, so if they are shaken, they won’t get super crumbly before reaching their destination. I’ve shipped two boxes of decorated cookies using this method with GREAT success!

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Then, I added a second layer of baked goods. I ran out of containers, so I lined two ziplocs with a paper towel and apple peel and filled them up. I wrapped them tightly in bubble wrap as well. I’m not quite sure how these will fare, but hopefully, since they ended up being packed in pretty tightly, I’m hoping they will be ok!

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I also added a note to tell them how much I appreciate what they do for our country. :) Then, I added a bunch of plastic grocery bags to surround the second layer of boxes/bags, as well as on the very top, put two layers of bubble wrap, so they don’t accidentally cut through the goodies when opening the box!

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All in all, this was a fun way to show appreciation to our troops! I paid maybe $20 (including $11.95 shipping) to do this, and I know I’ll definitely be doing this again!

I’m thinking, if I have enough Internet buddies interested, of hosting a team for December’s shipping dates. It is the holiday season after all, and who doesn’t like baking with fun holiday sprinkles?! :)

DIY Fall Wreath

Since it’s now September, I decided to venture off to Michael’s and get inspired for the Fall season.

I didn’t really have a plan, but when I saw plain vine wreaths, I immediately thought that I needed to make a wreath for our door.

This is my first time ever making a wreath, but I saw a bunch of inspiration in the floral section, where they were charging $50 plus for a wreath! Eep…that’s a little pricey, especially in hindsight, knowing how much I spent on supplies! (see receipt below)

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Supplies you will need:

  • 2 bunches of fall flowers
  • 2 bunches of fall leaves
  • hot glue gun (I prefer low temp)
  • hot glue sticks
  • vine wreath
  • scissors
  • 1.5 in. ribbon (2 yds.)

When it comes to buying supplies, I find that cheaper fake flowers/leaves are best. They will get rained on and are seen from a distance, so there is NO need to splurge here! Each bunch for me was on sale for $1.79.

What you first need to do is separate all flowers and leaves from the bunch that they are in, using scissors, leaving a little bit of stem space for you to glue with.
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Then, just start placing leaves and flowers on the wreath until you find a pattern that you like. The great thing about vine wreaths is they have little openings for the stems to fit in perfectly, making arranging super easy.
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Once you figure it out, start hot gluing the stems to the wreath, making sure that they are securely glued. Go all the way around the wreath, leaving a small opening wherever on the wreath you would like for a bow to be placed.

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Now, take your ribbon and make a wreath bow. Once it’s finished, hot glue it in the gap.

Ok, ok. Here’s a good YouTube video on how to make bows. :)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70gvnlixO04]

When you’re done, let it set for a few minutes. Then, hang on your door and allow your neighbors to get jealous of those wreath skills!

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Pardon our door. We are in the process of painting our house hehe!