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! :)

What Can I Buy for $1?

Today, I found myself at the mall waiting in line for 45 minutes. What was I waiting for? A $10 gift card. It might not be worth it to some, but for a penny pincher like me, completely worth it.

I find myself shopping for some basics at Dollar Tree repeatedly, because they are great deals that I want to share. I totally remind myself of that McDonald’s commercial, challenging myself to find great deals for a dollar!

Be aware though, there are some things in Dollar stores that really aren’t good deals as well, however, in my experience, these things are great deals!

  • Greeting cards: at 2/$1, it completely beats the pants off of cards that are $2-$5 each!
  • Gift Bags: $1 each for all sizes vs. $3 and up for bags at other retailers and they are just as cute/nice!
  • Tissue Paper: it can be about $3 for a package of tissue paper, vs. $1 for a pack of 30 sheets in either white or different colors. A deal indeed!
  • Mylar Balloons: they come inflated for every occasion and are $1 vs. $3 plus!
  • Posterboard: you can buy 3 sheets for a dollar. We bought a bunch of this for the garage sale. They also have foamboard for $1. This is a great deal, since it’s a little less than $1 for one sheet of posterboard and $3 for foamboard.
  • Scrapbooking supplies: $1 each for cute stickers, rub-on transfers, markers, etc.? Deal!
  • Pregnancy/Ovulation tests: when the time comes for us to TTC, you better believe that I’ll be raiding the store for these!
  • Photo Frames: they have a great selection available in many sizes!
  • Disposable pans/containers for food: I like to buy some of these for occasions when I know I’m going to share cooked food with family. I hate nagging people for my Rubbermaid containers back, so this makes it a no-brainer.

Do you like shopping at Dollar stores? What are your favorite finds there?

Cleaning for Guests

A little over a month ago, I made a vow to our house. I’d spend 15 minutes a day cleaning and tidying things up. Turns out, after a month, it’s become a great habit! Most of my tasks have been boring to share, but I can say that the house is getting cleaner and it’s ALMOST ready for our guests to come on Thanksgiving.

Since I never really did Spring Cleaning, though, I will be doing some tasks other than the usual wipe-downs and decluttering to get the house in tip-top shape!

Here we go, room by room:

Kitchen

  • wipe down cabinet fronts with a wood friendly cleanser
  • steam clean floors
  • dust/clean area above cabinet and where wall meets ceiling
  • organize the cabinets to where the serving plates are easier to access

Bathrooms

  • steam clean floors
  • deep clean bathtub
  • wipe down cabinet fronts
  • organize whatever is in the cabinets
  • make them guest friendly
  • dust area where wall and ceiling meet

Living Room

  • dust area where wall and ceiling meet as well as wall meets molding
  • dust/clean ceiling fan (A tip for this? Buy a cheap pillowcase at Goodwill, put the pillowcase around the fan blade and pull dust off…no mess!)
  • vacuum rug and steam clean floors
  • dust furniture

Bedrooms

  • dust areas where wall and ceiling meet as well as where wall meets molding
  • wash comforters
  • steam clean floors
  • dust furniture
  • dust/clean ceiling fans

If you aren’t in the mood to deep clean, Real Simple has a list to help you out. Here’s how to make your house LOOK clean! A timesaver, for sure!

If you are hosting a holiday get-together, have you put together a cleaning list? Also, if you channeling your inner Danny Tanner like me, is there a task I’m leaving out?

Grandma’s All Occasion Sugar Cookies

sugarcookie

This was the final cookie that I placed in my Operation  Baking Gals box. I figured that this would serve as a good excuse to try another sugar cookie recipe. I’ve seen quite a few food bloggers use this for rolled (shaped) cookies and rave about it, but the problem I have with this recipe is that they did spread a little. Spreading wouldn’t allow a cookie to keep it’s original cutter shape, so I’m going to stick with my go-to recipe for rolled cookies.

My husband did really like these, and I will admit that they have a great flavor.  This recipe is also from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From my Home to Yours.

Grandma’s All Occasion Sugar Cookies
Source: Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking From My Home to Yours

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • sugar and/or cinnamon for dusting

Directions:

  1. Using a mixer, beat the butter until it’s fluffy. Add in the sugar and mix for 2 minutes until the mixture is pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together in a separate bowl. Then, with the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture until it’s just incorporated. From then, finish mixing with a spatula until it’s mixed well.
  2. Place the dough on the counter and divide it in half. If you want to make roll-out cookies, shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. If you want to make slice-and-bake cookies, shape each half into a chubby sausage (the diameter is up to you-I usually like cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in plastic or wax paper. Whether you’re going to roll or slice the dough, it must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)
  3. Preheat the oven to  350 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  4. If you are making roll-out cookies, working with one packet of dough at a time, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of 0.5 cm/1/4 inch, lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly. Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for rerolling, and carefully lift the dough onto the baking sheets with a spatula, leaving about 4 cm = 1 1/2 inches between the cookies. (This is a soft dough and you might have trouble peeling away the excess or lifting the cutouts; if so, cover the dough, chill it for about 15 minutes and try again.)
  5. After you’ve rolled and cut the second packet of dough, you can form the scraps into a disk, then chill, roll, cut and bake.
  6. If you are making slice-and-bake cookies, use a sharp thin knife to slice the dough into 0.5 cm = 1/4-inch-thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 4 cm = 1 1/2 inches of space between the cookies.
  7. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all.
  8. Remove the pan from the oven and dust the cookies with sugar or cinnamon sugar, if you’d like. Let them rest for 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

$10 for FREE?!

ruelala
Image source

Yes, you read that right. $10 for free on RueLaLa.com. Normally, they only give $10 to people who refer new members, but from now until Christmas Eve, if you join RueLaLa, you get an automatic $10 credit. No purchase necessary.

Just click on this link to join!

RueLaLa is an online designer’s outlet that you can join by invite only. They sell things from clothing, accessory and home designers for up to 70% off. It’s free to join, and it’s pretty fun to use.

I’ve made a couple of purchases myself on RueLaLa, and I’ve been lucky enough to get some credit to use so it is really a great deal!

This girl needed a good vegetable knife in the kitchen, and this little guy fits the bill. I also use it to cut into cookie dough rolls that I make!

The other thing I purchased was a Christmas gift, and I’m not sure if that person reads this blog, so I can only say it was a great deal and super cute!

I would make more purchases, but the clothes aren’t for plus sized women, and I’m not a huge accessory person. However, it’s great to find an occasional deal or just to window shop! Enjoy!

A Hidden High Cost..

Ever since I was in college, I’ve been getting my hair highlighted on a regular basis. I get it done typically every 3 months, because my hair is naturally a darker blonde, and the roots aren’t too obvious until then.

However, after years and years of doing crazy damage to my hair and wallet, I’ve decided to stop. How can I just stop, you ask? Very simply…

I purchased a $7 box of Natural Instincts.

Since it a semi-permanent color, I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with roots and it’s now serving as a color that is VERY close to my natural hair color. It’s also way less harsh than bleach, so my hair is currently happier because of it!

I can give you an idea of the before/after, but, like I said, it’s faded quite a bit to a more dark blonde color.

lightdark

Making this little change in my life is saving me $70/3 months or a whopping $280/year! Instead of me spending that money, I’m currently placing it in a savings account! (To note, that’s considered cheap for highlights for the length that my hair was at the time before the pre-wedding . I used to get my hair done at a salon school.)

Will I ever go back to blonde? Maybe…but for now, I’m considering this to be a fun change!

World Peace Cookies

worldpeacecookies

In addition to the snickerdoodle biscotti, I decided to make a couple of recipes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours for my Operation Baking Gals package this month. I looked for recipes that seemed like they would keep a couple of days, and I found this one: World Peace Cookies.

I know Tuesdays with Dorie did this a while back, and the cookies looked delicious, so I decided to give this a try. I mean, what soldier wouldn’t like chocolate??

I was also glad to use this recipe as an excuse to dig into my box of salty goodness that I received from Marx Foods a while ago. They sent me a sampler of specialty sea salts for free, so I figured this recipe would be perfect to add a little coffee flavor to. Instead of the salt suggested in the recipe, I used this gorgeous espresso salt!

Thanks again, Marx Foods! I can’t wait to play with the other salts too!

espressosalt

I did try a couple of cookies, and I have to say that this is a fantastic recipe! I’m sure the soldiers I sent these to will truly enjoy them!

World Peace Cookies
Source: Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (used 1/4 tsp. espresso salt)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Using a mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together in another bowl.
  2. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer to avoid flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. If there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix using a spatula only until it’s incorporated.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)
  4. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or silicone mats.
  5. Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
  6. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

An awakening alarm..

I’ve been lucky all of my life. For my size, I’ve never had health problems outside of one broken ankle, which still causes my ankle to pop at random times.

I know people my size can tend to be overwhelmed with a pandora’s box full of problems, and last week, I got hit with a slight one.

I have borderline high cholesterol.

Last week, I went in for my first full check-up with a physician in years. I should have expected something to come of this after the bloodwork was done.

In the bloodwork results, the doctor asked me to exercise 150-200 minutes/week. With that, he wants me to lose 27 lbs. by next year. It’s completely doable, and I actually hope to have lost more than that by this time next year.

So, I now sit here researching low cholesterol foods and recipes, so I can properly educate myself on this. I know it’s just borderline, but I don’t like the idea of that at all. It’s actually pretty scary to me, because I don’t like it when something is wrong with me.

I’m in two weight loss challenges right now, and I’m hoping that you all can hold me accountable here too. This isn’t just for me to fit in cute, regular size clothes anymore; this is now for me to lead a healthier life than the one I’m leading right now.

Skinny Holiday Baking: Snickerdoodle Biscotti

snickerdoodlebiscotti

Since it’s unbelievably less than 8 weeks until Christmas, I’m finding myself more and more in the mood to bake. Be sure to check this blog every Monday leading up to Christmas for some baked goods that are also SKINNY!!

I spent this weekend making another package for Operation Baking Gals, and happened to find this recipe trying to find a spiced biscotti. I was glad to find that I wouldn’t feel too guilty tasting this recipe to make sure it came out fine since this is a recipe from Cooking Light.

That being said, this was a pretty difficult dough to work with. It’s extremely crumbly, and you really have to work it well to get it to form into logs. In the end, though, this was a pretty good biscotti, and it’s definitely worth a try!

Snickerdoodle Biscotti
Source: Cooking Light (found on Recipezaar)

Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large egg white

Directions:

  1. Preheat Oven to 350.
  2. Measure flour into a large bowl and add 1 C. Sugar, Baking powder, and salt.
  3. Mix oil, vanilla and the eggs in a small bowl and add to the large bowl, your dough will be dry and very crumbly.
  4. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 7 or 8 times. It may take a while, but the dough will eventually come together.
  5. Divide in half. Shape each portion into a roll about 8 inches long, and place them a six or so inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Flatten each roll to 1 inch thick.
  6. Combine the 2 Tbsp. Sugar and cinnamon, then gently brush the tops of the rolls with the egg white and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
  7. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
  8. Remove from the sheet and cool for 15 minutes.
  9. Cut diagonally into 1/2 inch slices and lay them cut sides down on the cookie sheet again.
  10. Reduce oven temp to 325 and then bake 10 more minutes, turn over and bake 10 more. They’ll be soft in the middle but will harden as they cool. Cool completely on a wire rack.

The Skinny: per serving, makes 30

Calories: 83
Fat: 1.1 g
Fiber: 0.4 g

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?