Friday, December 18, 2015

Fudge Mint Morsel Cookies

Cookie exchanges are one of my FAVORITE holiday traditions.  So much food love in one place. When we lived in Iowa, I had some dear friends who hosted a BIG cookie exchange each Christmas season. Their goal was for at least 12 to participate, and everyone brought 12 dozen cookies. So each guest would leave with a dozen each of 12 different kinds of cookies. As a cookie lover, this was the peak of sweet foodie fun for me! 

This year I am taking one of my tried and true treats to a friend's cookie exchange. These used to be called "Bunco Cookies," because I brought them several times to a Bunco group I was in for a few years. I would use chocolate-white chocolate striped chips in and on top of them and they were DIVINE. But those chips are hard to find, so I recently pulled the recipe back out and put regular chocolate chips in the dough, and melted an Andes mint on top when I pulled them out of the oven. WOW! Instant love. 

So whether you are making cookies for a gift exchange, a party, Bunco, or to enjoy with your family, these will be a surefire hit!  Soft, fudgey cookies with lightly crisped edges and a coating of minty chocolate on top.

Fudge Mint Morsel Cookies
Makes 4 dozen

1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups flour (all-purpose or whole wheat work)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cup chocolate chips
48 Andes Mints, unwrapped

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment, silpat or cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
3. Beat butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Gradually stir flour mixture into wet mix.  Stir in chocolate chips. 
4. Drop by heaping, rounded teaspoons (I use a 1/2 oz cookies scoop) onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake 7-8  minutes--no longer. Cookies will be soft when you pull them out.
5. Place 1 Andes mint onto each cookie within 1 minute of pulling them out of the oven. Let them sit 2-3 minutes, then spread the melted Andes with the back of a spoon using a small circular motion. Carefully remove to cool and allow topping to set.  Store in an air-tight container. 

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Ultimate Handmade Gift Guide

As a child I would have trouble sleeping in anticipation of what I would find under the tree on Christmas morning.  Would it be that tennis racket I asked for, or a new bicycle. I wondered what my sisters would receive, and would my gifts be as good as theirs. (I'm not holding back here on the honesty!)

But BY FAR the most memorable gifts I have received or given throughout my life have been handmade. My dad was a stock broker in 1987.  I know some of you remember "Black Monday," but for those who don't, I'll just say that my parents were struggling financially that Christmas and the next. My parents were excellent about sheltering their children from their stress. My mom made us amazing hand-sewn denim jackets from old blue jeans. They had tuxedo-style lapels, cuffs, and waistbands that buttoned. These were COOL jackets--especially in 1987.  She also made us denim skirts from old jeans. When I wore both the jacket and the skirt, I felt like a style MACHINE! 

Cabbage Patch dolls were also all the rage in the '80s, and my mom made us hand made dolls that resembled the popular toy. I still have mine and have passed it down to my daughter. 

I don't remember much else I received for Christmas during those years, but I have vivid memories of the gifts that were handmade for me.  

Handmade gifts are the way to go. I've compiled a list to support my claim: 

Why Give Handmade Gifts?
  • Handmade gifts are more memorable to the recipient (as I established above).
  • Handmade gifts can be highly customized to fit the specific wants and needs of the recipient.
  • You'll often save money making rather than buying.
  • You can avoid the crowds at the mall. 
  • You can truly put your heart into the gifts you give.
  • Your gift will be one-of-a kind--so truly priceless. 
  • Purchasing handmade gifts can benefit those in need.

Below is the Ultimate Handmade Gift Guide.  I have divided it into 6 categories: 

Gifts For Her
Gifts For Him
Gifts For Teens
Gifts For Kids
Gifts for Humanity

Gifts of Humanity is my favorite section. I have made a list of charities that sell handmade gifts, the purchase of which will directly benefit those who made the items in the form of food, housing, education, and job training. Either I have, or someone I know has worked with each of these charities directly. You can trust that your support will be used effectively. 

Now, onto The Guide!

Gifts for Her
Get a few measurements from the recipient (or their significant other), a couple yards of jersey knit fabric, and a couple hours. She'll LOVE the cute and comfy finished product!

This is my top sewing post, and for good reason. It takes very little time and the results are fabulous. These look great layered with a long-sleeve under or a cardigan over. 

Yes, you can make these cute shoes by hand! They take about 2-3 hours to construct, and will be forever remembered by their recipient!

I was a pattern tester for this simple dress and liked it so much that I made a second for a wedding I was attending. I receive compliments every time I wear it, and so will whoever you make one for!

Gifts for Him
I made some of these for my husband. He wears them a TON. Does your guy play basketball? Soccer? Flag football? These are great. You can make them for a fraction of what they cost at the store, and you can choose a color that he'll love. 

Does your husband's wardrobe need some updating?  I have you covered with this alteration tutorial. To my knowledge, this is the only tutorial of its kind on the internet. (This may be as much of a gift for you as for him!)

This post links to directions and gives advice on making your own alcohol stove.  The link at the end of the post for the V-8 stove tutorial was done by my son. This is a great handmade gift for a son to give his father.

Gifts for Teens
Someone gave me one of these when I went to college and I used it a ton! We all know that teens value their sleep. Why not help them make it more sound?!

This ancient art form can be used to make clothing, accessories, and decor.  Make the trendy tie-dyed item for them, or make them a kit to do it on their own--they'll love it !

This simple tutorial teaches you to turn an ordinary t-shirt into something teenagers will love. Contrast sleeve tees are in style for boys and girls, and this method will work for long or short sleeve t-shirts.

This was one of my first tutorials, and it is still a favorite. Whip one of these up for your teenage daughter or niece in a trendy fabric, and she'll love you forever!

Gifts for Kids
I made one of these for each of my kids before a big trip and they were wonderful! They are also great as a quiet activity to take to church or meetings where children are expected to sit still. 
This is a gift that would be truly cherished by the children who received it. My kids look forward to filling out the activities on the chalkboard and turning around the numbers each day to see what part of Christ's life is highlighted.  

I was a pattern tester for this adorable hoodie. My daughter wears hers regularly. The pattern can be used for sizes 2-16Y, so you can really get your money's worth out of it. Make one for every girl you know!

This is the perfect gift for the girly-girl. Whip one up in a couple hours using some fun knit fabric. She'll love it!

Gifts for Humanity
I am friends with the founder of this awesome non-profit. From the website: Through the sale of African Promise Beads, Ugandan women are empowered to become heroes in their communities, providing for their families and supporting orphaned children’s education and nutrition through their skill and productivity. 
I own several necklaces, bracelets and earrings from APF, and I have given them as gifts to family and friends. They are truly works of art, and knowing their purchase is doing so much for those in need makes the gift even sweeter. 

We have all heard the horrors of sex-trafficking around the world. Daughter's Rising is a non-profit dedicated to helping victims of this awful practice regain control of their lives, as well as empowering at-risk girls through education and training. 
The purchase of the jewelry, scarves, purses, and other beautifully crafted pieces will support this important effort.

I recently participated in a project with World Vision and my women's ministry to set up basic housing needs for 6 refugee families. This faith-based organization helps thousands of children here in the United States as well as around the globe who are impoverished, orphaned, enslaved, or abused. They provide what they need. Any way you can give to this organization will help children. And isn't that what the spirit of Christmas is all about?
Okay, so this isn't a handmade good. But I wanted to share this amazing charitable opportunity I recently learned about.  From the site: "AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support your favorite charitable organization every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at, you’ll find the exact same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. You can choose from nearly one million organizations to support."  Pretty great, huh?

Whether or not you use any of the links I have listed here in my Handmade Gift Guide, my hope is that this post will get us all thinking outside the crazy crowded holiday mall shopping, and help us to instead focus on the love we should feel for one another as we give. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Handmade Espadrilles

Move over cobblers and elves in the night! 

Ever since I was little bitty, I have enjoyed making gifts for friends and family. I've painted pictures, made jewelry, sewed clothes, and I even made personalized placemats for several friends in high school (which sounds odd now that I write about it--but it seemed perfectly normal as a 16 year old!).

  Once I used a leather jacket from Goodwill to make some moccasins for a family gift exchange.  I think the cousin that ended up with them still wears them around the house! 

With the coming holidays fast approaching, I have been planning what gifts I will be making this year. I was inspired by Lindsey over at Sew To Grow, who recently made her own espadrilles.  I had made shoes once before, but never any with an actual hard sole.  I began looking into what it takes, and was surprised at just how quick and easy making espadrilles is!!

I will share tips I learned in making my first pair (yes, I already have others in the works to give as gifts!).  These tips will save you time and money as you make your own pair!

First, I ordered some ESPADRILLES SOLES from Amazon. You can also order straight from Dritz, the company that makes them. I have Amazon Prime, so they came in a couple days.  These are made of rubber and jute, and are quite well-made. They come in adult women's sizes to 10 (may fit a size 10.5), children's, and toddler sizes!

FABRIC: I had some leftover decorator fabric that was perfect for making these. You want a heavier weight canvas-like fabric for the exterior. I used a broadcloth for the liner fabric (from a dress shirt my youngest son has outgrown). Another decorator fabric, medium-weight cotton, or other woven fabric would be fine for the lining. Just remember that it will be up against your skin, so it should be fairly soft.  This is a great project to use up scraps on! If you do need to buy fabric, you won't need much--1/4 yard should be plenty. 

STABILIZER FABRIC: Dritz sells some of their own, but I just used medium-weight fusible interfacing, and it worked great. 

PINS: Dritz also sells these. Regular sewing pins worked great for me. 

YARN: I used embroidery thread. The directions suggested using this wax they sell to help the yarn smoothly glide. I used chapstick for this. I pinched some chapstick between my fingers and ran them along the thread before I started stitching. 

NEEDLE: The directions recommend a special curved needle. This is also unnecessary. I used a medium-gage embroidery needle. I began with a large one, but found it was harder to pull through. 

NEEDLE GRIP:  Dritz sells a "Needle Puller" set that contains these little rubber tips for your thumb and forefinger to help you grip the needle to pull it through the jute and rubber sole. I used some garden gloves I have that have a grippy coating. They worked beautifully!


The soles come with a pattern and good instructions. I don't have much to amend here. Cut out your pieces, iron on the interfacing, and sew the liner to the outside fabric according to the pattern instructions. 

Steps 10 and 11 in the instructions has you draw a line on the liner-side of the fabric and pin the heel piece along the lines you drew. Then in Step 12 it says, "Topstitch edge of toe."  I would add a couple steps before Step 12, and re-word Step 12 for clarity...

So after Step 11, follow these instructions: 
Once you have pinned the short ends of the heel to the marked lines on the liner side, turn them over to right sides up. With right sides up, add pins along the same places you just pinned. Remove the pins you put in on the liner-side. 
Topstitch across the flat edge of the toe piece. Add a second topstitch 1/4" away from first for reinforcement. 
Now you are ready for Step 13. :)

The pattern instructions have you mark the shoes as left or right using the pattern as a guide. I held my pattern up to my shoe fabric pieces at this point and they were completely identical--I couldn't tell left from right. I marked them anyway, but it never made a difference. They became Right and Left as I pinned them to their soles. But they could have gone on either sole.  

I did pin the center back of each fabric to the center back of the soles to begin the pinning process as it said to in the instructions. 

The pinning went smoothly. The fabric fit beautifully onto the soles. I was getting kinda giddy with excitement at this point in the process. 

Blanket stitching is explained very well in the instructions, complete with drawings. I won't try to improve on these.  I will reiterate that you DO NOT need special yarn, a special needle, special wax, or special grippy tips for your fingers. I used embroidery thread, a straight embroidery needle, chapstick, and gardening gloves. This saved me big $$. 

The final tip I have that you may or may not need is ELASTIC.  I added a 1.5" piece of 1/2" wide elastic to the inside heels of each of my shoes. I hand stitched each side of the elastic 2-inches apart on the inside top of the back of the shoes, so the smaller (1.5 inch) length of elastic will stretch to grip my skinny achilles. This solved the problem of keeping my heels down as I walk. This may not be an issue for you; but if it is, here is a solution!!

I LOVE my new shoes! They are cute and comfy, but even more exciting--they are HANDMADE by ME! 

Participating in these link-ups.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Perfect! Whole Wheat Ginger Cookies

I chose the word "perfect" to describe these cookies for good reason.  I can honestly say I wouldn't change a single thing about how these turned out. I made a second batch, just to be sure.  

Lightly crispy edges and chewy, soft insides make these delicious (and because they are 100% whole wheat--nutritious!) cookies unsurpassed. This will be a new go-to recipe, especially during the fall and winter months when ginger, cinnamon and cloves smell so warm and comforting. You can unplug that scented wax warmer while making these babies. Your house will smell AMAZING!

One thing that is unique about this ginger cookie recipe, is it doesn't call for molasses. I love molasses cookies, but I don't always have it on hand. What I do always have around is maple syrup. I decided to put maple syrup in the recipe and couldn't be more pleased with the results!  

Perfect Whole Wheat Ginger Cookies
Makes 3 dozen

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (all-purpose works)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup 
1 egg
1/4 cup granulated sugar (for rolling)
Dash of ginger, cinnamon, cloves (for rolling)

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Spray or line cookie sheets.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda salt and spices.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar. Add maple syrup and egg, beating well.  Pour in flour mixture and stir well. Dough will be thick. 
4. In a small bowl, stir granulated sugar with a dash of each of the spices. Using a medium cookie scoop or tablespoon, make 1-inch cookie dough balls. Roll each ball in sugar, and place 3 inches apart on cookie sheets. 
5. Bake 9 minutes, or until very light brown on edges. Middles should rise, but still look un-done when you remove the cookies from the oven. Wait 2-3 minutes to remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. The cookies will flatten as they cool, and firm up so they hold together nicely. Store in an air-tight container.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

DIY Adult Anna Costume

My youngest, baby, only 5-year-old daughter asked me to be Anna.  That was pretty much all it took.  I had to seize this moment! Who knows if she'll ever ask me to dress up alongside her for Halloween again?!! 

I made my costume in a day. This included going to Wal-Mart to buy all the supplies. (Yes, they were ALL from Wal-Mart--so INEXPENSIVE--Yay!). 

I already had my white blouse and black boots. If you don't have these in your wardrobe already, borrow or try a thrift store to keep the costume cost down.  I also already had the pom pom trim, but similar can be found here or at most fabric stores. 

Here's the breakdown of the supplies and their cost: 

 For the Anna Dress: 
  1. I used 1 yard of blue jersey knit fabric and followed THIS TUTORIAL from Altered Cloth to make this simple gathered skirt.  
  2. I trimmed the bottom edge of a black camisole to have an angular scallop at the front like Anna's dress does. 
  3. I pinned, then sewed on the gold trim--just on the front of the bodice and neckline--and over the straps. 
  4. I used chalk to outline the flowers for the bottom of the skirt and the front decoration on the camisole.
  5. I used fabric paint to draw over the chalk drawings I made. 

For the Anna Cape: 
  1. I used 3 yards of 55"(ish) fleece and THIS TUTORIAL from Skip to My Lou to cut out the two pieces of the cape. The three yards helped it to fit an adult instead of a child (as in the original tutorial). 
  2. I sewed pom pom trim to the edge of the capelet (instead of hot gluing--faster and less frustrating!)
  3. I layered a strip of leftover fleece (for a tie) between the necks of the caplet and cape and sewed them all together (instead of hot-gluing). A ribbon would work well here, too, but I didn't have any that matched on hand. 

And that's it! Anna is ready!

My costume was a HIT at our church Trunk-or-Treat! There were 2 or 3 little Annas there who would stare up at me with gaping mouths when I said hi! :) And my daughter didn't want to leave my side! She said we were sisters and had to go around together! That made this definitely worth a last-minute effort!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Candy Pretzel Owls

We had some kitchen creativity time on Sunday. It was rainy outside, and we were needing some hands-on production. I came up with these cute owls and even made a video tutorial to share how to make them!

They can also be made in smaller batches in the microwave, which was the method I used to test the idea. 


Participating in these link-ups.