Tuesday, November 29, 2011

St. Nicholas Day Is Approaching!!

My house is decorated for the holidays.  I was a bit lazy this year.  The kids helped me put up the tree, a few outside decorations, and of course our stockings.  However, upon pulling out the stockings this year, I decided to buy new ones that all matched.   Up until now we had four mismatched stockings.  While there are certainly adequate and serve their purpose, it really bothered me from a decor standpoint. 

So off to the Christmas decor aisle at our local department store we headed.  I was a bit disappointed in the lack of stocking variety.  (I would really love to have the embroidered ones from the catalogs, but I can't reason spending $80 plus dollars on them.)  We searched and came up with a velvet stocking with a simple detail at the top.  Now the color choices??? Adam wanted red, Brandon wanted purple, I figured Jay for green, and that left me with silver.  Well, Brandon's purple was throwing off my color scheme.  After several minutes of negotiation, Adam and I talked Brandon into green.  So we picked up two red and two green.  Now, Adam posed the question to me, "How will St. Nick know who has which stocking, having two of the same color??"  Good question.  Then a few rows over we found stocking charms.  Simple initials trimmed in glitter, perfect!!!

We are all set for St. Nicholas Day!!  In our home we open our stockings on St. Nick's Day, December 6th.  There are many stories and legends that tell how Christmas stockings came about.  Every culture celebrates it a bit differently, but for us this works out great.  We are reminded about St. Nicholas and how giving and protective of innocents he was.  It also serves as a great introduction to the holiday season for the kids.  It starts a discussion about giving to others, as St. Nicholas did.

For the full history of St. Nicholas, click here.

So what do we fill our stockings with??? Small trinkets, some candy, or even fruit.  However, this year St. Nicholas will put sample packs of K-Cups in the adult stockings ;)

Tune in Thursday for Cookie Corner!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How do you celebrate the holidays???

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Now the mad push for Christmas is among us.  In our family we are Christians, however, I am trying to teach my boys that everyone has different beliefs and it's ok.  I think sometimes the wrong message is put upon us during the holidays.  Many people don't even know why they are celebrating, except for shopping and gift exchanging.

Growing up, I lived in a community that was primarily Christian.  I had a few friends who celebrated Hanukkah, and a few friends who didn't celebrate anything.  For the most part, Santa Claus was prevalent at school and possibly a menorah.  We moved to a small town several years ago.  In this town there is a wide variety of religious beliefs.  All the different views are celebrated and my children are educated in different cultures.  I am happy that we are part of a community that shows tolerance for all beliefs.

There are also many interfaith families in our community.  We have friends who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.  We have been invited to various family activities during this holiday season.  So how do we respect everyone, but still share our gifts? 

Something small that you can do, is be conscience of how you present your gifts.  The retailers are on this trend too.  You can find so many gifts bags, wrapping paper, etc. in blue, silver, white.  I like to wrap my gifts in designs that can cross many traditions.  For example, I have snowflake paper that is backed in light blue.  This to me simply says winter.  I also baked cut-out cookies in mittens and snowflakes, decorated simply in blue and white.

Also if you know a certain family has particular restrictions regarding their diet, be aware of any food gifts you may give.  I learned this when I had my gift basket business.  I received many requests for baskets where all the items must be Kosher. 

This time of year is about caring and understanding others.  Of course, we want to celebrate, attend parties, and give gifts.  All I ask of myself and others is to be considerate.  It's also a great lesson to teach the children.  So, how do you celebrate the holidays??? I would love to hear your family traditions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Caramel Applesauce Cake

Well the last couple of post were all about my little guy's Toy Story Party.  We had a ball that day, but we had another celebration in our family.  As previously mentioned, my father-in-law shares a birthday with Brandon.  It was wonderful that my in-laws made the trip to help celebrate Brandon's birthday. 

We decided to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday the next night.  (I don't think he really wanted a Toy Story cake.)  My father-in-law really likes the spice, vanilla, caramel flavor profiles.  While he will eat chocolate cake if it is the only option, he's more of a spicy kind of guy.  So I made an applesauce cake with a caramel glaze from the Cake Mix Doctor Returns, by Anne Byrn.

This cake is so moist it can be made a few days in advance.  The caramel glaze just seeps into the cake and makes it more moist.  I recommend serving it with a bit a whipped cream to help cut the spicy flavors.  Linking to these parties.


1 package (18.25 oz) plain spice cake mix
2 c. sweetened chunky applesauce
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. buttermilk (I used regular milk)
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, and mix on medium for 2 minutes with an electric mixer.  Pour batter into a 9 x 13 pan sprayed with baking spray.  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Check with a cake tester, when it comes out clean remove from the oven an allow to cool. 

caramel glaze

3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. light brown sugar
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
3 tbsp. heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and cream in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and boil for one minute, stirring with a whisk.  Remove from heat, add vanilla.  Pour glaze over cooled cake. This glaze will not harden.  Also great topping for a bundt cake or ice cream.

If desired, top glazed cake with toasted nuts for garnish.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Toy Story Party (Part 2)

It came and went, with a happy little "Buzz Lightyear" by the end of the night.  We enjoyed a dinner and party with friends and family.  The food was a simple home cooked meal that was prepared ahead of time.  All I had to do the night of the party was heat things in the oven.  I set it up buffet style, served the beef to the guests, and let them help themselves to the rest. 

The menu was as follows:

For the kids: Whole grain chicken tenders (white meat only), smile fries, and strawberries
For the adults:  Roast beef on "weck", cheesy potatoes, green beans, and dill pickles
Cake for dessert and a coffee station set up with the Keurig and flavored syrups and creamers

  • To prepare the roast beef, I got a sirloin roast from the butcher with most of the fat trimmed.  Liberally season the roast with salt and pepper and place fat side up in a roasting pan with a rack.  Add about a cup of water and cover with foil.  Roast at 300 degrees for 20 minutes per pound.  You want the internal temperature between 120 and 130 degrees.  The roast will be rare but will cook to desired temperature when re-heated upon serving.  Allow the roast to rest and then refrigerate.  Once the beef is chilled, slice against the grain as thin as possible.
  • To reheat the beef, simply heat beef stock to a boil, then when serving, allow the beef to soak in the stock until desired temperature is reached.  The ends of the roast are more well done than the middle, so you can meet everyone's needs.
  • Serve the beef on Kaiser rolls with horseradish.  I also had gravy for those who wanted that.  We had Kummelweck rolls as well. For the history on "weck" rolls click here.

recipe for cheesy potatoes

1 two pound bag of cubed hash browns, thawed
1 c. sour cream
1 can cream of celery soup
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. finely diced onion
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. plain cornflakes crushed with 2 tbsp melted butter

In a small sauce pan saute onion in a little bit of oil or butter until soft.  In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except the cornflakes.  Stir until well mixed and put into a 9 x 13 pan, sprayed with cooking spray.  Top with cornflakes, bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until bubbly.

After the cake was served, we rounded out the evening with a pinata.  The whole night was wonderful and my little guy told me at bedtime, "Mommy, it was the best Toy Story party ever!"

See you soon :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's Coming!! (Toy Story Party Part 1)

It's almost here....my baby is turning 4!  I can't believe it.  It also means by father-in-law is turning 64! Yes Brandon shares a birthday with his Grandpa Nowak :)

I have eluded to Brandon's birthday party theme in recent posts.  My little guy is obsessed with Toy Story, thus we are having a full blown Toy Story party.  I will do a post with specifics on the food recipes, but for now here are a few of the decoration and party ideas.

First, Brandon really wanted Toy Story party hats.  I looked in every party store, online retailer, and nada.  I only found a alien party hat that was $3.49 each.  Sorry Charlie, this mama is on a budget.  So I visited our local dollar store and purchased 8 regular party hats for $1.00 and Toy Story stickers for $1.00.  Brandon helped me decorate the hats, and they only cost $0.25 each.

Next part of the festivities is the pinata.  I found a Toy Story pull string pinata.  I liked the pull string one because the party guests who will be partaking in this activity are 4 years old.  While I let my 6 year old and his friends swing a bat at a regular one, I thought the younger crowd would have more success with the pull string.  I also filled the pinata with goldfish cracker packages, Toy Story fruit snacks, and little plastic army guys (which Brandon calls hut hut guys).

I always like to give party favors to the children who come.  I knew Brandon's party theme earlier this year, so when I saw things on sale I bought them and put them in my party box (a plastic storage bin in my basement).  I found really cute Toy Story travel coloring pads, Toy Story socks, and plastic cups.  I wrapped them together in cellophane with a few other trinkets and voila!!!  Party favors, check!

Last but not least, we need a Toy Story cake.  Brandon again was very detailed in his request.  He wanted a round cake, stacked, chocolate, that looked like sky with all the characters.  Oh boy this one was going to be the end of me.  I made a 3 tiered cake,  the bottom tier vanilla, and the next two chocolate.  Then I tinted the icing blue and piped white clouds.  I bought little figures from the movie and just arranged them around the cake.  Now I am the first to admit, it was not my best frosting job on the cake.  I was tired, the frosting was too soft and I couldn't get it as smooth as I would've liked.  However, when Brandon saw the cake this morning, his face was priceless.  He yelled, "Mama, that's what I wanted!"  Okay mission accomplished :)

Now that I gave you a glimpse into some of the party ideas, stayed tuned for the menu.  I am serving Beef on Weck, a Buffalo classic.  Yes, I found Weck rolls in the Oneonta area :)  I will also post after party pictures this weekend. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good Shoes For Bad Feet

Wow, November feels like it's almost over.  This is such a busy month for us, between school activities, my little one turning four, and Thanksgiving I don't which way to turn.  Luckily I have new shoes to help through all the hustle and bustle.

I titled this good shoes for bad feet.  Yes, I have extremely bad feet.  When I was younger I wore the "fashionable" shoes and ignored the stress it put on my feet.  That was until I needed to have some foot surgery on my toes.  I would wear very pointy shoes, and by pinching my toes I wound up with repeated ingrown nails.  I finally had to have surgery on both big toes to remedy the situation.  Then I started wearing a shoe with a wider toe box.  The only problem was the shoes weren't very stylish.

Fast forward another ten years and now I have problems with my arches and heels.  The thought of standing first thing in the morning is horrifying.  My heels feel like I have stones in them for the first hour of the day.  So I bought myself a pair of really good slippers that I could use as house shoes.  We have almost all hard surfaces in our house and it is very painful to walk bare foot.  I love the slippers.  They are Clark's and are built on a shoe foot bed.  Very comfy!! 

I decided I was going to have to bite the bullet and pay a little more for shoes that would be comfortable and fashionable.  I went to our local shoe store and bought a pair a brown Sketchers for everyday walking.  Then I went back the next week and bought a pair of Clark's clogs from the Bendables line.  Both shoes are very comfortable and cute.  However, I was still missing a cute pair of flats that I could wear with jeans or to church. 

I was browsing online at QVC.com  and stumbled across super cute flats.  There were from Isaac Mizarahi and too cute to pass up.  I ordered black and a neutral snakeskin pattern.  The shoes arrived last week and I am in love.  Not only are they comfortable they are stylish.  BINGO!!!!!  I found the formula to good shoes: Pay a little more for designer shoes.  I hesitated paying $50 for a pair of flats, but then I when I thought how many seasons I would have them, it worked out to be a good buy :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spiced Pumpkin Cookie

I have a very diverse group of friends.  With that diverse group, comes creativity and talent.  One particular friend has an immense amount of creativity, talent, craftiness.....and her name is Amy.   Amy and I have been friends since our days in the accounting office at Wegmans, a long long time ago.  She was in college and I was finishing high school.  We shared a lot of laughs, a little bit of trouble, and the friendship has been blossoming ever since.  Amy is My Little Blogspot's featured cookie maker for November. Oh and the plate to cookies are on were a wedding gift from Amy.

One night on the phone, she mentioned she made a batch of pumpkin cookies.  The next several days that started working on me. I love pumpkin!!!  I knew I wanted to do a pumpkin cookie for November, so I asked my dear friend to part with her recipe.

I made a batch for pure research and quality control measures ;)  They came out great. I shared them with friends in Oneonta and the reaction was all positive.  Make them big or small, they are delicious in any size.  Oh, the best part in my opinion is the frosting, do not skip that step :)

Thank you Amy!!!

recipe for cookies

1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 c. canned pumpkin
1 egg
1 tbsp. grated orange zest (Amy and I both used orange juice)
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/4 c. wheat flour
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. chopped walnuts


1/2 c. butter
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 c. whipping cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 c. powder sugar

For cookies, cream butter and brown sugar in your mixer until fluffy.  Add pumpkin, egg and orange zest, beat until smooth.  Combine flours, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, stir until soft dough forms. Stir in walnuts. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 4 hours.  ( I chilled it overnight right in the mixing bowl, covered in plastic wrap.)

Drop tablespoons of dough 2 inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

For icing, melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Stirring constantly, add brown sugar, whipping cream, and corn syrup. Cook until mixture comes to a boil. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat; pour into heat resistant medium bowl. Add powder sugar and beat until smooth. Ice cookies, allow icing to harden. ** Hardens fast, work quickly!! **


Substitute 1 tbsp orange juice for orange zest
Finely grind nuts in a food processor for people who don't like large pieces of nuts in their cookies