Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Advent Calendar

I made one of these last year for my kids. A good friend of mine was visiting from Portland last Christmas and saw how cool it was and how much fun we were having with it. Fast forward to summer 2008 and during one of our regular chats she says, "I don't want to sound presumptuous, but for my Christmas present... if you're going to get me a present this year... feel free to not get me one if that was your plan... but if you are going to get me one could you make my family one of those Advent calendars you made for your kids. Feel free to say no." I chuckled and said, "Of course I'm getting you a present this year and yes I'll make you an Advent Calendar." She has a 4 year old daughter and they'll have many years of enjoyment from the calendar. Above is a picture of the one I made for her. Each number is a tin velcroed on to the board. One can fill it with whatever will fit. As each day passes pull off the tin and underneath are the cutest Christmas stamps.

Directions for how to make one of these calendars can be found at Split Coast Stampers. If you ever have a question on how to make one or find a material. Feel free to email me.

When I made mine I wasn't sure how it would go over. My kids are teenagers now. So, I decided to do something a little different. I did put a piece of chocolate into each tin, but I also figured out 12 Christmas time activities that we like to do each year. Normally, the month goes by and few things don't get done. This time I asked the kids what they liked to do and added what I like to do with them and made the "The 12 dates of Christmas." I put the 12 dates on slips of paper and put them in the tins through out the month. On my family calendar I am able to schedule all these activities so we don't miss them. I use a yellow highlighter to highlight just the number on the family calendar, so as not to spill the beans. This way my DH knows that something is planned for that day and he can plan accordingly. Kids haven't figured out that code yet. Some of the things we like to do and not necessarily in this order are...

1. Try out a new cookie recipe to eat and share with friends
2. Make fudge.
3. Family movie night with a favorite old Christmas movie and popcorn.
4. Go to Dairy Queen and have a Christmas flavored Blizzard
5. Drive around with Hot Cocoa and see the pretty lights.
6. Make Gingerbread houses.
7. Go to the theater and catch a new Christmas movie.
8. Family board game night.
9. Wrap presents and do any last minute shopping.
10. Get out the Christmas decorations and make the house festive.
11. Get out the Christmas dishes and have a delicious meal on them.
12. Go to Starbucks and enjoy a festive drink.

My teenagers are really into this fun Advent calendar and we're enjoying great family fun.

A Fridge Full of Fudge!

I have 6 pounds of delicious homemade fudge in my fridge right now as we speak. OK maybe we're down to 5 1/2 pounds after some taste testing. Today was "Make Fudge" day on the Advent calendar. The kids looked forward to it all day. My daughter has been the fudge maker in the past, but she had to stay late at school today. So, my son dove head first into the chocolate. Didn't have to ask him twice. We figured out a few years ago that my grandmother's fudge recipe has the best taste, but needed to be a little lighter. We make her recipe and then stir in 1/2 jar of marshmallow cream. We experimented with a new preparation method this year. Deciding to do it in the microwave rather than over a double boiler. My son much preferred this method. We also never put in nuts preferring the feel of smooth creamy fudge melting on our tongues.

Here's her recipe:

3 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 - 14oz. can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
dash of salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup nuts

Top of double boiler melt chocolate, stirring occasionally. (This is where we put it in the microwave. Heating and stirring for 1 minute at a time until chocolate was melted.)

Remove from heat (or microwave) - add milk, salt, vanilla and nuts.
Stir until smooth.

Spread mixture evenly into waxed -paper lined 8X8" baking pan.
Chill 2 hours or until firm.

Turn fudge onto cutting board, peel off paper and cut into squares. Tightly cover any leftovers.

I decided to try a new fudge recipe this year. A true fudge recipe. It's called Cinnamon Chocolate Fudge. Boy did it turn out to be a pain in the butt. Mostly because I was making fudge and making dinner for company at the same time. I didn't give the fudge my full attention, because I wanted dinner to be good for a friend that was coming to my house for the first time. First the fudge boiled over while I was doing a technique Alton Brown recommends for getting the sugar crystals off the edge of your pot. Put a lid on it for 3 minutes. It works great, but today it boiled over. NOW my stove is cover with a brown goo and everything including the goo is too hot to clean. I laughed it off knowing my friend would have a chuckle too. It was quite a sight a white stove with brown sugar goo oozing around 2 burners. It could have been a scene out of the "Blob" only I don't get to run away with Steve McQueen. I cleaned the pot off as best I could, so there wouldn't be a burning smell in my house. While I was trying to attempt to beat the brown goo back the simmering potatoes for mashed potatoes started to boil over. I quickly pulled them off the burner and had a talk with myself. "Calm down, slow down, pay attention."

My stove now looks like I never clean it. I'm just hoping my company will understand that this all happened just now in the last 15 minutes. I finish getting dinner together. My friend arrives and laughs at the ordeal I had and wished me good luck cleaning the half burnt sludge off my stove. The cinnamon fudge now being referred to as "That Damn Fudge" had come to temperature on the candy thermometer. I tossed in the butter and let it cool while my friend and I talk crafting. Finally, I decided to put the finishing touches on the fudge and get it out of my hair and into the fridge. It doesn't thicken up like the recipe said and I thought with all the trouble I was having it might be ruined. So, I toss it into a pan and stick it into the fridge. Fingers crossed.

(The two pieces on the left are Grandma's Fudge. The two pieces on the right are the Cinnamon Fudge.)

3 hours later my kids reminded me the fudge was ready. Grandma's fudge looked fabulous and tasted even better. The Cinnamon Chocolate Fudge to my great surprise had set up wonderfully and tasted great. The texture was so smooth and just melted cinnamon chocolaty goodness all over one's tongue.

Here's the recipe:

Cinnamon Chocolate Fudge
4 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
3 c. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 1/4 c. milk
4 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. pecans or walnuts, broken

Melt chocolate in 3-qt. saucepan on lowest heat or over hot water. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, corn syrup and milk. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan. Increase heat to med. and cook, stirring until sugar dissolves. Wash crystals from side of pan. Cook to 236 degrees F on candy thermometer (soft-ball stage).

Remove from heat; add butter and, without stirring, let cool to 110 degrees F or lukewarm. Add
vanilla extract and beat until mixture begins to thicken. Stir in nuts and continue beating until candy holds its shape. Drop from spoon onto buttered wax paper or pour into buttered pan. When cool, cut into squares. Makes about 3 pounds.

P.S. For something really different we made Alton Brown's Peanut Butter Fudge last year. It was super simple and super good! Click on the "Peanut Butter Fudge" for the link to the recipe by Alton Brown.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

And the winner is....

This year's RCS Christmas Card Challenge is over. I had a great time and I've heard that the other gals had a great time too. Getting a few of our Christmas cards done each month definitely took the sting out sending out hand made Christmas cards to our friends and family this month. I have 66 cards, which is more cards than I usually send out. I wanted a few extra so I could give them out willy nilly if I felt like it. If I have some left over I'll use them next year.

For the challenge I offered to put together a gift basket drawing for all those who followed the rules. They were set a goal of cards to make each month of 3 or more, make and post a picture of your cards during the month they're due, and miss no more than 3 months during the year. 8 gals, Cathy R. , Crystal, Karen, Linda C., M-C, Sandy, Shannon and myself were able to accomplish this goal.

One honorable mentions goes to Linda C. for not missing one single month during the year. I myself, didn't miss a month, but I felt an obligation as hostess to not miss a month. You know set a good example and all that good stuff.

So, this evening I had my beautiful daughter assist me with the drawing. I wrote the 7 names on recycled paper...mine not included just seemed silly to put my own name into my own drawing. I can see it now...OH I won... what a surprise!.... ahhh no. LOL

So, my daughter... err... unbiased assistant did the drawing.

And the winner is...What can't read that teenie tiny piece of paper.

Congratulations Shannon!

After confirming your address your prize will be in the mail next week! Thanks to all that participated. Seems like we have some interest in a another year. We'll cross that bridge come January 2009.