Friday, December 31, 2010

Look at what we built! Gingerbread houses!

Working on homes  is one of my skills.  Mark and I have always worked on the homes we've bought and sold.  I'm pretty good at setting windows, putting up cedar siding and so much more.  So it's only natural for me to take this home building skill into the kitchen....for Gingerbread Home Building!  I organized a party for 10 to build away, with sugar and spice, and everything nice! I had to limit it to ten becuase more than ten kids (big &/or small) was all I thought I could handle eating so much candy simultaneously!  I invited family, friends and very special neighbors.  My only instructions were for them to bring candy of any sort and any amount.  That's what really added to the fun.  I had a huge tray of candy and various pretzels, etc.  What the guests brought added to what I had made for a gold mine of building supplies!  (Note:  this is one way to use up saved Halloween candy!  One guests brought a big bowl full and it all worked wonderfully!)  I realize it's now after Christmas, but I wanted to post about it and I just know this post will be read again for Christmas 2011! 

My "Gingerbread House Making Party" was one of my favorite events this 2010 Christmas season.  I'm thinking now that a "Love Shack Making Party" might be fun for Valentine's Day.  What do you think?  For privacy reasons I'm only going to show photos of my family here on my blog, but there were others here as well.  

Remember, you can click on any photo to see every sugar crystal and gingerbread crumb!
Here's where I started packing the pounds, I ate all the trimings....oops....

I ended up making batches of gingerbread dough, each batch making 2 houses.  The houses were cut from cardboard cutouts I had drawn up from my gingerbread house making party last year.  They seem to be the perfect size, not too small and nothing like Martha Stewart's grand masion! If you decide to do this, do not double the recipe, it really does turn out better if you just make one batch at a time.  Immediately after taking the pieces from the oven, re-trim them, using the original cardboard cutout as a guide. My Mark is going to make a set of cookie cutter cutouts for me, which would make it fast than hand-cutting each piece. Oh, did I mention you can eat the trimed pieces as you go?  Yes, I do...yes, I did. 

Can you just smell how good my kitchen smells?
I had to use every inch of counter space for my sure smelled good in my kitchen!

I loved "building" the houses...

Next step is to "build" the houses.  I make mine simple, no windows or doors cut out, so the framing of the house is easy.  Using royal icing, (made with merangue powder, powdered sugar, and warm water), I "glued" the houses.  This is very fast and easy when the icing is a good consitancy.  If it's too wet, the pieces slip around, but at that point you can use long pins to pin the pieces together until it dies.  But, as I said, easier than that is to get the icing to the correct consistancy!

A clean table....not for long!

I covered pieces of cardboard with aluminum foil to set the houses on, that way the guests could have "grass" or "snow" around their house bases.  Last year I used all white plates, but I think the covered cardboard works best.  And I don't loose any of my white plates!

Gather supplies, candies, dyed coconut (for grass) and anything you can find,
these houses look great with any food items!  Gather up books for guests to get ideas from, too.

I gathered up my gingerbread house books from my collection, and also check a couple out at the library.  The very best book as far as directions is the "Gingerbread House" book by Christa Currie (1992).  She has only included hand drawn illustrations, but the information she presents is great.  The other book that's pretty old (1984) is "The Gingerbread Book", which is packed with ideas for creations even beyond the houses.  There are color photos in the is book, so I also highly recomment if you're doing any gingerbread house making research. 

You can see the tray filled with some of the goodies I was beginning to set out.  Once all the guests arrived it was overflowing like crazy.  The tray is an old metal refrigerator tray that I "picked" off my brother's inherited junk yard  years ago.  I spray painted it white and it works for so many things.  For this party I layed some Christmas napkins on it.  (Oh, and my brother's property is all cleaned up now...I brought home more than my fair share of "treasures", though, to help him out!)

Ellie worked long and hard at decorating her house. She's three and I thought she did very well.
Then she spent the rest of the day pulling her candy off just as meticulously to eat it!

I had the tubes of white royal icing ready for each guest. I made yellow, red and green as well.  For next year I need to find better coloring for red.  When I set the "red" on the table one little boy said, "hey that's pink".  You see why I need better red coloring paste for next year!  At that point I said, "I think I should make "spring" themed gingerbread houses, as I 'm better at making pastel colors!"  Hum, and "Easter Gingerbread House Making Party" sounds like fun!

John Mark also worked long and hard on his house.  He is 4 1/2, and talked non-stop the whole party.  It was funny, he told us all about how he and my son-in-law built their house and barn (he really did help with the barn!).
Melissa even had Claira in on the building.  Melissa made a darling house.  Last night she had us over for a turkey dinner and there on her kitchen counter was the house....ALL goodies had been picked off and eaten!  I'm not sure who ate all that candy....maybe all 5 of them did!

She was very serious...

This sweet guest had piped on "PEACE" and "JOY" on her rooftops.

A neighborhood of gingerbread houses.  The one on the far right was Ellie's, she packed so much on her house that a sidewall caved in. At that point she just started loading the house inside with candy!

Melissa inspecting the homes.  The tree in our kitchen was one Mark grew on our property. When one young guest first saw it he said, "Wow! I've never seen a tree like that before!"  It made me realize we've had homegrown trees for so long I had forgotten what the lot/store bought trees even looked like.

Here's the gingerbread recipe:

1 cube margarine (or butter)
1/2 cup brown sugar (dark or light, but dark will make the dough darker)
1/2 cup molasses
3 1/2 cup sifted flour (it really does help to sift, but don't worry if you don't)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp baking soda (make sure it's fresh, not old!)

1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/3 cup warm water

Mix up the margarine, brown sugar and molasses. Add all the remaining dry ingredients, alternating with the water until nicely mixed into a dough that sticks together. You may need to add a little more water, or possibly a little more flour. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for about 20 minutes, if you chill longer the dough gets too stiff.

Lightly flour work surface, rolling one half of dough at a time. Cut out house shapes, re- left over dough pieces. Dust flour off pieces as you place on cookie sheet. The best way to bake is to use Silpat baking mats. If you don't have those, use parchment paper. If you don't have that, lightly spray or grease cookie sheets before placing cut-out pieces on it.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Don't under bake, as you need them to be solid enough to hold their own shape. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Then re-cut the shapes, so they are all the original size. (The dough often expands a little as baking.)

Note: A lot of people recommend rolling the dough and cutting it out right on the back of a cookie or baking sheet. I didn't find success that way. My best success was cutting on the work surface and then transferring to a Silpat mat. Those mats are worth their weight in gold!

Here's the royal icing recipe:

ROYAL ICING (Meringue method)
4 cups powdered sugar
3 Tblspn Wilton meringue powder
6 to 8 Tblspn warm water

Mix and beat for 6 to 8 minutes.  Put tips in Wilton disposable decorating bags, screw on sealing cap outside (okay--just follow the directions on decorating tips package!) and away you go!  Set your filled decorating bags in tall cups, with damp napkin on bottom to keep tip moist.

Here's an alternative royal icing, this works just as well if you don't have meringue powder:

ROYAL ICING (Egg white method)
Begin beating 3 egg whites in mixer,
then slowly add (or your kitchen will look like a snow storm) 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar.
Beat 6 to 8 minutes, until thick but not too stiff.  It's an learn it as you go!

That's it.  Please have fun.  Please make sure you have a couple days to do it all, as this is not a fast kitchen crafting event!  :)   You will be rewarded with BIG smiles and HAPPY hearts!

Here's Melissa's completed gingerbread house:

I also made houses for our newly weds and my brother and his wife. 

Here's a couple Photoshop coloring pages I made, too...I may use one  for next year's invitations!


Tomorrow is a new day.  A new year.  My personal prayer is that in all I do, I give glory and honor to God.
Blessings, Heidi

Monday, December 27, 2010

Vintage Yellow Jeep Christmas "To & From" Tags

I bought a large container filled with little vintage Christmas figures.  Many of them were marked "JAPAN" or "Taiwan'.  None were made in China, which tells me they are not recent.  I paid $3 for the whole box at a thrift store a couple years ago.  Our grandchildren love playing with them, marching the Santas around, or lining up the angels.  This year for our Christmas card Mark took photos of the ones I had displayed on our entryway hutch.  For "To & From" tags I just resized the photo.  Things got very busy around here before Christmas and I didn't get a chance to upload this to my blog to share for 2010.  If you download it now, you'll have some tags ready for 2011.  Anyone with a Jeep will really love these.  Download, print out, cut out and attach're set for next year's Christmas!  I keep all our "To & From" tags in a little box and just keep filling it up year to year, often even cutting up old Christmas cards for tags.  I love to use vintage tags, too, and they are plentiful at garage sales.

Anyway, here's the download for our Jeep tags.  By the way, we do have a Jeep (2005), which Mark is currently working on---adding a lift kit and new tires (the old ones were very low on rubber, dangerous on our wet roads).

Christmas Gift Tags Vintage Yellow Jeep

Merry end of 2010!
Hugs, Heidi

(Linked to Metamorphis Monday-Before & After.   Before: junk from thrift store; After: Christmas cards and tags, as well as hours of fun for the grandchildren!_

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cookie Cutter Project #1: Scottie Dog Marshmallows

What's on my table today?  Hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows!

This is the first of what will be over 30 craft or cooking projects, all using cookie cutters!  Every project will use a cookie cutter in one way or another.  For most of them I've selected my favorite cookie cutter, the Scottie Dog!   I hope you will be able to join in the fun and make some (or all) of the projects.  And my desire to inspire you to think like a cookie cutter, making a "cookie" daily in a fast and fun way.  Many of the projects are easy enough to do with children, though various precautions should be taken (ie: scissors, pins or hot glue guns).


Nothing beats a homemade marshmallow.  Nothing beats a Scottie Dog homemade marshmallow!  Here's the recipe, which I adapted from the one found in the "Gooseberry Patch Christmas 2010" magazine. (This is not the Gooseberry Patch "Christmas Book 11", although the recipe may be included in that book.)  I've tried making marshmallows before but never have had any luck until I made this one, which does not use corn syrup as most marshmallow recipes include.  This makes a nice fully and light marshmallow, perfect on top of a mug of hot chocolate or maybe sandwiched between Hershey's chocolate and a couple of graham crackers.  This recipe is easy to follow and does not require any candy making equipment.   

Fluffy Marshmallows
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup cold water, divided
2 packages unflavored gelatin
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an ??????? jelly roll cake pan with aluminum foil, extending foil up the sides of the pan; grease the foil with cooking spray, such as "PAM".  In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and cornstarch; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup water and the gelatin; set aside.  In a heavy medium saucepan, combine remaining 1/2 cup water and sugar over medium-high heat.  Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil and boil 2 minutes.  Whisk hot sugar mixture into gelatin mixture, blending well.  Chill in refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes.  Beat at highest speed with an electric mixer about 5 minutes or until mixture turns white an becomes thick like meringue.  Beat in vanilla.  Pour into prepared pan.  Chill about one hour or until set.

Use the ends of the foil to lift marshmallow from pan, setting on a firm surface.  Use your favorite cookie cutter dipped in hot water to cut out your shapes.  I used my Scottie Dog cookie cutter as well as a smaller sized Angel cookie cutter. The vintage Scottie Dog cookie cutter isn't thick enough to go all the way through, so just imprint the top, then use a sharp knife dipped in hot water to finish cutting it out.

Coat with the cut marshmallows in the powdered sugar mixture.  Another easier way to coat the cut marshmallows is to put the powdered sugar mixture in a zip lock bag, then add the cut marshmallows to shake on the coating.  Store in an airtight container.  Makes about a dozen, depending on what size cookie cutter you use.  The tray can also be cut in small squares.

Do not double the recipe, if you want more, make them in batches.  This recipe makes about 20 cut marshmallows depending on the size cookie cutter you use.

Now to answer your question (yes, I read minds):  Yes I drank MOST of this hot chocolate.
Next question:  Yes, I am bouncing off the walls! Time for my daily run, maybe I can burn off some of this sugar.
I should have stuck with just drinking the miniature Santa mug full, I found a set of two, vintage and made in Japan, at the thrift store still new in the original package!
I keep the homemade marshmallows in a tall seal able glass container.  They look so pretty in there.  Can you see the Scottie Dogs?  Also, in the next size done jar I keep the hot chocolate mix.  I use a vintage silver tablespoon to scoop out the mix.  So fun to drink hot chocolate on cold days like today.

May you have a blessed day.  Hugs, Heidi

(Linked to Susan's 121st Tablescape Thursday , and Foodie Friday here, as well as Cindy's My Romantic Home Show and Tell Friday here.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quick Coffee Craft ~ Monday Morning Christmas Change-Up


It's Monday morning and I have work to do. It's less than two weeks before Christmas and I have SO much to do, yet what do I do? Play with my coffee.  But hey, it's a quick easy craft, one that can be changed-up for every season!

I buy our local grocery store brand of coffee and since we use it daily I just leave it out on the counter.  I know I could use some sort of container, but it's just easier to use it as it comes! 

I cut scrapbook paper to fit the perimeter of the can, tie on a ribbon or two and the coffee is ready!

 For Christmas just wrap it up in Christmas wrapping paper.  I didn't stamp "COFFEE" on the Christmas wrap, but you can see it on the blue one above.  You could stamp a Christmas saying or an every day greeting, "Have a cup!", etc.

 Set you coffee maker and coffee can on a tray lined with Christmas red and you are finished with the five minute craft!  

 Blessings, Heidi

(This post is listed for Susan's Metamorphosis Monday here.)
(This post is also linked with "Get Your Craft On" here.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Eve Table Setting

Gotcha!  Did you think I've set my table for our Christmas Eve 2010 dinner already?  No, this photo is from last year.  We always try to have a nice, quiet and relaxed Christmas Eve dinner. (Before the wild gift opening!) Last year Jessica made delicious smoked salmon, a special salad, flavored potatoes and deviled eggs.  I always make a yummy dessert.  I think I'll make a cheesecake this year!
My glassware is Princess House.  I love all my Princess House pieces!

My china set is by Noritake, "Spring Field".  It was discontinued in 1986 and my set is not complete. It's a game, I always look for it in the thrift stores, never finding it. One day I may be lucky, though, so I never give up. I know I can buy replacement pieces online at both Replacements and eBay, but both are very pricey.  
I'm trying to build up to a set of 12.  I have 10 plates, so I'm not far.  I'm lacking most of the salad plates.  I have tea cups and saucers.  Enough of them, anyway, as no one ever uses them. Except me....on Christmas Eve.....
Also notice in the background of the frist photo is my Christmas-December Advent countdown board.  I'm making one now as a gift, and will "show and tell" about it in another post!

What will be your Christmas Eve menu this year?

Blessings, Heidi

This post is also linked with Susan's (Between Naps on the Porch)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Heidi's Everyday Sugar Cookie Recipe

ie ReGoogle continues to send their lovely readers to my blog in search of an "Everyday Cookie" recipe.  I thought I'd better deliver and make the post clear.  This post is for my cookie.  Yes, the one I use everyday.  Well, just about everyday!  :)
Here's the recipe:

Heidi's Everyday Sugar Cookies
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter (or margarine)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
2 ½ cups flour (add more if needed)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

Mix butter and sugar until creamy; add egg and flavoring; add in flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Blend. Refrigerate for one hour.

Roll out dough (in two batches) as thin or thick as you’d like. Remember, the thinner you roll, the crisper the cookie. (I like them thick and soft!) Cut with cookie cutters and place on cookie sheet lined with a Silpat mat, or parchment paper. (Or if no parchment paper be sure to lightly grease your cookie sheet.)

Bake at 375º for 8 minutes (or until done to your likeness…like I said, I like mine thick and soft!).

I almost always double this recipe!

Heidi’s Everyday Easy Cookie Icing
1 egg white
1 cup powdered sugar

Stir very well. You can multiply to make as much as you need, just remember its one to one ratio of egg white to powdered sugar! Divide into bowls to add your various food coloring.

The good thing about this frosting it that it dries hard, making it easy to stack cookies without smearing the icing. Just be sure to wait for it to dry before stacking!

Note:  I now usually use Wilton's Meringue Powder in place of the egg white. (Use 2 teaspoons meringue and 2 Tblspn water in place of the one egg white in the recipe.)

(Pull out some cookie cutters.
These are just a few of my vintage collection.)

(Get some food coloring ready.
This is Jessica about 4 or 5 Christmases ago!)

(Roll your dough nice and thick, like our grandson John Mark did here.
Use your favorite cookie cutter, he selected a CAT. 
Melissa is teaching the kids the alphabet.)

(If you use a Silpat baking mat you will be very happy in the end
when the cookies slide right off!)

(Try not to handle your dough too much.
Refrigerate your dough at least 1/2 hour before using it,
it really does make a difference!)

(Pull out your decorating tips.  You can buy a starter kit for under $10.
Be sure to also purchase the plastic disposable decorating bags.
You'll like the clean up.  This was Jessica decorating cookies one year
for Valentine's Day.  Of course you knew that!)

I think the grandkids are coming over this afternoon. I better get a batch of this cookie dough in the refigerator!  This is one of my recipes Linda included in her Cookie Cookbook.

God has given us so many things that are good....

I'm joining  inn today for Sarah's First Annual  Blog Cookie Recipe Exchange here.
Blessings, Heidi

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Craft Room and Plastic Spray Paint

(Remember, you can click any of the photos to enlarge...)
The other day I was moving a few things around in my craft room (I showed in an "as is" condition here) and decided I could actually do something about my two little storage units. Mark gave them to me for Christmas years ago, and I love the little drawers on them. Perfect for the little things. However, I've never liked that they look like they belong in our shop. The other day it occurred to me I could just spray paint them white!

I bought a can of spray paint made for plastic. It costs a couple dollars more than regular spray paint, but it's really works well on plastic and is worth it. And, it dries fast, making this a one day project.

I'm very happy with the results, no more shop gray color. No more gray and yellow color. I will say that I do like the yellow and gray color when it comes to the shop. My favorite wood-working shop tools are made by Dewalt and that color on those are yellow. I could use a new Dewalt router, just in case Santa is reading this post today.

My family always teases me about painting everything in my path white....what color are you known for?
Now, maybe I should clean out the, on second thought leave 'em be!

Early this morning.....

Just a little sun every day makes a difference in my day.

This is a scene from my front deck this morning. Although it is cloudy, the sun was peeking through just enough to cast a layer of light across the hills opposite our little valley. It reminded me of the verses in Lamentations 3 about God's mercy and compassion being new to me every morning. Every single morning, no matter how my day was the day before, God gives me a clean slate, and surrounds me with His love. Cool thing is this, just today I finished reading Jeremiah, the next chapter in the Bible I'll start on tomorrow is Lamentations. Isn't that just like God to give me a visual like this sun ray?

Blessings, Heidi

Linking with "Between Naps on the Porch's METAMORPHOSS MONDAY"