Monday, December 26, 2011

Mocha Caramels

I've been making homemade caramels at Thanksgiving and Christmas time with my mother for as long as I can remember. The recipe is so simple I have it memorized and have continued to make them for friends, family and coworkers each year.

The recipe from my mother is as follows:

Tools:

Large pot with a flat bottom
1 wooden spoon with a straight edge (for scraping the bottom of the pot)
1 jelly roll pan greased well with butter
Waxed paper to wrap finished caramels

Ingredients:
2 sticks real salted butter
1 C. Light karo syrup
1 C. Packed light brown sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk

The above ingredients makes about 2 lbs of delicious buttery caramels. To make it mocha flavored I added:
3 tbsp. Cocoa powder
3 tbsp. Folgers instant coffee crystals (not grounds)

Add all your ingredients to the pot and stir well. It should look like this (for plain caramels it will be lighter)


Turn the heat to low/med but don't go over medium heat because sugar burns at a very low temp. At this point I like to chop up the butter with my spoon because it seems to melt faster. (It is important to keep stirring the caramel until it is done, there's no stopping once you start so make sure you have no interruptions.)


Stir, stir, stir until the butter melts and keep stirring. Once you start to see the syrup start boiling (at least 5-6 bubbles rolling up at once) using a candy thermometer, heat the mixture to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. aka hard ball stage. If you like them a bit softer, aim for 245 degrees.


The mixture will thicken as you stir. As you get closer to the end of 14 minutes it will be about the consistency of brownie batter. If you scrape the bottom of the pan you should see it for a moment until the caramel covers it again. (Please do not touch or taste the caramel mixture while you're cooking! It's really, really hot!)

At the end of 14 minutes turn off your burner and quickly pour the caramel into the jelly roll pan scraping the sides of the pot but NOT THE BOTTOM of the pot. The caramel on the bottom will harden too much and it makes it difficult to cut.


While the caramel is cooling you can make your wrappers from waxed paper. Pull several pieces of waxed paper from your roll at about 4-5 inches wide. Once you have a stack of about 20 fold into thirds and cut on the folds.

Let the caramel cool to room temperature before you cut it. Once it's cooled off use a butter knife to turn up one edge of the caramels and use clean hands to turn it out onto a cutting board. Using a pizza cutter, cut them to the desired size. Wrap in waxed paper. Will last for up to 2 weeks...I think. They've never lasted that long in our house.






Friday, December 2, 2011

Fused Glass Christmas Ornaments

I recently got into making fused glass ornaments at the art studio I do my pottery out of. I took some crappy cell phone pics of them last night...here they are!

Fused glass ornaments

And speaking speaking of pottery, here is a mug I'm working on for my redditgifts match :) it's so awesome I kind of want to keep it. But I guess I can always make a new one for myself.

Octomug


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hand Print Ornaments

The day after Thanksgiving the kids and I also made some adorable hand print ornaments :)

My sons hand print ornament

My nieces hand print ornament

These precious keepsake ornaments were really easy to make. Here's what you'll need:
2 C. Flour
1/2 C. Salt
3/4 C. Water
Cookie Sheet, Cooking Spray, Rolling Pin, Drinking Straw, Toothpicks, Clear and or Glitter Sealing Spray, Ribbon or Raffia, and an Oven preheated to 300 degrees fahrenheit.

You'll have to forgive me for being short on pictures for this post. My hands were quite dirty & I didn't have an extra pair of hands to take the pictures.

Mix all 3 ingredients in a large bowl with a fork until dough starts to form. Knead for another 15 minutes or so with your hands bringing the dough onto the counter once you have a uniform consistency.

Use a bowl, large cookie cutter or a butter knife to cut out about 6 ornaments. Have the kids press their hands firmly into the circles. Use a toothpick to prick holes in each to prevent bubbles and to write names and or dates and punch holes for hangers using the drinking straw. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet and into a 300 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until light golden brown. Once cooled these ornaments will still feel a bit rubbery, that's normal. They'll harden up over time.

You can leave the ornaments as they are or paint them. I used silver glitter spray paint and a clear varnish on the back & front of them. Acrylic paint would also be great.

I had a little left over dough so I couldn't resist using it to make some star ornaments. I used my mini star cookie cutter and a sprig from a pine tree to create the texture before baking them. Once cooled I sprayed liberally with the glitter and clear varnish. I'm going to add plain raffia to these. I love how rustic they look!

Cinnamon Paste Ornaments

We spent our Thanksgiving weekend in Portland, OR with my mom, sister & niece. It was really nice to be able to spend time with family that I don't get to see very often.

I brought a few things from home to make ornaments with the kids.

On Thanksgiving, after dinner, the kids and I made cinnamon paste ornaments.

Here's what we used:
1 C. Ground Cinnamon
1 Tbsp. Ground Cloves
1 Tbsp. Ground Nutmeg
2 Tbsp. Tacky Glue
1/4 C. Applesauce
A Cookie Sheet, Christmas Shape Cookie Cutters, Cooling Rack, Cooking Spray, Drinking Straw, Rolling Pin and an Oven preheated to 220 degrees.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until you have a large slightly firm ball of dough. Sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin lightly with cinnamon to prevent sticking. Press the dough down into a thick, round disc then roll the dough to 1/4 inch thick and cut shapes with your cookie cutters. Be really careful when you're lifting these from your work area. I used a butter knife to lift an edge & then very gently slid a spatula under them to place them on the greased cookie sheet.

I got these at Safeway :)
After you've punched out your ornament shapes, use the drinking straw to punch holes in the ornaments to thread the ribbon. (We had to use a toothpick instead of a straw, if you do this make the hole big enough to string your ribbon).
Lightly spray the cookie sheet with cooking spray & arrange your ornaments closely but not touching on the tray. Bake in a 220 degree oven for 2 hours. The house will smell absolutely AMAZING while these are baking.
Once the ornaments have cooled string with curling or satin ribbon & tie tightly. Hang on the tree and enjoy for many years to come.
A really cute way to store your ornaments is in a little Christmas box. I picked a few of these up at Joann's for $1.49 each along with a small bag of green, white and red paper frizzle. Write your child's name on the bottom of the box with the date, add a little paper frizzle to prevent too much jiggling & secure the box with ribbon. 

Your kids will love finding their box of ornaments each year & hanging them on the tree themselves :)




Thursday, November 3, 2011

New Dentist!

So I'm posting this quite late but hey, better late than never!

Back in the third week of September 2011 I took my 3 year old son for his first visit to a pediatric dentist. He had seen our regular family dentist before but they were never able to get him to calm down enough to so much as look inside his mouth. So as we got closer to the time he needed a check up I checked with my insurance provider to see what office accepted our provider.

I came up with 3 or 4 offices yet found only a few reviews online that didn't really give me much of an idea what to expect when I went in. So I went with my next easiest option; whomever had the first open appointment. That's how we ended up with our appointment with Dr. James Miller at South Hill Children's Dentistry in Puyallup, WA.

We got to our appointment a little early as I had no clue where I was going. I ended up parking on the wrong side of the building so I had to walk around and find it, no big deal really. I didn't notice any signs pointing me in the right direction but the entrances on the building do say the name of the business but I couldn't see them from my car. We went inside, checked in and were directed to the waiting room. As soon as the door was opened my son was so excited to see a mini carousel!


He rode the carousel for a few minutes until he decided he was done and ready to check out the rest of the toys & activities in the waiting room.

He went & checked out the handheld toys for a few minutes. (They do come off the hooks, he just didn't bother)


Then he discovered the train table!


There were also some arcade games for older kids and a table full of neatly organized books. (Sorry, no pics of the books)


After a few trips down the slide of the little castle we were called back for his checkup.


He sat in a regular dentists chair and I was able to sit on the chair facing him with his legs draped across my lap. He felt much more comfortable having me on the chair with him rather than awkwardly perched on a stool next to him trying to comfort him as we would do at my dentists office.
He did really well as the dentist checked out his teeth. When it came time for cleaning he was a little frightened and told me half way through that he was scared & needed to hold my hand. The hygienist was quick and efficient and was even able to floss his teeth all in under 10 minutes!


After she was done she awarded him with a bag of goodies including toothpaste, a tigger toothbrush, bubblegum flavored dental floss, spider-man stickers and a quarter sized gold token.

When we exited into the lobby I saw what the token was for, an 8 compartment toy machine. I thought this was much cooler and a little more interactive for kids than the regular old treasure chest or bucket that I sometimes scavenged through when I was a kid. Not that there's anything wrong with those, I just thought this added a little more of an "arcade" feeling to the whole experience.


Here we are months later and my son still asks me when he gets to go back to the dentist. It's obvious to me that he can't wait to go back. And honestly, neither can I!

PS...No cavities & 20 pearly whites :)