advent activities: week two

December 13th, 2013

advent activities on elsie marley

I loved all of your advent activity suggestions on last week’s post. Thank you! Keep em coming. We are only halfway through advent. If you say it that way it feels like it’s a long time before Christmas :)

 

advent activities: week two

DAY 6: watch a Christmas Carol.

Friday is our movie night, so we watched an animated version of this Christmas classic.

DAY 7: go see the Christmas trains.

Does every city have this? Our Christmas train exhibit is in our local botanical garden. My husband took the kids, so I don’t have any pictures, but I hear the Christmas village was completely made out of candy!

paper snowflakes out of coffee filters

DAY 8: make paper snowflakes

We make our paper snowflakes out of coffee filters. They are easier for little hands (and scissors) to cut. To make a coffee filter snowflake, first flatten the coffee filter, fold it in half, then in thirds, then in half again. Cut little triangles all over, or get fancy and look up patterns on Pinterest. I iron the snowflakes after we’re done making them. It sounds fussy, but they look so much nicer.  Then we fill up all our windows with snowflakes!

gumdrop sculptures on elsie marley

DAY 9: gumdrop sculptures

We did this last year and it was a bit hit. You have to brace yourself for the insane sugar high (and subsequent crash), but it is a lot of fun. There is a swing set in there somewhere and a dog and a booby trap. If you make gumdrop sculptures, be sure to look for short toothpicks. We had longer ones for some reason, and the sculptures were not very sturdy.

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 10: listen to Christmas records

Nothing better than listening to Bing Crosby sing I’ll be Home for Christmas.

ice wreaths on elsie marley

DAY 11: make ice wreaths

The upside to living with sub-zero temperatures: ice wreaths. If you too live in painfully cold conditions, you can make this beautiful holiday decoration. Bundt pans work the best, but you can use any round cake pan. To make the hole in the middle weight an empty tin can down with rocks (or water). Don’t use glass! Ask me how I know.

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 12: dress up and go to the Christmas concert

We had two kids in the Christmas concert this year and my son even had a solo! All of us got our best clothes on and trudged through the cold and snow to hear adorable little kids sing adorable little songs.

Whew! That was our week in advent activities! Have you done anything Christmasy lately?

 

10 gluten free holiday treats (that don't suck)

I have been gluten free for almost two years now. In that time I have discovered that there are a lot of sawdust tastin’ turds out there disguised as gluten free cookies. Those are not the treats you are going to make this year.  You are going to make buttery, sugary, chocoately deliciousness. You can tell people they are gluten free, but they aren’t going to care. They’ll be too busy asking for more.

Many of the recipes I’ve love are naturally gluten free. They don’t call for xantham gum or lecithin–things I feel weird about buying.  They are old recipes based on nuts or egg whites or cooked sugar. Some you might have made for Christmases past, some you might have never heard of. I ordered this list from most familiar to least, but all of them are delicious.

english toffee recipe

1. ENGLISH TOFFEE: It simply would not be Christmas without a batch of english toffee. It is quick, simple, and everyone loves it. You cannot go wrong with the old favorites. And look I happen to have a recipe for english toffee right here.

candy cane marshmallows

2. MARSHMALLOWS: We are making peppermint marshmallows for my kids’ classmates this year. Making marshmallows is strangely magical. You start with a little sugar and gelatin and end up with fluffy sweet pillows. The image above is from a Martha Stewart recipe for peppermint marshmallows, but they can be flavored in a thousand different ways: toasted coconut, dulce de leche, coffee, anything!

caramels on elsie marley

3. CARAMELS: Every Christmas I make an absurd number of caramels and give them to my friends and family (and mailman and yoga instructor and neighbors and anyone else I know). The Martha Stewart recipes have not failed me yet. The gingerbread caramels are my favorite, but the chocolate ones are lovely, and the golden caramels are even better flecked with crunch salt.

mascarpone and boysenberry macarons

4. FRENCH MACARONS: This is the hardest recipe to make on the list, but well worth the effort. Last year I made peppermint, chocolate, and lemon ones for Christmas. The ones pictured above are my favorite to date: vanilla macarons filled with mascarpone cheese and boysenberry jam. Whatever flavor you make, do yourself a favor and follow the recipe and tutorial on the Not So Humble Pie blog. It is excellent.

sugar plums on elsie marley

5. SUGAR PLUMS: We go from the hardest recipe to the easiest. Dead easy.  I don’t know if these are what sugar plums actually are–does anyone know?–but they are delicious. Almonds and orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg, apricots and dates. They taste like Christmas. They are gluten free, no bake, and vegan to boot.

Basler Brunsli

6. BASLER BRUNSLI: These swiss cookies are simple and sophisticated. It is an almond based cookie held together with egg whites and melted chocolate, and flavored with cinnamon and cloves. They don’t spread at all when baked, making them perfect for your cookie cutter collection. This beautiful photo of basler brunsli is from a lovely greek blog.

cinnamon stars on elsie marley

7. CINNAMON STARS: Even though these German cookies have many of the same ingredients as Basler Brunsli, they are somehow completely different. Nut based and flavored with lemon zest and cinnamon, they are brushed with a meringue before they are baked. When you bite into one you get a little crunch from the meringue, but then it gives way to the chewy, cinnamon-y cookie below.

hazelnut dacquoise cookies

8. DACQUOISE: Dacquoise is just a word for a nut based meringue. You can have hazelnut, almond, pistachio, or pecan dacquoise–any nut will do. Usually you make a dacquoise cake layered with pastry cream and chocolate. Dacquoise is incredibly versatile and quite simple. I think it’s strange it’s not more well known. These little hazelnut dacquoise cookies sandwiched together with chocolate ganache are just right for Christmas.

dutch cream truffles (slagroomtruffels)

9. DUTCH CREAM TRUFFLES: I haven’t made these yet, but they are on my list this year. Dutch cream truffles are made by whipping butter, then adding a mixture of cream, vanilla, and sugar that has been warmed until sugar dissolves and then cooled. This sweet cream cloud is then shaped, frozen, dipped in chocolate, and rolled in cocoa. I mean seriously.

I found the recipe in the book Sugar and Spice by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra. The book is absolutely amazing. Chock full of sweets from around the world and half–if not more–are naturally gluten free. If you love making desserts of all kinds, you must check this book out.

calissons

10. CALISSONS: I have never tasted a calisson, but the recipe intrigues me. Traditionally it is made by grinding almonds, candied melon, and adding orange flower water to make a paste. Then it’s rolled out, cut into shapes, and frosted with royal icing. Doesn’t it sound amazing? And there are many variations, like orange and ginger calissons pictured above in an amazing photograph from the French blog, Carnets Parisiens.

That’s it! Well really there are so many more, but it’s a start. Are any of these new to you? Do you have any naturally gluten free treats on your Christmas cookie list this year? Have I made you hungry?

advent activities: week one

December 6th, 2013

advent activities: week one

Every year we have an advent calendar–this string of lights advent calendar (that you could make too). Each day is filled with some sort of christmas-y activity. It’s super fun–for the kids–but it also can be a lot of work–for the mom. I was about to skip it this year and just get the chocolate advent calendars when my littlest said in the most adorable voice, “Remember that funny thing that had papers in it and told us what to do? That was the best.” Up went the advent calendar.

Do you do an advent activity calendar? If you have any good christmasy projects, please leave them in the comments! I’m always looking for new things to do. Here are our activities for the first week of advent.

advent activities: week one

DAY 1: go to the movies.

Okay, we took it easy the first day. Plus our kids wanted to see Frozen and it was a good day for a movie.

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 2: print out paper toys and make your mother glue them together

advent activities on elsie marley

That’s not actually what it said to do, but that is what it turned into. This paper Santa was a lot harder than I anticipated and it seems paper craft is not my forte. They are so stinking cute though, it’s hard not to want to make them. I found these printable paper toys on pinterest, where else? After all the fussy cutting and folding and gluing, I really like these little guys and they are surprisingly sturdy.

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 3: take christmas photo

Taking the annual christmas photo is my annual christmas nightmare. There were at least a hundred shots like the one above and then Hallelujah! one decent one.

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 4: decorate the tree

I like em naked, maybe with a few lights. The kids have a much different idea of a christmas tree. More! More! More!

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 5: put shoes out for St. Nick

The shoes were left out last night and the kids woke up to oranges and chocolate coins and new slippers. Advent is more work, but it is magical too. Now what to do for day 6….

 

rainbow maker

I am not big on Christmas shopping. Don’t get me wrong I love me some Christmas, but I try to avoid the shopping bit. The stores are crowded and claustrophobic, the people are all crabby and wanty, and no one ends up liking what you bought them anyway. For Christmas I usually make cookies and candy for everyone on my list, but every once in a while I want to give someone something that lasts.

solar powered rainbow maker

Enter the perfect present: the solar-powered rainbow maker. The mobile makers did not contact me for this post, they do not sponsor my blog, they don’t even know I exist. I just think that everyone needs a rainbow maker in their life. Your sister, your friends who just had a baby, your kid’s teachers, your mail carrier,  your crabby grandpa, they all need more rainbows in their life. They might not know it yet, but they do.

rainbow maker

We received the double rainbow maker as a gift years ago.  You can hang the mobile up with a wire or stick it to a window with the suction cup. We stuck ours to a sunny window and the room exploded with rainbows. I couldn’t believe how magical it was–for my kids and me.  Not so magical when I slammed it over and over again trying to get the window open, but we got another. Then someone very sneaky stole the crystal and hid it (forever). Not only will we be giving rainbow makers this Christmas, we’ll be getting one for ourselves too.

though this post is not sponsored by the mobile maker, there are affiliate links (to amazon) in this post.

happy homemade vol. 2 in english!

November 20th, 2013

happy homemade vol.2

I have been blathering on for years about how much I love the Japanese sewing book Happy Homemade vol. 2.

clothes made from happy homemade vol 2 on elsie marley

All of the clothes pictured above (and below) are made from patterns in this book. Happy Homemade patterns are my go to for pajamas, hoodies, pants, and tops. Without a doubt it is my most used pattern book.

clothes made from happy homemade vol 2 on elsie marley

And now Happy Homemade is in English! Only they renamed it Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids. They changed a few other things too (mostly for the best):

remade pattern pages in Happy Homemade

1. the pattern pages don’t induce vertigo

This came as quite a pleasant shock. I had resigned myself to spending a solid 15 minutes finding the pattern I need on the very chaotic Japanese pattern sheet. I actually wrote a whole post about locating your pattern for Cherie’s series on Japanese patterns.  No more! The patterns in the English version are given a generous amount of space. They have also been redrafted to fit American sizes! Every pattern comes in 4 sizes: 2, 4, 6, 8.

Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids

2. the measurement are in inches.

This is obviously only exciting for the Americans, because we are ridiculously anti-metric. But there are a lot of us and we do all understand 3/8 of an inch much better than 1 cm. It’s silly, but true.

3. the directions are in english

This is, oddly, not a 100% improvement. The first thing I did when I got the English version was to flip to the bits that had stumped me in the past. After reading them in English, I still didn’t understand what they wanted me to do. Sewing directions are notoriously difficult to comprehend. Sometimes it’s better just to draw pictures. Japanese sewing books have perfected the art of the sewing diagram. Turns out their written directions can be just as confusing as everyone else’s.

That said, the sewing tips, the fabric recommendations, and the general instruction are all so much better than I had ever imagined.

Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids

4. the clothes are just as adorable.

One thing they didn’t change: the clothes. They are as simple, stylish, and adorable as they are in the Japanese version. Now if I can make tons of clothes for my kids without being able to read any of the directions, just image what you can do now!

Be sure to put Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids on your Christmas wish list, because I’m planning a sew-a-long next year. We could even have a whole Happy Homemade month! February sound good?

 

*I was given a copy of this book to review, but my opinions are, as always, my own.