best of the worst 2013

December 31st, 2013

I was going to do a best of 2013 kind of post, but when I looked through my photos I kept finding funny little pictures of my kids. Bloopers! For every picture you see on elsie marley there are at least 20, sheesh sometimes 50 crummy, blurry, crazy, crabby, ridiculous, weirdo, or otherwise unusable ones. [all links are to original posts]

So here you have it, the best of the worst 2013:

bloopers reel on elsie marley

1. I made these shorts years ago and this summer they actually fit, but I never did blog about it. 2. anchors away! 3. I think his eyes were crossed in every single picture I took for this post. 3. a beetle and a smirk

bloopers reel on elsie marley

1. my little ham 2. nah nah na boo boo 3. bring it! 4. meh

bloopers reel on elsie marley

1. the hills are alive 2. hair! 3. ahhhh! wild animal! 3. the tiniest pocket in the world

bloopers reel on elsie marley

1. this photo shoot’s got me all tuckered out. 2. walk like an egyptian 3. the headless horseman! 3.say what?!

bloopers reel on elsie marley

1. dancing feet! 2. sir serious sticks his tongue out 3. oh, brother 4. blink and it’s over

Happy New Year, everyone!!

advent activities: week three

December 20th, 2013

advent activities on elsie marley

I probably won’t be back until after the holidays. I may pop in next Friday with our last (half) week of activities, even if it’s only so I can remember what we did :) I hope all of your last minute scrambling isn’t making you crazy. Even if everything doesn’t get crossed off your massive to do list, do have a wonderful holiday!

advent activities: week three

DAY 13: watch Polar Express

Friday is our movie night, but this one turned out to be a little too scary for the younger ones. It ended up being just my daughter and me snuggled on the couch watching a movie. We both cried, of course.

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 14: drink egg nog.

It was a busy run around kind of day and we needed to sneak an advent activity in quick.

caramels on elsie marley

DAY 15: wrap caramels

Every year I make caramels for christmas presents. Making them is the easy part. Wrapping 400 caramels is the hard part. Thankfully my family doesn’t mind helping. Actually, my daughter says wrapping caramels is her favorite part of christmas! This year I decided to make it even harder by putting a bit of washi tape on each caramel.  I also made a handy dandy key, so everyone can decode the flavors before they rip into the caramels.

marshmallows on elsie marley

DAY 16: make marshmallows

This sounds super ambitious, but it’s actually super easy and surprisingly fast. We made this recipe + peppermint extract + fancy swirls. We made it two times and ended up with about 250 marshmallows. Somehow just enough for all three of my kids’ classes. 5 for each classmate, packed up a pretty bag:

marshmallows on elsie marley

Not a bad gift if I do say so myself. And wow! homemade marshmallows are delicious!

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 17: sledding!

It started out well enough: beautiful day! fluffy snow! not too cold! But it ended with one kid slamming head first into a metal box, one getting whacked in the face with a flying sled, and last but not least one rather epic bloody nose. Oh well, we’ll live to sled another day.

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 18: coloring these cheapie wooden christmasy things I seem to get every year. 

We need something safe and quiet after our sledding fiasco. I pick up these coloring do-dads every year as an emergency advent activity. Now it seems they’ve become a tradition.

advent activities on elsie marley

DAY 19: crack nuts

The advent calendar may as well have said “vacuum.” Still there is something old fashioned and christmassy about cracking nuts. I’m happy to say the kids loved it as much as I do.

I hope you all have a lovely holiday, or at the very least a nap on the couch! Merry Christmas!



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.


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….