Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stained-glass cookies

Stained-glass cookies are a Christmastime treat that I recall having as a child but hadn't reattempted until recently. They are a great way to use up the last of those Halloween candies, especially leftover lollipops.

Stained-glass cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups flour
crushed candies, sorted by flavor/color

Cream butter and sugar; beat in egg until mixed, then vanilla and salt. Add flour until blended. Divide the dough in half, flatten each into a disk and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or place in freezer for about 20 minutes.

Remove dough. let warm slightly, and roll to 1/4 inch thickness.

Preheat oven to 375. Cover baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Cut out cookies with larger cookie cutters, then with smaller cutters (or a clean top to a soda bottle) cut shapes within each.

Place on cookie sheet and sprinkle candies inside.

You will want to make sure the candies all are inside the centers, or they will melt into the cookie. (Read: If you want a perfectly "unstained" cookie, this may not be the part for helpers!)

Bake 10-12 minutes. Let centers cool thoroughly before removing from the pan.

Gifts for the gardener or locavore

Looking for a gift for your local food lover or gardener? Look no further than your bookstore. There are several great ideas for your friends and family who love to enjoy homegrown or home-cooked local foods.

Cookbooks I'd recommend are chef Emeril Lagasse's Farm to Fork and Daniel Orr's FARMFood. Both put a priority on locally grown produce, evident in the variety of ingredients used. These aren't your boring iceberg and romaine lettuce salads here - think watermelon, feta and arugula, or a corn, tomato and lobster combination.

Gardeners will drool over the new book, Heirloom Life Gardener, by Baker's Creek's owners, Jere and Emile Garrett. You know them by the tome they produce each winter, filled with oversized photos with a rainbow of produce. My bright husband pre-ordered this gift, so it arrived just days before my birthday. He's definitely on my nice list. This doesn't disappoint.

A bit more academic in tone but great reads, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth or Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman are great ways for gardeners who want to complete the cycle of life to better use their gardens throughout the year and save seeds from year to year.

Happy reading!

Originally published at the Green Phone Booth, 2011.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which helps support this blog.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Holiday shopping is stressful enough, but balancing a birthday in the mix can cause a bit of mommy guilt along the way. Today at the Green Phone Booth, I share my challenges in celebrating the birth of Christ and the birth of my son in the same week.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent season: Slowing down

Advent was a season I had never given much thought to in years past. Beyond the candles burning at Sunday masses, an evening reconcilliation service and the promise of a Nativity scene, Advent didn't really register to me.

Until I started to slow things down.

First, I cut out a lot of clutter around the holidays. Over the years, I've worked most of my Christmas shopping to where my gift buying was completed over months, not weeks or days. Instead of a mad scramble to find something that "fit" the person on Black Friday, I slowly discovered gift ideas over the seasons. Come this Thanksgiving, I really only had a gift or two left to purchase, December birthdays included.

Further slowing my life down was my husband's unemployment/underemployment the last few years. Suddenly dinners out and shows seemed like unnecessary extravagances. Would I like to see Transiberian Orchestra? Of course. And some year it may happen. Just not this one. Instead I've begun searching for Christmas activities in our community that don't necessitate a $100 outlay. Like community Christmas tree services. Or a visit to Santa. Or the free day at the holiday trains at Garfield Park. Or the Nativity show at our parish.

Putting a focus on the Christmas season has helped our family put it back in the right focus. This year, I've made an ardent effort not to schedule non-Christmasy things on our calendar. Yes, we missed Scout night at the circus, and stayed home and played games and watched Rudolph. And other than a small family dinner and treats at the daycare, my son's birthday will be celebrated with friends after the Christmas business dies down. I don't know that either will be missed.

Instead of being stressed about errands, I can focus on my family. We can bake a batch of cookie if we want. Or read Christmas stories from around the world from the library. Or bring out more Christmas decorations. Or take them to play at the park for hours on a warm day without thinking about the "I need to do" list. Or (gasp!) even focus on cleaning our house for our Christmas company.

Is it tough to make a conscious choice to slow down during the Christmas season? You bet. But trading off the calendar items, the unneccessay errands, the stressed shoppers and children, it makes it all worth it. And I hope my family is happier for it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ferret fun

Seventeen Daisy Girl Scouts and three ferrets. You'd think it would be the recipe for trouble.

But our first-grade Scout troop couldn't get enough of these furry little creatures at our monthly meeting last night.

As part of our journey (patch series) this year, we invited two speakers from the Ferret Rescue and Halfway House in Martinsville to share about how they care for ferrets abandoned by their owners. The group, located southwest of Indianapolis, rescues as many as 400 ferrets each year.

Personality wise, ferrets seem to have a lot in common with my 3 year old son: energetic, can't sit still, don't want to be held for long, but sometimes relishing a quiet place to hide from the crowd.

The girls were captivated by the three ferrets crawling about the room, but they absorbed many fun facts about the ferrets and their care in the process. They loved learning about how the ferret was trained to do tricks for Harry Potter, seeing how their small bodies can stretch and bend, learning how they ate bugs and other facts. I'm sure it will be on one of those meetings they will be talking about for a while -- and I apologize to any parents whose kids suddenly ask Santa for a ferret!!

This is part of a recurring series sharing ideas from the Daisy Girl Scout patch series 5 Flowers, 4 Stories, 3 Cheers for Animals! journey. You can read the previous installment here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stretching your holiday giving

Helping others in need is one of the greatest signs of the Christmas season, one that I worry is getting ignored more and more.

So many organizations and people need help. So many in fact, that it seems people turn a blind eye anymore to the "noise" of cries for help.

This year, the first in my decade at my work, my department opted not to adopt a family for Christmas. I know for a few, money was an issue, though with some creative efforts and a small sacrifice of a lunch out, we could have pulled together something for a family in need. It breaks my heart; this was one thing that we truly did as a team, and one that touched little children's lives. How would you explain to your child that he or she was overlooked by Santa on Christmas Day?

The reality is, we all have a lot of gifts to bear. Many of them in our own homes, if we choose to look beyond the clutter, to really look at the unloved toys and things among our excess.

This year, we are still tight on budgets as we are working to rebuild after three years of my husband being out of full-time work. But a little creativity is going to help a single mom of two, who's in college and looking for work, this Christmas.

All in all, I spent $1.25 out of pocket for two little girls. Seriously. Here's how we did it:

  • We looked at gifts that were given but never used by our children. That included two PBS-themed plush puppets, two travel Etch-a-sketches that were used once and then ignored, and a stuffed dog from the Grinch.

  • We looked at what was outgrown but still in pristine condition. That included two children's cookbooks (a Sesame Street story/cookbook and a duplicate Princess and the Frog cookbook), two stashed-away but unused children's winter plates, a Dora fleece blanket and a stack of outgrown Halloween costumes and dress-ups.

  • We looked at our excess. We knew the mom needed many of the basics for everyday living, so we packed a reusable shopping bag with toiletries that we'd bought with register rewards and coupons. We can always watch for future sales and replenish.

  • The $1.25? Spent on a pair of cute pants on clearance for the toddler.

What do you have that you are blessing others with this Christmas season?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Local Indiana food gifts

Holidays and hometown foods just make sense. When it comes to Christmas gift giving, a taste of home can be a good thing.

For our family, a decade out of Kansas City, there's the Strawberry Hill povitica we used to get each year. Or the Velvet Creme popcorn that my in-laws send that the kids will just dive into a tub from. Or, of course, bottles of Vignoles or Tailgate Red from Holy-Field Winery.

But finding Indiana concoctions has taken some time for me to find. I still vividly remember years ago asking a friend what Indiana was known for for food, since a visiting friend wanted to try it. I got a blank stare.

Recent years have led me to some great treat ideas. And as I started shopping for an old college friend, with whom I still exchange fun treats each Christmas season, I thought local is best. And I wasn't disappointed in my search.

Here are some of my favorite food finds in Indiana, some of which I'll be sharing this holiday season:

For the sweets fan

Try funky artisian marshmallows from 240Sweet in Columbus. We discovered these treats at a winter market a few years back, and the kids are always itching for tastes! These come in crazy flavors for every palate, from Bourbon Sugar Churro with Cajeta to Chocolate Hazelnut Swirl to Bacon Maple Toffee.

Carmel lovers will be thrilled with the homemade chewy goodness from Abbott's Candy in Hagerstown. Our graphic design agency shares these with us each Christmas season, and they disappear. Quickly.

Chocolate lovers will like the Indiana-made Endangered Species Chocolate (dark chocolate is fabulous!) or the artisian Chocolate for the Spirit, a new chocolate company out of Shelbyville I discovered at last weekend's Carmel Winter Market. Let me just say "Wow." If you haven't heard of them, you will soon. They were featured in yesterday's Indianapolis Star, and their Mayan Spirit Bars were selected among the top 5 favorites at NY Chocolate Show by gourmet magazine, "The Nibble."

For the wine lover

Locally, I love to visit Mallow Run Winery in Bargersville, but a new favorite for me may be Simmons Winery's Vignoles wine, which I found much drier than the Vignoles I'm used to from Holy-Field in Kansas City.

For the cook

Cooks may want to tap into oils, flavored sugars and spices from Artisano's Spices and Oils in north Indianapolis (also at the Carmel and Indianapolis winter markets). My sister-in-law quickly squirreled away the blueberry-flavored sugar last Christmas, and a good friend and I can just spend an afternoon snacking on bread with their fabulous flavored oils.

You might also check out a cookbook from Daniel Orr from FARMBloomington. We love to dive into his FARMFood cookbook, which focuses on seasonal eating year-round, and I understand he has a new Carribean-inspired cookbook as well.

Sometimes, a taste of home is well worth it this holiday season.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Carmel Winter Farmers Market

Hamilton County now has its first Winters Farmers Market in Carmel. Open Saturday mornings, the new indoor market tucked away behind shops at Carmel City Center, not far off of U.S. 31 in Carme,l could grow into something great.

Still a small market, it had a friendly atmosphere yet still room for me and my children to move around, something that's a growing challenge in the ever-packed Indianapolis Winter Market downtown. So I was excited to make the drive to check out a new market and explore options last Saturday. And if I hadn't been running errands on a warm Saturday morning, I would have grabbed some meats as well.

This time of year, you expect fewer and fewer produce offerings and more produced items, which was the case here. I had great conversations with a Mennonite farmer as I perused the lettuces, broccoli and brussels sprouts, all cold-weather crops. My kids eyeballed the apples from the fall harvest and slurped up tea samples from a Carmel tea company.

And if you're looking for holiday treats, you wouldn't be disappointed. Greek vendors, a chocolatier from Spirit of Chocolate in Shelbyville, and holiday desserts abounded.

The Winter Market at Carmel City Center is open 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through March 17 (with the exception of Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve). The Winter Market will be held in a storefront at 719 Hanover Place on the interior of Carmel City Center, on the southwest corner of City Center Drive and Rangeline Road. Follow the signs for parking.