Christmas lights, cookie decorating and an edible nativity

We spent a lot of time as a family during the month of December!  Elizabeth and I made sugar cookies.  This was my first time to use all of my Wilton cookie cutters.  Elizabeth wanted to do one of each!  We took them with us to my mom’s house at the end of the month when we visited so that we could decorate them together.

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We didn’t have space or the money for a Christmas tree this year so we made our own on the wall.  I strung the lights up with masking tape and then Elizabeth and I made fruit loop garland and some homemade ornaments from school and church.

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We were supposed to meet some friends in Rochester for dinner and a tour of lights but they ended up not being able to make it.  The four of us enjoyed dinner at Panera Bread (Elizabeth’s favorite restaurant) and then we took a car tour of the city of Rochester’s lights.  Each business on main street uses strands of light to light up the fronts of their buildings.  What a great festive idea!

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Our homemade Christmas continued as we made Christmas cards for all of the immediate family from the kids.  William did hand print Christmas trees and Elizabeth made a Christmas tree, lights and wreaths out of fingerprints.

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On Christmas Day, Scott and I try to teach the kids in different ways about Jesus’ birth and the reason that we celebrate Christmas.  This year, we attempted an edible nativity.  We wanted all of the foods to be things we were ok with the kids eating so we got little sausages, animal crackers, carrots and ranch dip, pretzel sticks, graham crackers and mini marshmallows.  Scott told them the story and when each part of the story ended, they got to eat the characters.  William especially liked eating the sheep (mini marshmallows).   DSC_0101

We visited our Indiana family the last week in December/first week of January.  We got to see all of the immediate family plus two of my aunts and an uncle.  I made the Christmas tree folded napkin below for one of our Christmas get-togethers.  I also got to spend two days kid free with my two best friends.  One was in town from Ohio and the other had flown in after Christmas from Denver, CO.  We enjoyed spending New Year’s Eve together.

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Our first whole turkey and our first Michigan snow

It has been so long since I posted. Now that the holidays are over, I will attempt to get back to at least monthly posts.

The week before Thanksgiving, we got out first real Michigan snow and it was a beautiful dusting!  I was glad that I had already shopped for the kids’ winter coats, boots and snow gear.  For the most part, it seems like our weather in this area in Michigan is very similar to Indiana’s weather!

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Scott and I were given a turkey less than a week before we were leaving for our trip to Indianapolis to see our family. This was our first time to attempt to cook a whole turkey. We decided to break it down before cooking so we could make turkey manhattans with the turkey breasts and then we roasted the legs and thighs.  I am not a fan of working with meat, especially before it is broken down so Scott was in charge of the meat and gravy.  I made the mashed potatoes.  Turkey manhattans are pictured on the bottom right.  Scott is working on cooking the gravy in the bottom left picture.  We were both in love with how the turkey legs turned out the second day.  We both normally don’t eat a lot of turkey since it is normally either dry or not flavorful.  This was both juicy and flavorful.

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We spent a week visiting all of our immediate family members.  It was a great chance for the kids to spend individual time with aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  For Thanksgiving meal at my parent’s house, everyone made thankful turkeys with Elizabeth instructing them.  Elizabeth and I made our turkeys before we went to so we could decorate our table for our turkey meal.

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The Somerset Mall near us had some pretty fabulous decorations.  One one side of the mall (it crosses over a street), they decked the mall with fairies.  The other side was decorated in upside down Christmas trees and a castle where Santa resides.

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Elizabeth was asked to bring a snack in the shape of a circle, triangle or square for preschool a certain day.  We made graham crackers together and cut them out with cookie cutters and some shapes by hand.  I was unable to find graham flour so we used wheat flour.  The activity was fun but the taste was not great so probably not a repeat recipe.  DSC_0020

I also made homemade caramel apple cider and it was amazing so I have listed the recipe below.

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“Better than Starbucks” Caramel Apple Cider
Author: Tammy Blankenship (foodapparel.com/better-starbucks-caramel-apple-cider/)
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time:5 mins
Total time: 10 mins
Yield: serves 4
Ingredients
  • 4 to 6 cups Simply Apple brand apple juice
  • ¼ cup caramel sauce (see recipe below)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 6 allspice berries
  • whipped cream (I personally don’t like this but make it your own)
  • caramel sauce to drizzle on top (optional)
Directions
  1. Put apple juice, caramel sauce and spices in a medium pan and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Pour into cups/mugs and top with whipped cream and then caramel sauce if you’re feeling fancy.
THE BEST Caramel Sauce (Revisited): Classic Style
Ingredients
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup(optional, but helps prevent crystallization)
  • 1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature (or warmer)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Directions
  1. Put the sugar, water and corn syrup into a medium saucepan. (If desired, stir together with a spoon just in order to distribute evenly, then toss spoon into sink. DO NOT REUSE OR STIR WHEN MIXTURE IS BOILING.)
  2. Cook over medium heat bringing mixture to a low boil, swirling the pan, but not stirring.
  3. If you get sugar crystals on the edge of your pan, use a pastry brush with water to wipe them off.
  4. Continue cooking and swirling until mixture turns amber in color.
  5. Lower the heat and carefully add cream and butter, standing away from pan to avoid splattering.
  6. When bubbling calms, stir sauce until smooth. (This might take a few minutes depending on the temperature of your cream. If the cooked sugar separates from the cream, just continue to stir over low heat until the mixture is smooth.)
  7. Add vanilla.
  8. Pour through mesh sieve into heatproof jar.
  9. Cool to warm or room temperature before serving.
Notes:
For best results, use a “heavy metal” pan. (rock ‘n roll, baby!)
Let your nose be your guide. Be careful to not let the caramel get too dark or your sauce will taste burnt. If it smells burnt, it is.
Having the cream at least at room temperature or warmer will help prevent the mixture from seizing up when you add it. (If it does seize up, you can still stir it back together – see above in recipe.)
Change It Up:
If you are a beginner and intimidated by caramel making (like me), double the water. The water just evaporates off anyway. It will take a little longer to cook, but nothing significant. For me the hardest and most crucial step is getting everything to initially melt together without forming sugar crystals. This aids in that process tremendously. Also, I never stir it, not even at the first. I just kind of swirl gently for it to all melt together.
For a thicker sauce (a little more of a dip consistency), use ¾ cup cream.
My notes:  I thought I would ignore the beginner note and did not double the water.  I ended up getting sugar crystals but I was able to save it.  I just added more water and got it bubbling again.  The crystals disappeared and the water evaporated.