Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Winner! (Nikoart)

The winner of the Nikoart giveaway is Amy! Yay, Amy! Email me (swistle at gmail) and I'll connect you to Nikoart.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Secret Santa, Part Two

My TJ Maxx Secret Santa gift arrived!

Oh the prettiness! That's a mug, a package of coffee, a package of cookies, a tin of hot cocoa mix, and two fabric-covered journals! Thank you, Zippy of The Review Broads, and TJ Maxx of course! This was so much fun to do!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Secret Santa, Part One

I am kind of excited about the mail, because I'm participating in a T.J. Maxx/Marshalls Secret Santa thingie, and my Secret Santa's present to me could be arriving any day now. Each participant got a $25 gift card to either T.J. Maxx or to Marshalls to use for the Secret Santa gift (my card was to T.J. Maxx), plus we each got an additional gift card to buy ourselves something in case we got Gift Envy while shopping.

I love shopping. Er, as you know. And it was surprisingly fun to be buying a gift for someone I knew nothing about and who wouldn't be expecting me to hit the mark exactly: I could browse around the store and consider ANYTHING. I started out taking photos of all the gifts I was considering, but then the very polite security guard told me I wasn't allowed to do that so we will just have to use our imaginations.

There were a lot of good holiday decorations in the right price range: a very pretty Christmas tree I wanted for myself, a really nice wreath, a menorah my mom wanted to convert to Judaism for.

I also considered holiday dishes, like maybe a Spode serving dish (I love the Spode Christmas pattern), or they had these cute little candy/nut dishes shaped like Christmas trees, and they had a four-pack of dessert plates shaped like ornaments. I came close to choosing a two-pack of Norman Rockwell Christmas mugs, maybe with a bag of coffee.

There were Yankee Candle's jarred candles and I love the green/pine scents, and there was a long strip of votive candles that seemed striking and also practical. And pretty candle holders, too.

I would have considered a holiday tablecloth if I'd known the recipient's table size. I very nearly chose some holiday cloth napkins with some reindeer napkin holders. Or Christmas towels, or Christmas handtowels.

Oh, and they had super-pretty ornaments and ornament sets.

They had a whole bunch of fingerless gloves, and I spent half of my own gift card on a pair of those for myself. Steve Madden! And striped! And $12.99!

I looked carefully at the gourmet food. They had Lindt truffles in a golden tin or in a bag, and they had Jelly Belly jellybean boxes (the kind where each flavor is in its own little compartment), and they had fancy cocoa mixes, and they had fancy jam (I like the Favorit cherry), and they had fancy coffee, and they had a ton of Harry & David stuff, and they had dried fruit and nut assortments, and they had the Dilettante chocolate-covered dried fruit I like. There were also a lot of good SETS, like a set containing a bunch of Starbucks stuff, and another containing a bunch of Ghirardelli stuff.

I thought about doing a journal and some stationery. Or maybe a pile of reusable shopping bags. Or maybe some jewelry. Or maybe some bath stuff. Or maybe some knee socks. Or a nice snuggly throw blanket. And this is where my mom reminded me that we really did need to decide at SOME point.

I can't tell you what I chose, because we're supposed to keep the Secret part intact for awhile. There are two points to this post:

1. I do hope you come away with the impression that there were a HOLY HECKLOAD of good gift options there, because there WERE. One reason I keep doing these T.J. Maxx/Marshalls dealies is that I shop at both places ANYWAY about once a week, so it's super-easy for me to say nice things about places I DO IN FACT LIKE. And, in this particular instance, it was an excellent place to shop for a gift for someone I didn't know but wanted to please---and so it would also be a good place to shop for someone you didn't know WELL but wanted to please: a boss, a co-worker, the in-law whose name you drew, a friend who lives far away, a teacher.

2. I told them there was NOT ENOUGH BOOZE IN THE UNITED STATES for me to participate, but they are also doing a Carol-oke program: you sing a carol, you post it on YouTube, and you're entered to win a five! thousand! dollar! shopping trip, or one of 15 hundred-dollar trips. Here's where to find more info: The Carol-oke Program. And hurry, because there are only 2 days left to get a video in!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Etsy Love: Nikoart (With a Giveaway!)

Nikoart sells rubber stamps. Oh, they are SO cute. I will copy some of her photos so you can see:

Who DOESN'T want a narwhal stamp?

Nicole is going to give away one of her cute stamps! To enter, leave a comment on this post saying which stamp you like best (you won't be held to that choice if you win---I say this in case this kind of thing makes you a little stressed, the way it makes me when I have to choose and I'm all "Fox! No, wait, but the cardinal in a scarf would be so nice for Christmas cards...... besides, my favorite might be the hedgehog. I mean the owl. No, final choice this time: squirrel. ...Wait...), and I'll choose a random winner on Saturday, December 19th.

Nikoart on Etsy---go see!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Etsy Love: Mel's Bells Cloche Hats

Mel's Bells Cloche Hats sells...oh, you already know? That's right: cloche hats. I will make copies of some of her photos so you can see them. (The mannequin, I know: she reminds me of The Other Mother in Coraline, too---but she really does make it easier to see what the hats look like.)

Baby hats too!

Mel's Bells on Etsy---go see!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winner! (Relic)

The winner of the Relic giveaway is Gina! Yay, Gina!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Etsy Love: Polkadotshop

Polkadotshop makes handmade STITCHED cards---like, with FABRIC. I love them so much I hesitated before doing a post on them, because WHAT IF YOU BUY THEM ALL AND THERE ARE NONE LEFT FOR MEEEEEEEEEEE???

Look at these sweeties (all photos are snitched from her site, of course....because it would be really creepy if I'd sneaked into her studio to take the photos myself):

And if you have anyone on your list you love enough to send these to, she also has Christmas cards:

Polkadotshop on Etsy---go see!

Winner! (Small Grapes)

The winner of the Small Grapes Giveaway is Kristi! Yay, Kristi! I'll email you!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winner! (Haworth Handmade)

The winner of the haworth handmade giveaway is St. Yay! Email me (swistle at gmail dot com) and I'll connect you to to Melissa!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hershey Kisses: Recipes and a $100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway

(This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Hershey's.)

Here was my assignment: go to the Hershey Kiss Baking site, choose three recipes to try, and then eat the results. OH, MY LIFE IS SO HARD! HOW I SUFFER FOR MY ART!

Choosing which three recipes to try was challenging (WOE! WOE IS ME!). Kisses Peanut Butter Pie? Kisses Caramel Flan? Double Kisses Chocolate Cupcakes? Rainbow Rocky Road Brownies? Chocolate Fluted Kisses Cups? I wish I could have searched by kind of Kisses, because in searching through all the recipes for a recipe that would go with the Kisses I had on hand, I had to drool a LOT into my keyboard.

I went with trying three different version of those little round cookies with a Kiss in the middle that I believe are on every single holiday cookie plate ever born and with good reason: cute AND delicious.

The kids and I like to bake assortment plates for their teachers at the holidays: it's a good way to show the teachers we put some effort into their gifts in addition to signing the credit slip for their gift cards, and it's something the kids can do a lot of the work on themselves. A charmingly kid-misshapen cookie tastes just as good as a perfect one but means more.

We also like to bake for far-away family. We mail a box of gifts to my brother and his family across the country, and I like to add some holiday baking in there too, to make it Like I'm not just sending a box of presents, I'm sending a box of HOLIDAY.

I have one older relative who's on her own now and doesn't bake for just herself, so a little treat box with one or two of each kind of cookie is just the thing: it's not hard for us to do when we're doing a bunch of other platters, but it's a way to show we're thinking of her, and it takes away the mental picture I have of her sitting in her "no sense decorating it for just me" house, not having any holiday treats because there's "no sense baking for just me." It's the kind of thing I hope someone does for me if I'm an older lady on my own someday (take notes, children).

I've read people who knit or sew saying that when they make something as a gift for someone else, they think of that person the whole time they're doing the project: they, if you'll pardon the slightly gaggy sentiment, "put love in every stitch" (sorry, I did warn you). Though such a sentiment wouldn't be my style to say, I DO feel that way when I bake for someone else: I think of that person while I'm measuring and mixing and baking, and it makes it more than just "a plate of cookies"---it's like I'm giving them my work, and my thoughts, and....fine, I guess I am the sort of person who says that sort of sentiment. I BAKE LOVE INTO EVERY BITE, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW??

So ANYWAY, this was an excellent opportunity to audition some new sentiments cookie contestants. I set my assistants to work unwrapping Kisses:

Unwrapping, unwrapping, oops

The first recipe I tried was Kisses Chocolate Chip Cookies. You make what is basically a small batch of eggless, leavening-less chocolate-chip cookie dough, and you wrap lumps of it around Hershey Kisses and bake them. And oh, they are sooooo good. The cookie part is crisp and buttery like shortbread, and then there is a big happy surprise of chocolate in the middle.

These reminded me so much of a care package my cousin Lee sent me after the twins were born. She included a big bag of cookies very similar to these, and they just about killed me dead with love and butter. Of all the gifts we got, those cookies are what I remember best. (It was the love! baked into every bite!)

Baker's notes:
  • I had a little trouble getting the knack of drizzling and eventually settled for something more like dolloping.

  • As an experiment I made some of the cookies with Meltaway Kisses---and I preferred them. The Meltaway Kiss flattened out a little more in the oven and also had a softer texture even when the cookie was completely cool.
  • This recipe is even easier if you have this Oxo Good Grips cookie scoop in size small: the recipe uses "scant tablespoons" of dough, and this little dealie measures---wait for it---in scant tablespoons! So I went scoop scoop scoop and measured all the dough lumps at once. This was also the right size scoop for each of the other two recipes.
Scooping all the scant tablespoons ahead of time

The second recipe I tried was Kisses Cocoa Cookies. They are similar to the Kisses Chocolate Chip cookies in their crispness and shortbreadiness, but they are CHOCOLATE and PECAN. Some baker's notes:
  • I thought they needed just a little more cocoa--maybe another tablespoon or two.
  • The recipe says to roll the cookies in powdered sugar when they're cool, but I preferred them without the powdered sugar, both in flavor and appearance (things rolled in powdered sugar seem grandmothery to me, and also they get powder on everything else in the assortment).

  • The recipe says to let the dough chill until firm enough to handle, but the dough I made was firm enough to handle already, so I went ahead and used it right away.

I made some of these with regular Kisses and some with Meltaway Kisses, and again I preferred the ones with Meltaway Kisses.

Then I did an additional experiment: I set aside about...1/6th?...of the dough, and I added another couple of tablespoons of Hershey's Cocoa to it, to make it super extra dark chocolate. Then I used CANDY CANE Kisses instead of chocolate Kisses. It wasn't perfect (the extra cocoa made the dough a little dry---next time I might try decreasing the flour a little, or adding a bit of milk---and the pecans were odd with the mint so I'd leave those out if I were making them all Candy Cane), but it was a very promising experiment and worth tinkering more. I lovvvvve chocolate and mint together.

Kisses Cocoa Cookie with powdered sugar outside and a Candy Cane Kiss inside

The third recipe I tried was Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies. These were the most trouble and completely worth it. It's like a chocolate brownie rolled in pecans, with white frosting and a Hershey Kiss on top. Baker's notes:
  • The recipe says to let the cookies cool 5 minutes before putting the frosting on, but I recommend waiting longer: the frosting melted off mine and dripped onto the counter.
  • The recipe calls for a half-cup of powdered sugar and I'd make that a nice rounded half-cup to make the frosting a little thicker.
  • My thumb might have been too long and rectangular for me to make thumbprint cookies successfully, because I got more of a shallow ditch than a nice round circle imprint. Next time I might use a soda bottle top to make the impressions, to help the frosting stay in better and look prettier.
So...mine were not as pretty as the ones on the recipe. But NOBODY CARED. They were so scrumptious, and they looked fine if you didn't have the original photo to compare them to (*stuffs photo deep into trash*). And next time they will be prettier: the first time with a new recipe is always a practice run.

(This is after I scraped the frosting off the counter and put it back on the cookies. So, you know, next time I'll let them cool a little longer before frosting them, is what I'm saying. And looking at them now makes me want to make another batch right this minute.)

All three of these definitely passed their auditions for this year's cookie platters, and I'm really happy to have some new recipes in my arsenal. I predict the Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies will be the most electrifying (they're the ones I'd grab first, if presented with an assortment), but I think the other two are just as delicious and will TRAVEL well---a very important feature for our annual tradition of mailing treats around.

There is a giveaway here, for a $100 Visa gift card. To enter, leave a comment below answering this question: What treat says "HOLIDAYS!" to you? For me it's a chocolate-crusted pumpkin cheesecake at Thanksgiving and a Lindt chocolate Santa at Christmas.

The rules:
  • Sweepstakes open to individuals who, at the time of entry deadline, are legal residents of the United States and are 18 years or older.
  • If you put a link to the giveaway on Twitter, you get an additional entry and can leave another comment saying so and linking to your tweet.
  • If you blog about the giveaway, you get an additional entry and can leave another comment saying so and linking to your post.
  • You also have SEVEN other chances to win: visit the special offers page to get links to the other Hershey posts; you can leave entries on those posts, too.
  • The giveaway begins December 4, 2009, and ends December 31, 2009. I'll use a random number generator to choose the winner. Make sure the email address with your comment is correct---that's what I'll use to contact you if you're the winner (after 48 hours, I have to choose a new winner).
  • For the full official rules, see here: Official Rules of the Hershey's Sweepstakes
For more information: Hershey's Holiday website

Etsy Love: Relic (With a Giveaway)

Relic sells jewelry made of upcycled coins and keys and things, including olllllld coins like ancient Roman stuff even. I'll go steal copies of some of her photos to show you.

Here are two of my favorites of her gypsy bracelets:

And some of my favorites of her earrings:

And some of my favorites of her necklaces:

Beautiful and distinctive. And you can win your own beautiful and distinctive piece, or something beautiful and distinctive to give as a gift! Holly is giving away any coin bracelet OR any pair of coin earrings to ONE winner. To be that winner, I think you'd better leave a comment on this post. I'll choose a random winner on Friday, December 11th.

Relic on Etsy---go see!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Etsy Love: Small Grapes (With a Giveaway)

Small Grapes sells fabric.

Anna Maria Horner fabric!

Amy Butler fabric!

Riley Blake fabric!

Joel Dewberry fabric!

Vintage fabric!

I want to buy some of everything and put it on a shelf in tidy stacks and go in and pet it sometimes.

You can WIN some pretty fabric of your own to pet! I took this description of the prize (along with all the photos in this post) from Shannon's site:
"...a fat quarter (18"x22") assortment (1.5 yard total) from the Wildwood Collection by Erin McMorris.

You will receive:
fat quarter - Checked Floral in Grey
fat quarter - Sophie's Garden in Green
fat quarter - Sprout in Green
fat quarter - Buttons in Gold
fat quarter - Forest in Lime
fat quarter - Pressed Leaves in Green

44/45" wide
100% cotton"


Leave a comment on this post, and I'll choose a random winner on Thursday, December 10th.

Small Grapes on Etsy---go see!