Five Tips For Simpler Holidays

It is the season of excess, but it doesn’t have to mean excess stress! Here are 5 things I have started doing to make my life (and the lives of those who live with me) easier around the holidays. Plus our recipe for crock pot hot chocolate, which is sure to become a holiday favorite with your family, too!

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Apple pie

1. Make pie dough ahead of time, when you actually have time to do it. I like to make four batches of pie dough, shape them into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze them in a freezer bag until I need them. Just get them out to thaw in the fridge the night before you need to bake a pie. They are ready to be rolled, filled, and baked, and you don’t have to worry about cleaning up extra dishes.  Another thing you can do to eliminate pie pressure during the holidays is to can your own pie filling during the season; then all you have to do is dump it in and bake it according to your recipes directions.

pie filling dough
Pie filling and frozen pie dough

2. Homemade gifts. You, sir or ma’am, have worked your tail off this year preserving the finest fruit, vegetables, meats, and herbs from your homestead. Why not share the bounty? In the process, you will showcase all of your hard work. I personally love a homemade gift, especially if I can eat it. Think about it — not everyone gets to have homemade apple sauce, preserves, peaches, spaghetti sauce, or canned green beans just like Granny used to make. I also like to attach recipes to my jars; for instance, if I send someone a can of beef, I like to share my recipe for crock-pot vegetable beef soup. If I give a jar of apple pie filling, it’s nice to give them the recipe for crumble topping for an easy apple crisp. Maple syrup, honey, and even eggs make lovely gifts, too. Your life is already abundant — share it!

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Frozen cookie dough

3. Make double batches of cookies. You’re already making a mess; why not go the extra mile? If you make cookies occasionally throughout the year, you may want to consider doubling the batch. I like to make double batches when I make any kind of drop cookie or cookie you roll into a ball. I bake one batch, and the second batch I scoop with a medium sized melon baller onto a lined baking sheet and pop into the freezer. Peanut butter or molasses cookies can be rolled into balls and rolled in sugar before placing on the sheet to be frozen. I then put the frozen cookie dough into freezer bags with the type of cookie, bake temp, and time written on it. If you have an unexpected party (or one you forgot), you can bake up a batch of homemade cookies quicker than quick, and you wont have any mess to contend with other than the cookie sheet! They also make great gifts around the holidays when people get lots of goodies. Frozen cookie dough allows folks to enjoy your treats well after the sugar surge of the holidays is over.

4. Chop peel and prepare … check! One thing I have found that eliminates stress at crunch time is to have all of the little things taken care of. The night before, I chop and peel my veggies. While that seems pretty straightforward, it is a time saver. As I go along, I check things off of the list I have created to make sure I don’t forget anything. I also like to measure all my spices and other dry ingredients for each dish and combine in small glass bowls. All I have to do is grab a bowl and dump it in as I go.

5. Simplify. Do we really need to have three meats? Six different kinds of pie? Maybe settle on brunch this year! And don’t let your guests slack off, either; have them bring one of their favorite dishes. Since we will be running around trying to hit every Christmas party like crazy people in the time leading up to Christmas, our plan for Christmas Day consists of waking up, watching our boys open their gifts, sipping some coffee, and enjoying a potluck brunch with our family (and maybe some mimosas!), all from the comfort of our cozy flannel jammies! This means that there will be a crock pot full of our most favorite winter time treat … crock pot hot chocolate!!

Here is the recipe. I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do.

Crock Pot Hot Chocolate

Cook time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

• 1-1/2 quarts whole milk (if you have your own it’s even better!)
• 12 oz. whipping cream
• 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk (see recipe below, or use canned)
• Vanilla to taste (I never ever measure vanilla)
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup milk chocolate chips
• Cinnamon to taste (optional)

Instructions:

1. Turn crock pot on low and combine whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk. Add vanilla and chocolate chips, stir in whole milk.

2. Place the lid on and let cook for 2 hours, stir with whisk occasionally, until all chocolate is melted.

3. Ladle into mugs and enjoy with a marshmallow or a shot of whipped cream! This stuff is dessert in and of itself!

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk:

Yield: 2 cups

• 1 cup whole milk
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1/3 cup boiling water
• pinch of salt

1. Mix all ingredients in a medium pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved. Stir constantly with whisk.

Jake with a mug

How To Make Mitten Keepers

As the cold weather knocks on our doors I have to make sure my little ones are toasty warm. We have our snow pants and big poofy coats but I needed a quick fix to our never ending lost mitten dilemma.  So, I whipped up an age old solution: little “mitten keepers”!

I already had everything I needed in my sewing basket; all I had to do was take some measurements… ha! In case you didn’t know, trying to measure a toddler’s wingspan is pretty near impossible. I held arms out; my husband measured…We got close enough. And they are absolutely perfect!  In hindsight we could have just measured their coats, but what is life without the challenge?

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Materials

Project Time: 5 minutes

What you will need:

• Twill tape or ribbon, cut to the desired length (for my two year old’s, I used 34 inches. To measure, hold arms out and measure wrist to wrist, this will give you the appropriate length.)
• A two-pack of suspender clips. (These run around $3 a pair. I purchased a bulk lot from Amazon.com for roughly the same amount)
• Straight pins
• Sewing machine

pinned clips
Clips pinned on

Begin by cutting the twill tape or ribbon to your desired length. Then, run the tape through the loop on the suspender clip and pin it in place. Give yourself about an inch of overlap to sew.

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Sewing on the clips

Sew a straight line, and then back-stitch it. Move over about a 1/4 inch and sew another straight line and back-stitch once more. Repeat on the other side. Trim your strings.

safe
Mittens safe and sound

Now, run them through your little one’s coat sleeves and clip their mittens on! I think I might even make myself some, because nothing is worse than having to take off your glove when working outside, thinking you stuck it in your pocket, but finding instead that it fell into the mud or, even worse, the manure! Next time I make these for my boys, I plan to make the length adjustable so that they can grow with them. These ones will last quite a long time, though; it wont be long until our youngest can use them, and I have a new niece that could use them soon too!