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Best Gifting Practices – Uncommonly Good

For a long time now we have had a present cabinet. Yes, as in gifts. And, no, I am not super organized. It’s for when I need an emergency gift, you know, when you’ve forgotten an event is coming up – What, you don’t do that? Well, I do and sometimes the cabinet is stocked and I breathe a sigh of relief, and sometimes I am down to some hair ties and a pen.

So I clearly can’t leave special events like birthdays, graduations, weddings or anniversaries to chance, those need more planning, and, well, I have that covered, too. Actually, UncommonGoods does. When they contacted me to share my gift giving practices, I was thrilled – I love their site because they have cool, creative gifts in a wide range of prices, and make shopping by occasion super easy. Located in Brooklyn, NY, they select works from talented artists and artisans, and, as an added bonus, they’re a B Corporation. What is that? It means they do work on social and environmental problems, including wage levels, environmental impact, and giving back to the community. That’s to the good of everyone.

But you need gifts.

Our family just wrapped up one graduation season, and while the next is a ways off, the holidays are around the corner and I’m betting on UncommonGoods to help with my list. Love this dreamy retro camera that takes romantic, light soaked photos and will charm any photographer, artist or film student. The Diana Camera is super cool, dare I say hipster? – and uses 120 film.

The Diana Camera at Uncommongoods.com from Capabilitymom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Math mug Uncommongoods from capabilitymom

Less art and more math? There’s fun with numbers in this math-y mug or great geeking out clock (equations included).

geek equation clock uncommongoods from capabilitymom

Looking for something a bit more personal? You’re covered there, too, with gifts that can be made to honor a special someone. And I love that the Uncommongoods site lets you search by occasion, interest, price, and category. No small feat, that.

And having just reached a milestone wedding anniversary, I also know a bit about great gifts for anniversaries (or weddings). Keeping it personal is key, and so easy to do here. My favorites for couples include these gorgeous faux bois personalized mugs, just pair with your favorite fair trade coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new go-to gift: Put together a mixed six pack of local craft beer, the beer labels are cool and the names are usually funny, and if you put that together with these wordy glasses, you have a really thoughtful gift. And you might even pick up a vocab word or two.uncommon goods wordy beer glasses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling the sentiment? Me, too. Love this company,

 

 

Check out their blog  which features their artists, design inspiration, and even more gift guides.

 

Disclaimer: While I did receive payment for sharing this post, all opinions are always my own.

A Summer of Volunteering with a Side of Adventure

IMG_1436While I hadn’t planned on doing anything particularly adventurous this summer (I really never do plan for adventures as I really do prefer to grab a good book and read), it turns out that I will be white water rafting, zip-lining and running (or maybe just observing), a fun obstacle course run in July – Mudderella. I’m most nervous about the zip-lining and will let you know if it actually happens. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe it’s too much.

I am also going to continue to work, and to volunteer for some great local organizations which is more my usual speed, and if you or your teens need volunteer ideas, here are a few – (italics indicate text from website of the organization featured).

NNHS Center for Civic Engagement and Service at Newton North High School – ask to join the Facebook Group here. We connect you with volunteer and intern opportunities!

Cradles to Crayons  provides children from birth to age 12, living in low- income and homeless situations, with the essential items they need to thrive.

Every year, thousands of volunteers pass through the doors of the Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory warehouse to roll up their sleeves and help disadvantaged children around the Greater Philadelphia region. Together, youth and adults inspect, sort, and package all new and like-new donations into customized “KidPacks”.

Anyone age six and above can volunteer at the Giving Factory. Activities are appropriate and engaging for individuals, families, student and community groups and corporate groups. Our warehouse space allows us to accomodate large numbers of volunteers, so it provides an exceptional team-building experience for companies. Sign up for a 2-hour shift on our website. You will work at a volunteer station such as Clothing Sort, Outfits, School Supplies, Shoes, Toys, or Shopping.

Newton-Wellesley Hospital
People volunteer for many different reasons. They may wish to become actively involved in the community, meet new people, explore career possibilities, develop skills and experience or share their special touch when people are sick. Whatever the reason, volunteers do make a difference. Volunteers make it happen.

Newton Free Library

Grad Bag 

A green initiative to reuse college dorm supplies. We collect and redistribute lightly-used dorm room items that too often end up in landfills and give them to incoming college freshmen from low-income households.

Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program

Donation Drives – Small Gestures, Enormous Impact

Our patients face the unimaginable challenges of life in shelters, on the streets and in temporary housing, while struggling to maintain their health. Acquiring basic necessities can be difficult, and we welcome the help of corporations, faith-based groups, schools, colleges and individuals to organize donation drives to meet these needs.

The seemingly small, practical items gathered in these drives can have a tremendous impact. Distributed by our doctors, nurses and case managers, they not only improve the quality of care we deliver, these items help us develop and maintain the trusting relationships that are such an essential part of our work.

Futures without Violence

(through a partnership with Mudderella) is a national nonprofit that is working to prevent and end domestic violence by developing innovative programs and policies that:

  • support victims, survivors, and their families and help them get to safety
  • educate individuals about the critical roles that we all have to play in promoting healthy relationships
  • promote mutual respect as the foundation of healthy relationships
  • support children who are exposed to violence at home and in school
  • enlist health care providers and health systems to improve domestic violence responses
  • and much more

And don’t forget to register to vote –

 

 

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap If you know me even a little bit, you know I love cookies, and I especially love trying new cookies. So I am thrilled to be part of this year’s The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

Basically, I bake and send a dozen cookies to three other bloggers, then receive three dozen different cookies from other food bloggers from all over the country. Yes, it’s a sweet deal. And it gets better because The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap is again partnering with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a national non-profit organization committed to funding new therapies used in the fight against pediatric cancer.

 

 

So how does a long distance cookie swap work? Well, this one runs like clockwork – I happily baked my three dozen holiday cookies and shipped them off and then sat by the mailbox waiting to get my three dozen cookies. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long!

First up, some brown butter cookies with vanilla bean icing from Kristen at Bourbon and Honey. Wow. Wonderfully delicious!

Next some rosemary shortbread from Amber at Loves Food, Loves to Eat. Fantastic – especially because she even dipped them in chocolate!

Brown butter white chocolate macadamia nut cookies Jessica at Golden Brown and Delicious were prettily packaged and on my door in time for breakfast – I mean lunch. I would never eat cookies for breakfast, even cookies as delectable as these.

My cookies? The recipe for my first (and best) batch is from a phenomenal home baker and friend.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies (except when they’re not chocolate)

1 cup flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine flour, cocoa powder, powdered sugar and salt in a food processor and process briefly to blend. Add butter and process about 30 seconds

until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg yolk and vanilla and process until a smooth dough forms. Pat dough into a flattened ball, wrap in

plastic and chill for at least 25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thick. Cut into shapes. Put on greased cookie sheet (wash them with the egg yolk.) Bake for

15 to 18 minutes or until firm but not browned. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Notes from husband of the phenomenal home baker’s husband:  add additional butter and sugar. When making the non-chocolate, add a little more flour to make up for the missing cocoa powder…not scientific.

Frosting is very unscientific mix of powdered sugar and water…to whatever consistency works for you. Put on frosting and decorate immediately…let dry for a really long time or else your beautiful work will be wrecked if you stack them.

Ultimately these are my family’s favorite cookies but I felt as if my instructions were too imprecise so I made Joanne Chang’s very precise and wonderful holiday cookies.

Recipe here:

Holiday Sugar Cookies

by Joanne Chang of flour bakery and cafe 

 

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Cream sugar and butter for 5 min until light and fluffy in an electric mixer. Beat in eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2-3 min until combined.

In separate medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder & salt until well mixed. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture into the butter-sugar-eggs-vanilla mixture and them mix until it is totally incorporated.. Refrigerate the dough for around one hour – I have done it for less and it’s been fine.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Lightly flour your work surface, place dough on the surface and flour the dough and rolling pin. Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick and use your favorite cookie cutters. I went with stars this time. Transfer to a baking sheet and put in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until cookies are golden brown on the edges.

Cool completely on a wire rack.

I’m proud to have donated to The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and the proceeds go to

From the website:

Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a national 501(c)3 non-profit, is committed to raising funds for research to develop new, improved treatments for pediatric cancer, the #1 disease killer of children in the U.S. We provide inspiration and support for individuals, businesses and organizations to raise funds by hosting grassroots bake sales and other fundraising events.
The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2015
Beautifully hosted by Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen – many thanks! Want to know more? Join next year’s swap?  Go here.

Thank you to sponsors Dixie Crystals Sugar, OXO and Land O’ Lakes butter for the baking treats.

landolakes

Halloween is sweet over at The Food Network

What is sweeter than Halloween? And some of our favorite shows are on The Food Network, where I often find inspiration, and they have special Halloween themed recipes…of course they do! Check out these sweet and savory treats. The Food Network has two great October shows that offer more great Halloween recipes and ideas – Halloween Baking Championship (Mondays @9:00pm) and Halloween Wars (Sundays @9:00pm).

You know I’m all about the sweets, and there are some great treats like Wicked Cupcakes 

and

Pull Apart Graveyard Cupcakes

Pecan-Caramel Spiders
Recipe courtesy of Food Network Kitchen

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups toasted pecans
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, in pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ounces thin black licorice strands, cut into 2-inch pieces
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
Chocolate curls or jimmies, optional

Directions

Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper and lightly spray with nonstick spray. Mound 30 small clusters of pecans, about 3 or 4 pecans each, spaced a couple inches apart on the pan.

Make caramel: Warm the cream over low heat and keep warm while you cook the sugar.

Put the sugar and corn syrup and in a deep, heavy-bottomed large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring, raise heat to medium-high, and simmer until the sugar reaches the hard crack stage, or 305 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes.

Whisk the butter and salt into the sugar mixture. Gradually pour in the cream and vanilla taking care since the mixture will bubble up. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar reaches soft ball stage, 240 degrees F on the thermometer, about 5 minutes more. Immediately remove from the heat and cool for a minute.

Ladle a couple tablespoons of warm caramel over some of the nut clusters, to make the spider bodies. Then press 6 pieces of licorice into the warm caramel to make the legs. Repeat with the remaining caramel and licorice. (It’s helpful to have an extra hand here, since the caramel can set quickly. If caramel hardens, warm over very low heat. ) Let spiders cool 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the chocolates in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with 1-inch or so of water to a very slow simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching, the water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted and smooth. (Alternatively, put the chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Melt at 50 percent power in the microwave until soft, about 1 minute. Stir, and continue heat until completely melted, 2 to 3 minutes more.)

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of melted chocolate on top of each spider. Sprinkle with jimmies or chocolate curls, if desired. Let cool until firm.

Copyright 2007 Television Food Network, G.P. All rights reserved

From Food Network Kitchens
Advertisement

© 2015 Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/pecan-caramel-spiders-recipe.print.html?oc=linkback

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I also love tomato soup with a nice grilled cheese and this recipe is too adorable not to share! Vampire Blood Tomato Soup with Muenster Sammies to fuel us your little trick or treaters before they get all sugared up from Halloween. Plus it’s a rookie move to order a pizza on Halloween night because everyone does and the wait is endless.

For more Halloween recipes and ideas, tune in to Food Network or visit Foodnetwork.com

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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