a thoughtful DIY gift

A couple of years ago, I came across Heather Bullard on Instagram. She is amaaaazing. She is a prop stylist and everything she does is gorgeous, so naturally I was an instant fan. She shared her recipe for Organic Madagascar Vanilla Extract and I was like oh yes, I must do this! I love to bake and I really like thoughtful gift ideas, so this was perfect. Finally, two summers ago, a friend and I decided to try it out. It’s so easy, but you must have time. Time is the key ingredient here, because you have to let the vanilla cure for 6+ months, the longer the better. Mine has been curing for a year and a half, so you can imagine how excited I was to finally bottle this stuff up!! I highly suggest you visit Heather’s page for all things beautiful and inspiring and for lots and lots of recipes. (Note: I am not afiliated with Heather at all, I just am sharing what inspires me and oh my gosh does she ever!)

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For the finishing touch, and to make it extra festive, I simply tied some baker’s twine around the top of the bottle and added a couple of cinnamon sticks. I think it’s beautiful and I can’t wait to give these as gifts this year. I had an extra bottle so I am stashing that in my pantry for holiday baking! 😉dsc_2797dsc_2807dsc_2809

festive gingerbread men

Christmastime is my all-time favorite. I’ve always loved the season – decorating, listening to Christmas Carols, drinking egg nog out of Christmas glasses, hot chocolate with peppermint sticks, looking at Christmas lights, extra family time…I mean, all of it, I love it! And this year, I wanted to make some gingerbread men ornaments. I found thee perfect recipe from McCormick’s. It’s easy and your home will smell fantastic! You need to try it, get your kiddos involved and have at it!

Ingredients:

3/4 c. applesauce

2 of the 2.37 oz bottles of ground cinnamon

Cookie Cutters (we used gingerbread, but I plan on doing some more with hearts and stars and trees #obsessed)

Drinking Straw (I used festive ones of course! 😉 )

Ribbon

Directions:

Mix your applesauce and cinnamon together until a dough ball forms (I used my hands, it’s easier). Once it’s mixed, separate the dough into four separate dough balls. Place one of the dough balls on a sheet of plastic wrap and then cover it with another sheet of plastic wrap (this trick is wonderful!). Use a rolling pin to roll out each dough ball to 1/4 – 1/3 inches (per the recipe…I just eyeballed it, though) and cut out shapes with your cookie cutters. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining dough. Once you have a full sheet of ornaments, use a straw to poke a hole at the top (or two in the center if you want to make garland like I did). Bake at 200 degrees for 2 1/2 hours (your home will smell SO good!). Once baked and cooled a bit, string ribbon through the holes and you’re all set! You could even decorate them if you wish. I wanted mine plain for the garland.

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We had one extra, so we strung some baker’s twine through it and made an ornament for our tree!dsc_2825

creamy tomato + basil soup

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I must admit, cooking has never really been my strong suit. I love to bake, but cooking has always been a bit harder for me. I am learning, though – and I’ve grown more interested in it, so that helps too! Anyway, I’ve made this soup a couple of times and I must say it makes me proud. It’s yummy and creamy and not terribly difficult to make (so long as you have an immersion blender – using a regular blender is a MESS, let me tell ya!). Since it’s that time of year when soup just sounds so tasty, I thought I’d share this from when I made it the other day. The other good thing about soup is that you can make it ahead of time, it tastes just as yummy reheated and you usually have leftovers that you can either freeze or have for lunch the next day.

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Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 red onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced (I use the pre-minced Market Pantry garlic from Target!)

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

4 cups chicken stock

Kosher salt

Black pepper

1 cup heavy cream

1 bunch basil, torn or chopped into pieces (plus some extra for garnish if you like to pretty it up 😉 )

Parmesan cheese (to taste + for garnish – I like cheese, so I add some in the soup and also some on my bowl for garnish)

To make…

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat; once it is hot, add the chopped onions and cook until soft and starting to turn golden brown (stir occasionally). Add the garlic and cook for approximately 1 minute, stir to avoid burning.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes (or longer).

Puree the soup using an immersion blender.

Stir in the cream and basil and let simmer for another 15 minutes or so. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Careful not to over-salt. Add parmesan cheese, stir.

Spoon into bowls and garnish with additional parmesan cheese and basil leaves.

I like to serve this with warm bread and caesar salad. Enjoy, friends!