3 Easy Christmas Treats To Make With The Kids

 

3 Easy Christmas Desserts
3 Easy Christmas Desserts

(This post is sponsored by Kitchen Stuff Plus. As always, all opinions are my own.)

It’s the holiday season, which means lots of festive decorations, tableware, and food! Adults and kids love the special desserts that come with Christmas, and it’s even more fun when they’re simple to make and decorate. The important part is being together, so here are three easy-to-make suggestions for home or school: gifts made with brownie squares, puffed rice cereal wreaths, and a tree made out of cupcakes. You can make the base of the treats in advance and save the decorating for the kids. The best part is that it’s all edible!

Brownie Gifts

Brownie Gifts
Brownie Gifts

For these palm-sized brownie gifts, you will need: a brownie pan, packaged brownie mix and icing, mini candy canes, and holiday sprinkles of your choice.

To make these brownie gifts into perfect squares, use a tray like this one, from Kitchen Stuff Plus. This brownie pan is perfect because many people like the edge pieces and, with this pan, everyone gets one! I like the stability and the clean edges of these perfect squares.

Bake and ice the brownies according to the instructions on the box. If you want to make your own brownies from scratch, go ahead. Make sure you bake the brownies long enough so they aren’t gooey. I baked mine for 30 minutes in this pan. This way the candy canes will stand upright securely. 

Brownie Gifts
Brownie Gifts

Place two mini candy canes in the centre of each iced brownie. This is the ‘bow’ of the gift. Slightly angle the candy canes into the brownies, so they look like a tied bow. Decorate with sprinkles/colourful icing. I like these colorful stoneware bowls and star spoons for keeping the sprinkles and candy pieces tidy. The brownie gift can even be picked up by the candy canes!

Puffed Rice Wreaths and Ornaments

Rice Krispies Wreaths
Rice Krispies Wreaths

To make these wreaths, you will need: a baking sheet with a 2 cm or ¾-inch height tray, like this one from Wilton, sprayed with cooking spray. You will also use circle cookie cutters, icing, and sprinkles of your choice. To make the puffed rice base, you will need ¼ cup of butter, 40 large marshmallows, 1 tsp vanilla, 6 cups of puffed rice cereal, and 20 drops of green food coloring.

Cook the butter, marshmallows, and vanilla over medium heat, stirring until the ingredients come together in a smooth mixture and the marshmallows are fully melted. Add 20 drops of green food coloring and stir well. Remove from the heat and add the puffed rice cereal and combine. Spread into the pan so that the thickness of the cereal comes up to the edge of the pan. You may not fill the entire tray you’re using, especially if it’s as long as this 15 inch one. I used a spatula like this green Christmas one, to smooth out the cereal and keep it even at the ends.

Rice Krispies Wreaths
Rice Krispies Wreaths

Wait until the spread cereal cools and hardens up a bit, at least two hours. You can make it the day before and cover it with plastic to use the next day. Use metal cookie cutters to cut out any shape you want. I used circles to make wreaths and decorated the inside cut-out pieces as ornaments. Get creative with icing and sprinkles. 

Cupcake Tree

Cupcake Christmas Tree
Cupcake Christmas Tree

To make this cupcake Christmas tree, you will need: 12 baked cupcakes, icing, sprinkles, pretzel rods or pieces, and a tray that is about 12 by 16 inches, like this red one, which also comes in white.

Cupcake Christmas Tree
Cupcake Christmas Tree

Bake and ice the cupcakes and then arrange ten cupcakes in a pyramid shape with four cupcakes forming the bottom of the tree and two cupcakes forming the trunk of the Christmas tree. I used a star cookie cutter to make the star at the top of the tree. Place the cutter into the icing and put the sprinkles carefully into the centre of the cutter. Shake the cupcake gently to spread the sprinkles around and invert the cupcake so the extra sprinkles fall out.

Cupcake Christmas Tree
Cupcake Christmas Tree

Decorate each row of the tree with a different, consistent design or have each person decorate a cupcake and keep it random. Use pretzel rods or pretzel pieces to create a wood-like tree trunk. ‘Hang’ mini candy canes on the tree by pushing them into some of the cupcake branches. Place ornaments like this star one, paper gift boxes, and candy canes around the tree and on the tray. A cake mix cupcake recipe yields 24 cupcakes, so you can decorate the remaining 12 cupcakes and serve those, if you would like to keep the cupcake tree to grace your dessert table.

Easy Christmas Desserts
Easy Christmas Desserts

These three treats are really easy to make and are a great opportunity for a kids’ get-together or a family holiday decorating session. The end result is a beautiful and colourful dessert spread. You can create a festive table to wow your guests by using tableware like this tartan table runner, tiered plate, red cake plate, Christmas snowflake dish, snowflake placemats, and old-fashioned milk bottle drinking glasses, all available at Kitchen Stuff Plus. I also love these ‘vintage’ Christmas napkins with the truck and tree motif. 

Christmas Desserts
Christmas Desserts

I hope these ideas inspire you to use your favorite candies and chocolates to create some fun Christmas memories with family and friends!

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A Simple, Elegant, And Affordable Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Table Centerpiece
Thanksgiving Table Centerpiece

Thanksgiving is a special time of year for celebrating family and friends, and setting the table should be something fun, easy, and seasonal. In the past I hadn’t really spent much time on the centerpiece or place settings for my Thanksgiving table, but this year, I did.

In Canada, Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday in October, making it the perfect time for college students to come back home after spending six weeks away. We love having our oldest come home to enjoy some warm weather, family time, and great food.

This year, I challenged myself to creating a simple yet elegant Thanksgiving table. We host Thanksgiving, so I had a lot of items on hand already. I added a few dollar store finds and re-purposed some tableware and I was all set.

My daughter and I also printed out some questions (that we got online) about being grateful so that each person could ask one of the group, after first providing their own answer. For example, one question is ‘If you could learn a new skill this coming year, what would it be?’  and another one is ‘What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned this year?’.  Asking these questions turned out to be my husband’s favorite part of the meal (other than the food, of course) and we all enjoyed learning more about each other. Continue reading

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Fattoush Salad – A Favorite In Our House!

Fattoush Salad
Fattoush Salad

Fattoush Salad, a popular salad in the Middle East, is one of the tastiest and most requested salads in our house! As my kids have gotten older, their tastebuds have evolved and cooking for them is a pleasure.

Fattoush is an easy salad that is forgiving in both the quantity and variety of ingredients. If you went to ten people’s homes, you’d find ten versions of this salad! There are so many ways to make fattoush. People refer to it as a peasant salad in that people used whatever leftover vegetables they had on hand to make this dish. I’ve even seen it made using only purslane, tomatoes, and cucumbers, which is very different from the recipe I’m sharing below.

With Ramadan entering its second week, this salad is a staple found at many Iftar meals. Iftar is the evening meal that breaks the fast for Muslims around the world. I thought it would be a good time to share the recipe my mom has taught me for making fattoush.

Fattoush Salad
Fattoush Salad

There are a few things that distinguish the typical fattoush salad from a green salad. The simple green salad has lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Fattoush adds onions, sumac, green peppers, mint, parsley, pita chips, and a dressing of oil and lemon with the option of adding pomegranate molasses. My mom doesn’t use pomegranate molasses, but many restaurants use it for a tangy taste. Continue reading

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‘Go Swimming’: A Mural In The Heart Of Toronto’s Forest Hill Village

'Go Swimming' Mural By James C Jennings In Toronto's Forest Hill Village
‘Go Swimming’ Mural By James C Jennings In Toronto’s Forest Hill Village

(A version of this post first appeared in the August 2017 issue of The Neighbours Of Forest Hill Magazine.)

Have you ever walked or driven by street art and wondered how it all came to be? Well, in Toronto, we’re lucky to be surrounded by lots of intentional, thoughtful street art – and each installation comes with a story.

The Forest Hill Village is the home to ‘Go Swimming’, a 6 by 40 foot black and white mural behind the building at the southwest corner of Montclair and Spadina in Toronto.

James C. Jennings Next To His 'Go Swimming' Mural In Toronto's Forest Hill Village
James C. Jennings Next To His ‘Go Swimming’ Mural In Toronto’s Forest Hill Village

The self-taught artist, James C. Jennings, and his friend were in the Village last fall, admiring the building. The owner, Lorne Rose, overheard them and the they soon began discussing how to turn the blank garage wall into a piece of art for neighbours and passersby to enjoy. The request was simple: a positive, whimsical, cartoonish piece that would make people stop, engage, and smile. And, it does just that!

Ultimately, this mural represents three things: community art, created with humour and meaning, about the world we live in today.

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The Gift Of Being Around Other Mothers

(This article was first published in Issue 04 of Flourish Motherhood, a quarterly and motherly publication sowing seeds of love and faith.)

When I was blessed to become a mother, it didn’t take long to appreciate the built-in community that comes with motherhood.

The first place I met other mothers was at my local library where our public health nurse taught us how to care for our newborns and where I heard how other mothers were coping. These mothers made me feel normal and not alone.

Then, when I took my toddlers to parent-child programs and eventually nursery school, I met more mothers and formed friendships. Grade school, high school, camp, our local playground, and athletic events – all of these places provided me with classmates in motherhood. Continue reading

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How To Assemble A Stunning Cookie Box !

New Year's Cookie Box
New Year’s Cookie Box

As much as I love to bake, I also love the creative process of packaging said baked goods — and, nothing does it better than a cookie box!

Cookie boxes have been around for a long time, including old-fashioned tin boxes, cardboard bakery boxes, holiday-themed boxes, and basically any container you can get your hands on.

But, have you ever assembled a cookie box that contains separate compartments for cookies and other treats? They’re so easy and fun to put together, and the presentation can be quite spectacular. You just have to check Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration!

New Year's Eve Cookie Box
New Year’s Eve Cookie Box

Here are my tips for assembling a stunning cookie box:

  • have a theme. It’s so much easier to know how to compartmentalize and what to include when you start with a theme
  • keep a large shoe box or other large shipping box on hand for special occasions. You can even use in-season packaging, like a wooden clementine crate, or an old cookie tin to which you add compartments or smaller boxes
  • wrap a plain box with kraft or wrapping paper. You can also paint a wooden box, or use a deep dish baking pan. If the plain box is sturdy and elegant, like the one I used here, then there’s no need to adorn it
  • collect smaller boxes and containers from around the house, such as: cardboard jewelry boxes, tins, jars, old drinking glasses, bowls, etc
  • choose boxes that are different shapes and sizes
  • use tissue paper to add color and height to the box and treats
  • wrap cookies in bakar’s string or place in clear cello bags
  • use a combination of store-bought and homemade goodies, as well as in-season fruits
  • if you’re transporting or shipping the box, make sure you have a lid or safe way to cover the cookies
  • wrap with twine for a rustic look, or use ribbons

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5 Simple Christmas Gift Wrapping Ideas

Wrapping Christmas Gifts
Wrapping Christmas Gifts

I don’t know about you, but I love wrapping gifts! I’ve loved the process of figuring out how much paper to use and in which direction to cut it since I was a kid. I love finding matching ribbons and twirling them with scissors. And, I love finding the perfect topper for each gift. When gift bags were invented, it was not a trend I liked at all!

My love for wrapping gifts started the Christmas I was in 3rd Grade, when I was asked to help wrap about 300 Snoopy stuffed animals that would be given to kids visiting Santa, in the American compound in Saudi Arabia where I grew up. I think there were about five of us and we had so much fun doing it. Every time I wrap a Christmas gift, I think of wrapping those Snoopy dolls.

I’m always impressed with how much effort goes into wrapping a gift by many people. Magazines are full of fancy and simple and creative ideas. The final pieces are works of art and so beautiful. One day, when I have a lot more time on my hands, I would like to wrap a gift like they do in magazines! In the mean time, though, I’m totally old school and use old-fashioned printed wrapping paper and ribbon.

Here are 5 super easy ways to finish wrapping a Christmas gift using different gift toppers. I went for the paper that comes on long rolls and all I did was look around the house for items to adorn the gifts. There are so many things you can add to a gift to make it special. Here are some suggestions based on what I did this year:

Use holiday candy

Wrapping Christmas Gifts
Wrapping Christmas Gifts

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3 Last Minute Chocolate Christmas Treats – No Baking Required!

Easy No-Bake Christmas Desserts
Easy No-Bake Christmas Desserts

If you’re looking for some last-minute Christmas treats, here are three colourful ideas, all no-bake, made with chocolate. These sweets are so simple…you don’t even need a recipe to make them!

Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows
You may have seen chocolate dipped marshmallows in stores – they are usually made with jumbo marshmallows. They’re dipped in chocolate and embellished with crushed candy canes, sprinkles, and any other candy you can think of. And, they come wrapped in clear cellophane and tied with a ribbon.

Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows
Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows

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3 Easy Tricks To Turn Chocolate Chip Cookies Into Christmas Cookies!

Christmas Chocolate Chip Cookies
Christmas Chocolate Chip Cookies

(This post is sponsored by Kitchen Stuff Plus. You can read the original post that first appeared on November 21, 2018, directly on their website, here; all opinions are my own.)

Every year, I get a head start on my Christmas baking by taking my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe and changing the mix-ins to create a variety of holiday cookies. It’s an easy way to make festive treats out of a basic recipe!

Before getting started, I make sure to have fresh baking soda and vanilla on hand. I also check the state of my baking pans and mixing bowls and replace any that need upgrading. I love the Wilton pans, spatulas, and glass bowls that I picked up at Kitchen Stuff Plus recently.

Visit your local bulk food store to purchase some fun mix-ins available during the holiday season. I’ve included the recipe I use for making chocolate chip cookies at the end of this post.

Christmas Candy & Mix-Ins
Christmas Candy & Mix-Ins

Trick 1: Use Red And Green Candies

Substitute some of the chocolate chips for red and green chocolate-coated candies or for red, white, and green chocolate chips. Use half of the chocolate chips that the recipe calls for and then put the colourful candies on top of the cookies to get the full effect of the green and red colours. I put the coloured candy in this red and white host tray and bowl set, just to make it easier to reach for the toppings. Continue reading

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My 8 Best Holiday Shopping Tips!

Holiday Shopping Tips
Holiday Shopping Tips

As the holidays approach, we are all looking for ways to shop smarter, and this year is no exception for me.

Although I’m quite organized about my Christmas shopping, each year I try to be even more efficient. Admittedly, I shop for the holidays all year round. It just makes sense to buy that perfect gift for someone on your list, anytime you see it. Most of us have gift closets for that very reason!

But, have you ever sat down and planned out how you’re going to shop better and differently? Well, I did that recently, and wanted to share my smart holiday shopping tips with you!

Tip #1: Make a list of people, including the gift you want to get them
I know this is the most obvious tip, but let’s be more detailed about it. Of course, you’re going to write down your family and friends as well as your doctor or kids’ teachers, and then you’re going to write the gift you want to buy for each of them.

Make sure you include a bunch of ‘extra’ gifts to have as backup. These include generic gifts like boxes of chocolate, a pretty diary, Starbucks gift cards, and bottles of wine. These are for when you’re invited last minute or when you’ve forgotten to add someone to your list.

Consult online guides for ideas and consider asking the recipient what they want. Although it’s fun to get a few surprises, I find it more practical to ask people what they would like as a gift. It makes life a lot easier and less wasteful for everyone.

Tip #2: Consult that gift closet or stash before you head out the door
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