1. Early morning time in front of the Christmas tree(s)
I have been waking at 5 (earlier if it is a bread baking day) since we put up the Christmas trees for the express purpose of sitting on the couch with only the trees/wreaths in the windows for light and reading/relaxing/drinking coffee/texting/whatever I want to do! These have been some of my most relaxing, peaceful, silent hours of the Christmas season. I am in love with these hours. I am typing this post in one of these hours. The house is silent, the light is low, the world is still dark as night, it feels like found time and it feels delightful.
2. Cookie Exchange + New Recipe
My "back up Mom" or BUM for short, Lynn, hosts a ridiculously sumptuous brunch party each December where each guest is invited to bring 2 dozen cookies to share.
Everyone then goes home with a variety pack of 2 dozen delicious treats!! I love the concept of a cookie exchange - what fun to share the fruits of our baked goods with a group of lovely women. Lynn is kind enough to include the Bug in the invite - but the party falls smack in the middle of nap time - so I got a babysitter this year.
See #3 for my first effort at a cookie to bring. It didn't make the cut! So I decided to make Homemade "Oreos"! Full recipe is at the end of the post! I adapted it from a blog called Sally's Baking Addiction.
3. Reverse Advent Calendar
I don't know if that is the right thing to call it - but I decided this year for Advent Lulu & I would aim to do something kind each day. A random act of kindness, a gift, a card, whatever it may be. So far its been a complete success I'd say! I've been enjoying thinking of small ways to make December more joyful for others & though the Bug is small, I'm loving trying to involve her in the process. The most fun so far has been dropping off some homemade cookies to our local fire station. We were invited in to see the truck, engine & ambulance up close which was a huge thrill for my truck loving little one. I am trying to shift the focus of the season from getting to giving in my own mind to hopefully raise Lulu to love to give. Not that I expect her to eschew gift getting! Not by a long shot! I hope she receives gifts with great enthusiasm & excitement & appreciation. I just also hope she learns to give with the same level of excitement.
I tested a recipe for Lynn's cookie exchange & didn't love it at all. It was labor intensive & ended up being cloyingly sweet. Too sweet for my tastes. Turns out Chris loved them, so I didn't feel bad about what Lulu & I did with most of them! We brought them to our local fire station as a Happy Holiday/Merry Christmas/Happy New Years treat for the women & men who would come a running if our house ever caught on fire. They deserve some treats & recognition for the hard work they do in our community. Extra bonus? The firefighter who answered the door let Lulu into the garage to see the fire engine, fire truck & ambulance up close! Also didn't bat an eye about letting Owenn come in :)
4. Snowless Sledding
Turns out this is a thing if you are a parent of a toddler who really enjoyed sledding during the week we had snow...........and you didn't put the sled somewhere out of sight! Each time we come into the backyard, the Bug hops onto her sled and is ready to go. We go around and around and around our postage stamp sized backyard (not complaining - perfect size for us- not too hard to kept the grass mowed, still hard to keep plants alive in the garden beds.......maybe that has more to do with my brown thumb than with the size of our yard? I digress). So this is a bit of a warning to parents out there: if you are in a snowless period, put away the sled. If you don't - you risk working really hard to pull your child on the grass :)
Homemade Peppermint "Oreos"
Yields approximately 36 sandwich cookies
2 ½ cup all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted if lumpy)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons espresso powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup coconut oil, melted to liquid state but cooled to room temperature
5 ¼ cup powdered sugar (sifted if lumpy)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 cup crushed candy canes
1. Make the cookies. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder, and salt. Set aside.
2. Using a handheld or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape the sides & bottom of the bowl.
3. Add both sugars and beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides & the bottom of the bowl.
4. Beat in both eggs and the vanilla on high speed. Scrape the bottom & sides of the bowl.
5. Using a scoop or measuring cup, slowly add the dry ingredient mixture to the bowl. Best to add with the mixer off so you don’t send a dry ingredient cloud all over yourself and your kitchen. You’ll need to stop & scrape the bowl a couple of times while you’re incorporating the dry ingredients- it is a very sticky dough!
6. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Don’t skip this step! Your cookies will spread and be sad if you skip this step!!
7. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees while the dough is chilling.
8. Line 4 cookie sheets (not airbake – just plain old cookie sheets) with parchment paper or silpats. You will only bake 2 sheets at a time – but you can be forming the next 2 sheets while the 1st 2 are in the oven. Time management brought to you by me ;)
9. Roll the dough into balls, using about 1 teaspoon of your chilled dough per ball. Bake 12 per sheet. Using the heel of your hand, press down on each ball to flatten it slightly.
10. Bake for 6-8 minutes (my oven needed 7 minutes) rotating the sheets halfway through. The cookies will still look soft when done – they will have cracked slightly on the top.
11. Place the cookie sheet on a cooling rack & cool for a few minutes. At that point the cookies will have firmed up enough to slide onto the rack itself to finish cooling.
12. Make the cream filling. Using a handheld or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and coconut oil together on high speed until creamy & fully combined – about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl at least once as the coconut oil will firm up against the cool bowl & try to stick.
13. Add the vanilla & peppermint extracts and beat on high speed another minute or so until they are fully incorporated.
14. Add the powdered sugar (about a cup at time) to the bowl with the mixer turned off. Beat on low after each addition until it is fully incorporated. Once all sugar has been added, beat the filling on high for a minute or 2 until creamy & thick.
15. Assemble the cookies. Pair up cookies based on size, the better the size match, the cuter the cookie! Turn the cookies upside down in their pairs (flat size up).
16. Roll approximately 1.5-2 teaspoons of filling into a ball and flatten slightly using your fingers. Place on 1 cookie. Repeat until half of the cookies have filling on them. Now wash your hands :)You don’t want filling on the outside of the cookies, do you??
17. Close the cookie pairs to make the sandwiches, pressing down firmly to ensure they adhere & a bit of the filling squishes out to the edges.
18. Roll the edges in the crushed peppermint/candy cane, pressing firmly to make sure the candy sticks in the filling.
19. Enjoy the cute cookies your made!