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Achieving Christmas Baking Success

Friends, if you don’t own any Post-Its, you better run out and get some if you plan on doing some Christmas baking. I don’t know about you, but I like having all the cookies and breads and fudge and whatnot when it’s Christmas season. I spread them to my neighbors and friends, so whether I actually host anyone or not it feels worth it. But, I have learned an important lesson since I had a kid – it has to be planned out. I can’t take fifty trips to the grocery store. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to get to the oven when the timer goes off if my husband isn’t home. The mess is going to be, in a word, ginormous. So, if you are as obviously insane as I am, here’s my tips to getting your baking done:

Be organized.

Wondering what Post-Its have to do with baking? Well, after I pick what I want to make, I put a Post-It with a recipe name on a Tupperware container. When I get a chance, I start taking out my dry ingredients and measuring them for the appropriate Tupperware. If I’m lucky, I can get the amount of flour I need for each recipe in just one sitting, but if not, it doesn’t matter because I’m not cooking yet. Last year I did my ingredient sorting three days before I started baking, but you could take longer. The best part is you’ll know if you’re short on anything ahead of time and only need one trip to the store for forgotten items. It doesn’t work quite as well for wet ingredients, but it’s easier to eyeball vanilla and eggs than a bag of flour.

Don’t be difficult.

I mean, don’t pick things above your cooking ability! If you’re still at “easy,” then please, do not pick this particular extravaganza to up your game. It will only stress you out more.  Baking 5,000 cookies is stressful enough, isn’t it? Actually, even if you are a professional baker, would you really want to make a whole bunch of “difficult” recipes? I doubt it. Maybe one or two, but who has time for more? I like making multiple recipes because I’m insane (2 cookies, 2 fudge or brownie, and 1 bread), but there’s also the possibility of simply making a ton of one or two specific recipes. That’s actually my plan this year – I’m in a tiny kitchen at the moment, and I don’t know a lot of people here anyway, so I think it’s a good choice.

I also don’t recommend anything with frosting, unless you’re a pro. It’s just too time-consuming, so I definitely won’t add that to my list. I know there are so many options for frosting; here’s alternatives, here’s tips, here’s blah blah blah. There are so many recipes for cookies and sweets without frosting out in the world, I don’t know why a time-crunched person like myself would bother. If you’re looking for a new cookie, you can try my Lazy Cookies ‘N Cream Cookies. Yeah, the name is about as long as the recipe.

Don’t worry!

Christmas baking

So what if it takes you more than a day to get through your baking if you big? It might even take you another day or two to distribute the goods. Some of you perfectionists will worry about staleness, but how many recipients will eat everything at once? They will probably blame any staleness on themselves. How great is that? They’ll also be grateful that you thought of them, unless they know you are a terrible baker, in which case you obviously hate them. Kidding! I know it seems odd to let your recipients take the blame, but once you’ve finished, you have enough to deal with other than worrying. Look at your kitchen. It’s a disaster. You can clean that instead of thinking about the perfection -or lack thereof- of your baking. Of course, this is one caveat to this. Don’t serve stale baking at a party.

Don’t eat all your Christmas Baking!

Seriously, isn’t this the hardest one to follow? Now get out there and start baking!

Ugly Sweaters V. Tacky Sweaters

To Make a Tacky Sweater or buy an Ugly Sweater?

I can hear you already. No Beth! Not another tacky sweater party! I can’t handle it! Can’t we just wear something cute and be done with it? Well, sure. I’m not going to your party. I don’t care what your dress code is. I’m not even having an ugly sweater party myself, at least not this year. But there’s been a shift in recent years that’s driving me crazy, so I wanted to chat about it. Ugly sweaters have become tacky sweaters, and friends, I don’t have time for tacky. Literally, I don’t have time to make these crazy contraptions parading themselves as sweaters. So, humor me while I explain this evolution and which is easier for a time-crunched hostess.

The Ugly Sweater

When I first heard about an ugly sweater party, circa 2007ish, I was all in. The fad was a few years in, but it became trendy in Canada first, so cut me some slack. My friends and I had to throw an ugly sweater holiday party immediately.  We went on a sweater hunt to our favorite thrift store and in about thirty minutes we all came out with hideous, but amazing holiday sweaters. Now, thirty minutes may seem like a lot of time for a sweater hunt, but let’s be honest, there were five of us and we were in our twenties. We were easily distracted by other things the thrift store had to offer. I’d say thirty minutes is really a success. This is why I advocate for the ugly sweater over the tacky sweater, if you’re going to buy into this nonsense trend. It’s so much faster!

That’s the sweater I bought back in 2007. I still have it. Ugly right? Your great aunt Mildred probably turned it in to the thrift shop, but who can say for sure? Anyway, that’s another bonus to the ugly sweater. If you’re a costume hoarder like myself, you probably already have one. Do you think I’m ever going to find an uglier sweater than that? No! It’s an awful fabric with an awful color combination. It’s like the designer knew what it’s eventual purpose was going to be.  But, if I did want to go look for a new one, I’m pretty sure I could go down to Goodwill and find one in a matter of minutes, as could you. You might even need to head there anyway. It is Christmas after all. Donations run high this time of year. Now you’re done with your party prep. Easy, right?

The Tacky Sweater

Oh, the tacky sweater. How did it come to this? I admit, there has always been a crossover between ugly and tacky, but in recent years the tacky has soared to new heights. I don’t have one. I’m not going to make one. But I did borrow this image from my friend Allie, who was happy to share how ridiculous they’ve become:

tacky sweater

Do you see this? How do you even wear it? The worst part is this one isn’t even that crazy – and it still probably took awhile. And then if you’re hosting the party you still have to cook and clean and decorate? No thanks. Also, they seem a little wasteful, don’t they? I saw one a couple years ago on Live with Kelly and whoever else was hosting with a stuffed reindeer cut in half and glued on the front and back of the sweater. This is crazy to me. This could be a lot of fun if you aren’t time-crunched. I suppose you could even buy a whole bunch of supplies and decorate as a group, at the party. That might be an interesting take. But if you’re hosting it, just remember you get the cleanup.

The In-Between

There are, of course, ugly sweaters for sale just about everywhere. Here’s one on Amazon that crosses over between tacky and ugly. Tugly? I’ll work on it. The problem with buying ones like this instead of thrift store shopping is, obviously, the price tag. If your income is mostly disposable, this might be the way to go. It would be, in all honesty, the most time-saving. Ten minutes on your phone and bam! Your sweater is on the way, and you can get the fun of tacky with the real sweater feel.

To sum it all up, you have  few options in the ugly sweater department. The quickest way to go is to order it online. You don’t have to leave your house or get out the arts and crafts bucket for that. But, if you don’t want to spend the money on a sweater you can only guarantee you’ll wear once, the thrift store is going to be a lot less work than taking the time to DIY something so horrifying. Plus, what if all those lights and candy canes fall off your sweater and you have to do it all again next year? The horror! No matter what you choose, if you choose to celebrate the strange centennial creation that is the ugly sweater party, have fun, and look awful.

 

MORGANS

Interchangeable Holiday Charger Plates

I’ve been working on an idea for interchangeable holiday charger plates. Charger plates in general are kind of weird, aren’t they? They’re plates, but you don’t use them for food. Sometimes they just sit underneath other plates, being mostly useless. Yet, for some reason, my eye is still drawn to them. I will admit I like a nicely set table. It brings out the food. I was thinking about buying some for Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t really find any I liked. I did love some of the Christmas plates on Etsy, but I didn’t feel like spending the money. Then I really thought about it, and I didn’t want to store a whole bunch of holiday plates anyway. This is where the interchangeable part came in.

My mom used to do a lot of tole painting when I was younger. That’s basically painting on wood, if you aren’t familiar. She doesn’t anymore, but a good portion of her holiday decorations are homemade. She has one that stays out all year. It’s a bear that hangs on the wall, and he changes his clothes for the holidays and different seasons. That’s my inspiration. A plate that changes clothes. This is not necessarily related, but my neighbor does this with pallets. Where does she put them?! Anyway, these plates are still a prototype, because I don’t have time to make them perfect, but so far I’m liking the idea.

How to Make Interchangeable Holiday Charger Plates

What You Need

Gathering supplies for interchangeable holiday charger plates

Charger Plates (As many as you want for your table, or just one for decor)
Fabric Quarters for Whatever Holidays you choose
Scissors
A marker (try to keep it lighter than the fabric so it doesn’t bleed)
Magnet Tape or Velcro
Super Glue and/or Fabric glue

For the charger plates, I went gold, but obviously you can pick whatever you want. I got a set of 4 from Amazon around $16. I know you can get them at Target or The Dollar store cheaper. But readers, I’m not worried about $10. I’m worried about 10 minutes, which is what it will take me to drive to one of those places, plus shopping, plus driving back. So choose your battles I guess.  As for the fabric, I again went with a time saving option. I’d originally planned on picking holiday-themed fabric, but when I got to JoAnn’s (yes, I actually went there) there was a huge line to get things cut. So I just picked up the right colors and went home.

What to Do

This project takes about the same amount of time as watching a quarter of football. That is give or take another quarter, because my son and dogs kept stealing my materials so I couldn’t properly time myself. Do you see why I’m always in a frenzy? Anyway, it could take longer if you are going for perfection. I was not. If I wanted perfection, I’d have to move out.

Step 1

Choose some shapes for each holiday. I did three: a leaf for Thanksgiving, a tree for Christmas, and a heart for Valentine’s Day. You can find some images on your computer or pick up die-cuts or something. I free-handed them though, because, you know, time.

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All you have to do is fold up your fabric quarter into quarters and draw the shape on. What was really cool about the plates I got is they had a little square outlined in the middle, so I had a pretty good idea of what size to make them so each holiday was similar. Staple your folded quarters together around the drawing if you want more control. Then cut all of them at once.

Step 2

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Now you have a whole bunch of little shapes, right? From here it’s time to figure out what size magnet or Velcro you need. I went with magnets because I thought they’d be thinner, but after putting a plate on top of the finished charger, I think Velcro would be fine too. Or, you know, whatever you have around the house.  You’re going to want to have two strips of magnet, one for the top and one for the bottom of each cutout. Now, your cutouts aren’t going to be the same size, so you can’t just measure one and call it good. I wound up having a little tiny piece and one longer piece, but that longer piece is the bottom for the tree and the top for the other two. Luckily plates are round so it really doesn’t matter.

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Step 3

Magnet tape is sticky on one side (as is Velcro), but the sticky part isn’t really meant for fabric, so I’d consider some fabric or super glue to keep the plates and fabric in place. It’s just easier than having to be careful every single time you switch out one of your cutouts. It should go without saying, but don’t glue the magnet side. Just slap those nicely glued magnets on there and you’re good to go! Interchangeable holiday charger plates in no time at all! Of course, if you’re less frenzied than I am, you can take your time and make them much nicer. But, I showed mine to a few people and they all agreed they were cute.  That’s really all we need, right?

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