Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas - Teacher Appreciation Gifts

I've deliberating all week what to buy/make the teachers of Tilly's Pre-school, on Tuesday I thought I had finally thought of the perfect gift, homemade aprons made out of my stash of lovely Cath Kidston fabric. I was very excited.

Come Wednesday, Tilly is at Pre-School and I have 3 hours to whip up these babies, only to find my stash of Cath Kidston fabric, although gorgeous it is, there just wasn't enough, I had the length not the width, I was so disappointed and it sure set me back as now, I was back to square one and Wednesday really was my only day to make something, but too no avail, my crafting time ended very disappointingly with nothing made and no idea what to make.

Later on I came across a blog post about Rocky Road from Retromummy and thought yes this will do, but today when I was making my list to buy the ingredients, I had second thoughts, so I went with a fudge recipe I had pinned on Pinterest - Baileys and White Chocolate Fudge - sounds yummy.

I even bought myself a sugar thermometer too, to take out the guesswork and get it right first time, as I only had the morning to execute this task - why I didn't just go and a buy a gift card for them I'll never know but here is the delicious recipe - and I know it is delicious as I had to sample one or two to make sure of course......

Baileys & White Chocolate Fudge

500g golden granulated sugar - I used normal white fine granulated sugar
500ml whipped cream/heavy cream
50ml Baileys - I used 100mls
150g White Chocolate

1. Butter and line a 22cm x 22cm tin, leaving a small overhang.
2. Put sugar, cream and Baileys in a large pan and, stirring slowly, bring it to a simmer. Make sure the sugar is dissolved (it will stop feeling grainy on the base of the pan), then turn the heat up to a rolling boil.
3. Adjust the heat until the mixture bubbles without getting too near the top of the pan. Keep bubbling, stirring occasionally, until a small amount of mixture dropped into cold water will form a soft ball that you can pick up on the end of a teaspoon ( or until the mixtures reaches 116c on a sugar thermometer)
4. At this stage, the bubbles will have gone from being large and unruly to smaller and more even.
5. Stir in the chocolate and pour mixture into the tim.
6. Cool & cut.

Ingredients ready to go
Adding the Baileys

Even though the recipes calls for golden granulated sugar - I used fine white granulated sugar and I did add more Baileys to the recipe too,  I doubled the quantity as reading through the comments, people mentioned the Baileys was hard to taste.

Dissolving the sugar in the cream and Baileys
Sugar Thermometer in to get to the crucial temp.

My first batch came out lovely, it was perfect, everything came together so easily, but my 2nd batch, I made the mistake of taking my eye off the thermometer when it was close to the 116c (soft ball mark) to quickly break up the white chocolate - big mistake, literally a few seconds later I turned back and I had gone passed the 116c and my fudge was now turning into caramel - ooppsss

Lesson - keep an eye on that thermometer and I would highly recommend the purchase of one, they are cheap around $5 and they take all the guesswork out too.

And here they are
Ready for giving

Once the fudge was ready to be poured into the pan, I let it cool down a bit, then before it set properly, I used a sharp knife to cut it into bite sized pieces.

My first batch turned out great and tasted delicious too, my second batch, well less said about that the better, but the third batch came out perfect too.

So with Tilly at pre-school, I finished off the making the fudge and wrapping it up for her to give to her teachers later that day at the party.

Ready to go into the Christmas Tins
All tagged up and ready to go

Tilly made the cute Christmas Tree labels, whilst I made the fudge, a box of foam trees, with decorations and letters - $5 from Target a bargain and a great idea for personalized tags.

Once these where finished it was time to go to Tilly's Christmas Party and have a little Holiday Fun.
Tilly was very excited to give out her gifts.

On Friday we had Ruby's Concert at her school, it was so sweet seeing her up on the stage, the 3 Kindergarten classes sang Frosty the Snowman and were very good.

Ruby 2nd girl in on the bottom row

Later in the afternoon, Ruby's Kindy class had their class holiday party, which involved decorating Christmas cookies, making Christmas fruit kebabs, Christmas Freeze Dancing and a Christmas Craft - making snow globes. It was so much fun.

And for a present for Ruby's Kindergarten Teacher, I made her this fantastic Gap-Tastic cowl - a very popluar pattern on Ravelry  - unfortunately as I was in such a rush to finish it on Friday I forgot to take any photos. I also gave her a bag of the homemade Fudge and a $10 Starbucks card.

Now both girls are on Winter Break, Mr C has finished for Christmas too and we are eagerly waiting Christmas now - although I've a few sewing jobs that do need finishing this weekend - yikes.

Recipe from olive magazine, December 2009.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Winter Wonderland

There is so much going on here in Chicago for the holidays, lots of Christmas inspired activities for the kids and adults too.

Our first real activity we saw was the Magnificent Mile Parade - celebrating turning on the lights and that was back in Nov how early they start.

Our latest Christmas expeditions out have been a visit to Macy's on State St to visit Santa, we went early afternoon last Saturday, and had a look at their Christmas window displays, very similar to the Sydney David Jones Christmas Windows, a quick stop for peppermint hot chocolates and peppermint brownie cake pops,  then we queued for about an hour to visit Santa, including a little walk around SantaLand, a sweet little place before seeing Santa.

Excuse the photo's we forgot our camera that day, but luckily the iPhone photos aren't too bad.


And we visited Macy's Grand Christmas Tree too up in the Walnut Room - where there is a restaurant so you can dine at the foot of the Christmas tree too - great idea we were very tempted but the queue to eat there was far too long.

This weekend we had even more Christmas fun, we went down to Navy Pier in the city to visit Winter Wonderfest 2012  and it was lots of fun, a very large exhibition hall converted into a Winter Wonderland for all ages.

Full of Christmas Cheer

Of course the first ride the girls saw was a carousel and they wanted to go on it, luckily the queue wasn't too bad and we didn't have to wait too long before it was our turn.

I went for a ride too

Next up was some giant bouncy slides to go down, but we did hit a little snag, a lot of the rides required the girls to be 42 inches or taller to go on alone, (and my girls are small) things such as the bouncy slides we'd have no problem letting the girls on without us, but not there, they were so strict with it, so Mr C had to accompany them on the slides.

There were a few things the girls could go on unattended, a bouncy castle and there was an under 46 inches area too.

Can't resist the Snowman Photo opportunity
Snowman Fun

The strict 42 inches or taller requirement did put a damper on things,  the girls however were allowed to go on this ride, by themselves, which they loved.

I think this was the favorite ride of the day. As our entry included ice-stating, we headed for for some fun on the ice, and on our way down we passed more lovely Christmas displays

The main tree in pride of place
So kiddy Christmassy

After a short line up for the skate hire, we hit the ice and fun it was. Ruby loved it.

Woo hoo we are skating
Pretty Ice Rink

It was great fun on the ice, both girls had a go round, Tilly only went around once as she really couldn't keep her balance, but Ruby did well, even managing a skate without holding onto me or the side. I have promised her I will take her more often.

My ankles did hurt after our skating, so we carried on having a look around and had a look through Winter Wondertown.

And of course we couldn't pass the cookie decorating station without having a go

And then we were winding down to finish our day there, when we saw the train and had to have a go on it.

All aboard

The train ride took us around the big huge Christmas Tree and some Christmas displays, it was very sweet and the girls loved it.

Last but not least they had one last slide down a bouncy slide and then it was time to head home - 5 hours later.

We were all shattered so for an easy dinner we ordered in Pizza and finished our evening watching a Christmas movie - The Polar Express.

It was a fantastic day out, the girls had some much fun, we could have gone round the place again, and maybe I will take them back over the holidays. The only downside was they were a little too small for a lot of the fun rides, oh well there is always next year.

In the meantime time we've got the CTA Holiday Train to look forward to this week, it's coming to our area so we'll be up for a ride on it.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Getting My Christmas Craft On

Phew.... I have been busy this last week and month even, busy sewing and knitting some Christmas gifts. As I really enjoy knitting and sewing I thought I'd make a few homemade gifts this year as well as making decorations for our home.

Here's what I have made so far and I am rather pleased with myself.

I started off thinking I would like to knit my Nephew something and I found this great vest on Ravelry and bought it straightaway, I knew he'd look great in this, it only took me about 5 days to knit and I used just over a skein of wool, so I started another one with the reminder in a smaller size for another little boy dear to my heart, however, what I had left, wasn't quite enough to finish the smaller vest, so I purchased another skein, finished off the vest and made two matching hats to go with the vests - perfect.

Vests just need blocking and they are done
Matching Hats

Then last weekend as we had bought our tree, I thought it would be a good idea to make a tree skirt for it, and I'd make some bunting too, all the lovely Michael Miller Christmas Fabric was sold out from my favourite online fabric shop so I made a trip out to Jo-Ann's and picked up some Christmas fabric from there and at a bargain price too 50% off, the fabric wasn't quite what I was after but hey it is Christmas.

The tree skirt panels are all cut out and ready to sew, and one lot of bunting is made - we're getting there.

Tree Skirt Panels ready to sew
Bunting made for Mr C

The first bunting I made was for Mr C to put up at his work, I still have to finish off ours, all the flags are made and sewn, I just need to attach them to the bias binding.

Then on talking to my lovely Mum who was in Lanzarote celebrating her 60th Birthday last week, Happy 60th Birthday Mum, and wondering what to get my Nanna for Christmas, she mentioned an apron and why don't I make her one, great idea I thought and I had the perfect fabric for it - some Cath Kidston fabric stashed away for just a project, lovely.

One Apron for Nanna

This was so easy to make,  my friend Briony had bought me a Union Jack apron one Christmas and it was the perfect size and length for me being a shorty, so I traced around it and added the seam allowance and used twill tape for the tie backs and neck. It was a quick easy project and the perfect present for my Nanna, she is 92 after all.

Little Pink Elephant Crayon Roll

I've also made this little crayon roll too, and I have nearly finished another one for markers or pencils, these I will keep stashed for those just in case presents.

And it isn't just me getting into the Christmas craft - Ruby & Tilly have been busy making Perler/Hama Christmas Decorations for the Christmas Tree. These were a great find $1.99 per kit, includes all the beads and the template - bargain. I put these in their Advent calenders for their weekend activity.

Perler/Hama Bead Tree decorations

Christmas Tree Hama Beads

Aren't they great little kits to do? they have a Reindeer one coming up this weekend to do.

And it doesn't end there, I still want to make some pyjama bottons for the girls and maybe an apron each too as they are so easy. And I'm just in the process of embroidering some Christmas decorations to hang on the tree. I hope I manage to get it all done.

Monday, 3 December 2012

O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree

Our Christmas Tree

The holiday season has well and truly begun, I can't tell you how many cars I saw out at the weekend with Christmas Trees fastened to their roof, on their way home to be lovingly decorated.

So in true Christmas style we too went Christmas Tree shopping this weekend and came home with a giant 8ft tree, all bare and ready to be decorated in true Chaplin style.

Mr C & Ruby made a quick trip to Target for lights and ornaments, as it was clear the ornaments we brought with us weren't going to fill this giant tree and it was the first time we'd had a real tree, it smells lovely and as it is a real tree with lots of pine needles,  I'm thinking my first job will be to make a tree skirt.

The girls were super excited to be decorating the tree, it is their favourite thing to do at Christmas, when we lived in Australia, Mr C and the girls would put our tree up and decorate it whilst I was a work. It was lovely coming home and seeing the Christmas Tree all done. This year we all got to do it together.

The girls absolutely love decorating the tree
Tilly doing her bit by putting on a bauble
Ruby putting her Candy Cane decoration on

We had lots of baubles to put on the tree, along with a few of our own special decorations, such as homemade ones by the girls, and ones we've been sent from Lesley & Grannie & Grandad - it's lovely to put these back on the tree year after year

It was great watching the girls choose where to put the decorations, and with a little from us we managed to get the decorations well placed we think and have a good looking Christmas Tree.

We also got the girls Advent Calenders up and filled, Grannie made these for the girls a few Christmases ago, she posted them over to Australia already full of little goodies, and each year they come out, I refill the pockets and the girls get to enjoy them again. We've put them on the stairs so the girls can reach them easily (although I'm not sure that is a good idea)

And we decorated the hall stairs - I'm thinking we just need some red bows on that lovely pine garland.

More lovely decorations and the Advent Calenders

This year I've done a combination of small chocolates and gifts, except the gifts are too big to put in the pockets, so I made a little letter telling the girls to come and find me for their surprise. Day 1 they got a little Santa chocolate and day 2 was a biggie, it was a Hama/Perler Bead Christmas Set to make and then hang on the tree.

Busy with the Santa Hama Bead set
Tilly busy doing her kit and yes she choose to dress like this

And now with Christmas around the corner, I've got plenty of Christmas sewing and Christmas Craft I'd like to do with the girls - I have a few ideas and hopefully I'll be sharing those soon too but first to order my Christmas fabric I like this job.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Christmas Baking - Traditional Christmas Cake

Traditional Christmas Cake

I've started my Christmas baking, and I love baking for Christmas, the smell of all the spices is divine and always feels so Christmassy.  Alas I was a little late doing the Christmas Cake, but it is made along with the Christmas Pudding and Gingerbread (as in cake not biscuits/cookies) - although I'm not sure how long the Gingerbread will last -this gingerbread is as good as the Jamaica Ginger Cake and we all remember how nice that was with custard. This one is truly delicious too, I think I'll be making a few more batches of it before Christmas.

The first Christmas baking recipe I want to share is my Christmas Cake - well it's not actually my recipe, but it is my cake. Viv (also known as Grannie) my lovely Mother-In-Law had kindly sent through her recipes (via Grandad of course) for her Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding, rather than going with something new, I thought tried and tested recipes were the way to go.

I was going to make the cake before they arrived but I didn't manage to get to it plus I couldn't find a 9" square cake tin anywhere - there were plenty of 9" square brownie pans but these weren't deep enough for a traditional Christmas cake

So after much deliberating, should I buy a cake tin online etc, I decided to go ahead and use a 9" round deep cake tin, one I already in my kitchen so with a little adjustment of the recipe (as a 9" round needs less cake mixture than a 9" square) Grandad advised we needed to reduce the ingredients by a third and here is the recipe already reduced by a third for you.

Christmas Cake - 9"Round Tin

8oz Butter - softened
8oz Soft Brown or Demerara Sugar
4 eggs - beaten
8oz Plain Flour (all-purpose flour)
1/4 tsp Salt
1&1/4 tsp Mixed Spice
8oz Currants
8oz Raisins
4oz Mixed Peel*
4oz Glace Cherries*
2/3 cup Brandy/Whisky/Rum or Sherry - whatever is redundant in the drinks cupboard

*I used dried cherries and extra sultanas/raisins in place of the mixed peel and glace cherries.

I did had a problem finding mixed peel (known as candied peel here) and glace cherries here, that didn't look so artificial and full of unnatural colours, also the mixed peel was a combination of other fruits that included papaya and pineapple and wasn't what I was looking for my fruit cake.

Viv though advised me that I didn't need to use the mixed peel or glace cherries if I didn't want too, I just had to ensure that the total weight of the dried fruit was the same.

1. Place all the dried fruit into a bowl, stir in the booze and leave overnight to absorb.
2. Line a 9' Round cake pan with a double layer of greaseproof/parchment paper, then tie double brown paper under and around the outside of the tin and tie under the tip lip. This helps prevent browning too rapidly.
3. Cream butter and sugar together, then add beaten egg gradually with a little flour to avoid curdling. Sift the flour, salt and spices together and gently fold into the mixture.
4. Add the soaked fruit and mix thoroughly
5. Put the mixture into the cake tin, making sure it is levelled off
6. Bake at 150c/300F/Gas Mark 1 to 2 for 2 hours. Then cover for 1&1/2 hours with brown paper. Keep checking from 3 hours for the cake getting too brown. If necessary reduce the temperature or turn off if near time.
7. Leave in tin to cool completely (overnight if possible). leave greaseproof paper on and wrap in aluminium foil.

Christmas cakes are traditionally made 2 to 3 months before Christmas.

Dried Fruit left overnight to soak in booze
Butter and sugar creamed together with eggs, flour and spices added

I used my Kitchenaid to cream the butter and sugar together and used it to gently mix in the eggs, flour, salt and spices

Soaked fruit gently folded into the cake mixture

I gently folded the soaked dried fruit into the cake mixture by hand this way the fruit remains intact, plus it's nice to get in there and do it yourself.

Christmas Cake mixture all ready to bake

Viv got the tin ready for me, lining it with greaseproof paper and the outside with brown paper so it was all ready for me to spoon the mixture into the tin and level off ready to bake in the oven.

If only you could smell this photo - I just want to eat her now

And here she is after leaving overnight to cool completely and before wrapping in foil to preserve and let those flavours develop further.

Nearer Christmas we will probably finish her off with a layer of marzipan and icing - like a true traditional English Christmas Cake. Although the cake will be good enough to eat without this extra addition.

My serving suggestion is - make a cup of tea and cut a nice wedge of cake and top with a good vintage cheddar utterly delicious and a very Yorkshire thing to do.

If the cheese and cake doesn't appeal (but I dare you to try it) just enjoy by itself.

The Christmas Pudding & Gingerbread recipes will follow shortly too - have you started your Christmas baking/preparations yet?

Recipe Source - Grannie & Grandad (Vivienne & Paul Chaplin)