Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's Cookie Swap Time!

This is one of my favorite Christmas decorations!  I found it several years ago and it's usually the first thing I put out in my kitchen!  It's just the welcome I like for anyone visiting my home during the holidays.  Speaking of holidays, I haven't had a chance to post anything since before Thanksgiving.  I was a little under the weather the week before and then I started my baking and then all my company started arriving and that brings me to today!  Tomorrow is December 1st and the countdown will begin to the big day!  But first, there is so much to do. 

One of my favorite events every Christmas is hosting a Cookie Swap!  I started having cookie swaps about 4 or 5 years ago and everyone starts asking around the first of November if I'm still planning on having it this year.  Of course!  It wouldn't be Christmas without lots of cookies and I love having a sample from everyone's kitchen!  I thought I would tell you how I go about planning my cookie swap and how it works...so, let's start with the invitation.
Here are a few invitations I've created over the years.  I love to create invitations and it's always so much fun coming up with Christmas ideas!

This is the invitation I created for this year.  I got my graphics from a great website called pccrafter.com

  Of course there has to be rules!  We can't make it easy so I usually enclose a list of rules that need to be followed!  Here they are . . .

I started out inviting about 6 girls to my first cookie swap.  That way it wouldn't be too overwhelming for anyone to have to bake tons of cookies.  Each participant bakes a dozen cookies for each person in attendance plus keep a dozen for yourself.  I have been to cookie swaps before where we would only get like 2 or 3 cookies of each kind but it's so much better when you get a dozen of each!!  When you invite about 6 or 7 ladies you only have to bake that many dozen cookies...the more you invite, the more you have to bake.  It's also a good tip when looking for that perfect recipe to try to find one that makes a lot.  I have had to make 3 recipes just to get enough cookies for the swap.  Over the years the number I invite has increased and this year 11 in all were invited but only 10 will be able to attend...so I will need to bake 10 dozen cookies!

An important rule is that all cookies have to be homemade.  Anyone can go by a bag of cookies...that's the point in the cookie swap...to get lots of different cookies while only having to bake 1 kind yourself.  Can you believe one year I went to a cookie swap and 2 people brought store bought cookies...the nerve!!  On rare occasions we will allow slice and bake...only if they are doctored up!

The packaging of your cookies is so much fun!  I think that's more fun than the baking!  You know I've said before I don't care what's in the package as long as it's in a cute package!  I have packaged mine in little gift bags with ornaments and ribbons...last year I made a monogram cookie and hung in on the front of each bag.  I've received cookies in decorated chinese take-out containers, boxes made specifically for packaging cookies and ceramic bowls filled with cookies and wrapped in cellophane and ribbons.  Just get creative!

Next, make sure you make a copy of your recipe for each person.  The creativity doesn't stop there either.  I love looking through my cookbook and remembering all the cookie swaps and good times when I see those recipes.

Now, that's about all I need to tell you right now about how the cookie swap works.  Part II will be all about what we do, what we eat and what we drink at the swap once everyone arrives.  Look for that in the next day or two.  Until then, start planning your cookie swap right now, it's not too late!     ~Becky

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What's in your lunchbox?

It's terrible to say but, sometimes lunchtime is the highlight of my day!  After having approximately 80 students come through my computer lab in the morning I'm more than ready for a break.  It really helps to have something yummy waiting on me in my lunchbox.  Today is one of those days that I can't wait for lunch!  Not only will I get to visit with The Lunch Bunch Girls but I have a delicious chicken salad croissant ready to sink my teeth into and fresh pineapple chunks that I got on sale at Publix for $1.99!  I love chicken salad and have tried many variations, experimented with ingredients, and used my family members in the test kitchen.  This one is our all time favorite.  It's sweet, savory, and crunchy!!  If I'm making this recipe for a function such as a luncheon or shower I will make a lot more, but when I'm mixing it up for my lunch I don't need more than enough for a couple days so I decrease the ingredients.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do...now I can't wait for 12:15!

Becky's Chicken Salad

2 chicken breasts (bone in, skin on)
1 stalk celery, small chop
2/3 cup Duke's mayonnaise
20-25 seedless red grapes (cut in half)
chopped pecans to your liking
salt/pepper to taste...a little heavy on the pepper

Start by placing chicken breast on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pop into a 375 degree oven and bake for about 35-40 minutes. 

While the chicken is cooling prepare your celery, grapes and pecans.  Once the chicken has cooled, remove skin and debone, chop.  Sometimes I like to shred my chicken and then do a little chopping.  It all depends on what consistency you like it.  Place the chicken in a bowl and pour the drippings from the roasting pan on top of the chicken.  I know this sounds strange but it gives the chicken salad the most wonderful flavor!!!  Add, mayonnaise, celery, grapes and nuts and gently toss until all the meat is coated.  Add salt and pepper to taste, but I think chicken salad is best when it has lots of freshly ground pepper.  Now a word on the mayonnaise.  In the south, Duke's mayonnaise is the all time best.  The taste is perfect and I would never substitute for anything else, except Hellmann's.  For those of you who live up north you won't be able to find Duke's so Hellmann's will do just fine.   Now scoop it on a buttery croissant or pile it on a bed of lettuce...yum!   ~Bon Apetite

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meet The Lunch Bunch Girls

Three years ago a group of teachers ended up in the break room at 12:15 only to find out that we all had the same lunch together.  Some of us planned to have lunch together, others joined later.  We started out as individuals, but have ended up bonding and becoming what we call The Lunch Bunch Girls.  Never in our wildest dreams did we ever think sharing lunch would bring us so close together, but it did!  We quickly discovered we all had a lot in common.  Our lives all center around faith, family, and food!  We all love to cook so naturally we talked a lot about food.  It didn't take long before  we began sharing recipes and occasionally someone would bring one of their delicious dishes for the group to try.  After realizing how much fun that was, we then began planning menus that would require us each to bring a favorite recipe from home and we would put them all together for our famous potluck lunches.  Our potluck lunches have turned into birthday celebrations at each home during the year.  Much has been discussed around our table.  We have solved the problems in education, figured out how gas prices can be lowered, and solved world hunger. Sometimes an "outsider" will enter the breakroom with a heavy heart and our quick response is, "Sit right down here and put it on the table, we'll help you solve whatever problem is bearing on your heart!"  Our friendships have grown strong over these few short years.  Probably because we all share a love of God, family and the south.  We laugh as we share our family traditions, how we were raised, and how we would nevah wear white before Easter or afteh Labor Day.  We love a road trip!  Just mention a place and we're ready to plan a trip.  We have a kindred spirit.  I know God has placed us together for a reason.  I dare say if I needed any one of these wonderful women any time during the day or night she would be right there for me. These ladies are my saving graces.  We have shared many things together which is probably what has bound our hearts.  We laugh together, we cry together and we pray together.  Sometimes we feel weak, sometimes we feel invincible.  We gain strength from one another.  We are steel magnolias, we are ladies of the south. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All Wrapped Up & Ready To Go!

I love giving presents but I really love wrapping them!  I have always wanted my own gift wrapping business because it's so much fun making the outside look as good as what's inside the box!  I've always said, I don't care what's in the package, the wrapping is what's so much fun.  Here is a simple gift wrapping idea that I think will be great for the holidays even though the gifts pictured are wrapped in all occasion wrapping paper.  For those of you who have to mail packages and want them to arrive festive, this is the way to go!  No bows to worry about smashing and if you have to travel to your Christmas destination these packages stack wonderfully in your car.  I love monograms!  Everyone loves a personalized gift so why not package it personalized as well.  You begin by wrapping the package as you normally would but instead of sticking one of those pre-made bows on the box that will fall off a hundred times before you give the gift, print the recipient's monogram on a nice cardstock and cut it to the desired size.  Cut another piece of contrasting cardstock for your backing or "mat".  I used a corner punch on the first package to give it a feminine touch.  If you don't have a corner punch that's okay, cut the mat 1/2 inch larger than the monogram sheet.  That will give you a 1/4 inch border and using double sided tape mount the monogram onto the mat.  Wrap your ribbon around the package and then using the same double-sided tape, stick the monogram over the ribbon...and there you have it!  A simple, elegantly wrapped gift.  This is a great idea for wrapping gifts for men...they don't like bows anyway!  The one I have pictured here I didn't even put a mat on the back of the monogram.  I have used this idea to wrap wedding gifts and I use the last initial of the groom in the middle, the left the first initial of the bride and on the right the first initial of the groom.  You can use any font on your computer. These are "monogram fonts" that I purchased at http://www.fontbros.com/ and they are very reasonably priced! They are in the "Harold's Fonts" collection.  Another great thing about this is you don't have to use gift cards.  I usually enclose a card stating who the gift is from but you can also tape a calling card to the back.  Now have fun wrapping those Christmas gifts early and just stack them in your closet until the tree goes up!  If you have any questions, just email me at sweetteaandpearlsblog@gmail.com.  More gift wrapping ideas to come!!  ~Becky


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's Fall Ya'll!

Fall has finally arrived in South Carolina and I am excited! I do love summer, but after months of humid 90-100 degree temperatures the chilly winds of fall are a welcomed relief. I love living in the south because we get to experience all the seasons! Spring and fall are two of my favorite times of year because there is a distinct change in temperature. This past weekend was wonderful. Temperatures were very cold at night and pretty chilly during the day which gets my mind in gear for winter foods! My husband made a huge pot of his famous chili that we enjoyed while watching football and my kitchen was filled with the smell of cinnamon candles as I put out my Thanksgiving decorations and started thinking of our next holiday. Thanksgiving is such a special time of year and although I count my blessings everyday, the season just helps me get everything into perspective and I think of all that God has blessed me with all through the year. I went to Walmart on Saturday and was shocked to see Christmas trees already up before the Halloween decorations were put away...it makes me sad because sometimes I think Thanksgiving is the forgotten holiday. We go from Halloween straight to Christmas. We have many fun Thanksgiving traditions in our family but this year things will be a little different. My aunt, uncle and cousin from Atlanta have spent Thanksgiving with us for as long as I can remember. My parents live in my neighborhood but Thanksgiving is always held at my house. We girls (my mother, daughter, aunt, cousin and myself) have special traditions that we have practiced for a long time. We always meet at my mother's house for Chuck's (my husband) chili on Wednesday night. Then, Thursday everyone comes to my house for the big dinner. We usually have about 15 people total but for me, the more the merrier! We start off with apps and hot spiced cider and then dive into the traditional Thanksgiving foods of turkey, dressing, giblet gravey, veggies and of course dessert! Later in the evening while all the men are sacked out watching football the ladies gather around the dining room table and sip Amaretto while clipping coupons and mapping out our plan for the day after Thanksgiving sales! This is probably one of the best of our traditions. We all get up early, put on our Christmas sweaters and hit the mall!! This really gets me in the Christmas spirit! We have done this for many years but this year it will be different and I feel a little sad inside since it won't be the same. My daughter will be in Atlanta with her boyfriend and his family and my cousin won't be able to make the trip this year. I know sometimes traditions have to take a detour and I'm okay with that...I will just miss our "girltime"!
I have already started thinking of the appetizers I will be serving and the desserts I will prepare. One dessert that is sure to be a hit is my carrot cake. I made this one a few weeks ago for a dear friend's birthday and have decided it will definitely be on the list for Thanksgiving! I'm still looking for some good appetizer recipes so if anyone has one to share I would appreciate it! For now I have plenty to keep me busy the rest of the week...finishing a dress for my daughter, making monogrammed cookies...yes, even a cookie needs a monogram, and baking a red velvet cake for my daughter's 27th birthday! Happy Birthday Brooke! That's about all for now...I need to get busy...I have lots to do! ~Becky

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I've Jumped On The Band Wagon!

I have finally decided it's time to start a blog! Not that what I have to say is all that important but, I love to share. I love to share decorating ideas, craft ideas, foods I love to cook and special memories that I hope others will enjoy reading. I'm not really sure what all I will include on this blog so it will be a surprise from day to day to see what will pop up. I love the south and all that it holds, therefore a lot of what I will share will have a southern twist. For a long time I have memories from my childhood that keep popping up in my mind. Obviously these memories must have a special meaning or I wouldn't keep thinking about them, so from time to time I will share them with you and maybe you have some of the same memories and just need someone to stir the cobwebs in your brain.
First I would like to share a little about myself. I am a Christian and I give God credit for everything. Yes, the good and the bad. I don't believe God causes bad things to happen, but I do believe He allows it to help me be a better person. I truly believe there is good in everything. More on that later. I love to be creative! I sew, cook, craft, garden, decorate, monogram and entertain and I go on very little sleep. Every once in a while it does catch up with me and I crash! All of these things are fun and wonderful but there is one pitfall . . . I have a hard time just buying something already made! I will see it in the store, turn it over in my hand, turn it over in my brain and then say, "I think I can make this!" Another late night figuring out how it's made and then trying it out! A few months ago I gave a bridal shower to a friend of my daughter and I had made several of the items I gave as a gift. The bride to be was very grateful for her gifts and commented on how pretty the wrapping paper was and asked where I got it. Another young lady piped up and said, "She probably made it!" That's how bad I am. I am addicted to fabric stores, obsess over ribbon and can never have enough cook books! But that's just me! I do, however, enjoy just sitting down with a good book on my screened porch.
I hope you enjoy this blog, I have lots to share with you! So pull up a chair and sit a spell, there's no telling what I will come up with to talk about! I thought this graphic would best describe me and the things that make me happy! If you would like to create one you can go to http://www.wordle.net/. Until later . . . ~Becky

A special thank you to my sweet daughter Brooke over at Shrimp and Glitz for creating my beautiful header!