Sunday, September 29, 2013

Give a little heart and soul

I have a "Gifts from the Heart" tradition at Christmas time. Every year I put together baskets, make gifts, or put together experiences as a gifts for aunts, uncles, and grandparents, as well as few other people. Previous years' gifts have included:
  • Date Night baskets 
    • Bertoli frozen meal
    • sparkling juice
    • Andes mints
    • cute paper products for easy clean up
  • Movie Night basket 
    • pop-in-bucket popcorn 
    • movie box candies (Reece's pieces, twizzlers, snocaps)
    • bottles of pop 
    • Blockbuster gift card (yeah this one was a while back) or one for their sat/cable company so they could order PPV
  • Beat the Chill Jar Gifts 
    • Vegetable noodle soup with the noodles and spices in the jar, plus a can of diced tomatoes, all you need is water and a pot
    • Homemade hot cocoa mix
  • Sundae Treat baskets
    • homemade caramel and hot fudge sauces
    • sprinkles
    • waffle bowls
    • $5 gift card to their local grocer for the ice cream flavor of their choice
  • Hand care kits
    • homemade beeswax lotion bars
    • homemade silky smooth sugar scrub
While on the way to the store this morning I decided on what I will be making this year. The plan started to come together when I passed a farmstand on the way home from church. They were advertising bushels of apples, which got me musing on what I could make with a bushel of apples. While I do not plan on starting from whole apples, this lead me to my first idea: apple butter.

 I found a recipe which calls for unsweetened applesauce in order to speed up the process. From there, I figured they would need something on which to spread the apple butter, so why not cinnamon bread? The page with the cinnamon bread recipe suggests baking it in a real loaf pan (as opposed to my original plan of disposable paper bakeware) and including that as part of the gift. I'll be checking my local dollar stores for possibilities.

The best part about this plan is that since I've already decided, I can start stocking up on the things I'll need. Buying one extra jar of applesauce or a few baking ingredients each pay period doesn't seem like much of an expense at all, but if I wait until late November and have to buy it all at once, it will all add up. Since I'm making these things mostly from scratch, everything I need (with the exception of butter and eggs) is shelf stable and I can stock pile it now. Actually, the butter and eggs can be frozen, so I start watching for those to be on sale as well.

I figure in a few weeks canning supplies will be marked down as the canning season winds down, and that will be the perfect time to pick up some jars. I prefer to use Kerr jars over Ball jars, since they have a short, wide mouth 8 oz. jar that is just perfect for all sorts of things. I'm thinking each basket will get two of those jars, which will be sealed, so their apple butter will stay fresh longer, since it won't all be open at once.
Another nice thing about using these is that the shape makes it easy to get everything out of these jars, so you don't waste any that might get stuck around the rim of a narrower mouth jar.

Now that the weather is cooling down, I can't wait to start all sorts of baking and cooking projects, and when the time comes for this one, I have a feeling I'll be making a few extra jars for me my house as besides the ones for gifts. Now I just need to decide on a GF Cinnamon bread recipe... (I think it's going to be this one)

Salty or sweet?

Why choose? Yes, I'm going to talk about dessert. Again.What is it this time? Salted Caramel Gelato. This stuff is hard to describe, especially since once you start eating it the only sounds you make will be little moans of food bliss, so I guess you just have to try it for yourself. 
Sorry folks, that's the best picture you're going to get, there is just never enough left for a fancy picture by the time I get home.  I think I need to limit myself to just the junior size of this stuff, it's just so dangerously delicious. 

I've had a heck of a week. Tuesday was the official close of my third course in my accelerated teacher education program, but due to an extensive project, we had a bit of an extension into the weekend. We were working on creating, administering, and assessing a test on one chapter of our text. That doesn't sound too bad, right? The difficult part came in due to the fact that this was an online course and we were required to do all our collaborating via an online discussion board, which meant that we had to wait for responses and then wait again for our groupmates to see our subsequent posts. 

Once we got to the analysis stage, we could interact in person if we wanted or needed to, since the "group" portion of the project was over and any discussions at that point would solely be one classmate helping another classmate understand an assignment. Since I'm good at math I've been fielding texts and iMessages all week about how to compute parts of the data we had to include in our analysis. With that in mind, when one of my groupmates contacted me today, I suggested a meeting at Panera, where they have WiFi and caffeine, and we got together to get stuff done. 

By the time we got out of there, I had only a little bit left to write (hmmm, unintentional homophone pun), and got back in the car for the trek back home. As I drove off toward home I had thought that it would be nice to treat myself to something tasty as a reward for working hard and taking time to help a classmate. That's where the gelato comes in.

If you know me, or have been reading past posts, you already know where to find it, but just in case I'm going to tell you anyway. Zarlengo's Italian Ice and Gelato, of course! 

Besides great desserts, you'll always get great service, often straight from a Zarlengo. My gelato came out to me by way of my friend Todd, son of the owner, but you don't have to know somebody to get a free smile with your order. 

In case you're wondering, I don't get paid to carry on like this, I'm just a loyal Zarlengo's addict customer and I figure sending more customers their way helps a great business grow, which means they stick around so I can feed my addiction face.