Monday, September 30, 2013

The Easiest, Softest Chocolate Chip Cookies You'll Ever Have!

Today I'm going to give you something for which you'll thank me forever; I'm going to give you the easiest, best chocolate chip cookie recipe you'll ever have.  Now, I do ask that you refrain from giving this recipe to anyone else because it's a treasured family recipe - passed down through generations, from my great great grandmother (or my Mom found it in a magazine when I was a teen....either way, you'll thank me).  If you don't like soft, gooey chocolate chip cookies, then this recipe is not for you.  If you want your cookies with a crisp bottom, then this recipe is not for you.  With that said, here's the recipe!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3.4 oz. package vanilla instant pudding mix
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I only use one cup)
nuts (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and set aside.

2. Using a mixer, beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Add in pudding mix, eggs, and vanilla extract. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Drop cookie dough by rounded teaspoons onto prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 8 - 10 minutes, or until slight golden and set. Remove cookies from oven and let cool on baking sheet for two minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely. (hahaha yeah right!  Let's be honest here, they'll be half gone before you can get them to the rack)

 The beauty of these cookies lies in the addition of the instant pudding; this keeps the cookies soft and moist as long as you can keep them in your cookie jar (which admittedly, is probably not very long, but if, by some miracle, they lasted a week, they'd still be soft and yummy).  The second amazing benefit from using instant pudding?  You can substitute any darned flavor of pudding you want for the vanilla and substitute any kind of chips or fruit for the chocolate chips!!  Just think of the possibilities!  Chocolate cookies with butterscotch chips, coconut cream with vanilla chips, pumpkin spice with chocolate chips!  The combinations boggle the mind!  Let me know what combinations you've come up with!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fall Decorating! How to Put Together a Beautiful, Simple and Cheap (but not cheap looking) Fall Mantel

Fall has arrived! (at least in our neck of the woods)  Fall is very possibly my favorite time of year (or summer) (maybe Christmas) (ergh, idk...don't make me choose!) because I love the beautiful explosion of colors.  And of course, being a ginger, this is my color palette! All of the greens trying to hold on as long as they can, the oranges, rusts, yellows....yeah, fall is a beautiful time of year up here in the Adirondacks.  I really enjoy bringing the beauty of the outside into my home so almost all of my fall decorating is nothing more than natural (although not always real) items.  Below is a picture of the fall mantle that I put together last year and I'll go over some items and why I did what I did.

The first thing to do is set out all of the decorations you have; this will help you start thinking about what you need and where you can place them.  The two framed pictures were the first things I placed; the one on the left I put flat on the mantle, while the one on the right is raised up a little bit.  These pictures are ones that I painted but there is no end to the things you could use here - how about a cheap piece of scrapbook paper (less than $1) with beautiful fall colors in a dollar store frame? why not google fall pictures which can be printed and framed? a simple scrapbook sheet with a fall poem or saying printed on it? (one of my very favorites is "October's Party" by George Cooper ~ if you haven't ever heard of it, you should read it)  After the pictures, I gathered up some of my fake pumpkins (all from the Dollar Tree) and put three of them at different levels - this gives them a little personality and helps to hide the fact that they're all identical (this year, I'm going to try a little paint on the pumpkins to make them look a little more realistic).  In front of the other picture, I placed a bouquet of gorgeous (fake) fall flowers and some cattails all in a mayonnaise jar wrapped in burlap (how's that for cheap?).  I went through my house and picked out some candles that had nice fall colors, a jug of maple syrup and a rustic candle holder that is now holding a large pinecone (far right, but you can see it better in the close up below).  On the right side, I took a simple orange vase (99 cents at Sally Ann's) and filled it with pinecones (from my yard).   I then took several more of the flowers (as used in the vase), leaves and pinecones and scattered them randomly across the mantle, changing and rearranging until I had it how I liked it.  Of course my dancing couple, my plaque and the bears had to stay.  Some people like to decorate so that everything is uniform - each side of the mantle mirroring the other.  Personally, I like to make it asymmetrical and put things at varying heights (as with the pictures and pumpkins) - I just think it has more personality.

Close up of the left side  (the glass pumpkin is one that I made at a glass-blowing course at Hands-On Glass in Corning, NY so much fun and reasonably priced so check it out if you're ever in the area!)

Close-up view of the right side (please, if you decide to use cattails as I have, use artificial me, I learned this the hard way: the real ones eventually puff up and explode all over lol)

This is the perfect time of year to access your local thrift store! (who am I kidding? thrift shopping is a year-round treat for me!) Sally Ann's puts all of their glass/plastic decorative items together by color; this makes it easy for you to scoot right over to the fall colors and pick up some cheap accessories!  Look for colors and shapes that you like - they don't have to be specifically fall decorations just grab things that would work well in your home.  Don't limit yourself!!  Be creative and try looking at things in a different way. In fact, part of the fun of thrift stores is finding the hidden treasures ~ that neat wicker basket, the beautiful orange vase, anything that makes you think of a beautiful fall day - think warm and cozy and nature.

This is how I decorate our home at the beginning of September; as it gets closer to Halloween, it's easy to edit your mantle and other decorations to reflect a spookier look, and after that, you can take out the ghosts and ghouls and transition it into Thanksgiving with just a couple easy changes. The key is to have fun with it and make it something that you and your family will enjoy!

Several years ago, I went grape picking with some friends along the Finger Lakes Wine Trail.  As they picked grapes, I decided to pick up the grape vines that were no longer attached to the plants and weave them together into grape vine wreathes.  I made several simple wreathes during that visit that I used for years.  I like to take the wreathe and change it's decorations depending on the season; for fall, I would add leaves, small pumpkins orange tulle, a small scarecrow, maybe a crow for irony - most of which can all be found at your local dollar store.  If you don't happen to have access to a vineyard, a thrift store is a great place to find a cheap one - even if you have to remove the decorations that are currently on it (just make sure the wreath itself is in good shape).

** Important tip:  When you think you have everything where you want it, take a quick picture of it and then look the picture over closely; for some reason, this makes everything much more clear and I'm able to change things around to get a look that I like better!  This is also what I do with my paintings.

Blowing glass at Hands On Glass

                                                                    Final touches on my punkin

My wreath in it's Valentine's Day garb (I can't believe I couldn't find a picture of it dressed up for fall!)

My first mantle display
(I like the other one better but I was
 sad that my green glass vase broke)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Quickie Craft ~ DIY Boot Cuffs just in time for fall!

Have you seen these yet? 

They're boot cuffs and they're EVERYWHERE this fall (especially on Pinterest, where I spend waaayyy too much time) But, unfortunately, for such a small chunk of material, they carry a bigger pricetag than I'm willing to pay - I've seen them for $18 and up.  So, what would you say if I told you that you can have a customized pair for about $5 with very little effort?  Yeah, that's what I thought!  Here's the scoop:

1)  Go through your closet, looking for old sweaters that you still like the look of but maybe you're tired of wearing (I don't happen to have any of these because I recently gave away all of my cast-offs - in which case, skip to step 1b ;c)

1b) Go to your local Thrift Store/yard sale and scour the racks for an appropriate sweater.  I chose two sweaters - one super soft and snuggly sweater in gorgeous fall shades and one in white cable knit (straight to me from 1993, shoulder pads included)

** if you're shopping at Sally Ann's, make sure you check what color tag is half price; yellow
was the tag color of the day so the brown sweater was $3 and the white one was $2.50

2)  Cut off the sleeves anywhere from 3-8 inches depending on how much you want to show, how high you want them to go and how much you want to scrunch them:

3) Adorn the cuffs with buttons, lace, etc. or leave them as is if you want it simple and stylish

4) Pull the cuffs onto your legs with the finished edge facing up

5) Zip up your boots

6) Look adorable having spent very little money:

Yeah - you're welcome ;c)