Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 5 Posts of 2013

Another year has flown by, so it's time to look back and see what the heck we've been up to. I seriously don't know how 12 months have slipped away so quickly! It's been a good year, filled with projects and adventures. I haven't always managed to document things as well as I would like, but I'm resolving to do better in 2014. In the meantime, here are my five most popular posts from 2013.

All My Jeans Are Mom Jeans
Wherein I embrace the much-derided "mom jean."

Wherein old chairs are given new life.

Wherein I break out my artistic abilities {I painted pumpkins, y'all!}.

Wherein I share what might be my favorite mantel yet… and I do a lot of mantels!

Drumroll, please….
Wherein a simple DIY project turned out really cute. 

I hope you have enjoyed following along here at Dream and Differ. It has been so fun reading your comments and emails. I appreciate how busy life is, and truly thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking time out to stop by.
Best wishes for a blessed New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Recap

I hope you all had a warm and wonderful Christmas. I know we did: it was filled with lots of fun, good food, and much-loved traditions. And lots and lots of pictures… here are a few of my favorites.
 I've always made the kids pose for a photo in their Christmas Eve finery before we go to church, and this year was no different. Except that their finery has gotten decidedly less fancy. Gone are Hunter's once-beloved bow-ties and Caitlin's twirly dresses and patent shoes. They go for more of a casual look these days.
I'm not sure when this girl turned into such a young lady, but having grown three inches in the last six months, she is quickly approaching me in height. I am so not ready for this!
I, on the other hand, took the opportunity to dress to the nines {by my standards, anyway} and broke out my favorite red Christmas dress {from Lands End}. I did change as soon as we got home from church, but it was fun to dress up for a little while.

We have a Christmas Eve tradition of letting the kids open one present after church. It always contains a pair of matching pjs, a Christmas book {The Gift of the Magi}, and a Christmas movie {Charlie Brown's Christmas}. 

 After they change into their new jammies {love these cozy ones from Lands End}, we have a feast of appetizers and settle in to watch their new movie.

I found a ton of great holiday recipes on Pinterest this year and I'll share all the links and recipe info in another post. 

On Christmas morning, I get up extra early to set everything up. I make coffee and hot cocoa, light candles and the tree, and turn on Christmas music. We set out a breakfast of cinnamon rolls, cookies, fruit, and candy. By having everything ready, we can sit back and enjoy the magic of Christmas morning. 

And faces like these:

You might have noticed in the photo above, but I got a new rug for Christmas. I was a bit nervous about the pattern, but when I asked on Facebook and Instagram, the response was overwhelmingly in favor of this rug.  What do you think, did we make the right choice?

After all the presents were opened, my dad and stepmom joined us for dinner. Once again, the party crackers and paper crowns were a big hit. 
We're gorging on leftovers and enjoying our gifts this weekend, before getting ready for our Christmas/New Year's celebration at my mom's next week. 
Hope you're enjoying the quiet stretch between celebrations!
I'm linking up here:
Life Rearranged
The Pleated Poppy
Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Real-Deal Hot Chocolate

I originally shared this recipe last winter, over at The Domestic Fringe but thought I would repost it here just in time for the holidays. This is a great recipe at Christmas, and throughout the long cold winter.
I am no stranger to the convenience of Swiss Miss, but for a special treat nothing beats the Real-Deal Hot Chocolate. This recipe makes enough syrup for a party sized batch of of hot chocolate. It would be perfect for a sledding party- just keep it warm in a crock pot. The syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to 10 days, which I love. The kids can easily mix themselves up a mug when they come in from playing in the snow. This recipe is adapted from Jan Karon's "Mitford Cookbook."

To make the syrup, you'll need:
1 {11.5 oz.} bag of Nestle semisweet chocolate chunks
1-2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder
1 {15 oz.} can of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Combine all ingredients {chocolate chunks, cocoa, condensed milk, boiling water, and sugar} and melt in a medium saucepan over low heat. 

  Stir till well combined.

 When everything is melted, remove from the heat and let the syrup cool.
Do not, in your greed, lick the still-hot spoon. You will burn your tongue... not that I would know anything about that.

 To make the hot cocoa, pour 2-4 tablespoons of the chocolate syrup into a mug. Pour piping-hot milk over the syrup and stir to combine. You can add more syrup according to your taste. Top the cocoa with marshmallows, whip cream, chocolate shavings... whatever your {sweet}heart desires!
Store the leftover syrup in an airtight container in the fridge. Or, put it in a pretty jar and share with a friend; it makes a great gift.
Hope you enjoy this sweet recipe!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Molasses Spice Cookies

Without a doubt, these are my favorite Christmas cookies of all time. They just embody the flavors and smells of the holiday. A little bit of spice, combined with a citrusy zest puts these fragrant, chewy cookies at the top of my holiday baking list every year.
This recipe is originally from America's Test Kitchen; in my experience, that's a pretty solid guarantee of goodness in itself.
I always double the recipe and freeze a few dozen, so I can pull them out as needed throughout the holiday season. Even so, I still usually end up making a second batch.
They are that good!

*This makes about 2 dozen cookies

2/3 cup plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
 1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) softened, unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup molasses

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 375. Combine 2/3 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons orange zest in a food processor and process until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Spread in a shallow dish for coating and set aside. Whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, pepper, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside. 

2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar, and remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3-6 minutes. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds more. Beat in the molasses and remaining 1 teaspoon grated orange zest, just till incorporated. Scrape down bowl and beaters as needed.

3. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds (the dough should be soft). Give the dough a final stir with a rubber spatula for good measure, just to make sure everything is thoroughly combined.

4. Roll dough into balls (about 2 tablespoons each), then roll in the orange-sugar to coat. Arrange them on parchment-lined baking sheets, about 2" apart. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until the edges are set and the tops cracked but the centers are till soft and underdone. You can peek throughout the cracks to check the centers. It should take about 10-12 minutes.

5. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

It's important to take the cookies out of the oven when they are still underdone in the middle. Don't worry, they will continue to bake and harden as they cool, and that way the insides stay soft and moist, while the outside is all lovely and chewy.
Your house will smell like a Christmas dream while these are baking, so be prepared for carolers to flock to your door and declare "They won't go until they get some!"
Happy baking!
I'm linking up here:
Life in Grace
My Romantic Home
French Country Cottage
Savvy Southern Style
DIY by Design
Between Naps on the Porch
DIY Showoff
Jennifer Rizzo

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Baking: So Easy a Tween Can Do It

Our weeknight schedule is always jam-packed, so a last minute realization that we needed to make seven dozen cookies for a Girl Scout event tomorrow nearly inspired a panic attack. I have lots of cookies in the freezer this time of year, but Caitlin was supposed to actually be involved in making them since it was for her event after all. And heaven forbid we fudge the requirements and use cookies I made without her. That's not the Girl Scout way.

So with only a three-hour window between school and a choir concert, I turned to my oracle of holiday inspiration: Pinterest. We found two likely candidates, made a quick trip to the store, and got to work. 
I've seen these melting snowman cookies all over Pinterest recently and they looked cute, but seemed pretty elaborate. Not so! This recipe was so easy, Caitlin made them all by herself no problem. 

{image and recipe from Tablespoon}

I did jump in and help with the decorating, but for the most part she had it under control.

 You know it's easy when we are crunched for time, in the middle of a messy project, and we're actually smiling!
 And they turned out pretty darn cute. {Remember, they are melting so they're supposed to be imperfect…}

Last year we also discovered this awesome and super easy recipe for Andes Mint Cookies.
{Recipe and image via Six Sisters Stuff}

With only four ingredients, they are a snap to make and are so yummy!
Caitlin kept double checking the recipe, because she couldn't believe they were so simple.

Thanks to my holiday idea board and some easy cookie recipes, a potential crisis was averted. Caitlin made the cookies herself, thereby maintaining her honor as a Girl Scout. We did have to fill in the gaps from my freezer cookie stash, but she produced the majority of the cookies. And we had fun, to boot.

Do you have any favorite "so easy a tween can do it" recipes? 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Tour

Welcome to our Christmas home! 
Come on in and take a peek around. 
I think I'll keep the words to a minimum and let the pictures do most of the talking.
 If you have any questions let me know and I'll be sure to answer them!

Right inside our front door you'll find our nativity. It's the first thing we put out every year, and the last thing we put away. 

The mantel in the living room is simple and natural, but the lions add a touch of whimsy.

I brought a few touches of red back to our cottage living room for the holiday season. 

The tree is decked out in red, white, and burlap. I was going for a Nordic cottage look, and I like the freshness of a simple color scheme.

A few details from around the main floor. I haven't gotten around to photographing the family room and  kids' tree yet, but hope to soon.

I revamped my burlap wreath for Christmas. 

I shared this vignette on Instagram already. The darling {and FREE} chalkboard printable is from Hoosier Homemade.

I took down the window treatment over the sink and hung up a burlap banner and little wreath. I'm so enjoying the extra light, I may leave it this way. The banner says "Noel, Noel" but it's hard to see in the picture.
Here's a better view from the evening.
Speaking of evening, that's when you can really enjoy the tree in all her glowing beauty.

Thanks so much for stopping by!
Merry Christmas!
I'm linking up here:
My Romantic Home
French Country Cottage
Savvy Southern Style
DIY by Design
Between Naps on the Porch
DIY Showoff
Jennifer Rizzo
The Nester