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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: July 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CHOCOLATE AND MARASHINO CHERRY SHORTBREAD COOKIES!

Chocolate Cherry Shortbread Cookies





Shortbread has to be one of my favourite holiday cookies, I mean it is so easy to make and that melt in your mouth buttery goodness is almost impossible to resist! Although plain shortbread is amazing you can fill it with pretty much anything from simple to gourmet and from sweet to savoury even. Taking a queue from my candied orange peel shortbread I had been wanting to try a festive version with bright red maraschino cherries, though instead of coating them with chocolate this time I was going to add the chocolate to the cookies along with the cherries. I was however a little torn between whether to use white or dark chocolate as white chocolate seemed more festive but dark chocolate goes so well with cherries. In the end the easiest solution was to make a batch of both and besides you can't have too much shortbread.

The chocolate and maraschino cherry shortbread cookies did not disappoint! I was quite pleased at how the red from the cherries swirled into the cookie dough and both the white and dark chocolate versions turned out amazingly well!






Chocolate Cherry Shortbread Cookies







Feel free to drizzle them with or dip them in even more chocolate! 






Chocolate Cherry Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate and Maraschino Cherry Shortbread Cookies
Shortbread filled with maraschino cherries and chocolate and optionally drizzled with or dipped in more chocolate.

Servings: makes 24+ cookies

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Chill Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Printable Recipe
Ingredients



  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup maraschino cherries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup white and/or dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces white and/or dark chocolate, chopped (optional)
Directions



  1. Cream the butter and the sugar.
  2. Mix the flour and the salt.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until it starts forming larger clumps.
  4. Mix in the maraschino cherries, white chocolate and vanilla extract.
  5. Form the dough into the shape that you want, wrap it in plastic and let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour. (I did a rectangular log but you could also do a circular log.)
  6. Cut the log into 1/4 inch thick slices and place them on a parchment lined baking pan with one inch of space between them.
  7. Bake in a preheated 325F oven until they just start to turn lightly golden brown on top, about 10-15 minutes.
  8. Let cool completely.
  9. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. (optional)
  10. Dip the cookies into the chocolate and place on a sheet of parchment paper and let cool until the chocolate sets. (optional)

13 FACTS ABOUT VAMPIRES!





    Almost every culture in the world has its own vampire legend, and some date back thousands of years. Today, we are most familiar with Count Dracula and other folklore from Eastern Europe. Do you want to learn more? Here is a wealth of juicy trivia to sink your fangs into sink your fangs into this Halloween season.

1. Was the first vampire a woman? The oldest known vampire legends come from Babylonian and Sumerian mythology. Female demons called the Lilu were said to hunt women and children at night, and drink their blood.

2. Vlad III Tepes, also known as Vlad Dracul, was known for his incredible cruelty; he was alleged to have killed up to 30,000 people at one time! His bloodthirsty reputation inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula.

3. The National Retail Federation listed "Vampire" as the second most popular adult Halloween costume in 2005. Vampires were the sixteenth most popular children's costume for the same year.








4. While modern pop culture usually portrays vampires as sensual and romantic, other countries don't see them that way: the Ghanan Asasabonsam vampire has iron teeth and hooks for feet - which they drop from treetops onto unsuspecting victims.

5. Some believe that Cain was the first vampire, cursed by God for slaying his brother, Abel. This theory is frequently found in popular films and games.

6. In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula" movie won seven awards, including three Oscars.






7. Stakes, fire and sunlight aren't the only ways to kill a vampire. Other cultures recommend beheading a vampire, boiling it in vinegar, pounding a nail through its navel, or scattering birdseed on its tomb.

8. In Latin American folklore, El Chupacabras is a supernatural creature that drinks the blood of animals - usually chickens and goats.

9. According to popular tradition, vampires can shape-shift into wolves, bats, or clouds of mist.

10. In March 2007, self-proclaimed vampire hunters entered the tomb of Slobodan Milosevic and staked his body through the heart.








11. The medical condition porphyria has been blamed for many reports of vampirism. Its victims develop pale skin, sensitivity to sunlight, receding gums which make their teeth appear larger, and severe anemia- the cure for which, in ages past, might have included drinking animals' blood.

12. In the 17th Century, Countess Bathory of Hungary was said to bathe in human blood in order to preserve her beauty. Some even accused her of vampirism.





13. Vampire bats were named after vampires, not vice-versa.

THE FOURTH OF JULY AND THE SIGNING OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE!!





    A little known fact is that fifty-four of the fifty-six signatories of the Declaration of Independence were believers. These men understood the powerful influence that the Savior God had on each and every individual who had signed this and pledged allegiance to it. Their signatures could have possibly sealed their deaths and they were all fully aware of it.
    In their framework of the Declaration, they sought God's wisdom in creating a document that would become this great nation's most important testament. Little did the signers of the Declaration of Independence know that with the signing of this Declaration, the birth of a new nation had begun, and "the shot that was heard around the world", the first shot fired against a British soldier, would be the beginning of the end for Great Britain's rule over the American colonies.






The Declaration of Independence
   With the signing of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4th, 1776, the United States of America declared to England, its demand for independence from England. The Declaration contained two parts. One was the preamble, which stated that man was due his god-given rights to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". The second part of the Declaration was a list of grievances against England and a declaration that the American colonies should be separate from Great Britain.







    The Declaration of Independence was actually first debated on June 7th, 1776, in the 
Continental Congress. On June 11th of this same year, the Congress chose a committee to write a formal document to prepare as a formal declaration of separation from England. The original committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, John Adams and Robert Livingston. The Committee selected Thomas Jefferson to write the first draft which was to be presented to the Continental Congress.
think rather than calling it the "4th of July", it is actually Independence Day. We don't call Christmas the "25th of December". I believe it is more honorable to call it what it is: Independence Day. It rightfully ought to follow as Independence Day and dependence upon god.








The First Draft of the Declaration of Independence

   The original author of the Declaration of Independence, 
Thomas Jefferson, used much of the language of the English philosopher, John Locke (1632-1704). Locke's philosophy was sweeping through the American colonies at the time. Locke's assertion was that man's natural rights were a right to have a free life, liberty to live that life, and happiness, which Locke felt was even more important than a guarantee of being able to own personal property.







    John Adams and Benjamin Franklin made some minor changes in the language of the Declaration before it was submitted to the Congress on July 2nd, 1776. Congress adopted Richard Henry Lee's resolution, which officially called for the separation from England. Part of what was taken out of the Declaration was a strong statement condemning slave trade, since Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner. The Declaration may have never passed the Continental Congress if this prohibition of slavery was left in; because many Southern colonists already owned slaves and a majority of Northern merchants had ships that were operated by slaves. After this revision, the Declaration was approved by Congress on July 4th, 1776. It wasn't until July 8th that the Declaration was made public by reading it aloud from the balcony of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.






Hidden Identities


    The Continental Congress worried about the safety of those who had signed the Declaration, so the names of the men who signed it were not made public until January 18th, 1777. The original Declaration of Independence today is displayed at the Library of Congress. The real author of the Declaration of Independence may have actually been Benjamin Franklin, who in 1775, spoke about the need for a "United Colonies of North America", which was to be an alignment for common defense, where each of the 13 colonies would have its own territories and be independent of the other colonies. Congress would only have authority of affairs outside of each colony. The colonists were still concerned about a central government having too much power of the colonies, since that is the reason many of the colonists came to the New World in the first place, to escape a strong ruling government over all the people.






    A national revival is not scheduled for a certain date like a church posts a sign that a revival is coming up on such and such a date. No, revival begins with prayer and supplication to God. Revival starts with me and with you, in the heart and with prayer. This nation needs a national revival like the Great Revivals in the 18th and 19th Century.
A pastor in the 1700's preached expositional preaching out of the Bible. In time, pastors began to start questioning the deity of Jesus and the veracity or truthfulness of the Bible. At the same time, the culture, not ironically, started to deteriorate morally. One way to turn this nation back into a prosperous one is found in the Old Testament and the movement towards prosperity starts on our knees. God changes not and will answer a national repentance today as He did thousands of years ago. If we, as a nation, and if all individual Christians would return to the Lord our God in prayer, these words can ring true again. They are still as relevant today for America as they were then for ancient Israel: "I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). So pray for God once again to bless America.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

GAWAI DAYAK FESTIVAL FROM MALAYSIA!



    Gawai Day or Gawai Dayak is a festival celebrated in Sarawak on June 1st every year. It is both a religious and social occasion. The word Gawai means a ritual or festival whereas Dayak is a collective name for the native ethnic groups of Sarawak (and neighboring Indonesian Kalimantan): the Iban, also known as Sea Dayak and the Bidayuh people, also known as Land Dayak. Thus, Gawai Dayak literally means "Dayak Festival". Dayak would visit their friends and relatives on this day. Such visit is more commonly known as "ngabang" in the Iban language. Those too far away to visit would receive greeting cards.
    It started back in 1957 in a radio forum held by Mr Ian Kingsley, a radio programme organiser. This generated a lot of interest among the Dayak community.






    The mode of celebration varies from place to place. Preparation starts early. Tuak (rice wine) is brewed (at least one month before the celebration) and traditional delicacies like penganan (cakes from rice flour, sugar and coconut milk) are prepared. As the big day approaches, everyone will be busy with general cleaning and preparing food and cakes. On Gawai Eve, glutinous rice is steamed in bamboo (ngelulun pulut). In the longhouse, new mats will be laid out on the ruai (an open gallery which runs through the entire length of the longhouse). The walls of most bilik (rooms) and the ruai are decorated with Pua Kumbu (traditional blankets). A visit to clean the graveyard is also conducted and offerings offered to the dead. After the visit it is important to bathe before entering the longhouse to ward off bad luck.







    The celebration starts on the evening of 31 May. In most Iban longhouses, it starts with a ceremony called Muai Antu Rua (to cast away the spirit of greed), signifying the non-interference of the spirit of bad luck in the celebration. Two children or men each dragging a chapan (winnowing basket) will pass each family's room. Every family will throw some unwanted article into the basket. The unwanted articles will be tossed to the ground from the end of the longhouse for the spirit of bad luck.








    Around 6 pm or as the sun sets, miring (offering ceremony) will take place. Before the ceremony, gendang rayah (ritual music) is performed. The Feast Chief thanks the gods for the good harvest, and asks for guidance, blessings and long life as he waves a cockerel over the offerings. He then sacrifices the cockerel and a little blood is used together with the offerings.
    Once the offering ceremony is done, dinner is then served at the ruai. Just before midnight, a procession up and down the ruai seven times called Ngalu Petara (welcoming the spirit gods) is performed. During this procession, a beauty pageant to choose the festival's queen and king (Kumang & Keling Gawai) is sometimes conducted. Meanwhile, drinks, traditional cakes and delicacies are served.







    At midnight, the gong is beaten to call the celebrants to attention. The longhouse Chief (tuai rumah) or Festival Chief will lead everyone to drink the Ai Pengayu (normally tuak for long life) and at the same time wish each other "gayu-guru, gerai-nyamai" (long life, health and prosperity). The celebration now turns merrier and less formal. Some will dance to the traditional music played, others will sing the pantun (poems). In urban areas, Dayaks will organise gatherings at community centres or restaurants to celebrate the evening.
    Other activities that may follow the next few days include: cock-fighting matches, and blowpipe and ngajat competitions. On this day, 1 June, homes of the Dayaks are opened to visitors and guests.





    Traditionally, when guests arrive at a longhouse, they are given the ai tiki as a welcome. From time to time, guests are served tuak. This would be called nyibur temuai which literally means "watering of guests".
    Christian Dayaks normally attend a church mass service to thank God for the good harvest.
    Gawai Dayak celebrations may last for several days. It is also during this time of year that many Dayak weddings take place, as it is one of the rare occasions when all the members of the community return home to their ancestral longhouse.






    Up till 1962, the British colonial government refused to recognise Dayak Day. Gawai Dayak was formally gazetted on 25 September 1964 as a public holiday in place of Sarawak Day. It was first celebrated on 1 June 1965 and became a symbol of unity, aspiration and hope for the Dayak community. Today, it is an integral part of Dayak social life. It is a thanksgiving day marking good harvest and a time to plan for the new farming season or activities ahead.

DIY HALLOWEEN WINDOW SILHOUETTES....................VERY SPPPPOOOOKKKKYYYYY!

Halloween Window Silhouettes




Our Halloween Silhouettes lit up and shot from outside.  You can see another close up view of these silhouettes here and here.  You can also see our large "Witch on Broom" and "Fading Ghost" silhouettes here.




  **See below for updates & a brief "How To".









**Update - Several people have asked me where we purchased these Halloween silhouettes & if the were vinyl.  All of our silhouettes were painted on cheap white fabric.
For these silhouettes - 
  1. We cut cheap white fabric into long panels.
  2. We traced the design onto fabric.
  3. We painted the silhouettes using "dark gray paint" (Martha Stewart tip). The gray paint will appear black when lit.  Make sure you paint the silhouette on the side of the fabric that faces towards the outside. Also, make sure you protect the surface that you are painting on, since the paint can bleed through the fabric.
  4. We hung the silhouettes in our windows like curtains, using a small/thin peice of dowel at the top. Our windows are vinyl & just happened to have a small pocket at the top that works perfectly for hanging these.  To hang, we just slightly flex the thin piece of dowel & feed the ends in these pockets.
  5. I usually light my silhouettes with either clip on work lights or table lamps. The window silhouettes in this post were lit using table lamps. I placed the lamps on the floor & centered at the base of each silhouette. I removed the lamp shades & replaced the regular bulb with colored spotlight bulbs. You can purchase these bulbs at places like Home Depot. I use two lamps for the witch and caldron silhouette, since these windows are really large & one lamp did not light it well enough. 
    ** Be careful that your lamps are not placed too close to curtains & that they do not get tipped over! These spotlight bulbs tend to run pretty hot. I close the bedroom doors when these silhouettes are lit. Even though I use sturdy lamps, I wouldn't want to risk our cats accidentally tipping one over or burning them selves on the open *hot* bulb.
I get a lot of people on my site looking at our Halloween window silhouettes.  If you would like additional silhouette ideas, I stumbled upon a great DIY site with some awesome Haunted House Silhouette ideas.  Take a minute & go check them out.

SOUR CREAM CHOCOLATE CAKE!!!!

The sour cream adds a subtle tanginess to this moist, chocolate-y cake. I made this for Justin’s birthday and loved it!
While you’re at it, click here to see how we used this recipe in our Owl Cake. Shown with this chocolate frosting.


SOUR CREAM CHOCOLATE CAKE

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup baking cocoa
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 °F.
Dissolve cocoa in the boiling water; let stand until cool.
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla.
Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beating well. Add cocoa mixture; beat well.
Pour into three greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
Adapted from All Recipes.

Monday, July 29, 2013

DIY VINTAGE LOOKING BELL JAR ORNAMENTS!!!

DIY Vintage Inspired Bell Jar Ornaments

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    I absolutely love bell jars! My favorite holiday decorations are small vintage bell jar ornaments with sweet little snow scenes in them! I have been wanting to make some of these tiny cloche ornaments for a long while now, but have had a really hard time finding the little glass belljars anywhere. Recently I was at the dollar store and saw some plastic wine glasses. They were the right shape, so I decided to give it a try, and they actually turned out to be a pretty fun substitute! These little ornaments are easy to make! I had so much fun making them, I went back and bought more wine glasses to make more!

Here’s What You Need:
*Plastic Wine Glasses
*Dremmel or Utility Knife
*Chipboard (cereal boxes, etc.)
*Scrapbook Paper
*Rubber Cement
*Trinkets
*Glitter
*Large Beads
*Pipe Cleaners
*Twine
*Scissors
*Hot Glue
*Large Circle or Scalloped Circle Punch (optional)
Step 1: 
Cut Glasses- Gather up your plastic wine glasses. They come with bottoms, just throw those away, you don’t need them. The stem of the glass is just a bit too long, so I cut mine down a little with a dremmel with a grinding attachment. You can cut the stems with a utility knife, but it is a lot easier to break them that way. If you have a dremmel, I would recommend using that.


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Step 2: 
Make Bottoms- I used a paper punch to cut out my chipboard bottoms. I think it is around 3 or 3.5 inches wide with a scalloped edge. I also used the punch to cut out my scrapbook paper to cover the chipboard with. I cut out paper for the top and bottom. You can draw circles and cut them out instead of using a punch. I just think it makes it a whole lot easier if you have one. When you have all of your circles cut out, you are ready to glue. I used rubber cement to glue the paper to the chipboard. Let the glue dry.


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Step 3: 
Make the inside- First, lay out your trinkets on your circles. Once you know where you want them, glue them down with some hot glue. Next, run a bead of hot glue around the bottom of your wine glass. Center the glass on the paper bottom and press down, glueing into place. With a funnel or rolled up paper pour some glitter into the top hole for snow.


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Step 4
Make the tops- First you want to add the hanger part to your beads. If you want to use pipe cleaners, cut one in half. Then push it through he bead and twirl it around the bottom of the bead so it will stay in place. At the top of the bead make a nice sized loop with the other end of pipe cleaner and twist it together at the top of the bead. If you wish to use twine, first cut a long piece of twine. Fold the twine in half and push it through the bead. Double knot the twine loop at the top of the bead and then double knot the ends below the bottom of the bead and snip off any excess. Next, run a bead of hot glue around the top opening of the wine glass and glue the bead right side up to the top, sealing in your jar. Now you want to finish off the area where the bead and glass meet because it is not so pretty. I took small pieces of pipe cleaner and wrapped around the spot securing with glue in the back. And now they are ready to hang on your tree, yay!



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   Although they are not quite as awesome as their vintage counterparts, I really love how they turned out! I love how versatile you can be with them as well! You could fill them with anything you like, and top them with loops for hanging or no loops for grouping on a shelf or table. I hope you all go out and make a few of your own, they are so fun! Be sure to tune in tomorrow for more holiday projects!

VANILLA CAKE WITH STRAWBERRY CREAM FROSTING!

UPDATE 5.23.12: I did a variation of this recipe, cutting it in half and using blueberries instead of strawberries for her 5th birthday. We also live in a much higher and drier climate. Click here to see how it turned out!
My little girl turned two a couple of weeks ago, and we had a bunch of her little friends over to celebrate (as well as their families. It was quite the shin-dig.) I needed a large cake so everyone could have some, and after the chocolate cake fiasco* from her first birthday, I wanted to try something in the fruity spectrum. Plus Sophie’s crazy about strawberries.
*Last year she ate chocolate cake by handfuls, broke out in a rash from getting it all over herself, then threw it all up an hour later. Happy 1st Birthday!










Hint: Refrigerating the cake for a few hours makes it LOTS easier to cut into layers.







This was the first time since my cake decorating class over a year ago that I used my frosting bag and tips. Writing on cake is not my forte.
She’s also crazy about butterflies. (Yes, I made those, and I’ll post a tutorial shortly. They’re not that hard, I promise.) The cake turned out delicious. I think it’s one of the moistest vanilla cakes I’ve ever had that wasn’t a pound cake. The frosting was fluffy from the whipped cream and had a hint of strawberry cream cheese flavor. After we refrigerated the leftovers and ate it the next day we decided that it was even better chilled.






I tried desperately to get a good shot after the cake was ravaged. It looks like someone got to this side with a fork. *twiddles thumbs and looks away*



PrintSave

Vanilla Cake with Strawberry Cream Frosting


ingredients:

Frosting:
2 8-oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 c powdered sugar
1/2 c seedless strawberry jam
3/4 c chilled heavy whipping cream
Cake:
3 c cake flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 c sugar
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
7 large eggs
2 T vanilla extract
1 c sour cream
6 T plus 1/3 c seedless strawberry jam
2 1/4 lbs strawberries, hulled, sliced (about 6 cups), divided

directions:

For the frosting, beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until smooth. You'll probably want to use an electric mixer for this so you don't end up with lumps. Stop every now and then to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in sugar, then jam. Beat cream in a separate, chilled, bowl until peaks form. Fold whipped cream into frosting. Cover; chill for a couple of hours until it's firm enough to spread.
For the cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans with 2-inch high sides. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add sour cream, and beat for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture in three additions, beating to blend after each addition. Divide batter into prepared pans.
Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pans, then turn cakes out onto a rack to cool completely. (You may even want to refrigerate them for a couple of hours to make this next step easier.)
Using a serrated knife, divide each layer in half horizontally. Place one half, cake side down, on a cake plate. Spread 2 T of strawberry jam over the cake, then spread 3/4 c of the frosting over the jam. Arrange 3/4 c of the sliced strawberries on top of the frosting in a single layer. Repeat two more times with cake layer, jam, frosting, and strawberries. Top with remaining cake layer, cut side down. Spread two cups of frosting over the top and sides of the cake in a thin layer, then frost with remaining frosting. Stir remaining jam to loosen, then spoon teaspoonfuls onto the top and sides of the cake. Use the back of a spoon to swirl jam decoratively into the frosting.
Makes 12 servings.
Nat's Notes:
1. As you can see, I used a 9x13 cake pan and did three layers instead of four. This makes a LOT of cake. (Which seems to justify the pound of butter (between the cake and the frosting) and 7 eggs, no?) It fed well over 20 people at Sophie's party. It does take longer to bake that way. I think I baked it for an hour and 5 minutes or so. Begin the toothpick tests at around 55 minutes, though.
2. Because I decorated her cake, I didn't swirl jam into the frosting.